Friday, December 28, 2007
La vie en bleu
I don't get the blues very often (in fact, like lots of women, my blues are more cyclical).
This time, though, I'd say the slump began in July and has steadily gained momentum in the last six months. I wouldn't call what I have depression. Rather, I feel more like I did in Morocco or France... a feeling of sustained effort to stay optimistic, happy and productive. What I'd really like to do is veg out in front of reality TV and see other people make their dreams come true.
In the old days, no one took drugs for these kinds of emotional downturns. In my family of origin, no one took drugs for much of anything. Jon teases me because when I get a headache, he suggests Tylenol and I say "No thank you." Then he reminds me that the headache will go away if I take the pill. Then I remind him that it will also go away if I determine the source (sleep deprivation, hunger, menstruation, stress) and actually do something about that source. In my case, headaches are almost always associated with fatigue and sleep works every time to cure them.
So I don't like to use drugs for those amorphous things like headaches and nausea, ear infections and runny noses because I feel like I'm adding sugar to coffee or getting a face lift or declaring bankruptcy without having a plan in place for how to budget to prevent it happening again. Addressing symptoms by understanding where they come from seems too important.
But the blues - well today, drugs are often suggested as a way to "reset" the dial of emotional well-being. If you can dig out of the unrelenting pressure of low energy and pessimism, you might be able to get a handle on the stuff that's bothering you and resurface. I do understand this for clinical depression. But I don't think I've got that.
Honestly, the idea that I could get a drug to help me when I'm still sorting out what the causes are rubs me the wrong way. I've identified what I think are the sources of these particular blues: a combination of business related stress in July (which sent me near to the edge) followed by a series of losses for which I have supplied no alternative. Johannah left home, Noah was gone all summer, Jacob started full time high school, I took on two "in person" teaching assignments that were brand new courses (I have to start from scratch, it seems, to teach them), no more graduate school, a painful disruption of online community and very few local friends.
This combination has led me to feeling a loss of place as familiar as moving to a foreign country. It's as though my reliable world of well-being, validation and support got exchanged without my permission and I'm now stuck navigating a new one in a foreign language all by myself. I don't like it.
And I don't know/see how drugs would fix that. Seems to me like what would fix it is a new set of reliable relationships, places that nurture me and don't cost me so much energy going out.
Jon empathized with the burn-out I'm feeling toward my job. The online teaching is a relentless, on-going, daily pressure to be upbeat, on topic, informed, validating, teaching and controlling vast quantities of posts, material and people. He taught three courses this fall and told me he has no idea how I've been doing it for 8 years. He's so ready for a break (which he is taking and I am not). I don't take breaks except a week or two at a time.
As the New Year approaches, I find myself holding my breath. Which is not good, if you know anything about how critical oxygen is to the brain and staying alive. I want to take some time to think about how I can address the symptoms first. Being unhappy isn't the worst thing. Being unhappy and not knowing why is.