The enduring lesson I took from my four weeks of therapy before Christmas was that in order to stop being depressed you have to do the things you know will help, whether or not you feel like it. This was a revelation – apparently there is evidence that if you get up at the same time every day, even if you’re knackered after a long week and want to sleep until 1pm, you will feel better. If you make a timetable for the week with things you need to do and things you (used to) enjoy, and you stick to it even if Netflix beckons, you will feel better. If you get up and shower instead of loafing in pyjamas all day, if you go outside instead of having a duvet poncho day, you will feel better.
So I’m trying to do things. I didn’t just go to work today (even though I didn’t feel like it because I got anxious at the weekend and picked at my face and it’s a mess and I’m not good enough at makeup to cover it up), I went to a running club I’d never been to, by myself, and ran 5k; I’ve told everyone I’m going to share a photo every day this year so I’ll have to think of something different to point the camera at every day, I’ve got a to do list with things to do on it, I bought nail varnish in the right colours to draw little penguins on my nails when they grow a bit, I’ve got a big pile of books to read, I picked up a form for volunteering in the Oxfam shop down the road, I said I’d organise going out for breakfast with friends…
And things are going okay. Internally I’m not doing too badly, but then I am on a double dosage of the happy pills at the moment. I was a bit shocked when the therapist said my follow-up call (to check that I’m still using the techniques and benefitting) would be in 3 months (the timescale for people who seemed to be doing pretty well) rather than 1, because apparently even though I feel like a disaster (I left my handbag at the office on Friday. My handbag, with all my cards and money. Who does that?) I’m not disastrous enough to warrant closer surveillance. And yes, I’ve never been signed off work or tried to kill myself, but I’m still ill and it’s difficult and I don’t like it. I don’t want to be like this, but at what point do I stop going through the motions and just admit that this is how it’s going to be?
My boss told me today I could take a day off if I needed it, because sometimes rest is what you need. But the therapy says I have to do things or I won’t get better, and the doctor says the pills alone won’t help unless I use the therapy too, and what if I’m just not therapying enough or being too impatient or forgetting my progress and it is actually helping but I can’t tell? If I can’t tell does it actually mean anything? Surely the point is for me to notice a difference, to feel better? But it doesn’t matter how I feel, apparently if I keep doing things then the feelings will come later. How much later? I listened to some podcasts recently about how negative thinking can actually be better for us than unrealistic optimism – by believing the depression might one day go away am I just setting myself up for a fall? Should I not try at all? What’s the middle ground?
I haven’t been sleeping well, which is rare for me, so what I feel like is rest. But I don’t think rest is doing a thing, and I should be doing things, so I can’t rest, but maybe I’m just resting wrong and it’s ok to watch Miranda under the duvet for a couple of hours as long as it doesn’t segue into seven episodes of How I Met Your Mother that weren’t even that amusing the first time round, but I can’t spend my whole life under a duvet so how often is it okay before it stops helping? Is all this planning and evaluating worth it to make things slightly better, or should I just ditch it all so I can have some spontaneity? Am I supposed to keep ‘acting my way out of depression’ until I run myself into the ground? What if there isn’t a way out for me?