I feel drawn back into depression, is it like an addiction
May 5, 2010 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I feel drawn back into depression, is it like an addiction? Are people really happy?

I have probably been depressed for a good part of my life.
I few years ago, it got bad enough that I got some help.
I would say that I was unaware that I was depressed for most of my life. Or more accurately I had no idea there was anything wrong with me, that what I was experiencing was in any way different from others.

A few years ago I went through some traumatic events and had to either get help. So I went into therapy, I started being more aware, and I got some pills to help too.

Now I am in a better place. Perhaps better than for most of my life.

What puzzles me though, is that I am drawn towards my depression. I love listening to hyper depressing songs, for how it makes me feel, its like a friend visiting, a familiar feeling, a blanket that covers me. Intellectually I can see that its stupid,but it takes a lot not to return to the drinking fountains I used to feed my pain bodies (yeah Eckhart).

For a specific example, I am in a relationship with a girl, and have bee for almost a year. We have a good time to together, but often I find myself longing for that staggering unrequited love I lived with for most of my life, though aimed at different people. The kind that let me write poetry and it was ever so intense, if utterly pointless.

The mutual love now, feels a lot less intense and consuming.

So is this type of "relapse" or at least idolizing of past depression normal? Is depression something one can get addicted to?

The last part I am curious about, from other people who may have gone through similar experiences: Are you now happy? Its such an elusive term, but I can name all the times I have been happy, and it is not often. Should I be happy now? Should I request different pills or increases and keep going to therapy until I actually feel happy/content?

Or is the fact that I dont have an urgent need to kill myself
and I am not deeply depressed as good as it is probably going to get.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Romantic love always fades. Spend some time exploring this 'mutual love' and see where it takes you.
posted by unixrat at 2:19 PM on May 5, 2010

Somewhere, I think in this interview, DFW said something to the effect of "depression always has an element of narcissism" to it. It's something I think about often.
posted by phrontist at 2:26 PM on May 5, 2010 [13 favorites]

I went through a period of time of super intense emotions, unrequited love, tragic beauty, the whole nine yards. It was certainly a creative, but pretty miserable point in my life.

I have since moved past all the drama, the back and forth and ups and downs. People ask me how I am and I no longer have dramatic tales to unfold, but I feel much more stable and much better. Sometimes I look back wistfully at how interesting things were back then, but it's a swap I gladly made. I don't think I was writing anything good enough to warrant the misery anyway.

For the record, happy for me does not equal constant joy and manic smiles and the desire to burst into song at any moment. Instead, I am quietly content.
posted by chatongriffes at 2:27 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love listening to hyper depressing songs,

I am like this too, even when happy. Of course a lot of times we listen to sad music to feel better, that is what the blues are all about: through sharing troubles, we feel better about them.

But, I think for me, and maybe for you, being kind of sad is comfortable, and familiar. It's hard to break out of what you're used to, even if you know intellectually it's not good for you. There's a lyric from this song by Jenny Lewis that I think about a lot:

to be lonely is a habit, like smoking or taking drugs/
and I have quit them both but man was it rough

Ways of feeling and acting really are habits, and they're hard to break. They get to be comfortable. As I'm sure a billion people who be along to tell you, there is no such thing as "normal" because everyone is different. But what you're saying certainly sounds familiar to me, so you're not alone.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:28 PM on May 5, 2010

It's really hard to change a thinking pattern once you're used to it, even if it's damaging to you. I have that issue with music as well, because happier as songs - while fun to listen to - don't grip me as much as depressing ones do.

Your mind wants to stick to the familiar... you have to overrule it. It's like when you break up with someone and you miss being with them, but you know it won't work out.

Have you tried writing stories or (nerdy suggestion here) roleplaying? I've found that writing about a person who's lot in life isn't so great helps me separate from depressive habits.
posted by biochemist at 2:31 PM on May 5, 2010

or, y'know, what drjimmy11 said. should've previewed. >.>
posted by biochemist at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2010

It's not so much "addiction" as it is "comfort zone". I recently had a stay in a psych ward for a major depressive episode that [i think] lasted two years, but I've probably spent most of my life depressed. I'm now on medication and going to therapy.

Not being depressed is actually somewhat uncomfortable. I'm really not used to these new feelings of calm, contentment and yes, even happy sometimes. We get used to the feelings and thought patterns and our reactions to not only the outside world, but our own internal world. Just this week, I've encountered situations which, a few months ago, would've thrown me over the edge. I tensed, I waited for tears that never came. All I really could do was step back and figure out how to deal with it now.

I'm told it gets easier, and that I'll get used to the "normalcy" or "stability" [i'm bipolar] and that it'll become more comfortable. It's a bit early yet to tell, but I recommend mentioning these thoughts/feelings your having to your therapist as they'll be best able to advise how to deal with them.
posted by MuChao at 2:36 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have sort of the same thing from time to time. Different languages have different words for it, ennui, dysphoria, weldschmerz.

There is comfort in the known, and there is some (perverse) comfort in always having something to fight against. If it is a 100% effort struggle to drag ass out of bed and go to work and survive through the day, how can we expect ourselves to excel in life? Putting it another way, when we are depressed, we train ourselves that surviving the day/week/year is THE accomplishment and so all of our drive and ambition forces are spent accomplishing that, and so there is no room left for creative persuits. (Creative meaning advancing one's life in some way- learning, hobbies, career, socialization, relationships and so on.) A day without an outburst is a good day.

SO. When that cloud lifts and surviving is no longer exhausting, it can be really uncomfortable to have that gaping nothingness "out there". We never needed much, because we always had more than we could take anyway.

Look at this as a step in the recovery process- continue to work at maintaining the progress you've made at tolerating and enjoying the "have-to's" of life, and building in some "want-to's". If my experience is any indicator, the more I blow off my responsibilities, the worse I feel, and the LESS time I have to enjoy myself.

In other words, "normal" is normal. "Normal" isn't particularly happy, nor is is particularly sad. You shouldn't have to suffer through normal things, and you should have room in your life for fun, happy things.

And don't wallow. If you are feeling bad for no good reason, seek things that make you feel good (not necessarily happy, but good) rather than things that reinforce the bad.
posted by gjc at 2:39 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

MoodGYM tries to help you exercise new thinking habits.
posted by vsync at 2:46 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

How old are you? I felt like this until I was about 25. I'm 35 now and definitely happy. I did not think it was possible for me to be this happy. I thought it might be possible for other people, but since I'm a special snowflake, I would be forever denied peace and happiness. I liked being depressed insofar as it made me feel like a uniquely tortured soul. Plus it gave me a lot of control; when something is going right (like a relationship), I would be wracked with anxiety waiting for it to go wrong. If I distance myself from the person and sabotage the relationship, I'm in control, and oh by the way, poor me. Once I got over my special snowflakiness, that made a big difference. Also, medication.
posted by desjardins at 3:48 PM on May 5, 2010 [12 favorites]

It is interesting that you say this. One of the key points for my journey was the realization, back in college, that I was (psychologically) addicted to the intensity of my jags. So I looked for opportunities to make myself depressed -- failing a class, missing a deadline, pursuing an impossible woman. It was my drug. After a stint on Prozac, I got better at that part of it.
posted by dhartung at 4:40 PM on May 5, 2010

I was depressed for much of high school and part of college. There were problems with my dad's health and then that was compounded by a couple of romantic interests treating me poorly, which, especially when you're young, seems like the end of the world.

Anyway, I understand what you mean about being "drawn" back to the depression. I don't have any better way to articulate it than anyone else has, but I definitely had that experience. I think it's a combination of habit, and the emotions' being attractive just because of their intensity; real life won't feel as meaningful unless you change the way you think about it. Unrequited love in particular is one of those things that seems soul-crushingly poignant. You have to quit thinking about it that way. For example, no, life wouldn't be better if you were with that person; chances are you'd annoy each other in some ways; there's a good chance you'd just break up; and most importantly, you're wasting your life thinking about it. What seems really romantic and intense is really just you sitting in your room acting childish. But it's not enough to tell yourself that, because that alone is just rather depressing, too -- you have to replace those feelings with better ones. I made myself imagine things like, what if I wasted my entire life and never got anywhere with this person? And once I had that in place, I would think about what I wanted my life to be about that didn't depend on anyone else. I'd think about all the stuff I do like about life that would give me some feeling of pride even if I was always alone.

In general, I find this thought very helpful: my life is finite, and every moment I spend sad is a moment I won't get back. I'm pressed to pack my life with as many happy moments as possible, and to avoid lingering on sad thoughts. After a while you realize obsessing over bad feelings doesn't actually result in anything in the real world aside from your feeling bad or making poor decisions; it turns out they weren't so important to obsess over after all. And then you realize life is a lot better because you're not sad all the time and you're spending that time and energy on things that make you happy. Really, don't underestimate the value of a single evening: you can either accomplish something happy when you get home, or you can sit around and mope. The cumulative effect is powerful.

For what it's worth, at least for me that period of being drawn back to the depression came before the period I'm at now, where it's very difficult for me to get depressed over anything. The more times you resist being drawn back into it, the easier it gets. And eventually you wonder how you ever sat around and obsessed about unhappy stuff. I used to cry over damn near anything and now I have trouble crying at all.

To answer your question, I'm very happy now. I'm probably the happiest, least stressed person I know. I can't answer your questions about medication -- ask your psychiatrist about that -- but I can say that it takes time. It's not that you just take pills and you're suddenly happy, you do have to change the way you think about things and it takes a while to become habit. Look at it this way: you're doing better than you were. Keep doing better than you were. You'll get there eventually. It can't be rushed.
posted by Nattie at 4:42 PM on May 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm going through something similar now, though it's more anxiety than depression. Living life in flight-or-flight mode was intense, tiring, terrifying, and so many other things. It was often horrible, but at least it kept me going. I think these sorts of intense mental states are addictive, especially if you've never known anything else. Being less anxious feels a little like coming home from war. Did panicking for weeks at a time suck? Yes. But now that it's over I don't have the same drive. I agree, there's nothing to fight against, and I'm not sure what to do with myself.

It might help to find something that excites you the way your depression used to. It's easy to say get used to happiness, but I can attest to the fact that going cold turkey, (or even lukewarm turkey), is very difficult. Try watching a dark and intense film and letting yourself get sucked into it. When it's over go enjoy the sunshine or the company of friends. It helps me if I can get my fix in a non self-destructive way.

Of course I am not your therapist and I'm still going through this stuff. But it's getting easier to just be calm and content, so I think I'm on the right track.
posted by cost-cutting measures at 7:09 PM on May 5, 2010

It's also helpful to set limits. Listening to depressing music can be alright, but spending hours working on a downward spiral isn't.
posted by cost-cutting measures at 7:13 PM on May 5, 2010

You know it's funny because I kind of know what you mean, but I've experienced it in a different way. I really think it goes to what phrontist is saying, when I was depressed my life seemed to have a level of depth and being happy feels very superficial. I feel like a less weighty and soulful person now that I much happier. I feel sort of like I've "sold out" or something. I mean these are just fleeting feelings, but being happy or at least content means not sitting around all the time pondering the meaningless of my life and my existence. How awful and utterly hopeless the world is. Life just feels a little lighter and fluffier and there is something very intellectually and emotionally dissatisfying about that even though I am much better off now.

I think you just need to step back and examine your feelings a bit. You know they are not really rationale. And it's important to remember that virtually nothing is all good or all bad. Even deep depression has its hidden upsides. You just need to do the math and realize that all things considered, you are almost certainly better off now than you were before, even if nothing is ever really perfect.
posted by whoaali at 8:49 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am unhappy when I have unrealistic expectations of what happy will feel like and how long it will last. I am unhappy when I define happiness as an emotion.

I am happiest when I feel as if I am exactly where I am supposed to be doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. True to myself and how I am made.

I am happy when I cease to seek my own happiness and focus on the happiness of others. Not for how it makes me feel, but because it is my highest good to seek good for others' sake.
posted by cross_impact at 12:28 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Welcome to dysthimia. I have it. I often hear a very close friend and my husband tell me "you're never happy", often to their frustration. And it sucks. If they think I like being this way. They're wrong. If they think I'm just this crying, EMO, mess, they're wrong too. But I do wonder if I will ever, ever, ever be happy like other people seem to be. I have so much to be grateful for, and I am, but damn it one would think that I would be walking on clouds---I have my health, a job, a wonderful son who makes me emotional at the drop of a hat, 2 dogs, 2 cats, a house, etc. But I sit there and watch my son play and I get so annoyed with myself that I'm not a jumping, up and down, sunshine full of happiness like my coworker is with her son. I love my son as much as she does to her son. But it's not in me to be this goofy, running around, "HI BUBBA" passionately happy person. Never was. I'm a goof. I laugh. I joke. But I'm just not this positive, eluding sunshine person.

I don't have answers for you. I did therapy. I did meds (briefly). I just think that for some of us, life is stressful, hard, and we are control/fantasy freaks and that's what lets us down.

I guess we need to learn how to be in the moment and accept things for what they are.

I'm sorry you feel this way. I get it.
posted by stormpooper at 7:29 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

i don't necessarily think depression is an addiction, but i think you have to treat it in much the way you would any drug addiction.

you have to be very aware of where your brain is going, and of your triggers.

you have to be constantly doing things that are healthful - going to therapy, taking meds if you need them, removing yourself from negative or triggering situations, etc. (please don't read this as you have to be constantly in therapy)

i think depression is something that goes into remission but can come back, if we aren't careful and aware of what's going on. and it may exist in a state of flux for your whole life. sometimes you might be what you consider happy. other times you might be a few notches lower. then back up, then way down. that's why maintaining some level of "treatment" - whatever works for you - is important.

(feel free to memail me if you want to talk. i'm bipolar but depression has been a big enemy of mine my whole life!)
posted by unlucky.lisp at 10:55 AM on May 6, 2010

A wise lady gave me a way to look at this once...

We have certain circumstances that shape us. In order to navigate these circumstances, we learn to swim. Soon we find the most efficient stroke. We're going along doing the front crawl. It lets us dodge the sharp coral, fight off the sharks, keep our heads above water.

Then something in our circumstances changes. We're in a swimming pool with no coral. We're in a part of the ocean with no sharks. But we've been doing our one stroke for so long that we don't know any other way to swim. And it still keeps our head above water, and isn't that enough?

And then we see someone doing the backstroke, the breaststroke, the butterfly. And we decide, I will learn how to swim in this new way. And we move our arms and legs the way they do...

and we flail, and we gasp for air, and we sink, and we splash. And maybe we move a little, but it's scary and it's WEIRD and suddenly we're back to the good old crawl. We know how to do that. What a relief!

But we want to change. We want to learn a new way of moving through the world. We want to swim the butterfly. So we keep trying. And every day we learn a little more, and it gets a little easier. And we may go back to the crawl when times get tough. But now we know two strokes. And maybe we can learn more.

Moral of the story: of course changing what's worked for you all your life is hard. Have you ever seen a kid who was born knowing how to walk? ride a bike? swim? There's a whole lot of uncomfortable flailing going on in the middle before the new skills sticks. Don't give up. Keep trying.
posted by MsMolly at 8:41 PM on May 6, 2010

I think the most addictive aspect of depression is how alive it can make you feel. I also think real happiness exists, and that it's a function of how alive we feel in our day to day lives. In order to stop being addicted to being depressed, you need to find something else that feeds you in a positive way. What engages you and gives you a sense of lust for life?
posted by spinto at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2010

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