Never listen to your mind on a bad day. The following post sounds acceptable now (I think), but in its early drafts you’d have seen my inner pessimist in all its complaining glory. I was not feeling well: the body achy and fatigued, the mind slightly dull and blue. Some humans are prone to such states, especially those with tendencies toward depressed or bipolar conditions. When unpleasant mental weather strikes, it is important to maintain the long view. Otherwise, it is easy to get badly buffeted by transient emotional storms.
During those times when I feel down, something inside me concludes that the world fits my mood: it’s a depressing place, and always has been, and always will be.
But of course that’s not true. A day before I might very well have had some moments that felt delightful. My heart may have happily thrummed in the afterglow of a pleasant hike, lovemaking, or a good night’s sleep. But for obscure psychic reasons, whenever my mental weather gets a little dark and rainy, my heart and mind tend to generalize. They forget the good feelings of 24 hours earlier. They forget all the good feelings of my entire life. My psyche has a ‘depressed’ nest that it knows intimately, and it settles into that bleak chamber as if misery were its only home. This, I think, is what psychiatrists intend when they say depression can be a delusional disorder. My conclusion, at those times, that my world is pervasively and eternally sad is flawed and based on limited data. If I were open to the evidence of my whole life, I would have a broader perspective: life is often hard, but not always. With patience, and a longer view, I could ride out the emotional squall without drifting into full-blown unhappiness. Good times and good feelings would soon come again. It’s almost guaranteed.
So whenever darkness descends, it is vital to use the cognitive mind to counter the gravitational pull of pessimism. It is necessary to remember, repeatedly, that the gathering gloom is just a mood and that it will pass. One can resist depression’s tug with a trained mind. It is usually impossible, and also unnecessary, to ‘think’ the heart and mind into full cheerfulness and joy. But by replaying pleasant memories, resisting dismal regrets, and keeping the long view in mind, one can weather a transient emotional storm without giving in to abject despair. One can stay relatively balanced despite the stormy seas. Eventually, and sooner rather than later if the undertow is resisted, the hazardous emotional currents will settle down. The sun will shine, the sea will flatten, and life will continue its ordinary course.
The key is to maintain a long view, and not fall into the trap of generalizing a moment’s sadness into a lifetime of depression.