As 2012 winds to a close, I want to comment on my search for happiness and my journey over the past six months or so. I came upon the article “Depression’s Upside” from February 2010 in the NYTimes in the fantastic blog Musings of an Aspie. I remember reading this article when it came out almost three years ago, but its relevance to my current journey seems appropriate. When I started this blog, I felt like I was in the middle of a depression. I was overwhelmed with work, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life (just that my current path was unsustainable), and had a hard time thinking about what the next day would bring, much less what I would do as my next “career” after I left teaching. In actuality, I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, because I had already made the decision to change my life.
With the support of my family, I made the decision to leave my teaching job. For that I am so grateful. That one little (HUGE) decision has opened so many doors for me. I began volunteering at a local middle school where I work with three wonderful 5th graders twice a week. I spend more time with Max. I see my friends more often. My overall health has improved.
While we’re on the subject of health, let’s talk about mental health, which brings me back to the NYTimes article I mentioned before. I was diagnosed with depression in college (and I probably had it as a teenager, although it’s difficult to diagnose in teens), and I have dealt with it at various points in my life to varying degrees. These have ranged from “I can’t get off the couch for three days” to “You need to move out because you are crazy.”
Although this NYTimes article made me feel a little better because it says that depressed people have a higher tendency to ruminate (uh, yeah, all the time– especially about something trivial I did or said, usually 6 mos-6years ago) which can be traced to the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), which is also the site of intense concentration and analysis. Hooray! I also had the sneaking suspicion that the author of this article was also a major depressive and was making himself feel better about his depression. Depression is good because it makes you smarter, so don’t try to get rid of it– revel in it!
The problem is, depression sucks. A lot. It makes me stuck; it makes me cry on the bathroom floor or stay awake all night. Sure, it may make some people think through their problems, but as I understood it, the depression that could be studied was triggered by grief or job loss: (hopefully) brief and (relatively) manageable. Mr. Lehrer mixes his discussion of depressions brought on by loss of a spouse or loved one with those of recurring issues like the writer Robert Lowell, who struggled with bouts of depression his entire life. That being said, overall, this was an interesting article to read because it put a positive spin on depression and made me feel (a little) better about something that I had always felt was “wrong” with me.
One of the ways that rumination/concentration has really been an upside for me mental-health wise has been in my new-found practice of meditation. I have posted before about the blog zenhabits, where I first read “if you can focus on your breath for a minute, you can meditate.” That totally changed my world. I never thought I could concentrate for that long, but it’s not about that. It’s about being in the right now.
As I said before, I ruminate. I am either thinking about something I said or did in the past or something that I will do in the future. I hardly ever am thinking about what I am doing at the current moment– or at least I didn’t until a couple of months ago. Once I started meditating I realized in the first 48 hours that I didn’t actually breathe.
Really. I used to (and still sometimes do when I am anxious or I let my instincts take over) only in the top 10-20% of my lungs. No wonder I had migraines.
Now I am able to sit for 15-20 minutes at a time and try to clear my mind. Over and over again, I try to clear my mind. I practice being nice to myself, and it’s getting easier to be mindful of those times when I am being mean to myself in my ruminating mind as well.
Are the depressed lucky because they are more creative and focused? I doubt it. I wrote a novel this summer, but I don’t think it was because I was depressed, and I don’t think the novel was very good either. That may just be my negative self-talk as well. The problem with depression is that it tells you that you are not happy and you don’t deserve to be, even when you are doing great things: so you do even better things to prove to yourself that you’re good enough, and you continue to not be good enough for depression’s standards. The best thing to do is to try to break the cycle and find a peace somewhere in today if at all possible.