Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Real Alchemy

This is for you, this is just for you.

I'm getting too heady and theoretical. I need to bring this whole subject back into the real world. So I'm going to focus for a moment on something that may seem at first to have little to do with whatever you've read before about Alchemy. But this has everything to do with Alchemy. It's Alchemy taken out of the laboratory and done right here and now, every minute.

Depression is unlike anything else. It is its own thing. And we don't have much in the way of language to talk about depression. This makes depression even more isolating. It's impossible to tell someone your experience when they've only ever been sad. So to understand what depression can be like, we have to liken it to other things.

Depression is, in some ways, like diabetes. If a diabetic's blood sugar gets too low, all sorts of bad things, including death, can happen. Diabetics have to learn how to avoid doing things that will bring their blood sugar down too low. They have to eat well, test their blood levels regularly, measure their insulin accurately, and understand what might make their blood sugar levels irregular (like coming down with a cold or being under a lot of stress at work.)

People who are prone to depression–either those who are in a major depression or those, like me, who deal with the continual state of dysthymia–will find that lots of outside things will bring on depressed symptoms. Eating the wrong food, seeing the wrong movie, failing, succeeding, falling in love, getting in an argument, can bring on depression just like too much insulin can bring on low blood sugar.

Depression, like a diabetic low blood sugar, can be fatal. Depression is a delusional state (whether it's any more delusional than happiness is another matter.) When our sense of well-being drops too low, we become delusional and capable of really hurting, even killing ourselves. Just like a diabetic with low blood sugar may struggle against eating, a depressed person will struggle against whatever might help them out of that state. It's really, really important to remember this when you're severely depressed. Just like a diabetic must just eat something, a depressed person must just do what they've learned will help.

Eat blueberries. Get some exercise. Look at uplifting images. Listen to happy music. Make these responses to depression a medical treatment; think of these activities as tools. They are not the end in themselves. They are the way. Doing them will physically change how your brain is working. You can calm your amygdala and invigorate your basal ganglia by doing certain simple things.

You will have different things that lift your well-being. When you are less depressed, look for these things. Collect them. When you get depressed, do these things, even if you feel they can't possibly work this time. (That feeling is part of the delusion. Simply deciding to do something and following though will be enough to get some wiggle room.)

Like a diabetic must learn what drops their blood sugars, you must learn what drops your well-being. Well-being is a feeling of aliveness, of optimism. It is the sense that we can plan for a future we desire and take steps that move us toward that future. We experience ourselves as beings who can affect change in our lives and in the world. We sense our deep connection to other living things.

When we are not feeling this, something is dropping our well-being. It's okay to arrange your life to include enough good stuff to keep your well-being up. It's okay to exclude those things that drop your well-being. It's more than okay. It's what you need to do to live.



Bo said...

so true. Have you read Gwyneth Lewis's wonderful 'Sunbathing ion the Rain; A Cheerful Book about Depression'?

Yvonne Rathbone said...

Gwyneth Lewis, the Welsh poet? I love the title. Definitely one to check out.

Bo said...

That's the one!

Thalia Took said...

This is a very, very wise post, and very helpful.

This, though:

It is the sense that we can plan for a future we desire and take steps that move us toward that future. We experience ourselves as beings who can affect change in our lives and in the world.

Reading that was a jolt. I don't know if by that definition I have ever then been Well. Not, mind you, that I disagree; just I'd never thought of it in that manner for some reason, and it makes me profoundly sad.