Three Ways of Looking at Depression
I listened to an episode of Invisibilia while driving to work yesterday: "The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes." The podcast described how putting on a doctor’s white coat made people perform 50% better on tests that required focus.
How cool is that? The human mind has these little shortcuts for better performance, and if you know how to use them to your advantage, well, then, you can. It makes me think:
Maybe there’s a mind hack for my depression.
Depression puts a suspicious, defensive skin over every social encounter. I don’t like being this person, and yet I've been crammed into this temperament against my will. And all the fixes I’ve tried don’t seem to help. I exercise, but I just end up more tired than ever. I meditate, but the sadness seems so vast that it swallows me up.
Maybe I could wear a lab coat to make me feel more confident. Maybe I can buy a hat and convince myself that it's been imbued with special powers of social grace. Or maybe, before every social situation, I could visualize myself putting on an invisible cloak of likeability. One that protects me from judgements, criticisms and slights.
Last night my husband said: “You go through these periods where you get depressed and distant, and it’s fine, but I worry that one day you’ll stay that way.”
It made me chuckle a little because it’s the same thing I worry about when he goes through his own depressive spells, which feel so different than mine. He gets angry, combative, explosive. I turn inward. I shut down, and don’t let anyone in.
It feels like I’m performing a public service.
I am sparing them from the worst parts of myself. But they are always hurt by this isolation, this isolation which feels so necessary. And I never know how to rectify that hurt.
Stupid inconveniences and minor disappointments leave me gutted. Like for example: I signed up for an agent pitch session at this writers’ conference, and I had one agent in mind, but when I went to pencil myself in, I found that all his sessions had been filled. I started to cry. The rational part of my brain was going, “This is not a big deal. This is so stupid. Why on earth are you overreacting?” And the truth was I didn’t know.
Here’s an analogy: each day you drive to work in a car.
You worked really hard and saved for a long time to buy that car. You're proud of that car. And then one morning you wake up and someone has swapped that car with another one: an old junker that runs only sporadically and belches toxic fumes, and might catch fire at any minute, and did I mention it’s uncomfortable?
And you have to go about your daily routine in this new old car, and not complain about it or let anyone know, because you’re embarrassed that you’ve been given it in the first place. And you don’t know when you’re going to get your real car back, or if you’ll ever get it back. And that is what depression is like.