Pausing under the clouds: A how-to guide for getting out of the grey

Clouds from my dentist's office

In the grey.

What better time to write yet another post about depression? Or, rather, about the process of dealing with it.

Over a medium-length life (so far), I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with this stuff.  It’s something of an art, really.  Some of its practicalities can be handily recalled by use an acronym I used to hear people in 12-step groups use: H.A.L.T. As in, if you’re a recovering alcoholic, recovering drug addict, or recovering emotional wreck — the latter of which fits me — & feel a tempted to fall back into your addiction, HALT (or at least pause)  & consider whether you are:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

These don’t cover everything — taking care of oneself is an art, not something that can be summed up completely in any kind of rulebook. This is just stuff that it’s good to be mindful of, tailored to an individual’s own best practices for thinking about & dealing with any of these aspects of one’s day to day life.

Tired. For me personally, tired covers not getting enough sleep but also includes emotional exhaustion from , taking on too much (which is why I now avoid joining the boards of nonprofits), overstimulation, & so on. Overstimulation? — too much noise, too many people: see below.  If I feel myself tipping towards the pit — time to cut back, alone time, get lots of sleep, etc.

Lonely. I’m pretty much a loner — hence my frequent username yksin, a Finnish word (deriving from yksi = one) which means by oneself, solitary, singlehandedly, and related meanings.  But it can also mean lonely.  Sometimes I get completely wrecked from being too much around other people or too much noise, so I need lots of time to myself — not too much of a problem these days, since I essentially live alone nowadays — but on the other hand, I still need to keep in touch with the people I care about, who care about me. At times in my life I’ve found it incredibly difficult to ask for help — or even to remember that I can ask for help.  I do better nowadays than I did when I was younger.  In practice, lonely is more an issue for when I go into the pit, than it is for the grey.  With the grey, I’m better off not having to talk with anyone.

Angry. A friend of mine told me not long ago that she sometimes had to switch off outrageous news because she’d get so angry she’d want to punch the TV — but for me the pattern is explode then implode — & this pattern holds whether its people I know, or people in the news: if I go into a rage about it, I’m immediately on dangerous ground.  I like to be informed, but I always have to take care not to spend too much attention on political or other types of news that makes me angry & outraged, because pretty soon it turns into a sense of futility & helplessness, thence to depression.   I’m not a particularly optimistic person, & have to work pretty damn hard to find  happy happy joy joy to begin with — & seldom find any of that in politics or news.

I should add that I don’t think explode & keep exploding to be any more healthy or helpful a pattern than explode then implode.  Just read some of the reader comments at the Anchorage Daily News website on any story that is the least bit controversial: is all that apoplexy good for anyone‘s blood pressure?

Hungry. This is the last one for me that fell into place, just in the past four years, prompted by my mother’s death from heart-related complications of diabetes. I already knew I was prediabetic, but I hadn’t really done anything about it; but after she did I went all geeky on the nutrition thing & completely overhauled my diet, stopped eating (mostly) refined carbohydrates, moved gradually to a carb-restricted diet (moderate carbs usually; very low carb during major fat-shedding times).

This is not just being hungry in the moment: it’s about all the factors having to do with I am a body not just a mind — that without my body, I would have no mind, no spirit. And the body needs to be properly sustained. Thus, not just food itself, but the right kinds of food; and also all the other stuff that goes into making the body healthy. So I think of it as including exercise: exercise isn’t eating, duh, but it does “feed” the body’s desire/need to be active, which is a kind of hunger.

5-HTP  capped it as the last element (that I know of right now) for handing my depression: since I started taking it May 1998, I’ve not once gone into the pit. I have gone into the grey — obviously, since that’s where I am now — but usually only when I’ve forgotten to take the 5-HTP for a couple of weeks (because I’ve always been lousy at remembering to take daily supplements) & then I’m hit by something that challenges me. But usually all I have to do now to get back out of the grey is to pay attention to the other elements of HALT, & start taking the 5-HTP again. I’m usually out in a day or two, where it used to take me as long as a month to get out of a grey.

But — I haven’t been missing out on the 5-HTP over the past few weeks, so it’s not the problem this time.  This time seems to be about tired.  I’m a night owl, & often have difficulty sending myself to bed at a reasonable hour — like almost every day last week, so that by Saturday I was fairly leached out.  Slept in & vegged out both Sunday & Monday: it hasn’t yet turned the trick.  And so, grey, & a bit of a headache too.

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on. Blah. More sleep. And maybe up the 5-HTP for a few days. Tomorrow I’ll feel better. I hope.

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