18 October 2012

Attitude, Belief, and the Chronic Depressive

A friend of mine posted a quote on Facebook today. "The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude and your belief." I'm not naming the friend or the source of the quote, because a.) I don't want her to feel bad about what is, really, a generally harmless quote, and b.) It's really not the point of this post.

But as someone who struggles with depression in general and who has been going through a particularly ugly episode lately (ah, how I love the change in seasons--NOT), I have to say that I these kinds of  "it's all in the attitude" quotes crawl under my skin. They're not quite triggers, but almost.


What a lot of non-mentally ill people take for granted is, in fact, a fair amount of control over their attitudes. And it's what sometimes even the best meaning friends fail to understand about the average chronic depressive or anxious person. We don't have those controls. Or, rather, they're locked away from us in a lucite box. We can see them. We know how they're supposed to work. But, for some reason or other, we can't access them. For me, medication and talk therapy help me gain access to those controls, but only ever in a limited way. 


For me, the seasonal change from summer to autumn will always be hard. Babies, thanks to a miscarriage, will always be a heartbreaking blend of joy and grief. Weighty expectations from authority figures can trigger anxiety attacks if I don't manage them just right. I can't just "think positive," as the aphorism I quoted above advises, and push on.  Sometimes I do manage to assimilate or resolve the sadness or anxiety and push on. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I push on and just rant, generally briefly, always at random, for a week. Sometimes I deal with the feelings but don't manage to get dressed before 3 PM for four days.

But the real tiger trap of these positive attitude philosophies is that they hit a lot of mentally ill people where we live. Even if we're not in treatment, a lot of mentally ill people know we're not "normal." We know we're somehow different. Most of us don't want to be different, at least not like this. We want to be normal. We want to be able to be determined to change our attitude, accomplish it, and have a better day as a result. So, for a long time, it was a punch in the gut when I couldn't do it. It was a failing: sometimes moral, sometimes spiritual, occasionally fortitudinous, always personal.


Fortunately for me, I got into therapy. It was for a completely different reason, but hey, I got there. Also, there was the internet where I met lots of other people like me who couldn't just "get happy," or just "get over" being anxious. People and bloggers who were living with mental illness helped me realize that no, I may not be normal by conventional standards, but I'm normal for me. They also helped me understand that I need to fight tooth and claw--sometimes even against myself--to get what I need for my normal. I need to be vigilant and follow the instructions they give you on airplanes: take care of yourself before you attempt to help another person. So I concentrate on self care and pay attention to the signals my body and attention send. I'm even fairly successful a lot of the time. But I'm not always, and it's not always my fault, and it's certainly never a personal failing. I just have to try to do better tomorrow. I've got wacky synapses. They are what they are. And I am what I am.


One thing I would like to point out that no one should stop posting inspirational quotes like the one I started this blog post out with. They really do help a lot of people, and, for the majority of humanity, they ring pretty true. I am very much of the, "If it's stupid and it works, it ain't stupid" school of thought. I am also of the school of thought that if I can't bear an inspirational quote to the point that NO ONE SHOULD EVER POST THEM AGAIN, EVAR!!!1!  I probably need to be logging more time with my therapist. Or less time on the internet. But, as I hope I've conveyed throughout this post, that's just me.