My theme for Q2 was “regroup.” I wrote about this in my post When The Sun Comes Out in early May as I was starting to feel my depression lifting. It’s officially gone at this point – I feel normal, and have for at least a month (probably six weeks.) That’s long enough to declare this depressive episode over.
The feedback I’ve gotten from talking openly about my depression has been incredible. I’m deeply appreciative of everyone who engaged me, offered me support, help, suggestions, empathy, or just said “thanks for sharing.” While I didn’t have any urgency about feeling better, I was optimistic that I would based on the arc of my previous two major depressive episodes (the first for two years in my mid-20s, the second for three months in my mid-30s). This one – at age 47 – lasted about six months which is so much less than two years…
My goal in Q3 was simply to “regroup.” I’ve talked about some of the specific tactics that I tried. Many people have asked me what they were. Here’s a quick list.
- Stopped drinking alcohol
- Stopped drinking coffee
- Stopped travelling
- Stopped waking up at 5am – just slept until I woke up
- Went to bed consistently at 10pm
- Running when I felt like it
- Scheduled a lot less things
- Took a digital sabbath – no email or phone from Friday night until Sunday morning
- Started floating in an isolation tank once a week
- Didn’t fight how I felt
- Shared openly with friends / spend more time with friends, especially with men
- Checked in with Amy every day – worked hard to communicate my emotions
From a work perspective, I focused on the things that mattered and tried to eliminate all the other stuff. I prioritized my Foundry Group partners, the companies we are investors in, and Techstars. Rather than looking at a lot of new stuff, I shut it all down and made sure I had time for all the existing stuff. I put more effort into videoconferencing and face to face interactions locally since I wasn’t travelling. And I tried not to schedule anything before 11am.
As Q2 comes to an end, I feel that I have successfully regrouped. I’ve added back in a few things that I want to do, including drinking coffee and getting up at 5am. I’m still not drinking, but I’m being more disciplined about my running. And I believe that digital sabbath will be a part of my rhythm for the rest of my life, although I’m letting myself answer the phone when it rings and occasionally sending an email or a text throughout the day when I need to communicate something to someone.
I was originally thinking about a theme for Q3 like “ship.” I’ve got a several work related things that I believe I’ll get closure on in Q3. I have several writing things in process that I’d like to finish. I’m still not travelling – nothing until Amy’s birthday in September. So, I originally thought I’d focus on something like “ship” as the broad theme for the next three months.
Yesterday I spent two and a half hours with my dear friend Jerry Colonna. We just hung out and talked. And eventually started talking about the idea of a Q3 theme around “ship.” After a while this sounded wrong – first to him – then to me. He challenged me with what I was actually trying to do. Ultimately it was to give myself more focus, and more structure, to spend time on the things I wanted to spend time on, and stop spending time, or filter out, the things I didn’t want to spend time on.
“Ship” seems like the wrong way to think about that. Instead, we came up with “be happier.” I’m going to try to use the phrase “be happier” as I decide what to spend time on, as in “will spending time on this cause me to be happier?” The simple theme – to be happier – which has all kinds of implications and second order effects on how I spend my time.
Instead of focusing on applying this theme only Q3, I’m going to apply this theme for however long I feel like it. And just thinking of it that way makes me happier.
It’s such an immense relief when the oppressive weight of depression begins to lift. While I’ve had a big struggle the past six months, the last few weeks have been better and recently I’ve felt a broad positive shift in how I’m feeling.
My metaphor for my depressive episodes has always been that “dark clouds build on the horizon” as depression approaches. I no longer am afraid of the dark clouds, nor do I go through crazy rituals like I did in my 20s to try to keep them away. I don’t embrace or encourage them – I just accept that they are there. Often they disappear after a few days. Sometimes, like this time, then move on in and block out the sun. And then – like a long Pacific Northwest rainy season, they just hang there. Every now and then the sun peeks through and things feel a little better, but then the dark clouds swallow up the light again.
After a month of this, it gets really tough. After two months, there are periods that I can only describe as excruciating. After three months, the pain – at least for me – dulls – and everything is just joyless. I get up each morning, I do my work, I engage as deeply as I can in whatever I need to, but I mostly just want to be alone. Being with Amy is better than being alone, because she’s safe, but I know it’s eventually hard on her to watch me exist under this dark, cloudy sky.
In March, when I accepted that the depression wasn’t lifting, I decided to change my approach. I used the metaphor of “regroup” to define how I was approaching things. I eliminated a bunch of things. I cancelled all my travel from June 1 to the end of 2013. I let go of my need to answer every email the same day. I stopped scheduling a lot of stuff and just let it happen. I stopped a bunch of online routines like checking in on FourSquare and reading my daily news. I stopped waking up at 5am (something I’ve done every day during the week for the past 20 years) and started waking up whenever I wake up. I stopped drinking alcohol and coffee.
I then added a few things back in. I started running more. I started reading again. I started doing digital sabbath – no email or phone from Friday sundown until Sunday morning.
I can feel a material change. The sun is shining more. The agony of depression is gone. I’m enjoying some things again.
But I’m still in regroup mode and don’t feel a need to come out of it anytime soon. I’m still eliminating things I realize I don’t want to be doing. But I’m starting to play around with new things that interest me.
My greatest creative moments have come on the heals of periods in my life like this. It’s the one positive aspect of these depressive episodes for me. I can’t plan it, or force it, but I look forward to it revealing itself.
Update – if you want to get a deeper understanding of what depression feels like, several commenters pointed me to this amazing post by Hyperbole and a Half titled Depression Part Two.