Coloring Therapy & Depression

I have been dodging my personal writing projects in the pursuit of professional advancement. The real result of this is that I’m rapidly becoming burnt out on the paid-for words. So, I’m renewing my commitment to come here and let off some steam.

I am a fat chick. I also workout. I do so because I like being strong and flexible. I love being able to go on challenging hikes or take my kid out for a kayaking day trip. Since I’ve begun putting a focus on my fitness habits, I’ve gained weight, not lost it (Hello, you sexy muscles you).

Part of my method of holding myself accountable to my fitness goals is daily blogging through Sparkpeople.com. They offer free trackers for food and fitness, useful calculators, free workout programs and videos, and other useful tidbits. They are also a social networking platform that offers status updates, friendships, forums, and blogs. For whatever reason, I can manage a quick blog there daily but I can’t force myself to sit down HERE and write.

Overly long introduction made not one bit shorter; I’m using the fitness blog post of today to inspire my blogging here. And maybe shaming myself a bit for being a lamer and dodging this while being consistent at that. (Bloggers there barely read what I write, they usually just comment with YOU CAN DO IT! Stickers. It’s hard to be scared of soccer moms doing Pilates in the basement while the kids are in school.)

Here goes:

Yesterday was tough. I have been low for a week or so. Yesterday I took a nose-dive towards the black abyss that is clinical depression. I’ve suffered from persistent depression for most of my life. These days, after much pain and struggle, I usually have pretty good control and rarely collapse into depression. Yesterday was a rarity, but no less challenging for being so.

For absolutely no discernible reason, I was depressed. It took me most of the day to recognize my state and start to take action for it. I hate when that happens. It wastes the day and all the while everything I SHOULD be doing is building up in the background of my mind. It feels like the constant buzz of the too-loud fridge at 3 am when you should be sleeping. I don’t quite know what’s bothering me, but SOMETHING is, and I can’t ignore the feeling.

By the time I realize I have things I should be doing, I’m in a rush and feeling overwhelmed. I become the worst human on the earth. Too lazy and mindless to be a writer. Too mentally cluttered to run a business. Too crazy to be an adult.

I have a pretty good internal voice. By nature, I am far more rational than emotional. When depression kicks in, emotions take over and my usually upbeat, thoughtful self devolves into a mass of jumbled and frayed wires, sparking pointlessly and melting fuses.

It’s hard to climb out of that mess. It’s hard to even find the starting point in the chaotic spider web of tangled lines and painful electrical surges.

I feel the need to pause here and break something down for the uninitiated.

Depression is not being sad.

Let me repeat that.

Depression is not being sad.

People can ‘feel depressed’ as a result of a traumatic life event. You can feel depressed over the ending of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job. That’s a normal human response to Life Happening. It’s cool. Grieve, process, grow.

Clinical depression can result from that sort of depression. Clinical depression also may not. I did not descend into a clinically depressed state following the wake of my life partner dying unexpectedly in our bed. I grieved – I’m still grieving, in fact, but I did not become depressed. Clinical depression can strike at literally any time for absolutely no concrete reason. You don’t need Life Happening to trigger depression. Sometimes, your brain just decides to kick out the wrong combination of chemicals and knock you on your ass, #sorrynotsorry style.

Here’s what it feels like to me:

  • Super fatigue. Have you ever been so exhausted that the mere idea of moving itself expends the remnants of your energy? I have.
  • Brain fog. My thoughts must move through molasses, the already dusty and poorly managed banks of memory become impossible to access, and 2+2= ?!?.  This is frustrating. My sense of self is deeply connected to my intelligence. Feeling stupid, slow, and mindless heightens my feelings of worthlessness like nothing else. Take away my brain and what am I left with?
  • Debbie Downer Syndrome. All the bad things I’ve said and done, every nasty word aimed my direction, every awkward social interaction I’ve had – it all comes back. I relive my worst moments in my head like a video reel on repeat. It cements the depression reality that I’m a terrible human being, and everyone is just too polite to tell me so.
  • Ennui. I cannot get excited about anything. The fun leeches out of me, and I can’t motivate myself to focus on even the laziest of activities. I can’t enjoy watching a TV show, or read a book, or play a game. I just don’t care. So even while I’m incapable of working effectively, I become incapable of leisure as well. All I can manage is to lay around and wait for it to pass, or sleep.

Depression for me is far more physical and mental than it is emotional. It blows. I’m a glass-half-full kinda gal. I am confident. I love who I am. No matter how much life throws at me, I gravitate towards joy and thankfulness. Depression is a deeply painful experience because it transforms me into something other than myself. I despise it.

After years and years of trying and failing to find a pathway out, I buckled down and went to a doctor. I was on oral meds and went to therapy for roughly a year. I went off the meds about three months in. Once I had my body in balance, it was just a matter (for me) of learning to recognize those days and weeks when I’m spiraling downwards and take steps to keep myself afloat till my positive self beats back the depression demon.

After being miserable all day yesterday without understanding what was up, I finally paused and gave a legitimate answer to the question my mister asked me a dozen or more times, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m depressed. It’s okay, I’ll emerge,” I answer.

Once I spoke the words aloud, I recognized the truth and saw my pathway back out of the hole I had been digging.

Do something nice for myself.

Do something useful.

Ask for help.

A coloring page of an owl, completed in colored pencil.
My rad retro-colored therapy owl.

Cool. Got it. I forced myself off the bed and into the shower. I read a little more of Stephen King’s On Writing. I went to the store and bought veggies to snack on (to make up for my crap eating of the day before) and picked up a very nice coloring book and a set of colored pencils. I made myself complete my daily (40 minutes) or exercise before I could color my first page. Then, I colored my first therapy owl.

He’s hanging above my monitors now, watching me with his wide yellow eyes. I think he’s a decent reminder to take care of myself. I’m going to imagine he has the voice of the owl from the Hundred Acre Woods.

I’m not all the way better today, but I’m getting there. It just took a moment of honesty, a partner who loves me, and a little bit of self-care.

Note:
If someone you know suffers from depression, do not expect them to simply snap out of it. Don’t expect their experiences to be like mine. Don’t make demands on them. Be there, if only for quiet companionship. Remind them of why you value them. Help them take small steps towards what they need to accomplish. Recognize that simple tasks can be overwhelming to someone in that state. Know that if they could, they’d very likely give up a useful limb to feel better.

If you are depressed, don’t expect to will yourself out of it. Go talk to a doctor, to a therapist, to a friend. Depression is a two-part problem. It’s not in your head; it’s in your biology. Sometimes, even the strongest person needs a medical push to navigate out of the maze. Don’t be ashamed to ask for that gentle nudge.