The opposite of depression is not happiness, according to Peter Kramer, author of “Against Depression” and “Listening to Prozac,” it is resilience: the ability to cope with life’s frustrations without falling apart. Proper treatment doesn’t suppress emotions or dull a person’s ability to feel things deeply. It builds a protective layer–an emotional resilience–to safeguard a depressive from becoming overwhelmed and disabled by the difficulties of daily life. If a person is treated correctly, the brain itself–through therapy, medication, and other tools–toughens up, on a cellular level, so that it develops “bouncebackability” from the trauma of depression.
One way to envision resilience is as a force that makes the world safe for caring. Given more resilience, those exposed, through attachment, to the risk of loss would no longer suffer deterioration.
Neurologically speaking, resilience means that a depressive’s prefrontal cortex cells would not be stripped of protection, and that her neuronal connections would stay intact.
That’s my primary goal of recovery: to get more resilient. I want to toughen up so that the least disappointment (like if my number of Beyond Blue pageviews decreases) or reason for anxiety (my darling daughter sits down in the middle of ballet class and wants snacks) doesn’t throw me into a tailspin requiring a medication adjustment or leave of absence from my primary responsibilities (which is impossible as a mom without tons of support nearby).
In trying to solve the relapse dilemma of last week–figuring out why I got sucked into the Black Hole for a few days last week and why I’m feeling much more anxious lately–I’ve come to this conclusion: I have a dangerously thin ozone layer around me right now. Even minimum exposure to the sun will most likely burn the heck out of me because I’m without a cushion that absorbs the smaller letdowns, disillusionments, confrontations, and bummers that God packaged with the type of creation he called Homo Sapiens.
“How do you think we should go about building that extra layer of padding around you in order to become more resilient?” Dr. Smith asked me last visit.
I spilled the beans on Eric’s assessment of my fragile state–that it’s a result of running myself ragged, not stopping to drink some water between projects–and she agreed with him. I should consider unpacking my schedule in order to allow for downtime, because I need it just as much as I do exercise, a healthy diet, regular sleep, and a therapeutic level of medication.
“What are some ways in which you might try to relax?” Dr. Smith asked me.
Chugging a liter of vodka and taking a half-dozen tablets of Xanax came to mind.
“I suppose I need to use some of my sitter time to do things like talk on the phone with friends, or read a book, instead of trying to be productive every second that she’s on the clock.” To do that required that I stop calculating every half-hour of sitter-time as six bucks. If I talked to my sister for forty-five minutes of sitter-time, that’s a nine dollar phone call, plus the cell phone charges. (I’m cheap and OCD.)
“That’s a good start.”
“And Eric and I need to start doing date night again once or twice a month.” I was beginning to sound like a cheesy article in a woman’s magazine: “Ten Quick Ways for a Fragile OCD-Perfectionist-Manic-Depressive Workaholic On the Verge of a Breakdown to Chill Out and Have Fun.”
“I think that your goal right now needs to be to have no goal,” Dr. Smith said. Even as making goals last year helped me to climb out of the Black Hole, I could certainly see where too many of them, coupled with my OCDish perfectionism, had me in a precarious and threatening position, more fragile than I should be.