The Isolationism of Depression

I’m sitting in a brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. People bustle around me, eating, drinking, talking and laughing, and here I am in the middle of it, ignoring it all. I have noise-canceling headphones in, and the most I hear is a faint whisper of spoken word, the slightest hint of movement out of the corner of my eye, and the distraction of someone jostling me as they try to get by. Otherwise, I’m in a world of my own, oblivious to the people around me, focused on the music in my ears and the screen in my eyes.

In many ways, this is a perfect analogy for depression. I know there are things going on in the world around me, but I can’t connect to them. I know there are people who might be watching me, trying to talk to me, but I can’t pay attention. I don’t hear anything but my own focus, don’t see anything but myself. In the same way that the sounds around me are muted and distant, so are the feelings of people around me, and even the brightness of the day is somehow more subdued than it used to be.

Depression is very isolationist. It really doesn’t want me to interact with people, or do my job, or pay attention to my family. All depression really wants is to escape into a lost, solitary world, a place where no one sees me, and I don’t have to see them. Where no one hears me, and I can’t hear them.

This is a place I’m intimately familiar with. I’ve often felt huddled in a corner, looking out on the world from a place of dark loneliness; I frequently lapse into periods of nonexistence, where I’m not certain if I’m dreaming or not, if I’m in bed or at work. When depression steals over me, it mutes the whole world in both color and sound, and it’s all I can do to stay cognizant enough to make it from place to place, from moment to moment, until I finally get to retreat into the soft warm covers of my bed once more.

I’ve been told I get very self-centered when I get depressed. I think this is probably accurate; it’s difficult to assess others’ problems or empathize with their troubles when nothing seems to matter. When the darkness creeps over me, I just stop caring about anyone else. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct; perhaps I’m just trying to stay sane enough to live the day out. The same is true of duties and responsibilities; I’m having a really hard time focusing at work, convincing myself that any of it matters at all. I want nothing more than to go home, go to sleep.

Sometimes depression is a deep, overriding despair. These are the times when I can’t even get out of bed, never mind take a shower, or brush my teeth, or make it to work on time. This is when the world is black, I can’t see past my own feet, and everything is spiraling out of control to a point where there seems no way out.

Other times, however, depression is a kind of blank limbo, neither feeling nor unfeeling. I do things as though nothing were wrong, going through the motions of an otherwise normal day, but there’s no connection internally; no meaning to any of it. Do I speak up at that meeting or not? It really doesn’t matter. Do I go shopping after work? Who cares? Should I watch a movie or fall asleep? Same difference.

That’s kind of where I am right now. I haven’t written more of The Redemption of Erâth in a good few weeks. I haven’t written more music. I haven’t done … well, anything, really. I just keep plodding on, step after step, day after day, getting up and going back to bed with nothing in between. Leaving the house, going to work, having dinner with friends … all of it, nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.

I hate losing touch with reality like this. I don’t want to just go through the motions. In fact, I think I’d rather be utterly incapacitated with despair than well enough to do things, but ill enough for it to all mean nothing. I’d rather feel something than nothing, even if that something is misery.

Mostly, though, I’d rather just sleep the day away. Then I wouldn’t have to sit in this brightly lit, crowded and noisy room. Then I could just be on my own, in my little isolationist bubble, and feel nothing.

The night isn’t far away.

The Headiness of Mania

A few weeks ago, I found myself starting to wake up earlier than usual, unable to get back to sleep. And whilst normally I would lie in bed – sleeping or not – I found I wanted to get up, I wanted to go downstairs, or on the computer … I wanted to do something. At first I wasn’t sure what – I might just go lie with the cat, or make a breakfast I wouldn’t normally be bothered to make – but over the last couple of weeks, it’s gotten stronger.

You see, I have bipolar type II, which normally means I’m extremely depressed, with periods of ‘normality’, so to speak. I don’t usually get manic, and even when I’m in a period of hypomania I don’t usually find myself with increased energy or motivation- I’m just not depressed.

About a month ago, my doctor started me on a new medication (I can’t remember the name just now), and I think this has been a big trigger for me. It was meant to help with my seasonal depression (I usually get deeply depressed during the winter), but it seems to have worked a little too well. All of a sudden, I want to do things, write and play music: things I used to enjoy but fell out of fashion for me due to depression.

In the past two weeks, I’ve written almost 20,000 words of the fourth book in the Redemption of Erâth series, and began re-recording some very old songs I wrote almost twenty years ago, all whilst continuing to do well at work, and I feel … almost happy, for lack of a better term.

I’m not used to it.

It’s an odd feeling for me to have so much energy, motivation and desire to be productive. I suppose there are people who feel like this all the time, but it’s hard for me to imagine it. I feel like I’m riding an enormous wave, just starting to reach the crest before it all comes crashing down again. And I’m not usually able to ride the wave out – it buries me, drowns me, and crushes me to the bottom of the sea.

And it’s intoxicating – invigorating, even, and scary all at the same time. Intoxicating because it’s almost an addiction, something that drives me forward to keep doing more of the same, a drug I can’t get enough of. Invigorating, because it’s refreshing to have such energy for a change. And frightening, because I don’t know how long it’s going to last, and the higher the rise, the steeper the fall.

The good news is that so far it’s only resulted in positive productivity, and I’m (for the moment) not tempted into self-destructive or dangerous behavior. I’m not spending extravagantly, I’m not looking for wild sexcapades, and I’m not going out and getting drunk every night (in fact, I’ve actually almost completely stopped drinking). Instead, I can’t wait to get home to work on my music more; I can’t wait for lunch breaks at work to continue my novel. I feel exhilarated, happy, and free.

Unfortunately, there’s still a danger – a danger that I might get too high and start to be damaging to myself and others. And of course the danger presented by the inevitable fall into despair and darkness, which will come eventually, whether I like it or not.

My doctor’s already taken me off the new medication, but slightly increased another one, in the hopes of balancing me a little bit more. We’ll see how that works, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that had secretly hoped to stay on it, to ride out this mania for as long as I can; but in the end, I know it’s not healthy, and I have to do what’s best for my long-term mental health.

But while it lasts, boy am I getting a lot done!

The Constant Toil of Inner Turmoil

At the start of the year, as I do every year, I made a commitment to write more frequently, regularly, and consistently.

As I do every year, I failed.

I mean, I did try. I wrote seven posts here in January … then two in February … then one in March …

I really meant to try and recover the lightning-in-a-bottle success I had on here in 2012, but I was writing three to four posts a week at that point. I had themes – Thought of the Week, Tales of Despair, Movie Night – and I stuck to it. I would write late into the night, getting little to no sleep, but it was worth it for the engagement and interaction with people in the WordPress community.

Now, I barely make it to 9:00 PM most nights. I go to bed early, and fall asleep in front of reruns of Family Guy and Futurama. I don’t write. I don’t do much of anything.

In 2012, I was unmedicated, and starting to really see the effects of my burgeoning bipolar disorder. When I was depressed I would go through phases of drab nothingness, of course, but it was alternated with periods of virulent productivity. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote.

I don’t know if I can go back to that, of course; the medications take edges off in many ways. The catatonic depression is largely gone, but so is the mania that led to so much work. Instead, I go through life in a kind of gray fog, not quite sure of what to do with myself.

I do have plans; I do want to finish the Redemption of Erâth series. I want to write more young adult novels. I want to blog, and interact.

It’s just so frigging hard.

It’s my son’s spring break this week, and I took the week off many moons ago in the assumption we’d be going somewhere or doing something. We’re not, so I really now have a week at home to lounge around and do nothing.

Or maybe …

Let’s see what I can accomplish with a week of little-to-no responsibility. A week with nothing to stop me writing my heart out. A week of productivity.

I may get no further than this.