In the last couple of posts I have written about depression and how I deal with it, which is by taking small steps to try and get a little positive momentum going. So here are some thoughts on a stage that lies between those: when you try to recognize the signals coming in, then decide what they mean and what to do about them.
I call this separating reality from hype.
Easy example: I think I have $100 in the bank, but I forgot to keep the receipt from a purchase the other day, so I look at the account and find out I only have $50. And maybe there’s now a bill coming up in a few days, which I also forgot about, that I’m now short on.
Perhaps a “normal and healthy” person would say something like, “Oh, right, I need to deal with that, and maybe be a little better at tracking my balance and keeping receipts.” But what I do, at least sometimes, is kick off this Carnival of Crazy inside my head in which I suck at money, I’ve always sucked at money, I’ll never be financially secure, and that’s just one reason why my life is not going anywhere and I’ll die alone.
I’m not always that crazy, but shit like that does go on in my head. (And it always ends with me dying alone, by the way.)
So, in that example, having $50 in the bank is reality, and all the stuff that leads up to me dying alone is the hype.
A current example: Lately I’ve been getting back into backpacking, which has led to some realizations about changes in my body as I approach my mid-50s, changes in gear that have come along since I got into the hobby, changes in my personal camping preferences, and changes in the environment. Again, this is all just information. But when I have to bail on a trip because of some combination of issues ranging from physical to gear to environmental to my skills, the Carnival hits the streets again, and off we go into the world of despair.
So how, as new information comes in, do we separate reality from hype?
The trick is to navigate towards a place where – in the backpacking example — I am understanding the environment, taking care of my body, learning skills and buying better gear, instead of making plans to die alone! In other words, to deal with reality rather than react to the hype.
But how? Here are a few skills I’ve picked up along the way.
Talk about it, out loud. This has two advantages: one is to get the feedback of other people who are not players in the Carnival of Crazy. The other is to find out they deal with the same kinds of crazy. Also, from talking about it, you can …
Make it funny. This is a critical skill I learned in 12-step recovery, where we used to say about all kinds of things, “If you think about it, it’s kind of funny.” I mean, imagine somebody preparing to die alone because they forgot about a $50 purchase! Aren’t we nuts? Being among people who “get it,” have been through it, and can laugh about it with you just does wonders.
Interview yourself. I sometimes think of my mind as a bus with multiple passengers – not in a Sybil kind of way, just that at times I seem to think like different people. And when one of them goes crazy and starts screaming we’re all gonna die (alone), I can sit down and ask them what’s up. There are obviously some fears getting activated, but at the same time, let’s sort out what’s definitely true and what might be hype.
Do something positive, then think about all this again. If Wallowing Paul thinks we’re gonna die alone, let’s take him for a walk or something, then ask Slightly More Sane Paul what he thinks!
Recognize the situation. If nothing else, just stop and recognize that, “Right now, I am responding to some new piece of information by starting up the Carnival of Crazy.” This takes some energy from it. It’s like when I went bungee jumping years ago, and several of those “bus passengers” were yelling that we are (quite literally) going to die. But I kept telling myself, “I am attached to a perfectly safe piece of gear, having an experience which scares me, and that makes perfect sense.”
So that’s what I’ve got for today. I am a few kinds of crazy, and some of them can get really activated, and sometimes the crazy and the depression can take over. But none of it defines all of who I am. I still have choices to make, and I can still have faith and hope, or at least awareness, even in the darkest and craziest of times.