For me, gray is the color of depression. While I like gray as a color and there is plenty of it in my wardrobe, for my emotions, it's the color for funky depressive moods, attitudes, days and even for some eras of my life. To be honest, depression has more than fifty shades, and I still learn to recognize new ones from time to time.
I suspect that for many of you current circumstances are bringing this to your attention, too. There's so much good depression food out there. We have COVID-19 to start with. It's not really all that scary for most of us any more. It's just keeping us close to home, limiting our activities and draining the everyday color of life.
While this has been going on for a while, political and economic events in the US and elsewhere have also played a significant role in encouraging depression. At the moment protests and posturing around George Floyd's death, and the deaths of several others with at least a passing similarity, adds to the general mood. Anger may be an important mood here too; but depression, sometimes tinged with a bit of hopelessness, is lingering all around.
I've come to believe our general preoccupation with being happy feeds this, too. Pursuing and getting ever more stuff, doing interesting and exciting things and just generally being “free” to carry on without any regard for consequences has been one of out favorite ways to keep depression at bay for a long time. Life these days is often just too much for us to spend too much time paying attention to. Let's just check out with distractions for a while instead.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, what are a few of the other less obvious shades of depressive gray in your life? Are you procrastinating more? How about whining, complaining or blaming? Any reckless behavior? Are you eating, drinking or smoking too much? Are you sleeping in too much? Binge watching, gaming, staying up too late but not really doing anything? One of my basic signs of ongoing, low level, “functional” depression is living with too little organization or purpose. I get through my day, maybe get a minimal amount of stuff done and fritter away a lot of time. How about you?
When I finally catch myself doing this, usually by noticing clutter around me accumulating and having a slowly growing to do list to deal with, I work on reminding myself that I can make myself feel better rather easily. I don't have to go on a driven campaign to get everything done. (Perfectionism feeds my depression, too.) I just need to start doing a little more. I can take care of one or two “extra” things today. If I find myself reluctant to do them, I remind myself that I want to feel better. I also remind myself that at some point I'm putting more energy into not doing things than I would into just getting them done.
I also find myself being less active and eating more comfort and “fun” food when I'm depressed, so I encourage myself to find something to eat a little better today. I've also found being more physically active and listening to a variety of music or natural sounds helps. These are all self-care things instead of self-indulgent ones. As my mood starts to brighten, I start to do more and the spiral of happiness grows once again.
In closing, take note of the quote by Emerson one more time. Pursuing happiness in the way most of us think about it these days is one of the sneakier ways to find another shade of gray for our lives. Real, ongoing, long term happiness isn't something you find by pursuing it. The satisfying contentment based happiness you and I want grows out of the things we do because of who and what we care about. It's rooted in our values. So, while you work on finding your way out of whatever shade of gray you're in right now, take note of what you really care about. What keeps drawing your attention back? What do you really value? Finding more purpose and meaning in that will keep the gray a little further away for longer.
Your happiness is waiting.