Sunday, October 2, 2011

Not depressed enough to be depression

I want to start off this entry by stating that I've actually had a pretty good week, and I had a good day today as well.  I'm feeling pretty good, as I'm having some positive feedback at work, and I'm having fun with both my wife and my son.  With that said, I've been meaning to write about this for a couple of weeks now, as I wonder how many people can relate to this.

I went to therapy a few years ago because I was not dealing with small failures very well.  I screwed up a batch of homebrew and basically broke down crying.  I've screwed up batches before - and since, and I don't usually react that way.  It was basically the final straw, as I'm the type of person who blames himself for all kinds of things that aren't my fault, and as critical as I am of, well...EVERYTHING, I am incessantly critical of myself.  I can hear ten sincere compliments in a day, but if I hear one off-handed insult in that same day, that's going to be the only thing that fills my thoughts.

Basically what I learned to deal with in therapy was to recognize that I'm too damned hard on myself.  It still happens though, of course.  And while I'm genuinely a good-natured person and usually feel pretty positive about the world, sometimes I feel like just walking into a corner, curling up into a ball, and hiding from the world.

It doesn't happen often, but it comes and goes every now and then.  Different things will trigger this sort of feeling.  Sometimes it will be a bit of criticism that I hear.  Just a few weeks ago, I heard that a student transferred out of my class because it was "too hard".  Even though that's not really my reputation, and I'm sure that most students will find that to be laughable, I took it to mean that I suck and probably have no business teaching at all.  That's ridiculous, of course, but I felt that "Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt..." feeling of Hamlet's.

Sometimes I get that feeling when I just hear people who live in little bubbles say stupid things.  Sometimes I feel it when I hear people sputter thoughtless talking points that they parrot from some megalomaniac dimwit.  You know, crap like "class warfare" when you mention bringing the tax rates back to what they were when Clinton was in office.  Those kinds of things are even worse when I'm basically looking at a pay cut due to all the projected furlough days for my school district.  That kind of thing sure as hell doesn't help me to feel good.

Other times it will hit me when I think about my son.  The strange thing is that most of the happiest feelings I've ever had in my life have to do with him.  Today when I was going to take him to the park, he was hanging out with his mom, but he reached out to me when I indicated that we were about to get going.  He's the proverbial ray of sunshine in my life.  However, when I look on him as he sleeps, I sometimes feel like I love him so much that it hurts.  I worry about the future.  I worry about all the hardships that he'll have to face.  I worry how he can possibly make it in this world.

But then I look at my mom.  She was born in Germany two years before the country surrendered in WWII.  How the heck could her parents bring anybody into a world like that?  And then I worry about my son?  Logically, I know that he'll more than likely be okay.  At the same time, I feel like anything bad that ever happens to him will be my fault for playing my part in bringing him into the world.

Usually when something triggers it, I tend to think of all the other things that make me feel this way.  It's like thinking about one of them triggers something where I wind up thinking about all of them.  When I'm feeling positive though, the reverse tends to happen - one happy thing makes me think of a lot of other happy things.

Anyway, I'm not suicidal.  I don't walk around with a dark cloud floating above me all the time.  I'm not feeling extreme enough to be taking medications (as far as I can tell).  I enjoy my beer, but I still average only 1-2 a night - hardly enough to be "medicating" myself.  Overall, life is pretty good, but every now and then I feel like there's the entire Earth on my shoulders, slowly crushing me down.  Luckily it doesn't last long.  As I'm getting older, I'm just learning to deal with the fact that this is something I have to battle from time to time.  Certainly there are people who deal with far worse - both physically and mentally.

And I know what some people who are reading this out there might be thinking.  They're thinking that I'm obviously missing something from my life.  If only I had that thing that they had, then I'd feel more able to deal with those sad moments.  Well, if that's what you're thinking, let me just say that the thought of getting hooked on heroin only makes me feel more depressed - and the same goes with any other opiate.


Leah said...

I never thought I'd say I could relate to this until this past year, but I absolutely can. I have been going to therapy too and it does help. One of the things I tell myself when I have these moments was right out of my therapists' mouth. She said that emotions are like waves and when they come on you have to ride them, not try to push them back. You will never be able to push them back. I'm not giving you trite advice here, just saying that it helps me in the moment to not beat myself up further. When it happens, it happens and it will pass like a wave receding back into the ocean.
Anyway, I relate. For those who have a judgmental response, I am someone who once would have judged, until I went through it myself. You just never know.
Kudos for being honest about something most people would just bs about, Lance. I respect that a lot.

Connie said...

Totally relate. I think this kind of thing is common for many people. For me personally, I find that a lot of my forays into depression can be blamed in part on negative self-talk based on faulty assumptions (“I’m not good enough,” “People must think I’m stupid because I did/said that” etc). This is a very bad habit of mine, but I’ve been reading a lot on this topic lately and it has helped. One concept that really clicked for me is how frequently we tell ourselves false “stories” about ourselves and how people feel about us, based on jumped-to conclusions about people’s behavior (which usually has nothing to do with us at all!) Probably the best advice I've heard boiled down to a nutshell is: “Replace that voice in your head with someone who likes you!” Bringing it back to Shakespeare, it also helps to remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so!” Particularly applicable when worrying about a future that hasn’t happened yet. Very Highly Recommended Reading: Byron Katie “Loving What Is” or ”Who Would You Be Without Your Story?” and Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now”.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Thanks to both of you.

Connie, I always loved that line, but I had a hard time explaining it to my students why I liked it so much. Now I think I know the reason why.