I was reading a blog the other day in which the blogger wrote how she was depressed and wanted to stay depressed and didn’t want anyone to try to talk her out of it. Readers chimed in saying that they hated the way happy people were so…annoyingly happy.
So when is it comforting to be depressed – and when does that depression slide into murky self-pity? When do we draw the line and say we’ve felt enough sadness, enough is enough? And if so, how do we get out of it?
The first thing is: move a muscle, change a thought. Sitting around will only make us want to sit around some more. Are we genuinely sad about something or do we just have what the French call, le cafard, which literally means a cockroach but also means the blues. (And not just because wonderful Carla Bruni who sings one of my favorite French songs, “Quelqu’un M’a Dit” will no longer be the French First Lady.)
When I start singing the blues, and it lasts a wee bit too long – it feels like an emotional hangover – I have to ask myself, is this something specific or am I just having a pity party? When that happens, I remember my friend Kate who’d set the egg timer for five minutes and say to me, “Aw, go on, have your pity party for another five minutes and then get cracking.”
Sometimes depression borders precariously close to self-pity.
Sometimes I have to remember that it’s surprisingly, paradoxically comforting for me to be depressed, the way I get pleasure from watching sad movies. (Or books – I can read Charlotte’s Web if I want a good cry about losing a friend, and Ethan Frome, if I want a really good cry about doomed love.)
My brain automatically goes into rewind mode and plays something that I don’t think I don’t like thinking about, just to taunt me. In the middle of a yoga stretch, let’s say, I’m zipping back to the time this guy snubbed me in 1986. Or I can remind myself how poorly I acted toward a friend precisely 10 years ago. (I apologized to her, but still.) Is it just me or do you also find yourself rewinding and pressing play again and again on scenes not worth repeating?
I have to train my brain not to wander into that negative neighborhood. Instead, I have to fill my mind with positive thoughts of all I have to be grateful for. And if I stay in the moment and don’t let myself drift backwards, then I’m on contented, solid ground.
Earlier today, I had to apologize to my friend, Lily, because I’d cancelled our work meeting yesterday at the last minute to work on something else. I knew it was wrong – I have a pet peeve about double-booking and there I was doing the same thing – so I knew I had to make my amends.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” I told her.
“I organized my whole morning around meeting you,” she said with a slighted tone to her voice.
“I won’t do it again,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”
“Never mind,” she told me. “That was like so yesterday.”
Then we both had to laugh.
What do you think about the times you slip into sadness? How do you know when you’re genuinely upset or you just feel like crooning the blues?
This is what the Dalai Lama says on depression:
“On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it…
Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you.”
Don’t go wandering in that negative neighborhood. It’s like so yesterday.