Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Depression After Success

That (the title) is a THING. It's like a real thing! It's been called a lot of names by psychologists over the years, but Dr. Hallowell seems to have coined that perfect three word phrase when he made it a chapter title in one of his many awesome ADHD books (Driven to Distraction etc.)


Depression AFTER success. 


Go ahead, let it sink in. Then if you google it you will find all these links to ADHD blogs, to bi-polar blogs, support for Olympians who return from the games and fall apart, mothers who finally get pregnant after years of infertility and IVF, people who survive cancer, people who finally have their dream home, addicts who have been sober for about a year, college graduates...

I think everyone gets some "depression after success", but for the people like me (and the people I am most drawn to in life), it is a DEFINING and non stop cycle in the life experience. An intense project, good or bad, gives you purpose, intention and deep satisfying focus. It releases you from the guilt of the other things in your life you may not be managing all that well. Then imagine after you spend days, weeks, months, even YEARS becoming good at something, a mini expert... when the task is complete not only are you left with a void where all your focus used to channel, but you are left with all this knowledge that must now be stored away--and all your left with is Tuesday, May 21st 2013. You wake up. It's your birthday. Your youngest child started school yesterday and the dog potty trained really fast.

You were an excellent mother of babies. You WILL be an excellent mother of children, but today is the first day with no full time babies and it was SO hard, and so FUN, and went by so fast... I didn't get to say goodbye.

Depression After Success brings to mind the days after Alice's very successful Mary Poppins Birthday party where we dressed up four tiny girls as the practically perfect nanny and took them to the carousel. I try to be on top of my own mental state and I remember saying to Jon the night of the party after the kids were tucked in bed, "The next four or five days are going to mess with me."

What I recognized from past episodes, but still didn't understand, is that I was already feeling the VOID. For weeks I had been filling my down time by hand stitching white roses to a hat or googling "umbrella with parrot handle." Some of you may be aware I never posted the pictures of that party, I got depressed! I think I couldn't bring myself to finish the project! Of course when I was finally better I was already distracted with a new pile of shiny emotional trinkets and "ToDo's"

So what makes me different than any other person who ever planned a birthday or a wedding, trained for an event, or built a house? Well, when life events aren't creating intense focus projects for me, I will seek them or create them myself, but the NEED for it can cloud my judgment about what that project should be, often gravitating toward the closest source of chaos. 

Like the time we had to pay off the fence on a house we didn't own for three years AFTER we sold the house. It was a simple misstep, when we lived there Russell was very young, our new home wasn't landscaped yet, so I threw myself into elaborate planning which eventually included a beautiful fence I decided to finance for 0% interest for five years... but of course when the void of that completed project hit me I turned my focus to the unfinished basement and quickly realized it would be a long time until we could fix it up the way I would want to... so we put the house on the market. 

I'm glad we sold, I'm glad we moved, it made us available to move to California... but it also gave me three long years to think about why I was still paying for a fence on a house I didn't own. If I had stepped back and looked at the big picture, the move to California was inevitable and I probably should have scaled back expenses that wouldn't really increase the value of the house. 

I'm glad to say I learned a lot from that, but I needed help. Fortunately my years of occasional therapy make me sort of fearless about being proactive, so after we moved to California, with the help of Jon, a financial advisor, and even a therapist to assist in the difficult money conversations between husband and wife, we started making much better goals and realistic budgets. You have to do that stuff, I married him for his wide shoulders and big brain--not because we'd make great business partners. You have to work on that part! And you can't blame each other for what isn't working. I never showed him my résumé before he married me, I just promised him he could see my boobs. 

:) sorry dad. I should have warned you about that one 

<insert lots of evil childish laughter here>

The reason I tell you this is because I found a couple great articles about Depression After Success and by far the most helpful one talked about how, in the same way a soldier returning from a mission has a debriefing, every finished success deserves a "Debriefing." You can see this good post by clicking here.

In my case, I have just completed being "Mother of Babies" so Sunday night when I was beginning to grieve I decided to tackle the two part assignment, the first part being the debriefing. It went sort of like this:

- What was the outcome of this project? Healthy, independent, engaging children who are excited to learn and have adventures.

- What is good about the outcome of this project? They are still alive.

- How do I feel about my performance? Great! Well, okay. A little disappointed but mostly really good!

- What mistakes did I make that slowed or otherwise negatively affected the completion of this project? The learning curve was tough for me. Surrendering to the loss of freedom and beginning to enjoy that loss as a blessing took me a while. I regret to report there were some spankings. I did my best, but if I knew then what I know now I think that could have been avoided. 

- How could I avoid making those mistakes in the future? Be engaged in the present. Tune out the noise of life and give more importance to eye contact, deep breathing, and take time for myself.

- What was the best part of the project? What was the worst? Oh my! The smell of a newborn neck, gummy smiles, the sound a diaper makes when they crawl, first words, first SENTENCES, holding hands, listening to their prayers. The worst is feeling alone, when they cry and you're too broken to calm them down, toddler poo pants that are like changing the diaper of a long haul truck driver.

- What strengths did I discover in the completion of this project? I am ferocious. I am capable. I can rock a carton of milk to sleep on my hip for ten minutes before realizing I'm still carrying it around and my arms don't feel sore the next day. 

- What new abilities or knowledge have I learned from doing this project? Um, that before I knew nothing, and now I know everything except I can't remember most of it.

- What do I wish I had known when I started this project? That you don't have to make excuses, if being a parent is easy for you, good on ya, but if you can't make it to a play date because you simply don't want to, you can just say that and other mothers understand. 

- In one or two sentences, what were the lessons of this project? To see myself as someone worthy of nurturing as I learn to nurture people I made in my body. To use those love hormones to love myself, and to never stop moving forward.

YOU GUYS! That was just the debriefing! The next part (that I will spare you the play-by-play of) about building on your success is equally fabulous. 

I wish that not only I, but everyone I knew, would take the time to do this after a success. A long fought one, or just a well planned birthday party. I dropped Alice off at school today and I don't feel empty. I made that beautiful, bright, capable girl. She is totally ready for school. I DID THAT. She helped, but you know, even through all my mistakes, I did it. I prepared her for this part of her life.

Depression after Success? I'm sure it will happen again, but not today. It's my birthday and I'm going to eat cake.


Aimee said...

You are one kick-a** birthday girl! Enjoy your cake!

Andrea said...

I love this :) I usually try to just jump right in to the next thing without trying to see if it is even something I still want to do because, what the heck else am I going to do?! Thanks for sharing, I am glad Alice had a good first full day and you had a good birthday :)

Sharron said...

I love this post. I am going to print it out. I wonder if there is a category for "depression after success of saving yourself after failure". Love you, hope you had a great Bday!

Alissa Rae King said...

Thanks Aimee! I really, really did! And then I gave myself a debriefing about how delicious it was so I wouldn't follow it up with more cake at midnight.

Alissa Rae King said...

Andrea, besides the ADHD version of this and bi polar or for sad Olympians, there should be some sort of daily ritual for moms since that's actually how we have to do our job! Good call.

Alissa Rae King said...

Sharron, that is actually a big part of this! Success doesn't have to mean fun success, it is often for thins like resolving a lawsuit, finalizing a divorce... Anytime you lose the thing that gave you satisfying intense focus and it is suddenly gone you are left with the requirement to make new habits, and I have found that the thing people really hate the most is making new habits. Maybe that should be a new chapter in a book "why everyone hates change even though we all know nothing ever stays the same for long"

Good insight, I love your comments!

Sarah Throlson said...

If you think depression after success is bad, you should try having multiple personality disorder after success! It's total insanity!