Right now five years ago, I was descending into a depressive episode that lasted for over a year. I don’t believe that I’m wired for chemicals-in-the-brain type depression, which means that if I’m experiencing depression, it’s because of factors in my outward environment, how I’m handling my thoughts, emotions, and body, or a combination of both. I don’t have an on/off switch for depression–it’s on a scale. Certain conditions or habits of body/mind may lead to an episode that lasts a few days–which I wouldn’t even call depression–and if I persist in those habits, it can last for weeks or months, and the longer I persist in those habits, the worse things become.
I’ve been having a tough week and have been entering back into that depressive territory. It isn’t fun, but it’s very different from five years ago, when I had no clue what was happening and assumed that there was just something wrong with me, and so things spiraled into a severe episode that persisted for a long time. Now I understand that, for me, it’s almost like these episodes have the same cause and effect. E.g.: Not moving my body causes these feelings, which lead to me not wanting to move my body. The causes of my difficulty this week have been mostly physical, I think, which have then carried over into mental territory.
This morning, I sat down and wrote out a list of the warning signs. These are the things that I do, or the changes in my environment, that show me I need to intervene. Looking at this list, I realize that five years ago, I was living like this all the time. Actually writing the list shows me what this is–getting out of touch and out of balance in my body and mind. I want to share this list because I think it’s easy to assume that Buddhists or other people who do regular practices like meditation have gotten to a place where they’ll never have to deal with negative thoughts and feelings again. I do feel frustrated sometimes, like, shouldn’t I be beyond this? But now I think, no, there’s no getting beyond it, only dealing with it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, happiness isn’t about getting rid of suffering, it’s about learning how to suffer well.
Do you have a list like this, either written down or in your head?
The Warning Signs
Consistently poor dietary choices that often lead to poor sleep and thus fatigue (caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, empty carbs.)
Fatigue. When it shows up, this is my opportunity to listen, but if I don’t listen, it will continue to show up.
There will be a certain task or tasks that I can’t get done, even though it’s something that only takes a few minutes or seconds. When I remember to do the task, I say, “I’ll do it later,” but when “later” comes, I never remember. Thus something small and simple may take days or weeks to complete. I often end up mentally rehearsing doing the thing dozens of times before doing it.
Being obsessed with checking my phone.
Always needing something to do or read, even while eating (the phone is a part of this larger pattern.)
Eating when I’m not hungry.
Masturbating when I’m not horny.
Spending a lot of time shopping or scheming about buying things, whether or not I actually end up spending any money.
Talking to myself a lot, forming grandiose views and opinions about trivial things.
Anything that’s out of the ordinary, like buying cards and presents or mailing packages, seems impossible to get together.
Feeling envious of others, left out. Usually this feeling emerges around seeing others with types of friendships or relationships I think I don’t have. When I’m reeeally deluded I may think about starting to date again. (I am poly, but have learned the hard way that this is a very, very not good time to think about starting a relationship.)
Avoiding practice or parts of practice–if I’m feeling fatigued, I may avoid asana, if I’m feeling scattered, I may avoid meditation.
Avoiding social events, or going outside.
My desk and office become really messy.
I spend inordinate amounts of time on “escapes,” which used to be things like games on my phone, but nowadays are usually reading, tarot stuff, or knitting. Which is funny, because I actually don’t think any of those latter three things are escapes when properly used.
Dreading or avoiding my inbox.
Completely checking out re: politics and world events.
What used to be a delight is now an obligation.
Avoiding others, especially family or friends who I think will make emotional demands on me.
Holding my pee for a really long time? (Just noticed this one recently.)
Less tolerance for being cold or uncomfortable.
General feelings and states of mind:
Fear; Overwhelm; Feeling generally broken, like something is wrong with me and I will always be that way; Inability to concentrate; Estrangement from my body; Avoidance; Isolation; Procrastination