I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple years about mental health of women. In particular, mental health of married women and new moms. I believe that the greatest single asset we possess is our brain. At the same time it can quickly become the most powerful arsenal used to destroy us. Mental health seems to be a trickier and trickier status to obtain. This last year I have been taken on a path that has shown me more about my own mental health and how I can keep the health and not just end up mental. The first large step I took was understanding the source of my depression or what got me depressed. It wasn’t what I heard other women talking about. After exploring more I came to call it a name: Analytical Depression. Let me explain:
Pregnancy Depression Study
When I was pregnant I was fairly depressed. I guess to the point where my responses to a screener survey landed me in a depression study for postpartum depression. Despite my early expectations, I ended up hating being in the study. Each week I video conferenced in with a therapist, her assistant, and four other soon to be moms and one new mom. I thought it was going to be a group discussion type set up where the women would talk about what they were struggling with and we would talk about tips on how to overcome it or what has worked for other people.
Instead it was just listening to the therapist go over “lesson” type material. As she would try to pull answers out of us I found myself getting more and more frustrated. I dreaded having to do the video conference each week. I didn’t really understand why I hated it so much until one day instead of just saying what she obviously was bent on hearing, I was bold and spoke up.
Irrational or Self Deprecating Thoughts
We were given the assignment to track our thoughts that week and every time we had a self defeating thought or self destructive thought we were supposed to stop and change it to be more rational. For instance, if you thought “oh I am a horrible person I can’t do anything right” then stop yourself and think about things rationally. I told her, you know, I was paying attention this week and I just didn’t do that. She kept pressing me, giving me examples…I’m pretty sure she thought that I had just not really done my homework. But I had and it was then that I realized why I hated the “study” so much.
The material and suggested coping mechanisms were based on the assumption that the depression stemmed from low self esteem or negative, irrational thoughts about myself but for me that wasn’t the case. Finally at the second to last session I was able to talk it through and while attempting to explain it to the befuddled study therapist I began to understand where my deep, all consuming, debilitating, sleep preventing sadness was coming from. I was able to break it down and categorize it which allowed me to identify triggers for it. I gave it a name: Analytical Depression. My brain is very analytical. I see it as a computer. When I have problems, my brain searches out all possible information, weighs options, seeks additional information when needed and then tries to come up with the best possible solution with a rather high degree of certainty.
As my brain does it thing there are three situations that when they occur in high frequency it causes me to loose hope and desire. It makes me want to give up. It stems mainly from large barriers to my usual analytical self. You see I love problem solving. I love thinking through things and planning for the future. I love trying to find the best solution. The problem isn’t being analytical but rather stems from being analytical and then being stuck in it. Like a vortex that doesn’t allow you to come up for a breath of fresh air. That is why I call it Analytical Depression.
Three main triggers for analytical depression:
1. When there are too many unknown variables or too much uncertainty
When making decisions, I find it natural for there to be some unknown, some type of uncertainty. That is natural and it is why choices are at times a gamble. It is why we forecast and have models based on probabilities. Why we have the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. However there are times and certain situations where there are too many variables in my decision making process that cannot be known or are too hard to find out based on my current position.
When there are too many unknowns, it seems as though it is too likely that once a decision is made and action taken that there will be regret. Or the computer (my brain) continually searches for some hope of gathering additional information that just isn’t there which leads to fatigue and a constant pressure to keep searching (thank you no thank you internet ((and endless tabs)) to prolong this madness).
With my pregnancy being my first one there were so many things that were unknown. That there was no real way I would know what would happen. My brain obsessed about so many things that were not familiar to me. I think in combination with this was a kind of anxiety/fear mix of not being able to forecast out the future at all. It isn’t an anxiety but rather my brain going over the known details searching for some way to get more information. Consumed by frustrated about not being able to get to any higher level of understanding. It is not straight out anxiety but rather the exhaustion from trying to put a face on the future.
2. When the best solution is computed but because others have free agency and wills of their own (based off of different preferences and/or information) my predicted best solution cannot be reached
My brain chugs along working on the best solution or the best solution is clear due to previous experience. A job well done, my brain feels satisfaction. Then there is a hiccup. For the solution to be reached other individuals must buy into it.
So I have a problem that needs to be fixed. I have the solution that I know will remedy it. But that solution remains unattainable. My brain searches for ways for me to attain it but it keeps going back to the other person. At first I am motivated to enthusiastically convince them of the benefits of my solution, to show them the logic and the magic that our problems can be solved.
They don’t care, don’t understand, don’t agree, etc. Then I get angry, frustrated, irritated, and feel like what is the point in trying to do anything. If (this is my assumption that is too easy to make) my happiness relies on a solution and the solution is barricaded by the will of another what is the point in trying? It is out of my hands. I must either beat my head against theirs to achieve the result or give up.
This has been the hardest for me in marriage and to a lesser degree in other teamwork situations. Previously when working in teams for school I would say my piece if I disagreed then backed off. It was easy to back off because most often the decision to be made wasn’t something that really mattered to me.
In marriage it was completely different. My whole decision making process was disrupted. I could not force my husband to go along with my well reasoned decisions despite proving myself time and time again. He would listen to his sister, his brother, his niece, the sketchy old “doctor” with obviously questionable business practices, the man at the corner of the street with fancy shoes… all at the drop of a hat without one doubt.
At the same time, anything from my mouth was met with skepticism and brushed off. The thing that made it worse was that the decisions were not just for him, they were for me and affecting me as well. So in my mind we were constantly making decisions that not only were not the optimal decision but were negatively affecting us. This made me feel powerless and extremely frustrated. It made me not want to try to do anything.
3. When a solution is reached but for one reason or another no immediate or semi-immediate action can be taken
A computer probably feels no satisfaction when its forecasted best course of action is taken. Not even when it solves problems that alleviate pain, annoyance, or dissatisfaction. I do. Most people do.
My father taught me to be a dreamer. I know I dream big. I know that a lot of what I dream won’t actually ever happen. Growing up poor, from a young age I was keenly aware of the limitations that I would have in life because of it. I still dreamed. I still worked hard. I’ve realized much of what seemed far off to that dreaming child. Despite limitations I continue to plan and dream. There are however, periods in my life where it seems as though no forward movement can be made in any aspect of life.
Sometimes it is due to a lack of money, other times lack of time or health or energy. It might just be because the time has not yet come for the thing. When this happens for a prolonged period of time, with little indication that steps can be taken to remedy the immobilization it creates a deep forlornness, often sprinkled with jealousy or envy. Mostly it takes the sweet hope out of the dreamer and douses them with the cold water of a harsh reality that the world is not always kind to those who would like to see it better.
I have always worked. I have always needed to work to survive. Not just work casually but full time work during full time school taking two jobs during the summer. Always looking for a side job to improve my circumstances.
Being pregnant was no different. At work I couldn’t stop my brain from trying to work out other problems. I’d try to focus on work and comprehend what I was reading but my brain took that stream of thought and pushed it back behind my brain looping. I’d think of all the things that I needed to do when I got home.
When I got home I would feel so exhausted that I couldn’t work on anything. Too tired to get up and so something, I’d lay in bed but not fall asleep. I was short on money to make things happen. Short on energy after working 8+ hours and commuting 2+ hours. There were what felt like a million other little things that were in the way of me working towards my goals during the free time that I did have. It was easier to just watch tv and let my brain slumber.
When all three meet for a prolonged period
All of these combined together end up resulting in my brain just constantly looping with no exit mechanism. It is exhausting and it feels like when a computer is trying to do too much in the background so you can’t run the program you want to or everything just runs so much slower. Then your hard drive starts warming up and then crashing. Hopefully I’ll never get my own blue screen of death.
So that is my depression type. I didn’t find myself thinking destructive thoughts about myself but thinking irrational destructive thoughts about others. I didn’t beat myself up, my brain was just running too high without taking much needed breaks.
Naturally this ebbs and flows. It isn’t all present. It grows in certain periods of my life and then goes back down. But when it is full strength I feel like there is little way out. Being a (new) wife and (new) mother definitely tends to put me in this loop (read here for more explanations of why that is).
Conclusion and Feedback about Analytical Depression
Once I figured out my analytical depression type was I was able to find solutions to it. It allowed me to identify why some “coping” mechanisms just wouldn’t work and what others would work better. It allowed me to work within the constraints I faced and how to hit the task killer on my brain when needed. Hopefully, by talking about it and having a discussion others like me might also figure out how to improve our mental health when we have so many demands on us. Like I said, our minds can be the greatest jewel in our crowns…if it doesn’t ruin us in the process.
Does anyone out there have this type of sadness? Does anyone else out there have a different type of sadness that isn’t one of this type of self-deprecation? Let me know, let the world know. So we can work together to figure ourselves out and find tricks to pull us out. If this is totally you, check back soon or subscribe to this blog. I am currently working on a blog post to discuss what I’ve done to alleviate Analytical Depression.
Like always, thanks for reading!