Last week, a friend said, “I hate myself and I want to die.” He talked and I didn’t have any idea what to say, for a while, until he got around to asking the question, “What did you do when that happened to you?”
It’s taken 14 years to come up with an answer, and it isn’t even that fucking good, so don’t think I’ve got the secret, okay? I’ve only got a coupla tricks and a few metaphors, here. Also, I am not and never will be a licensed medical professional, so if you truly do want to hurt yourself, off yourself, stop living, or cease to exist, PLEASE FIND A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL AND MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THEM IMMEDIATELY.
Over the years, I’ve had to hold numerous clients accountable for making appointments with therapists and then actually going to see them. There’s no shame in it — they’re there to help. Please, let them help. Get yourself the care you need.
That said. It’s been really difficult around here lately, on a personal level. All those workbooks that should have me planning for next year are coming out, and I’m not done with this one yet. I’ve got a lot of question marks, a lot of personal things that are being sorted out, and a whole lot of grief about having a beloved pet put down last week.
So. You might think I’m for sure slipping into depression at this moment. You would be wrong. Depression means you’ve got no reason for your not giving a shit about life — or you’ve got so many reasons that you can’t get out from under them — and I’m in neither of those places right now. But.
I can feel depression lurking, like an aloof but ravenous wolf at the door. If I let my guard down, it’ll attack.
By letting my guard down, I mean:
– sleeping constantly or not sleeping enough (naps aren’t innocent, when it comes to depression, since they can stretch into 3 or 4 hour blocks that eat up daylight, and then you wake up when it’s dark out and AH WHAT THE HELL I’LL JUST GO BACK TO SLEEP.)
– eating ALL THE THINGS (a nice form of self-medication in the form of too much sugar, all the carbs, no protein, and not enough water. But coffee? Yes. I’ll take 7 cups, thanks.)
– overscheduling myself when I know I’m vulnerable (saying yes to three more long projects would be career suicide right now, since I don’t have the bandwidth to handle them — instead, I’m taking on what I can handle, and not a thing more)
If I start sleeping constantly, stuffing my face with donuts, and throwing more projects onto my plate to avoid feeling the feels, it’ll be over. Depression will hunt me down like a rabid wolf and chew out my spleen before sunrise.
We all have triggers that we know cause our symptoms to start, or to worsen. If you’re not privy to your own pattern, might I suggest that it has to do with the animal nature of your body.
When you’re constantly busy, stressed, overwhelmed, and unable to take a deep breath or two during the day, you’re inviting depression to your door.
When you skip meals, grab shitty meals, or overeat to keep from feeling uncomfortable, tired, or [insert other emotion here], you’ve inviting depression to your door.
When you skip sleep, shorten sleep, or give in to the urge to sleep constantly, you’re giving depression a leg up — the emotional equivalent of rubbing your body with bacon before stepping into the den of wolves.
I’m not judging, I’m not saying that I’m a fucking saint who never does dumb shit that I know I’ll regret later with regards to my depression — I’m simply pointing out that over time, I can keep the wolf of depression at further and further distances by paying attention to really simple, straightforward physical cues.
Am I tired?
Am I hungry?
Am I thirsty?
Depression is much more likely to attack for brief periods when I am tired, hungry, or thirsty — and with any kind of tired, hungry, and thirsty pattern in play over the long term, it takes me down hard. There went a week, a few weeks, a month…there’s no way to know how long it will be before you can regenerate a new metaphorical spleen, since yours was just devoured, and so it’s smartest to keep the wolf at bay.
The other kind of wolf, the sidekick to the straightforward physical one, can’t be kept out with something simple like a shack, a cabin, or a door. It’s in my own mind, because my brain (and your brain and our brains and every single brain everywhere) is an asshole.
The inner wolf waits for me to be tired, typically at the end of the day just before sleep, and then it whispers horrible things. Life is pointless, hopeless, useless, or all 3. I’M pointless, hopeless, useless, or all 3.
The only way to handle this onslaught of inner terrible isn’t to beat myself up, but to a.) GO TO BED ALREADY like a petulant 3-year-old — if it’s time for sleep, SLEEP — and b.) to find a way to be kind to myself.
On the days when everything feels pointless, hopeless, useless, or all 3, I have a relatively easy work alternative at the ready. I can answer a few e-mails, do technical tasks, schedule Facebook posts, edit instead of write, and otherwise hibernate a bit when I’m feeling hopeless. If I choose to write, I understand that it may or may not be worthy of seeing the light of day on the other side.
I don’t double down or force myself to give what I don’t have in me. Not because I don’t care, but because I care enough to care for myself. It moves the wolf back ten paces at a time.
Oh, you want to get closer? I’m gonna do some yoga!
Wanna try jumping the fence? I’m gonna read a book and take a bath.
These responses are overused examples, AND YET THEY WORK. When I do yoga and read a book, I’m 100% less stressed than when I don’t do either of those things on any given day.
Do whatever it takes to beat your particular wolves back.
I don’t care if that’s kitten videos, or taking an hour-long walk, or running 4 miles, or listening to cartoon theme songs, or chugging smoothies while you practice handstands, or locking yourself in the bathroom for 7 quiet minutes at a time while your kids attempt to pick the lock with twistie ties from a loaf of bread.
The ways in which you beat the wolves back are entirely yours, but they are not negotiable.
Without these little tricks that you learn over time — without refusing sugar, even though YOU’RE DYING FOR A GODDAMN DONUT, or putting on your coat and going outside even thought YOU WANT TO STAY INSIDE AND SLEEP FOR THREE YEARS — the wolves will win. And honestly?
Fuck the wolves. They don’t have anything beneficial for you, and they’re not that interesting, and they’ve got enough spleens to chew on this week.
It’s okay to acknowledge the days when you don’t have it in you.
It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a slacker, it means that you protect the quality of your work…particularly if you do creative work. Yes, I’m saying your company, your business, your partner, and/or your loved ones could benefit by you slacking on the days in which you find life hopelessly dull, terrible, awful, stupid or just plain not worth living.
When I felt like I needed a break from my podcast, I took one. I didn’t pretend to take one and hope I could fool the wolf into trotting away. I unplugged, sat down with my books, and took some time off. The minute I published the podcast saying I was taking a break, my whole body chilled right the fuck out. I had so many ideas that I had to grab a notebook and take copious, scribbled notes. Given a bit of space from the wolf’s glare, my creativity went all crazy and started spewing the ideas it had, apparently, been saving for a non-wolfy day.
If you know the wolf is at the door, or lingering, what’s the daily activity you know will keep it further from you than any other?
…and with all the love in the world, can I ask you to do that thing?
Love love love —