You might have seen the Slomo video piece a few weeks ago. I shed a tear when I watched the documentary as it touches the sadness of middle age. 50 is coming and I can feel that I’m spending my ‘middle’ worrying about money and getting yelled at by my kids.
The challenging thing about depression, or any of my other irrational feelings, is my inability to shake them via conscious thought.
Sharing my fears and concerns helps put them into a more rational context but my cure is always based around actions, rather than more thinking.
I smile when I re-read the paragraph above because (of course) thinking about “thinking too much” doesn’t work!
What does work?
Most helpful was the realization that I needed to make my life more difficult, while not adding stress.
I did this by purchasing a light alarm clock and changing my life so I get up two hours before my kids, who are thankfully good sleepers. By pulling the two hours from the end, to the beginning, of my day – I was able to write, exercise and sit without disruption. Writing, silence and exercise are the best antidote to the despair that I feel around kid noise.
In the heart of winter I reached out for help and attended a parenting workshop. The workshop gave me insight on how fantastic my kids are – nothing like listening to other parents to make me grateful for my own kids! However, despite my kids being normal (and desirable), I find their noise debilitating and draining.
What about the noise?
Some families cope by having constant background noise (TV and radio). For instance, the best parent that I know wears a radio walkman while she works in her house.
Other families ‘cope’ by yelling at the kids and emotionally beating them down. Effective, but not me.
I’ve been wearing earplugs to take the edge of the most intense moments, which rarely add up to more than 90 minutes a day.
People that cope well with noise will tend to find my choice of earplugs rude. Their reality is incapable of understanding what kid noise does to my internal life. I ask them for forgiveness and share the story of the great parent with the walkman.
My son goes to school with the child of a social worker, who shared that her professional training hits a wall when she meets the reality of her own children. Her advice: stay two-steps back from the breaking point.
In applying this advice, I dropped lunch time workouts and replaced them with working in an absolutely quiet environment. This change took a lot of fatigue out of the back-end of my day. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday – I was swimming so intensely that I’d be mentally flat in the afternoons and exhausted by the evenings. Swapping my swim training into an early morning forest jog does nothing for my athletic fitness but it makes a huge impact on my overall mood.
Not swimming is complicated (in my head) because my swim coach is my wife and not spending time with her triggers my fear that my marriage will end and it will be my fault!
The other bit of stress release is to tell my spouse the whole truth with how I am feeling, especially my fears (spending concerns, that I’ll act when I feel despair, that she will leave me, that I’m not a good man).
I have persistent themes that build internal stress – these all get shared with her (and pretty much everyone through my blog).
Most of this is article is to remind myself what to do – I had a tough 48 hours and started writing at 5am in a quiet house!
What makes a difference?
Do something physical and spend a bit of quiet time in advance of the most stressful times of your day. For me that means short, solo, moderate workouts in nature done early morning and late afternoon. Each workout is short enough that the endurance coach in me wants to repeat the entire thing. Physical release and balancing the noise of my home life with quiet periods in my work life.
For the parents that deal with commutes and live in crowded cities – I don’t know how you do it. I’d be at risk for heavy self-medication and persistent deep sadness.
If you’re in that position then wait it out and don’t act on despair.
If I take responsibility for doing what I know works then I always move through a depression. When I’m really beat down it means that I’m very close to things improving.
See the beauty in the good moments.
Serious athletes might find value in an article I wrote about athletic depression and training mania.