The depression aspect of the Type-A Trifecta is the one that affects me the least often, but the most severely. Anxiety at least has an upside; it gets me out of bed. Depression is like an albatross around my neck, sapping all my motivation and dragging me completely off-course. When the short-circuit mechanism in my brain is forced to engage to shut off unmanaged anxiety, the burnout can (and used to) last from weeks to months.
Usually it looks something like this:
• Sleep in
• Neglect to drink water
• Miss a workout
• Eat crap because it’s convenient
• Skip writing
• Have a nap
• Miss lunch
• Eat crap because I missed lunch
• Watch TV
• Stress about not doing enough work
• Have a drink with dinner “to relax”
• Go to bed early
As you can see, this cycle is one that feeds itself.
At the end of that cycle, or even in the middle (Example: as I sit on the couch at mid-day, eating chocolate cookies and criticising myself about a shite work ethic, crappy diet, and my general failure to make any meaningful contribution to society) it can seem pretty exhausting to climb back up the slippery slope that takes only days to slide down.
Of course, just like managing anxiety, managing its counterpart, depression, works better in prevention mode than damage-control. Knowing the triggers helps, but this comes with the experience of having ridden the cycle for several years.
For example, the black aspect is most likely to hit me in the dead-of-effing-winter in Ottawa, when the weather is -20 for six consecutive weeks and exposure to sunlight is approximately zero. I can even mark the calendar to remind myself to get ahead of it.
And because I’ve reset this cycle so many times, dragging myself back to the benchmark over and over and over, it takes less effort each time.
• Force myself to get up at a decent time.
• Drink a glass of water
• Get my ass into a yoga pose.
After that, the day will probably improve. If the day improves, the next day will be easier. And the cycle can get broken before it gets traction.
The real trouble for me comes in when I can’t manage step one. When wallowing becomes so much easier than acting. When I’m so burned out that getting up seems utterly pointless, because anything I could possibly do or write would be trivial, asinine or terrible.
That’s the black phase. I’ve been there a few times. Getting out is rough and requires a lot more than self-motivation (PS ‘intervention’ is not a bad word).
Luckily, I’ve never been stuck there, like many people with more severe depression whose dark days last much longer and are much deeper in the gulf.
Having a kid definitely jump starts the process. I can’t sit on the couch all day, clearly, even if she does have a stay-at-home parent to keep her entertained (my wife). Obviously, I want to be a positive example for her, but most importantly, I want to do things with her.
So when the black cloud descends, I start with something small. Something motivating. Okay, so maybe today’s not the day that I’m going to take the toddler to the library, but at the very least, I can get a pile of books and blankets together, put on some tea, and say “Let Mummy read you a story.” She loves it. And so do I.
Just one step in the right direction can be enough. I remember that this phase will pass, like every other one. This is just life – and all lives are lived in different shades of grey.