Last month Erica was away for a week. On the Tuesday when I would have seen her, I woke up depressed. It’s the first time I’ve been depressed in a long time. It gave me a chance to differentiate “depressed” from other similar states. When I’m depressed I feel without hope, that there’s nothing I can do to change things, and that I’m held down by a weight.
“Apathy” is something I began to pay attention to when someone told me that a baby gets apathetic when left alone too long. I feel without motive and without energy. I need someone from outside to get me moving again.
“Exhaustion” is something I have ignored most of my life. My parents would say things like “How can you be tired? You haven’t done anything.” So I would tell myself I’m lazy and cowardly, and push myself way beyond what I could reasonably do. It’s still hard for me to take care of myself when I’m tired. The first time I got a hint that I habitually go past what is reasonable or healthy was in a yoga class at Kripalu. They told us to get into a posture, to push or stretch until we could feel our muscles straining, and then to back off a little and breathe. They talked about the “zone of tolerance” as the space between relaxing and pushing too hard. It was the first time that I realized that I habitually push too hard. Learning to back off has been a long and interesting challenge.
“Despair” is when I feel that nothing I can do will make any difference. Unlike apathy, I still care about whatever is happening that I want to change. I don’t feel heavy or complete lack of energy, and despair can certainly be a drain on energy. But mostly despair is when the difficulty is too big, or something I’ve tried to change many times. Sometimes what I’m trying to change is my own state of mind — trying to change depression does not work, can even make it worse. Then there’s a tendency to judge myself for “not really wanting to change” or “holding on to depression.” I think those two judgements are a pernicious result of a culture that teaches us to blame people for their difficulties. Sometimes what I want to change is something going on in the world, like the degradation of the environment. I do everything I can. My car is a hybrid, a Prius, and I drive more slowly than most people do. Currently I am getting over 60 miles per gallon. I recycle as much of my waste as I can, sorting out plastic, metal, glass, paper, putting vegetable matter in a compost pile. I live at the top of the watershed, and my well gets 25 gallons per minute, but I use as little water as I can. I have a wood stove, and backup propane heat, and I keep the thermostats in the low sixties. I also have a solar panel that generates electricity, and solar hot water. That’s about as much as I can do without more help from the community. What I can do makes such a tiny dent in the problem that I’m sometimes tempted to quit making the effort. But I keep doing it as a kind of prayer.
“Grief” feels like a softening, it flows instead of being stuck. Grief is the act of letting go. When I started to let myself grieve, I didn’t get depressed. Grief can be hard to get to. Often I’m not able to feel it until I start to tell someone else about what I feel or why I’m sad/depressed/discouraged etc…
Typing up from a month ago, I find the seed of that post:
I used the word “hopeless” and Karen produced her usual rejoinder “That’s a thought not a feeling.” I said yes it is a feeling. She asked “Where do you feel it in your body?” like my ribcage is full of concrete, I’m being weighed down, held down. Apathy, tiredness, depression and grief. Apathy is having no motivation, tiredness is having motivation but no energy. Depression is having no motivation, no energy, and being held down, weighted down. It is hard and stuck. Grief is a softening into a process, grief moves.