53. Energy and Depression

I’ve continued to wonder what other messages need to get out there to help others to understand depression. One more thing that I think needs further explanation is the issue of energy.

Think of how much energy you actually have in a day. It’s not something we usually think about, isn’t it? In most cases, energy is highest in the morning after breakfast, and by the end of the day, energy is the lowest. Though in most desk-bound jobs, that is probably untrue – energy is the lowest about 30 minutes after lunch.

But to a large extent, that energy is within our control. No matter how much of a lunch coma we’re in, if something excites us, we manage to draw on our energy reserves. Even if we’re tired, we can still find energy and time for a jog, or to meet up with friends. As busy people, somehow we always find time to squeeze in just one more activity before we sleep. Maybe catch another Pokemon, or chat with a friend.

But for depression sufferers, energy is something we struggle with.

I’ve mentioned this in my post about the paradoxes of depression, but I think it warrants its own post. The spoons analogy by Christine Miserandino does a good job as one analogy of how the energy system works. Since I can’t reproduce her words without permission, please do click through and read her article. It only takes at most 5 minutes. I’ll wait.

There’re a few things that I want to highlight from her analogy.

  1. Everything requires energy.Every action that we do requires energy. A healthy person has less problems because energy is not really an issue. If you need more energy, drink a coffee! Eat a bagel! But everything – from brushing teeth to simply walking out the door requires energy.
  2. Energy is at a premium. Energy is super limited.Energy for depression sufferers starts off at a premium. From the moment we wake up, we are at a precariously low energy level. If the level dips below a threshold, we start getting all the depressive symptoms flaring up, including suicidal tendencies. We keep having to monitor our energy levels because of this.
  3. Social interactions require more energy than other activities.This should strike a chord with most introverts! But seriously, talking takes energy. Thinking of something to talk about takes energy. Social graces (please and thank you) require energy. Eating without being sloppy requires energy. Dressing up requires energy. Travel to a social interaction requires energy. Have you started to see a pattern yet?

    Sufferers of depression don’t shun social interactions and engagements just because we prefer to be alone. The energy expenditure on one single social interaction is actually appallingly high and with already little energy to start with, imagine the stress that an impending social interaction can bring.

    Please don’t force a depression sufferer to mingle. Or *gasp* make small talk.

  4. We don’t have a ready source of energy.For most healthy people, caffeine and sugar work as boosts. For depression sufferers, sometimes they help. Sometimes they make symptoms worse. We also have to watch what we eat in case it causes us to have negative body images which further fuels the depression. I rely on chocolate bars, but sometimes, nothing short of banging into bed and staring at the wall for hours works.
  5. We don’t *know* what will take away our energy.Despite all that’s been said, sometimes, we just don’t know when we’ll get hit by a sudden crash of energy. The spoon analogy is really good because, you know what, sometimes, someone just reaches out and takes away a spoon without even knowing how they did it. And there’s no why. Or how. It just happens in depression.
  6. So please understand that we have to think through every action.We’re not exaggerating. Or trying to make ourselves look like we are prima donnas. We really really have to plan our energy use to stay safe. If we have suicidal tendencies, staying safe needs at least 1 or 2 spoons in reserve. We already have less spoons to start with, and we have to reserve spoons so we don’t end up harming ourselves!
  7. When we choose not to spend time with you, it’s not that you’re not important enough to us.It’s probably more of a case where we simply don’t have the energy to spend time with you, and stay safe. And if we have to work, that takes away a huge bulk of our energy reserves, and that usually means, home and comfort food right after. Every. Single. Work. Day.

    Winding down also requires energy by the way.

  8. But when we choose to spend time with you, it’s not a sacrifice on our part.When we do choose to spend time with someone, we’ve already done up all the sums in our head, and we’re prepared to expend that energy. It’s not a sacrifice, but rather something that we probably enjoy, and are willing to do. Please don’t make a big deal of it, but at the same time, we value you, or we would simply choose to hibernate in case we need that extra bit of energy. Or spoon.
  9. And please don’t ask us to dissect ourselves for you every time we meet.Talking needs energy. Thinking needs energy. Meeting you needs energy and I think you see where this is headed. If we have to dissect ourselves and defend ourselves and feel the need to explain our depression every single time we meet, you will eventually find us avoiding meeting up with you – and you will then become upset with us for avoiding you and possibly avoiding “our problems”. Nope. We just don’t have the energy to deal with you.

If you suffer from Depression, and are reading this:

A lot of this should resonate with you. So do yourself a big favour – and stop feeling guilty about all the energy conservation activities that you do. Self-care. Time to yourself. Bubble baths and chocolate mousses. To avoid falling into an energy crash and the related dangers, keep on taking time out for yourself, and don’t feel like it’s a terrible thing. Don’t feel guilty turning down social engagements, as you simply need the energy that would have otherwise been expended.

Depression is one of those illnesses that cuts out our energy, and makes us feel helplessly out of control because of that lack of energy to do even the most basic things. We need to recognise that, and do what we need, in order to have the energy to do things that matter.

Like brushing our teeth. Getting out of bed to go to the toilet.

Little things like that.

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