Depression and Feedback Loops.
I know I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from occasional bouts of depression. They’ve never been excessively severe, though I have been diagnosed with “Major Depression” in the past. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, depression was an essentially constant companion. I remember, when I was 14, coming to the conclusion that in a conversation, it took someone four minutes to decide they didn’t like me. In a new group endeavor, four days. I don’t remember how I chose those numbers, but the concept has followed me in the back of my mind ever since. Whenever it seems like people are not appreciating my contributions, I return to this.
Depression seems to exhibit itself in me as a strong desire to isolate myself. Fantasies of leaving things behind without telling anyone. Anger. Resentment. Petulance. And a powerful compulsion towards self-destruction. I fantasize about cutting, mostly. And I’ll catch morbid mantras in my head. The latest has been, “My life would be much better if I weren’t in it.” Back when I used to cut, I used to tell myself, over and again: “Love the pain.” In fact, I still use that one. I just use it when I’m running. Long ago, it was: “Death is faster.” Faster than what? It was never clear.
I did, like so many do, treat my depression with alcohol. Because I’m an addict, that didn’t work so well for me. And alcohol is a depressant. Treating depression with alcohol is like treating drowning with lead. I suspect one of the reasons for the incredible renaissance of aspect that occurs for so many in early sobriety, which is often called the “pink cloud”, is that we have stopped flooding our brains with a depressant chemical. But of course, I don’t know the science of it.
I see a psychiatrist every other month for management of my depression. I’m not taking any medicine at the moment. From time to time I’ve taken an SSRI, and they seem to work well enough. But I don’t like how they make me feel. It’s very difficult to describe. Everything becomes memory-foam soft and moss-covered. It’s true that I don’t feel as depressed when I take them. Nor am I creative, or insightful. But I will take them intermittently if things get too bad. I feel like I’m currently approaching that point. I may need to run a course of anti-depressants to unwind the loop I’m in.
There are a lot of feedback loops in mental illness. Consuming a substance, for an addict, triggers a craving for the substance. This leads to dependency, desolation, and eventually death. In depression, I will recruit anything I have handy into the fantasies I have about being unwanted, useless, and unwelcome. My blog traffic is down. Clearly, I’m not writing interesting things. Whether I write about sobriety or science, people just don’t seem to read this as much. I have never generated the traffic that so many other places seem to.
I’ve recently been violating some of my own rules about political interactions on twitter. My rules are simple, when it comes to political and controversial interactions. I have to be able answer yes three times to the question: “Does this need to be said, right now, by me?” If I can’t answer yes three times, I’m supposed to let it pass. I haven’t been doing that. And as a result, I’ve been getting into situations where I come off as a jerk, because I don’t keep my commentary properly circumspect. I’ve been advised by friends that although it’s obvious I’m not being malicious, I’m coming off as an ass. And I appreciate that warning. Because I suck enough at social situations when I’m actually present. On twitter, where I can’t judge tone and facial expression, I’m nearly hopeless.
Isolation is a feedback loop for my depression. The more time I spend alone, the more I feel unworthy of spending time with others. I’ve been doing things that are actually a little more social; I see a trainer in a gym instead of just running. I’ve been going out with friends for dinners and to coffee shops to work on weekends. This weekend there’s a potluck AA meeting at a friend’s house. But these paltry gestures as sociality are insufficient, at the moment, to salvage my overbearing sense of uselessness and separateness.
At parties, I always end up sitting alone, watching people talk. I don’t know how to do it. That’s what the AA potluck is going to be like too. And then, the party is recruited into confirmation of my sense of otherness. Even though I’ve tried to be social, I’ve failed again. It’s lonelier to be in a room full of people who don’t give a shit I’m there (or who wish I weren’t) than it is to be in a house by myself. I’m feeling similarly about twitter at the moment. It’s lonelier than not being there.
I’m mostly sure this is all internal. But I’m not certain.
One of the stable structures in dynamical systems is the periodic orbit. If you have a weight on a spring, and set it bouncing, and plot the position of the weight against its speed, you get a perfect circle. This is a periodic orbit. In the real world, with each bounce, some energy is lost. The circle contracts. And as a contracting circle is plotted against time, it forms a spiral.