The Problem of Nuance in a Wonderful and Terrible World

Content note: passing reference to sexual assault of minors. This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

slashed circle sign“Fundamentalist believers want everything to be simple. They want their moral choices to be straightforward: they want a clear rulebook that outlines their choices, written for them by a perfect god. They want the world divided up into clearly labeled categories, with good people in one box and evil people in another. It’s so childish. The world isn’t like that. And the world shouldn’t be like that. It would be horrible. Why would they even want that?”

Lots of atheists I know say stuff like this. I say it myself. And then I have one of those days, when I’m hit with a barrage of difficult, complicated choices with no clear answer, and by the end of the day I’m exhausted with decision fatigue and couldn’t even tell you what kind of ice cream I wanted. I have one of those days, when someone I thought I knew well does something that’s not just appalling but completely out of character, unlike anything I’ve ever seen them do, and the ground starts to crack under my feet as I wonder how many of my other friends are hiding crucial parts of their faces and their characters and their lives. I have one of those days, when the sun is shining and our backyard is beautiful and tranquil, and people on the other side of the globe are kidnapping schoolgirls and selling them into sex slavery, and I don’t know how to live in the world with it being so astonishingly wonderful and at the same time so deeply terrible. I have one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. Or the world has one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. And I suddenly get a lot more sympathy for the desire for an either/or world.

I don’t agree with it, of course. I’ll get to that in a minute. I don’t think it’s an accurate view of the world, and ultimately I don’t think it’s a desirable one. I’m just saying that I get why some people yearn for it.

Nuance is hard. [Read more…]

Starting with the Assumption that I’m Wrong

So I’ve been trying this thing. If I’m contemplating a change in my thinking or my life—especially for ethical reasons—I shift my perspective for a bit, and start with the assumption that I’m wrong.

I don’t mean this in a “proof by contradiction” sort of way, like in logic or math, where you assume that the thing you’re trying to prove is wrong so you can come to a paradox and thus find out that it’s really right. I mean it in a more practical way. I mean actually living and thinking, temporarily, as if my old ideas are wrong and the new ones I’m considering are right. I mean living with the new ideas for a little while, to see if my thinking gets clearer. And I mean experimenting to find out: If I were wrong, if I had to change—what would my life look like?

We all have a tendency to start with the assumption that we’re right. It’s just how our human brains work. We start with the assumption that we’re right, that we’re smart, that we’re good—and we work backwards from there. We come up with rationalizations for why the things we do, and the things we want to do, are right, smart, and good. (In fact, unusually intelligent people can be unusually good at this.) And when we’re challenged on our rightness and smartness and goodness, we get defensive. No matter how skeptical we are, no matter how conscious we are of cognitive biases—including this one—we still do this. It doesn’t make us bad people; in fact, there are very good reasons for why our brains work this way (among other things, if we constantly questioned every decision large or small, we’d become frozen, unable to do anything). This is just part of the unconscious background machinery of our minds.

But when it comes to important questions that I really want to look at clearly, rationalization can be a real problem. I’ve been looking at ways to hijack it. And it’s helped to start with the assumption that I’m wrong, to temporarily live as if I’m wrong and need to change.

Let me give you two examples.

*****

Humanist Cover Sept Oct 2015Thus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Starting with the Assumption that I’m Wrong. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Revised, Updated, Somewhat More Optimistic Thoughts on Depression and Solitude

Being an introvert does not mean being a hermit.

woman alone in window seatA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about depression and solitude, in which I talked about a particularly troubling and annoying conundrum of being an introvert with depression. That condundrum: I like lots of alone time, and I like being a person who likes lots of alone time — but when I’m in a more depressed state, or a state that’s more vulnerable to depression, too alone time is bad for me, and I need to make sure I have a fair amount of social time every day. A lot of people responded strongly to this piece: I seem to not be the only one dealing with this. And among the many people who commented, saying some version of “OMLOG yes I totally get this,” my friend David Byars shared the piece on Facebook with this comment (quoted here with his permission):

I came to a similar conclusion at the end of June, which is why I reactivated all my social network accounts. I need to have the option of communicating with people, I need to know how friends and family are doing. And I need to know when to give myself a break from both society and solitude. And, as an introvert, the need to take breaks from solitude seems disconcerting.

Emphasis mine. “I need to know when to give myself a break from both society and solitude.” Reading this was like a lightbulb going on over my head.

Being an introvert does not mean being a hermit.

I’m finding this “depressed introvert who needs social time” thing a whole lot easier to deal with if I look at introversion, not as a clearly-defined either/or category, but as a spectrum. (This view also has the advantage of being accurate.) Being an introvert does not mean not wanting human company at all. Being an introvert means being closer to “introvert” on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Liking lots of alone time doesn’t mean wanting to be alone every minute of every day forever. It means… well, it means liking lots of alone time. It means liking more alone time, and being comfortable with more alone time, than most people.

Therefore, needing the company of other people somewhat more than usual right now doesn’t mean I’m not an introvert anymore. It just means that the place on the introvert/extrovert spectrum where I’m currently comfortable is a little further from the “introvert” end than usual.

Or, to be more accurate: It means the range of “how much alone time is good and pleasurable for me” is a lot narrower than usual.

feet on balance beamI’ve written before about a depression analogy I’ve found useful — the analogy of seeing mental health as a balance beam, suspended over a pit. When my mental health is more robust, the balance beam is wider — more like a catwalk, or a bridge, or a platform. When my mental health is more fragile, the balance beam is narrower — more like a tightrope, or a… well, a balance beam. When my mental health is more robust, I don’t have to be as careful with my self-care. I can watch more TV, eat more sweets, get less sleep, have more time to myself. I have more wiggle room. When my mental health is more fragile, on the other hand, my self-care routines need to be a lot more rigorous. I have to be more watchful about my mental and emotional condition, more self-conscious about exactly how I’m doing and what exactly I need right at that moment. The healthy range for a whole lot of things — too much food versus not enough, too much sleep versus not enough, too much work versus not enough — is narrower, and I have to calibrate it more carefully. I don’t have nearly as much of a cushion.

What does this mean for my introversion, and for time alone versus time with other people? Well, it doesn’t mean that the amount of alone time I’d like to have has decreased. It means that the amount of alone time that’s safe for me to have has decreased. Even more accurately: It means that the “alone time/ social time” balance that works for me and is safe for me is a lot narrower. When I’m feeling pretty healthy and pretty robust, I can handle fairly long stretches of being alone, and I can handle fairly long stretches of time around other people, without being propelled into a depressive state. When my mental health is more fragile, when the balance beam is narrower, I have to be more cautious, both about alone time and about social time. Too much isolation can depress me; too much social time can exhaust me, which can also depress me. To some extent that’s always true — but when my mental health is more fragile, that balance beam is narrower.

This sucks. It kind of sucks no matter what. But it was sucking more when I was feeling like my precious precious alone time was being robbed, like I’d finally come to some understanding and acceptance of my introversion only to have it snatched away. It is sucking less now that I’m realizing this isn’t really true. I still get to have alone time. I still get to be someone who likes alone time, and is comfortable with it. I just need to give myself breaks, not only from society, but from solitude. That’s always been true; that hasn’t changed. It’s just a little more true now than usual.

I can live with that.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Some Thoughts on Depression and Solitude

So I’m having this conundrum.

woman alone in window seatOn the one hand: I love solitude. And I mean LOVE it. Long stretches of time to myself have always been a luxurious pleasure for me. Before I was with Ingrid, there were years where I spent Christmas Day alone every year — and it was one of the most delightful parts of the holiday season, an oasis of quiet solitude and self-indulgence in the middle of a social whirl. When Ingrid and I first got together and were contemplating whether to move in together, one of the issues we looked at was how I would get my much-needed time and space alone. (In fact, we didn’t move in together for seven years — not entirely for this reason, but partly.) And one of the biggest benefits of quitting my day job and becoming a full-time freelance writer was that it gave me long stretches of solitude.

In fact, I don’t just love time alone. I need it. I’m an introvert, and a big part of what that means is that I’m replenished and rejuvenated by time alone, and exhausted by time with others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy time with others — I do, very much. It’s just that I hit a wall with it. I enjoy it for a couple/few hours (more or fewer hours depending on the people and the situation), and then I get tired and need to go away and be alone for a while. (I believe the term for this is “social introvert.”) Solitude isn’t just a pleasure: it’s a necessity.

On the other hand:

Ever since this current stretch of depression, I’ve been paying attention to when I’m depressed and when I’m not. I’m paying attention to what gives me depressive symptoms, and what alleviates them, and what actually bolsters my mental health and makes me feel positively robust.

And I’m finding that when I have many days in a row where I spend many hours alone in the house without interacting with anyone but Ingrid and the cats, I tend to get depressed. When I get out of the house every day, and interact every day at least briefly with human beings who aren’t Ingrid, my mental health improves. This isn’t the entire picture, of course — my mental health also improves when I take my meds, go to therapy, get exercise, meditate — but it’s a big part of it.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve recently started a new mental health self-care routine. Instead of just generically promising myself that I’ll leave the house once a day to do some unspecified thing, I now have a specific routine. Every weekday, unless I have some particular other thing scheduled, I get to a cafe by 1:00 pm, and work on my laptop there. And I’ve found, just in the week that I’ve been doing this, with no other substantial change in my life, that my mental health has significantly improved. I’ve been having a rough patch with depression in the last few months — not terrible, but not great, and very stubborn — and just in this past week, I’ve become more alert, more energetic, more hopeful and optimistic, more engaged with the world. Heck, I’ve been positively bouncy at times — and I haven’t been bouncy in months.

Dammit to fucking hell. [Read more…]

What Are Your Favorite Physical Sensations?

hand printOn Facebook the other day, someone posted the question, “What are your favorite physical sensations?” I liked the game, swiped it for my own Facebook page, and thought I’d post it here as well. Reading other people’s responses has been making me happy, and is reminding me of some of my own that I missed. Plus it feels all humanist and shit. The joys of the body in the here and now, and all that.

A few of my own answers that leap immediately to mind: Sinking into a just-hot-enough bath. Being in a bath and scrubbing my skin with scented salt-and-oil scrub I made myself. Stroking my own skin after a bath. The first sip of a cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it. Biting into a perfectly ripe nectarine. The feel of a light warm breeze on my skin (I don’t get that NEARLY enough, in San Francisco it’s usually chilly enough that when I’m outside I want long sleeves). Wrapping a soft soft blanket around me, and settling into another soft soft blanket behind me. Stroking a cat’s fur. Muscle soreness after a good workout (especially a weight workout). The scent of slow-roasting tomato sauce. The feel and scent of freshly-done laundry. The view of our backyard from our back room. Ingrid’s hair between my fingers. So many food things I can’t even say them all here, but a lot of it is first tastes: first taste of chocolate melting on my tongue, first taste of toasted cheese on good bread, first bite into a gooey pastry thing with some sort of cream, first taste of a ridiculously well-crafted cocktail made with bourbon. Walking: pretty much anywhere, but especially in my neighborhood and my city, and also especially in a strange city. The sight of good street art.

(I’m going to stay away from sexual ones, because I’ve become more private about that stuff lately.)

What are yours? (I’m going to ask people to stay away from sexual ones in this space, since sometimes that can be a little TMI with strangers.)


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Why Progressives Should Stop Using Violent Rhetoric

(Content note: hate and threats, including violently misogynist hatred and threats of rape and death.)

Progressives condemn the hateful vitriol aimed at feminist women.

Why do we aim it at people we don’t like?

fireAs you probably know, Texas pastor and conservative activist Rick Scarborough recently commented on the right-wing Christian fight against same-sex marriage, saying, “We are not going to bow, we are not going to bend, and if necessary, we will burn.”

Many progressives responded as if Scarborough had threatened to set himself on fire. And many of those progressives responded to this supposed suicide threat with glee. They said things like, “I’ll give him the matches,” and, “Can I bring the marshmallows?” When the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality came down, they called for Scarborough to make good on his supposed promise, and mocked him for not doing it. (This isn’t just one or two people, either — it’s been all over my Facebook feed.)

I have a couple of problems with this. One, as Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) has pointed out repeatedly on Facebook, is that Scarborough’s statement was not, in fact, a threat to set himself on fire. It was an absurd statement of a willingness to fight marriage equality to the death — but it wasn’t a threat to kill himself by burning. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about my other problem with this progressive response.

My problem is that I see it as a threat.

Here’s the thing. I’m a feminist writer on the Internet — which means I get a whole lot of people publicly saying that I should experience brutal violence or die in some horrible way, and expressing pleasure at the thought of it happening. And when they do, I see it as a threat. Most of my readers see it that way, too. When people publicly tell me “I HOPE YOU GET RAPED,” or that “someone should tattoo a giant cock across your face,” or that “I think I’m going to become a far right wing, woman raping clergyman,” or that I should “GO CHOKE ON A DICK AND DIE,” or that I should “just die already,” or when they tell me to “Go fuck yourself with a knife,” or when they tell me “Kill yourself” — most of my readers recognize it as a threat. When other women are targeted with hateful messages saying, “You should be killed very slowly,” “Will somebody please rape Rebecca Watson,” “This bitch needs to be punched in the throat,” or “Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself…”– most of my readers recognize it as a threat.

My readers understand that a threat doesn’t have to be explicit to be real. [Read more…]

Why I Like Ebooks

Please note, before I begin: The title of this piece is not “Why you should like ebooks.” It’s “Why I like ebooks.” I’m both amused and irritated when questions of subjective taste get treated as arguments about morality or character or the well-being of society. So I’m both amused and irritated when people insist that ebooks represent the decay of all that is truly beautiful about reading — and when people insist that people who prefer paper books are out-of-touch fuddy-duddies who need to get with the times.

That being said: I do have a personal preference for ebooks over paper books — so this piece is a bit more of a pushback against the “Ebooks are destroying literature!” crowd. I like ebooks. Unless a book is an art book or has a lot of illustrations, I almost always buy books in ebook form if I can. I think this is a reasonable preference. Here’s why — and also, here’s why I understand that some people feel differently.

suitcases airline tickets and globeTravel. I travel a lot — and my ebook reader has been the secular equivalent of a godsend. Before ebooks, I hated the fact that when I was traveling, I had to decide ahead of time exactly what I wanted to read. I often wound up bringing four or five books with me — making my suitcase heavier, with less room for other stuff — and I still often wound up not being in the mood for any of them. (“I thought I wanted to read Great Expectations on this trip, but I’m just not in the mood for something that serious — can’t I just read Georgette Heyer again? No, because I don’t have it with me.”) When I’m tired and crabby at the end of a travel day, or bored and crabby on an airplane, I love having hundreds of books to choose from.

Plus, I love being able to flip back and forth between my books, depending on what I’m in the mood for — the serious novel or science book at the beginning of the long plane ride, the light familiar comfort book at the end of a long day. That’s also true when I’m at home, but it’s even more true when I travel. I’m something of a promiscuous reader — I often read more than one book in parallel. And I don’t always know what book I’ll be in the mood for when I’ve finished the last one. Ebooks make this a non-issue.

Immediacy. I love, love, LOVE the fact that, with an ebook reader, I can buy a book the minute I hear about it. Ebooks mean that I’m not wandering into bookstores asking the clerk, “There was this book I heard about a few weeks ago, I don’t remember the title or the author, but it was something about feminism and pop culture, or maybe the history of female characters in pop culture, or something like that, it had a writeup in the New Yorker, or maybe it was The Toast.” With ebooks, I can buy a book the minute I hear about it. (This is also dangerous, of course — being able to buy books on impulse means buying more books — but this is at least somewhat mitigated by the fact that ebooks tend to be less expensive.) [Read more…]

Greta’s Secular Students Week Blogathon! Episode 9: Invisibility or Flying? Plus Final Cat Pics!

SSA Week logo

My mini-blogathon today for Secular Students Week hereby comes to an end — but you can still help out!

This week is Secular Students Week, when people around the Internet are celebrating the fantastic work the Secular Student Alliance is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations now through June 17th: if they do, they’ll receive a $20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week. A gift of $5, $10, or $20 will go a long way towards helping them reach this goal and empower secular students: please give today!

In today’s mini-blogathon, I’ll post a new blog post once an hour, from now (a little after 9:00 am Pacific time) until 5:00 pm Pacific time. In addition, for every donation that’s made today via my blogathon, I’ll post a new cat photo!

This hour’s post (and the final one for this blogathon): Invisibility or Flying?

The question “would you rather be able to fly, or be able to be invisible?” is widely discussed. I’m not sure why, although it is true that these two superpowers loom large in human imagination, and have been central to stories and myths for millennia. And the answer you give is often seen, in a reductive pop-psychology way, as a sign of your personality and character. (There was even a This American Life episode about it.)

So since it’s the end of the blogathon — sure. I’ll take this on.

For me, it’s flying. No question. But it’s not because flying itself would be so mega-awesome. (Although it would: I used to have flying dreams all the time, and they were always delightful. In them, I almost always was a non-flyer who figured out how to fly in the course of the dream — usually it was something really simple and (in the dream logic) obvious, like “notice when there are updrafts and step into them.” The learning curve was sometimes scary, but once I got the hang of it, it was really fun. I miss them.) But that’s only part of why I’d pick flying.

I’d pick flying because the only uses I can think of for invisibility would be unethical. Everything I can think of doing with invisibility — spying, theft, getting into things without paying — are things I think are wrong. I mean, maybe spying in some circumstances could be good — if I were spying on a person or organization I thought was really bad, for a person or organization I trusted to be really good — but even then, it’d be a “lesser of two evils” kind of good. If I’m going to pick a superpower, I wouldn’t want one that was morally ambiguous.

That being said, I’m not sure what kind of good I could do with flying. I guess it depends on how fast I could fly: if I could fly really fast, I guess I could race to fires and stuff, before the fire department could get there. And of course, I could travel pretty much wherever I wanted. (How quotidian is it that one of my first thoughts is, “I could fly to speaking gigs, and the host organizations wouldn’t have to pay airfare”?) But for some reason, I’ve always assumed that the “flying” option meant “flying at about the speed of a strong wind,” since that’s how I used to fly in my dreams — it was more like gliding on the wind. So that doesn’t get me anywhere faster than driving. Maybe I could rescue people from high, difficult-to-reach places?

But mostly, I’d want to fly just because it would be fun. And not unethical. I like non-unethical fun things.

What about you? Flying, or invisibility?

And since we got a couple more donations since the last set of cat pics — here are three more cat pics! Here’s Talisker in elegant profile:

Talisker in profile

Here’s Comet the contortionist (as Ingrid says, she looks like she’s hanging onto me like I’m the last lifeboat on the Titanic):

Comet contortionist

And here, as an extra special bonus, is Ingrid, with both cats on her lap:

Ingrid with both cats

Once again — please support the Secular Student Alliance! My little blogathon is over, but you can still help them get their challenge grant of $20,000 by reaching their goal of 500 donations now through June 17th. Even small donations help. Please support them today!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Greta’s Secular Students Week Blogathon! Episode 2: What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

SSA Week logo

I’m doing a mini-blogathon today for Secular Students Week!

This week is Secular Students Week, when people around the Internet are celebrating the fantastic work the Secular Student Alliance is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations now through June 17th: if they do, they’ll receive a $20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week. A gift of $5, $10, or $20 will go a long way towards helping them reach this goal and empower secular students: please give today!

In today’s mini-blogathon, I’ll post a new blog post once an hour, from now (a little after 9:00 am Pacific time) until 5:00 pm Pacific time. In addition, for every donation that’s made today via my blogathon, I’ll post a new cat photo!

This hour’s blogathon post: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

At various times in my childhood, I wanted to be: a brain surgeon (interesting, given my current interest in neurology and neuropsychology), a naturalist (a wildlife expert, not a person who only thinks the natural world exists), and the world’s first female football player. I didn’t even like football, or sports at all: I just wanted to be the first female something. I’m not sure why I picked football player. It seemed — pioneering, I guess.

I had a ballet outfit which I liked, and I took ballet classes (which I didn’t particularly like), but I don’t remember ever seriously wanting to be a ballerina.

I loved books, but I didn’t think about being a writer until I was in my twenties.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Once again — please support the Secular Student Alliance! Help them get their challenge grant of $20,000 by reaching their goal of 500 donations now through June 17th. Even small donations help. Please support them today!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Some Thoughts On Depression, and Why Self-Care is So Hard

(Content note: depression. Obviously.)

I’m currently pulling out of a depressive episode — not a horrible one, but not a trivial one either. I’ve been looking at one of the shittiest aspects of depression — the self-perpetuating nature of it, the fact that the depression itself kills my motivation to do the things I need to do to help pull out of the depression. And I think I have a new insight as to why that is. (For me, anyway — not sure if this is true for anyone else.)

Depression is generally a motivation-killer. But for me at least, it’s not an equal-opportunity motivation-killer. It does reduce my motivation to do much of anything — but it’s especially murderous when it comes to my motivation to do self-care, to do the very things that would make me feel better. Exercise, eating well, meditating, masturbating, going outside, seeing people — these are the things that are hardest to do when I’m depressed.

And I think the clue is in the phrase “make me feel better.”

hand holding ivyExercise, eating well, meditating, masturbating, going outside, seeing people — these are all things that make me feel better. But they are also things that make me feel, period. That’s not some sort of goofy coincidence. Feeling better means feeling, you know, something. To some extent, self-care makes me feel better because it makes me feel something.

And feeling is exactly what I don’t want to do when I’m depressed.

Depression, among other things, cuts me off from feeling pretty much anything. It disconnects me from my emotions. Hell, it disconnects me from pretty much everything. At its worst, being depressed feels like being wrapped in thick layers of cotton wadding, which little or nothing can penetrate. Emotion, physical sensation, other people, even my own basic experience of my own consciousness — all of it feels distant, unreachable. This disconnection is a core defining feature of the illness — and it also serves a function, if it can be put that way. I get depressed when there are things happening in my life that I can’t cope with. For me, depression gets triggered when I have two or more horribly stressful things happening in my life, and my brain goes, “Nope. Too much. To hell with that. Not gonna experience that. Time to shut down.”

So when I’m depressed, things that make me feel better are things that I resist — because I don’t want to feel anything at all.

It’s often said that the most dangerous time for a dangerously depressed person is the time when they’re just starting to feel a little bit better. When depressed people start to feel a little bit better, two things happen. We’re feeling something at all — which means we’re actually deeply experiencing the shitty depressed feelings instead of being cut off from them. And we’re starting to feel motivated again — which, if someone is dangerously depressed, can mean they now have the motivation to hurt themselves, something they might not have had when they were in the deepest part of the pit. (This is one of the reasons suicide risk goes up in the first few weeks that people are on anti-depressants — and thus, it’s one of the reasons people need to be monitored very carefully during this period.) I’m not dangerously depressed in that sense — I’m not suicidal, and I’m not self-harming except in the sense that when I’m depressed, I don’t always take care of business and my self-care sucks — but I do experience this “Holy shit, do I really feel this bad?” thing when my depression starts to ease and I’m starting to feel a little bit better.

When I’m feeling okay — when I’m not in a depressive episode — these self-care things aren’t a struggle. In fact, I actively enjoy them. Exercise, eating well, meditating, masturbating, going outside, seeing people — these are some of my greatest pleasures, some of what make me feel most alive and most connected to the world. But in one of the shittier paradoxes of depression, the very fact that they are deep pleasures, pleasures that make me feel alive and connected — that’s part of what makes me push them away.

***

I’m not sure yet how to apply this insight. But I’ve found in the past that having some intellectual insight into how my depression works — and what works to pull me out of it — does help. It’s not a magical cure-all, but it does do some harm reduction. As I’ve written before: The habit of skepticism, the habit of knowing about cognitive biases and the ways our brains deceive us, makes it easier for me to trust my knowledge of what’s really real rather than my lying depressed brain. It doesn’t make me feel any better in the moment — but it gives me a lifeline, something to hang onto, a sense of trust that I won’t always feel this way. Sometimes, when I’m depressed, it’s like riding out a bad drug trip — it’s like, “I can’t see it at the moment, but I know this isn’t going to last forever, so I just have to hang in there and feel like shit until it lets up.” So I’m trying to document these insights, in the hopes that the next time I have a bad episode, I’ll have yet another lifeline. The more I can remember, “Depression lies, and in my case one of the biggest lies it tells me is that I’ve always felt this way and always will,” the easier it is to ride it out.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.