Thursday, February 1, 2018

Life with Depression: A Loose Analogy to an Ocean Journey

You are nearly certain (although it has been so long that sometimes you wonder if you imagined it) that you started your journey on a boat of some sort: maybe a large, fancy boat, maybe a small, simple boat. Either way, the boat allowed you to navigate the ocean safely and relatively easily, even when you encountered rough seas or large waves. Although there was work involved in keeping the boat functioning well, you were able to keep on top of the work without too much trouble, notice the beauty and wonders of the voyage, learn some interesting things along the way, and even take up some hobbies that bring you joy.
But, somehow, you ended up out of your boat. Perhaps a strong wave of adolescent hormones, or a traumatic event, or pregnancy or post-partum hormones, or the long-term cruelty of others knocked you out of your boat. Perhaps you just woke up one day and realized you were not in your boat anymore, and you were not quite certain how you had gone overboard or where your boat was now.

It is possible to survive in the ocean without your boat, but it is considerably harder. Now you are already busy treading water and trying to avoid sharks, which were not much of a concern when you were in your boat but are QUITE CONCERNING now, when the larger waves crash over you:

a serious illness *CRASH*,
a change in employment *CRASH*,
a cross-country move *CRASH*,
a baby who never sleeps and cries most of the time *CRASH*,
a child with behavior or medical problems *CRASH*,
seeking treatment for that child *CRASH*,
needing to convince the medical professionals that your child needs help when they don't see a problem *CRASH*,
moving AGAIN *CRASH*,
the death of a loved one *CRASH*. 

All of this leaves you with very little time or energy to work on finding your boat, but you do what you can.

You managed to hold on to your hobbies when you went overboard, but you notice that even those, which used to bring you so much joy, are making it harder to stay afloat, so you let them go.

Occasionally, you will see people passing by in their boats. You are weary from your battle to stay afloat, but you muster your strength to call for help. You know that nobody can give you their own boat, but maybe they will have a suggestion that will help you find your boat again.

Some people will point out that your ocean journey would be much easier if you were in your boat; why they do this is a mystery: Do they think you enjoy treading water? Do they think you have not noticed the loss of your boat and the resulting difficulties? Do they think you have not done everything in your power to find it? When you ask for advice on finding it, they will reply, "Well, if you just have a more positive attitude/take these supplements/get enough sleep and exercise/pray harder/meditate/use these oils, etc, your boat will come back to you!" You try each of these things at some point, but your boat does not return.

Some people will insist that you ARE actually IN YOUR BOAT, which, they are CERTAIN, is MUCH nicer than their boats, and why are you making such a fuss about taking your journey in such a nice boat anyway?

Some people will toss at you the web address to access the list of the many, many approved boat-finders in your area, which, by the way, requires you to make a password 9-20 characters long, including at least one number, capital and lower case letter, one of 5 specific symbols, and CANNOT include any segments of your name, address, phone number, ID number, or any words 3 letters or longer that are found in the dictionary. (Oh, and you'll need to change your password every 180 days.) Although you mention that you have spent significant time with more than one boat-finder in the past with little or no results, these people will INSIST that finding a new one will surely do the trick! You suppose they could be right, but it seems daunting because you have no way of knowing which of the boat-finders have a good reputation, and you know that some can do more harm than good.

Some passers-by will go so far as to toss you the materials and instructions for building a new boat.  But you are so busy trying to tread water, avoid sharks, and stay afloat when the waves come crashing over you, that you are unable to catch and hold onto all of the items they tossed your way, let alone figure out how to fit them all together. If they could, perhaps, stay near you to hand you the pieces a few at a time and read the instructions to you until you can just get the base built...but they are busy with their own journey and have already left.

Sometimes a person will come near you, become offended by some of your unconventional attempts to stay afloat, and quickly move away.

Sometimes a boat-finder will come near you, and your hopes will rise! The boat-finder is an EXPERT and has years of experience helping people find their boats, after all. And you have heard stories from and about others who were helped by a boat-finder! You explain your situation; the boat-finder gives you a raft which s/he hopes will help you find your boat more quickly and tells you that s/he will check in with you in 4-6 weeks to see if the raft is helping you at all. As you watch the boat-finder float away, you are so grateful for this raft and the promise it holds of some protection from the ocean and progress towards finding your boat!

But after a few days, you realize the raft has some serious flaws, isn't making your journey any easier, you haven't actually made any progress towards finding your boat after all, and it will be a long 4-6 weeks before the boat-finder returns. You survive until then, and the boat-finder gives you a different raft, but this one actually moves you farther away from your boat. The next time the boat-finder gives you a raft, it seems to work right at the start but then stops functioning before too many days have passed.

You drift out of that particular boat-finder's area, but still no closer to your boat, and it becomes necessary to watch for a new boat-finder, knowing that you will need to explain everything all over again when you find one. With each visit from a boat-finder, you have a little less hope in the subsequent rafts you are given.

Sometimes a friend will pass by, notice your struggle, and offer to hold your hand and float along near you for a while, so you won't be alone. Or you pass by another friend who has also lost her boat and you are able to hold her hand and tread water together. Although some part of you worries that your weight might drag your friend down with you, you hope that is not true because having a hand to hold makes it a little easier for you to stay afloat, especially when the large waves come. And a small part of you even dares to hope that holding hands might be helping your friend too.

Sometimes a friend is able to give you an emergency flotation device which lifts your spirits as well as your body and gives you a desperately needed boost of hope and energy.

Sometimes the strong waves stop crashing over you for a brief period, and you are able to gather your strength and even enjoy the scenery for a few minutes.

And if you can hold on long enough, sometimes you will find a raft that is a perfect fit, with no leaks or structural issues, and, once again, you have hope that you will be able to find your boat someday. But you realize that even if you never find your original boat, the raft is a VAST improvement over your previous situation, and you are confident that you will be able to make better progress on your ocean journey than you were able to without it.