Is the Sinkhole Escapable?

The beautiful weather this weekend helped wrap a strong rope around me and took me back a little further from the edge of my depression canyon. I can still see too easily for comfort over the edge into the sinkhole, but I’ve got at least one foot on some solid soil. Now I’ve got to harness all my physical and mental strength and pull the rest of my dangling body up onto the ledge.

At the risk of over-analyzing things and scaring this slightly elevated mood back into its shell, I want to consider what made this weekend a little better so that possibly I can identify strategies to keep things trending in this direction. Of course, weekends are always nice because I get to spend much more quality time with Ben and we had fun together this weekend. Unfortunately, the way that our schedules (don’t) line up during the week prevents this from transferring easily to a weekday luxury. The weather was great, and I thrive on sunshine. With the significant limitations of my injury, this is actually a positive and negative. It’s almost more emotionally painful to weather the tease when the warm weather and sunshine beckons me to be out walking, running, biking, or playing outside than suffer through the gloomy, rainy days we’ve had lately; at least in the latter, I don’t feel like I’m missing much. The weather will only get better as we enter spring and summer, so I guess this will be mostly good.

Ben and I had some difficult talks this weekend but they enabled us to make some big steps forward together so I think that feels good. It reminds me that I’m healing. Sometimes progress seems so stagnant and possibly even reversed, but then suddenly, an impressive step is taken and rewards the patience and toiling that was previously invisible.

What else? A few people reached out after my last post about depression and that helped me feel connected and understood. I’m quite socially isolated, so sometimes it can feel like my struggles fall in uncharted human territory: I’m the sole soldier in such battles. Even with others who are far away and whose lives have seemingly little parallel with mine, it feels validating and somewhat relieving to know the struggle is not only mine (not that I would ever wish an ounce of emotional or physical pain on anyone).

Not that much else this weekend was radically different. I just tried to ride on the coat tails of my own inertia and bounce between activities a bit to keep busy and distracted. I also made a list of things I’m grateful for as I strongly believe there’s nothing as powerful as gratitude (outside of love) that can elevate one’s mood. I’ve restarted my daily morning practice of jotting down three things for which I am grateful, even if they are ostensibly small; it’s remarkable how quickly a list of life’s beautiful gifts amasses and that bounty is plentiful enough to keep my head and heart reeling me away from depression’s cliff.

 

Is the Sinkhole Inevitable?

I’m in a tough place today and there’s not really any specific reason or excuse for it. I suffer from chronic clinical depression. Most days, I’m actually “fine” because I’ve become so accustomed to the depressed feeling that the bar against which I compare my emotional state has been permanently lowered. On these days, I grind through the motions, keeping busy with work and daily obligations, peppered with (hopefully) some leisure activities to lift my spirits. Other days, like today, for no obvious reason, I’m not fine. Everything feels like an emotionally draining chore and my resilience seems completely dried up. On these types of days, I may even cry with just the slightest frustration or discomfort because I’m in a perpetual state of straddling the precarious threshold between holding it together and completely falling apart.

On days like today, I feel deep and genuine loneliness. I am alone all day every weekday, but even if I was blessed with company today, I’d likely still feel loneliness in my heart. That’s one of the challenges of true clinical depression—it can be virtually impossible to ease the suffer during a low because the real things I’m depressed about are just that: they are real, they are heavy, and they are virtually impossible to change. Add those factors to a neurochemistry that predisposes me to emotional lows, and it’s more of a mystery as to why I (thankfully) have mostly “fine” days versus the more occasional bad days. (For the record, I’ve been doing therapy for several years and still actively do so and I don’t respond well to anti-depressants so I steer clear of those.)

Why is today worse than usual? Like I said, it’s unclear. The weather is awful and I’m in a lot of physical pain, so those two variables don’t lend themselves to the easiest of days, but honestly, I’m in pain most days and New England weather often graces us with less-than-ideal and erratic conditions. It’s probably somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation. The more depressed I feel, the more I become aware of the reasons behind my depression and my powerlessness (coupled with impatience in some instances) to improve these. For example, when I’m really down, it helps me to get outside and run or take a walk with Comet. Right now, it’s pouring rain and I am on crutches so this is not going to happen. That makes me feel more trapped and takes away one of the few effective coping mechanisms I have. The frequency and severity of PTSD flashbacks is significantly magnified when I feel trapped and depressed. There’s an exponential relationship between the number of flashbacks I have in a day and my depressed mood, so as they come with increasing frequency on days like today, the emotional pain I feel skyrockets. It’s pretty impossible to have a good day when your brain will not bring you peace from violent memories. I think my PTSD has been particularly bad lately because of my broken foot. It just so happens that when I was attacked, I was also in a boot with a broken foot. The injury did not contribute to the traumatic event but my brain still relates “broken foot” with “attack” because in the weeks following the attack while I was healing, I was also painfully aware of my foot situation because again, it limited how well I felt I could cope. Now when my body sees “boot” it thinks, “attack.” (Pavlov was onto something…)

I’m depressed about things other than the attack and its aftermath (the ways it still affects me today), the foot, and the weather, but the other stuff feels even less topical and more stubborn or impossible to change. For instance, I’m upset that I have all the sensory processing challenges with autism because they are so limiting. Even with dedicated OT (occupational therapy), these aren’t going to go away. I can’t change my neurology. There’s an actual issue in my brain. The only thing that I can control is my attitude toward the issue and that forces me to abdicate the captain’s chair from which I’m a lot more comfortable. It puts me in more in the passenger’s seat: a less powerful, more hands-off role, with significant limitations in my ability to effectuate change. I’m not steering the ship and it’s not going where I want it to, yet I’m told to just take out my camera and enjoy the view. Sure, a bunch of pictures of glacial bays may be pretty, but if I actually want to be sailing by a coral reef, there’s only so much satisfaction that icy vistas will give me. One of the autistic brain’s modus operandi is ruminating on something and not being flexible to change course or stop fixating. When my brain decides or wants something, it’s all in and there’s virtually no way to convince it otherwise. This isn’t always a negative trait; in fact, I’m sure it’s helped me remain steadfast in many pursuits and goals, but such inflexibility can also be frustrating and annoying (to others for sure, but to me as well!). Even when I want to change course or focus or let go of something, I often can’t and no amount of logical or emotional convincing or targeted strategies will convince the rest of my brain otherwise. Of note, partly due to this reason, I find it nearly impossible for me to transition and switch tasks. Even if I physically move on to the next thing on my agenda, nine or more times out of ten, my brain is still analyzing, cogitating, and deliberating on my last task. I am much more productive if I only take on one or two things per day and do each for an extended bout of time because I don’t waste time trying to wrangle my brain to shift gears and catch up with the new activity.

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Well, this post has been marinating for several days. I’m not doing any better. I’m findings myself clawing at the falling rubble at the edge of the cliff as a dangle and fight the to stay on the solid land above the abyss, above the sinkhole of deep depression below. I’ve been down there so many times and it is barren, dark, cold, and scary. It’s not where I want to be and it’s even harder to climb back out than it is to cling on and try to grab any solid rocks I can find, even though this position is also terrifying and exhausting. I’m trying to distract myself and also dedicate my energy to preventing the fall. Hopefully instead of avoiding writing as I have been for a few days, I will embrace it as a tool to help hold me up where the beauty, the light, and the stability reside. I’m surrounded by goodness when I am brave enough and strong enough to see it, so hopefully admitting my current struggle will help me face the pain and this problem and fight back with the tenacity and resolute that seems hardwired in my steadfast and stubborn ASD brain.