Hi guys! I feel like I haven’t been posting a lot on here (gosh knows I’ve been thinking a lot) and even considering posting…Which so far has mostly lead me to catalogue all of my archived blog posts (see my newly organized “Blog Index” lol).
Even though I’ve been active over the past month and I have several ideas up in the air about topics I’d like to discuss, I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to write and reflect about what’s been going on with me recently (which was the original purpose of this blog after all). So here we go with another personal update/series of ramblings about my life as I attempt to iron out my thoughts on digital “paper”.
So what have I been up to?
Sitting on the couch mostly…
My job finished and I’m back from my family trip, so I’m pretty much just riding out the next month doing some occasional work and volunteering until school starts.
After getting back from my trip almost a month ago I had a few significant “down” weeks where my mood really started to become cause for concern but thankfully, it didn’t seem to last. However, some strange part of me feels like an imposter because my mood turned so quickly – Was I really struggling at all? Did I have any real reason to be upset? I guess it comes down to the fact that yes, I was upset, yes, I was struggling, but no, I don’t think you’d call it a full “depressive episode” because it didn’t last long enough. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve help. That doesn’t mean my low mood wasn’t causing me pain. It is always worth looking in to whatever is upsetting you, even if there appears to be no tangible Cause or fancy label.
As someone who’s mental illness isn’t totally well-regulated yet, there was a very real risk that my low mood could stick around so my therapist obviously didn’t take it lightly. There’s always a chance that things could have gotten worse, but things don’t need to get worse in order for me to decide to take care of myself.
When depression creeps in its hard to find the energy to invest in working on yourself, let alone to believe that you’re worth taking care of in the first place. So you can’t wait. After more than a decade of living with mood disorders, I’m beginning to be able to recognize the early signs and I’m thankful I have my counsellor and my loved-ones to check in with me when I forget to check in myself. The longer you let things go, the harder it will be to dig yourself back out of that hole. You can’t wait until you feel like doing something about it, because with depression – you likely never will.
I find that it’s in these times you have to dig out every tool in the book. I reached out. Tried to explain how I was feeling. I felt like I was complaining, but really I was doing my best to get through a tough situation. I cried. A lot. I took cold showers. I wrote, read, and distracted myself to get through the tougher moments. And I didn’t use behaviours.
Begrudgingly turning to behavioural activation (really just another way of saying “doing stuff”) helped me kick the initial slump a little. It wasn’t easy – and for this reason I don’t think I’ll ever judge someone too harshly for having trouble finding motivation. I’m lucky that I was still at a point where “doing stuff” was a feasible option for me and with help from my boyfriend holding me accountable and some easily-scheduled plans with friends, I began to feel a little bit better again.
Of course, this whole “feeling better” thing is starting to rock my boat a little bit now too. It mostly just feels unfamiliar to me.
Things have been slow. I don’t have full-time work anymore and school doesn’t start back up for another month. I have the occasional camping trip or cottage weekend planned for the rest of the summer but its these in-between moments that seem to be where I struggle. At first sitting and “doing nothing” was almost excruciating, but I will admit – I think I’ve gotten better at it over the past year. The more I’ve been able to
allow force myself to slow down, the easier less painful it’s gotten. To the point where now I spend most of my mornings just hanging out around the apartment sitting on the couch… Gasp. I know! and guess what – Often my afternoons look very similar too.
My instinctual response to this is to berate myself. I automatically assume my worth as a person went out the door with my productivity. The self-critical thoughts have a field day now that I’m living what my boyfriend refers to as “his dream”. My worth has never extended far beyond my to-do list and its incredibly hard to break out of this way of thinking. In fact, its so difficult I could probably dedicate all the spare time in my day to doing CBT thought logs to try and tease apart my worth from my achievements and I would still struggle to be 100% comfortable watching more than two episodes of TV in a row.
I think it’s time I re-evaluate my definition of “productive”. Sitting on the couch won’t hurt me. It’s far from being as damaging as what I would have previously done to compensate for sitting on the couch. Knowing my history, and knowing myself, it’s probably healthier for me to take time to rest and reflect than any other alternative at this point. The only bad that could come of this is if I punish myself for it. The most “productive” thing I can do right now is to be gentle with myself for not following my old guidelines of what I thought “productive” was. I know that I am a conscientious person who cares about working hard and doing a good job – that’s not going to change overnight. I can still get done what needs to be done and I’m careful to be aware that I’m not neglecting myself.
I’m worried that I’m walking a slippery slope from where I am now to where depression used to take me but I also know that things are quite different. The burn-out I used to suffer often sent me into the pits of depression and would leave me bed-ridden but it was a long pattern of self-neglect that took me there. I’m more aware this time around. Sometimes too aware it seems – Not everyone would write a 2,000 word blog post over-thinking sitting on the couch… I’m trying not to analyze it to death, but you know…I’ve got all this free time… sooo!
I know there’s more than one reason I developed a destructive knee-jerk reaction to staying still. Broadly speaking – our society was a big influence. More specifically, I learned the wrong way to cope. I absorbed an attitude of self-neglect from a young age and connected the dots of working hard to being worthy. Self-sacrifice was always associated with success and free time was something you earned that had to be used as productively as possible. My temperament took over with the rest.
All things considered, my definition of productive has always been a very self-serving thing. While it wasn’t healthy, it was a survival mechanism that suited my personality. However, I would never weigh someone else’s worth based on what they had accomplished. I don’t love my boyfriend any less when he sits and plays computer games all day. I don’t appreciate my friends for what they achieve in school, I appreciate them for who they are. Its a dangerous (and ableist) thing to attach worth with our society’s narrow definition of “productivity” and it’s incredibly hard not to let the messages telling you otherwise affect you. Maybe, in my own small way I’m leading a rebellion. From my living room. That paints a pretty picture. (Certainly makes me feel better about myself). Rebelling against the beliefs that kept me sick, trapped, and suffering my whole life. Rebelling against my illness telling me differently. A middle finger in the air to the toxic “rest is for the weak” messages. Maybe there’s a good reason it’s uncomfortable.
I guess its understandable for me to worry that my recent laid-back lifestyle could slide into depression because it’s the only other example I have of this pace of living. Maybe it was always an act of self-preservation to slow down, this time I just took a different route to get here. Working myself until I burnt out didn’t feel any better, in fact I can certainly say it felt worse. I didn’t feel like I “earned” my rest back then, and I couldn’t have pushed myself any farther, so maybe the whole concept itself is flawed.
It’s not emotionally easy dissecting your world beliefs from the sofa. No, I’m not complaining that resting and relaxing is “too difficult” – but it’s a different kind of challenge for me. It’s hard to see a way forward from here – a way up off the mostly metaphorical couch. In the past the fuel for my fire would have eventually been restored by my self-hatred once I was physically capable of getting back into action. This time around I have to consider a different route onwards. One motivated by the desire to build myself a life worth living, not the desire to escape the one I currently have. I’m working towards a future for myself and considering that maybe I have goals. Something I’ve never contemplated before. Something that still overwhelms me to think about, but that I’m considering for the first time nonetheless.
It’s reassuring to know that I don’t have to have it all figured out to take the first steps. I’ve learned from experience that small movements in the right direction, with the right intention will add up in the end. It’s a matter of slowly adding good things to my days and letting my collection of goodness grow. It’s keeping myself healthy so I can continue to imagine what the future looks like. I’m not going to get up just to run myself back in to the ground again. I’m going to do whatever it takes to care for myself so I can get up and truly live, not just survive.