Have you ever been disturbed by a humming or buzzing sound? The drone of a motor, the vibration of metal on metal, the whir of an appliance left on inadvertently? Did you try to pinpoint the source of the sound, only to be unable to permanently disable it? Maybe you were able to lessen its severity, but you couldn’t make it stop, no matter how hard you tried. Or maybe you noticed the sound was unpredictable, kicking on under certain circumstances, but quiet during other times. You learned to live with it as best you could.
That’s what chronic depression is like. It is a constant hum in the background of daily living. It is the soundtrack by which I live, by which 3 to 5 percent of people live.
Sometimes I try to squelch the buzzing through self-medicating with food, sleep, music, movies, TV show binges, or alcohol. These things work for a while, then the effects wear off. Social media medication, which I define as repeatedly going on Facebook or Twitter, has side effects I dislike: irritability and frustration tinged with bouts of laughter, tears (both happy and sad) and smiles. But I still use all these methods of self-medicating. It may not be healthy, but it distracts me from the buzzing.
Lately, however, the buzzing is the worst it’s been in years.
This morning I realized the last time the buzzing got the better of me was 16 years ago. My then-husband and I were struggling to pay the bills, as well as communicate with each other. I was raising our dog while trying to freelance as a writer, which failed spectacularly. I remember walking on the treadmill in our basement while watching TV, tears streaming down my face, hoping exercise would quiet the buzz. It didn’t.
Most days I could not get out of bed until late afternoon. I did not want to live, but felt like such a failure I figured if I attempted suicide, I would screw that up, too. My psychiatrist sent me to a mental health facility, a place where the buzzing was even louder because I was surrounded by the buzzing of other patients, many of whom were dealing with much more severe issues than I was. I couldn’t sleep the night I was admitted. The next day, I sat in the common room with my journal and wrote about getting the hell out of there. I would find a different way to deal with the buzz. Less than 12 hours later, I was home, with orders to enroll in an outpatient program at a nearby hospital. That outpatient program helped shut off the buzz for a while, as did new medication and a new psychiatrist.
Fast forward to today. We filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of 2000, and I moved to the west coast that spring. My husband and I separated after he decided not to follow me out here. We later divorced. I threw myself into spiritual and metaphysical studies, let my medications run out. I haven’t been under a psychiatrist’s care since then, nor have I seen a therapist. The buzzing was relatively manageable.
Yet the buzzing never goes away. Spiritual practices, such as meditation and prayer, mitigates its severity. Talking honestly to trusted friends and journaling is useful. Writing blog posts such as this one alleviates some of the buzzing’s effects.
But over the last couple months, all I can hear is the buzzing. It pushes out all the loving, compassionate thoughts my soul needs. It makes me angry at the world, at my friends and family, at myself. It keeps me in bed, unwilling to move except to do the bare minimum of self-care and cat maintenance. It constantly reminds me of all my financial debt, all the incomplete tasks, all the negative things people have said or done to me over the years, all the broken pieces in my life.
When the buzzing was last at its peak, a therapist taught me to write down three tasks each day that I could reasonably complete. As I was washing dishes this afternoon, crying, I remembered this technique and how useful it had been in quieting the buzz. I wrote down my tasks and breathed my way through completing them.
- I responded to an email about a work project.
- I got dressed.
- I wrote this post. (This was actually written as “write in journal”, but while completing #2, I thought it would make a good post. I’ll still write in my journal, however.)
I know I need to see a professional for more long-term strategy in addressing the buzzing. At the moment, it’s at a low-level hum. For that, I am grateful.