Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Climb Every Mountain

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.


rachel said...

I like the self arrest metaphor, especially if you compare it to the Ed Viesturs story. Yes, we need to know how to self arrest, but sometimes, like in the case of Scott in that story, we are too busy caught up in the avalanche, and we need to be roped to someone (or something) else that can stop us from the fall until we can pull it back together. That rope might be tied to friends, family, (and I guess should always be tied to God, right?) or it might even be something as simple as hobbies, and other interests that help us find a reason to get off the couch, so to speak. When I have days like that, I have found that I have to force myself to do the unpleasant or the hard. I have to make myself leave the house sometimes, or call someone. I have to start a project, or start something (even cleaning). When I don't try, then I stay lost in the avalanche. When I at least try, I don't always succeed, but I would say more often than not, it helps my day get better. Sometime we can talk and I can explain this better. Writing is not my forte. :)I hope tomorrow has a nice winding path with lots of wildflowers and sunshine.

Kim said...

I have decided to make assignments for myself on the harder days. Keep an activity schedule and stick to it. Make sure you are doing things that require mental effort. Try to involve yourself in anything where the challenge of the activity is equal to your skill level. That is the way to consume all of your mental energy so that you don't have any room for thinking about other things. When involved in such an activity you lose yourself in it, time passes effortlessly. The tricky part is find something that holds your interest and is a challenge.

Drake Steel said...

I love the analysis but not the events that you are analyzing. The first part of any problem is figuring out what the heck the problem is, but then again everybody in the world knows that.

My first reaction to your story wasn't about mountain climbing but that this girl needs a road trip, STAT!

Second reaction is that I love some sort of exercise thing. Go to the gym, go for a run (did the turkey trot 3.2 miles in like the worst weather ever today), go cycling. I just feel much better after exercising.

Finally, about the mountain climbing thing.. I watched a reality show called Mt. Everest ER which was a group of medical people who were at the base camp of Mt. Everest. They were Canadian volunteers and would fix people up who were suffering from the attempt to climb. The effects were sometimes horrific with people brought into the hospital tent. I could not for all sorts of reasons climb Mt. Everest, but when watching the show I'd love to do the hundred mile hike to base camp!

Shauntell said...

So, I know from experience that it's hard to actually do something about your mood when you are actually in that mood, but I offer my walking-with-a-friend services to you any time. :) I think getting out and getting exercise has been one of the best things for me. It doesn't have to be a run or even a trip to the gym, just a walk around the block - and I would gladly do that with you anytime! So, call me or walk from your house to my house and back and I promise you'll feel much better. :)