Earlier this week, I was watching a video game critic’s deep-dive analysis of The Last of Us Part II. For the non-gamers of the world, The Last of Us is a two-part video game series created by the publishing company Naughty Dog. It’s part shooter, part survival horror, and part grim post-apocalyptic role playing game (RPG). The story is set in an America in which a fungal-based pandemic has turned people into zombie-like monsters. I could gush about this game and my favorite RPGs in general, but I’m going to pull my nerd back in and get to the point of this blog post.
The speaker in that video said something profound which really struck me. In the context of the video, the speaker was talking about how he was expecting the next conflict in the game to come from outside (e.g. the people who are looking to kill you) rather than from the inside. Towards the end of the game, the main character Ellie relives some of her trauma from the first and second game and is suffering from survivor’s guilt and PTSD. She is in a dark place full of self-hatred, pain, and regret. Another character comes to her with some information that sparks her revenge quest once again. The video goes on to analyze Ellie’s decision in the context of mental health, but the insight that he had about depression has never rung truer in my heart.
“She [Ellie] has everything she needs to be happy except the ability to accept her place in [life]. […] That’s the thing about depression. You know very well what you ought to do, but it seems impossible to do it. […] Depression can come and go in waves, but it is a disease of perception, and in the pit of it, there’s no clarity and no peace about who you are or why you are alive.” — Noah Caldwell-Gervais
I’ve been depressed this past week. My depression isn’t something that flicks on like a light. Rather, it comes on like a storm. It’s like the type of storm that you can see drifting in across the Great Plains on Doppler Radar. The forecast might call for some rainy days ahead, but that requires that you pay attention to the weather. This time around, I wasn’t paying attention.
The worst of it came around the 4th of July holiday. I didn’t have a bad holiday. I helped my dad clean cabins at the resort, I taught my sister’s boyfriend how to fish for crappie, and I kayaked down the Namekagon River with my husband’s family. That’s the thing with depression. Nothing has to “spark it.” Of course, something can but it’s not required, and I find the inexplicable depressive episodes are the most frustrating because I don’t know why I’m feeling like crap. There’s nothing I can really do to feel better. I cannot “make” myself feel happy. I just have to ride out the storm.
I still biked while dealing with this. Granted, it wasn’t as much as I wanted but nothing ever is when you’re depressed. I didn’t go outside and walk around or hike, and I haven’t done bodyweight workouts since the end of June. (I’ll get back to that tomorrow). My readers might say, “Well physical exercise helps with depression” and it absolutely does, but sometimes biking and taking my medicine are not enough to outrun the storm. The storm’s still a’coming but now I have an umbrella and a raincoat so I’ll only be slightly miserable.
I started thinking about this because I biked another 50K today and even after finishing the final The Dresden Files collection of novellas and finishing a 90 minute podcast, I still had some time to let my mind wander. I thought about why I was biking. Yes, it’s to train for the Kortelopet, but why did I set a goal to bike 2,000 miles by Dec. 31st? (And that tone isn’t a “why me … why did I set such lofty expectations,” it’s more of “what is the purpose of this goal in my life and in the grand scheme of the universe?”) I realized that the motivation behind biking these distances is similar to ultra-marathon runners. Some of us bike/run because the physical pain of doing something that “crazy” will never hurt as much as depression. I bike because the meditative motion of pedaling and keeping a nice cadence (speed) is a way healthier form of therapy than numbing my pain with food, alcohol, or drugs. But that doesn’t stop the nihilism from sinking in.
For a Type-A person, my nihilism doesn’t get as bad as the literal meaning of the word (the rejection of religion and authority; the belief that life is meaningless). Instead my nihilism manifests itself as “nothing is ever good enough.” That’s the mentality I’ve been fighting against. It’s not even that I “can’t” do it. I can. I will. I do.
But my depression-brain kicks in and sarcastically says: “Awesome, you biked 50k today…What a casual. If you were a real cyclist, you’d be doing 100k all day, every day.”
Depression brain says, “Oh, you lost 10 pounds since April. That’s cool but you’ve lost zero pounds since mid-June when your bike broke. You’ve been hovering in the 240s for a long time. Are you even serious about your training?”
Depression brain also says, “Oh I see you’re feeling pretty good about your body image today. Let me remind you that your gut still droops over your waistband. You look like you breastfed three children despite the fact that you don’t have children.”
I’ve worked through my depression brain with a therapist. Now I just acknowledge that these are my thoughts instead of obsessing about them in a recursive cycle of thinking, but that doesn’t stop those thoughts from happening.
I don’t even know what I need to stop those thoughts and to get out of this depression. Validation? Praise? Tough love? After years of work on myself, I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I know that I’m awesome. I can recognize my good qualities and boast about them without feeling like I’m a braggart. I know I’m not a piece of crap. I know I’m loved. I know I’m supported. I know I’m a role-model to others. I know my life has purpose.
Maybe another 50K on Friday will help me answer those questions and find a new perspective.