In the first half of 2010, I was in the depths of my depression and anxiety. I was on a leave of absence from work, having consistent suicidal thoughts, inert, had no appetite, and prone to fits of spontaneous crying. I was receiving counseling, medication management, going for daily walks, receiving care from a naturopathic doctor, and attending my mediation sangha.
I was doing what I could, and yet, found myself unable to get out of bed or living room couch. Some days were slightly better than others, yet I couldn’t shake the persistent negative thoughts, suicidal callings, and paralyzing panic.
It was during this time that my father came to visit me for 2 weeks. He was worried about me and, I suppose, wanted to check-in and/or keep me company. I welcomed the visit, yet was not sure how it could bump me out of my depressive state.
He came with me as I drove to my counseling and psychiatrist appointments. We went out to lunch and went for daily walks. It was nice having company, but it didn’t shake my lack of energy or appetite. If anything, it make it worse.
For most of my father’s visit I was thrown across the bed unable to sleep, move, or talk. On one occasion he said “Talk to me!” and when I expressed the suicidal thoughts and feelings I was having, he yelled at me for having them. He made the critical remarks of “I have no idea why you are still fat if you don’t eat”, and “I came here to spend time with you, and all you do is sleep.”
After one particular argument, my father became frustrated and left a week early.
As you can see, my father does not have a bedside manner. He never has. He is revolted at the mere glimpse of weakness. So when he saw the reality of my depression, he had absolutely no idea how to handle it. In a moment of absolution, he sat in the car ready to leave, with eyes cast down he said, “I’m sorry I yelled. I just don’t know what to do. I love you.”
The memory of this came to me this morning, as a reminder that, trying to “get over” something with force is not always a good idea. My father is a “get over it” kind of person, and when he imposed this on me, my condition worsened.
I have heard people say to other depressed people, that they need to “get out, go do something, stop thinking about it” and so on. Although this is somewhat true, forcing one to do so at a dramatically different pace can sometimes be a set up for depression to worsen.
Depression calls us to listen to ourselves. Depression will be call out to us by any means necessary. When we don’t listen by pushing it away or ignoring (denying) it, depression will raise it’s voice and demand our attention. Yes, we must challenge ourselves when depression is here, but the challenge looks far different from what a non-depressives is familiar with.
When depression arrives, we must ask what it’ is trying to tell us and listen with compassion. We challenge ourselves in a manner that is so slow and gradual and we accept when inert will not budge.
Imagine your depression as a fussy newborn cradled in your arms. Forcing the newborn to do something it doesn’t want will only make the them fussier. Yet, if you slow down internally, pay close attention to the newborn’s cues as you try different soothing actions (feeding, swaddling, etc.), you may find what the newborn needs in that moment. Sometimes everything we try doesn’t work, and we simply hold the newborn, and accept the moment as it is.
It’s the slowing down and listening to your depression that can help you to find what self-care you need to take action on. ACA talks about reparenting, and this is one way we can re-parenting ourselves.