I'm reticent to write too many blog entries about depression. I'm afraid that at some point, people are going to stop being sympathetic and start asking, "Haven't you got this taken care of yet?" like depression is the same as a broken tail light. But as this is just the second one, I'm going to say I'm still safe. You'll let me know when it's too much.
Today was an abysmal day. I seem to have about one really bad day a week, maybe one or two mediocre days, and four or five normal-to-good days. Which is a huge improvement, don't get me wrong. But the abysmal days, well, they suck. And I don't use that word often, so you know it must be true. The normal-to-good days stand in such contrast to the abysmal days that I have to marvel just how broadly the pendulum of my mood can swing. You don't want to be standing on the wrong end of that thing when it's coming toward you, I can tell you right now.
For some bizarre reason, I love books about mountain climbing. (Stay with me here, it'll all make sense in a minute.) Something about the way a person challenges himself against an impossible task like climbing a mountain intrigues me. You know God didn't put mountains on the Earth for people to actually climb - they're there for decoration. We don't climb chandeliers just because they're the highest point on the ceiling. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand, mountain climbing. Everything I learned about climbing mountains, I learned from books. Ed Viesturs wrote an excellent book called "No Shortcuts To The Top" about his experiences climbing the 14 highest peaks in the world. On K2, he and his partner were roped together when an avalanche struck, washing his partner down the mountain and pulling him down too. They were nearing the edge of the mountain when Ed was able to get his ice ax underneath him and perform a self-arrest, digging the ax into the ice and coming to a stop. He and his partner ended up only 600 feet away from a insane drop, something like 15,000 feet.
Days, to me, are like mountains. Some days are a pleasant stroll up a gentle hill, covered in wildflowers and deer grazing and beautiful vistas. Those days are rare. Most days are some effort - a steeper slope, maybe loose gravel underfoot, but if you're looking the flowers are still there, as are the views. (The deer may or may not have been eaten by a mountain lion - it depends on the day.) Most days you work up a sweat, but it feels good - you go to bed tired but satisfied. Days like today are the real challenge, the big mountains - these are the days that everyone has when nothing is going right, you woke up on the wrong side of bed, everything irritates you or something genuinely bad happens. Plus it's raining (on the metaphorical mountain, not in real life.) We all have days like this. For me, depression is the avalanche. It is the unexpected factor that sweeps me off my feet and sends me hurtling to the valley floor.
What I truly needed today was a self-arrest. I could tell I was sliding downhill, but I kept doing things that not only didn’t help, but actually made it worse. Watching tv. Surfing the internet. Playing computer games. Basically, staying glued to the couch. I needed to get up and moving. I could have called a friend. I could have (gasp!) cleaned something. I don’t want to think I’m a fundamentally lazy person, but on bad days I seem to have lost the strength to do the hard things in life. And yes, by hard things I mean cleaning and writing and other “work”. I need to come up with a plan, so that the next time I see the avalanche coming, I can whip out my ice ax and stay grounded, instead of being washed away by the emotional flood.
I don’t know what my technique is going to be yet, but that’s my next goal. Find ways to stop bad days from becoming abysmal days. If you have a technique that has worked for you, please share it in the comments. I can’t make every day good, but I can do something, I think. And on a brighter note, I rarely have two abysmal days in a row. The next day is always better. Maybe it’s because the rain makes everything smell so good afterwards, metaphorically speaking. The grass is a little greener for it. I never want to lose sight of the fact that, no matter how intimidating, mountains are always beautiful.