July 14, 2019

Who Moved My Joy? (An Extrovert Talks About Depression)

This week, I’m delighted to feature a post from guest blogger (and friend), Angie Manning. I hope you like it as much as I do.

You know me. I’m the loudest in the group. I take charge of all social activities, make plans weeks and months in advance, and flit from one circle of friends to the next – and the next, and the next. I’m the one who’s involved with everything, with everyone. You’ll find me at center stage, laughing the hardest, the longest, and constantly filling up any shred of open airspace with my energy.

Mark Chesnutt is one of my favourite country music entertainers. He recorded a cheeky song in the 90’s about splitting from a spouse called, “I’m Going Through the Big D – and Don’t Mean Dallas.”

Because I love alliteration almost as much as I love Mark Chesnutt, I’ll sum up 2018 with a few more choice “D” words – death, divorce, depression, and the DeMar DeRozan trade (which may sound trite but way to kick a girl when she’s down).

Let me tell you, when depression hits an extrovert like me like a Mack truck, there’s no way that my crowd-pleasing, externally-focused life is prepared for this new reality.

Death, divorce, depression – a lot to process and move forward with, and as a raging extrovert who breezed through my first 39 years of life relatively unscathed, I found myself in uncharted and very stormy waters.

I was experiencing severe depression and complex grief, I had no tools in my self-care tool box, and I was surrounded by a tight circle of introverted friends and close family who didn’t know what the hell they were going to do with me.

When an extrovert is feeling down (and I was on the extreme end of down), people notice. They come up to you daily, even hourly, and ask, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so quiet? Thin? Sad?” And each time, you die a little more inside.

You used to be the one everyone came to when they needed a laugh. When the laughter is gone, you start to wonder what you can bring to the world when you can’t even bring yourself to look in the mirror. That’s hard.

I joked with my therapist that I should write a blog about depression and the extrovert. It’s a very different journey that I feel isn’t properly acknowledged. It’s especially tricky to climb out of the hole you find yourself in when you’ve always been the nucleus of everything.

But I’ve learned that you can’t be the life of the party when you’re sobbing into your wine glass on the bathroom floor. So I wanted to share some of my experience as a depressed extrovert in the hope it might help another extrovert feel less afraid and alone. I also want those of you who are supporting a depressed extrovert to have a better understanding of the path you’re about to be dragged down.

I’ve always hated being alone. For me, alone time rapidly morphs into sad time. When depression took up residence with me, this feeling multiplied by a thousand. I never wanted to be alone – even for a minute. And did I mention I live alone? I dreaded leaving work on nights I knew I had no plans to be anywhere or see anyone, and the prospect of long weekends alone filled me with despair.

To alleviate my panic, I called family and friends in an attempt to fill the hours. My fix on any given day might manifest as a cry-fest at Starbucks, grocery shopping with a friend, or  a sleepover with my therapy beagle (meaning my brother’s dog).

The depressed extrovert needs people. All of the people. All of the time.

Being depressed is exhausting. I was bone-achingly tired but unable to sleep. Often, when you’re worn out, you just want to stay home and curl up on the couch for a night or a weekend with Netflix. For a depressed extrovert, this spells disaster. I need people around me to feel right with the world.

One of the most helpful things my introvert friends did for me was come to my house (or invite me to theirs) and sit with me while I tried to sleep, have a shower, watch a hockey game, or force myself to eat something I didn’t want and couldn’t taste.

Extroverts are known for living externally, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with 186 of their closest friends, and racking up shared experiences like a Shoppers Drug Mart addict on double the points day.

This all changes when you’re depressed. All of the things you loved and craved in your life are still required to feed your soul and maintain your connection with yourself and with life, but you aren’t able to bring yourself to sit at those tables anymore.

So during the darkest period of your life, you may also find yourself going through an identity crisis because you no longer recognize yourself.

I avoided the majority of larger social interactions (which was anywhere it wasn’t OK to sit down and start bawling). I stopped wearing eyeliner for months (see previous references to bursts of sobbing). I lost way too much weight and was accurately described as looking like “Tales from the Crypt Keeper” Angie. I felt like I was living a stranger’s existence in a stranger’s body. And that made me feel even lonelier.

In addition to maintaining a rotating schedule of friends and family to ensure I had something to do each day, I tried to look internally for the answers – and as any good depressed extrovert will tell you, it’s damn scary in there.

I tried meditation, counselling, self-help books, exercise, and sleep aids. I watched YouTube videos on vulnerability and grief, I read Buddhist teachings on living life beautifully and sought out healing crystals that I bathed in the light of the full moon and wore in my sock, trying to channel my positive intentions into the gemstones.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t fooling anyone (the least of all myself) that I was going to find “the answer” I was so desperately seeking in the aisles of Indigo or on my yoga mat. But my efforts were not all in vain. It just took longer to piece together what worked for me as I’d never looked internally for guidance or inspiration before. This was a whole new world to me.

At some point, once I got past the acute phase, I realized my largely introverted support circle was exhausted. They needed me to feel like my old self again. When I could muster up the energy, I’d put on my “happy Angie” mask and take her out for a spin.

But please understand that even if I’m laughing out loud, trying new things, and meeting new friends (all of which used to be my bread and butter), I’m probably using the “fake it ‘til you make it” trick.

Today, the happy Angie mask is feeling less pretend, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of nights I come home after an evening of fun and laughter, rip that mask off at the door, and sob uncontrollably on the couch while pent-up feelings of grief and loneliness pass.  Sad Angie still lives here too, and I have to leave space for her.

As I move forward, I’m keeping an eye out for things that bring me even a sliver of joy. I’m trying to stop the negative thoughts and feelings from taking up valuable head and heart space, and I’m learning to let go and trust in things I can’t see and don’t understand instead of trying to control it all myself.

Please be patient with your depressed extrovert. Be kind. Be there. Circumstances moved my joy but I’m working hard to find it again, and I’ll get there. That’s my hope.