Bad Habits

2013 was great for me – really, really great; I was happier, and more consistently happy, than at any other point since my early teens. Each previous year has been either euthymia marred by depression or, more commonly, dysthymia marred by depression, with particularly nasty episodes getting progressively worse in their intensity. This may be a common pattern for depression, and given my profoundly suicidal state in 2008-09 (in which I was only saved from self harm by the suffocating blanket of depressive apathy) and my short inpatient stay in 2012 (a relatively brief but – crucially – ‘active’ episode), you can imagine I’m careful to keep an eye on any signs of trouble.

I’ve not been feeling too great this week – so is this a sign of trouble?

When you’re stuck deep in depression, it becomes your all; it bends reality around you, so massive it has its own gravity, warping the world. But when you’re not, when you’re ‘recovered’, it still leaves it’s marks on you, through you. After years of feeling similar feelings, it becomes a habit, an easy valley for your thoughts to tumble down, all tumbledown. Some days other habits come easier, some days the world is busy enough and life is bustling enough that bad old habits don’t have space. But other days, when you’re tired, when you’re run down, when you’ve got stress playing at the back of your mind, down the valley your thoughts tumble. Each big episode carves deeper and deeper, so eventually all it takes is the slightest push before you find yourself a the bottom, not of a valley but a canyon.

So I’ve been stressed this week. Ironically, getting the January exams out of the way meant that I’ve been removed from immediate, acute stress and now left alone with rumbling, growling chronic concerns – my final project, losing my job in March, career options after this. Also, my bank account is bone dry after the December excess and early January paycheque.

And it’s become increasingly apparent – obvious, even – that the office I work in for my ‘day job’ acts as an incredibly powerful cue for some very, very nasty internal states. Normally I’ve got enough cognitive resources – and am away from work often enough – to deal with that, to resist the cue, the push down into the dark. But not right now. A relatively innocuous comment from a colleague is enough to make me plunge: Angry, thrashing, helpless; a caged animal all over again. Really, it’s no wonder – when I was working full time I remember the mindless tedium, the retreating into a cubicle to close my eyes and wish the world and my life away, inky depression like water on stone, so slow. And those would be OK times. Bad times – sobbing in the fire escape, the word ‘suicide’ spinning so loudly in my head that eventually it started to escape my lips (it still does, even now, when I’m stressed or tired. Like I say, habit. Water on stone).

As I say – all past now. But when I’m not alert, when I’m just slightly off, all that is only a whisper away. Wordless memories come flooding in.

But depression isn’t currently my all, not by any means. Because I can snap out of it. That horrid piece of ignorant advice which misers throw to the clinically depressed – actually applies to me. A distraction lifts me right back to the breezy hilltops of every day life. Which is absurd, I grant you, and makes something of a mockery of my acute despair, but also leads me to think I don’t need to be too worried yet.

Thoughts and feelings have a force of their own, especially the strong ones, well exercised over the years with an easy path to run down. A trigger can led them carry you away, then farther away, then farther away again, and it’s that I need to be worried about, getting so lost I can’t find my way back. Also letting the stress build up – not doing anything to allay my concerns and so giving these black thoughts an easy ride – that’s what I need to watch out for. If I’m worse in a couple of weeks, after doing everything practical to resolve my stressors, then I’ll go to the GP and get some citalopram. But until then, when I feel dark I just need to keep reminding myself that,  no matter how encompassing and monstrous it seems, for now it’s only a long shadow cast by low light.

I’m still good.

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