August came early this year. Most years, I have one bad depressive episode from December to about February, and another in August.
Last year I went on holiday in December, but I didn’t really escape it. When I am depressed I am quite a different person — more stereotypically male, actually: my emotional range is limited to numbness/detachment and shades of anger from peeved to enraged.
I came back in January needing to pack up my stuff and find a place to live in Canberra, but instead, I froze. Eventually I got moving again, booked a trip up to check out places with a friend of a friend, but it fell through.
Finally I did what I should have done to begin with — put a call out through my aunty network — and pretty quickly found somewhere lovely.
Then I needed to pack up my apartment, where I’d been living for eight years, one cat, two long relationships, one lovely flatmate and three terrible ones. I was still feeling pretty numb but now I really needed to get shit done, so I pushed through it.
Stephanie Convery had put me onto The Life-Changing Joy of Tidying Up. Reader, I Marie Kondo’d my house move. There’s a great line of Brené Brown’s — “some people say ‘life’s messy — love it’, I say, ‘life’s messy, clean it up, organise it, and put it into a bento box.'”
I did that. I wound up moving thirteen boxes, of which five were kitchen stuff, and I went from a whole apartment down to a room (and an office). And I haven’t missed anything.
But I’d also decided I didn’t want to bring any of my emotional to-do list items with me.
Some items were pretty funny. I shipped my ex minus one’s leather gear, which he’d been too embarrassed to bring home on the plane in case his luggage got x-rayed at customs.
I filleted an incredible personal archive of notes and working documents from five jobs. I know people experience me as hypercritical but that’s nothing compared to how I view my own work, so that felt like a fifteen year retrospective of professional failure. At one point I was thinking about doing my PhD on my own practice as represented in that archive — thankfully, my unconscious apparently recognised that as a stupid idea and I designed a project that looks forward and seeks to understand what’s happening now. Much easier!
I took 14 years of tax returns into H&R Block. My delay in sorting them out had made my last partner so uncomfortable he’d started talking about ending our relationship. Having grown up with a parent who constantly narrated our income insecurity, dealing with money ratchets my anxiety levels up to eleven. I don’t even claim expenses back.
I bought about five different kinds of hard disk interface to move all my files off about four different computers so I wasn’t lugging around old hardware.
People scoff at Kondo’s advice to keep nothing that doesn’t spark joy when you handle it. But the body knows. You may not be able to reason or recall why, but your emotional brain remembers and you feel it as emotion, or prickling skin, or a cold pit in your stomach.
The danger is getting overwhelmed, though. That’s certainly what happened to me. I had about ten days to get myself packed up before the move. I had to keep moving, keep packing, drop a Codral Original and a strong cup of coffee, 20 hours a day for 10 days.
In March and April there was a fair bit of numbness and in May it all came unstuck. All that unprocessed excavation in my emotional archaeology had caught up with me.
There was some physical issue as well — I’d been to the doctor and I was very anaemic. I thought this was the return of a blood disorder I’d lived with in my twenties and early thirties and I completely froze up. (It has turned out to be a gallbladder issue.)
Getting unstuck again took about two months. Apart from getting every pathology test under the sun, I got a mental health care plan from my GP to access counselling via the Better Access program. That turned out to be a waste of time; the gap fee I was quoted for assessment, in line with the Australian Psychological Society’s recommended fee schedule, amounts to a quarter of my fortnightly income.
Things that helped: my supervisor being supportive and super-chill about it; lots of movies with Zoe and Owy; finding a new meditation group at, ironically, the temple just across the road from my house; learning how to get protein without eating meat; applying for funding for field work got me excited again about the project I’d designed; blogging here about fairly simple stuff helped to get the words flowing again.
I’m writing this because I talk all the time with friends living with the same and more serious issues and I want you/us to know: we’re not uncommon, unusual, or alone.