Why I try to understand depression, I find too few words with too many meanings. This isn’t quibbling over semantics. It’s about what you feel when living with depression and what you feel when you can finally live without it. It’s about the experience behind the words.
Take the word, control. To control and to be controlling are bad. Your world is all about you, and everyone else is there to meet your needs.
But being out of control is also bad. Most self-help books and therapists I know encourage me to take back control of my life.
As far as my experience goes, both of these ideas about control are true. I’ve lived each one.
When I’m depressed, I can flare up in anger with my family. I’m anxious and panicky at facing groups of people. I’m nervous and fearful about trying any new experience. I avoid people as much as I can and prefer to be alone. All of that is about control.
Depression Taking Over
Sometimes I think that depression has taken control, and I’m not the person I used to know. It helps me to imagine that depression is a separate force, a trespasser I can kick out of my life when I’m well enough. Then I’ll be in control of myself again, and all these symptoms will disappear.
But there’s a different way to look at control without resorting to the fiction of another person taking over. I’m still me when I’m depressed, after all, but I’m acting in a destructive way.
Driven to Control
Out flashes anger and tension when someone close to me isn’t doing what I want or expect. Irrational as my blame may be, I want them to do what I say they should do. I feel a twisting tension in my gut if they don’t. I’ve made them part of a field of vision that cannot be disturbed. I have to control them as if they were actors in a play I’d written.
I’ve pushed out my boundary as a person to surround everyone else in my life, everyone I can influence in some way. I’m anxious in groups because I can’t predict or control what might happen. I don’t have a script to follow. I’ll perform well if I’m at center stage and can say or do what I want, but apart from that I can become frozen in panic. I might disappear in place, detached and absent while physically there, or I might have to get out of the room altogether.
Depressed, I’m afraid of being among people I don’t know, even people I do know. I can’t foresee how it will turn out, and I’m afraid. That fear has to do with my inability to control the experience. There is too much stress in the unexpected, the need for spontaneity, the demand by others that I be available, open to them.
I’m running away from the scenes of inner chaos I imagine, never thinking that they might turn out differently. I exaggerate my importance and assume that my shortcomings will be the center of attention. Of course, everyone else will be focused on their own issues rather than me, but that doesn’t seem to count. Even if I’m looking ahead to meeting friends, I can forget their concerns and the kindness, love or simple friendly openness I might encounter. I don’t know what will happen
I put myself at the center of the scene I imagine and know full well I won’t be able to hold that spot. I’ll be silent, unable to speak, wishing I were invisible. I spend so much time wrapped up in these self-centered thoughts that I confirm my aloneness.
When I retreat and I’m on my own, everything is just as I want it. I’m in control, or so I imagine. No one else can take charge. I think I have my refuge without stress, but it’s not so simple. The act of avoidance itself can bring on shame and lots of stress. I feel like I’ve failed and wind up frustrated, obsessing about what I’ve done wrong, unable to get anything done. I still feel lost.
Aware and In Control
When I’m consciously in control, I draw my boundaries with awareness of where I leave off and others begin. We talk a lot about the artificiality of boundaries, that we’re really connected, part of a greater being. Maybe so, but in this level of unenlightened reality well-being depends on boundaries. You can be as open to connecting with people as you wish, but you are choosing when to open and close the boundary.
I’m in control of myself when I’m not worried about control. I’m relaxed and no longer feel driven by some compulsion I can’t understand.
Being in control of my life means that I’ve become conscious of the extremes of my anger, fear, depression and know when they’re no longer feelings but moods and forces that threaten to dominate. I know how to keep them in check, and I can make choices about my life with awareness and a sense of balance.
But when I’m lost in depression, I’m turned inside out. There’s a self-destructive storm in progress. I may feel weighted down, living in a fog, but there’s something roiling inside me at the same time. I feel it only as fear and stress, but it must be more violent than that.
I’m both a tornado and its victim. My whole being swirls with force that increases in intensity as it spins down toward the ground. I’m spending all that inner power to narrow the scope of experience into a small circle of focused destruction, all the while furiously churning to keep everyone else away. But I’m also the one on the ground, trying to keep everything under control but torn apart by my own storm.
That’s the control of depression. Everything looks so quiet on the outside, yet within I’m working hard to hit bottom and feel dead. Then I’m just wanting the tornado to tear me off the earth and make me disappear.
Do you ever think of depression in terms of control?