I’ve been wrestling with depression on and off for years now. It’s not a welcome addition to life, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to manage it – CBT, counselling, talking to the doctor… I’ve managed to stay away from anti-depressants. I’ve also put in time trying to understand it, working on the theory that if I grasp what causes it, I can reduce if not eliminate the problem. A significant part of what went into making me ill came from outside, a consequence of the behaviour and actions of others. I had no control over that, and attempting to step away brought me several years of hard struggle, which made things worse.
However, this stuff from outside is a contributing factor, not the whole story. I observe that depression for me is a direct consequence of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Sometimes just the one, often a combination. It’s what happens when there’s simply nothing left to push with, and I keep trying to push anyway. I think depression, for me, is a manifestation of my body saying ‘no, just not possible, we are stopping now.’ If the only way to make me stop is to put me on the floor… well, sometimes I end up on the floor. Finding I am down, I then feel useless, powerless, vulnerable, incapable and of course the inspiration dries up too. That makes me feel worse, creating an emotional pressure that keeps me down for longer.
I tend to assume that I should be able to keep going. I should be able to work and keep house/boat and be a full time parent, wife, lover, author, Druid, volunteer and do everything that needs doing. The ‘what needs doing’ is vast beyond anything I could do, there’s a whole world out there. I am a finite being who has spent a good decade refusing to recognise that simple, critical fact. I don’t have infinite supplies of energy. I cannot take an infinite amount of emotional battering. I cannot run my mind at fever pitch forever. When my body gets close to its limits, the answer is not to always try and push further. Maybe that’s worth doing sometimes, but not, I am concluding, every time. Every day.
I was very, very ill over Christmas. I think I had pneumonia. It took me several days of trying to get on as normal with a desperately ill body, increasingly struggling to breathe, before I admitted that I couldn’t cope. That’s normal for me. Often I do push through but there comes a time when if you keep trying to do that, it can really, actually kill you. It’s that whole being a finite entity thing again.
I’m going to try and rethink my depression – not as failure and shortcoming or proof of inadequacy, but as a simple, biological response to running on empty. If I feel depressed, I need to slow down and be gentle with me until I feel better, not try to keep running anyway. I’ve mostly moved away from situations where there is any external whip cracking, and the emotional pressure from outside is passably low at the moment. I can try to keep it that way, but life does what it does. If I allowed myself a bit more slack in the system to begin with, I wouldn’t be so exposed when unexpected things come in from outside. I’d have more resilience. I am going to be less tolerant of external pressures and demands, too.