Wednesday I woke up unmotivated and feeling “heavy.” I just wanted to curl up on the couch and play games on my phone. Luckily, Wednesday is my non-barn day (I’d love to call it a day off, but Wednesdays I generally attend to the ever-growing office work pile), so I did. After about an hour of petting my cat, Gavin; crushing candy; and having my feet occasionally licked by Fritz, my dog, I was feeling recharged enough to do some correspondence and start on the office work.
Since my last blog, there’s been a lot of discussion around depression, burnout and mental health. I’m very humbled my words have reached so many. Even those with less positive responses, you are thinking about these things, or you wouldn’t take the time to reply.
To those who know me in the real world and have reached out, I’m doing well these days. I couldn’t have written my last blog when I was in my darkest time. I just didn’t have enough perspective. Here’s where my perspective has brought me.
Everyone who is bitten by the horse passion understands that horses are a high-emotion conduit. The joy of a great ride or a soft nuzzle is truly wonderful. The heartache when your horse is injured is brutal. With our emotions this exposed, of course we are going to experience periods of emotional unrest. Generally, this shows up as some form of depression.
Depression is an intimidating topic, especially as there are several types of depression, depression doesn’t always look the same, and it doesn’t always manifest at the same intensity. Plus, since periodic mood oscillations are normal, often it’s hard to know if the “heavy” is actually depression.
For some people, their emotional oscillations run on the low side, or they get stuck in the bottom of the mood oscillation. The doctors title this “major depression” or “persistent depressive disorder,” depending on the exact symptoms. Causes can be genetics, emotional or physical trauma. Regardless of the cause, for people with these types of depression, finding the right medications, therapies and lifestyle adjustments make all the difference, and monitoring their emotional state is part of their life.
Then there is what WebMD calls “situational depression.” The brain experiences some trauma, either an ugly event, repetitive stress or a hormone shift, and the brain’s normal mood oscillations get affected. Sometimes, if the stressors go away, the brain goes back to normal. Sometimes, even if the stressors go away, the brain stays stuck in “injury” mode. The brain needs some help for a while, and that might be counseling, medication, herbs, lifestyle changes, or some combination.
And of course, there’s an occasional case of the blues. Because of stress build-up, or emotional trauma, or hormones, we feel a bit “not ourselves.” Our emotional oscillation runs a little lower, or stays low a little longer than normal. Time and self-care often bring things back on line. I jokingly call these small bouts of “heavy” a “brain cold.”
The tricky part is knowing which you are experiencing. They all feel “heavy” from the inside.
My personal method for assessing is to ask myself a few questions:
- Did some event happen to trigger this?
- How long have I felt this way?
- How well am I taking care of myself?
If something has happened or I’ve felt “heavy” for only a few days, I will treat it like any illness—get enough rest, eat well, do things that recharge me. Sometimes that “something” is as simple as the end of a crazy show season, and I’m run down. Sometimes it’s losing Reine, my best dog, or Silhouette, my favorite horse. Sometimes it’s the ups and downs of this industry getting to me. More important than the “something” is my ability to heal. If the “brain cold” lasts too long, or gets worse, or I start having trouble functioning, then it’s time to get help.
The first place I go for help is my support system. I have a few close friends I can count on when I need to talk, or just sit with me in my “brain cold.” Sticking to my routines and maintaining good sleeping and eating habits goes a long way, but connection to people I trust has been the real key for me.
I didn’t have this a few years ago when things got really ugly. Sure, I had friends, but I was too guarded to have solid, trauma-surviving emotional connections. In my mind, I could best meet the needs of my clients and staff by staying strong. Strong with lots of walls.
Breaking down those walls has not been easy, nor is it a finished job, but it is worth it. My circle of close friends is small. I appreciate every one of them. Without them, I could easily have spiraled into situational depression last year when I rearranged my business, or when I lost my mare and my dog. Thanks to my support system, a “heavy” period didn’t become paralyzingly black and ugly.
Thankfully, Wednesday’s “heavy” start was not the beginning of a “brain cold,” but most likely fatigue from Tuesday’s long day. But if it was, I now have a plan for treating it.
Angelia “Ange” Bean trains riders and horses out of Straight Forward Dressage in Elverson, Pennsylvania. She is a USDF L graduate with distinction, as well as a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. Bean maintains a personal blog on equichic.blogspot.com.