Thursday, April 29, 2021

Depression – Breaking Out of the Cocoon and Thinking You've Failed

Sometimes we can be so fixated upon the finish line that we miss how far we’ve already come.

Backlit cocoon of an emperor moth
© Alan Watson Featherstone


Ah, if I hear another commercial on the radio with a smooth-talking announcer earnestly pretending their company cares about me during these “unprecedented times”, I may puke. I’ve moved way beyond that acid reflux-ish moment where my stomach’s contents race to my mouth to voice their opinion. I may not be able to hold them back next time. Between you and me, I’m a little worried about it. I’m still making payments on my car.

So I’m not going to talk to you as if you just woke up next to Rip Van Winkle and need me to explain what COVID–19 is. I’m just going to write from my heart about how this pandemic has affected me, and maybe you’ll be able to relate:

I feel like my life has been sealed in a cocoon.

This is a funny thing to write because I’ve never before been so productive in my life. No, the BIG goals like publishing my new books haven’t been accomplished yet, but I’m paying off debts, I successfully swam through oceans of paperwork and petitioned for guardianship of my disabled daughter, I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my adult life, I’m dating again (which means I occasionally leave my home), people pay me to write for some reason, and I have raised four lovely daughters.

But life feels like it’s on hold. Some of that is the pandemic’s fault. After all, who gets happy in a lockdown? However, in this case the pandemic only added to an already crushing situation. I haven’t had such a bleak, hopeless Winter since my divorce nine years ago. What happened to my coping strategies? What happened to my fighting spirit?

Consider this. I’ve just had the healthiest Winter in forever. I cannot recall a year in decades where I didn’t spend weeks sick in bed during the Winter. However, this time I only experienced four colds at most, and each one was over within a day. Talk about unprecedented times! I’m never this healthy. The diagnosis of asthma, the meds to treat it, and the new coping strategies I employ to keep myself healthy have all turned my world around. This was thanks to my consistent, proactive efforts to solve my health issues despite being sick.

But do I focus on that in my head? Why would I? I haven’t published my new book yet. I haven’t lost ALL my weight yet. I’m not married. Loser! Wait, what?

I should be ecstatic. I should be happier than those models you see in bank advertisements who are so excited to be in debt, their smiles wrap fully around their heads. The reality is that my life isn’t so bad, even without a 360ª smile. I’m incredibly blessed. What’s to be depressed about‽

Yet each one of the complaints I fixated on sat upon my chest like an elephant of disappointment. I could barely move. While I lay there focusing on my burdensome list of failures, I wasn’t focusing on the good that I had accomplished, nor was I benefiting from the rewards. I was disavowing them instead because “I haven’t done enough”. I understand that depression doesn’t need a reason to lay waste to happiness, but my errors in thought weren’t helping.

How thankful I am that Spring came early for a spell. I got outside finally. I jumped on my longboard as often as I could and cruised around in the sun, talked with strangers, smiled a little, and felt good about myself. When Spring snubbed Summer and passed the baton on to Fall, however, my mood began to sink. That’s when I noticed what I was doing to myself. Was I really allowing the weather to determine my mood? Well, it’s more complicated than that. I have major depression disorder and persistent depression disorder. I don’t need an overcast day with chilly rain to get me depressed. However, I certainly was allowing weather to dictate my coping strategies.

I had let my guard down. During all those months locked away from others, I began to see my goals as the only way of measuring my progress—which can usually be quite efficient—but there is a serious downside if you link that progress to your self-worth. No progress = no self-esteem. In essence, if you fail to do something unrealistic in an impossible amount of time, you are ensuring your own ego’s self-destruction. Those warm Spring days were a distraction—an outlier—but once they faded I realized that I had allowed success to determine my self-esteem again.

As you start to come out of your pandemic cocoons, keep in mind your coping strategies and don’t ride yourself too hard. You may have lost valuable time in a lockdown stupor, but, as I remind myself, just because it seems dark, that doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be dark as well. The sun always rises. Well, unless it’s running around with Summer right now.