English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I woke up yesterday at 10:00 am (don’t judge me) feeling like I’d just come out of a coma. I don’t like sleeping late, it always makes me feel like I’ve started the day off on the wrong foot. I also find that I am much more susceptible to feeling crummy on days when I sleep in, although maybe there’s a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy involved there. Who can say? All I know is that by the time 2:00 pm hit, I’d already had a minor breakdown and decided I just wanted to spend the day in bed. I felt overwhelmed–the day was far from ideal, and I’d lost all sense of how to turn it around. I was beating myself up for not being able to establish what I might want to do over the course of the day, and for failing to accomplish anything other than sitting around my apartment staring at my laptop screen. No morning run, no yoga, no breakfast…the more time passed, the worse I felt, and eventually I just gave up and gave in.
It’s been a while since I’ve been hit hard by a wave of depression like this, and it really took me by surprise. Things have been going well, and I’ve been feeling good. It used to be that I could attribute feeling down and hopeless to something going on in my life, like disliking my job, being stressed out about money…something. Even if what I had identified as the root cause of the depression wasn’t actually responsible in any way for what I was feeling, it was somehow comforting to know that I could point to some event or set of circumstances and say, “It’s because of this.” It just made me feel less flawed, I guess. If nothing else, I could at least establish that the problem wasn’t just that there was something inherently wrong with me.
And that’s what made yesterday so hard. Out of what felt like nowhere, this huge wave swelled up and overtook me, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Instead, I just let it swallow me up. I learned not only that depression can come out of nowhere, but also that when it does, you can’t necessarily just remind yourself of the good stuff you have going on and make it disappear. Nor can you necessarily rally and get yourself out the door for a run, or sit down to meditate, or even find some way to take yourself out of your head for just five minutes. It’s scary, and it makes you wonder if all the progress you’d thought you’d made over the past several months was just illusory.
Meditation has taught me the value of accepting things as they come, whether they are events entirely outside my control or emotional states that I feel I ought to have power over. It’s also taught me how much of everything we do in life is an on-going process of practice and mindful effort. But when I thought yesterday of trying to sit with the feelings of hopelessness, indifference, and sadness that I was experiencing, the idea just aggravated the frustration and anger I was already dealing with. So while I could have accepted the depression with a non-judgmental curiosity, I didn’t. I plunged headlong into all the negativity it brought with it, including the harsh and destructive emotions it made me feel toward myself. There’s something so cruel about the whole thing.
Today I woke up much earlier, but I know I’ve already reached a point in the day where it’s going to be really hard for me to make a conscious decision to turn toward activity and mindfulness. I can already feel the anger toward myself bubbling up. As much as I hate it, the desire to just give up on the day, crawl into bed, and become the person I’ve worked so hard not to be is really strong. Who knows? Maybe with the insight I gained after yesterday will make it just a little bit easier to live with the depression in a compassionate, mindful way. It won’t necessarily mean I’m any less depressed, but there’s a possibility that bringing that accepting perspective to what I’m feeling will help to clear out some of the more insidious negative emotions. I don’t want it to be another day for depression, but at the same time I can’t really deny it the space that it occupies as part of who I am. I guess the real trick is accepting that while it is there, it’s not all there is.