Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running Up That Hill

So my last post didn't yield much of a response, which made me skeptical about continuing.  But someone suggested I keep going, and to be honest the process is sort of interesting to me, so I'm hoping that this doesn't get too boring or preachy or what have you. 

My intention writing these things is absolutely not to suggest that I'm an expert on mental illness of any type or how to deal with it.  I'm really only a journeyman at dealing with it myself.  But I've made concrete, trackable progress over the past year of which I'm very proud, and if what I've done and experienced can help anyone else, then I'd be thrilled.  If not... well, then I hope you don't mind too much reading what goes on in my addled little brain. 

In the last post I discussed that all-important first step – the hardest one, if you ask me.  Once I was able to get past that hurdle I found it easier to make progress.  Here are a few of the things I've learned:

You're going to have setbacks. 

We're all works in progress.  And navigating the minefield of a disordered brain is no small feat.  There are still days when I feel fatigued, or anti-social, or unmotivated.  There are still days when that little voice in my brain just won't cease fire and I spend half my energy defending against it's relentless attack.  There are still some days when I lose that battle. 

But losing a battle doesn't mean losing the war.  I had to learn to forgive myself for not always being up to the fight.  I had to learn not to let myself spin the failure to beat that voice down into an even greater snowball of self-loathing.  I had to learn to keep perspective.  Pitfalls happen, and I had to learn to accept them and not let them undo any forward motion I'd attained. 

Which sort of brings me to the next thing that's been important to me...

Having a system helps.

You don't need to go all Memento, but for me I've found that having devices in place when mental crisis hits help me hold the downward spiral at bay.  I think of it like little failsafes I keep in place for when my brain just isn't cooperating.

A few examples: 

I self-medicate – harmlessly.  I always have almonds, or something containing almonds (I'm a big fan of these granola bars) with me.  This is partly because I tend to get low blood sugar and nuts help with that, but also because I have a hefty anxiety bend to my depression.  Almonds are high in magnesium, which helps with anxiety.  I admit that the immediate effect is almost certainly psychosomatic, but it does help.  Even just the act of sitting still and eating a few almonds, one by one, calms me down when I feel shaky. 

I write.  It's not usually public, but if I'm really in a state I've found that just the act of purging the poison from my head can be really helpful.  Sometimes people respond, sometimes they don't.  But the helpful part is the act of writing out the thoughts in my head and getting them out of my head.  I also find it helpful to go back and look over things I've written when I'm feeling more rational, so I can break down the way my mind works on itself and learn to better combat it. 

I reach out.  My instinct when I hit a depressive rut is to cocoon and hide from the world.  It's also the worst thing for me.  I've learned to force myself to reach out for contact – even if it's just texting a friend to make small talk, a little human interaction helps me.  It distracts me from my own thoughts, or gives me a chance to ask for help if I need it.  I used to sit and wallow, thinking that people didn't reach out to me because they didn't care.  What I was failing to understand was that my friends can't read my mind – they're happy to help me, but they need to know I need it. 

These things work for me.  What works for you will probably be different.  The important thing is figuring out the devices you can use to compensate when and where you need it. 

Meltdowns don't have to be nuclear. 

Sometimes, no matter what I do, the meltdown comes.  I cry, and I think awful, self-destructive things, and I want nothing more than to wallow in my misery.  I used to beat myself up for this (which is a really effective way of making a bad thing worse), but I've come to realize that sometimes it's better to just let the wave come and pass rather than swimming against it. 

Would I rather never have these episodes?  Of course.  But sometimes the energy spent trying to fight it off would be better used reaching out for a sympathetic ear once the worst of it has passed, or getting some much-needed rest, or otherwise recovering.  Sometimes my mind just needs to have a freak-out.  I think of it like a pressure cooker:  sometimes too much steam builds up and it just needs to be let out.  And that's really unpleasant when it's happening, but it can be a relief once it's passed. 

That said, I do my best not to let this happen when I'm around other people.  I don't like subjecting those around me to my frailties if I can avoid it.  But if I'm alone, and can afford to just ride it out, I find sometimes some of the weight comes off my shoulders once I come out the other side. 


Again... this is all stuff that I've learned about myself.  And it's come after years of confusion, self-analysis, hard work, and battling.  But it might be completely irrelevant to your situation.  The only thing I can really say with certainty is that it's important to know yourself.  Know what things tend to set you off and learn how to compensate.  Know what things help you feel better or cope.  And if you have anything you'd like to add to what I've put down here, I'd love to hear it!  

Post title stolen from Kate Bush.


  1. It is clear this piece comes from the heart. The personal care put into it is clear and I hope you continue to write these.
    I do not currently suffer from depression. However, I know others in my friends and family who do and I’ve seen many of the problems described, especially the inability to reach out. How would you suggest I talk to said party about these issues without coming across as intrusive and judgemental? I will still pass this along to those who need it most.

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      Honestly, the best thing you can do is let the person know that you're there and want to help if you can, but that you need them to ask when they need help. Don't pretend to understand if you don't, but make it clear that you're a source to whom they can turn if they need to.

      Beyond that it's hard. You can't force someone to seek out help, however badly they may need it, if they're not ready to do so. All you can do is let them know that help is there and try to encourage them to decide they're worth getting it.

    2. It's helpful to see other perspectives, even if the techniques don't always work the same for other people. I find that reaching out to people for help ONLY works when I well and truly need it; otherwise, it just adds additional stress and guilt that others saw me as needing help. Until I reach the end of my rope, I will fight myself harder and harder to repair the situations I find myself in...until that rope runs out. That's when I reach out, and hope my friends and colleagues are ready and willing to assist me. I consider myself fortunate that they always have been, in the past.

    3. I get the guilt thing. I struggle with it too. I don't like hanging my problems on other people. But I'm lucky enough to have friends who are willing to listen when I need it, or get me out of the house and my own head for a bit, or whatever. And I've learned to use that resource – I try to make sure I keep contact in good times too, though.

    4. groggerblogger, the best thing you can do is just ask a person how they're doing. If they need help they'll probably feel better about telling you after you've shown an interest. It makes the whole "I'm being a burden" thing a hell of a lot easier to deal with.

      Some people just deal with it by not reaching out at all though, so be aware that this might not always work. Also sometimes people are reaching out, but they have a small circle they reach out to. I have three or four internet people and a few more in meatspace that I will talk to, and most others will never hear about my stuff unless they ask.

  2. I don't have depression, but I do have other mental health issues and so much of this is applicable in other cases. I think it's awesome that you're sharing - the more open people are about this kind of thing, the lesser the societal stigma related to it becomes. Thanks, Tara.

  3. SO true, especially the part about reaching out. That's been a bit harder for me lately since my internet at home was turned off on the 11th, and I only get 1 hour of time at the library (2 if it's not busy) which has made reaching a little harder; my Dad works nights so he's not awake when I am usually, and my aunt is usually at a job interview. But when I can get in touch with my friends, it helps keep me off the ledge. Metaphorically speaking as I have a ground level apartment.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I've been fighting depression and anxiety for a long time, and while the worst of it passed years ago, it's not a war that ever really ends. Reading about other people's experiences and talking about it openly helped me more than anything else did, and it still helps me to this day. I hope you continue to post on the topic, because there is so much to say about it and there is always someone who needs to hear it. Heck, even I need to hear it again sometimes, and I'm an old veteran of this war.

    And congrats to you for your victories over the past year! That is awesome and it is something to be proud of.

    1. Thank you! You're right, it's a war you're always fighting. A lot of people don't understand that.

  5. Hi, Tara. I found you through WTFIWWY, which I found through TGWTG, which I found through a friend (the internet is a funny place) and now I came across your blog. It's interesting that you're writing about this just as I'm struggling with it again... it's all too familiar. The self-hatred, the guilt, the meltdowns. The constant fight against the brain. It's really good to read someone else, particularly someone so articulate, talk openly about it and know that other people understand.

    Congratulations on your progress! It's inspiring.

  6. The world needs more posts like this. There are still so many people who do not understand what it means to have to cope with depression. I'm honestly not sure if I've ever actually talked about my depression with anyone else. I usually just end up journaling. Reaching out is problematic. I'm so afraid of burdening my friends and family with something as seemingly insignificant as me feeling low. I end up thinking about their problems, and their lives, and how there are so many other people worse off than me that I start to feel like I'm spoiled and an awful person for feeling down in the first place. It can feel so daunting, like no matter how hard I try to make a little progress, I know I'm just going to end up falling back down. Music has always helped me. Journaling too, and walking. Thank you for being so honest about this topic. It genuinely helps just hearing from someone else who's fighting the same enemy you are.

    1. I totally get the guilt over being depressed in comparison to the problems of others. Then you hate yourself for *that*. It's a really vicious cycle.

      I'm glad you have things that work for you! Thanks for reading. :)

  7. Thanks for the post, I may try the almond thing since hunger can be one of my triggers and for me anxious thoughts often lead to depressive episodes, vice versa.