Oh yeah, well…take that!

I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced much anxiety, but what I have experienced seemed pretty straight forward. Either I was anxious about something in particular, or maybe I didn’t know why I was anxious, but when I was, I knew I was. Depression is different, at least it is for me.

Everyone experiences depression differently, I know that, but sometimes I forget that even within an individual experiences of depression can differ. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I get low, so low I can hardly get through the days. I get this feeling like there’s a heavy blanket pressing down on me and it even seems difficult to breathe. I lose interest in everything, even food and books. I find everything tiring, even doing regular, every day chores. I want to sleep a lot and I fall behind on my paperwork.

Van Gogh knew depression

But this is not my “normal” expression of depression.

What I usually experience is quite different. What it usually looks like for me is that I get busy. I mean it, I get completely swamped. My schedule gets packed. I work, take classes, start projects. I fill up blank moments with 7 books at a time, including at least one audiobook. I start learning something new, organize my cabinets, my closets. I clean – oh how I clean! I even clean up my computer files, delete old emails, reorganize my itunes. I clean out my car, organize the freezer, build a desk thing for my treadmill.

And away we go...

From time to time, someone in my life will say, “Depressed? You don’t look depressed to me.” And they’re right, I don’t “look” depressed, because most people think of depression the way I described it before, sleeping a lot, not being able to get things done and all of that. Me racing around doing a million things doesn’t look much like depression, but it has a similar affect. Even though I’m moving a lot, I’m not getting much done. If you’ll look back at my list, you’ll see that while those things might be useful, none of them are particularly essential. In fact, they frequently keep me from doing what I actually need to be doing. I don’t sleep enough and start to fall behind on paperwork. Sound familiar?

Here’s the interesting part. When I’m down and slowed down, it isn’t particularly pleasant, but I can usually see it (after a day or three) and I know what to do about it. Back in the day I would sort of force myself up, and out. I’d make myself do more social things, make myself get more physical, that kind of thing. These days I’m a bit more gentle with myself, allowing myself some down time and easing myself back into the swing of things.

The problem is much more difficult to manage when I’m experiencing the other kind, the do-bee kind. Because I forget myself that this, too, is depression. I get so busy I don’t notice that things are slipping. And because I’m busy, I mostly think things are ok. And, hey, busy isn’t so bad, right?


The part that really messes with me isn’t the doing, or the not doing. The part that really messes with me is the thinking – or rather the not thinking. See, that’s the other side affect of being intensely busy. When I am staying fabulously busy, I keep my mind spinning and churning, circling and flitting from idea to idea. What happens is that I keep myself from pondering, from really thinking about the important things in my life. All that spinning is like so much busy work – remember those dumb worksheets teachers used to hand out that had nothing to do with any lesson you were learning, but was just about keeping you quiet for 10 minutes? My busyness ends up doing that…keeping my mind occupied on something relatively unimportant while carefully ignoring much more important things.

Cuz this is teaching kids...what?

Sometimes the important thing is related to work, setting up my billing the first time, for instance. For the last few years it’s often related to school – finding a dissertation chair, completing a paper, typing transcriptions. Sometimes it’s kind of both – looking for an internship, for example. As I was going into that process, I stayed so busy that I couldn’t think about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was on my mind. I talked about it and looked at my options over and over again, but this wasn’t thinking, not really. This was more like spinning my wheels. At that time I wasn’t sitting down, thoughtfully and meditatively going over my options. I wasn’t carefully weighing possible placements. I didn’t sit down and listen for any still, small voice. No, I was just racing in circles.

Round and round and round

Now, in that particular example, maybe it didn’t matter that I spun my wheels for so long (right up to the deadline, in fact). Most of the selection process was out of my hands from the beginning. But that isn’t always the case. And sometimes what happens is that I spin for a long time and when something finally gets through and I realize that I’ve been spinning, it’s too late. A deadline is missed, a mistake has been made, something gets lost by the wayside.

For me, those times are much worse than the depression doldrums, because I tend to be pretty hard on myself afterwards and because it usually goes on much longer than the doldrums. I don’t see it happening and so miss pieces of my own life. I’ve just been through a period like that and when I suddenly realized that I was spinning, I was stunned and disheartened. I’m up now, and am determined to leave the spin, but I just wanted to say that depression is a mean old bastard, and sneaky, too.

Take that, depression!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kelly on January 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    It makes me sad to read what you’ve been through, Martha. I can only imagine how hard it is. I do think, personally, that it sounds like you’re dealing with your depression as well as you can. The busyness may be keeping you from what you should REALLY be doing, but at least from an outsider, it seems that keeping busy is a better way to deal with it than throwing a blanket over you in bed. Do you mind answering how the depression feels in the busyness versus the sleeping a lot? Does it seem a LITTLE less bad? Maybe you feel a LITTLE more in control? Or a little less lonely?


  2. Kelly, well, I think it looks better from the outside. I think about how people react to very depressed people when they can hardly get out of bed, and from a cultural stand point, that is so not ok! We really want people to get up, get moving, get over it. So I don’t really think it _is_ better, only that it looks better. I think the end result is much the same, in that I don’t get to the things I need to do and that sometimes really important things slip away. In some ways it’s also worse, though, because if you are hibernating in your bed, at least other people can see that something is wrong. The way I do it, mostly people are surprised if I say I’ve been depressed, and even my mom will say, “well, you don’t seem depressed,” pretty much dismissing my whole experience. 🙂 Ah, moms.
    And I also want to differentiate my busyness from actual movement. So, being active, physically active, like running, is good for depression – I mean, it diminishes depression. I know when I am working out regularly, I tend to feel it less and I tell people all the time to get themselves moving. But my busyness is not that, more it’s a way to keep me from thinking and doing what I need to be doing, like white noise.
    So, for instance, I’ve always read several books at a time. Like 5 or 6, one in each room of the house. I don’t see that by itself as a symptom of depression, but when I fill every waking out with a book or audiobook (or Deep Space 9 – that’s my new thing), I keep myself from doing the other things, that’s just so much white noise. Reading a bunch of books is fine, but reading them to exclude meditative thought, that’s something else.
    Thanks for your comment!


    • Posted by Kelly on January 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Ah, that makes sense… And its unfortunate. Well I am sure glad you found running! Its good for you in so many aspects. Keep it up!


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