October 18, 2013
The first time it happened, I was an exchange student in Germany, several months into my year. I knew to expect it–the crying jags, the excessive sleeping, the impatience and irritability. We’d been trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of “Culture Shock”–which, when I got much older, sounded a whole heck of a lot like the signs and symptoms of clinical depression.
The second time it happened, I’d had my second baby. This time, it was called “postpartum depression,” and was more acceptable because it had a clear-cut cause. Thanks to rising public education on the topic at the time, I almost felt trendy.
The third time (and fourth and fifth and sixth) was harder to recognize. I didn’t fall quite so low. I was somewhere above blue, in the apathetic gray. I got stuff done (including writing a book)…mostly. I had fun and enjoyed myself…occasionally. No one, not even the people I lived with, could put a finger on it. I did notice that winter was worse than summer. Sometime around the vernal equinox, all of that enthusiasm I’d faked so well suddenly felt like something akin to the truth. My doctor and I after a couple of years agreed that I now experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (with its unbearably cute acronym, just begging for a frownie-face after it.)
My friend is going through “a rough patch.” Another one has “a hormonal thing.” No matter what flavor or color or label you give it, however, two weeks of the “blues” is depression. In my ongoing quest to declutter and simplify, I’ve decided that’s the only word for it I need.
I’m fortunate that my depression is responsive to various interventions. Medications work for me. So does light daily exercise. Mid-afternoon naps on my back help (If I sleep on my side, I sleep too long and screw up my evening). Alcohol use doesn’t help, but it also doesn’t make me worse unless I drink so much that I sleep badly. I use a light box, but I’m not sure that works for me (although I do feel some pride at making an effort, which helps.)
The most effective thing for me, however, has been accepting the depression itself. I get irritable. So I avoid irritating situations as best I can. I get tired, so I don’t over-promise to myself or anyone. I get overwhelmed, so I take time outs, and sit with my lists and calendar and reset myself–every dang day if I have to. I mind my vitamins B and D (they keep me out of BeD!)
I have contingency plans for bad days, and BIG plans/fantasies for if it gets so dark I can’t see my way out. For example, I think Deep-Brain Stimulation surgery sounds SO sexy. They implant electrodes…well…deep in your brain. I mean, how cool is that? And I’ve always promised myself that if life gets completely unbearable I’ll head to Mexico and tend bar on a beach. Surely, somewhere someone will let me sell folks their cervezas, right?
I also allow myself to overuse parentheses. (They help. They really do.)
What about you? Have you ever been blue? And if so, do you have strategies that lift your spirits short and/or long-term?