Depression. No one wants to hear about it. But I’m not on about the ugly nuts and bolts of the bottom of the bottom, and not the clinical diagnosis. Not the other one, either, that goes something like, “I’m so depressed that my favourite chocolate store closed down!” (Note: this is sadness. Maybe disappointment. Check out Danielle LaPorte’s thoughtful separation of the two and come back, just so we’re all on the same page here.)
I’m talking about what it’s like to know my own early signs that depression is calling, and what I do about it. And let me start by announcing that I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all that follows.
Background: I survived a three-year, need-help-to-leave-the-bed-for-the-couch depression, and I can now see how I had wrangled my way through milder depressions before. My prognosis includes “high risk of relapse,” and it’s my goal to prove this wrong. I’m not here to talk about how bad it can get, but rather, to talk about how to recognize when the rabbit hole door is swinging wide-open with a “JUMP DOWN NOW!” flashing neon sign out front and warm, flaky, chocolate croissants just inside (I’m a sucker for chocolate croissants: the full-of-butter, freshly-baked kind). And then to learn how to not jump down it.
Are my early signs like yours? If so, then maybe some of this can help.
For me, I know something’s starting to go haywire when I feel like I can’t accomplish anything. Now, it’s important to remember that it’s a feeling: I may actually be accomplishing a lot, but I feel like I’m not. This feeling is often accompanied by slow moving, thinking, and talking, and generally feeling dull.
The truth: Most people have higher days and lower days.
Part of depression recovery for me was tracking every teeny tiny change in mood or feeling; it became a habit, so that I could identify positive or negative change. That isn’t so super-helpful now. It actually feels pretty bad, like I’m neurotically charting every bump and fart in my mood and on alert to panic if something feels low. I’m feeling pretty healthy now, and when I have a “lower” day, I have learned to hit a mental override that says, “Remember: Other people do, too. It’s just a day.”
Next early sign that things are going haywire: it’s super hard to do the mental override. The self-talk loop starts saying, “You’re getting unproductive. In fact, you really haven’t done anything productive in ages.” If I don’t catch this and change it, it leads to, “You’re actually kind of worthless and never really have done anything useful.” This is the rabbit hole! There is nothing good down here!
Useful (to me) turnarounds
I stay alert for that first “You’re so unproductive” script. I know the difference between the helpful one (the one telling me that the coffee break really should end after 45 minutes of gabbing about my latest kale chips recipe* and how it’s so awesome. This really is inappropriate when I’m supposed to be working) and the unhelpful, destructive one. When I hear the destructive one, I summon all of my strength to get it out. I tell it, “No, you’re wrong. This is a lower moment, and is perfectly okay.”
I go for a walk. I know, we’ve all heard it a million times, but it really does change something. I like to think that it jiggles the unhelpful thought around and shakes it out of my brain.
Or, I grab a friend for a walk and not talk about it. Talking about it sinks me deeper sometimes, so purposefully talking about something else — best: something in their life — can shift the destructive thoughts.
I stop and dance. This has taken some training, as I am not, and never have been, a dancer. But I have a fledgling list of songs that I can pull up and play that force me to shake. Even just a little bit. Partially because it is so ridiculous (me, dancing?) and partially because they are happy songs, something shifts.
I don’t need it to be scientific. I just need the low-mood early-signs-of-depression to shift. Because nothing really good is down that rabbit hole, especially not the lame chocolate croissants.
Down the road, I’ll talk about preventative and ongoing good-health habits that have worked for me, but for now, tell me: Is there anything that you do when you see your early warning signs rearing up? Is there anything that helps you to determine what is an early warning sign for you?
*The secret to the most delicious kale chips is in the nutritional flake yeast. Add it to olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic; massage the kale with your hands until each leaf is completely coated; then spread on your dehydrator racks that your kind friend gave you as a housewarming present and dehydrate for a few hours until those yummy veggies are super crispy. De-lish!
Potentially helpful online resources, if you’re feeling the rabbit-hole-tug and aren’t sure what’s going on