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Out of Gas on Metaphor Highway

13 May

Myth 150Imagine your willpower as a car that you drive to get from place to place, and that your destinations are anything that you might want to do with your life. Something simple, like making a sandwich or getting dressed, is a quick jaunt to the corner store. Something a bit more involved, like training for a marathon or writing a novel, is a cross-country trip. If you need to do anything, no matter how trivial, it’s going to involve getting into your car and going for a drive. Why? Because for the purposes of this metaphor, life is one big Los Angeles freeway.

Some people have souped-up roadsters that are just a pleasure to drive. These are your go-getters, your Type A personalities. They have no problem with getting things done; they just get into their cars, listen to it purr and suddenly they’re at their destination. These folks are rare, and most of us have no idea how they do what they do because their cars are so awesome it just doesn’t register. Most of us are in Fords and Toyotas. These guys are in Ferraris.

But even for those of us in econo-boxes, it’s not so bad. As long as we give our cars enough fuel and take care of them, we can get most of the places we need to go. A particularly arduous trip might tax our reserves if we hadn’t prepared well, or it turns out to be more difficult than we anticipated. But running out of gas almost never happens. When it does…you know how much of a hassle it can be.

Suddenly the car that you use to get everywhere has become this two-ton burden that you have to look after. You can’t leave it on the side of the road, unlocked and vulnerable. So you have to push it to the nearest gas station and that’s no picnic. It takes all of your energy just to move it, and the moment there’s even a small obstacle, like a bend in the road or an upward incline, well that’s it — it’s just impossible.

This is what happens when you’re depressed. Your brain, the thing you rely on to get things done, suddenly runs out of fuel and forces you to drag it along with you to accomplish anything. When it’s really bad — when your mood is completely depleted — just getting out of bed and making yourself presentable enough to go outside is a massive undertaking.

For most of us this only ever happens once or twice, and usually after a traumatic event that saps us. You’re already running dangerously low, and it’s easy to get caught on the road when your fuel just runs out. For those of us with chronic depression, though, this is a constant worry. Let’s look at it this way: there’s something wrong with the fuel lines in our cars, so a full tank of gas doesn’t get us nearly as far as it does most people. Our gauges are faulty, so we’re never quite sure how full our gas tank is. And as a result, we get caught on the road on the way to somewhere, suddenly empty.

There are ways to manage the issue. We patch up the holes with duct tape and sealant, but it’s not a perfect solution. We need to re-apply it every day, and watch for times when the solution we’ve found is not working as well as it once did. If we think we can go a few days without re-applying the fix, the chances that we find ourselves stranded dramatically increase.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about drugs here. If you’re anti-depressants, take them. If you think you’d be fine without them, talk to your doctor before doing so. You might think you’re fine, but remember that your gauge is faulty; it helps to have a mechanic come in to verify that the ‘trouble’ light really should be off.

This is what happened to me, and why I’ve been suddenly incommunicado for the past several weeks. I thought I was all right, even with a number of stresses piling up on me, and stopped taking my anti-depressants for a while. And before I knew it, all of those destructive loops, anxieties and mood crashes hit me again. I wasn’t prepared for it, and just like that it was all that I could do to deal with work and other obligations. Things like blogging and writing were completely out of the question. Fuel was gone as soon as I got it.

So the car’s been in the garage for a while; I’ve been steadily bringing it back to health, and taking it out on short runs to work or to a role-playing game I run a few times a month, but that’s it. Gradually, as I grow more confident that I can take it places without it leaving me stranded, I’ll be trying to do more again. But I’ll have to be careful. I don’t want to push myself too much and get myself into trouble.

So if I’m a little irregular around these parts, or I drop an entry or two, that’s likely why — I’m saving my precious willpower for something that’s a bit higher on the necessity scale. But I’ll definitely be trying to update as regularly as I can, to fill this space with my thoughts on movies and storytelling, with bits of fiction here and there.

If you have a faulty fuel line like me, please make sure you stay on top of its maintenance. It’s so easy to get yourself in trouble, especially when you feel like you’re fine. And if you know someone with a faulty fuel line, please be patient with them. Not only is there an issue with their brain, there’s an issue with their brain monitoring; things can look awfully distorted in the middle of a problem, and it’s not always easy to navigate. Just point us in the right direction, support us where you can, trust us to eventually figure out that our gauge is steering us awry.

I’ve been dealing with chronic depression for my entire life, but I’ve only actually been managing it for about five years. My recent adventures in self-medicating tells me that I’ll need to manage it for the rest of my life. Some days, this bums me out. I mean, who wouldn’t want a Ferrari that purrs like a kitten and leaps when you tap the pedal? But the fact is, I have an econo-box with a busted fuel line, and it will require vigilance to make sure it performs as well as it can. The act of maintaining it teaches me patience, acceptance and to look for joy in the unlikeliest of places. With the right attitude, my broken-down little car can be the very thing that forces me to find new ways to get where I want to go.

 

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