Inside Depression

A figure walks away from the camera into the fog on a wooden path through treesIt’s been a rough spring. The clouds won’t quit. They’re damping down my everything. I replaced my SAD light bulb, but my light meter showed no change. So I waived my no-new-charges credit card policy just this once, and bought a new light, only to get the same readings. So much for the light meter. But whether the light is too weak or my SAD is too strong, I don’t need a meter to tell me it isn’t enough.

I keep up with housework, just. Since I mostly work from home, I don’t have to shower, get dressed, or go out in public. That helps. But I am impatient with my cat, snarky on social media, and racked with anxiety after the 15th of every month. Will I make the rent?? I stop buying groceries, make do with what I have on hand. It is dispiriting not to be able to afford something as basic as food. So far, things have always come together in the nick of time, but this month, I don’t see how that could happen.

I still have a part-time job, a holdover from my previous profession. Though the circumstances are about as good as a job of its type could possibly get, the contrast with my new work, which hardly seems like work at all, has made it clear just how much I hate that job, have hated it for years. It pays about 3/4 of my rent, so I can’t afford to give it up. And yet I can’t get myself to go in, putting it off until right before payday, then having to work all my hours over a short period.

Meanwhile, my business has fallen off. I’m not sure if this is due to changes in my advertising venue, or the advent of competition in a niche I previously had pretty much to myself, but most of my business these days is with previous clients. Which is gratifying in its own way, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. Why does an urgent need for self-promotion always rear its toothy head when I feel least able to put myself on display and take risks?

Not that I am completely defeated by challenges. HSP overwhelm is an emotional reaction, not true information about my abilities, I remind myself. I apply objective measures: It’s really huge that I am able to pay all of my bills each month, without adding anything to my credit card debt, for the first time in years. I have even been able to move some of the highest interest debt to lower interest cards. In the big picture, I am right on course in my long range plan.

I respond to emotional needs with common sense problem-solving. To fend off monthly funk and fear, I started tithing a percentage of every dollar earned straight to savings. This would be a great response to overspending. Unfortunately, the current problem is underearning.

I can’t seem to get much emotional mileage out of reality-checking and practical measures. They are lost in the shadow of the doldrums of today, which loom so much larger than the distant unknowable future. Depression takes the spark out of your plug. When the sun is out, to think is to act. When it’s not, the chasm between the two is impassable. All I want to do is nothing.

I have some major projects on my list. As you might imagine, they are well and truly stalled. Any tenuous flicker of interest that manages to penetrate the fog is swiftly extinguished by oversized expectations. But I’m getting past that a little, nurturing those tiny flames by not feeding them too much too soon. “Just do one thing,” I whisper to myself. And I do, and maybe a few days later, I do one more thing. After awhile, I am almost surprised when the progress is visible.

But no boost lasts long, not when another day dawns and it’s as overcast as the one before. I fear sunny weather may never kick in. We have summers like that sometimes. I’m in a holding pattern, and it’s getting really old.

Looking Up from the Bottom of the Year

A closeup of the sun against a dark sky showing solar flares, and a silhouette of long grass at the bottom.
When poets refer to the “dark night of the soul,” or gasp “more light!” with their dying breath, I know exactly how they feel. As a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my personal objective each winter is:

Just get through it.

So it will probably not surprise anyone that today, the Winter Solstice, is my favorite holiday. Last night was the longest night (and shortest day) of the year. Starting today, each span of daylight gets a little bit longer for the next 6 months. There is another month or more of chilly weather ahead, but I made it through the bottom of the year, a very heartening milestone.

The head of a roaring bearWinter with SAD is an endless round of rediscovering, when I notice that I have become snappish and utterly unmotivated, that I need to tend to my light therapy, get my sleep cycle back on a reasonable schedule, and/or spend more time outdoors. I don’t even try to curb my carbohydrate consumption. With the limited energies of the season, I have to pick my battles.

What would it be like to live on the equator, with 12 hour days and 12 hour nights year round? The consistency would be a relief, but I’d sure miss the 16 hour days at the other end of the year.

I have tried to calculate what shape and orbit and tilt would be required for a planet with my ideal weather (58-72 degrees, 365 sunny days a year and rain only at night), but my limited knowledge of astronomy fails me. And honestly, if it’s impossible, I don’t want to know. We all need our winter dreams.

Plant-covered stone sculpture of woman sleeping stretched out on the ground as if she is halfway under the earth.

In Which, At Last, My Ship Arrives

After six years of integrating a new understanding of my own character, the last three of which were focused on an agonizingly slow career evolution, things are looking up. My new profession finally gelled, and a lot of other things that were on hold along with it are finally flowing too.
An old time sailing ship on a calm sea
I started this blog hoping for such an outcome, and also hoping that sharing my process along the way would be useful to others. It didn’t quite work out that way, especially for the past couple of years. The things that were getting in the way of my working life also got in the way of my blogging life.

And the Answer Is…

An elaborate old metal key on a rusty chainI’d give you the magical life-fixing key, but it turns out I had it all along, and you probably do too. The trick is having enough faith to try it in the door.

If there is a secret, it’s self-acceptance. Reconsidering personality through the prisms of introversion, sensory processing sensitivity, and Clifton Strengths helped me give myself permission to be who I am, and to build my life around my own physical and emotional comfort, without drowning in guilt or shame.

It still feels a little daring just to write that. What’s so horrible about needing to feel respected at work, anyway? No one would find that excessive in a man. But the female role monster lurks in corners, ready to pounce on me for my unwomanly egotism.

This is Your New Life

My new life is a lot like my old one. I still have to stick to my depression management program. I still struggle with internalized critical voices, and the stresses of being an HSP introvert in a mostly unsympathetic culture.

And yet, it feels different. Things I have been visualizing for years (if not decades), are finally coming to pass. I followed my own drummer, and it turned out OK. It seemed like every other decision was waiting for that affirmation. I was afraid to let go of other things, even when they were weighing me down, whether unneeded possessions or short term jobs I hated. My backup plan was failure. Some security!
A dirt road through an open savannah curves in the distance towards the clearing sky and a lone tree
This isn’t the end of Sensitive Type, because it isn’t the end of a road. More like another twist on the spiral. Progress is so incremental, and there will be other challenges and other deepenings, I’m sure. See you then.

DissStress

For anyone who is still thinking that stress is an attitude, and you just have to get over it, this article discusses the surprisingly extensive research on how traumatic childhood experiences impact lifelong health prognosis. The effects are pretty dramatic and apply to a lot of people. Certain interventions are also dramatic in their effectiveness, yet the findings have not been well-integrated into treatments, much less into prevention. What are health and human service professionals waiting for?
The head of a statue lies on the ground. It has cracked vertically down the center of the face, and one side has slipped downward so that the two sides are skewed.

The truth is, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps will only take you as far as your ankles. For a list of traumas, open the Data and Statistics tab on this page, and click on ACEs Definitions. When you’re done with that, check out ACEs Prevalence, and then ask yourself whether we are really focusing on the right problems in our political lives.

Depression is Not a Personality Type

Depression is not a personality type. It is a painful, confusing, exhausting, and PREVENTABLE impairment of the most important organ in your body.

A statue of a sensitive young face. The statue has been broekn and repaired, so that there are cracks, and small pieces missing from the face.

Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being

Hah, I knew it! In this Scientific American article, a psychotherapist discusses the benefits of “negative” emotions, and the risks of repressing them. Maybe we should stop calling them “negative” and instead refer to them as transformative. What’s that you say – “transformative” could apply to all emotions? Exactly.