“You’re so negative about yourself. It disturbs me… If you’re positive you will feel/act, BE positive…and that will affect your life in positive ways.”
When I take the time to think about things after such episodes, I can sort of generally and vaguely pinpoint a couple of triggers. This time around, I could immediately identify the final trigger but it was minor and didn’t seem to explain the gargantuan force and weight of this particular mood.
And so later, when I started breathing air again and could think more clearly, I thought it might be helpful if I once and for all started identifying precursors to my episodes, and then set down in ink the types of circumstances, events, behaviors and circular reasoning that slowly build and culminate into tsunamis of depression that have me sleeping on my couch for two days. Maybe, I thought, if I wrote this type of thing down here, on this forum, it might also help others understand the very subtle events as well as bizarre interpretations which can cause someone like me to go from a week of ok-ness -and even nascent hope – to a total white-out of those fleeting lights.
Anyone who’s participated in a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) program, or a treatment center that employs this modality (and most of them do these days), has likely been asked to perform what’s called a “Behavior Chain Analysis.” This is an exercise, developed by DBT founder Marsha Linehan, intended to help clients gain more awareness into the string of events, thoughts and emotions that lead up to one’s acting out on a “problem behavior” – such as substance abuse or an eating disorder – as the professionals so empathetically [read: sarcasm] like to call such actions. (A more apt and less shame-inducing label for these behaviors, I believe, might be “coping behavior.”) I realized this “Behavior Chain Analysis” exercise could be just as easily translated to dissecting depression – and hopefully therefore help me ward off that Black Hole which seems to always lurk around the corner, ready to swallow me up. Particularly since such episodes do, for me, sometimes end in a “problem behavior” – such as not eating, or having three drinks instead of one (enough to get me drunk), or – worst of all –me sending off a nasty email to a loved one which attacks and hurts them in ways they least deserve.
Above you see a diagram summarizing the main components of a Behavior Chain Analysis. Normally, when performing this exercise, clients are instructed to describe each component in painstaking detail. For the sake of time, space and your attention span (which is probably already waning), however, I will attempt to provide a briefer dissection for you, saving the more detailed version for myself.
THE LINKS THAT FORMED THE CHAIN
It was a Friday, and I think first and foremost, the fact that I was physically exhausted and completely run-down from sleep-deprivation, dehydration, working late into the night (because that’s when my mind is at it its quietest, self-hate-wise), and probably not eating enough the two days prior put me in a high state of both physical and emotional vulnerability.
There were also a variety of emotional stressors – some recognized, some not – that had been accumulating that week, including a few days of extremely high anxiety induced by a literal $0.00 bank account balance as I waited my SSDI check. While my family eventually helped me out a bit so I could get by until Friday, that stress took its toll – including the shame that came with taking additional money from my family, who are already helping pay part of my rent. Then there were the sort of vague, suppressed, unnamed emotions that had been circulating around in my mind – the links, so to speak: humiliation and rejection prompted by few visitors to my Web site last week – nor anybody’s efforts (save my mother’s) to share the site with others. There was also nearly no response to an email I sent out to about 70 people about a subscription option for notifications related to this Web site. Then there were the three close friends – or so I thought – who had failed to even acknowledge, “like” or comment on the Web site that I’d been subconsciously fretting about for weeks. This all just exacerbated the lurking suspicion I had that only a few, kind-hearted friends and family members were visiting the site out of pity, posting comments merely to make me feel better, but that nobody really took it seriously.
And I want it taken seriously. It’s not just a “blog” to me, you see; it’s my attempt – however unlikely – to reclaim some journalistic or at least writerly legitimacy.
When I finally got home from all the errands I had to run Friday (because my SSDI money finally came in), it was about 7 p.m., and I simply didn’t have the energy to make dinner, since dinner – and it’s clean-up – takes me forever (the eating disorder thing). And so I had a drink – ok, actually, I had two, because I was unusually anxious and demoralized – and I had the drinks on an empty stomach as well. I did make some coffee and snack a little here and there, but I didn’t consume the actual meal I usually do to prevent my buzz from lasting more than an hour or so.
In short, both my physical and emotional vulnerability – the first realm diagrammed above –was, as you can see, rather high Friday night.
As I was putting away food and household essentials I’d gone days without, making coffee, and “snacking,” I also had Bill Maher on in the background. All of a sudden I see Ben Affleck getting into a heated debate with Maher and some other guy about the portrayal of Muslims. I was interested in the debate but what moved me was Affleck’s passion – and the fact that he had a huge audience of cable viewers before which he could express that passion. I started stewing a little – not too much, but a little – over the fact that I’ll never have that kind of platform, much less an audience beyond my tiny circle of friends and family, because I’m “mentally ill,” poor, and not famous. I started internally muttering about how unfair it was that simply money, celebrity or sociopolitical power gives someone a voice in today’s world, regardless of their intelligence or credentials (don’t get me wrong, I think Affleck deserves his platform – but a lot of others who have a Voice our society don’t.) I started remembering how powerless and voiceless I am, in this world, and those feelings as well as some anger about this blended in with all the others that had been floating in my brain the past few days.
And then came the final trigger, or “prompting event,” as DBT lingo puts it: A dear friend – and the only person to do so, on top of it – purposely unsucbscribed from the site’s email list – even though no one I’d sent the aforementioned email to was subscribed in the first place, as I had explained in the note. I happened upon this discovery by mistake. I was simply checking MailChimp (the free, online subscription platform) – which I was still familiarizing myself with – clicked some button, and saw a newsfeed of sorts. Which is where I saw my friend listed as the only unscriber, and since she has a photo linked to her email address, her face was there staring out at me as well. To me, at the time, the message was loud and clear. My friend was looking me in the eye and screaming, “Stop bothering me with your silly, amateur (not to mention pathetically sad) Web site already!!!” And she was screaming this as a representative for all the 70 people I’d sent the notification to. Thus confirming, without a doubt, that my Web site was widely seen as a joke.