Thursday, October 27, 2011

But I got so damned depressed

The title is from Sister Golden Hair:

Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed
That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed

The only part of that that is unfamiliar is, “I got myself undressed.” I have a feeling it might be giving up and going to bed. That's not unfamiliar it's just that I happen to sleep with my clothes on. The only exception being if it is absurdly hot.

The rest of it seems just about right, You have a goal, your mental state prevents you from completing that goal, you set a new goal. The new goal will fail to be met just as the old goal did, but if you didn't have hope that at some point you'll succeed at something I don't know what you'd have left.

That might not be entirely true, I've had times without hope, but that lack of hope wasn't so much based on a belief that things would never be better as it was based on an inability to look beyond the present. It wasn't because the future seemed endlessly bleak, it was that the future was outside the realm of contemplation. There's nothing good about that, but in such a situation the lack of hope really isn't really that much of a problem. Hopelessness is only problematic in those situations where hope matters, after all.

Hopelessness coupled with foresight is something I've never really had to face, a fact for which I am grateful.

Mostly I have trouble feeling for the future. Dread I can do. If something bad is coming I can muster dread, no matter how much I might wish I couldn't. Dread doesn't come up that often though. I live in a relatively safe place in a relatively safe state in a relatively safe country in a relatively safe time to be alive. Dread is not a frequent feeling.

Most of the time I feel nothing of the future. I have no sense of expectation. I've heard people talk about this as a horizon effect. Even if you know that something will make you happy it's over the horizon and you can't feel it. It's dead to you. It works in reverse too, say something good happened and I was happy, really truly happy. There's never an afterglow for me. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of negative feelings.

I remember when my mother and I got tickets to see Obama speak. She was happy as can for days in advance of the event. I felt nothing. I felt bad for what seemed like forever afterward when it turned out they gave more tickets than they should have and we couldn't get in (and rather than tell us that they just left us standing in line unaware that this pause in the lines movement was any different from the other ones, still thinking we'd get in because we were within sight of the damned entrance and look at all of the people behind us who also have tickets, they couldn't have overbooked it by that much, could they? All it would have taken was a simple, “We're sorry, but there's no more room,” but no, that was too much for the bastards. Sorry. Where was I?) That pretty much sums up how I feel about things with respect to time: I don't have any feelings in the lead up, I experience it in the moment, bad feelings stick with me, good ones do not.

The hope aspect of setting sights on Monday isn't really about Monday, if I stopped to rationally consider Monday then I'd probably conclude that on Monday I'll set my sights on Tuesday and so forth and the end result will be that nothing good will happen ever. Instead it's about dealing with the now of Sunday. Now I simply don't have it in me to do it, but I'm trying to comfort myself with idea that I'm not giving in completely. It's a delay, not a cancellation.

Anyway, that horizon thingy has very strong effects on motivation. It may be possible to mechanically motivate yourself to do something with no feeling whatsoever, but I've never found out how. If you don't feel then you don't care, and -speaking for myself and no one else- if I don't care then I find it nearly impossible to make myself do something.

Usually, thankfully, that doesn't result in me spending all my time staring blankly into space. More likely it will result in me doing something I don't care about very much which has instantaneous results. Say watching the same movie over and over again. I haven't done that lately. Lately it's been more of a reading on the internet sort of thing. There's always an unending glut of news stories. (Did you know that China may have a giant housing bubble on the verge of catastrophic collapse? No it doesn't! Yes it does! And so on for hours.) It requires the investment of almost no emotional or intellectual energy, and it occupies you for hours and through it all the gratification is pretty nearly instant, you don't need to feel for anything more than a few seconds in advance.

There are almost certainly many other things I'd be happier if I were doing, but I can't feel anything about those because they're too far away whereas an article on the fact that even millionaires want millionaires to pay more taxes, that I can actually do something with because it's close, it's seconds away. It takes many times longer than that for me to get a glass of water.

The immediacy allows me to feel something where when it comes to something more complex, something like setting up a meeting with friends or applying for a job, it's simply not there, I feel absolutely nothing. Apathy is very hard to deal with, but it may very well be more difficult to describe to someone who isn't experiencing it. I've certainly tried, but I don't think I've ever succeeded. If you can't point to a something that's stopping you from doing something that's easy for them, most people don't get it.

I've never tried this before, but here's my latest attempt:

Try to imagine something that you couldn't care less about. It doesn't need to be something that you actively dislike, it just has to be something that doesn't interest you in the least. Say you don't have any affection for mountain climbing at all. Then your thing could be climbing Kilimanjaro barefoot. (This will not work for anyone who finds that idea the least bit interesting.)

Think about everything that would go into doing that. You'd have to learn to climb mountains, you'd have to toughen up your feet to build up callouses, you'd have to figure out some way to deal with the fact that I'm told it's damned cold at the top and you don't want to lose your feet to hypothermia. Perhaps designing an entirely novel foot heating system and learning the techniques from that guy who made it on TV for becoming as close to immune to hypothermia as a human being can be. Once you've worked out all of that, you'd still have to get to Tanzania and climb the damn thing. That means funding a trip, making whatever arrangements will be necessary given that you won't be at work or at your home during it, so on, so forth.

Ok. Have you thought of all of that? Good. Now do it.*

If I've successfully communicated the feeling then you should have absolutely no interest in doing even the preliminary steps in this process. You should not be looking into whether or not it is viable to climb that mountain barefoot (nor should you be checking to see if anyone has ever tried) you should not be making travel plans to Tanzania. If anything you should find the entire exercise pointless. You're not interested in doing that, you don't care about doing that, what would possibly make you spend your time preparing to be doing that?

If I offered some reward then that might give you some kind of motivation, but for this to work as an analogy you need to assume that either there is no reward or you have exactly zero interest in it. You're not in it for the fame or for the barefoot hypothermia avoidance patents. There is absolutely no result of taking on this project that interests you in the least at this time.

Would you do it?

If I've done the analogy right then the answer is no. It is my understanding that most of the time when people do something the don't want to do it is either to get something they do want (I don't want to study, but I do want to learn Latin) or to avoid something they don't want (I don't want to go to work today, but I really don't want to lose my job) the motivations I have heard of always have their roots in not-apathy. You do a thing because there is something somewhere you care about in some way related to doing that thing. Take away all incentives to do X and people don't do X, they find something else to do.

That's where I'm at with most things. Applying for work, setting up time with friends, doing almost anything with less immediacy than my internet connection. It feels like climbing Kilimanjaro barefoot. I can't make myself want to do that. I cannot work towards that goal. I wish I could find a way to push myself to get a job, but I can't. I haven't found a way. I've been looking for at least a decade now, close to half my life. I haven't found it yet.

That's not the only concern I have about finding a job. At some point, last week or the week before I guess, it took me an hour to brush my teeth. Not an hour of actual brushing. I use an electric toothbrush and it has a built in timer so the actual brushing takes a couple of minutes. No. The hour was like this:

Look at my watch. I meant to be in bed by now. I've got to stop sitting here and just get up and brush my teeth.
Time passes.
I manage to get up and walk to the room with the toothbrush. Now I have to put together the two parts of the toothbrush (the electric part is the expensive part, the part that goes in your mouth less so. Thus by having two parts that go in your mouth you can have two people using the same expensive electric part. The only down side is that every time you brush your teeth you have to assemble your tooth brush. As downsides go it is a very small one.)
Time passes while I stare into space.
Tooth brush is assembled, now I need to put toothpaste on it.
Time passes while I stare off into the mirror.
Toothpaste is on, now I just need to pick it up.
Time passes while I stare off god knows where.
I brush my teeth.
I look at my watch. Fuck! It's been an hour since I last looked at my watch.

That's brushing my teeth, a simple task I have a lot of practice doing. I shudder to think what I might be like in a workplace.

I get by mostly on inertia these days. Habit can make me do things where otherwise I would not. So I go to school. I attend classes for Latin and Ancient Greek and I struggle to keep my head above water in them. I mentioned elsewhere that I've been feeling under the weather since September. Less energy than usual by a wide margin, sometimes too tired to concentrate. As if I hadn't slept in days even after a full night's sleep. No insomnia, no missing sleep, just tiredness. I think I'm coming out of that but now, before I could fully finish with that, I've come down with something else: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, my voice is at half strength and I'm generally not good. I think the headaches came before the new thing.

Halfway through a semester and I haven't been healthy for any of it. I go into school, try to concentrate enough to prepare for the class that day, fail for four hours, go to class, and then do my damnedest not to show that I'm totally unprepared. Walk home. Find I don't have the energy to make myself ready for the next class be it the next day or the next week. Repeat. Over and over again.

There's a fair degree of shame there.

Someone else who is in both classes is pregnant. It's a tough pregnancy. It gave her diabetes, something I might have known was possible before but it never really registered. It has also meant she's been otherwise sick (vomiting and the like) for much of the pregnancy. She's keeping up in classes. I'm not. And she's raising her first child at the same time.

By now I've known my teachers for years. They put in the work to teach the class, I feel like I owe it to them to be a good student (especially since one of them isn't being paid for her work since that class is classified as an independent study, stupid penny pinching university don't you realize what these people are worth?) but I'm not doing that. At this point I'm not being a classicist so much as trying to fake being one to avoid shame and avoid disappointing those who deserve a better student.

Even so, it's a good thing I'm there because if I weren't I'd have no in person human contact outside of my family at all.

This is my life.

I wish I could close on something hopeful. Unfortunately there isn't an obvious solution in sight. Long ago, back when I had insurance the first time, we tried treatment. We tried everything short of electroconvulsive therapy. None of it worked. I suppose I could hang all of my hopes on ECT, except that I have no way to pay for further attempts at treatment. (And I find the prospect of memory loss deeply disturbing, but that's a concern for when it's actually an option.)

It was recently suggested to me that a state run medical insurance thing in my state might cover me even though I previously looked into it and, as near as I could tell, it wouldn't. So I'll be looking into that. My hopes are not high but it will be looked into.

Still, “Maybe if I'm lucky I'll find a way to get someone to pass electricity through my brain,” does not sound like a positive note to end on.


One of the things that spurred me into writing this is to say something for any reader here who might know someone who is dealing with depression. That is this:

Don't make it sound easy.

If you're ever tempted to say, for example, “This is why you need to get a job, then you'll have health insurance,” don't. Just don't.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for myself if it were that easy I would have done it.

I've been hearing from my family for years, “You really need to get a job,” and while they're generally pretty understanding, and certainly their generosity is the reason that I'm not living from soup kitchen to homeless shelter, the implication that turning my life around is simply something I can just decide to do with a simple, “Yes, you're right, I'll do that right now,” is painful. It hurts.

I don't mean emotionally.

The body is an interesting thing and it's possible for it to produce a feeling very much like physical pain in response to certain stimuli. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that all of my muscles tense up and my joints don't know what to do when being pulled both ways. There are various possibilities.

If it were as easy for me to do things as some make it sound I would have done them. Years ago.** When I'm told that I need to get a job my response isn't, “Oh, new information, I should make use of that.” It's a strong desire to scream, “DON'T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT?”

Of course I don't. I couldn't handle the conflict it would produce, and at the moment I doubt I could produce a scream anyway. My voice is unhappy and the loudest sound I seem to be able to produce is a fairly pathetic sounding cough.

So wash your hands after reading this, you don't want to get sick.


* Except don't, because then you'll never finish reading my post. Besides, if you're on the way to Tanzania at this point my analogy has failed anyway so there's no point in actually going on my account.

** It's been a while since I've mentioned how my brain works in ways not related to depression and headaches. Everything is connected to something else.

This idea is not new. Whether you think of it as Platonian forms or the fact that a Tabula Rasa can contain nothing not connected to a previous external stimuli there's a long history of us thinking of things in terms of connections. Language requires it; TV Tropes revels in it.

For whatever reason my mind seems to do it more than most. Intertextuality is something that just happens for me. Everywhere. It isn't just when I read an ancient Roman poem and realize that it says they beat their plowshares into swords (don't they know it's supposed to be the other war around?) right after hitting us with fair is foul and foul is fair. It is also when I speak

Often times I'll say something and realize as or immediate after I say it that it's calling back to something else. Sometimes what makes me realize it is that the inflection isn't mine. In this case it's calling back to, “If Victor were so easy to dispatch you'd have done it yourself. Centuries ago,” spoken by Lucian to Kraven in Underworld, the film from 2003.

Almost always I let such things pass without note, but for some reason when I finished writing this long, long post, I guess I felt the need to tack something more on to the end.


  1. Someone who's been lurking here since you started this blogOctober 28, 2011 at 1:02 AM


    I wish I could say something to help, but I don't know how. So I'll just thank you for writing this blog; I've enjoyed reading it. And I hope, and I'll be praying, that something changes significantly for the better.

    - E.

  2. I also don't know what to say. (If I knew, I'd say it to myself many years ago.) And since I'm an atheist, praying is out of question. Will sympathy be enough? Probably not, but I can't offer anything else. I'm sorry.

  3. What that rubicund corvid said. I've danced round the edge of this space but never been sufficiently afflicted that it stopped me from really wanting to do at least some stuff.

  4. I wish I could say something to help, but I don't know how.

    (Unless you happen to be rich or magic) you're doing pretty much the only thing to can do. I don't think there's much you can do beyond saying something. And saying something does matter, otherwise I don't know if anyone thinks any of this is worthwhile.

    So thank you for speaking up, that goes for everyone who has.

  5. Oh, man. :(

    I wish the meds worked for you. My own problem is anxiety and I've needed meds a few times, but my anxiety issues aren't as bad as your depression. (It also helps that regular interaction with people somehow helps me and I have a people interacting job. I realize how lucky that makes me.)

    Offers hugs, sympathy, and the hope that a new (and affordable!) depression med will hit the market that does work for you.

    - depizan from Slacktivist, etc

  6. I feel like a lot of what you've written is from my own head. I've been struggling with depression since I was a young child, according to those "does your child have depression?" lists I found, when I was trying to pinpoint when it began. I'm 27 and have been in and out of behavioral therapy since I was 8, to figure out why I just can't seem to be as functional as I need to be. I've been on various meds since I was 15. But I couldn't get the motivation to take the medicine properly, and anyway, my depression waxes and wanes, so sometimes I appear more functional.

    I failed a few semesters at university because I was too depressed, but no one in my family recognized it, because it's such a constant thing with me, so they just blamed me for being lazy... your description of your classes is pretty much exactly what was going on with me.

    I tried grad school because I needed specialization for the ONE thing that made me excited about the future. (I'd been just drifting before hand and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so went for the easy English Lit BA option.) Only being depressed like that makes it impossible to do an online MLIS program, even when I know that the end result would be worth it. My depression got worse, partly because my learning style is wholly unsuited to online message board lectures. I got a part-time museum job thanks to my mom, which was wonderful and gave some hope, because I actually enjoyed work for once. But I couldn't deal with school, too, or working more than 15 hours/week. I hate being a salesperson but was getting 25 hours/week in the store, and decided nothing was worth it and any future in my life would be equally miserable, and why bother?

    That was in March. Since I was still rational enough to realize that something was More Wrong Than Usual, I quit school, begged for fewer hours at work, and had my mom help me get a free psych via her work. I was too depressed to have any real motivation for that, though, and knew I needed drugs, but had no insurance.

    Next we tried one of those clinical research studies - not only for the possibility of drugs and monitoring, but because you usually get paid for it, and I'm poor.

    Lemme tell you - the drug I was testing? Holy fuck, but it's like night and day. I couldn't remember ever feeling so good, or not thinking that dying would be the #1 solution to any problem, even as minor as stubbing my toe.

    I got some courtesy visits at the office to put me on something else when the study ended, but neither Pr_z_c or Z_l_ft did anything at all - both sent me right back into the "stare into space for ten minutes instead of lifting my foot to start crossing the road" mode, and I was doing badly at work. My boss pulled strings to get me insurance so I could go on the study drug, and I've been taking it 2 weeks now.

    Anyway, this is a really long comment, but I related so much to your descriptions of depression and wanted to offer my own story, which somehow has a pretty good ending, which I never thought would happen.

    I recommend, if you can, to try and get in on a depression drug clinical research study. You get to try a medicine (or a placebo, who knows?) and are paid for it, if you match the symptoms they're testing against, and there's always tons of studies going on. If you're like me and pretty much have no where else to turn, it's worth a try. And, who knows? you might luck out like I did.

    (For what it's worth, I seem to have the chemical imbalance type of depression, and will probably have to be medicated my entire life, since no amount of CBT has worked long-term, even though I can do the CBT stuff like a pro, and SSRIs never do anything for me, but SNRIs like Effexor do. The drug I'm on now is Savella, which is technically for fibromyalgia sufferers, but works a dream for me.)

  7. @keristars

    I wasn't very far into your post before I started thinking that I wished there was something I could do to help and wanted to post that I hoped things would get better for you. Then I got to the part where things did get better.

    It's nice to read a story with a happy ending, thank you for sharing yours.

  8. I'm like that, perhaps not as badly, and I keep thinking it's not bad enough to get help because, you know, other people (even some very close to me) suffer from worse afflictions and by comparison I'm only lazy and unambitious. (Also, the inertia itself contributes to that, of course. Getting help is action, and will lead to a lot of hassle and shame.)

  9. Hah. 90% of this feels like something I might write. Replace "trying to keep up in school" with "barely managing to work ten hours a week at a cafe" and bam, 100%. My family thinks it's a shame I can't get more shifts, but I can just about cope with the work I DO get. And this is during one of my "up" seasons...

    Oh, and just so you know: I'm almost certainly going to steal your barefoot mountaineering metaphor for personal use. It's a lot friendlier than the metaphor I'd been using previously, to try and convey this sort of feeling. Thanks!

  10. Thank you for writing this. It feels like you're inside my head. I'm a life-long depressive and I've had that feeling of total apathy most of my life. I'm pretty sure the only reason I managed to graduate high school is because I was smart enough to coast through the progressively worse and worse schools I attended as my family traveled around. I dropped out of college twice, both times I just stopped going, I just couldn't muster the energy to care.

    And you totally nailed how comments from family and friends about "getting it together" make me feel. It's so frustrating and hurtful to have my family, in particular, be so unwilling to listen and *believe* me. Or to be so clueless.

    My brother and I both have serious depression/anxiety. My father is the main cause of our issues and he acts as if we both have character flaws, not a medical condition. (irnarempt: I so feel you there, I get that lazy bit all the time, if only they would have to deal with how exhausting it is to do *anything*.) I don't think any amount of therapy in the world is going to get me to a place where I'm not angry with him. Luckily we both have wonderful supportive spouses (and decent health insurance) so we're managing alright.

    Things are better, but only with drugs, which, of course, come with crappy side effects. I recently switched to Effexor, it's been the best so far. Targeting the anxiety component has helped a lot. Still, it's a daily struggle to take interest in anything that takes more than an hour to complete, but at least I'm not spending my days rotating between crying and lying on the couch practically comatose.

    Take care.

  11. @chris

    Thank you :) I followed the link you left on Ana's most recent Twilight blog and, like I said, felt like I was reading something I had written myself. Every day, I'll realize I'm doing something I wouldn't have been able to do not 4 months ago, and just boggle at how strange it is. I had even been talking to someone in May about how I knew intellectually that depression can go away, and that there had been times when I was less depressed, but couldn't imagine it going away entirely. I've never known any different, not since I was small.

    So I've been trying to tell people about how bad it was, to show the incredible change. I've only been back on the drug for 2 weeks, and it took a month last time to really start working, but... yeah. It's so wonderful that when I see someone else talking about having no hope and no job/insurance to help with therapy or drugs, I want to make sure they know about the clinical research studies. Because it may very well result in a miracle drug, like for me, and if you've nothing to lose, it might be worth the risk.

    I'm actually thinking I might be able to live on my own next spring, for the first time in my life. :)

  12. My sibling is, I'm pretty sure, clinically depressed, although not quite to the same extent that this post indicates (or in different ways). My parents are planning to have a family meeting at Thanksgiving about helping him "get it together" and I just have a horrible, horrible feeling about it. I've tried suggesting that we need to give him space rather than apply the pressure, but the parents are hellbent on "fixing the problem" and making everything better. And I feel that push-button pain-rage response in his stead - just leave him the fuck alone! Don't you think he knows that he doesn't have a job and is struggling to get laundry done? It's not his fault, and he's can't magically snap out of it because you tell him to. I suppose I better suck it up and tell them before Thanksgiving - maybe I can derail the train.

  13. The song I would quote is "Slide," by Ani Difranco:

    "She lay down in her party dress
    and never got up
    Needless to say, she missed the party
    She just got sad, then she got stuck"

    I make lists in order to function. The more depressed I get, the simpler the lists become. Lists work in the short term. Then I either
    1) improve enough that I can graduate a level in list-competence or
    2) stop caring enough about crossing stuff off the list to actually DO anything, and have to make simpler lists with easier victories.

    (Most depressed list ever: how to take a shower. Step 1 was "get undressed," because I had sort of forgotten that step the time before.)

    I've completed nearly half of Wednesday's list. It's Friday. Maybe it's time to move down a level and add things like "wake up" and "eat at least two meals 1[ ] 2[ ] 3[ ]" so I can chalk up a few wins.

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