My Garmin vibrates triumphantly to alert me that I have reached my step goal for the day. “At least I accomplished something,” I mutter to the watch, annoyed with it’s artificial happiness. I’ve been in a funk for nearing five days. Not a bad one. I’m not drowning in the throes of depression or near lifeless of exhaustion, but I am tired, almost to the point of numb, but never numb because my brain won’t let me feel that. No, if my brain can’t find any of the more defined emotions (joy, contentedness, anger, sadness) then it will default to guilt and shame. It’s a war I’ve waged inside myself for years. Its weapons platitudes. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else,” I chide myself as I put away dishes mechanically. “Yes, but choose wisely how you spend this time because it costs a day of your life,” I fire back after I’ve conceded in sitting down for a moment.
It’s a haunting cycle I’m trapped in until the day my brain snaps back into working order and I feel like a human being again. I fight with myself to complete the most menial of tasks then berate myself for not doing enough of them, or doing too many of them. There is no middle ground, no winning. The worst part of it all is that there can’t be. Thanks to years of leafning, therapy, and experimenting, I know that I am the only thing that gets me through this. There are people that can commit to a mental health day, hide from the world, and come out the other side. I am not one of them. I know, I’ve tried. If I allow my brain to swallow me up in this, I will stay swallowed, hiding under the covers with shitty reality television until…I don’t even know. I mean, theoretically, I’m sure I would have to come out sometime, but not in any time that fits with real life.
So, I must muster through. That advice from the General about making the bed? I do that. Every morning. Especially when these depressions hit. It doesn’t change a lot. I’m not suddenly ready to seize the day, but the bed is made and so I can check that off a to-do list. That’s pretty much how I will survive this time: reviewing my accomplishments, meager though they may appear. Bed made. Check. Kids cleaned, fed, and taken to school. Check. Emails read. Check. Dishes clean. Check. And so on it will go for the days that the nothingness tries to engulf me. Whenever the voice creeps in to tell me I am worthless, I will bring out my checklist of accomplishments to let it know that I have provided at least some value unto this life.
“Yeah, but you’re failing at writing,” the voice yells, and it’s not wrong. These times, they make writing more difficult. During these times, I hate everything that I write. Which is why now, I know not to touch my WIPs when I’m like this. You want a hint on how to edit down word counts? Read works when you’re in this dark place. Every word becomes meaningless and misplaced. Scenes that you once loved, that your agent still does, become unreadable. That’s why I know not to touch them during this time unless I absolutely have to. I won’t add value. I will take away beauty because, right now, my ability to see beauty is marred. If I have to touch something because of a deadline, I put my notes from my agent or editor right beside me. In normal times, these notes are a stepping stone to unlock my inspiration. In dark times, they are a script. Stick to the notes. Get this done. Let it be a check and move on. So, I do, and another check is added to my tally.
I do write, because I have to. Because you have to keep the spark alive. Sometimes, I even like what I’ve written when I leave the depression. Occasionally, I write myself into something successful enough to ebb back the waves of self-loathing. Those are rare, but I write anyway, just in case today is that day.
So far, it has not been. I’ve been in this dark place for days. Getting by. Doing what I know must be done for me to keep going. Momentum building. Enough checks in the right order and I will feel better. Like playing a puzzle game, I just have to keep shuffling and stringing together tiny wins until I unlock the good feeling. A step count here, an answered email there. A meeting, a made meal, a homework assist, a game with the kids. Eventually, if I keep plugging in the little wins, I will escape this.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need to rest, some people need medication, some people need more people. We all handle things differently, but right now this works for me. Will it work for everyone? Probably not. Will it undoubtedly work for me forever? I have no idea.
That’s maybe one of the hardest parts of depression or funks or whatever you want to call it is that there is no universal answer. The world throws solution after solution at you expecting what worked for them will work for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. When I get like this, so tired and hurt, so many people urge me just to “rest”. It’s not bad advice. It works for a lot of people. But, it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe because in normal life, I can rest. I don’t get to sleep in often or have days at a time to do nothing, but when I’m feeling good, I can shut down. I can curl up on the couch and watch The Good Place. I can waste thirty minutes playing Myst. We just don’t know what the answer is 100% of the time and it’s one of the most frustrating things about this or any illness really. Maybe it’s the frustration of being a human. The lack of certainties.
I don’t know. All of this has been a giant string leading to I don’t know I guess, which is entirely anticlimactic.
I’m going to try again, because while I don’t know why I wrote this, I do know that I felt like it had to be written. So, maybe it’s because while I feel utterly alone and weird right now, I’m not. I know that a lot of people experience this. Maybe it’s not depression exactly, but we all have funks. We all have times that for no reason whatsoever the world doesn’t feel right. We’re not alone or crazy, we’re not failing. We’re just being human. Falling down is OK. You just have to figure out how you get back up. Keep working away at your own personal jigsaw puzzle until you see the big picture. Throw in a therapist here, your general practitioner there. Take a long walk, take a long nap. Disappear for a day, force yourself out for a day. Make a checklist, throw away your checklist. Whatever stands a chance of working, just give it a try.
Speaking of giving it a try, what do you do when this feeling kicks in? When the world is a little darker. How do you survive? Let me know, because while I’ve got a healthy collection of tools in my bag, I’m always looking to add more.