Tag Archives: mood disorders

When Melancholy Becomes Something Else

Earlier this morning, I sent this to Twitter:

It seems I spoke too soon because my mood has deteriorated since then. Tears have been threatening — and occasionally more than threatening — to spill over all morning. It’s frustrating and maddening because feeling like this is so completely pointless. It’s wasted emotion because it’s directed at… nothing. What’s worse is that it’s crippling and destructive, which makes it all the more scary to me because of the way it interferes with daily living.

Depression, when it’s not flattening my affect and overwhelming every single other thing I feel, makes me angry. I feel like I should be above this, better than this, able to mash down on this with ferocity and conviction, able to banish it to the darkest reaches of my mind whenever I like. And yet, I can’t. The damnable thing rears its ugly, vindictive head at the most unexpected — and unwelcome — of times and makes me think and feel things that aren’t actually true. Depression, among its multitude of other vices, is a liar. But even knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to shove aside. Depression also has teeth, and claws, and it has no problem sinking them into the soft, sensitive tissues of my brain and heart where it will hurt the most.

Therapy for me, then, is to write, when I can summon the strength to shove depression aside long enough to do. And so I write, exposed and vulnerable (which is scary in its own right), because it helps me process some of the things I’m feeling. Plus, it’s something I can actually do, instead of allowing the depression to simply have its way with me. So much of depression is about being passive and letting it do whatever the hell it wants to — which is why physical activity is also such good therapy. Activity, doing, is fighting back and refusing to allow the depression to win.

I wish there was more I could do because even doing feels passive when it doesn’t make the depression go completely away. The best I can hope for is survival and subsistence and hope that this thing will not kill me. My mind says it won’t, but my heart declares otherwise. Apparently depression is also cognitive dissonance.

This Weight Upon My Shoulders

Every couple of weeks or so I go through a spell of feeling like the weight of the world is resting solidly on my shoulders. During these times I feel tired and overwhelmed, certain that I’m doing too many things, that my hands are in too many projects. These are the times when I most seriously consider scaling back my activities and obligations in order to retain my sanity (such as it is), such as cutting out certain portions of our farm operations or dropping optional obligations to which I’ve committed.

Photo: rawlands under a Creative Commons license
Photo: hannah k (rawlands) under a Creative Commons license

For some reason, it always takes me a couple of days of this to realize that what I’m experiencing is a mild bout of depression. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like the deep, crippling depression that pushes me into suicidal ideation, and so it takes me longer to identify what’s going on. It also settles in slowly, a bit at a time over several days so that, at first, it simply feels like the kind of exhaustion born out of a busy lifestyle. To add insult to injury, this usually coincides during times of actual sleep deprivation, which is indicative that the two things are actually related. Either way, the feeling of being tired masks the fact that this is really the onset of depression, albeit a minor case. (That really soul-crushing depression typically only happens to me once or twice a year, the first always in January/February during the deepest, coldest part of winter, and once sometimes in the middle of the summer.) These smaller episodes occur more frequently — every two to three weeks — and are usually easier to bear up under, gritted teeth and shortened temper not withstanding.

These minor depressive episodes almost always pass within a couple of days, but while they’re here, this weight — it’s an actual, physical sensation — never leaves my shoulders. Identifying it and talking about it sometimes helps it abate more quickly, sometimes it doesn’t. At the very least, it is always something of a relief to recognize it when it’s happening.

March and Depression

Man, I feel blue today.

March is the hardest month with my depression. The combination of short daylight hours and long weeks of cold weather mount up to make these last few days before the spring equinox some of the hardest I face all year. It’s a little counter-intuitive at first blush, perhaps, since the days in March are actually longer than those in December.

But I liken it to a 12-month tidal cycle. It takes a while for all that water to change directions and to shift back toward my own shore. In December the tide is still out. We’re just coming out of the fall season — long days getting progressively shorter, warm weather getting progressively cooler, and I’m still feeling pretty good. Plus, it’s the holiday season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, so there are plenty of distracting family activities. January is still pretty good. Yes, I’m starting to feel the weight of all that water starting to slide back my direction, but it’s not too bad at this point. Winter is really just starting to gear up, and the weather, too, is only just beginning to feel the effect of the sun’s southerly slide toward the Tropic of Capricorn. January is tougher than December, but bearable. By February, though, it’s become apparent just how much of that tidal weight has shifted back this direction. It’s been more than two months of shortened days and cold, snowy, icy weather, and my moods are reflective of that. I spend more time feeling tired and depressed, and my mental focus struggles more than just about any other time of the year. There’s some solace to be found in the fact that Spring is right around the corner, but only some. Then March swings in, and the full weight of the tide has settled in. Yes, the days are getting longer. We’re starting to see pre-dawn light around 6:30 AM and the temperatures are more consistently up in the mid-30s to lower-40s (typically), but the effects of three-plus months of shorter days has piled up, and it takes time for the momentum of all that water to slow and start to shift away again. I have extended periods — a week, 10 days, sometimes more — of depressed mood, exhaustion, and mental haze, and even my daily anti-depressant isn’t enough to keep it entirely at bay. I can’t imagine how bad it would be without my meds. At this point it’s little comfort that the official first day of Spring is just a couple of weeks away. It’s a struggle just to get through a day, and it takes effort to find — and focus on — creative projects to keep myself distracted. Things will get better in a couple of months, as the tide starts to shift away again. Longer days, warmer weather make a huge amount of different — but right now, it’s a fight just to get out of bed in the morning and face the mountain of things that have to be done every day.

The cycle repeats on a roughly annual basis. Summers are better and easier. The extra sunlight boosts Vitamin D production, which has a noticeable effect. That’s not to say that I don’t have blue periods the rest of the year; I do. But they’re typically shorter and less intense. There is definitely a seasonal component to my depression, and this year it has helped tremendously that I now work from home with the ‘wall’ behind my desk being a huge picture window that faces east. I get more sun than I used to working in a windowless basement, but those dreary days in February still make it feel like I’m in a cage, sometimes.

I think this may be the first time I’ve talked about my depression in any real capacity here, and it’s not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed by it. It’s a medical condition, and I recognize that. I manage it with medications and by making some specific lifestyle choices. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while but haven’t found the time or energy to do so before now. And I know there are many out there who similarly struggle with mood disorders. It’s more common than you might think, and I’ve been pleased to see the stigma of mood disorders begin to ease off in recent years.

So consider this me adding my own voice to the conversation. It doesn’t bother me in the least to talk about my challenges with depression. I’m happy to discuss my story and lend support to others as I’m able, and this seems like as good a place as any to present a formal invitation to have that discussion to anyone who’s interested.