I run a race with depression that keeps me on edge. The stakes are high because we race to take each other apart. I intend to keep the lead. For years, I’d hit the wall and lose the bare will to win. But somehow I got back not just the energy to move but a belief in myself that had long been lost. I can separate myself from depression, understand it’s a condition to be dealt with and so gain the inner strength not to give up anymore. Of course, in this race I never quite get to the finish line. There is no ending.
You can’t live with depression for fifty years, as I have, and fall for easy answers or mental tricks or chemical doses as ways to escape the problem and get on with your life. Bill Wilson once wrote an essay in The Language of the Heart that told his history with this problem. He couldn’t understand how the breakthroughs of the 12-step method could work with alcoholism but not with depression.
He thought he’d finally found the answer by becoming aware of two powerful drives in his personality. One was his dependence on external things, whether alcohol or womanizing or business success or praise that would bolster his ego artificially; the other was his demand for control over everything around him. By catching these drives at work, he was able to forestall the sequence that led to his recurring bouts with deep depression. According to one biography, My Name Is Bill, that turned out to be less than successful – depression stayed with him.
But there are a few things I take from his story that resemble the way I’ve learned to adapt.
- Total recovery will probably never happen. So I have to redefine the problem. It’s more like dealing with alcoholism through the 12-step method. Recovering means adapting to a life that includes depression but not letting it destroy me. That is the basic priority, as Therese Borchard has so powerfully given through her own fearless example: Staying alive!
- Staying ahead of depression takes active work that never stops. For major depression of the type I have, the treatments that are done to me don’t work for long. And the condition has become virtually self-sustaining, that is, no longer triggered by external situations but recurring without any evident change in my life circumstances.
- So I have to work from within, staying alert and catching the illness as it tries to seep under my skin. If I lose my focus, I will be letting depression take the lead. And that means it will make me an instrument of self-torture. I will do its bidding and take myself apart, bit by bit, until I find nothing left to live for.
- Just as Bill Wilson learned, one of the most effect methods is recognizing the different symptoms and moods of the condition as they begin to take hold of my behavior and thinking. If I can step aside for just an instant from the full assault of the symptom, long enough to glance sideways at it, I can spot what’s happening and immediately see myself experiencing that particular bend of mind or feeling. Here it comes, here it is, I’m feeling miserable because I’m depressed. Or I’m tearing myself down with every other thought – I don’t have to do that so you in there, you shut up, I’m not listening anymore – you’re just a disease, and you will not get me to believe what you’re saying. Of I see obsessive thinking taking hold, sizzling my mind and gut with something, invariably, that I did wrong. I see that I’m replaying it over and over, and I have to step back and just say to myself, you’re obsessing, that’s another symptom, so stop!
- All this requires attention and determination, and, of course, those are two qualities depression takes out at the earliest opportunity, like a military attack on command and control centers. My mind loses all focus in a fog, and I want to sit and stare at nothing as will is shot full of holes, like Dick Tracy and his villains after a gun battle. Daylight shows through my suddenly two-dimensional self. These are the toughest things: to maintain attention to what I’m going through and keep the ability to take action against those habits of taking myself apart.
- If all else fails, at least I retain the knowledge that this is part of a cycle that will pass, and that helps me get through.
What do you do to stay a step or two ahead – of whatever it might be that breaks your pace and knocks you flat?
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