You go to get something for lunch you always enjoy, but as soon as you look at the menu you’re just not hungry. You get on the treadmill and just can’t find the energy all of a sudden. You quit almost before you even begin.
Sometimes it’s not easy to spot changes in mood. Depression can creep up and just start taking things from you.
One morning I can’t get out of bed even though I went to sleep early the night before. Now I’m getting seconds and thirds of spaghetti and meatballs, and I feel like a bottomless pit. Soon I’m skipping all the activities or hobbies that used to bring me joy. I have no interest in anything.
The symptoms are familiar, but I’m not depressed. Is it seasonal? Too many dark, cold, rainy days in a row? Well it has been gloomy outside … and I haven’t gotten out much.
But I’m perfectly content. I’m sublime. My life is wonderful. I just married my best friend and the love of my life. But I have been stressed more than usual with work. Some things haven’t gone the way I’ve planned, and I’ve been ruminating on those imperfections a lot (rumination is one of the many ways my anxiety lends depression a hand). Maybe I am sad. Within an hour or so of realizing this, I want to turn off all the lights in the house and curl up under the blankets.
I hate not being in touch with my feelings. It feels totally out of control and kind of irresponsible. I work hard to stay on an even keel. I eat right, exercise daily. I know how to spot the signs of depression — or at least I thought I did. I won’t let myself isolate when my ego feels bruised because I know if I get myself alone I might fall down the rabbit hole of abusive self-talk. I have ways of being compassionate toward myself, but how am I supposed to put them into place when depression sneaks up like this? I’m disarmed.
I’ve learned it takes two things to get back on track, or at least keep from making things worse. I have to forgive myself for experiencing setbacks. It’s unrealistic to think I’ll never have a bad day or get stuck in a rut. If I don’t forgive myself for my perceived mistakes, it snowballs into a self-hate party where my self-esteem gets an epic beating.
The second important thing to remember is to avoid catastrophizing. Being sad doesn’t have to be a disaster. It doesn’t have to mean all my work has been for nothing and it doesn’t spell failure. Everyone gets down sometimes and just because I struggle with depression doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to be down as well.
The key to health is often finding balance. The path to happiness isn’t black and white, so thinking in absolutes isn’t helpful: “I’m always going to feel this way. I’m always going to have this problem. I’ll never get better.” It’s amazing we think such things to ourselves but we’d never say something so disheartening to a friend in the same position.
Everyone experiences setbacks in mental health and the important thing to remember is the Law of Opposites. One can’t have success without failure, and every setback contains the seeds of success. What would wisdom be without failure? If Thomas Edison hadn’t kept trying after he failed hundreds of times to make a light bulb, I might be writing you from candlelight right now.
It can be hard to avoid getting wrapped up in the cause of depression. After all, pinpointing it isn’t necessarily going to help. I try to focus on putting my energy where it counts, including more positive self-talk such as: “This isn’t fun. But you’ve faced this before and I’m confident we can get through this again.” If I keep eating right, exercising and practicing positive self-talk, I often find my sadness eases off without me even realizing it. After a few weeks it will hit me: “Oh yeah, that seems to have passed.”