Monday, August 9, 2010

Working In and Through Depression

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.


  1. Interesting Laura -- because you point out that our society (myself included) thinks "a cold" or "flu" is "acceptable" but "depression" isn't.

    It gets me thinking about how I judge things -- because, I have days just like the ones you describe, but it never occurred to me that it might be (dare i say it?) "low-grade depression." I just figured it was a result of pushing myself nonstop...

    Like the year I contracted pneumonia because I'd forced myself "through" a cold/sore throat and hacking cough...

    And this spring when I found myself in the ER -- because I assumed the pain I'd been experiencing for several months was "normal" (because it was all I'd ever known for my entire life). Our experience colors what and how we forgive ourselves our humanity, and that colors how we forgive others for the same.

    So glad you wrote about this Laura -- I think it quite brave and bold and a great help to me!

  2. Thank you so much Laura. I love that you wrote this blog post. Many of those days for me feel "normal," but I need to recognize that it's not normal for me either. I'm so glad to know that we are not alone!

  3. I have the same kind of depression. Very low grade. It doesn't ruin my life, but it puts me through the ringer sometimes. I'm really excited that you wrote it up. It's definitely one of those things people feel weird talking about.

    Stay the course.

  4. Laura,

    If you're ever in Gainesville, you might give Anthony a visit. I love this yoga-like art: He used it to recover from depression.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I certainly have experienced the same low-level depression you describe. I don't tolerate antidepressants very well, so I adapt by doing Reiki, yoga and exercise. Some of it is seasonal, and some of it is related to PTSD from birth trauma. Like you, I'm aware of it and try to adapt to it as best as I can, but certain times of year can be challenging.

    Our society is not very understanding of depression or how people cycle up and down. We're expected to constantly be productive, but when people hit that low, it can be hard to do more than the basics (and even that might feel like it takes a lot of effort.) The corporate world in particular is highly intolerant of less than 100% effort, which can be very difficult for people who struggle with depression.

    As you so astutely pointed out, the best thing we can do is give ourselves a break and not beat ourselves up about it. Having depression is not a personality flaw. There is nothing to judge. What comes down will eventually rise back up - that's the nature of energy and the more we embrace this cycle, the more we can ride through depression without feeling incapacitated.

  6. Thanks, Peggie. I think our society puts a little too much emphasis on "powering through" and not enough on self-care. Thanks for your insight.

    Leila, I'm grateful that I am not alone, either. Thanks for sharing.

    Chris, as always, grateful for your friendship. Maybe if we all talk about it more, it will seem less "weird."

  7. You summed it up really well, Laura. I'm a big advocate for spending time in the garden and in nature - it helps me and others tremendously. But I still have to take medication, and even with all of that, depression sometimes still breaks through. I think I've finally (usually!) come to a point in my life where I know it's just my chemical/neurological makeup and not some horrible character flaw. Some people have diabetes, some people have depression. Both can and should be acknowledged, addressed, and managed responsibly. Thanks to Chris Brogan for "tweeting" this, and thank you for writing!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I struggle with this as well. It's a challenge for me not to give in at times and a battle to not belittle myself for the struggle. Your words encourage me.

  9. Hi Laura, great post. I think you articulated what a lot of people struggle with. Time we all gave each other a break i think ;)

    Thanks for writing this.


  10. I try to push through depression, too. Keeping out of the downward spiral of self-blame is difficult. I've never managed breaks well; they always become a break from one project to work on another.

    Lately I haven't had time to look inwards, and I'm feeling the effects. I know exactly what you mean about deadlines. They plant themselves rigidly. Sometimes that's exactly what I need, a hard wall that I can see clearly. Other times they become pressure that makes me want to hide.

  11. Hi Laura,

    I struggle with this too. For a long while, I thought it was an introversion thing (the older I get, the more introverted I seem to become) but I've realized that it is indeed a dysthymia. Chris is right: people feel strange talking about something that if they just talked more about it in the first place, it might not be as prevalent.

    Anyway, fight the good fight. Rest when you need to. Recharge when you need to. Positive outlook when possible. Good luck.


  12. This couldn't come at a more better time. As someone who has been on the more devastating end of the spectrum when it comes to depression and made it through, there are still days where I feel "down" but try to push past it since I figure it's not the worst it could be. Yet it still is bad enough to interfere with normal day to day things. I like the idea of having a day to really let it pass through without fighting it and feeling guilty (which only makes it worse). Thanks for sharing your experience.

  13. Wow. What an amazing post. Thank you for your open honest feelings. I lost my best friend suddenly this year at the age of 50. Today would have been her birthday. Since her death on Jan 7th I have struggled to just get with it. I function, I converse, I work very hard and yet somewhere inside something has be trapped. This was like reading my own mind. It is "weird" and its really not something just anyone can understand but it is nice to know there are others that muddle. Thanks for sharing and especially today.

  14. Thanks for expressing openly and honestly your feelings about this situation, Laura. I'm sure a lot of people are experiencing similar situations and don't have the framework at hand to talk about them. You're leading the conversation, and I certainly commend your ability to be understanding and accepting of yourself here. I wish you the best as you continue along this path.

  15. Yeah. I think we see this type of "spirit outage" in others more readily than ourselves, and accept it too. "Get rest when you need it" includes those wallowing days. I join with others in my thanks to you for articulating what seems universal among the hard-charging, creative folks I most enjoy -- and myself. It's usually around 1 pm on the day I find myself in the tub when I "should" be working on something that I am now old enough and confident enough to stop the guilt fest and give myself a brisk talking to: I have always had these days, weeks, moments, all my life -- and yet my life shows lots of accomplishment by any standard. I'm not being lazy. This is something that happens to me sometimes. It's not like a cold, but it is part of who I am in the world. When it gets bad, it's a depression, but sometimes a day off spent on nothing much can bring about a cure. You describe what I have and we must have many fellows in this need. Maybe it's not just sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, etc. Maybe crowded rats go insane because they don't take a drop out day now and then. Still, I have always felt guilty about it, until I give myself that lecture and revisit my resume -- then I usually take a nap. Best wishes,

  16. Thank you for this post Laura. I struggle with dysthymia too. You wrote this so accurately I felt like you were describing my life, except replace asthma with hypothyroidism :)

    Someone once said that when you're in depression it's hard to figure out how to get out and when you're not in it you can't imagine how you got there in the first place.

    Cognitive therapy (learning to manage negative thoughts), and loving kindness meditation have been helpful for me on top of the solid tools you mentioned.

    Thank you for sharing your story so honestly -- it's refreshing.

    Sending you and everyone else who suffers from depression, happiness, wellness and peace.

  17. Bravo for your courage and perseverance, Laura and commenters! For decades I tried various methods of dealing with recurring depression, anxiety and panics, then found out about a community-based (i.e. "free", peer support and self-help) method of cognitive-based training (CBT) developed by Dr. Abraham Low years ago--that actually works. It's "simple but not easy." I've written about my experiences here: . All the best to you and your readers.

  18. Thanks for sharing your struggle, Laura. I think many of us can relate to the pain and frustration you share here. Keep up the good fight -- and thanks for sharing who you are beyond what you do :)


  19. I suffered with depression for decades (undiagnosed and untreated) - and it's basically like pushing a rock uphill all day. Under dark clouds. While verbally pummeling oneself. Willpower wasn't the answer, medication was - but sometimes we get so used to coping and managing around it that the affliction remains hidden (and it is seemingly weird to talk about, esp. among men). Glad you're recognizing the signs and giving yourself space to waltz with it.

  20. Great post, Laura! You portray dysthymia so well and its double difficulties: dealing with the symptoms and how hard it is to be gentle with yourself. I struggle with chronic energy issues (related to narcolepsy, but not full-blown), and I can usually tell when I'm about to have an episode when I overload myself, like I'm overcompensating. Then I feel worse because I can't get it all done.

    I hope this spell is a short one for you! *big hugs!*


  21. This post captured what I have been feeling for the last several months. I just went to the doctor last month and was put on medication. Like others stated, it's easier to talk about "real" sicknesses than depression. That's why I waited so long to see a doctor. I was kind of embarrassed and scared. Luckily, I have great friends and family members to talk to--that have gone through the same type of depression or even worse--that pushed me to go in. I'm starting to feel like myself again...with some bad days. Thanks for this post and for sharing!!! See you soon!

  22. Wow. Just wow to all of you and your honesty, your openness and your generousity. I'm completed overwhelmed. This came from a very raw, open place, and I feel so much more connected to each and every one of you because of it.

    Cecilia--I know exactly what you mean about overloading and overcompensating. It's almost as if I try to make up for the bad days by out-perfecting my perfection on the good ones. Which probably isn't very healthy.

    Love and good health to you all.

  23. Laura,

    I so appreciated your post. I loved the honesty of it and that you were willing to make yourself vulnerable to all of us. That's a lesson in and of itself for many of us, certainly for myself.

    I think, sadly, our society still has some ways to go in terms of talking honestly about and accepting depression (and anxiety), and it's wonderful that you are furthering the conversation.

    Thank you for your honesty and courage in telling us your story.

    ~ Rachel

  24. Hi Laura,

    I've also suffered from depression since around age 14. I've had a few major episodes, where I only got out of bed each day because I had absolutely no choice. But mostly it's just exactly as you describe it. The worst part is I rarely feel great - just kind of okay. Knowing someone I admire - someone's who's doing what I want to do (running her own successful business)- suffers with the same thing gives me a lot of hope. Because though I'm making strides, I sometimes wonder if the depression will ultimately hold me back. Thanks so much for sharing!

  25. Thanks...... (the dots mean more than I can write)
    Sandra xoxo

  26. Laura,
    This post nearly captured what I've been feeling for the past several months but haven't been able to share. Thank you for having the strength to share your struggle.

    Best wishes!

  27. Interesting... I get these shifts but I've always thought they were just the normal "work hard, play/rest hard" swings - which for me could mean work hard for 2 months and rest for a month. I didn't realize it could be something else or that it had a label.

    Thanks for sharing Laura.

  28. I purposely went back and found this link on your Facebook page. I saw it yesterday on my phone and couldn't click on the link to read it. I'm going through another strong stint of depression and I'm on the drugs again! This time, trying to find one that really works for me.

    I find myself canceling things all the time. Sitting at my desk anxious with all that I have to do, but can't clear my head to decide on a direction - then ending up more over-whelmed. It sucks and it's a struggle everyday to fight through.

    Thank you for the post because I do feel alone in this a lot of the time. I feel very abnormal! But, it is nice to know that another successful entrepreneur out there deals with the same things I do.

  29. Dear Laura,
    What a lovely post. Among all the "6 ways to grow your blog readers" and "5 ways to use Twitter for PR" it hit me like a letter from a dear friend. Thanks for putting into words the impact that even mild depression has on even us "high-functioning" individuals. I've had some personal and family experience with depression, but I've not had the courage to write about it. I'm grateful that you did.

  30. Thanks for being open and honest about this. It's unfortunate that there aren't more people like you that are willing to share their experiences like this in order to make it more like "catching a cold!"

    I think it's not only admirable how you talk about it but how you recover in order to lead your wonderful life.

  31. Great to see someone put the Demon in words, some days it sleeps, other days it plays, and as a male "Cowboys don't Cry", the Demon has been my friend a long time, thanks for the writing.

  32. I started to say lots of other stuff here, but decided to just say the most important: I love you.

    xo ~ Alli

  33. Wonderful blog post and very timely for me. I now have a new word to start researching...Dysthymia....Hmmmm...sounds familiar...

    What started out as a small rest from my business due to a new job and total overwhelm from launching the website, turned into 4 months "offline"! Just today I finally started back to work on my biz (back to twitter, etc which is where I found you) but it's been a struggle to get back in the saddle.

    Prior to this slump I worked 7 months straight on my biz (6 to 7 days a week) so it's hard to handle when just getting 1 or 2 extra things done a day is a huge effort. It's great to hear someone talk to honestly about it.

    Ps. I too am a fan of Elizabeth Potts Weinstein!!

    I'm a new fan of yours! You go girl!!!

  34. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  35. Thanks for your insights I do feel as though I have a low grade depression and its been labeled as a confidence issue by people around me. I feel as though you have to figure out how to power through the day because my job does not allow for pacing yourself. I am looking for a better one and that takes a toll too. You have had quite a few things happen to you and so have I. I am working on getting on my feet after the death of my husband even though it's been quite a few years! I wonder how much those experiences affect us?

  36. This is how I feel almost every day. I know it wil pass, but in that moment, it is so utterly terrible. I've been struggling with depression for years, take medication but might have to accept that this will never really 'go away'. It's nice to know that i'm not alone in this.


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