Looking back, I can see what likely triggered my current depressive episode. But I was supposed to be immune to unforeseen triggers, wasn’t I? My antennae are supposed to be so finely tuned to my internal detection radar as to give me just-in-time avoidance warning. But that’s not the way it worked this time. I just didn’t see it coming.
The first trigger happened over several hours as I was sorting through many years of paper files. In preparation for my upcoming retirement, I began reviewing the files and trashing what was recyclable – based on established file retention rules. I had no strong emotion regarding the task, other than wanting to get it done to fulfill a promise made to my boss.
The problem was in viewing the content of the files, all of which pertained to my old job. After a while, I noticed that my thinking had gotten negative, as I recalled the work from the previous 15 years – the people, the circumstances, the work environment, some specific unpleasant situations – all of which had contributed to two major bouts of depression. It wasn’t fun stuff to recall but worse than that, my thinking appeared to be stuck in darkness; I felt helpless to change it.
I took a break from the task hoping that switching gears would help, but my mood remained dark. When I returned to the task the following day, I decided to avoid looking at the content and simply to trash all of the paper. Unfortunately, it appeared that the downward spiral in my head had already begun.
The second trigger occurred at the end of the first file-sorting day. Following a meeting at my desk, a colleague stayed behind and confided that she was struggling both at work and at home to keep herself together. She felt unappreciated, overwhelmed, unfairly treated, a victim, extremely negative, unable to sleep, hurt and very angry – classic symptoms of depression. We talked for two hours – mostly I listened – because I couldn’t very well leave someone who was in so much pain. But the compassion and understanding that I shared with her ended up costing me greatly. I just can’t afford that again.
I thought I was passed being so vulnerable to others’ feelings of negativity and depression. But I was wrong. I am learning that I am, and likely will forever be, extremely susceptible to relapse. I’ve been well for 5 1/2 years (with 3 “minor” blips but no work stoppages). I thought I was healed and safe from depression as long as I avoided the type of work and work environment that is unhealthy for me, the type of work that I used to do but that depression taught me I was not suited for.
What I learned this time is: even the memory of such work as above can awaken depression, especially when reinforced by someone’s painful struggle with their own version of the illness.
How does one protect oneself from unknown triggers? hmm… Perhaps all we can do is arrest them at the first possible sign, then quickly engage a recovery mode, and commit to that fully and steadily. It’s the best I have to offer right now.
M i c h è l e
p.s. I just returned from rollerblading; I commit to exercising every day until the mood lifts and I return to my happy and productive self.