_DSC2823I’m depressed, but to say I’m broken would not be the right word to use.

Yes waking up some mornings feels a lot like lifting a very heavy blanket over my head long enough to see that I’m not still in the nightmarish dreamscape my mind  fabricates when I close my eyes long enough to dream. Most nights my mind creates a problem that at first seems solvable, I gravitate towards fixing problems in my waking life so naturally I try to fix this problem. It doesn’t work, I get closer and it gets more complex, I  It’s like the classic dream where you try to run but you can’t ever run fast enough no matter how quickly you move your feet, except for me it’s with any problem that relates to my real life worries. It’s usually a general anxiety not necessarily the problem that was at the forefront of my mind when I fell asleep. One of the worst things about my dreams is they often involve gruesome violence. Some bad entity or group is trying to hurt or kill people I’m trying to protect, I don’t usually see the violence they commit, I just see what I do to them. Somehow my mind creates scenes nothing like anything I’ve seen. Sometimes I get quite close to defeating the problem or “bad guys” but then I wake up before a resolution. I wake up just before I know if I live or die.

Its this world that I wake from each morning, somehow it’s still hard to wake up, I often wonder why I don’t jump out of bed as soon as I’m free from sleep. It’s so normal that I usually don’t even remember the dreams, I just keep the feeling of helplessness. I lay in bed wondering if I should try standing up, or drinking some water. I wonder and wonder just to stall, it should be an easy choice, like 1 2 3. Open eyes, drink water, dress and go out for breakfast. But to think of it as easy is to forget the challenges already faced just to get into the waking world.

It is so easy to feel weak when getting out of bed is so hard.
When the easiest of actions become such real struggles it is easy to stay in doors. Some days the idea of smiling at a stranger or crossing the street feel miles away and between me and them is a haze I can barely see through. Even small steps are in themselves long journeys, journeys without life in them. The spirit is dulled and hidden until the reasons for the most basic functions of life are unclear. Why eat, or go for a walk do or do anything when nothing seems to produce results. It was just a dream and the feeling is just the depression talking, I know it and I tell myself it’s not true. I try to convince myself that it will be worth the effort of opening my door but I can’t feel it. I have an amazing ability to know something is true without believing it. I just can’t feel the reasons when I’m looking through the tinted window that makes everything a darker version of reality. 

But I do get out of bed, I do walk out my door and I do find reasons to enjoy my life.
It is not unconquerable and I am lucky to have a manageable depression, I know there are some people whose brains are filled to the brim and they cannot get out of bed despite their undoubtedly powerful will. I can get out of bed with some specialized tools, so I am lucky. I am not stronger or weaker because I struggle with depression. My tombstone won’t have the word  “Depression” anywhere on it. Maybe it will be there despite my best efforts, and if that is the case it won’t say anything about my character. Depression has nothing to do with strength or willpower.

Depression is not sadness, I’ve heard it used as a synonym for depression many times but to confuse the two is like saying it’s raining when in fact it’s snowing. They both might be kinds of weather, and might have to do with similar elements but if you bring an umbrella outside to protect from the blizzard it’s unlikely that it will keep you warm. If I try to think of something happy it will only feel hollow, if I try to listen to my favorite song I might not have the patience to hear it, if I try to meet up with a group of friends I may just feel alone and unable to engage. It takes much cleverer tricks to turn my depression towards the door. It doesn’t listen to logic and “trying” to be happy is as useless as trying to eat without moving my mouth. So I slowly turn the tides with the only part of my mind that works pretty much the same whether I’m feeling depressed or not: my logical mind. It’s true that depression doesn’t listen to logic, I can’t say “Hey be happy because your life is easy and you have everything a person could want” but I can do little things that I know in my logical brain will help me feel better over time.

There are six things that seem to help me, I didn’t discover them on my own. Its part of a program called TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes), it’s a very generic name and the elements are just as generic. Sleep, light exposure, social support, omega 3 fatty acids, exercise, and anti rumination strategies. It is these six things that make up the majority of my daily maintenance.

I sleep enough, walk everyday, endure the blistering SE Asian sun, eat a varied diet, think too much, and spend too much time alone. I don’t think there is a problem with taking stronger drugs for depression but for myself I’d prefer to avoid it if I can. My plan does not cure anything and I don’t know of any other plan that cures depression, some things can’t be cured. I feel like our culture hates the idea of incurable things, the idea of always having to maintain a certain state sounds like so much work. I’ve read that the ancient Mayans believed that they were already living in heaven and all they had to do was maintain it with rituals and by appreciating their beautiful present heaven. I think there is something excellent in the idea of continual maintenance.

Some things cannot be driven away, for this reason I search for ways to use my depression and ways for it to make me stronger. It’s hard to find anything that’s worth a second of appreciation but there are a few small things. One is that it creates some strange drive for the highs to be as extreme as the lows, feeling alright is no consolation for feeling horrible. Another is that depression makes learning about happiness essential to ever feeling happiness.  When I’m in a dark hole I need to know myself well enough to know which way is up, that knowledge in turn will allow me to create a vibrant life that suits me better than if I never needed to learn what suits me. There are a lot of ways to look at problems, that still doesn’t mean they aren’t problems.

I hate when a depressed person is seen as a weak person, the idea that I have some deep brokenness is like poison to me and I won’t swallow it.
When its I’m not incapable because I deal with depression. I have plenty of weaknesses, depression is one of them and that is too normal to be called broken.  It’s too dangerous to think of myself as broken, it may lead to all sorts of lowered standards. It might even lead to self loathing.
I’ll keep my standards, thank you very much, they are what keep me moving forward. If I lost my willpower I would spend every day in bed until I melted away completely.

My standards aren’t outrageous, they are simple. I give each day a fair try, I rate my achievements on their own scale and my efforts on that same scale. If I want to stay in bed all day I at least leave the house once, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I might feel inclined to go for a proper walk after that and if I don’t that is okay, I can’t learn to like myself if  I continually demand unreasonable acts from myself.
I build on my achievements in steps, writing a word becomes writing a paragraph and that often becomes a whole story. I don’t start by demanding a story when writing a single word already looks like a wide moat to cross. In this way I eat away at my depressions ability to control my every action.

However, even with every effort I make their are still days that go from bright to dark without time to dig my heels in. After  days or weeks of feeling alright through careful effort and planning there is one inexplicable hitch and the plan goes south, it’s an infuriating feeling watching all the meticulous work go away without any way of holding onto it The only way forward is starting from scratch, and sometimes it takes a few days in the dumps for me to raise the effort to force the first small actions in the happiness plan. It’s a heart sinking feeling and it happens rather often, it hasn’t gotten easier and the only thing that makes it any easier is to learn from it each time so that maybe I can prolong the periods of time spent in happiness.

I’ve tried to fashion a life with excitement, full of the kinds of things I enjoy most and with room enough so I don’t  feel forced into situations that I won’t be able to sustain. I struggle most with social situations when I’m depressed, in some areas of life I can function almost normally when I’m feeling depressed  but when it comes to engaging with people it is very difficult for me. The idea of talking to strangers or groups of people when I’m not feeling happy is terrifying. When I’m forced to I don’t even appear the same person, I don’t speak confidently, I can’t remember what I’m saying, and I usually get a headache from the stress. I can do physical tasks okay but my ability to focus for long periods of time or sustain motivation is diminished. I’ve learned a lot about myself since I’ve been studying my depression. I’ve learned to plan social occasions ahead of time so I have something to look forward to and because when I need a friend it may be too late to make plans. I’ve learned to find hobbies and to quit jobs when they start eroding my spirit. I practice something everyday, I might be imperceptibly closer to my goals each day but it helps keep my motivation when I feel some forward momentum.

I’m traveling because it is the easiest way for me to follow myself. Maybe other people don’t need to know themselves because they are content but I’m not content. I need to learn who I am so I can find the place where I fit. My search is a profoundly needed journey and it is so hard for me not to stagnate at home. I see new places everyday while I’m traveling, I try new food and walk new streets. I have all the choices and barely any of the influences of home, I can explore the things that I think I might like. I don’t have to compromise for the sake of the people around me. I’m not lost, I’m not aimlessly drifting. Traveling is a way for me to explore my interests freely and thoroughly. It is intentional and planned, I’m purposefully moving towards a goal and traveling is the way I’m choosing to represent that journey.

“No journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within” Quote from House of Darkness House of Light.

I’m ten thousand miles from home and that much closer to my internal destination.