Two True Facts

1. I am sitting here crying because I read this Dear Sugar column, which is so unlike my situation (affair, kids) but so like it at the same time (moments of despair, the tangle of becoming someone else).

2. I am learning to program.

These two facts have nothing to do with each other on the surface. But in my head they are inextricably linked. This is because right now I am trying to find out who I am. I’ve been the unhappy person in a job they felt was sucking them dry. I’ve been an entrepreneur, master of my company and destiny. And now I’m not sure what I am. And here in my confusion I’ve gone back to the thing I’m most comfortable as.

A student. I am most comfortable when I’m learning. It’s why I can’t stand being alone for too long. And why I’ve fled jobs at full tilt. And why I’ve loved starting a company. In the end I’m just not happy unless I’m learning something.

And that gives rise to my dilemma. How do I stay true to that core of me? Learning to program is a lifeline right now, but I need something more. I need my day-in and day-out to have challenge. But I don’t know where I’ll get that and I don’t know who I’ll be once I have it. Or who I’ll be if I don’t.

Looking back it seems like all of my episodes of serious depression involved this issue. I hope, and believe, that having that common thread will help unravel this tangle. Because I’m sick of all this becoming. I want to move on to the being.

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Depression Experiment the First

So I’ve had some time to work on this idea of experimenting with my depression, and I’m back from the field to report my findings! Non-scientific science-ho!

Finding the first: Nothing is simple.

That seems disgustingly trite when it’s written down. But let’s back up. I’ve got reason to type that.

I had a couple theories of what would make me better. One of them was fairly simple in theory: Being around other people would distract me and make it harder to feel bad. And I got the perfect opportunity to try it out, since by coincidence, a couple of friends came to stay with me for a few days.

On the first day it was great. I had actually gotten things done that day (cleaning the apartment pre-visitors) so I felt good about that progress. And they were only here for a couple hours before it was bed time. So I felt good, didn’t have down time to feel awful, and it seemed like the idea was a success.

Then the second day was good. I felt bad that I didn’t get enough done while they were there. I also managed to find new ways to beat myself up. Like feeling like I was a bad hostess, because we all sat around on our computers that evening. When we had games and conversation and things the night before! But I also couldn’t let myself fall apart while they were around, so I ended up functioning pretty well.

By the third day I was ready to burst. Even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it, I was suppressing the way I felt so I could appear to be fully functioning while my friends were around. And turns out I can’t do that without being totally stressed! So I got cranky and impatient. Which made me feel bad. Which made me crankier. You can see the cycle starting here, I’m sure.

We went to a party that night, which alternated between bad and great. I would start feeling awesome! I chatted with people and had some good food and enjoyed (finally!) being out of the house. And then I would feel separated from everyone, like I was just observing while everyone else enjoyed themselves. I felt invisible and inconsequential. I had to make a conscious effort to rejoin them, to say or do anything. And then it would pass and things would be better.

So on the whole I’m not sure if this ‘be around people’ thing is bad advice or good advice. Was it my introvert nature combining with the depression to pull me under? Or was it all the depression, cutting me off from things that normally make me feel good? I honestly can’t say.

If anyone else has tried this, did it help you? Do you experience similar things? Do you think being an extrovert or an introvert helps or harms you dealing with these issues?

Beating the Illness

Today a friend texted me, and I listened while she reflected my own thoughts back at me. She’s going through a bout of depression just as a new one is settling its weight over top of me. It was rather uncanny, really. Here was another person telling me the things I’ve been to smushed and worn down to articulate. Somehow, it was helpful enough to motivate me.

Generally doing work that I can point to helps me pull out of the spiral before it’s too bad. But somehow that’s not working this time. So we’re working on it together, which is helping. And I’m going to use the scientific approach and see if that does something.

I’ve decided, partially based on advice from my amazing partner, that I’m going to start thinking of the depression as an illness and not…whatever else I had been thinking of it as. An unruly and cruel creature maybe? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m going to structure my days as if I were sick.

That means not pushing myself. And taking frequent breaks. And being happy to get anything done, rather than haranguing myself for getting not enough done. That will be hardest, I think. I’m very good at putting myself down when I’m like this, so that one will take some getting used to.

I know a lot of people struggle with this. And I know that hearing other people’s stories can be helpful. So I’m putting this here, and hoping that someone can learn from what I’m doing. And hoping that recording it will help me, because I’ve never done that before either. It’ll be a learning experience, which at the very least will be interesting. And if anyone else has their own stories, feel free to share.