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.

Teachings of the Bubble Shooter

Screnshot of a half-finished bubble shooter gameLife lessons can come from unexpected sources – snippets of overheard conversation in a public place, serendipitous discoveries while channel surfing, surprising insights from acquaintances who didn’t seem to be paying that much attention.

And then there’s the bubble shooter. Bubble shooters have everything I like in a game – color, shape, matching. And they avoid most of what I don’t like. Despite the shooting, nothing gets hurt. The bubbles don’t even break.

But the best thing about bubble shooters is that they cut right to core truths that should have been obvious but weren’t. Here are a few things bubble shooter games have taught me.

That deer in the headlights is me.

I wasn’t really conscious of just how disabling time pressure is to me until I started playing with bubble shooters. It stops me cold. I become flustered, make mistakes and miss opportunities. When I ended up stuck for months on levels where decisions must be made 100% swiftly and accurately to advance, I realized I hadn’t paid enough attention to the impact of time pressure on the rest of my life. I switched professions (and found some non-timed bubble shooter games).

Some things in life are harder, and that’s OK (within reason).

Check the reviews of any bubble shooter game, and you’ll find people complaining about how the bubbles don’t go where you point them. This is intentional, of course. Easy levels are fun and affirming, but if they were all easy, there would be no sense of achievement. After awhile, success without effort would become boring. On the other hand, if every level was difficult, the game would be arduous and dispiriting. I have sometimes wished for an obstacle-free “rest” life when the scales were tipped too heavily towards adversity, but I ultimately discovered I need a balance of accomplishment and challenge to be happy.

Get your priorities straight.

What bubble shooters revealed about the randomness (and ineffectiveness) of my tactics shocked me, but it did explain a lot. I have spent most of my life feeling confused about priorities. Or so I thought. Actually, my priorities were fine, I just lacked the confidence to follow through on them. I never realized how badly this messed up my life until I noticed how frequently I chose an action that would end a game instead of one that would continue it, even when I could easily predict these outcomes. This was not so much self-sabotage as cognitive dissonance between my behavior and my goals. Bubble shooters taught me to become conscious of my top priorities, and properly weight them to take precedence over everything else.

The ad-free version is worth the 99¢.

I played a favorite game for years, fuming at the distracting, annoying, and sometimes outright offensive ads, ranting about them in reviews, even downloading other apps to try and suppress them. The ad-free version was only 99¢, but I was damned if I was going to be harassed into buying something. Finally, I really looked at that decision and realized how bizarre (and more than a little control-freaky) it was to view paying a buck for something that gave me hours of pleasure as losing a power struggle.

Sooner or later you will conquer even the hardest levels.

This is the most telling lesson of all. I have been stuck for weeks or even months at the same level, playing it hundreds of times, often with steadily diminishing hope that I would ever make it through. And yet, I always did, eventually. When I learned to regard failure as an essential stage of generating new strategies, I finally found one that worked.

Overlapping circles of color against a pastel background

How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed

A woman sits at a table in front of her laptop with her head in hands, which cover her face Here’s a blog post by parenting columnist Ann Douglas that will speak to a lot of us in these distressing times. She draws a very useful distinction between staying informed and feeling obliged to be immersed in disturbing news, which is especially apropos for HSPs. I would even go so far as to say we may need to actively avoid news, when exposure to it becomes immobilizing. It’s not like we are in any danger of becoming indifferent to the plight of others. We aren’t built that way.

Her article also mentions the therapeutic value of moderate political action. I underscore moderation because it is not a strong suit for HSPs. The sense of urgency when people are suffering is a terrible taskmaster. But it is far more effective to be moderately active over time than to fling oneself full throttle into activism, only to crash and burn in short order and need a lengthy recovery. There’s a long haul ahead – we have to pace ourselves.

Projection

OMG, I thought I was the only one who had a hard time parting with the colored paper clips!

This is a lovely little video that every HSP will want to bookmark for those days when there is just too much of everything going on, and you catch yourself wondering wistfully how the other 80% lives.

To see more of my favorite videos on sensitivity, visit my YouTube HSP Playlist.

Finish Lines

I ran two races at once to win lives that were precious to me. My opponent was Death.

Death had a head start.

Sometimes I ran strong, hopeful and determined. Other times I faltered, exhausted, confused about where to go, feeling I had already lost. Always, whichever race I was running, I felt myself falling behind in the other.

In the end, Death won them both.

An animated calico cat runs across the screen

Life is Weird

So, after two months of no activity whatsoever in my newly chosen career, I suddenly have two clients this week, and both seem promising – that is, both will be good to work with, and need ongoing services.

This is also a week when I’m completing a project that put me in a highly stressful construction environment for the past few months. With the jackhammers shaking the building, and constant voices of workers shouting to each other over the racket day and night, I’ve felt like I was in a war zone.

It’s great to get away from that, but there are endless closing details to manage. If I could, I’d have chosen to do nothing else this week. Instead, I’m doing everything else! I wasn’t sure I could, but I am.
Busy woman at desk with 5 arms, typing, filing, and answering the phone all at the same time
And that’s a general theme of my life lately. I’m scrambling to keep up all the time. Continue reading

What You Don’t Know About Depression Can Kill You

In the wake of my post last week, The Black Hole of Depression, the Huffington Post obligingly published a highly relevant first-person account:

When You’re Depressed, You Can’t Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps

Or as I put it, ” If the problem is that your brain doesn’t work correctly, can you think your way out of that… with your brain?”

Remember, you read it here first :)

A couple of points about the Huff Post column:

1). Not caring about anything as a symptom of depression. “Things that you used to enjoy no longer interest you” is a commonly listed symptom of depression, and was certainly true for the columnist above.

(If you are curious what this might look like, check out the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Extreme Risk” from the 5th season. Oddly, there was another episode during the same season in which yet another crew member grappled with depression. Note that violence therapy, which was presented as the recovery “bootstrap” in both episodes, is NOT a recommended treatment plan!)

Indifference does not occur in everyone with depression, however. It certainly should not be depended upon as an identifying indicator. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there is no “before” to compare with for people who are chronically depressed (or at least, not one they remember). And some people experience extremes of emotions, rather than no emotions – I certainly did.

2). He felt “overwhelmed.” HSPs are familiar enough with that, for sure! And from his description of what was going on in his life, it seems like a reasonable reaction, right? But the important thing to note is not what he felt, but what it motivated him to do. It didn’t spur him to rethink or delegate, it immobilized him. That’s a perfect example of what I mentioned in Black Hole, about normal “negative” emotions not functioning the way they are supposed to when someone is depressed.

So does feeling too overwhelmed to function mean someone is depressed? Not necessarily. It could mean having unrealistic expectations of our own capacities because we’re HSPs and don’t know it (or men, and can’t admit it!). But if you stay that way, it’s a possibility to consider.