Last week I was fairly manic, but not in the fun “wheeeeeee! I’m getting a lot done, I’m CREATING, look at this fantastic painting I painted and listen to this amazing symphony I just wrote, and please frequent the 5 new businesses I started in my spare time!” kind of way. Nope, most of the time, my mania shows up as extremely driven, dysfunctional, and very chaotic anxiety peppered with very brief moments of feeling happy and like anything is possible, which feeds the mania monster enough to keep it going for a while.
At my worst I drag other people into the chaos with me, convincing myself and them that this time is different, and I really CAN commit to a long term project for the good of all mankind. I believe myself, and unless someone knows me really well, they believe me too. I have to rely on someone else to help stop me from committing to anyone about anything during this part of the cycle.
Before the Wall
I start by feeling alive, again. Usually I have had a few days of being “above the line” with depression. I’ve been feeling like I can breathe again, probably made it out to walk in the park and feel the trees. That may have lasted enough days that I begin to have a tiny little spark of hope that maybe things are going to be better. Then I start to get excited about life again. This is usually a bad sign.
By the next week, I find myself making to do lists of about 2 years worth of goals and expecting myself to fulfill them all completely and perfectly by tomorrow morning…Friday at the latest.
THEN, I can’t focus, but I work, work, work until I can’t work anymore, but I still feel that internal pressure like that little shaker thingy on the top of a pressure cooker is shaking harder and harder and pretty soon that weird alarm whistle signalling that the end is near is going to go off and I won’t have completed everything I set out to complete and then things will explode and the world will collapse in on itself and everyone – not just me, but EVERYONE – will die a horrible and tragic death. All because I didn’t get the graphics on my website finished to award winning standards.
As this goes on the days get shorter and faster, the happy moments of possibility get fewer and farther between, and I begin to feel like I’m on a train that is picking up speed. When I recognize what’s happening it’s too late…the train is headed for a very big, very hard wall. Once I see the wall, the train picks up speed and I realize that my sense that I was the ON the train has been false: I am actually tied to the front and about to be the cushion between the train’s grill and that reeeeally solid wall.
Beyond The Wall
I hit the wall sometimes within hours of recognizing that it’s coming. Worse, though, is when I see it coming a day or so in advance, and instead of slowing things down, I speed up in an attempt to get more done BEFORE I hit the it, because I know what happens when I do.
I am nothing. I’ve been crushed like a bug, and my juices are oozing and dripping into a puddle on the ground. I AM the puddle for a while. My brain starts to wind down like a recording being played on a machine that’s battery is dying. The voices are still trying, but the sound coming out is slower and slower and more and more distorted until finally I can’t understand it at all but there’s still this weird “wuah wuah wuaaaaah” kind of noise, and then a sort of break – but you can still hear the tape running through the machine.
I wish I could tell you that then there is silence. I would kind of enjoy the silence. Instead, though, there is still noise even as my energy and vitality disappears. It’s just that now, I feel disconnected from the noise, like it’s happening to me, rather than being generated BY me.
That’s the worst part of depression, for me. The disconnect. The feeling like I’m living under water in a plexiglass tank. Sometimes I can make myself get closer to the surface and get out of bed. Or with a HUGE surge of effort, I can make myself leave the house and even go talk to a real person for a little while. But that takes full throttle, sustained effort, and I end up exhausted and even more depressed and tired and disconnected afterwards.
Sometimes that effort pays off, and I can keep my head above water for a little bit. I can breathe and touch the world. But then I sink again, usually within hours. It’s back to either staying hidden in the depths, or using every ounce of will that I have to leave my room and even interact with my family.
I don’t know how long I’ll be down there. People say “get some exercise”, or “talk to a friend”. DO something, laugh at a movie, anything! That’s good advice, it really is. It’s better than NOT doing those things. Sometimes, though, it’s too much, and I’m too tired, and the plexiglass surrounding me is just too thick to get through.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
So I force myself to open the door and go be in the world for a bit. I talk, and listen, and there are words and my brain makes meaning out of them…but there is no connection. None. I have to mimic what I know I would have done if I did feel connected. I fake it, hoping that it will trigger some REAL response at some point. I hate pretending, but my other choice is some sort of comical deadpan lack of response, or staying hidden. I have tried just hiding until it passes, refusing to engage with other people. That definitely does NOT work – things just get worse when I do that.
When I do engage, though, I feel like a fraud. I can’t feel the other person. I can’t feel any of my favorite things: the trees or the ground or the breeze…it’s all out there and my senses register input, but I can’t connect to it. All I can feel is my body’s response to external stimuli and my thoughts, and even those are muted. Except for the really bad thoughts – for some reason those seem to be supercharged by depression. Like that part of my brain is one of those express lanes that goes one direction in the morning and another at night, and somehow depression flips it to go through morbid, depressing, even catastrophic scenarios over and over again.
This Is How Depression Feels To Me
I think it’s the disconnect that makes all of those external pings on my senses too much. I can’t connect, I can’t balance with the energy of the trees or love…so all I have is the hammering on my senses like someone is tapping on the glass of a fish tank. During those times, all I know is the annoyance and disturbance of all of that input, while I’m inside battling the images and words my brain is throwing at me.
Disconnected yet pummeled from the outside world, bombarded by my own brain, no vitality, body fatigued and collapsing under the weight of living. Yep – that pretty much sums up my personal experience of depression.
So What’s Next?
Last week I was manic. I lived in the pressure I created by piling impossible expectations on myself, and so many of them that I couldn’t do it all, and I couldn’t keep it straight – my mind like the ball in a pinball machine, but EVERYTHING in the arcade was up and running and lights were flashing and noise was everywhere and I was careening around and bouncing off of everything, accomplishing very little.
Then the train hit the wall (I know, I’m mixing metaphors again. whatever. shut up…), and now what? Now everything seems like too much, and impossible, and stupid. Things that two days ago seemed like they were the answer to everything, the solution to never ending happiness; today feel like someone else’s pipe dreams, and my brain is telling me that I was just lying to myself in the first place.
All I can do is hang on, during this phase of the cycle. I’ve been here before, I’ll be here again. The good news is that if I can just hang on, I know the cycle will continue, and I will come out of this phase again. Maybe this time I’ll be down here for less time. Maybe this time I can find my way out TODAY. Maybe this time I won’t get lost in it. Maybe.