During today’s lesson, one of the students asked me to explain the difference between the expressions ‘wake up’ and ‘get up’. “On a bad day,” I said, “as much as three or four hours!”.
Nobody got it.
This question came today in one of my classes, as we were using the topic of ‘daily routines’ to introduce phrasal verbs. In English, like in German, there are a shit-tonne of phrasal verbs. Look at the differences between ‘drop’, ‘drop in’, ‘drop out’, ‘drop down’, ‘drop back’, ‘drop round’, and others to see what a nightmare that can be for foreign students of English. Clearly, my joke didn’t help.
Moving swiftly on
Last spring, one of the things that first began to tip me off to my potential depression was that I would regularly lie in bed of a morning/afternoon/evening, staring at the ceiling and trying to convince myself to put my feet on the carpet. “You can go and get some breakfast/lunch/whatever meal would be appropriate for this time of day!” I would say. No movement. “You can play that game you like!” was another. More usually it was “you really need to get your arse out of bed and into that lecture/seminar/tutorial/arrangement you’ve made with friends”. Because then not only are you being shit in private, but other people will also know how shit you are! Hooray!
If I may assume for a moment the mantle of my favourite superhero, Captain Obvious, it’s a lot easier to deal with a problem once you know how to deal with it. Once I twigged that there was a pattern emerging there, the same things happening each time, it became sliiiiiiiiightly easier to work around it.
So ‘work around’ rather than ‘deal with’?
Yeah. Sssh. Remember how we talked about short-term goals? Hear me out.
‘Dealing with’ the longstanding problem of sometimes just not being able to get out of bed is a long-term goal. Big-picture ideas are daunting at the best of times, let alone when you’re struggling to find the motivation to shuffle off to the toilet. It’s not what you want to hear about.
Working around it can be a lot easier in the short term. It can serve as a step-ladder to the heady heights of being at least a half-functioning human fucking being. And there are a few strategies – some prefer drugs, others reward systems, and some self-medicate by keeping biscuits and beer within arm’s reach of the pillow. Some of these are better than others, but this is not a self-help blog because I believe there are approximately four million of those out there already.
I am getting to know what works for me. It’s a process, it’s a slow process, and it involves a lot of hyperbole and bad writing. One thing that works for me at the moment is writing stupidly long blog posts.
I had a bad one of these a few weeks ago. I’ve been a bit bad during this year in Italy, I haven’t set myself a lot of challenges and I haven’t found a lot of stuff to do. When the offer of cool stuff – such as visiting people I know in Rome – pops up, sometimes I just don’t act on it out of insecurity. As a consequence, I often find that my days off from teaching are sources of… well, nothing. Nothing at all. There is little to be gained from them other than wandering around coffee bars and staring into the music shop window at the gorgeous mandolin in the corner which, although it brings me a little bit of excitement and a lot of nervous twitching, is not really as fulfilling as I’d hoped this year would be.
So really it can’t be a surprise that on one of these days I found myself just lying and staring at the ceiling, or the wall, or just the shuttered windows when I fancied a bit of a change. ‘Despondent’ doesn’t even come close to describing that feeling. It’s not sadness, it’s not even feeling ‘low’. It’s just a sense of being totally and utterly unloved, unnecessary, without value. And yet it’s not loneliness either. It’s just blah. It’s flatness. It’s blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. From when you wake up shortly before midday to when you eventually stagger out the door in search of food (and the facilitating of other bodily functions) at around half five in the afternoon. That’s the feeling.
Of course when you’ve got a void like that sitting on your chest (and mixing metaphors), apparently preventing you from getting out of bed (or writing properly), there is a lot of opportunity for those other feelings to creep in. “I’m without value, therefore I’m alone, therefore I’m sad” would be a fairly basic summation of that thought process. I suppose if I have a point here, it’s that the conflation of ‘depression’ with ‘sadness’ is not really accurate, but then I think most of us know that by now.
I’m afraid I’m not offering solutions here. I’m just writing stuff that happened. I take solace from the thought that there are a lot of other people who do exactly this shit. Like, a lot. And I like reminding myself of that.
Putting the ‘press’ in ‘depression’
So yeah. It does just feel like a weight. I like the expression ‘hanging over you’ but in actuality, it’s more like ‘hanging from you’. Dragging you down. As low as you can go, for some people, and beyond. Thankfully I don’t think I’m getting there.
‘Good days and bad days’ is a thing that people say, and recently I’ve started trying to say it too. It is very up and down at the moment, which I suppose is a blessing. It’s a bloody big help that I’m ever up at all. And it’s good to be able to say, when asked, that it is ‘up and down’ rather than just down and down, because it’s very easy to forget on those dark days that there are things to be happy about. Very easy indeed.
My girlfriend has a saying: ‘depression is repression’. She reckons – and I’m coming round to the idea – that that feeling of being emotionless and without joy comes from not feeling able to deal with the negative stuff. What she says makes sense; you don’t repress and try to ‘shake off’ happiness, so why do we always do it with sadness?
Because we’re idiots.
Basically. But that kind of talk is not helpful. (I will be posting in future about that little voice in my head. I call him Frank, because fuck it, he’s me.) But she’s right in a lot of ways, I think. Because when I really challenge myself to think about what’s getting me down, it turns out there’s something very thinly dammed up behind it. My depression, and my mother’s depression, are similarly just the blocking off of all the sad shit. But with enough prodding and probing it can sometimes just come pouring out. Literally. I cried for about twenty-five minutes for apparently no reason at all. But then I felt a LOT better, for what I hope are obvious reasons. And I hope that soon I’ll be able to get to the bottom of those thoughts.
Today was nearly another bad day. Today I lay awake after my alarm went off, for about two hours, just thinking. “What’s the point? What am I doing here? Would anybody care if I just disappeared?”.
Eventually I got out of bed because – and this is true – I was excited to get on Facebook and share that quote from the student. There, gratifyingly enough, it garnered a number of likes equivalent to over 12.6% of my friends list, which in my considerable experience of trying to quantify external validation is pretty. Fucking. Good.
I knew I was funny.
More to come.