In recent months I’ve been looking hard at what causes my frequent bouts of depression, with the intention of pinning down reasons and being able to make some changes. I’m now working on three key areas, and while I know there are a great many reasons a person might end up depressed, I expect I won’t be alone in these three. I’m increasingly confident that the process of sitting with it, asking what it is, where it came from and, sometimes, what it wants, is the only way of unravelling it. Any depression that is largely about chemical imbalance may not respond well to this, but body chemistry problems can sometimes be products of life situations as well. So, no answers here I am certain will work for everyone, but some places to start.
Exhaustion. Ten and twelve hour working days, or longer. Weeks with no days off. Years with no holidays. Insufficient sleep or down time. It messes with my body functioning, undermines self esteem, and the more ragged and exhausted I become, the worse I feel about myself. I believe that I should be able to get up early, work all day, run a household, turn up for all the social and evening meeting stuff people want me to do, whilst also being a good parent and wife, fall into bed around midnight and get up early the next day and do it again, with no days off. I haven’t poked into where I got this idea, I am recognising that it is inhuman and I can’t do it, and that trying to do it breaks me. I’m now not working more than 6 day weeks, hoping to push down to 5 days, more sensible day lengths, more rest and sleep and maybe one day, a holiday.
Double thinking. Situations where in order to keep up I have to not feel what I am feeling, or have to relate to how I am feeling as wrong. Imagine working for an ethical campaign group where the work required you to do the things the group was campaigning against, as an easy way of seeing what this might be like. I have repeatedly found myself dealing with people who could only be right, such that I have had to be wrong, regardless of reality. I am often complicit because I will choose to believe that I am the problem in order to keep my good opinion of the other person. I’ve tried to change that in recent years, the results have been messy and variable, but at least mean I put less energy into maintaining a reality bubble that makes it ok to work me to death, hurt me, treat me as second class, or otherwise make me miserable. For all the bumps, challenging this has been a quality of life improver. I’m drawing up new boundaries and recognising that I am fundamentally entitled to say no to anyone, for any reason and for no reason.
Politics and powerlessness. There are days when I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, and it is crushing me. The enormity of all I cannot do, or fix, the horror of all that is wrong out there of which I know such a small percentage. The emotional exhaustion that comes from reading the news, or too much time on social media dealing with depressing things. I read Philip Carr Gomm’s blog recently about not listening to the news and recognised a lot of my own feelings in his words. I feel morally obliged to know, but knowing is tearing me apart. I’m going to be more protective of my time and careful of my exposure. I’m going to try and focus my attention on things I can do, and to avoid sharing things on unless I have some hint, at least, of what might help. There’s no point being immersed in all the things I can do nothing about and then having no emotional resilience to deal with things I could make a difference to.
I shall be experimenting over coming months with these three things, and watching for other triggers, and nuances within the triggers. I need to stop thinking it’s ok to do to myself things that would horrify me if done to other people. Any person or situation that doesn’t allow me to guard my own wellbeing in this way, will be out of the mix, or I’ll step back to a comfortable distance.