the seven habits of unbearable sadness

so, this post is an obvious little harkening back to the days of “7 habits of highly effective [someone],” but i don’t mean it in a rude way.  i think if we are going to celebrate the people who we think are doing it right, we need to look towards people who find themselves in darkness too - we do not need to celebrate or glorify their depression or anxiety.  but we do need to learn about it, to try to understand, and to recognize that there is both value and deprecation in these habits. 

this is a small compendium of seven aspects of depression; the terrible and the great.  because depression is a reality.  this is not a treatise on how to cope and move on - i don’t think i am qualified to tell people how to do that.  i am trying to look at the clearest reality of unbearable sadness.  let’s see how i do.

(i would also like to note that i am not trying to say THESE ARE THE HABITS THAT ALL DEPRESSED PEOPLE HAVE.  what i am trying to say is “these are the habits that i developed when i was depressed.” and maybe someone will relate to some of them and maybe they won’t.  i am acutely aware that depression manifests itself different in different people.

unlike most of  the habits literature, i’m not saying that these habits are wrong or right - they are just a different mindset.  they have their merits and detriments.  if anything, i just want to help people identify the habits they may have in their sadness.  i found this very helpful.  maybe if you do it, you will too. because some of these habits can hold you down and stagnate your recovery.  this is about moving past that.  

this is long - so i will do a brief summary first:

1. knowing the limits of joy
2. reading too much sylvia plath - yeah.
3. finding sadness
4. forgetting about tomorrow 
5. looking inwards
6. keeping love close
7. holding on

(this picture is from Hyperbole and a Half, which is awesome)

1. knowing the limits of joy

during waves of profound depression.  this keeps me safe.  but it also keeps me sad.

what i mean when i say the “limits of joy” is knowing that, like sadness, joy always ends.  it is the idea that joy can only last so long and all joy is subject to sadness anyways because of the sadness we will endure when our joy ends.  this isn’t a particularly novel idea - lots of people hold on to this as reasons to avoid relationships or friendships or lots of things really.  it is the common hymn of the realist and the pessimist.  ultimately, this is probably a destructive habit i developed.  i remember walking my dog and feeling so much love for her and then being sure she was going to get run over and just dying with grief.  i found a way to grieve without anything terrible actually happening.  

the most important thing that came from this, for me, is the realization that sadness, too, has a beginning and an end.  maybe our lives aren’t perfectly sinusoidal (i use that word too much), and there is something continuous about our lived feelings and experiences.  but the reality is, depression too has a beginning and an end.  like joy, sadness is not a forever reality (although it often feels like it).  this is one of the things i learned to repeat to myself.  these things have a beginning and an end.  these things have a beginning and an end.

also just read le petit prince over and over and over.

2. reading too much sylvia plath

well, i guess we all have different limits de plath - what is too much for me is not too much for someone else, and some people can read dear sylvia til the cows come home.  i am not one of those people.  i read way too much sylvia plath when i am depressed, because all i want is the truth, and her dark words often hold it.  like a horcrux. or something. 

"i took a deep breath, and listened to the old brag of my heart. i am, i am, i am.”

this is good in that it makes you a plathconnoiseur and it gives you a language of darkness to speak in.  but it can hurl you down a rabbit hole which is never very fun.  so be careful.  you can now communicate your sadness, and understand the sadness of others, which is so so so important.  i just had to learn not to give her words too much control.

3.  finding sadness

when i’m depressed, sadness comes to me like a magnet.  i cling to the sad realities of the past and i create sad realities in the future.  i find sad realities in the most neutral circumstances.  this doesn’t sound very creative - obviously, as a woman with depression, i can find sadness.  but the point is, it is dangerous when this habit seeps in when you find yourself happy again.  so what to do, what to do.

this can be a skill and a curse.  it helps you understand people in a profound way.  but it can also be destructive.  the only way i have learned to work against this is through mindfulness techniques, and repeating this one phrase “there is light.”  it is about finding sadness, but holding it far away from my self- if i need it to help someone cope, it is there.  but it does not hold me.  that’s a bit ambiguous, but this is all very wishy-washy so it’s fine i guess.

4.  forgetting about tomorrow

‘forgetting’ is a bit of a euphemism.  when i’m depressed, i’m generally convinced there is no tomorrow.  i can barely imagine making it through an hour without hurting myself irreparably, let alone a full day.  this makes things not matter for me: it doesn’t matter what i am wearing.  it doesn’t matter if my bed is made, if i go to the gym, or if i do my laundry.  

the result is usually that i am a wreck.  my hygiene goes kaput and i trudge along doing the bare minimum because why on earth would i brush my hair if i’m not going to make it til tomorrow?

this is why i try not to judge people who wear pyjama pants, or leave their hair wet or greasy,  who wear the same clothes, or don’t smell great.  i don’t know their reality, but maybe they feel like i felt.  and honestly, pleasing society just wasn’t my top priority when i was depressed, and i need to understand that the same can be true of other people.

5. looking inwards

i’ve been hearing a lot lately about the need to reach out when you are depressed.  it is true that it helped me more than anything, that my friends and family supported me like champs, and my doctors and team of mental health professionals rallied together to make my recovery happen.  but it is really not always that easy.  it took me four years and a really nice boyfriend to get there.  

this is because i was looking inwards.  i’m not saying i was oblivious to the world around me - but i integrated the world around me into my own realities.  i feel the grieving of others inside of me, and i look inside myself and see abyss.  be careful with abyss.  

6. keeping love close

this is one thing that i have struggled with a lot in the past few months.  despite my sadness, i have still been able to feel a lot of love.  tons of it.  my cup brimmeth over.  etc. sometimes i feel like i will explode with love i love people so much.  this didn’t change when depression took hold of me.  the problem is, i don’t show this to other people all that often.  well maybe i do.  but i hold that love inside me.  i keep it close.  i rarely actually do things to express my love.  this is because it is impossible to do a lot of things.  it is hard to brush your hair, and it is hard to make a card.  

this is a tricky one.  people need to understand this and be patient, but i had to teach myself how to love people more openly.  and that was really hard.  i want to make it clear that this is certainly not a true habit of everyone with depression - just one of the things i felt.

7. holding on

this one is tough.  i found it so hard to let go, of anything.  depression felt like i was held up by strings and without any of them i would sink.  everyone is important.  everything matters. this was particularly hard for me when it came to *~romance, but with friendships and activities, and circumstances too.  the only thing i can do about it really is know that sometimes i hold on too hard - i am training myself to let go.  it’s hard.

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