Trait or state?

I was wondering today, as I talked myself down from a panic attack, how do people who don’t have mental illnesses figure out they’re under stress? How do they know if they’re in distress? They don’t have the ringing alarms of amplified symptoms to make them attend to their present reality.

I only realize I’m sinking when my symptoms act up: the neurotypical don’t have the advantage of dissociative episodes and panic attacks to make them realize they need to calm down.

You Need To Calm Down. Taylor Swift

Then again, they aren’t trying to juggle life and mental illness; they’re probably more aware of their emotional states than I.

Though magazine covers and the truth about assumptions beg to differ.  

I make mistaken assumptions on the regular; the most common one is assuming everyone is like me. Not re my mental illnesses, but regarding the rest of my insides for sure. I tend to believe that the way I think and act are universals (in my particular corner of the universe at least): I’m usually surprised when someone chooses a way that’s not mine. I’m working on tolerating wrong choices.

I’m working on the judgementalism too.

Except when it comes to stroganoff: people who reject it are just wrong.

Calming down will require certain things from me. I’ll have to have serious talks with my mother about the nature and progression of her lung cancer, for example. Her most recent CT scan showed that her cancer has spread to both sides of her lungs.

Not the droids we were looking for.

I’ll have to have talks with her about what she wants to happen next and how she wants to fight. If fighting will mean more treatments or doing the things she wants to do in the “right now.” The talks are difficult: I haven’t enjoyed the ones we’ve had so far, though I work to listen and hold space: it’s important, and as I’ve counselled others, this isn’t about you.

It’s not about you.

God hates a hypocrite, but maybe avoidance and anxiety attacks aren’t all bad? I hate that holding things in is bad for you. But I read it on a t-shirt, so it must be true.

Holding things will cause problems beyond the mental: the body takes a hit, too. There’s bad skin, headaches, stomach distress, and intestinal issues that could end with people putting fingers in places you’d rather they didn’t.

Yogurt helps.

The emotional consequences are also severe, and though fortunately finger-free, unfixable with only Advil and Activia. It seems that the punishments exceed the crime, but as there’s no complaint department, remediation is the only option.


I’m depressed. I’m not sure it’s clinical. Can I be depressed in a non-clinical way if I suffer from depression?

I’m going to say yes.

I’m reading Brené Brown’s newest release, Atlas of the Heart. Not far in, she talks about emotions and feelings and how they can be a trait or a state. Or both. [i]

A trait is part of an individual’s personality. This long-term characteristic shows up in their behaviour and lived experiences. A state, on the other hand, is a temporary condition experienced for a (relatively) short time. Once the reasons for the state have changed, the person will likely return to their default settings.

I can be depressed now and return to being depressed later. Great.

My lived experience confirms that a trait is different than a state. My depressive disorder is characterized by apathy and anhedonia, with some rage, OCD, and ideation thrown in for fun. Sadness doesn’t show up for quite some time. My current state, on the other hand, is one of near-constant sorrow.

It’s hard to live that way.

I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow. Soggy Bottom Boys.

Depression is not unexpected considering the things I’ve got going on. But grieving all the time makes effective functioning almost impossible. Ditto sanity. It’s like when you go to the beach: you’re in and out of the water all day. Too long submerged harms the skin.

It’s not avoidant.

It’s time management.


Do you have characteristics that are both a trait and a state?
Do you think we’re more prone to a particular state if we possess that trait?


[i] When I try to discuss it, I say “trait and strait.” Every damn time.

16 thoughts on “Trait or state?

  1. Sorry about your mom’s cancer spread. Is she aware of the test results or are you the medical power of attorney and she has no clue? The reason why I’m asking is because maybe she… might not want to know the entire truth. I definitely would want other people to have all the data before they make their choices, but I remember when my mom’s nurse made it slip that she was going into hospice… That impacted her very heavily and I think might have been the reason why we never got to get the final days the way we should have…

    “It’s time management.” – Wisdom. What I did was… grieved for brief moments while in crisis. However, for the most part, I made myself focus on the ‘here and now,’ which helped me keep my sanity. You’re gonna grieve after the crisis anyway, but you’ll have ‘less’ on your plate then…

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  2. Thank you for sharing. Brene Brown has some great books—I really got a lot out of The Power of Vulnerability, specifically when she talks about foreboding joy. It’s ever-present for me with my children as I work through significant family trauma/deaths. Good luck on your healing journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. The latest PET scan shows metastases on both sides of the body. It’s in the lymph, still localized to the torso but now the clock ticks. Thank you 💖

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    1. I think so too, but because I also get/am clinically depressed, it scares me a bit. State is a much-preferred situation, but I’m always afraid it’s a harbinger of bad times to come.

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