Posted by: emjb | July 4, 2005

Up, Down, Pause

It has been really instructive to start noticing my own moods, and trying to understand where they come from. This weekend, a depression swooped out of nowhere in particular, robbed me of some sleep and peace of mind, then lifted as suddenly as it came.

Depression is such a strange beast (and maybe happiness is too). The exact same set of facts and circumstances exist around you however you feel, but when you are depressed, you are only able to focus on one group of them, the most negative. When you’re elated, it’s just the opposite; you only think about the positive things in your life. You know, whichever mode you’re in, that you are ignoring some things and paying attention to others, but it’s very difficult to consciously choose which group to pay attention to. You don’t want to always be choosing euphoria, because there are things that you need to think about that are dark, that require your anger or your sadness. But if you think only about them, the world closes in on you, and you lose your ability to act.

I was in a discussion on metafilter not too long ago, about obesity. And the commenters seemed fairly evenly divided between those who saw it as a disease with physical and psychological (and even social) causes, and those who said things like “these sad sacks of flab just need to get off their asses and eat less.” And the commenters would perhaps then relate how they used to be heavy but got off their sad sorry asses, etc.

And I remembered how, when I used to think of myself as a sad sack of flab, I was even less motivated to eat healthily and exercise than when I didn’t. Because you don’t think those things about yourself unless you’re depressed, and depression and hopelessness don’t get your ass out of bed and onto the Stairmaster; they make you sleep in and maybe eat a tube of cookie batter to make yourself feel better. Because hey, if you’re are doomed to be a sad sack of flab whom no one will ever love, at least you can have a moment’s pleasure.

Anyway, what I was trying to get at is that when I start medicating myself with food, I know I am depressed, and for the moment, I’m not always sure how to fight it. Reason is not a tool that works; shame makes things worse. Understanding yourself helps a bit, I’ve found. Depression is at least partially anger, at least for me, so sometimes finding a focus for my anger that isn’t me can help. Meditation of a sort, so long as you go into it with no expectations, can help. Mindless tasks can sometimes distract you. But mostly, I just crouch down and wait for it to leave, which it eventually does. So far.

I can’t have anything but compassion for someone whose depression doesn’t leave, but moves in and makes itself comfortable.


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