I’ve got it. Always had it, as far as I can tell. It’s not always knocking me out at the knees, but when it comes calling with determination, I fall on my ass pretty hard.
Right now, I’m about halfway there. I'm not, "ready to be put in the ground," level-depressed. But I am in a, "what's the point of trying" grade depression every so often. Somedays, I'm more accurately fluctuating between wanting to be active and productive via my anxiety pathways and preferring to stare a wall while I silently sob thanks to the alternate route. Isn’t mental health interesting?
It helps that my feelings at this moment have a lot of validity… I’m not just arbitrarily in a weird place due to my own rumination or victim mindset, and I can say that with certainty. I only bring this up, not to say that anyone's feelings are illegitimate, but because at some points in my life, I’m not so sure that my own brain patterns weren’t the cause of my even darker brain patterns. One negative thought would lead to a thousand negative thoughts, and pretty soon I was ready to give up on everything thanks to my own premonitions about how sad my life was determined to be.
But this isn’t one of those times.
I have a lot of shit on my plate right now, a mountain of uncertainty, and relatively little I can do to sort things out myself. I’m feeling trapped, disheartened, and, therefore, frozen. You know? Remember that old episode about falling into special survival states - the Freeze better known within the context of flight/flight/fawn fame? The condition where we just play dead and wait for the unchangable disaster to pass? I'm right about there.
My life feels ambiguous and out of control. I have no idea what next week, let alone next year holds. I'm contending with guilt, grief, and annoyance. I’m disappointed by other people in every way imaginable. It’s a lonely, yet interpersonally reliant, place to be.
You're right on the money if that makes your head spin.
And, fuck, my head is spiraling out to sea most hours of the day right now. My usual drive to do-do-do is gone-gone-gone. Maybe this is a good thing after the work-based year I’ve had. Maybe my brain was bound to peeter out at some point, anyways. Maybe I need some R&R to come back with maximum clarity and excitement. This could all be part of an imminent productivity ebb and flow that I’ve been pushing away so I could wrap up the school year without fucking myself. There's no doubt.
But what I can say right now is, I’m a bit lost in a depressive spell.
My head really isn’t wanting to focus on serious tasks. I have too many negative thoughts popping into my working processes to stay on task for long (hey, there’s research about how depression disrupts people in this executive function blocking way; it explains a lot). And, beyond that, I’m finding that the tasks my brain does find comfort in right now are very different from my usual resting places in the past several years.
I just thought it would be interesting to describe the alterations I'm seeing in my personality and daily desires while my depressive brain is in control, versus who I normally disguise myself as when my stress and anxiety are running things. How I've seen these energetic states collide and cause an entirely different outcome in my past. And, of course, to hypothesize some reasons for the long-forgotten personality that has emerged from the fog.
Maybe there are some mental health similarities in your life. Maybe I just want to justify what a lazy, artsy-fartsy butthole I'm inspired to be at the moment.
Let's find out.
This brain on Anxiety versus Depression
I think for most of my adult life, I've embodied a fun collaboration of anxiety and depression. There's usually once force that is more dominant than the other, but both are generally present, even if its at a relatively low level. I'm seeing now that depending on who's holding the steering wheel, I have completely different reactions and behaviors.
i.e. for most of this year I have been depressed on a scale of about 3/10 but my anxiety has probably been performing at a solid 6/10 on any given day. This higher energy state causes me to have one set of drives, whereas the depressed condition influences another standard way of living, entirely.
Even more complicated is the unfortunate circumstance when the two forces are bickering back and forth about my direction - resulting in a tragically wild ride that shuts down the entire theme park.
I think I'm seeing this depression inspired side of me so clearly for the first time because it's been a minute since I was so firmly sad, rather than feeling stressfully ramped up with "the world is ending" signs from the heavens. For years, my life on the anxiety spectrum. I guess that's what happens when a traumatized motherfucker is in charge of their own circumstances to such a large extent, as I am lately. It means all the pressure is on you, but it also means you have the power to make or break your life. And so, most of the time I feel the stress, I absorb the survival signals, and I manically work towards making my situation stay afloat.
But right now? Well, things are different. I feel the strain of a million unresolved problems and tasks that I would like to accomplish, but I can't. It's not up to me. As I mentioned last week, my brothers and I have lawyers, estates, and mysteries to resolve in the wake of my dad's unexpected death, but I can't force anything to happen here. My siblings are putting things on the back burner as a side effect of their grieving and preference for avoidance. Meanwhile, I can't leave for Atlanta, I can't resolve issues in Wisconsin or Illinois, so I'm just sort of caught in the crosshairs of my adult responsibilities and the procrastination of others.
I realize that struggling with all my might won't free me from this trap. As uncomfortable as I might be, as much as I want this all to be over, as strongly as I hate kicking problems down the street like empty bean cans to collect on a different day... there's nothing I can do. My anxiety has no utility. My energy has no outlet. My frustration isn't going to help.
My head's response to all of this? Fuck it, quit trying to fight. Let's go low. Let's put aside those stressful action drivers and get depressed.
And the changes are pretty significant.
Interests based on mental illnesses
Here’s what I’m seeing:
Under the influence of anxiety, vengeance, and fear...
I want to work. I want to accomplish things and utilize productivity as an escape measure to keep my head away from my spinning thoughts. I want to avoid the restlessness by pushing my energy towards distractions in the form of goals. I want to get up, move my ass, and release the jitters inside. I need to keep my head engaged so that it doesn’t spin out with fragmented worries and half-ideas. My sentiments move so quickly that I’m sprinting to stay ahead of them. In this state, I like to listen to a lot of podcasts for the sake of relying on other peoples’ words to calm me down. I let out a lot of involuntary sighs and deep breaths when the tension in my chest is released molecule by molecule. I want to talk at other people for the sake of releasing the thoughts in my head and distracting myself by delving into their inner world, more than anything. But don't fucking touch me. It already feels like my nerves are on fire.
Under the drug of depression, on the other hand…
I’m running on sadness, isolation, and hopelessness. I want to do a lot of nothing. My energy stores are depleted, my interests in said goals are fairly inaccessible - I feel resistance via a huge bodily reaction when I consider all the tasks I’ve set out to accomplish in the past and can’t bring myself to approach them. I can be productive, but in completely different categories of work than usual. For instance, making art and handwriting. Putting lines on paper, in general, is very soothing. I’m either prone to starving myself or filling the void in my body with thoughtless food items - seemingly depends on the day. I’m suddenly consumed by listening to music with a fervor I haven't experienced in a decade, finding that it gives me a renewed sense of self and an almost tangible comfort, like being wrapped in a familiar blanket or donning a set of armor. I want to be in the presence of other humans for voiceless activities, like listening to meaningful songs or just having physical contact like hugging and holding hands - otherwise, I want nothing to do with them at all.
What do you think? Does any of this sound similar? Am I the only one who embodies two different people depending on the channel playing in my headspace?
If your answer is, "fuck yes, you wild," I can accept that. Because this recent insight on my mental illness imbalance is giving me a lot of previously lacking personal understanding about my past... in which, I also considered myself a batshit crazy bitch.
My past, explained
I realize, I probably should have had a better handle on my polar opposite mental conditions by now - it's not like they're anything new. These epiphanies might be common sense bits of information to everyone else. But I don’t know if I’ve had the personal clarity or the long-term distance from depression and anxiety before in my life to make these observations so solidly.
Now, it sort of seems like my past life is making a lot of sense as a fucked up consolation prize for stumbling through this temperamental landscape.
For instance... Why was I always an art-kid with an obsession over music growing up? Because that’s all I had as a massively depressed teenager. Anxiety wasn’t really my thing back then, because there wasn't much that I could change in my immediate environment. I couldn't reach for the stars, so much as I was trapped in a waiting game to start living a life outside my childhood home. Trapped in a shitty town, in a shitty school, with shitty circumstances until adulthood rolled around.
With nowhere to go and limited resources, I learned to cope with time instead of uselessly thrashing against it. I found comfort and meaning in creation. I surrounded myself with sounds that made me feel a little better. If I could put lines on paper and pay attention to the quality of my voice as I repeated my favorite words from other people, I felt grounded and safe. That creative flow state was my comfort zone. I didn’t need much to be "alright," and that in and of itself made me feel more secure.
It was a mixture of time-sensitive learned helplessness and constructive coping that qualified my adolescence.
When did my anxiety take over? In early adulthood, when there was overwhelming pressure to push myself towards success. Suddenly, everything in my future was on me. Fake it until you make it - it's your fault if no one believes your charade and you wind up on the streets.
As a result, I became hyper-motivated to accomplish all the time. My interests were shifted away from the cathartic processes of drawing and drowning my sorrows in music, preferably directed towards taking care of all the business in my life as I aimed for unrealistic standards of mental, physical, and professional perfection.
There was no time for creation, because I had a billion other tasks on my plate that distracted me into "responsibly" avoiding every moment of it. If I never stopped moving in serious ways, rather than artistic pipedreams, I could never feel like a worthless piece of shit just waiting for life to begin again.
Personal output and validation from others proved that I was doing the right things, and that made me feel more secure. So, I kept at it. My brain became programmed to work on obligation and necessity. I developed hypervigilant, slave-driving behaviors that served me well academically and managerially.
I shooed away the old mental escapes of dreaming in pictures and losing days to sharpie drawings. I stopped connecting with the same stimulation in the same previously-significant ways. My time started to feel like a rapidly slipping resource, rather than an infinite pool of unnamable matter to be sculpted for my own contentment.
During my anxiety years, there was always something to be doing.
And now, I've bounced back the other direction towards depression dilly-dallying for the first time in a long while.
It’s an interesting shift that I’ve seen take place in the past few weeks. It makes sense out of the drastically different phases of my life - the fluctuations between reckless over-activity and sloth. The differing interests I’ve had. The alterations between feeling most at home in my bed, contained in a tiny, dark room or outdoors, running my body into the ground in nature. The overwhelming importance of staying directed and busy versus staring off into space and calling it exhausting. Even the diehard love for loud tunes versus quiet and thoughtful radio shows is now explained.
This cycle has always been there - it’s one of the endless trauma loops that I’ve discussed in the past. But I’m seeing it with new detail and clarity right now. I think in recent years I’ve spent enough time observing myself and my inner state, especially as they relate to the ways I move through the world, to vividly notice where these different parts of my personality are born from in a way that I couldn’t parse out previously. Also, to engage in the self-observation without self-destructing criticism.
It turns out, I’m not a crazy bipolar mess of diverse identities. I operate under the influence of my two polar-opposite energy states - high energy anxiety and low energy depression. I rarely find myself securely landing in any condition in between. And, inherently, they cause me to act in very distinct ways.
I now also have to say... I think that my periods of total life abandonment, stagnation, and inability to get a single thing done (creative or academic) were not caused by one energy state or the other. While I've always characterized my depression by my days of laying around, eating shitty foods, and waiting for time to pass while I accomplished nothing at all, I think this was incorrect. Was depression at play? Absolutely. But I think it was a high level mixture of depression with anxiety that lead to my functional breakdowns.
Those periods in my life when I barely left the house, considered every basic adult task to be a day's worth of work, and constantly drank to kill time? I wasn't just depressed. I was, at one time, panicking over the pressures on my plate while also lacking the self-confidence and energy to release any of the steam valves. This is when I lost all motivation to be creative or ambitiously professional. Two opposing forces were battling in one shared space, and as a result, I was crippled with indecision, upset, and discomfort that functionally turned me into an agoraphobic in between unwashed bedsheets.
In short, I think my twenties were just explained beyond, "I got sick and massively sad, which made me more unwell and frowny for years to come." So that's nice.
For me, it's looking like anxiety and depression each serve a function. You can leverage anxiety to get external shit done. You can use your depression to channel inner superpowers. But when they collide like two conflicting temperature fronts, you wind up with a tornado ravaging your head and halting your life. Is it any wonder that I couldn't figure out my own personality, interests, and preferred path in the world during the decade that cows were flying around inside my brain? Well... not anymore.
And, finally, I think I can lay some judgements about my depressed self to bed - not literally, or else I fear my anxiety could rush into the picture, stir up a sense of unparalleled confusion, and I might not get back up for few months or years. Just like my early adulthood.
Anyways, this has been my recent revelation about the costs and benefits of a manic-depressive brain, as described from a depressive throne where I could easily watch the entire world burn to the ground without feeling the slightest interest in trying to fix any of it.
Similar to the way that I laugh whenever I've experienced turbulence on an airplane, it's actually relieving, in a way, to acknowledge that I can't control anything to fix the situation. I can only try to improve the quality of my time while I wait for the ride to be over. I can offer my help to the other passengers. I can ask the pilot if there's a way to assist. But realistically, I just need to sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the moments I have in between hitting rough patches of air.
Common sense? Maybe. Enlightening when you’ve spent your whole life wondering why you seem to be controlled by two or three different personalities, including your preferences and engagements for everything in life? Definitely.
I guess, what I’m saying is… buckle up for a lot of art? Until this depression fugue passes, I’m dominantly aligned with the creative release of sharpie on canvas more so than fingers on keyboard. Also, so much music.
Administrative tasks? No fucking way. Again, if you’re waiting on a Discord invite or an email reply… I’m sorry. I just can’t wrap my head around those sorts of tasks at this point. Nothing personal for you, just a personal hole for me at the moment. Depressive resistance to tiny tasks because I’m overestimating how difficult they are due to negative affect? Absolutely. Check out the emotional cognition episode for more on that.
I am getting better day by day. I feel like my brain computer is finally catching up with some of the backlogged pieces of data that have been swimming around my processer. I'll be raring full of stress fueled motivation any day now, I'm sure.
In the meantime, buttfuckit, this is just where I’m at right now. Like I’m always telling other people, but largely ignoring in regards to myself, it’s okay to feel however you feel. At this moment, I feel like listening to my same old bands and making some of my long-past-due drawings. It’s comfortable. It’s minimal. It gives texture to my time. And it’s all I’ve got while I wait for this newest chapter of life to start.
But don’t worry, I’ll still be around. The catharsis of writing and podcasting for my own processing power hasn’t faded entirely. It’s just a bit hit or miss, depending on the time of day. Weirdly, the quality of my own voice as it emerges out of my throat has become a new creative comfort. Maybe just letting the words out is an inherent component of the depression healing journey that I haven’t been empowered to explore in my past. Or maybe I’m occasionally anxious enough that hearing the sound of my own voice is masquerading as being productive.
I’ll let you know in another 10 years when I take several more steps back from my own emotional hurricane to get an even firmer grasp on the opposing influences of anxiety and depression. Assuming that these complicated forces continue taking turns running my life, rather than stonewalling me with a toxic cocktail of both that drives me under the covers, that is.
Alright, time to get back to that work I should be doing, but couldn't care less about. Talk to you guys later this week.