Categories
Mental Illness

Pushing Forward

I don’t believe in bright-side, think happy bullshit. I’m too crazy for that, personally. I can’t smile my way out a depression. I can’t calm a mania just by doing some yoga or taking a relaxing bath. That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I could. It does mean, however, that I fly into a rage of a thousand angry cats when someone suggests that I try one of the aforementioned “cures.” If only it were that easy, that simple. But no, my brain angries ensure that I don’t get to do that, and they work really hard at throwing bouts of madness at me at the worst possible moments. You know, like right now. “Hey, did you know it’s getting close to finals time? It’s that part of the semester where everything is due and it’s too late for excuses!” says one Brain Angry to another. “Really? Awesome! Let’s attack Elfity!” says the other. And so it begins”¦

Yes, mid-April is crunch time in the semester, that time when deadlines loom forward, giggling and screeching, “You’ll never make me, never!” and challenging you to make a passing grade. Papers pile up, presentations are stacked one on top of another, and professors start chastising that it’s too late to ask for help now. You sit inside at your computer while spring taunts you from a nearby window and mountains of pleasure reading beckon you to take a break. In all honesty, that is happening to me at this very moment while I try to just get things done and not to fall off of a manic depressive precipice. In the past, this part of the academic year has spurred within my brain either a mania or a depression. Last year I was safe, having taken a year between undergrad and grad school. The year before that was a depression, and a mania twelve months earlier. It’s easy to succumb to when one is faced with the choices of a) either crawling under the covers and avoiding all work, putting in minimal effort and rarely showing up to class, or b) staying up all night because of a mind racing with proposal ideas and deadlines, worrying about the hours that will be spent typing out last-minute papers that need to be perfect. This year I’m leaning towards the former, and I’m holding on so hard to my wall of sanity, trying not plunge into the dark river of clinical depression.

I’m pushing forward. I’m giving it every effort I have to not go curl up in bed with my iPad and the politics that I take odd comfort in. Against all desire, I get up every day, shower, dress, and push out work that I want so desperately to be meaningful. I let myself put off deadlines and due dates until I can’t put them off any longer and they collapse onto me with some huge academic weight, stressing my mind until I’m sobbing about how if I don’t make perfect, perfect grades I will never get into a PhD program, even when I know my health is so much more important. But I still keep going. I keep writing, keep pushing out papers with feedback like “brilliant ideas, but not academic enough” that depress me more because I feel like I’m being stripped of my writer’s identity, and that the voice I’ve developed for years is being crushed under APA format and red ‘X’s. One more month, I tell myself. Just hold on for one more month. A few more weeks and you can retreat to your bedroom. Yup, just a few more weeks and I can be free of the stress, if only for a few weeks. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, just to get through the here and now. I know that if it isn’t one thing, it’s another, but I think what is really torturing me is the specter of happiness that I’ve only recently known. Why won’t it come back, to visit if not stay forever?

I move forward because I know if I stop, it will get worse. I push forward because I have to. I wish it were because I’m just thinking happy thoughts, looking at the bright side, taking some time to “relax.” I wish those things worked so I could take a few minutes, think about happy, trivial things, get back on my horse, and ride into a crazy-free sunset. But it doesn’t work that way. It takes effort, concentration, therapy for me to get there, and I always get sent back, right to square one. I know, though, that for a few months, I will get reprieve, just as soon as this is over. I know I’ll be truly happy again, taking advantage of the wonderful life I know that I actually have. Until then, I will push back against the depression moving against me, so determined to back me against a wall and into small, unlit spaces.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

20 replies on “Pushing Forward”

It’s easy to succumb to when one is faced with the choices of a) either crawling under the covers and avoiding all work, putting in minimal effort and rarely showing up to class, or b) staying up all night because of a mind racing with proposal ideas and deadlines, worrying about the hours that will be spent typing out last-minute papers that need to be perfect.

I’m definitely leaning toward the former this semester, and in the words of Allie Brosh, “trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

Thank you for posting this article. It seems a lot of us can relate to it.

I definitely agree that presenting and pushing positive thinking as a “cure” for depression is at best insensitive, at worst dangerous, and shows a complete misunderstanding of what depression actually is. When you’re at the low point in a major depressive episode, there is no happy place, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, there is no “making yourself feel better.” At least, not that you can see. And having people telling you to just look on the bright side makes it even more obvious to you that there is something wrong with the way you view the world because you cannot see a bright side. It perpetuates the cycle. I’ve actually been wanting to tackle “When Positivity Isn’t Enough” for the positivity challenge, but I’m finding it a really hard topic to write coherently about.

I do think that “happy thinking” tactics can be useful for those on their way out of depressive episodes, but you have to get yourself to that point to begin with, and the way to get there is different for everyone. And then find what tactics work for you. You might hate baths, but find that killing some Call of Duty is a great relaxer for you. There’s no one catchall fix.

I think it’s incredibly awesome that you have such an awareness of your mental state and what will push you one way or the other, and that you work so hard to keep that delicate balance. Keep pushing forward.

I was hospitalized for suicidal depression last year. What helped me the most was more meds. A couple of the methods I learned in the hospital for regulating mood–positive affirmations, visualizing yourself in a peaceful place–sound very hackneyed and are pop culture jokes, but for me, they do help as well. I try very hard to have a positive attitude. I think it’s frustrating when people don’t understand the nature of a severe depression, though, or don’t understand that everyone is not built the same.

Thank you for this post. This has been a really tough term for me, and you have encapsulated a lot of what I have been feeling.  I have just been trying to keep my internal monolgue/my yelling brain to a dull roar so I can write. I wish you all the hope/healing possible! I also think that grad school does an f***ing number on one’s mental health. It takes people who have only ever succeeded at most things and who really care about their work and then puts them in a situation where they cannot succeed because they are totally stretched to thin (financially, temporally, sleeping etc).

*hugs* I hope you’re able to push through this with minimal scarring. Right now I’m dealing with my own depression troll and pushing forward. I know that the cycle will be over and I will feel fine soon enough even if it feels like I won’t feel happy ever again. Remember that you’re still you and keep writing other things to keep your voice alive.

Yes, it is so infuriating when someone says, “Oh I was depressed once but then I just decided to smile and go outside an hour or two more a week and it went away! So I know exactly what you’re going through!”

You don’t want to whine at them, but you just so, so want them to understand that this is more than “sad feelings” or “feeling a little blue.”

Hang in there. Push through. These depressive cycles take so much, but you — not the depression — will be what endures.

And for what it’s worth, APA is enough to crush anyone’s voice (or spirit, but maybe that’s just me).

I get so very very angry when people tell me that. I know that it’s just their way of trying to help. But tell me that it’s just in my head and if I smile hard enough it’ll be better. No, no it won’t. If it could be better by smiling I would be smiling all the time.

As someone who has recently started therapy for getting to a point where  I lost the will to “push forward”, I recognize myself and my own behaviors or comforts/coping mechanisms in this piece. There is a lot of truth in the “getting up and going”, even as painful or awful as it can be, but it still keep the inertia going. Stopping that, I have to say, led me to one of the darkest points in my life, one where I’m still cleaning up the ashes. And this:

One more month, I tell myself. Just hold on for one more month. A few more weeks and you can retreat to your bedroom. Yup, just a few more weeks and I can be free of the stress, if only for a few weeks. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, just to get through the here and now. I know that if it isn’t one thing, it’s another, but I think what is really torturing me is the specter of happiness that I’ve only recently known. Why won’t it come back, to visit if not stay forever?

Truth.

I ask myself often how depression came to be and what could possibly ever be the evolutionary benefit of it. I dont think there is one.

Thanks, I’ve already got some of my break planned out! It involves lots of comfy blankets, tea, and Buffy episodes on Netflix. I knew I’d have some issues going back to school with multiple diagnoses, but I got off really easy last semester and it faked me out!

I so understand pushing forward. It’s what you have to do. And often people who recommend a “cure” forget that what works for them might not work for someone else. Getting into a good mental state is about experimenting with what works, and sometimes pushing through helps with that.

School can be one of the worst things for mental health. For a while, I was having a breakdown at the end of every semester, like clockwork. I’ve never let myself fall behind, but I’ve also never tolerated less than an A, so I frequently sacrifice my mental health for that damned letter. It’s not a very good idea, really.

I’m sorry you also have issues with this. Sympathy hugs if you want them.

Thanks, I appreciate the hugs! What’s weird for me is that I never much cared about grades in undergrad; I was there to  learn of course, but not necessarily to do what I considered to be unnecessary assignments. Now I’m more concerned with them, and even putting in that little bit of actual effort is weird to me. But whether I care about the grades or not, the depression monster still bites me, so I figure it might as well bite me while I’m getting As!

Leave a Reply