I’ve recently had an ‘attack’, for want of a better word, of depression. Blog followers will know that this is something I live with and struggle with on a day to day basis. There’s things I do that don’t help and there’s things I do that do help. There’s things that help short term that don’t help long term and vice versa.
I was asked how I cope and how I keep up the output I do, which was a strange thing to ask someone who has effectively been laid up in bed for just over a week coping with feeling near-suicidal (I think before the current regimen of pills and therapy there would have been some self-harm or an attempt this time around).
Whatever things I’ve had set up to keep me motivated, coping and working have clearly failed, but I guess I’ll run over it anyway to honour the request, though I think I’ve talked about it before.
I try to keep a Schedule
There’s a story about the Belgian surrealist Renee Magritte that I like to reference and share when I talk about this. Magritte would treat his painting as a job. He would get up, put on his suit and tie, go to his studio and paint from 9-5 with a break for lunch. He treated his artistic enterprise with the same discipline and commitment as any other job.
I don’t have that discipline and frequently fail to keep to anything like a standard work day but I do try to get up in an orderly fashion, do a few chores, exercise and work to a daily – achievable – target.
Demand too much of yourself and you’ll fall short and that reinforces your feelings of failure and pointlessness. Learning to accept ‘microvictories’ – especially when you’re down – gives you a bit of a boost without straying into CBT/Positive thinking stuff (that I don’t get on with).
Frankly, when you feel like I have been this past fortnight, just getting out of bed is worthy of a quiet, internal little ‘woohoo!’ of victory and meeting goals might be worth a reward, some time on the computer, or reading a book.
When writing I try to do at least 2,000 words a day, good or bad, and don’t actively try to go over that any more. This can be difficult for someone who used to be able to run to 10,000 words a day but it stops me burning out and, some days, 2,000 words is like shitting a whole pineapple studded with razorblades. It’s MUCH harder to set meaningful and trackable goals when you’re not doing something like wordcount though.
Sadness, self-loathing, self-doubt, anxiety. These are all emotions and often ones that run out of control. Especially if you have a mental illness like depression. I shore up my defences against it by trying to take a step back from the emotional side of things and to look at them more logically. Again, I frequently fail because emotions are the cheat-codes to your mind, but it can and does help. About the only useful thing I did take away from CBT therapy were work-sheets that help you quantify your feelings, assess them from a distance and see if they make sense.
‘Strokes’ are little nice things that happen, compliments, trust, that sort of thing. I am FUCKING TERRIBLE at taking compliments due to my horrendous self-image problems and haven’t managed this yet but I am trying to accept more compliments in good grace and to try and allow my brain to process them and weight them more equally with the abuse. This is bloody tricky because – for sound evolutionary reasons – our brains tend to pay more attention to negative outcomes than positive ones. It can just get to the point where it’s no longer healthy.
So the short version then is:
- Set goals
- Reward yourself
- Accentuate the positive – just not in a hippy, new age way (keeping an objective score helps show up your brain as being a shithead).
NB: I also find distraction and stimulation help me stave off the sads and – weirdly – help me concentrate and accomplish. Most people find this distracting but I find argument, learning, joking and messing around on social media helpful. I understand that I’m a freak with regard to this and most people aren’t the same.