The Typing Cure

One of the things I miss about not being able to follow college basketball these days is that I don't really know enough about the state of the game to understand Mark Titus's columns at Grantland. They're kind of sophomoric, but you know, a little of that is sometimes good, and I always enjoyed reading his stuff (I also enjoyed his book). But his columns are so heavily referential as to be basically incomprehensible unless you watch a lot of games.

I still follow him on Twitter, though, and was a little surprised when he tweeted out a link to a Reddit AMA where he talked about struggling with depression. This was the usual unsurprising sort of surprise-- "Gosh, he seemed pretty cheerful, who knew he was depressed..." At some point, you'd think that I'd stop being surprised by that.

Anyway, I should say right up front that his post is a little problematic in one of the standard ways, namely that it's an "I got over this by just trying harder" story. And these are not always helpful to people who are suffering; they even risk being counter-productive in making those who can't just try harder feel worse. (And, to be fair to Titus, some things he tweeted later suggest that he is, in fact, aware of this problem...)

Posts like Titus's, or Ethan Zuckerman's last summer do serve a useful purpose for a lot of folks though. It's really helpful to have an example of familiar problems greatly magnified, and that being aware of these problems is essential to solving them.

I mention Ethan's post because that was a big one for me. I've been in a pretty rotten mood for the last few years, but reading Ethan's post made me realize I was doing some of the same stuff he described. I've consistently been tired in a way all out of proportion to the amount of actual work I do-- to the point of having some medical tests run after my physical last year-- and I've had trouble working up any enthusiasm for stuff I generally really enjoy. It got considerably worse toward the end of last year.

I hasten to add that I was an international call away from the depths Titus talks about, but I recognize bits of his story as a greatly magnified version of my own problems. And I have the relative advantage that my bummed-out-ness is tied to a couple of very specific external issues-- work and the new book-- that will definitely get better. But I clearly recall the "You know, maybe I'll just stay in bed all afternoon" thing from last December.

(Another big realization was that while I could barely make it through the day without a nap at home, when I got together with friends from college in November, and when I went to the Renaissance Weekend at the end of December, I had no trouble staying up late into the night socializing and drinking, and still getting up the next day. Back at work, though, zzzzzzzz... That contextuality really drove home that my general lassitude was largely a mental state.)

My own contribution to the not-as-helpful-as-it-might-be "just try harder" genre is, well, this blog. Specifically the Advent calendar stories thing. I started doing those without a lot of forethought (a sort of resigned "I guess I ought to do some publicity thing"), but having started, I was stubborn enough to force myself through, and that process was weirdly therapeutic. Not necessarily the stories themselves, though the challenge of writing those helped, but the routine of sitting down for an hour or so every morning, without fail, and writing something that's mine. Which is why I've been blogging so much these last few months-- I've fought pretty hard to keep this time blocked out for me, even when that complicates the process of juggling my other responsibilities, and that's helped keep my dissatisfaction with those external issues at bay. And I've been a bit less tired, and more engaged recently as a result.

So, when I say that I blog because doing this helps keep me sane (as I sometimes do), I'm only half joking...

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Glad to hear things are looking better and to hear how much writing helps you.
Thanks for blogging on this topic.

Hi Chad,

Read this some days ago, but didn't really know what to say.

I'm sorry to hear you've had a difficult phase or, to some extent, still have. The strange thing with depression is that everybody thinks they know just how you feel. I can't tell you how often I've heard this "I know" - though to some extent I think it's more common for women to do. The truth is that most of them have no fucken clue what they're talking about. But the very fact that they think they do is what supports the believe that you can just "try a little harder" and "snap out of it" because it's all "in your head" and so on.

I know it's pointless to complain about the way people use words, but I somehow wish they'd come up with a better name than "clinical depression," something that illuminates better the chronical hormonal imbalance and related changes in brain activity which you cannot, de facto, just "snap out of". Of course it's a sliding scale - more than 50 shades of gray I guess ;)

Ok, so, actually I'm not sure what I am trying so say. The only advice that I give people with some form of depression is to seek professional advice. Even if it doesn't help them directly, it takes burden off the shoulders of their friends and relatives, which can otherwise create a downwards spiral of guilt.

Writing, in a sense, is a form of meditation, so I'm not so surprised it makes for a good self-treatment :) Take care,

Sabine

Honestly, I feel a little bad talking about this at all, because as bad as I felt back in December, I almost feel like putting it in the same category as what other folks describe is trivializing their suffering. But there's enough phenomenological similarity, as it were, to recognize them as falling on a continuum that spans several orders of magnitude.

There was a point when I seriously considered contacting the Counseling Center at Union and asking them to refer me to somebody, but by the time I was consciously aware of what was going on, I could start to see a path clear. And knowing that option is there is a good security blanket. I'm definitely going to be more vigilant about this in the future, though.

For what's it's worth, I really enjoyed those advent stories.

By Peter Davis (not verified) on 25 Mar 2015 #permalink