Monday, March 1, 2010

manic depression

No, I don't actually suffer from manic depression. I have relatives who do, and I definitely do not. I do, however, experience noticeable and (seems to me) large mood swings, typically in response to stress. I love working hard, especially in lab. The happiest, most productive times of the last couple of years for me were 1)the month I spent at Woods Hole, and 2) the two weeks I spent at Brown. I can't believe how happy being in lab, being productive, made me feel. The high from Brown lasted for about a week after I got back, during which time I felt smart, competent, extremely happy and relaxed all the time. I was sure for that short week that I could handle career and family and friends, and do a good job to boot. There wasn't much Sylvia could do to make me unhappy, which was good because her readjustment to having just me around, and having me not want to hold her constantly, wasn't always pleasant.

Fast forward another week and I'm back to my normal self. I don't know if I can do this, I'm frustrated and worried and stressed. I don't think I do a good job, or that I can handle the rigors of an academic life, never mind an academic life combined with motherhood.

What I didn't realize until reading this article is that such feelings of despair and insecurity (though probably more pronounced from the sound of it) plagued Charles Darwin. The article goes on to describe how a couple of researchers are suggesting there's an evolutionary reason for depression: it helps us think.

My own experience with depression was characterized by a crazy-sharp focus on what made me a bad person and on the situation that revealed all my personal faults. My depression went away when I moved away from the situation and was physically removed from the triggers (mostly people) who figured prominently in my ruminative cycle. There are still triggers I have to watch for (I still hate talks on personal revelation, for instance, because of the "personal revelation" I felt concerning the relationship that precipitated my intense unhappiness).

I'm not sure I buy the entire argument--I'm not sure I really see the evolutionary advantage of feelings that inhibit ones ability to provide for oneself and for loved ones--but there is some definite food for thought there. I only wish I could harness my own melancholy to make myself a better researcher instead of doing what I normally do--blogging and other less than productive distractions.

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