“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
This advice is popularly attributed to Mark Twain, the folksy sage of American literature. Essentially, it’s an argument for getting the most unpleasant part of your day out of the way first thing. Client you don’t want to talk to? Eat the frog. Chore you don’t want to do? Eat the frog. Student papers you aren’t excited to grade? Put the ones you know will be subpar on top.
I laid in bed yesterday thinking about eating the frog.
“Eat the Frog, Cherity. Just eat the freaking frog.”
Yesterday, though, my first frog was just getting out of bed. When that happens, it’s a pretty good indicator that my depression is creeping back in.
As I’ve said before, depression isn’t just “sad,” though I think that a lot of people who haven’t experienced it think that’s what it is. It’s overwhelmed, empty, and hopeless all wrapped into one. Pessimistic. It’s trouble with sleep (for some, it’s insomnia; for me, it’s sleeping too much). It’s not being interested in things you usually love. It can involve aches and pains, as well as digestive trouble. Symptoms can be much more physical than many people assume.
For me, nothing feels like a more apt description than this: Depression is when every part of your day, from waking up in the morning to climbing into bed at night, starts to feel like eating a frog.
I have high-functioning depression, and it tends to be episodic rather than chronic. In other words, I’m pretty good at maintaining my “normal life” even when depressed, and my depression tends to come and go. I’m not saddled with it all the time, though my therapist believes that I’ve probably struggled with it since at least adolescence, and I agree. I’ve been in and out of therapy, as well as on and off meds, depending on the severity of the episode.
My depression tends to be like an unwelcome, but familiar, guest on a road trip most of the time; if we can agree upon a radio station and a route, I can drive, and it can sit in the back seat, and we don’t have to deal with each other much. Sometimes, though, my unwelcome guest tries to take the wheel.
Sometimes, I listen to Christmas out of season; it’s one of my coping mechanisms.
When I feel depression creeping in again, especially if it’s starting to get chilly outside anyway, I put on Pandora’s “Hipster Holiday Radio” station and let it work its way into my soul.
When I was little, Christmas was magical, with twinkle lights, presents, cookies, and lots of family and friends. For some people, I know, Christmas has the exact opposite effect, but for me, Christmas music is soothing. I started listening to it last week. I try not to subject anyone else to it until mid-November, but when I’m on my own, all bets are off.
Christmas music is just one item on a long list of coping mechanisms.
A few years ago, in the middle of a raging bout of depression–part of the two or three years during the dissolution of marriage when depression was my near-constant companion–I made two lists.
One was a list of the ways I behave when I’m depressed (sleeping too much, eating crappy food, watching too much tv) and the other was a list of the things I do that make me feel more depressed (sleeping too much, eating crappy food, watching too much tv). When I put them side-by-side, I realized that my depressive behaviors form a feedback loop: the behaviors that I engage in while I’m depressed are the same behaviors that make me more depressed. Since then, I’ve tried to be super intentional about breaking the loop as soon as I start to see it.
I made a third list as well: things that make me happy.
Everyone should make that list.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying hard to gain some equilibrium and start to stabilize myself. Often, that means that I need to replace behaviors from list two with behaviors from list three.
Replace the skipped breakfast with a green smoothie. Replace pizza for lunch with a salad. Eat more veggies. Read instead of watching tv. Take a bath. Take a minute to groom the horses. Leave the house.
Yesterday, I was let out of work early, and everything in me wanted to come home and sleep for a bit. Sleep turns off the chaos in my head. Naps are a way that I disengage. (Naps are also one of my favorite things, but I’ve come to see that there is a difference between regular naps and depressive naps…) So, knowing that a nap would end up contributing to the feedback loop, I decided to get back in the car, drive to the local nature reserve, and take a walk.
I got there in the golden hour, and I watched the light dance between the still clinging leaves.
I closed my eyes and listened to the brooks babble as they made their way to the river. It reminded me of the interconnectedness of this planet: the way streams become rivers, rivers become oceans, and oceans fall back into us as rain. Nature reminds me that we are all made of stardust, infinitely special and completely mundane at the same time.
I sat at the river for a while and let the cold breeze turn my nose and cheeks pink while I watched the light reflect upon the water. Barges bellowed in the distance. The sky was a sapphire blue and sea gulls floated on unseen thermals. I left feeling better.
The depression will pass. It always does. In the meantime, it will remind me to make time for joy. To slow down. To breathe. I will listen to Christmas music in October. I will go for long aimless walks, and I will let it remind me to take care of myself.
Depression will never be my favorite teacher, but I’ve been dealing with it long enough to know that it can be a very effective one if you open yourself up to its lesson. In the meantime, you just have to be open to eating a few frogs.