I’ve been depressed to some degree for a long long time. The severity has varied over the years, from what I remember as a near constant melancholy during my childhood to really thinking my family would be better off if I were dead after I had my first kid. These days I am doing okay, I think the depression is most present when I try to figure out what the hell I am going to do for a career after my grant runs out, and when my kids or family life gets stressful. Despite all the visible success in my life, I still feel like a failure. I feel too lazy, too dumb, too moody. I feel like something is missing in my life, a sense of purpose, or energy or excitement about something.
I first heard the term “depressed” associated with my state in grad school. During my first year of brutal coursework, I had felt stressed but I managed to do well on the exams. I felt I was learning something. After that, I found that I really didn’t do so well with the unstructured time I was supposed to devote to research. I was in the lab, but looking back I wasn’t all that productive. It was much more attractive to me to take classes, learn to surf, play in the jazz band, spend time with my girlfriend, etc. I found that I would feel stuck in research, not sure how to move forward or find it hard to focus enough to get anything done in the lab. It was much easier to focus on everything else. This worked for a few years, but eventually that inability to focus and complete lack of motivation crept into the extracurricular activities I was doing. That scared me enough to go to the counseling center, commencing what has been something like 10 years of therapy with various therapists.
During the course of this all this therapy an important theme has seemed to resurface time and time again (remembering it has been hard). It seems that I don’t let myself feel happy for very long. I think I learned long ago somehow that it isn’t safe to let myself feel really happy or excited about something. It feels unsafe to me. I know that the happiness I’m feeling won’t last and that I will be disappointed and feel like a fool. I’ll probably be judged by others and made to feel stupid for ever being excited. This has been around for awhile. I remember in college, a girlfriend telling me that a friend had described me as never getting too excited about anything nor getting too upset. At the time I thought that was a good thing, but no longer.
Also affected by this inability to let myself feel excited about things is my assertiveness and inner sass/creativity/wild side. I was kind of a smart ass in early grade school. I remember talking back to teachers, particularly in 2nd and 6th grade. In sixth grade I really stood up for myself when I felt I was being treated unfairly (more details in a later post).
Sadly, that 6th grade rebel and person that stood up against unfairness and wasn’t afraid to be heard was crushed along the way. There was a brief visit of that person in 8th grade with a certain teacher, but she was smart and took me under her wing, and the need to rebel subsided. The part of me who could get really emotional and worked up is also hidden or repressed. I remember my parents forcing me into a cold shower if I really got worked up. My poor girlfriend once told me to calm down while I was telling her about someone who had really made me mad, and I refused to talk about feelings with her for a long time.
I’m rambling, but the point of all this is to make the point that I’ve learned to repress any positive and generally really strong feelings. To those close to me I’ve been able to express my depression and despair at times, but even to them it doesn’t feel safe to express too much happiness or excitement.
So, I’m proposing an experiment. I’m not a new-agey type, although I do appreciate mindfulness and meditation. By training I’m a scientist. The goal of this blog and experiment is to see if tracking the positive occurrences in my life and really celebrating them, no matter how small, will lead to a less “Depressed” state, increase my vitality and enjoy my life more. Even though I was moody as a kid, I still had hope and was excited about the future. Maybe if I can recapture that young spirit I can recapture that young hope and optimism.
I’m not sure what to expect here. I’ve seen enough happiness columns to understand that celebrating the positive is a helpful step, but the cynic and internal-happiness crusher(okay, a little melodramatic there) thinks I’ll probably screw this up and self-sabotage or something. But I’m pressing on.
If anything I’ve described here feels like something you are going through I invite you to join me in this journey. Perhaps this blog will help you find your way to what you want.
As for the Melancholy Manbag? Not sure where the “Manbag” came from. I could make up a bunch of reasons like issues of masculinity or this weird nostalgia for the 70s, even though I was born in that decade. Basically, I just liked the sound of it!