Thursday, March 22, 2012

Getting Out of Situational Depression

I saw a particularly beautiful sunrise the other morning.  It was pink and cloud-streaked.  Intellectually, I knew it was beautiful.  Emotionally, it made me feel exactly as numb as I’d felt before I noticed it.

Situational depression (also known as “adjustment disorder”) occurs when a person is has trouble coping with, or adjusting to, a particular source of stress (a major life change, loss, event, etc.)  It’s typically short in duration (six months or less) and has many of the same symptoms of long-term depression (sleeping issues, eating issues, stomach upset, malaise, feelings of hopelessness).  It can happen to anyone, but the good news is that it usually resolves when the source of the stress is removed or the person adjusts to the loss.  (More on the illness here.)

I’ve been in a tar-pit of sadness for the last month or so, finally working through the emotions of a lost relationship, the end of grad school, and failing connections with friends.  Yoga is partly to blame; it’s been gradually wringing out every emotion I’ve buried in my muscles, bringing it all to the surface.  Though I believe I’m on the road to something better, my world has been very gray, of late.

Little by little, I’m fighting my way out.  When, clarity cuts through the fog, I can remember that I’ve done this before.  I’ve pushed through my moments of collapse, wondering what will become of my life.  I’ve been to the bottom of my own emptiness and managed to get back.  It’s more intense this time, but I’ve been here before and I know I’ll eventually step out on the other side.

I don’t believe there’s a shortcut for getting out of situational depression.  It takes time and work.  I do, however, tend to gravitate to a few techniques that help me get a little perspective when I’m stuck.

Cry.  I cry pretty easily anyway, but situational depression always seems to crank it up a notch (or 30).  I’ve found that trying not to cry just ensures that I’ll cry harder later, so I might as well get it done.  Deep breath.  Find a tissue.  Let it happen.

Sleep.  Sleep is my emotional hidey-hole.  I turn up the noisemaker and drown out whatever yucky thoughts I’ve got swirling.  The dreams will wake me up after a few hours, but at least I’m getting some rest.
Write.  Writing is a great stand-in if I can’t or don’t want to talk it out.  The computer is totally non-judgmental and will happily “listen” to everything I blather (even the really embarrassing stuff).  More importantly, I think there’s an opportunity in seeing the feelings on the screen.  It’s easier to call “bullshit” when you’re literally looking at it.

Eat a Carb.  I’ve done pretty well with cleaning up my eating over the last couple of months, but in the last week – as the depression has reached a new low – I’ve cut myself a little slack.  A piece of chocolate is likely to do more good than harm right now as my brain scrambles to figure out how to make enough serotonin to keep me functioning.
Walk the Dog.  Getting out of the house and doing something nice for an animal helps.  It also makes the animal less needy – which also helps.  (This tactic works similarly well for children.)

Listen for the Argument.  In the middle of the hopelessness, I sometimes find that there’s this “other” voice offering an opposing viewpoint.  It’s the voice that says “hey, do you really believe that?”  This voice is the authentic, unchanging me.  It’s the mentally-healthy-me that will be there when the depression fades.  Listening for that voice (even when I can’t quite hear it) helps to remind me that I’m still there beneath the fog.

Reach Out.  Making connections helps to keep everything right side up.  I tend to turn into Hermit-Girl when I’m feeling awful.  There’s something to be said for doing the solo-work of getting through it, but I have to strike a balance with some people-time.

Get help.  So far, I’m managing with these techniques and a few supplements (magnesium, 5-HTP).  If it keeps up for too long, though, I’ll call in the big guns.  Stubborn as I am, I have too many responsibilities to let this get me down for too long.  If a professional is what I need, so be it.

Of course, the only real way out of situational depression is to go through it.  The ‘cure’ for adjustment disorder is to adjust…and that takes time.  And while “this too shall pass” feels like an empty aphorism, I know that it’s true – just a matter of when.

1 comment:

Amy said...

You are awesome. I'm just going to keep saying it until you say it too. So, you may as well give in now because I'm stubborn. Say it with me and soon you'll believe it: "I am awesome!" Did you do it?

I love you.