It’s relatively easy for me to fall into a depressed mood. It’s also something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. What I’m coming to realize, though, is looking at depression as an enemy that must be fought only puts me deeper in the hole.
For the past week, my mood has been low. I’ve felt unmotivated, lazy, sad, and unwilling to do much besides read and listen to podcasts. My grandfather and I have forced each other to go for daily walks, which has helped me to not go too far down into the hole of depression.
Depression is a funny thing, and it’s something I still don’t quite understand. It can be hard to put into words. From the psychological standpoint, there is a standard definition experts use to diagnose it. Usually, people need to be experience several different symptoms for a prolonged period of time to be diagnosed with depression.
I can only speak to my own experience. For me, I’ve noticed my depressed moods can come on slowly, but surely. Usually, the moods aren’t totally related to something that happens – it’s more so the accumulation of negative self-talk that pushes me over the edge.
I struggle with perfectionism and being too critical of myself. My inner dialogue can be vicious sometimes. Most days, I manage to get through it and keep the dialogue on a low volume. Sometimes, though, the inner critic takes over and sends me in a tailspin.
A mood that feels alien
Once a depressed mood takes over, I find it hard to emerge from it. There’s a general feeling of hopelessness, a feeling of numbness and excessive guilt. A feeling of not being good enough, of falling short of those unrealistically high standards that I set for myself.
Eventually, the mood passes. In the meantime, though, there is real psychic pain. Sometimes there are brief, fleeting suicidal thoughts. Other times, there’s just a general malaise.
When the mood does pass, I look back on it (like I’m doing now) and I think, “Why was I thinking and behaving like that?” I usually think it was silly for me to get so low. When the mood passes and I’m feeling hopeful, it’s like the depression happened to someone else, not me.
That’s the strange thing about depression in my experience. The mood has an almost alien quality to it – like it’s a part of me, but it’s also some force that I don’t have control over. It’s like something that overcomes me and feels overpowering.
Not judging the mood
For the longest time, I felt that I needed to do battle with depression. I needed to fight through it. Part of this is true. It takes courage and perseverance to continue on when emotions are so wretched.
However, I’m beginning to learn an alternative coping style. In this style, I try to accept the mood. It doesn’t mean I have to like it. I try to be compassionate with myself. I observe the depression and the associated thoughts and I do not judge them – try to let them be.
This is another technique I’ve learned through DBT therapy. The result of using this technique is I still feel crappy for a while, but I don’t sink quite as a low. When I vigorously fight the depression, wishing it wasn’t there, it’s like I’m kicking and flailing in quicksand, making myself sink faster.
I’m curious: What’s your experience of depression like? What do you do to manage the feelings? How do you cope?
Be good to yourself and stay strong.