Wagging the Black Dog

Did you know shaking your body quickly and intensely – kind of like a dog shakes – is a quick way to reset your system and lessen anxiety? I learned it from one of my doctors, and it actually works really well. I just get so anxious I forget how to deal with anxiety.

I was sharing some tips about depression with a friend and thought maybe I should type them out for me and maybe somebody else might find it helpful too. Though I was focused on depression at the time, it applies to anxiety equally. One of my favorite quotes, “If you are depressed, you are in the past and if you are anxious, you are in the future” So really, it’s two sides of the same crappy brain problem pole.

  1. Identify the depression, don’t identify with the depression. “I am experiencing depression”
  2. Try to think of depression similar to a cold. It’s a cold of the brain.
  3. What works best with a cold – forcing through, going to work sick, pretending it’s not there, etc. or resting, chicken soup, and tea?
  4. The hardest part is realizing it’s depression in the first place, because the label alone creates all kinds of shitty context. Ditch the context, and think of a cold.
  5. You’re not weak and worthless if you catch a cold, but depression will convince anyone that it’s their fault they are having a problem in the first place.
  6. Good times create great soil for depression, ironically.
  7. Anxiety creates depression. Depression creates anxiety.
  8. Doing too much, going past your boundaries, etc. all create space for depression.
  9. There’s no right or wrong time for it, just like a cold. It just happens sometimes.
  10. Depression can manifest as lethargy, pain, headaches, irritability, loss of interest in anything – stuff you enjoy, stuff you gotta get done, everything becomes harder than it was before. Often, we blame ourselves, but it’s not a conscious decision to desperately want to do anything but what you have to do. Just like a cold makes you want to sleep, depression makes you want to hide, sleep, not exist, run away, not be yourself.
  11. It’s not just sadness. Or, if anything, of course there’s sadness because the wonderful buffet that is life lost all it’s flavor, is too salty maybe, or just tastes wrong.
  12. Apathy might be a better word to describe depression over sadness. I don’t often hear that people feel sad, I hear they don’t care. Regardless, how can anyone feel okay if everything feels wrong, oftentimes we don’t articulate that it is depression, and there’s an overwhelming sense of “fuck me, I can’t care.”
  13. Instead of using pretty names, excuses, justifications, or blame, just call it depression. It happens to everyone, clinical depression is a degree of depression that impacts your life. Bad days can become bad weeks, months, years. Christ, psychosis can occur if depression goes untreated long enough.
  14. Too much/too little of anything can create great situations for depression – too much time on screens, too little social interaction, too little exercise, too much crappy food/alcohol/weed… Imbalances in anything create issues. It’s hard to be balanced right now, so it’s understandable to experience anxiety, depression, or both.
  15. Depression, anxiety, and ADHD all go hand in hand too. It’s more stimulating to be upset than content. And if that’s not the definition of Facebook, I don’t know what is.

There’s no blame with depression anymore than you can blame a rainy day. The most important step anyone can take to begin digging out of the hole is to stop blaming, stop analyzing, and stop living in the past. Even if you’ve done everything wrong, living on twinkies and bud light for a month, it’s now that change can start, and the more focus there is on now, the easier it is to start seeing around the clouds of depression. The closer to now you can train your brain to stay – like a dog on a leash – the easier it will be to see the baby steps you can take. Brushing your teeth, eat a salad, go for a walk, write something, whatever. Depression is no time for big picture planning. It is time to slow down, take care of yourself, and rest – like a cold.

It is not easy to swim in a cement bathing suit. It is not easy to dig out of a hole that you are burying yourself alive with. It is easy to fall into the blame trap, but the key to depression is to remember that you are not the depression. You are zoomed into a bad spot of a big picture. Identify these feelings as depression, become an observer of yourself and understand that your thoughts don’t have to define you. The brain is lying as much as a body could be sneezing. It’s an illness, it will pass, and you can help it pass.

It is a process of slowly coming back to life, and bit by bit, reclaiming power by focusing on what you can do, what you have done, and letting what you cannot and have not fall away. It’s changing the focus from what’s wrong to what’s right, and it all starts with reminding yourself that you’re not wrong in the first place. You don’t feel well, and that’s okay. It’s also natural and normal. Just like we have wake and sleep, we have ups and downs. Sometimes, those can be too dramatic and we need help, but it is normal to experience depression to a certain degree. Help is needed when it is to the degree that it is negatively impacting your life – just like anything. It can be a hibernation, and for creative types, it’s often fodder for a lot of expression. It’s not like all poetry is love songs or all music is happy. Those who can get into the depths of the yuck can come back with some gems. My best writing is coming out of depression. That’s not YAY depression, but it is…finding the merit or the silver lining in the suffering. Like life, finding that purpose is what gets you to the next day. Oftentimes, the realization of “I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and I just need a break…” is the difference between struggling and moving on.

This is, of course, based on my experience and what I’ve learned as I’ve worked through my brain. I’ve found that I can articulate what happens with depression really well, and when I’m not in the thick of it, I can often help other people understand their own experiences better. There is a power to being able to put words to feelings, and I’ve learned that not everyone is a walking dictionary. Maybe today I was yours, and if I was, I’m sorry you resonate, but I’m glad you could too.

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