Published on my mental health and recovery blog.
The past few weeks since my last update have been very productive — both a blessing and a curse. I’ve noticed more and more that my good days, my normal periods, come after periods of high productivity. When I’m coming back from my long class day feeling smart and capable or after a day at my internship accomplishing measurable things. So I know I’m doing the right thing by not completely stopping my life to make room for recovery.
At the same time, all it takes is a few decent days an unfinished to-do list to set off some subconscious subroutine that decides I’m fine. Totally normal now. Depression over. No need to think about that anymore. Let’s work on all of your ambitions at once. It’s like I only have two settings: slow, easy, remember-you’re-in-recovery or fast-forward.
And when I’m in that state, I become completely disconnected from my own mental state, completely in denial about the fact that I don’t have the mental resources to do all the things I want to. This gap between my thoughts and reality begins to generate massive amounts of anxiety, which (at first) I have no idea the source of. And when I can’t get things done, can’t find my focus, etc. I start to panic even more. After all, I’m only even trying to do a fourth of what i was doing last year. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by a little to-do list before.
As this escalates, the depression symptoms start to break through, but I instinctively, ruthlessly push them down. Subconsciously, I’m terrified of giving up “normal” and admitting I’m still depressed. Who wouldn’t be? And, after all, I’m very good at pushing through. At putting my head down and just working,
All this tension and cognitive dissonance eventually lulls me back into old thought patterns, the old coping mechanisms. (In a way, this whole cycle is itself a coping mechanism.) These quickly devolve into the fear, frustration and pain that characterized my pre-recovery life. I end up lashing out a myself and those closest to me with negative thoughts and emotions. Nothing I do is good enough. My best friend doesn’t really love me or want to be around me. I’m not worth the air I breath, You get the idea.
Until I realize what’s going on (which thankfully happens after only a little while of this now that I recognize the pattern), these thoughts don’t seem like symptoms of my mental state. They just seem like reality. Even though I logically recognize the conclusions as false, the premises that lead me to them seem valid and entirely based in empirical evidence. Right now, coming out of one of these cycles, I’m struck by easy it is for my brain to lie to me about reality. And how completely I believe those lies.
This cycle isn’t particularly surprising, given that my primary way of coping with my childhood trauma was to center my entire identity and self worth on my achievements/ambitions. But it does have an interesting side effect: It’s actually better for me to stay depressed right now.
I need a real recovery, one that’s founded on new ways of thinking and processing the world, and these false starts are just making that goal harder to reach. So I have to work to avoid the relapses into the worst of my depression, but i also have to work to avoid relapses into “everything is fine.”