Starting over, habits, and the futility of depression

So it’s the time of year where productivity bloggers (and language bloggers!) write ambitious, encouraging posts advising all of us who are thinking about grand projects, habits, processes, and systems. It can all be pretty exciting. I often love things like this guidebook on New Year’s resolutions. I’m thinking about what I want to do for 2015, too, though I’m not sure if I’m going to state any goals here (I know that public accountability is supposed to be very effective, but I castigate myself enough for failure without adding a public shame factor into the mix).

One thing I do know from experience is that habits and systems will falter sometimes: because we are human, because sometimes life just gets in the way. And what happens then is crucial to whatever project you’re working on. Are you able to put your lapse behind you and dive back into your daily routine when needed? For me, starting things can be difficult, but starting again is even worse, despite knowing intellectually it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.

Still, as a person with depression, the whole mantra about starting over (and over and over) sometimes can trigger me into a real panic. There have been so many times I’ve had to restart a project, a commitment, seemingly my whole life because depression has sidelined me. There just isn’t anything else to do. I can’t just stop breathing, so… I have to pick myself back up again and step forward, even if everything inside me is screaming against it. Even when I’m so afraid that I can’t think straight.

But you know what? That doesn’t feel triumphant to me, or some evidence of how dogged and strong I must be. It plunges me into despair: that no matter how hard I try, I keep ending up at this point that feels like, well, very close to the end. That I’m so bad at living, and at making my brain hate me less, that I even have to be in the position where I have to keep starting over and over. This is not being upset over ruining a streak on Duolingo. This is feeling like my fundamental status as a human being is irredeemably impossibly broken.

Lots of people are putting up “2014 year in review” posts, and the idea of reading any of them, much less trying to do one of my own, just… trips some switch in my brain that makes me feel like all I did this past year was fuck things up, repeatedly. I know there are concrete achievements I could list, like getting up somewhere between a solid B1 and the start of the long road to B2 in German, reading three Harry Potter books in French, doing however many Anki reviews/lessons in Duolingo (… not to mention starting this blog, for whatever that’s worth).

But that feels so horrifyingly insignificant when compared with how much failure I had in my life in general this year. I mean, if nothing else, if I hadn’t lost so many hours to depression and anxiety, who knows, I might’ve been able to get up to B2, right? Not to mention everything else that wouldn’t have suffered — I would trade in all those accomplishments in a second to avoid all that really hard stuff, the things I regret spending my energy and heart on, the health problems, etc.

I don’t know how to reconcile what I can intellectually understand as the soundness of starting over (as well as the inevitability of it, for anyone) with how it can also make me feel like I’m beyond hope and stuck in a failure loop. Hope in itself can be dangerous when I’m super-depressed: hope that maybe I’ve moved a little bit forward, that maybe things have changed, feels so bitterly foolish when I have another crash.

I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Tell me how you try to deal with it, please?

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5 comments

  1. I have come to see the hope and energy of the new year, or coming out of a downswing, sort of like having a crush on a celebrity: you know you’re definitely *not* going to get with the celebrity, so you try to use that little bit of positive energy however you can without pinning any hope of a specific outcome on it. It’s weird, but I’ve come to the point where I can get in the inevitable loop of making big plans and then telling myself “You know you’re not going to do any of that, right, because you never follow through on any of those plans, because you fail at things?” and I can interrupt that to say, “Okay, yeah, I definitely won’t, but if I can do SOME of that? That will still be good! It’s only bad if you compare it to arrogant internet people, or the imaginary me who lives in a house with no clutter and eats like Gwyneth Paltrow.”

    I know that I can get derailed over and over and over again and still write a novel, or still learn a language. I know that I can berate myself for failure and still be making progress that adds up even if I can’t see, right then, how it adds up.

    And then I listen to Bump of Chicken singing “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it doesn’t matter how many times you get lost, you can still go anywhere even if you’re lost the whole time,” and if I don’t quite believe it, then I can still believe that I can fit a lot of progress in the spaces when I’m not so lost or fallen-down that I’m not going forward. (And you can, and have! My little sister has lived in France for YEARS and never read a novel in French! I have had the Chinese translation of Harry Potter for ten years and not made it past the first chapter!)

    Liked by 1 person

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