I was going to start this by saying that I’ve been struggling lately, but then I realised that that would be misleading. I’m always struggling. Sometimes more in one way than another, but there’s always something there. It kinda goes with the territory when you suffer from depression. What I’ve been struggling with specifically lately is an inability to relax at home. Among other things I’ve been unable to focus on my artwork, which makes me feel guilty about wasted time, which makes me anxious and causes me difficulty in focusing. This has been obvious in the resurgence of bad dreams and muscle tension. It’s also visible in the way that I’ve been reaching for the ice cubes more often (although I still rarely give in). The connection between depression and ice cubes probably won’t mean much to people who haven’t encountered it before, so I’ll explain why, and why it’s bad:
I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember, and one of the things that I suffer from and have learned to cope with is a strong tendency towards self-harming. I early on (like, primary school age) learned that anything which would cause serious damage to my body was a stupid idea. I also have a dislike of anything that belongs in my body not being in my body. Since this includes my blood, any form of cutting was out. As such I ended up either causing chinese-burn type pain or slamming my arms/fists/head against solid objects hard enough to cause pain but not enough to cause more than temporary bruising. It was actually this that caused me to first go to a doctor when I mis-calibrated my head-wall-intersection and ended up knocking myself out for a few seconds.
Since then I’ve tried a lot of different ways of coping with my depression, and one of the ones that wasn’t good advice for dealing with depression still helped me to cause less pain for myself in the process. It went like this: “If you tend towards self harm, try to gradually change the form the harm takes. Try to move from cutting yourself to wrapping elastic bands around your wrists and “pinging” them off your skin when you want to hurt. Move from beating yourself off walls to holding ice-cubes. They won’t stop the feelings or the root problem, but at least you’ll cause less damage to yourself in the process.”
I don’t know if that advice was helpful or detrimental in the long run. I don’t know if it was good or bad. I do know that I tried following it, and now when I feel like I want to smash my brains off against a jagged rock somewhere I find myself reaching for the freezer and rooting about for the ice-cubes.
Now, holding an ice-cube may not cause a huge amount of damage, but have you ever tried it? It *hurts*. That’s why I try to avoid giving in. Causing myself pain in response to brain-gremlins and bad thoughts is never going to help me get over these thoughts. It’s never going to help me beat my depression. All it’s going to do is re-inforce the idea that it’s “bad” or “wrong” of me to be upset by these things, and that I somehow deserve pain for it. At best it’s a short-term energy-relieving behaviour, and those aren’t really helpful. But sometimes… sometimes it’s so tempting.
At least now that I’m more aware of my depression and the forms it takes I can notice those moments, and stop myself from taking that path. I can notice my focus being drawn to the freezer, or the fact that I’m mentally checking out nearby walls for head-banging potential, and I can take a step back and think “WHY am I feeling this way? What’s causing it? And what practical steps can I take to make things better or to distance myself from the situation?” or, if it’s obvious that the situation can’t be fixed or avoided “Who can I call who could help, or at least offer emotional support” with a little bit of a wheedling “and wouldn’t a nice hug be so much better than hurting yourself?!”
It’s true you know. Hugs are so much nicer than self-harm. I would fully advise anyone suffering from depression to get a hug right now, or as soon as physically possible. If you don’t like hugs I’d advise a backup plan of a friendly voice and a nice cup of tea.