The Vicious Grey Cycle
April was a tough month-but then again, so was March and February. Winter just sucked, okay?
I’ve been on anti-depressants since the Fall, and they worked wonders for a while. As someone who’s been depressed since his early-20s, it was nice to feel more like myself for once. It was as though a grey lens had been lifted, and I could actually see colour.
I welcomed the sadness, anger, and frustration-alongside the happiness and excitement, of course. It certainly beat the constant irritability, reticence, and feeling of monotony that had characterized my life up until that point.
I’m not sure when that upward momentum stopped, but I grew increasingly withdrawn entering the winter months. Maybe all of the life changes that I had gone through up until that point had finally caught up to me: buying my first home, moving away from my friends and family, settling into a new job, preparing for my first child, supporting a pregnant partner, and all of the usual financial and personal stressors one deals with on a day-to-day basis.
My therapist has since helped me acknowledge how much that truly is, but at the time I chose to repress and avoid processing anything. Looking back on it now, when has repression ever worked for anyone?
To bring this tragedy to its fateful climax, things got progressively worse until they reached a head in April, when I was forced to confront how miserable, spiteful, and hurtful I had become.
Doing the Work
In the past when I’ve hit my lowest lows, I would be overwhelmed by a sense of self-loathing. I would assume that nobody wanted to be around me, so I would withdraw and not seek support. This would often manifest as shutting myself in my room alone, distracting myself with a hobby, sleeping as long as I could, or being generally sulky.
As unpleasant as this all sounds, it’s easy to do. My body wants to do these things because it means that I don’t have to put any actual work in. It means that I can just wait until my serotonin levels increase to the point that I can will myself to “move on” without addressing anything.
But clearly that doesn’t work.
What I’m realizing-and what other people have likely learned through their own tribulations-is that you need to be an active and willing agent in your own healing, whatever that looks like for you. Sure, other people might be willing to offer help and support where they can, but the responsibility ultimately falls on you.
I should note that I mean this in a very general sense; I realize there are circumstances in which trauma or chemical imbalances render this impossible for some individuals without professional treatment. And with that in mind, this is what’s been working for me. This is what’s been keeping me hopeful.
This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but I know some individuals are either intimidated by the idea of therapy or dismiss it as being redundant if you’re self-aware enough. In my case, I’m neither intimidated nor self-aware, so I suppose I’m the perfect candidate. That being said, I haven’t had the best track record with therapists, having found most of the ones I’ve had to lack a certain degree of understanding or sensitivity. With my new therapist, however, I feel validated and heard. I have a safe, judgment-free space where I can talk and reflect on some of my own past traumas and behaviour.
I mentioned before that I had started medication back in the Fall, but at the time, that’s all I was doing. Medication put me in a place where it became easier to work on myself, but I still have to do most of the leg work. It serves to better balance my neurotransmitters, in particular serotonin, so that I don’t succumb to the undertow of depression as easily.
Books on psychology, mindfulness, and meditation are a great way to gain insight behind certain behaviours and emotions, as well as strategies for coping and healing. I was fortunate enough to have come across three books that work great together.
- The Body Keeps the Score — An exploration of the inseparable link between the mind and body, the evolution of trauma treatment within psychiatry, and strategies to cope with or overcome trauma
- It’s Not Always Depression — An analysis of how core emotions (like anger, sadness, and joy) or often blocked by inhibitory emotions (guilt, anxiety, shame) and learned defences-and how to find and connect with your authentic self
- Wherever You Go, There You Are — A roadmap for how to introduce mindfulness and meditation techniques into your day-to-day life and living with more intention each day
I’m no stranger to journaling, but I am new to keeping a diary. For the past couple of years, I’ve practiced bullet journaling, which is more or less a productivity technique. I would occasionally write an entry at the end of each day to reflect on how the day went or how I felt, but that never became a habit. My partner was the one to suggest that I have a notebook dedicated to myself-not one that I shared with mundane and trivial to-do lists and work obligations-a space that was for me only. As someone who’s become so accustomed to keeping his thoughts to himself, this has been an adjustment. As a teenager I feared that my parents would come across my diary, so I kept all of my thoughts and feelings to myself, where nobody could access them. Committing words to paper is scary, but the vulnerability and tactile nature of it feels good. I even got myself a nice little fountain pen to make the writing experience even more magical.
Like writing, it’s nice to set some time aside each day to be alone without distraction. As new-agey as it sounds, meditation and mindfulness have helped me feel more connected to myself and more connected to others. When I meditate, I’m much more thoughtful and deliberate with my words and my actions because I’m better able to separate myself from my emotions in the moment and choose what I’d like to do.
If you know me, you know that this is a pretty big thing. Very rarely do I deeply reflect on things as a means of processing. I’d rather distract myself or put emotions to the side. Lately, however, I’ve been reflecting a lot on things ranging from my childhood to my future. For example, it’s helped me foster a deeper sense of compassion and understanding for my parents and how they chose to raise me.
If you’ve done any poking around on my website, you’d see that it’s a hodgepodge of things including random blog articles, poetry, and playlists-all things I’m interested in. For a long time I’ve cared about the image that I project to others (and in many ways I still do). It would come down to small things like my choice in music to the books I read. But in an effort to be more authentic, I think it’s important to share all dimensions of myself, even if they don’t all resonate with others. It also creates a certain level of accountability. If I’m telling the internet that I’m trying to heal, then I’d best get my shit together. Otherwise @ismokeweed_69 might come knocking at my door.
Humans are social creatures, and I’m no exception-despite the misanthropic, introverted vibe I may project. I don’t know where I’d be without my partner. She has been nothing but supportive over the years, even when I’ve pushed her away or felt abandoned and forgotten by others. She doesn’t talk about her values; she lives them. If I ever needed a lesson in empathy, honesty, and sincerity, I’d just need to look to her. And as difficult as it’s been working from home and living in a new city, I’ve also been thinking about what matters most to me in my friendships.
We Hurt and Heal in Our Own Ways
Whenever I read stories from someone struggling with depression, elements of the story will usually resonate with me. But despite any similarities we may share, we are uniquely affected. Similarly, the strategies and techniques we use to process and heal are different. If you find yourself struggling too, what I’ve listed might not necessarily work for you. Likewise, what’s been working now for me might not work months from now. That being said, stay curious and keep an open mind.