(content warning: depression, of course)
I’ve been depressed at least twice now, separately. (I might still be. This one seems to come in waves; Sep-Nov pretty bad, Dec good, Jan-Mar awful, Apr bad, May good, June bad. We’ll see about July.) I suppose that means it might come back. I would like to have the following:
- a way to know if I’m depressed
- a way to tell how depressed I am
- a way to communicate how depressed I am
3 is especially important because some of my loved ones who aren’t depressed seem not to understand that there even are more than two levels: “mildly depressed but basically fine” and “suicidal”1. So here’s my attempt2 to describe some of the levels for me.
First, a concept: Same Valence Re-experiencing
(this section is mostly a condensed repetition of Fast Forward Time)
There’s all kinds of ways to think about feelings, and obviously “sad” is not the same as “bad.” Lots of days bring difficult emotions, but at the end of the day I’m glad to have gone through them, so I can’t just say “feeling sad means I’m depressed.” And some days are tough but bring good consequences; final exams, say. But one way I have to evaluate my current state that seems pretty hard to be mistaken about is simply: “Do I want more of this?”
A thought experiment: Let’s say you’re going to live to 90 years old. If you could have one more day, so your life span is now 90 years + 1 day, and this extra day would be tomorrow and would have the same valence and consequences as today, would you do it?
Roughly equivalently IMO: let’s say we’re all in The Matrix, and you have the option to spin up a second copy of yourself and have that copy re-experience today. Would you do it?
I think most people who aren’t depressed would say yes most of the time.
Alternately, do you want less of your life? If you could cut out the next day or week or month so that you just wake up tomorrow and it’s N days later (but not like Rip Van Winkle; you had lived normally and done normal things, you just didn’t experience it), would you?
Anyway, on to depression levels:
These are mostly cumulative - if I’m at level N, I’m experiencing most of level 1…N-1 also.
Level 1: mildly depressed, or “cold depression”
- Feeling kind of blah and aimless, “what am I doing with my life?”
- Feeling always tired, taking forever to wake up
- Feeling like I’ve always been depressed (Superb Owl gives a great description of this)
- Many days thinking “I would not Same Valence Re-experience today.”
Level 2: “hot depression”
- “Running out of swear words” - cursing under my breath at something but every foul word I can think of doesn’t come close to expressing how much I hate it
- Sometimes leaving my house to go to the garage and scream
- Sometimes riding my bike to places I can scream (here’s a couple in SF3, I still have to find my scream spots in Pittsburgh)
- Having an interaction with a car that goes not-awesome, and having the thought “I hope they just run me over” or “I hope they’re one of these whackos who has a gun and shoots me out of road rage.” This thought passes in a matter of minutes and I never act on it.
- Upper middle back pain tends to act up somewhere between stage 1 and 2
- Many days I wouldn’t Same Valence Re-experience, and I would in fact like to fast-forward.
- Journaling angry things just so I don’t say them aloud
Level 3: “uncontrolled hot depression”
- Picking fights more at people in cars. Like, telling someone off for parking in a bike lane or passing me too close. I don’t perform aggression besides yelling, but even that can escalate a situation more than is healthy.
- Sometimes yelling in my house. Not at anyone; sometimes at an object that breaks or at an external issue. But it still makes me unpleasant, and even a little scary, to be around.
- I’d like to fast forward longer periods of time; weeks or months. I would pay a lot not to Same Valence Re-experience these days (e.g. I’d give up a few days of lifespan in order to avoid doing one of these days.)
- Journal starts to look like a crazy person’s writing it, lots of scratches, hard presses, streams of curses
Level 4: “beginning escapism”
- Fantasies of escaping my current situation begin: “what if I quit everything and moved to Wyoming?” These are not well-thought-out; they’re kind of just soothing daydreams.
- Not really thoughts of self-harm, but thoughts of “it sure would be nice if I didn’t wake up tomorrow”
- I’d love to fast forward months or years, for sure.
- This starts to feel cooler again - the heat of stages 2-3 is wearing off. Too worn down to be angry.
- Journaling becomes mostly repetitive and exhausted stuff, not angry stuff.
This is as low as I’ve gone, thank goodness, but it’s awful! The rest is conjecture; there may be more to it than this; I hope I don’t find out:
Level 5: “no really, escapism”
- actually considering suicide, or rash life decisions like moving to Wyoming
Level 6: “escape logistics”
- um, “suicidal-with-a-plan”, the kind of thing where you’d get involuntarily committed depending on where you went and what you said
Level 7: “even lower than that”
That’s all the levels I can think of. Of course, the experience is not really this linear. But it at least helps me place myself, and maybe will give me some language when talking with family.
Levels 3+ start creating epicycles too; like, I’m pissed off, I yell at my wife, now I’m pissed off and now I have to deal with the fact that I yelled at her. Or, I’m talking with my mom and she gets worried in a way I don’t like, so I have to backpedal and pretend I’m not feeling as bad as I am.
I guess I’m saying, it is a huge benefit to go from level 3 to level 2, or 2 to 1. Almost like this stuff is logarithmic.
Not blaming them! I think this is how it’s described in pop culture, and if your mind, heart, and body haven’t been to this place, I can see how it’d be really hard to understand! ↩︎
This is about attempt #5 and I’m still not happy with it but I gotta get this post out there eventually! ↩︎
I guess I can’t link to tweets and count on them being accessible anymore? gosh. Gosh. well. here’s what I said in that tweet: 1. biking on a loud st (San Jose Ave btwn Bernal/Glen Park, or Cesar Chavez) 2. towards water, with few people (warm water cove park) 3. walking around SOMA, not really but kinda ↩︎
Tweet from someone I don’t know, text: “I just saw the “anti-depressants are dangerous, they come with a warning about increased suicidal thoughts” take AGAIN and it appears that people in this Year of Our Lord 2023 don’t understand that this is actually a common thing that happens when depression starts to get better. [CW suicide] People don’t understand that “I want to die” isn’t the lowest point a person can hit. There’s a level below that, which is “I would want to die if my brain could function enough to want ANYTHING” and a very dangerous stage where you rise UP TO that level.” ↩︎
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