Thursday, May 12, 2016

Under A Cloud

There are days when I feel like I am walking around underneath my very own storm cloud. Sometimes there’s a trigger, sometimes there is not but, even when there is, the response is often disproportionate to the cause. That is one of the realities of living with depression. According to some estimates, it’s a reality that at least 7% of Americans have some familiarity with. That’s the percentage of people who had a reported “major depressive episode” in 2014 (the last year for which there is complete data). Not everyone who had an episode lives with depression, but not everyone who lives with depression reports their episodes, so we can figure it roughly balances out.

Those of who who live with depression - or, it might be more accurate to say, those of us who know that we live with depression do have one small advantage: We know that it happens, and that it is going to happen. It’s a very small advantage, and it often doesn’t feel like an advantage at all, but it can help. If you know something is going to happen, you can plan for it. If you know based on the experience of past occurrences, you also have some idea, based on those same past occurrences, that solutions are possible, and maybe even what solutions are possible. It’s not much, but we take what we can get.

The trouble is, what we can get very often doesn’t feel like it’s enough. When you’re under that cloud being beaten down by the driving rain, knowing that the last storm didn’t wash you away isn’t exactly a comfort. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable, and all of that is happening right now, not last time and not in some possible future. Any relief that isn’t also right now doesn’t feel like it’s very helpful. When you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, what something feels like tends to carry more weight than what something is (or even was or will be). That, too, is one of the realities of living with depression.

There is another, more basic reality that we sometimes overlook, though: umbrellas and coats are available. There are things you can do. There are tools you can use. You can’t always get in out of the rain, and sometimes a coat really isn’t enough. You can’t always make things good, but you can almost always make things better. Maybe you can make things not as bad, if that seems to be a more accurate perspective. You can do something about your situation, even if you can’t do as much as you might like to do.

It’s a fine distinction, I realize, but it’s a distinction that matters, just the same. Some storms are bigger than others and some tools are better than others, but if it helps, it helps. A raincoat may not offer much protection in a hurricane, but you won’t throw it away, will you? You certainly won’t strip down to your skivvies and stand out in the rain. That’s just not how we do things if we want to make anything better. A little bit better is still better. Use what you have until you have more.

It’s important to remember that making things better is not magic, and it’s not a binary situation. You are not going to go from bad to good with no inbetween. There are going to be days when the best you can do is make a bad situation just be not quite as bad. It may still be a bad situation and you may still be miserable in that situation, but you have to wrap that raincoat around you, hunch your shoulders against the wind, and just keep driving forward. Understanding that things could be worse may be a paltry comfort at the time, but it might also be the difference between getting through it or not. You may not realize it at the time, but you will look back from the comfort of later and be glad you had that raincoat instead of having nothing.

The flipside of that is to remember that still feeling bad doesn’t mean you aren’t accomplishing anything. It is hard to tell the difference when you’re in a depressive episode, just like it’s hard to tell the difference when you’re standing in the rain. It’s easy to believe that wet is wet while the rain is pouring down. Later on, though, when you’re sitting by the fire wrapped in a blanket and enjoying the recovery, you’ll look back and realize that things could have been worse. When you do have that realization, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for what you did to make things better. You deserve the recognition, and getting it will make things just a little bit easier next time.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. It always is. I can pile all of the raincoats available at your feet, but you won’t benefit if you don’t put one one. You’ve been caught in the rain before. If you’re like most of us, you’ve been caught many times, and sometimes you’ve had a coat and sometimes you haven’t. You know the difference. Learn from that experience to plan for the future. Every little bit helps, but the first step is you.

There are days when I feel like I’m walking around under a cloud. To be frank, there are days when I feel like I’m walking around inside of a cloud. I don’t like those days, no matter what. They’re horrible, and I don’t blame anyone with similar experiences for hating the experience. There’s nothing good about it, and it is not necessary to pretend there is. Just don’t give up, and don’t let the rain beat you down. Just wrap that raincoat around you and appreciate the little things when the little things are all you have to appreciate. Get through the moment until you can get to a better moment. The thing about clouds is, they never last.

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