absorbed entirely

“You are constantly told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but a part of depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown does not mean that your life isn’t a mess. If there are issues you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping back up and stare you full in the face, and one aspect of depression is a deep knowledge that the comforting doctors who assure you that your judgment is bad are wrong. You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life. You can accept rationally that later, after the medication sets in, you will be better able to deal with the terribleness, but you will not be free of it. When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better.”  ― Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

I realized something new about My Depression recently. It drains the color out of my memories. It makes me feel foolish for enjoying them and rubs in my face how fleeting they were. My Depression takes the phrase “Then what?” and curses me with it.

“I’ll book a trip to Chicago! It’ll be great!” I say to myself. “Then what?” asks My Depression. This goes on with everything. Then what. Then what. Then what. Because my judgment and sense of time is so warped this Then What Game leads down a horrible path of “Why do anything at all?”.

The only mental trick I’ve been able to play on myself is the one of not caring myself into action:  “If you don’t care about doing anything, then sign up for xyz, text so and so, go to the new coffee shop, and make it to trivia tonight. If you really don’t care, just go and do.” That logic is what ultimately led me to San Diego the first time around and what’s led me to sign up for a kickball tournament this weekend.

I think often of the study done on fake smiling and how it can genuinely lessen stress. I feel I have to live that way sometimes – truly faking it until I make it back to normalcy. I loathe doing this. I first heard about this fake smiling study while working for a time at a Mind Perception and Morality Lab. While there, I learned just how horrible we are at predicting future states. For example, think of how you 10 years ago would have imagined life for you today. Can you spot any differences? This poor prediction ranges from “I’ll be happy after ____” to “I’ll want you to ___ if I’m ever in a comatose state”. The truth is no one really knows how they might feel tomorrow. We make these decisions in our current states and those are so affected by the situations we find ourselves in.

Speaking of situations, I’m terrible at separating out how I feel and what factors in my life might be contributing to those feelings. I jump right to internal attributions over external. I’ll forget that perhaps lack of sleep is causing me to not want to leave the house or to feel terribly weak at the gym. I have to fight to remind myself on really bad days to recount the last week, month, year – to pick apart what might be have led to my patterns of thinking.

This line from the quote above sticks with me: “You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life”. I think that’s the tricky part about depression. How you feel, what you remember, the monotony of living – it’s all accurate. I hate when people try to tell me it’s not and that it’s simply in my head. I’ve come to learn that the real terribleness is very much a part of one’s life and something to face but it’s not all life is. That’s the part I forget.

From time to time, I joke with friends about how we’ve been through worse. “You’re nervous about your presentation at work!? You came out to your parents! Nothing is worse than that!” We laugh and hope the nerves pass. More than anything, when I joke about those horrible, scary things I lived through I just look back in disbelief at how Past Anne got us through it all. While my trust in myself might be on understandably shaky ground, my respect only increases. The trust that does remain is the trust in the part of me that makes it through each time.


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