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One of the things I've had to learn about depression is that it's… - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Jan. 7th, 2015|09:30 pm]
One of the things I've had to learn about depression is that it's important to keep in mind that there's a lot of advice out there that is based upon estimates of how normal people will react. And in many cases, it's not bad advice, but it's advice that you need to measure against the assumptions that are being made.

For example: one of the common signs of troubles is "avoiding social situations". This can be a sign of a problem ("you have anxiety, and therefore avoid social situations - this is a problem we will try to overcome") or it can be an effect of a problem ("you are depressed, and don't have the energy or interest in going into social situations; this is hurting you").

The idea is that people are social creatures. They are. That's true - not just as a generality, but so universally that I'm not sure if there are any exceptions. With six, seven billion people on this earth, I reckon it's possible that there are exceptions - but if so, they might be such outliers we couldn't be sure what we were observing.

But that doesn't mean social contact is an unalloyed good, either. There's two aspects to it.

First is one that's a bit of a meme among people I know - there are people who are extroverts, and generally feel better for being around people, and tend to want people to "recharge" and there are those who are introverts, who often are most comfortable alone, and might have to spend energy to be around others (sometimes just a little, sometimes quite a bit). And I imagine (from my own experience) that there's some shifting around on this spectrum. I'm never exactly an extrovert, but there are times I want and need people and recharge in a social situation, while most of the time, I need some solitude to rest up and recharge.

So: there's a matter of your needs, and how other people fit into them. This is important, and, as I said, it might vary, but it's also something you can probably learn about, to the point that you can pinpoint what you want or need at any given time.

The other is that social contact has to serve a purpose. And it doesn't. Not always.

I mentioned two examples above: a person is anxious, and avoiding social situations, or a person is depressed, and has no energy or interest.

Well - what about a person who is so anxious at the time of a social situation that all of his or her energy will go toward maintaining composure. Is social contact going to serve a purpose here? Well, it might, briefly. Maybe you need to step up to the metaphorical plate, and see if the anxiety is just a generalized fear that the whole room is going to freeze as you walk in the door, and say "Hey, look who thinks *we* want to see him/her!" right before they all start laughing themselves silly at the idea that you - YOU - belong in a social gathering.

In all seriousness, that never happens - not even in a John Hughes movie. (Yet. And if it does, the bastard owes me royalties!)

More seriously: sometimes you need to walk in the room, see that nothing explodes, talk to a few people, and decide you're not having fun - no, really, you're not, and you're not relaxing, either, so it's time to leave.

This is not some kind of defeat. This is wisdom, and self knowledge. It also sucks, especially if you've gotten yourself dressed up nice, and driven an hour to get here, but in all seriousness, it's *not* a defeat. Still - you might find it good to bail for a bit, before bailing permanently. Do some breathing exercises. One that I learned that's surprisingly effective is - deep, deep, diaphragm expanding breath - then breath out against resistance. Purse your lips - make it an effort to breathe out. This is supposed to cause your vagus nerve to be stimulated, and this tends to move you from "fight or flight" mode back into normal living mode.

(Yeah, I didn't believe it either. Yeah, I thought it was stupid. No, it doesn't always work - or, doesn't work as well as I'd like. But isn't that better than driving home and realizing that you could maybe have hung out another half hour or hour, and maybe spoken with X_Special_Friend?)

Alternately, sometimes you might walk in, work the room a few minutes, and realize you're not scared or anxious any more. If so, *great*. Go have fun!

Similarly, if you're depressed - depression can be a funny bugger. Some people really can't feel any pleasure when depressed. The happiest thing in the world becomes all "meh, can we do this again some day when the world isn't a despicable vomitus of grey blah?" But sometimes people just can't anticipate anything feeling good - if they have a good time by surprise, so to speak, they might have fun. And other times, a person might be kind of on the edge. If things don't get better, they slide deeper into the pit; if they get better, though, a person just might scramble out into the light, onto beautiful terra firma.

Some days, a depressed person knows the energy just isn't there - it's gone, kaput, they can go to the social gathering, sit in some far off corner, and perform a good impression of a bump on a log. This can not only be useless, it can be counter-productive. As unfair as it is, most people don't have enough time in their lives to say "I wonder if that far off person who seems completely disengaged is actually a fascinating person if I spend enough time trying to get to know them, in spite of the deep depression that will thwart my best efforts to learn anything except that they are deeply depressed?" And there... well, I'm going to be kicked out of the Wise Armchair Psychologists Association for this, but, there, your best option is probably to stay home, and conserve your energy. Plus, you won't be that oddball they saw at the last gathering, sitting like a bump on a log.

Maybe - I've done this from time to time - maybe consider doing something that might make it easier if you want to give the next social gathering a go.

Other times, it might be time to dust off the old social muscles and see if they're going to flex today. Sometimes they will, even if a bit atrophied, and you might find the social kinks are working out, and you're back on the upward slope again. Or even if that doesn't happen, even if depression is going to keep you in its claws for a while, maybe you'll have a good time, and that's nothing to put aside, when good days are few and far between.

The key is to know yourself, your needs, and try to outsmart your problems when you can.

[User Picture]From: glinda_w
2015-01-08 08:03 pm (UTC)
I've been... more depressed than I realized, until I got the holiday decorations up, put the Met Museum gorgeously illustrated carols book which i've had since forever on the music rack of the piano, sat down to play - and dear ghods, had not played anything for at least three months. Ditto not making any jewelry. Oy. (Saw doctor yesterday, we're introducing a new-to-me SSRI, which please ghods won't do what the others did, which is ramp up the baseline daily migraine level. Medication roulette, so much fun...)

Anyway, as an always-introvert even when not depressed, I finally tricked myself into going to gatherings of people by giving myself permission to leave in an hour if it just wasn't working for me. (And interestingly, the problem was only with being social - I could, and did! go to the symphony or opera or a movie or a restaurant by myself, no problems at all.) Weird, the way our brains function, or don't function.

But yeah, self-knowledge of what will work and what will make things worse is the first thing needed.

Edited at 2015-01-08 08:06 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2015-01-23 05:01 am (UTC)
Nod. I think compromises like that can be really good for people trying out their social muscles (or whatever muscles seem atrophied). "Come on; you can handle *one hour" if you have to - and then, you can call it a victory, you lasted an hour longer than you thought you would!" (I'm not saying that's what you say to yourself, but it's what I might say internally.)
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