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My Unexpected Red Flag for a Depressive Episode

I have been caught up my own daydreams for as long as I can remember. As a child, I created elaborate fantasies with perfectly crafted plots featuring people from my everyday life. I know everybody escapes into their own mind throughout the day, but I didn’t recognize until recently that for me, daydreaming is a big red flag for a depressive episode.

My anxiety and depression fight for space in my brain and body. It often feels like each hour of my day is a battle between worrying about what’s going to happen and feeling completely tethered to the weight of my darker thoughts. I have recently moved to London after many years of planning, all permeated by the theme of recovery and relapse, and am finally doing what I had always sought out to do. I have a loving partner, interesting job, good friends and all in the backdrop of a vibrant city. But my daydreams have been insistent on dragging me out of what should be a time to soak in the new, and into scenarios that have never, and will never happen.

This week, on my way home from work, I had plugged my headphones in and sat on the metro listening to my playlist. Music tugs at different parts of my memory to pull me into a daydream I usually slip in and out of. I stare out of the window and I catch myself making expressions and sometimes muttering my made up dialogue to myself. This day was a little different. I got on a metro car, changed at the station and then as if I had woken up, found myself in the completely wrong place. It took me a minute to gather myself and realize I had been utterly absorbed in a story of my own making and hadn’t given a single thought to where I was.

I was able to laugh about it when I finally arrived home and just put it down to being tired. It wasn’t until after a very difficult weekend alone with my thoughts that I realized how often I turn to my daydreams when things are getting rough. It’s almost like my brain is waving goodbye to me because it sees the “black dog,” if you will, before I do.

That weekend was hell. It’s often difficult to see anything positive come out of a depressive episode. In fact, I’ve never been able to find any comfort in the aftermath. This time however, it showed me a warning sign. Mine usually come in the form of alcohol, drugs, working too much or not eating properly — but now I don’t think those forms of escapism are much different than my daydreaming.

This is when I have to put my frustration with practicing mindfulness aside and give it a really good go. When I caught the bus today, I looked at the highest points of the buildings, studied the street signs I was getting to know and watched the rain flick on the window. Small things kept me grounded. I know now to let my brain wander for a minute and then bring it back to what’s happening in my world at that very second.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with escaping into your own mind for a bit. It creates a beautiful, personal world that belongs to only you. I’ll always be a dreamer. Hell, I even daydreamed about writing this article. But I’m learning to pay attention to the things I have right now and if I slip up, I can be ready for depression when it comes.

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Thinkstock photo via Cloud-Mine-Amsterdam