How does normal feel?
March 14, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I think I recently emerged from a long term funk (perhaps dysthymia, or long term mild depression, but I'm not going fix on a diagnosis). I've had a few awesome weeks recently, but also a few that were just as bad as before. The trouble is: I'm not used to feeling good, so I don't understand what I can expect. Help me understand this.

For the past couple of years, I think I've been suffering from mild depression. I've been functional, employed, kept myself up, etc; but I've also been generally pessimistic, lacking motivation, unhappy, and socially withdrawn. My mood for the most part had been "blah," but at some points it was bad. I think I've been like this since I was at least a teenager, but I'd say this present episode started a few years ago after my first breakup, which was followed closely by even more social rejection.

About a month ago, I made a huge amount of progress very suddenly. I'd hit my lowest point in recent memory, but I started emerging from that very quickly. Over the course of the next week, I started discovering things that really helped my mood: talking to people about things I liked; setting audacious goals, and taking small steps towards them; doing things that I'd always meant to do; seeking out my friends and engaging them socially; ceasing to be so picky about social activities; reconnecting with my family. That week was still objectively pretty bad, but I dug myself out of my hole, and I was positively happy, optimistic, and motivated for most of the next two weeks.

However, the next week after that was bad; I was like I was before: unhappy, pessimistic, etc. Then after that I felt good again for a few weeks. Now I feel bad again. It's like I emerge into a good place, keep the momentum up, and then I fall back to where I was before. I've noticed some emotional triggers that can cause those falls, mostly thoughts and subjects, but I can't always help myself and avoid them all the time (that's also not realistic). I also suspect my emotional range has increased. I think it was pretty restricted before.

My mood isn't consistent during these "good" and "bad" weeks, I'll be happy or down at different times during the day, but one mood will easily predominate.

For the record, I'm certain I'm not bipolar. When I'm happy, I'm totally functional and in control. People just remark, "It's nice to see you being happy for a change."

I'm a guy in my mid-20s, a college graduate, with a steady job and a smallish social circle. I am not medicated, nor have I ever been.

I'm used to feeling bad or neutral most of the time, so I don't have a lot of experience with this. Here are my questions:

Do normal, happy people have bad weeks regularly?

Am I better, or still in the process of getting better, and occasionally regressing?

What's it like to emerge from depression?

Is there anything in particular that I should be doing?

Any other comments? Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Given that you're not bipolar (i.e., the good times are not spiraling into unsafe behaviour, delusions of grandeur, etc.), I would enjoy the good times and put up with the bad ones, just like anyone else.
I've come to believe over the years that a lot of what we term "depression" or feeling blue is just disappointment that results from unrealistic expectations. We live in a culture that fetishizes manic activity and "peak experiences", so when we come face to face with life as it really is for almost everyone, meaning a lot of neutrality and boring repetition, we feel cheated and inferior. But most of life really isn't super fabulous. That's not negativity or depression, it's just a fact.
Enjoy your happiness when you have it. When you don't, simply try to observe how you're feeling without making too big a deal of it. It really isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.
For what it's worth, I can relate totally to what you're saying. Good luck!
posted by crazylegs at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Are you getting more sunlight now? Are your bad weeks correlated with less sunlight?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2010

Coming out of a long term depression is a great experience, and it can help you avoid or minimize depression in the future. You gain a new frame of reference, a new sense of "normal" to which you can compare your future moods and towards which you can work if you slip away from it later.

Is there anything in particular that I should be doing?

Your mood swings (if it's fair to call them that) can be incredibly instructive. During a "high" point, take a close look at how you respond to something mildly negative. Maybe you screw up a bit at work, maybe someone isn't as friendly as you expected, maybe you have a bad hair day – just something that could generally be described as a "buzzkill," at least.

Look at how you respond, emotionally, to that. If you're having a good day, mood-wise, you'll likely handle it well, deal with the consequences, and brush it off to some degree. It will be alright.

Then, think back just one week or to whenever you were last feeling depressed, and imagine how you would have responded to the exact same situation then. Would you have dwelled on the negatives, beaten yourself up about it, or otherwise responded much more poorly? Can you identify some common emotional responses in yourself that tend to present themselves when you're depressed?

You might even be able to see two very similar events that happened while you were in the two emotional states, providing an even more concrete comparison.

Think about your different responses. Same event, different responses. One's response to any particular event is not a given. Knowing that can be very powerful, because you will no longer say, "I'm feeling this way because [x] happened, and that's that." Because if [x] had happened some other time, you could well have reacted completely differently! You will realize that, in some sense, you have a choice of how to respond emotionally to the world around you, and you can begin to exercise that choice.

You sound pretty introspective. Use that and exploit your newfound emotional range, your ups and downs, in order to minimize the downs.
posted by whatnotever at 9:43 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It might help to keep a brief log of your daily activities and your mood. Then you have something to look back on and use to determine patterns that may affect how you're feeling. It'll take a few weeks of consistent tracking, but I think it could be worth the effort for you if you aren't sure what kinds of thinking are helping and hurting you.

The log-keeping is an element of cognitive behavioral therapy, which trains you to change your patterns of depressive thinking, and I think keeping track of both your "bad week" thoughts and your "good week" thoughts will help you to understand what works & what doesn't.

Also, exercise, exercise, exercise. I don't have a cite at hand, but studies show that it can be just as effective as medication for many people. And as a ten-year sufferer of depression, I can agree that I have more "good weeks" when I've been exercising a few times a week.

Finally, don't be too hard on yourself during those "bad weeks." It sounds like you're taking it all in stride, but just in case you aren't, not even the happiest people have all good weeks all the time. It's okay to have a run of bad times--it's not your fault. Just remember that you know that things can be better and they will get better. Savor the happy times!

I'm glad you're starting to feel better and I hope it lasts for you!

On preview: whatnotever is totally right about the introspection. Writing it down can help your thought processes and give you something to refer back to so you can see how you've worked through something before. Plus, sometimes keeping everything in your head can be clouded by your emotional state. Getting it out on paper can help to make things seem more objective. Good luck!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

And to work on answering your other questions: The main thing to realize is that there is no "normal, happy, 100%." Emerging from depression is an amazing thing, but you don't go from "feeling bad or neutral most of the time" to "feeling happy all of the time." Your overall mood improves, and life becomes better, but there will always be bad days or weeks, and you will always have something you can work on improving, if you want to.

By this, I mean to say that yes, you are "better," but there is no "all the way better." And whether you consider your bad days or weeks "regressing" or not isn't terribly important. Everyone has bad days, weeks, months, or years, with varying frequency. If you found out you were "normal" in some way, would you then just accept that and go along with those slumps? Why not work to avoid them, then work to minimize them when they come along?

Your recent mood improvements have given you a huge opportunity both to see what you've been missing and to develop some skills for "maintaining" your mood at that level. Seize the opportunity.
posted by whatnotever at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2010

I found out a year ago that I got a lot happier the moment I stopped worrying about why I wasn't constantly happy.

Now occasionally I feel the blues but I treat it like a normal thing rather than an Oh God What Is Wrong With Me. As in: "Sorry I'm kind of out of it today. I've got the blues. Let's get sushi and snap me out of it."
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coming out of a depression, going from steady not-good to more fluctuation, can be disorienting. I like the idea above about noting what is helping you feel better, and doing more that.

One thing that is nice for me about being older is that I know that my mood stuff is like the weather, the down will change to up and vice versa. So I don't panic about one or the other.

Also -- now that you're feeling better and thinking about this -- I wonder if you might consider more active interventions in the future (therapy, meds, yoga, meditation, support group, whatever). Two years is a long time to go with low to medium or greater depression without taking some steps. (But, I'm an action gal.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:03 PM on March 14, 2010

I recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for you. You're noticing your triggers and what makes you happy. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you get even better at both of those things. If you'd like to check out some of the concepts, try the Anxiety and Depression Workbook for Dummies.

And congratulations! Keep feeling and caring about things.
posted by halonine at 5:36 PM on March 14, 2010

And whether you consider your bad days or weeks "regressing" or not isn't terribly important.

Well, you haven't sought a medical diagnosis. If a doctor said you have such and such disorder, then you might be able to measure your progress in relation to that disorder. But you simply want to be happy in your life. Word!

If you're doing better, then you're good. The world evolves and so should your happiness. Whatnotever is right in saying that you will never "arrive" at some type of eternal happiness. That being said, happiness can be a lifestyle. It is the spiritual quest. To wake up in the morning and say "Today is going to be a good day!"

That sounds like a self help book I know, but guiding your meditations (meaning thoughts) to take control of your life is the point, right? Don't see bad times as "regressing." That's self condemnation. If you're going to decide that there is something wrong with you, seek professional help. If you don't find it serious enough to seek professional help, then you're not regressing, its just a bad week. And bad times don't have to last for a certain length. Don't decide to early "It's a bad day." or "It's a bad week." when it could just be a bad morning or day.

Moods are often guided by expectation. Expect to be happy. When you see you're not happy, take control of it. If its beyond your control, know you will be happy again. You are already doing better and taking steps towards gaining control means that you have the opportunity to be even happier than the average individual. Good luck.
posted by justflux at 7:39 AM on March 15, 2010

iven that you're not bipolar (i.e., the good times are not spiraling into unsafe behaviour, delusions of grandeur, etc.)

I wouldn't rule this out for bipolar. I'm not clear right now on the definition of hypomanic, but the OP could fit the criteria.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:58 PM on March 15, 2010

« Older Relationship troubles   |   How to negotiate my salary on a probable job offer... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.