Posted by fxckfeelings on April 23, 2012
Whenever you’re about to do something you feel you need to do, you’ve got to wonder whether it’s good for you. As any overweight person can tell you, we often need what we can’t have or shouldn’t get too much of, and “needs” (i.e., frosting) have a way of winning out over logic. So whether your needs are driven by depression or dreams of a better marriage, don’t let them shape your goals until you’ve asked yourself where they’ll lead, what matters most, and what you need to do to manage them. After all, the difference between a need and a want is a slippery, frosting-covered slope.
I constantly feel the black dog shadowing me. Mostly I can function and I pay it a gentle nod on my daily musings but every now and again the feeling is so great I want to slide on into the abyss. I may allow myself to indulge for a day or so but am careful to put in place an exit plan before I do (I know this place can feel so good but not really be good). It often takes great effort to avoid this feeling and even more so to get out of it. Lately I’ve been wondering if my approach is purely avoidance on my part rather than management. Does it really matter if it’s working? Yet I feel that slowly the effectiveness is waning and I seem to have a feeling of despair more often. Is it poor anxiety management driving the depression?
Your letter focuses so much on your subjective, “black dog” feelings of depression that I don’t know whether you A, feel seduced by the idea of taking time off to indulge sad ruminations, B, are low enough that you’re planning your suicide, or C, crave scones from the same-named bakery Martha’s Vineyard.
If the answer is B and you believe you are capable of harming yourself, you need to get away from the computer and into an emergency room right away. Since your letter doesn’t read as totally helpless (or New England-based), however, I’m going to assume the answer is A.
Your feeling-focused ambiguity leaves me (and you) uncertain as to whether your depressive time-outs are becoming worse or dangerous, by impairing your ability to work and sustain relationships. The answer is to be found in your actions, not your feelings; think less black dog, more black and white.
If you want to know how you’re doing, make like Mayor Ed Koch and ask the people you know, focusing on the facts rather than their feelings, your feelings about their feelings, etc. Ask your close friends and family whether you’ve been flaking out on them or doing other things that worry or annoy them. Consider whether you’re getting your work done and doing the tough things that survival sometimes requires, like a job search. Stop meditating, ask a few questions, then get back to the question at hand.
You’re right, of course, that depression can often create an addictive-level need to get away and go to bed, urges which, if satisfied, tend to cause more depressing situations. You’re also right to regard flirtations with depressive urges as dangerous for all the reasons above.
So put those feelings on a leash. Develop your own system for monitoring depressive behavior, so you can be confident that you have it well managed. If it’s pushing you harder and/or encroaching on your activities, push back harder. Exercise, get a good therapist, and/or ask your friends to help you keep moving and engaged. And, if the non-medical methods don’t work or the depression is moving too fast, start medication trials.
Ultimately, managing your depression and teaching yourself to avoid depressive thoughts are the same thing. For those who suffer from depression, periods of deep despair come and go at the disease’s whim; all you can control is how you handle it, and with support, strategy, and patience, you can outrun the shadow, whatever form it takes.
“Giving in to depressive feelings sometimes feels good and usually feels better than fighting them, but I know where that leads, so I have a good method for taking my own depressive temperature and good plans in place in case the results tell me I need to worry.”
I’m not basically unhappy but I sure hate what’s happening to my marriage, which has lasted for 15 years and 2 kids and which I don’t want to see end. My husband says he can’t stand my talking too much, too often, and too loud and he’s ready to leave. His complaints drive me crazy because there’s no specific issue to talk about, so I ask him to tell me exactly what I said wrong and he says “You’re doing it again,” meaning that I’m talking and pushing him for an answer. I want to get him into therapy so maybe a therapist can explain to me what I’m doing wrong, since I can’t get it out of my husband. My goal is to save my marriage.
Your goal, unfortunately, is to save your marriage by communicating with your husband, a technique we are loath to recommend. Clearly, having an ability to express yourself is good in some situations, e.g., to warn away your kid from touching something hot. Maybe your expressiveness was one of the things your husband liked about you way back when, but the novelty (and patience) have long since worn off.
Talk, however, even when it follows a period of listening, can be experienced as nothing other than coercion, particularly if the words are loud, emotional, repetitive and uttered late at night or when you’re tired. So, as much as you rely on and need communication, you also need to know when to shut up.
The need to talk is like the need to withdraw (see above). When, for various reasons, the need is really strong, it’s hard to control your behavior, which, in your case, will cause you to have more questions and a stronger need to talk. If you find a couples therapist who encourages you to open up, you’ll like him but your husband won’t, gaining you nothing and losing you lots of cash.
As we always say, you won’t get sick from bottling up feelings. You’re more likely to get sick from expressing them, particularly after you experience the grief and dislocation of divorce.
Shutting up gives you a chance to think, and thinking allows you to ask yourself what you need from him and why you need to keep talking. Usually, the reasons are understandable but not rational, meaning that you want him to do something or respond in some way that is not likely to happen, whether it’s being nicer to the kids, showing more affection, or being around more. Nagging someone to be better is the best way to make them act worse.
The good news is, if you’re getting nowhere, you have little reason to keep saying the same things over and over. It’s time to ask yourself whether you can accept him and your communication frustrations the way they are.
By not talking to him, you’re opening communications with yourself. After you’ve figured out what you can and can’t change about him, figure out what you’re going to do about it. Then let him know as succinctly as possible. No, you may not be able to speak up about what you want whenever you want, but you can always speak up about where you stand.
“It’s hard for me to stop talking when my husband refuses to do things that obviously need doing, but I know that talking doesn’t make it better. If I believe we’re a good enough team in spite of our problems, I’m going to learn new communication skills at a Trappist monastery.”