ב”ה الحمد لله
I’ve never known how to describe the cyclical mood issue I struggle with.
It’s not what I think of as “The Great Depression”, which is a clinical diagnosis I associate with people who are paralyzed to the point they can’t get out of bed or function in the world. I have great sympathy for that condition and the people who suffer from it, and I’m grateful to have been spared that trial.
But I do have a downturn from time to time where the joy and meaning are wrung out of my life experience, and nothing seems worthwhile or important, let alone enjoyable or nourishing. My life feels like a barren landscape, and each step is a painful burden. Somehow I manage to fulfill my obligations in the world (or, often, postpone them), but it’s a struggle. James Taylor captures the mood with:
Looks like another grey morning/
A not-so-good morning after all/
She says “well, what am I to do today/
with too much time and so much sorrow.”
She said “make me angry or just make me cry.
But no more grey morning, I think I’d rather die.”
I decided recently to call this my “not-so-great” depression.
I used to think it arose out of the hardships of my upbringing; unresolved issues from the past manifesting as a stalemate between some inner parts of me that are crying out for healing and other inner parts protecting me from opening up and experiencing difficult (potentially overwhelming) emotions. That kind of stand-off results in a lack of feeling anything. There’s some truth to that perspective, because when I get help and support and allow some difficult things to come up for healing, I generally experience a lightening of mood and a restoration of balance, purpose and joyfulness, thank G*d.
But I’ve seen some of this dynamic in the next generation of my family, who did not (thank G*d) endure anything like what I went through, and so I think some of the propensity to this kind of feeling may have a genetic disposition to it. It’s unclear.
But whatever the source, when the not-so-great depression comes upon me, there I am in another grey morning.
I thought I’d share some of the things I do when that happens, because I expect there are others who would benefit from the discussion (and because it feels good to put these things in writing).
One of the things I often do (and have done for years) is zone out, usually with electronics. I have found myself playing a silly computer game all night long, for example. This dulls my mind and feeling state and allows me to escape the painful feelings, but it also undermines the rest of my life, leaving me tired and cranky, and often frustrated with myself for wasting time. With the advent of the Internet and cell phones, it is much easier to engage in this kind of activity, and for many it includes watching TV or surfing youtube. I’m glad to be able to say that I do this much less often than I used to, and for shorter periods of time, but it’s still a coping mechanism that can take the edge off, if used judiciously. So I don’t especially recommend it, but perhaps in limited scope it has a place.
One of the most positive things that rescues me from the not-so-great depression is helping others. Of course, when I’m feeling depressed, it’s beyond me to actually seek out those opportunities, but if I have a previous appointment that I need to keep (or if someone calls me needing my help), I notice that it helps me greatly to help someone else. Funny how that works.
Getting out in a beautiful natural setting can also help, and sometimes even just being outside in the sunshine with a fresh breeze can reinvigorate me. Exercise is good, but it’s hard for me to get motivated to do an individual workout. If I have a volleyball game on the schedule (or a racquetball game), I generally return from the event with renewed energy and outlook.
Other things that are sometimes helpful: journaling, meditation, prayer, talking with a close friend, getting out for a walk. Playing music by myself (piano or violin) can be expressive, but rarely changes the mood, whereas playing duets with someone else is often metamorphic. And listening to music can be helpful as well.
Another thing that I have found useful is to make a list of things that need doing (a short list with generally no more than five things on it), and then start doing them. Actually writing the list is helpful, as it provides an external means of keeping focus. The list is usually mundane chores, like the laundry and the dishes, but it’s a small lift to get things done instead of just veg out; it’s a victory of sorts and it feels good to check things off my list.
The most productive thing I have found is to be with my loving wife and pour out my heart. This usually involves tears and intense emotions of various kinds, but it’s the most reliable transformer I have discovered. I generally find it impossible to actually ask for her time and attention, but when she sees me suffering in this way she generally offers, and it works wonders.
I trust that, ultimately, there is purpose to my having these struggles, and I believe I am richer for the experience, even though I can’t feel that at the time. In fact, one of the things that’s decidedly not helpful is to remind myself (or be reminded) that The Master is sending me this experience. “I know that,” I think grumpily. “And thanks ever so much, Master.” So instead I try to just put one foot in front of the other with the above interventions, and it passes.
I do hope there comes a time when I no longer experience these not-so-great depressions, but until then, I hope these reflections are useful to others.
P.S. There are many other resources out there for depression and related difficulties; here’s one I notice while searching for a graphic: