What I Do When I Get Depressed
Okay, this seems like a stupid question.
After all, there's nothing you can do when you get depressed, except take your meds, if you're on them; say your cognitive-behavioral mantras, if you're with that kind of a therapist; go to your therapist and cry.
Well, actually, there are other things I do to try to get straight.
Luckily, because I'm dysthymic (see last week's essay), not a severely depressed person, I can still talk to myself. Also, because my depression is not entirely controlled by synapses and serotonin, I have some luck with that self-talk.
Now this isn't the same kind of self-talk that cognitive-behavioral therapists give. I don't have any special exercises or re-appraisal of my thought processes that I do. Because most of the time I'm not dealing with incorrect thinking (you know the kind: he really doesn't like me, no matter what he says.) What my depression consists of is very often a hidden conflict, or a hidden anger, and my inner dialogue's job is to go and find what the conflict is or who I'm angry at, or what is bugging me that I don't make conscious.
You may hear in this kind of thinking a sort of psychodynamic approach. Yes, I'm a Freudian at heart. I believe that we hide things from ourselves - some call it repression - and my job is to uncover what's bugging me and make it conscious. If I do that properly, I can at least identify the cause of my depression, even if I can't eradicate it all the time.
So, here's an example:
The other day I got up and felt awful. I wanted to go right back to bed. I wasn't ill. I wasn't sad. I wasn't tired. I was depressed.
What had happened between last night and this morning?
Or what had happened yesterday that caused me to be upset, but want to hide the reason from myself.
I tried to think if I had had any dreams that would give me a clue, but none came to mind.
Then, painstakingly, I went over yesterday's events to see what might have gotten under my skin and caused the depression. Nothing came to mind. I'd had dinner with one daughter, spoken with the other, made plans to have them out to the house with my grandson, gotten ready for my trip to L.A. to see my brother-in-law. I'd also spoken with my publisher about a book that's coming out next month. That's it! The book.
A big television show's producers had turned down an interview with me for the book. For the present, at least. And that had made me upset. Well, what's wrong with being upset at television? Aren't a lot of people? Sure, but I don't get angry easily. As a child, I had decided that getting angry would make me dangerous, or, conversely, could cause danger to me. So, I made an unconscious decision to hold my anger back, not to show it; in fact, if possible, not to get angry.
Well, that's one sure way to get depressed: to want to be angry, but hold it in. In fact, some people think that depression is, in large part, anger turned inward. I think there are lots of other causes, but in my case being angry at the producers and not feeling I could express that anger, even to my publishers or my agent - that could cause depression.
So, why not acknowledge the anger? Why not let it out in some way?
In this case, merely letting myself realize that I'd been angry - rather than merely disappointed or resigned to the turn-down - did let some of the depression go away. I was no closer to my goal - the interview - but I didn't have to hide the irritation from myself any more.
I'll try to come back to this subject from time to time, telling you what works for me, and what might work for you.