Staying Home When I'm Depressed

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15 Nov 2012

Someone once asked me how I cope with depression. It's easy. When I'm depressed, I just sit in my house, don't talk to anyone and wait for the depression episode to pass.

The reason I'm ok about sitting in my house is that I treat depression as a physical disease - thinking of it as, say, a really bad fever. If I have a really bad fever, I would stay at home and sleep and feel miserable, but the fever would pass after a week or so. If I have depression, I stay at home and sleep and surf the internet and feel miserable, but the depression would pass after a week or so. I don't feel guilty about doing this for depression, because it is a real physical disease. It's not just in my head.

I can cheat a bit on this. My depression episodes reliably last about a week or so, so I can get away with this. If your depression episodes last longer than this, this strategy probably won't work so well.

Why don't I try to at least get out of the house. Or try to get my life limping along, because doing even a bit is better than nothing. Or, in those dreaded words of well meaning people "You have to TRY!".

Well, the problem is that trying to do stuff when I am depressed triggers anxiety or panic attacks. Often, really nasty ones. To me, this actually makes the whole depression episode worse. I'd rather stay home and quiet, thank you.

Doesn't staying home and doing nothing screw up my life? Yup. Being depressed and staying at home and not communicating with anyone causes most tasks (and relationships) I am involved in to come to a crashing halt. It's a colossal waste of my time.

I've tried to quantify how much time I lose to depression this way. My low end estimate is that it's about about 50% of my life. That is, I will have lost about 50% of my days either being depressed or catching up on all the failed stuff that has happened while I was depressed. It's like living just 6 months of each year, or living to age 60 instead of living to age 80.

That's how much time I waste to depression.

Awful, innit?

Awful perhaps, but my response to this has been - "So what?". Complaining about this knowledge is fairly useless - it just is. I may as well come to terms with it. But - I don't curl up in a corner and moan about how terrible my life is. What use is there to that? Self pity is nice to wallow in for one or two days every now and then, but it seems a... pointless emotion on which to base my life.

I've accepted that my life will probably not be a rich as other people's, but then I fight like crazy - when I can - to make it as great as I can.

Yup, I do fail frequently - my current estimate is that I fail at about 90% or more of the things that I do or try. But again, so what? It's my life - I can't give up. And even if I think about giving up, what does 'giving up' mean exactly? A life lived to less than I could? Sorry, but this world is too full of wonder to not enjoy it as best I can.

(note: you won't feel any sense of wonder if you are currently depressed)

Here's the paradox. Apparently my fight to succeed works well enough, depression and withdrawal and all. Bizarrely to me, my friends seem to think I do pretty well. I'm often bemused because all I often see are my failures.

Bottom line. It's okay to fail at a lot of what you try. It's okay to take breaks before you try again. It's okay to not be able to do anything and hide in your house when you are depressed. It's not ok to give up or to stop trying. For me the best question tends to be - "Well, that didn't work too well, what do I plan on trying next?".