Greta Christina wrote this amazing post a few days ago on how she re-organizes her priorities to manage her depression. It’s a great read, and I think her strategies are spot-on. Self-care is so incredibly important in a lot of ways, and doubly so when you’re dealing with big difficult shit. So it hit me right in the feels when, at the end of the post, she talked about how she second-guesses this strategy of re-prioritizing: how she feels like the people around her probably expect more out of her but she can’t tell if they actually think that or if it’s just the depression talking. She talks about how she doesn’t have a reliable barometer for judging that; how she doesn’t have a clear sense of which expectations are external and which ones are internal.
So, Greta, this is what I think. (Since you asked.)
Depression loves to make you second-guess yourself. Depression loves to convince you that you can’t make good decisions for yourself. There’s nothing Depression enjoys more than reminding you of all the ways you screwed up and what a mess you are.
For instance, when I ask myself, “What should I do today?” Depression answers:
Well, you need to get some writing done, you’re out of backup posts. You were supposed to keep on top of this and always have your writing done a week in advance. It’s been a busy week? Oh, yeah, sooo busy volunteering for extra hours at your part-time job, and going shopping with your friends and going out to dinner even though you can’t afford it. You lazy ass. If you were any good as a writer this wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it’s not like you’re breaking any new ground – you just read other blog posts and spend 2378 words saying some variation of “Yeah, what she said.” You never have anything good to say, and you’ll probably just end up surfing Facebook anyway. What, you want to knit? Oh, yeah, because knitting is totally a great way to achieve your goals and make money and pull yourself out of this pit you’re in. What a waste of your fucking time. Plus, I know you want to knit yourself a new scarf but you promised your co-worker you’d knit him a plushie, and I’m pretty sure your friend is still waiting on that sweater you told her you’d make for her birthday, and weren’t you going to knit a blanket for that one friend’s wedding? Oh, yeah, good idea, maybe you should just read all day. That’s productive. You should be cleaning the bathroom, you failure.
Depression makes you doubt yourself. It tells you that you’re not good enough. It tells you that if you’re not doing The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World, then you’re being frivolous and stupid. Depression is the ultimate manipulator: it makes you doubt your reality. It convinces you that you’re lying to yourself. Someone complimented your outfit? Psh, they were just being nice. Someone tells you they love you? Huh, they must want something from you. Someone recognizes your work in a meaningful way? Eh, it wasn’t that good, they just have really low standards. They don’t really know what they’re talking about, it’s not like they’re an expert in the industry.
Depression is also really good at making you believe you can’t live without it. It reminds you that you should be humble, that you shouldn’t toot your own horn, that there will always be people who are better than you at everything. It tells you that people don’t really like you; they just act like it because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. It tells you that you shouldn’t ask people for what they need, because then you’ll be sooo needy and pathetic and gross and everyone will hate you. Depression convinces you it’s your only friend. Depression likes to separate you from your friends and family; the people in your life who support you and love you. It convinces you that they don’t really care about you. It convinces you that they only want to take from you; that they’re not willing to give. Depression tells you it’s wrong and selfish to ask your girlfriend to remind you that you’re important to her. It tells you that your friends are busy and don’t want you bugging them just to talk because you’re feeling down. It tells you you’re lazy and horrible for asking your husband to make lunch for you. Depression tells you not to eat the sandwich.
Depression will always try to convince you that your self-care is meaningless and frivolous. That‘s because Depression is a big nasty jerk manipulator who knows that if you start feeling better, you’ll kick it out of the house. It knows that if you spend some time cheering yourself up, you won’t hang out with it anymore and it will have to go find someone else to suck the life out of. So it does everything in its power to convince you that even when you’re doing something that feels good, you should feel bad about it.
Sometimes it’s important to do unimportant things. Sometimes it’s important to waste time. When Depression hits you and starts calling you names, you are right to re-prioritize your life in ways that make it stop. Does it make you feel good? Then do it. Does it shut Depression up for a bit? Then it’s important. Depression is an asshole, an abuser and a manipulator, and let’s be totally honest here: it would kill you if it thought it could. Sure, getting a manicure might not be The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World… but it might be A Small Step Toward Saving Your Life.
And that? That is important. It’s not the act itself – the getting of the manicure, the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread, the going outside or the calling a friend… it’s the significance of the act. It’s the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread because the walking cheers you up and the bread will be a nice treat. It’s the going outside because outside, it’s harder to believe that you are isolated and miserable and going nowhere with your life. It’s the getting the manicure because that manicure means you are allowing someone else to take care of you in a small way, a way that you maybe can’t take care of yourself. None of these acts are intrinsically important or vital to survival… but they are important in the context of interrupting the cycle of depression. And that makes them worthwhile.