Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Depression spoons

Note: Much of what I talk about below is based on my own experiences.  It's anecdotal.  While some of it is backed up by actual research, I don't want to put in the extra effort of citing sources.  Please feel free to do your own research to make sure that what I'm talking about is not a bunch of BS.

Many people are familiar with The Spoon Theory, which tells the story of a Lupus sufferer explaining to a friend what it's like to live with a chronic illness.  While it's a good general guide to the kinds of things people with chronic illnesses deal with, it's told from the point of view of someone with a physical illness.  It's easy to understand, "You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question." Her hands hurt sometimes, so she has to think about what she wears, here's more effort involved than for someone who is healthy.  But, this doesn't translate well into depression or other mental health problems.  So, I figured I could lay out some examples of what costs spoons for people with depression.

Emotional energy - this is our "spoons" equivalent.  Those of us who have depression have less of it than those who are healthy.  The reason being that just fighting the depression (and it's a near-constant fight) drops us down in energy.  An acquaintance on Facebook recently re-posted this:

depression is like trying to peel a potato with another potato its not fun it doesnt work and you just wanna cry

#and then people are like #God! Why don’t you just get a peeler!? #and then they HAND YOU ANOTHER FUCKING POTATO
 I like to also think of it like running a race with a sack of rocks on your back, and everyone else gives you crap for not keeping up.  Both metaphors work well to describe the war we fight against this disorder.  Or, to put it in computer terms, a healthy person and a depressed person may both have 2 GB of RAM, but for the depressed person, 1 GB is being taken up by a huge system hog of a program, and one which doesn't benefit them at all, like some sort of malware.

Socializing - it's necessary for everyone's mental health to have social contact with other people.  I have personally experienced the pitfalls of not being social, and it's not pretty.  When I didn't see anyone for a month, I stopped taking care of myself.  I was unable to eat or sleep.  Sometimes, I couldn't even make myself get up to use the restroom, I would just hold it for hours on end.  It was bad, and I don't recommend it.  Socializing can play out in depressed individuals in one of two ways (normally).  Depressed extroverts can definitely benefit from socializing - IF they have enough spoons to get them to a place to socialize.  If not, they're probably going to be stuck without spoons for a while.  For the introvert, socializing *costs* spoons.  We regain our energy in solitude.  BUT, it's still not healthy for us to not socialize, and depressed introverts can have a hard time balancing the emotional demands of socializing, and the cost of not doing so.

Physical tasks - Not having emotional energy can mean that physical tasks seem much more daunting than they are.  Have you ever looked at a sink with only five dishes in it, and wanted to cry in despair?  I have.  Have you ever wanted to do something, but couldn't make yourself get out of bed to do it?  This is a regular problem that depressed individuals face.  Some people think it's just laziness.  It's not.  When you are literally thinking about how it would be much easier to be dead than to have to wash those dishes, there is something wrong with your thought processes.  Your brain is not working right.  It's not laziness to have to deal with that despair every day of your life, and not kill yourself, it's strength.

Lack of support - Like so many other invisible diseases, depression does not have obvious physical symptoms, at least, not until things have gone *really* wrong.  In addition, people who are depressed are often afraid of allowing themselves to be vulnerable to other people.  They tend to put on a brave face for their audience.  Even when someone is aware that an individual is depressed, they will see them in a happy mood (yes, we *can* be happy from time to time), and think that the depression is likely not so bad.  What many people don't see is when we're alone, when the depression has the most potential to be at its worst.  People don't often see depressed people when they're counting out their pills to see if there're enough to kill them.  They don't see them staring at a knife, wondering if they can build up the nerve to open some veins.  And of course, no one can read someone else's thoughts, so people can't tell when I, or any depressed person is thinking things like, "No one really gives a shit about me."  or "I'm such a failure, I will never do what I want to do in life." or "I won't have to worry about paying my bills if I'm dead."  No one hears these thoughts, so many people assume that they don't happen.  For many people, the only real emotional pain is their own.  This lack of support also costs spoons.  People give you shit when you cannot go out.  People talk shit about how messy your apartment is.  People don't understand why sometimes, you cannot fulfill obligations, why you can't do anything but the bare minimum, and sometimes, not even that.  You have to explain yourself, over, and over, and over again.  In addition, it's sometimes *hard* for people to be supportive.  Depressed people will often see things in the worst possible light, which means that they will sometimes assume that their support network has an ulterior motive for being supportive.  We can be really irrational when it comes to this.  And, let's face it, who wants to deal with someone questioning their motives all the time?

Reserve spoons - With depression, you don't always know how many spoons you have.  There are less hints, because you don't have a physical symptom like fatigue or pain to alert you that you're starting to falter.  Sometimes, you're unconsciously thinking about something which upsets you, this drains your battery, like a crappy app running in the background on your phone.  All of a sudden, it's dead, and you have no idea why!  Same deal.  You'll be focused on a project, getting things done, then all of a sudden you'll hit that wall.  The sudden despair, the questioning of why you're bothering, that sort of thing.  If you're at  home, this is when you lay down, and possibly start crying.  If you're not, you start fighting panic about how you're going to get home, when driving takes so much effort (it doesn't, you're just being irrational, and *think* it does, because that's what depression does to you).  So, you start holding spoons in reserve.  You know that you may hit a wall without realizing it, and you can't allow that to happen.  Because if you hit that wall, you're likely going to have to spend the next twenty-four hours recuperating.  So, you get paranoid about your reserve spoons.  You know you can't get ready to go out, because you may run out of spoons while you're out, so you stay at home.  But that costs spoons as well, because you're not getting your necessary socializing time in.  It can easily spiral from there if you're not careful.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance with your spoons.

So, there's hope.  With the right kind of treatment, depression can be overcome.  It has the potential to take a long time and take hard work for treatment.  Which sucks, right?  Going to psychotherapy can occasionally zap your spoons for the day, if it was a particularly difficult session.  (I've had a few of those, but I view them as completely worth it.)  I've been on anti-depressants on and off for almost all of my life.  I've been in psychotherapy for almost three years now.  While I'm not 100% cured of depression, the people in my life have commented that they can see a difference.  *I* am aware of the difference (when I'm not thinking irrationally).  But it still costs, because you're not just paying in the spoons for the session, but in the spoons that it took you to earn the money to go to the session.  So, for some people, it doesn't seem worth it.  I don't blame them, I can see their point of view.  But I hope, for their sake, that they will eventually see that the spoons spent now means many more spoons gained down the road.

How does depression affect your spoons?  Please comment to let me know!


  1. I really like the idea of depression as malware... that really is what it feels like a lot of the time. My spikes aren't as bad, the worst I get is relatively minor self destructive behaviour like eating way too much or refusing to take the trash out, etc... but the median is pretty wide and constant. I definitely do the holding spoons in reserve thing, I miss out on a lot of fun stuff because I know if I run out of spoons in a potentially fun situation, it could have some bad consequences and make it harder for me to venture out later. I find distraction is really the most powerful tool for me when I've already pretty much dissected what I'm upset about and there's nothing I can do about it at that moment. But I definitely agree, whatever it is that helps you, taking calculated risks with your spoons often pays off.

    1. That sounds kind of like dysthymia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia) - Low level but more constant. Distraction is great when it comes to disrupting rumination. Sometimes escapism is the only way we can prevent going into a dive. Sometimes it's all we have the spoons to do.

      What messes with me about the reserve spoons thing is that I really do not ever know how many I have at any given moment. I can feel great, and then all of a sudden, I get hit, and can't do anything else. Frustration.