After a long run this morning and an afternoon of napping and not nearly enough fuel, my husband and I decided to go out to eat. I was starving, my blood sugar had crashed, and I was desperate for food. But I could NOT decide what to eat. Nothing sounded good. I couldn't make a decision. I was overwhelmed. I wanted someone to do it for me.
And after agonizing over dinner choices for half an hour, I realized that I've been depressed. Not the uber-serious, can't get out of bed or function depression, but the low-grade kind, like that nagging cold that just won't go away. Simple things--like deciding when or what to eat, returning an email or call to a client or getting dressed--turn into major chores.
My type of depression--dysthymia--is actually defined as a "low-grade" depression. Persistent, nagging, irritating, always hovering, yet rarely pushing me over the edge. In fact, I'm so used to living with it, that's it's "normal" for me, and sometimes I don't even notice these little episodes until I start putting the pieces together. A few mornings of sleeping in. A few canceled meetings or social engagements. Not eating well or at all. Feeling overwhelmed by mundane tasks, like showering or washing the dishes.
I do most of the right things. I take medication. I've been to therapy. I do yoga. I run. I'm pretty open with close friends and family. I know the signs.
But none of this changes the fact that this is a significant part of my life, and it affects me the way any chronic illness does. I have asthma. Again, I do all the right things. But every now and then, I have a bad day, and there's next to nothing I can do about it, other than accept it, treat it as best I can and hope for a better day tomorrow.
The complicating thing about depression is that it's not just physical. It's extremely mental. So, yes, I recognize the signs, I know it will pass, and yet, it's hard not to get frustrated and self-critical and downright despondent when you wake up one day and struggle to do the routine things of life--let alone, run a business. Without making excuses, but also acknowledging the reality that on some days, I'm working with a bit of a handicap.
I'm still working my way through this reality, especially as my schedule gets busier, my client roster gets fuller and people make more demands of my time and energy. I usually give myself one day a month where I can "wallow" without self-hatred or guilt, when I just acknowledge the demons, let myself cocoon and hope for the best in the morning. But if it goes on two or three days or even a week, what do I do? I tell close friends and family when I'm not feeling well and need time and space, but what about clients? It's hard to predict when the monster will strike. I could have an amazingly productive week filled with good energy, creativity, positivity and 14 hour days, and all of the sudden, I'll crash. It may be a day, it may be a week. But deadlines and meetings and obligations don't stop. I can slow them down, temporarily, but it's much easier to explain to people that you have a migraine or stomach flu or bad case of allergies than to say "I'm sorry--that project will have to wait three days because I'm depressed and don't have the energy to deal with it."
It sounds like an excuse. And it is and it isn't. I work through the hard days much better than I did even a year ago. Even on the worst of them, I manage to get a few things done. But I also can't expect myself to blow through 100+ emails, plan comprehensive client strategy or attend four straight meetings on a day when I can hardly get out of bed. And I'm probably my worst critic. I feel like a failure if I don't accomplish all I think I should in a given day or week. My inner perfectionist really isn't a fan of "can't" or "rest." And yet, it's my reality. Sometimes I can't. Sometimes, I need to rest. To give myself a break, literally and metaphysically. Some days, you power through, and others, you just muddle through. And it needs to be okay.