Thoughts on Reyas

Thinking about how my moods tend to cycle, and why.

I'm at AGDQ, but I'm reflecting on why and how my depressive/anxious moods tend to come about, and I think I've hit on something. This is more for me than it is for you, but I think having people talk about mental health stuff openly has helped me feel more comfortable with myself, so I'll share my thoughts with you.

Over the course of last year, I noticed a cycle that goes something like this, one revolution of which just happened over the last few weeks:

  1. Normal happy fun Reya
  2. Something bad happens
  3. Have a bad week
  4. Try to heal through it
  5. Succeed... kinda.
  6. Devolve into an anxious breakdown over the course of the next month or two
  7. Things help temporarily but don't cure it
  8. Suddenly it's fixed?
  9. Repeat

I'll need to pay closer attention to this to be absolutely certain. But I think what's happening is this.

  1. My default state. I'm a pretty cheerful gal, honestly! I smile or laugh at just about anything, it's rare for me not to enjoy something. And since it's so easy to cheer me up, nothing can keep me down as long as the world tone is fully saturated and brightened. After a lot of work, my internal narrative is usually cheerful and confident.
  2. But then I take enough damage that I can't just grin my way through it. Maybe something hits a weak point, or I try to do something that goes against my normal ways, and it goes wrong. I internalize that thought - the thought that I am not a good person by my own standards - and the world tone loses a little of its color and a little of its brightness. Just enough to take away my invincibility.
  3. Now that I've internalized something, I'm actually hurt, and I have to spend a few days being angry and sad and dealing with those emotions.
  4. ... But mostly by distracting myself, and talking to friends. It's rare for me to successfully locate and address the mean thing that I'm saying about myself. Before starting my mindfulness practice, I tried to stop those thoughts from appearing at all. After starting my mindfulness practice, I tend to say "It's just a thought, let's focus on what's going on". Neither addresses the thought, although the latter is certainly better than the former (which makes things worse).
  5. Distracting from the bad feelings is good enough temporarily. But the world tone is still changed - my internal narrative is now paranoid, and trots out every awful thing I've ever thought about myself whenever meeting with the slightest resistance. Again, I'll try to resist or ignore these awful thoughts, but I never try to counter them with positivity. As that's now the dominant narrative in my head, I believe them just a little more each time, and the world keeps getting darker and grayer.
  6. As I start taking every stubbed toe as a sign that I'm Just Not Cut Out For Walking, I become increasingly needy and uninterested in my usual activities. Which are now increasingly upsetting because they involve minor resistance, which reminds me of the bad story I'm telling about myself. Even the victories I can no longer enjoy, because they don't fit in to that story. I start becoming reliant on time with friends to make me feel better, because that's what they did when I was in trouble. But, eventually, I start noticing (or making up) small resistances there, too, so that I can keep telling the self-hating story that I've been telling all the time. I start to convince myself that the reason my friends can no longer meet my emotional needs is because they don't like me anymore. And, eventually, the world tone goes completely black, and I convince myself they're going to leave. And since I've lost the joy in my normal life and they're all I have left, I freak out completely and make a major, explicit call for help.
  7. The resulting rush of love and support helps... for a little while. But no amount of external love can fix internal hate. I slide right back into the mud as soon as the flow of attention stops.
  8. Devastated that I wasn't somehow magically fixed by this and too ashamed to ask for help again, I decide that I can't show my face around here anymore, my only recourse left is to run away and get a new life, since I'm gonna need it. And that DOES magically fix me, because in releasing my death grip on what I believe to be my only support system, I'm able to reach for what makes me happy again and let go of my laser focus on every little bit of trouble - and I have to admit that I'm not as fragile and useless as I've been telling myself. Like... out of spite, I start telling a positive story about myself, or something. Riding on a wave of self-empowerment, the world tone slowly shifts back to bright and colorful.
  9. And so it goes and so it stays... until the next time something terrible happens.

So what do I do about this? Be vigilant to negative internal stories about myself, especially after taking a heavy hit. (And not just in the immediate moments after the blow, but much afterward, too.) Willfully and intentionally replace them with positive stories before returning my focus to the world I'm in. And head off the crash by noticing when I'm in that slow death spiral and taking some time away to fully invest in myself, so that I don't need to self-destruct and be put back together even once.

Anyway, thanks for reading.