The room is not spinning, my stomach does not feel as if there is a piece of smoldering coal burning a hole in it, and my tongue doesn’t feel as if it is wearing a sweater made out of fur. Yet, I still feel as if I am suffering from a hangover.
It is mid winter. I feel tired, listless, and unmotivated. Christmas and New Year’s are long past. I no longer feel the anxiety that built up leading towards Christmas. The big project that I had volunteered for that is now successfully completed. With the anxiety gone, angst and depression has taken its place and I have been fighting colds and the flu for over a month.
I retired early from work over a year ago. I left early because I was experiencing anxiety at work. I was unsatisfied with the type of work I was doing and how I was doing it. I used to love work and the pressures that came with it. Once the enjoyment was gone the anxiety took over and it became quite unhealthy for me.
In the past year it took me a while to get the confidence back to take on any project that would involve any pressure or anxiety. However, there were a couple of projects that interested me. For instance, for several years now, some friends of mine had got together to organize a dinner for the under privileged on Christmas Eve. The coordinator from previous years had a new job and was unable to commit her time to the project this year, so I volunteered to take her place. It was thrilling. It was a challenge for me. There was a significant amount of anxiety associated with coordinating volunteers, sponsors, transportation and publicity. However, I was working with friends and doing something for a great cause, so it was invigorating and satisfying.
It amazes me, now that it is over, that I miss the anxiety. It seems to me quite odd, that the very feeling that I have spent the last year or so avoiding, was something that I now longed for.
When I can associate the feeling of anxiety with a cause I believe in, in an environment where I feel I have support, I get energy from it. When either the cause or the support is deemed lacking, then it has the opposite affect. It is a useful thing to know, and I have taken note.
It explains to me one of the reasons why I feel down now. I am experiencing a hangover from the highs of anxiety. I may also be suffering from a let down after Christmas and a general winter malaise.
So what to I do about it?
The first thing I needed to do was to recognize the signs that I have been suffering from an emotional hangover.
Here are some of the signs that I recognize.
- I feel physically tired, and more susceptible to every popular bug.
- I stay inside. I do not venture out, except for essentials.
- I withdraw from friends and family and come to think of it, everybody else.
- I feel unmotivated to do anything.
- I stop eating regularly, and sleep longer and more often.
- My waking hours are spent doing what I call low energy, self indulgent activities e.g. watching TV, playing solitaire, and other computer games.
- Things start piling up, laundry, dishes, paper work etc.
- To address the fact that things are starting to pile up, I buy some unnecessary time saving devices. This month I bought a new computer, another printer and a battery operated automatic change sorter.
I was falling into a familiar and uncomfortable pattern.
The other day, I woke up about 7:30 a.m. I realized it was only 7:30 and so rolled over and went to back to sleep. I got up at about 9:15. I made a cup of instant coffee and picked up my bills that I had collected for the last few weeks. I took them to my office with the intention to do my bill paying on-line and to balance my bank book. I noticed that I had a voicemail on my phone. It was a friend checking to see if I was still alive or was I hibernating? It irritated me. Didn’t he have better things to do than to check up on me?
I sorted my bills, then I played a couple of games of sudoko on my Ipod. That bored me so I tried out the game I had bought for my new computer. At about noon or so, to reward myself for getting a new high score on my new game, I took a nap.
Late in the afternoon, I woke up but still felt tired. I was hungry so I ordered a pizza. Amazingly, the guy at the other end of the line knew what my address was. They must have implemented a new system to trace their incoming phone calls. After dinner, I watched some TV and went to bed. Lying in bed, I realized I probably should do something to change what was becoming a pattern.
I know from reading prior posts on this web site, that depression is not something you can simply will away. I also know that does not mean to say that all I can do is resign myself to feeling depressed. I am aware that I do have some measure of control over my behavior. Since Christmas, my behavior has been contributing to my lack of energy and my general feeling of malaise.
So here are my tips to myself on what behavior changes to make, to help cure my hangover. Most of these steps are very easy, but I like to start simple.
- Every day, I make an effort to go outside. I come from a big family. I have 6 brothers. I remember my mother asking us why we were “cooped” up in the house and insisting that we play outside for a while. At the time I figured she just wanted us out of the house so she could have some peace and quiet. But, there was some real wisdom behind her request. The fresh air is good for me. Even the gentle activity of going for a walk gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing. As much as I hate admitting it, exercise is good for me. It also helps to alter the pattern of staying inside and feeling sorry for myself.
- When a friend calls, I try to appreciate the fact that I still have friends. I even told one of them last week that I appreciated him calling to check up on me, and I am pretty sure I wasn’t lying.
- I do something every day to make myself laugh. I picked this tip because it is easy for me to do. Every day I read the cartoon Dilbert on my Ipod. Its reminds me of my old workplace and it makes me laugh. Although it is not impossible, it is harder for me to feel miserable when I laugh.
- I make sure I talk to someone every day, and when I do, I make an effort to smile. This is not a selfless act. I find that if I smile when I talk to someone, more often than not, they smile back. I always feel better when someone smiles at me.
- I eat something in the morning for breakfast. I find that when I make even the smallest effort to eat in the morning, I feel hungry at regular intervals, and I have more energy to make something to eat for both lunch and dinner.
- I make a point of doing something useful every day. So how do I know if I am doing something useful or not? Here are a couple of questions I ask: If I do not do this, will it go away by itself? Have I been avoiding doing this for any length of time? If the answer to the first question is no or the answer to the second question is yes, then I am pretty sure that doing it would qualify as being useful. I keep my ambition in this fairly low. My rule of thumb is that even if I do not finish the task, even if I have taken more than a day’s accumulation from the balance, I have done something useful. So if I do laundry and I wash more than one day’s worth of clothes, I have come out ahead of the game. As it turns out, once I have started a task, I often end up finishing it. Its just getting started that is a problem for me.
- I am stealing this next tip from Tricia. What I am stealing is her idea of doing something creative every day. The irony of stealing an idea of doing something creative made me laugh, so I can save today’s Dilbert cartoon for tomorrow. I find if I spend some time each day devoted to something creative, like writing or drawing, it feeds a part of me in a way that is far more satisfying than beating my best time in Sudoko. Like my body, my mind craves exercise. It also needs some sort of tangible result, something that I can look at and feel that I created something that didn’t exist before.
- I have started looking for that next project that will excite me. There are some possibilities coming up, and by following the steps listed above, I find my energy level has risen to a level that I think I just might be able to take the projects on. Then my hangover may go away from the hair of the dog. Hopefully, the next project or projects will be challenging enough to generate that good kind of anxiety in supporting environment for a cause I can believe in.
Those are my tips for myself. My advice to others is: make up your own tips designed to address your own patterns that you would like to change, and don’t be afraid to steal other peoples’ tips if they make sense to you.
Cartoon credit: David Templin
He keeps busy by volunteering to help seniors and helps organize an annual dinner to feed well over a thousand less fortunate people on Christmas Eve.
His greatest joy in life is when he successfully makes people smile and laugh.