“When you’re emerging from a depressive episode, how do you know when to push yourself—in terms of commitments and challenges—and when to be gentle with yourself?” someone asked recently on my depression community, Project Beyond Blue.
That’s one of the toughest questions people who have repeated depressive episodes face. Because no matter what they choose, they are sure it was the wrong choice. If you don’t take that night course, you feel like you wussed out. But the stress of studying for exams when your cognitive functions are in the toilet doesn’t really get you far either.
It’s the third part of the Serenity Prayer: knowing the difference between those things that you have to accept because you can’t change them (your illness, your limitations), and the things that you can change (appropriate challenges).
It’s about wisdom, which is different than knowledge. Leo Tolstoy said it best: “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”
The summer before last, when I was deep into a depressive episode, crying ten times a day or more, I was asked to give a talk several months later at a mental health conference. I panicked, as I didn’t know if I would be better by then. My depressive episodes, on average, seem to last two years.
“What should I do?” I asked my doctor.