When depression strikes (back), we will push back reflexively or distract the wonky brain in an attempt to prevent the walls from closing in on us.
To nip distress in the bud, we’re often tempted to either override it, deny it, or numb it with whatever is available, from TV to alcohol or drugs. What we are loath to do is the only thing that makes sense, that is to let it take its course and pass.
This doesn’t mean we should drop everything and rock ourselves gently in the corner until we feel better. Rather, we can acknowledge what’s going on, attempt to take it in our stride, and keep pushing forward with the task at hand.
Doing so takes some practice and it’s far from foolproof. There are times when distress has such a tight grip on our psyche it freeze-frames everything before fading to black.
Suddenly, nothing makes sense anymore.
Not the passions to which you owe your life, not the heart to which you owe your love, not the projects into which you’ve invested so much hope and faith. Gone is the possibility of a gentle life that only a few hours ago still looked so promising, full of grace, creativity, and tender loving care.
Instead, all shortcomings, all unmet needs are magnified until they take up all your mental bandwidth. This grossly distorted perception of reality is the work of the parasite in your head, an intruder whose sole purpose is to undermine you.
If you make the mistake of conflating depressive propaganda with reality, you put yourself at risk of collapse. Left to its own devices, the illness can corrupt all good data like achievements and progress and replace it with fear.
And if you’re isolated or unable to reach out to anyone physically, on the phone, or online when this is happening, you need to act fast.
Even if you feel your hands are tied, tears are streaming down your face, and you’re sobbing so hard you’re shaking, hold tight.
The greatest platitude of all is in fact true: This, too, shall pass.
If you can, write it down, as I am doing now.
Pushing back against depression with words isn’t the most obvious approach but since they’re all we’ve got right now, they’ll have to do.
The act of focusing all your attention on one task, such as writing words exposing the fallacy of the self-defeating mantra in your head could see you through. By turning your inner dialogue inside out and downloading it from your head onto the page, it loses some of its potency.
Laid out in the cold light of day, depression seldom looks anywhere near as threatening as it does when it’s an amorphous blob of raw pain clogging up your thoughts.
Words are a way of visualizing the invisible and of documenting the intangible so others might be able to help you. Even if you’re isolated, articulating a bout of intense despair could help you the next time it happens.
There’s much comfort to be found in knowing where you’re going; you’ve been there before.
Alas, it makes never makes any more sense.
Don’t waste your time trying to understand depression, focus on seeing it as finite.
There are no intelligible ideas within depression, just a jumble of random thoughts blowing this way and that.
To quote British author Matt Haig in Reasons to Stay Alive:
“Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but — if that is the metaphor — you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”
And the weather can and will eventually change.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.