My mood when depressed is strange.
I’ve been living with depression for over 12 years now, and recently very successfully. However at times when it’s worse it’s not always a constant feeling of being down.
It seems to come down to activity and inactivity.
If I’m busy, if I’ve got something to do – I feel ok. And it really doesn’t matter what the activity is – even things that I’d normally see as a chore, and something to put off are mentally better for me than having nothing to do. This is something I didn’t used to recognise, and when I don’t it can become a dangerous cycle for me, pulling me further into the depths of my depression. Nowadays if I spot what’s happening soon enough I can take steps to stop the cycle early.
So, the downward cycle. Basically I lose motivation, and I mean for everything. I don’t feel like picking up a book and reading – yet normally I love reading. I can’t be bothered with any of my console/computer games. I can’t be bothered to watch TV, and any of the things I have to do around the house are right out. So I sit there, feeling unmotivated. Nothing gets done – and I get more down because I’m wasting time and not achieving anything. Predictably this is the cyclic part, I do nothing, I feel more down, I’m less motivated, less gets done and so on.
At its worst this is incredibly debilitating. At one point I drove H to work, got home, sat down for 5 minutes, and suddenly H was phoning me because they were on their lunch – four and a half hours of my day gone and I hadn’t even noticed. I recalled nothing of the time, no thoughts, no dreams (I don’t believe I was actually asleep), I just zoned out totally and lost track of everything. When I did come to, I then felt awful, I’d wasted most of the day, I’d achieved nothing. Guess what – this didn’t help my afternoon.
So inactivity – bad for my depression. Very bad in fact. Yet it’s often caused by my depression. Whole lotta Catch 22 going on there.
The flipside of that is activity is very good for my mental health – any activity. Those same little chores I hate to do and struggle to get motivated for, can turn my day around – and I know this. This means when I’ve got a handle on what’s happening, when I (or often Helen) spot the symptoms of me hitting a downward swing, I can make sure I get things done before I fall into the trap above.
So I’ll get up and immediately empty the dishwasher. That’s a job done, a silly, easy, but necessary job done. I can then look around the kitchen and think – some of this needs to go in the dishwasher – let’s load it up. So I do. That’s something else achieved, and the kitchen looks better too. I can then say to myself – well if you wash up those few bits that can’t go in the dishwasher, that surface will be clear, and so on. Just by getting up and making myself do that first task before the lethargy kicks in, I can keep going. But I do need to keep going – not necessarily tasks, but something constructive/creative. It might be practise a song on the guitar, watch an episode of one of my shows, prepare dinner – anything. Once I’ve got started I find it easier to keep going, and everything I achieve is a way of saying – look I’m doing some good here, I am achieving – I am worthy.
And that ‘I am worthy’ is the important part for me – because the opposite end of that becomes, ‘I have no worth. What’s the point’ which can then all too easily become – ‘Why bother trying’, and once I hit that point, things all get a lot darker for me, and I’ve on (thankfully rare) occasions reached the point of – ‘why keep going?’ Now that was many years ago (pre-Helen in fact), I have a better handle on things – but it’s still a shadow in my mind, I know I got there once or twice (I never got further than the thought), and the thought of being there again terrifies me.
So I keep myself busy, I aim for activity over inactivity. I set myself small achievable goals, and make them happen (as best I can). Yet I have to be careful, because if I fail those goals, the downward swing can kick in very quickly. Hell, I have to make sure I move from one thing to the next quite quickly. Even today, with a handle on things, I can sit down after a task, and suddenly feel my mood dip. Sometimes I can feel the animation drain from my face. And if I don’t get up and do something else quickly, it’ll be 30 minutes or more later and I’m still in exactly the same place.
I have to say though, that gaming is still a big part of my self-care. Housework is boring, it needs doing, but it’s boring. However we have friends coming over at the end of March to game, and ever since we were flooded 15 months ago one of the bedrooms and a lot of other space has been unavailable, and we’ll need that space in March. Tying those chores into something that will lead to more gaming, makes me want to do them more than if they were just needing doing, and that helps. I’ve also started getting a lot of enjoyment from one of my console games (possibly more on that another time), so knowing I’ve got that to look forward to after other tasks are finished helps me get and maintain motivation.
So for me, being able to recognise my symptoms is a great help, but doesn’t end there, I need to take actions to deal with what’s happening to me. The reason I can do this – I finally sought help, I saw my GP, I eventually (after a lot of pushing) got CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which worked wonders for me. So again, if you’re suffering please try to ask for help somewhere – it’s a difficult step to take, but it can make all the difference.
Oh and if you’re ever around me and you see me suddenly go still, see the animation drop from my face (unless its obvious characterisation in a game) please feel free to give me a metaphorical kick. Engage me in conversation, anything – it shouldn’t take much to get me going again, and even if I’m a bit ‘meh’, it’s better than the alternative.
Thanks for reading and stay safe all.