Some things in life take on a feeling of regularity, despite their seeming abnormality. For me, depression is one of those things. As the clock strikes midnight on January 1st each and every year, I know I will experience four or five bouts of depression in the coming twelve months. As abnormal as this may or may not be in the grand scheme of human living, it is normal for me.
It is expected. Knowing that it is expected makes it slightly, but only slightly, more endurable.
Also expected is the journey of depression itself. It starts with resistance. “I won’t let it happen again.” “I’m going to power through and I’ll be fine.” Or maybe even denial. “I’m not heading into a depressive episode.” “I’m not slowing down. I’m not losing track of my own thoughts.” “I am motivated. I’m still working!”
Then, I reach the point where denial is no longer possible. I’m stopped. Like a sudden halt in the stampede of life, I’m thrown from the saddle and I find myself sitting in the dust—stunned. Or, more accurately, I find myself sleeping for ten or twelve hours—when I usually subsist on six hours a day. I find myself watching television or reading obsessively. Episode after episode; book after book. Anything to avoid dealing with the things on my to-do lists—the things of my life.
After wallowing in depression for a few weeks or a month, I drag myself out. I force myself to be productive. I move. I work. I get things done. Slowly—so slowly—I climb from the depths of depression back onto the track of daily living. I travel this path for a few months, then I fall again.
My depression is cyclic. I know I will be depressed, but the times of depression are not themselves predictable.
Sometimes, however, there are hiccups in this cyclic process. For example, illness can trigger depression for me. At this stage of my life, productivity has taken a consuming, looming presence in my life. There’s much to be done, and me to do it. So, when I get sick, I become unproductive. When I’m unproductive, my brain tricks itself into being depressed—after all, depression = unproductivity, therefore (logic assumes) unproductivity = depression.
I become sick. Days pass by unproductively. I feel depressed because I’m unproductive. I feel worse because I’m sick.
I estimate that two or three of my depressive episodes each year are triggered this way. I don’t start out by slipping into depression and unproductivity. I start out unproductive and trick myself into depression.
Now, I’m trying to learn to trick myself out of it. The past two weeks I’ve been struggling with illness, and thus with unproductivity and depression. The reason I’ve been in bed is because of illness, but being in bed and watching the days slip by with so little getting done makes me depressed. But being depressed keeps me in bed and ensures more days pass by with little getting done, even though my body is strong enough to start doing things again.
So, I do things. I get things done. I check things off. And I try to feel undepressed. Sometimes it feels like this strategy is working. Then, I remember that I’m still doing things that should have been done last week. And a little more time slips by.