Posts Tagged ‘depression’

‘Tis the Season?

The other day I wrote a long, sad email about all the ways I feel bad in my life. When I was done, it was a large, solid block of text, no indentations, no paragraphs, just words. Ugh.

Before sending that on to the person who willingly reads such malarky from me, I stopped, and wrote a gratitude list (something that she and I do to support each other), because I knew complaining all my complaints was not actually helping my mood one bit. By the time I was done with that, I didn’t feel as much like sending that letter.

And then the next day I felt a tiny bit better. Hooray!!!

But today I am back to ugh. I don’t know why I can’t stop myself from feeling this.

Hahahahhaahahahaha. That’s crazed, maniacal laughter, there. That’s hilarious, right, that I am trying to stop my feelings of hopelessness with…I dunno, thoughts of how bad I suck at doing that?

Some days, not sunshine, nor puppies, nor years of education can hold back the nothing.

the nothing

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The Big Bad D

Depression is bad, you know. It’s sneaky, too, and deceptive.

sneakysylvester

The thing about depression isn’t just that it makes people feel sad. I mean, of course, that’s the symptom that everyone knows about, and the one that for some strange reason prompts people to think of depression as something silly, that people can fix on their own, or talk themselves out of. Read this fabulous rant about it here.

 

634-AngryTeenGirl.220w.tnIf it isn’t enough to have people tell you that it’s about some bad habits, depression shows up in other ways, too. Working in the field, I’m well aware of some of the ways it shows up in kids, for instance. In young kids, it shows up as “behavioral” problems, and sometimes somatic symptoms, things like stomach aches. In teens it can show up as irritable mood.

 

I’ve written about the way I experience it before, which you can find here and here.

 

All this is to say that depression isn’t new to me. And yet, I still find myself surprised when I have difficulty concentrating, and staying focused. I’m surprised when I find that I don’t enjoy things that I used to enjoy. I find myself pulling away from people who care about me, and then I’m surprised that I feel sad and lonely when they are gone. I find myself irritable for no apparent reason, tired when I’ve slept plenty and having stomach aches. I’m surprised when studying doesn’t seem to sink in.

 

 

It’s sneaky, that depression, and it creeps up on you.

sylvester006

Anyone know where I can rent a kangaroo?

Hippety_sylvester

Bad break-up, anyone?

I don’t “get” the gut-wrenching break-up. I really, really don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I have never suffered before, during and after a break-up. I’m not saying I haven’t been mad, or hurt or even bitter about a break-up. I have. All those things. And I have been mad about what some ex said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. All that. Breaking up is sad, painful and difficult. I’m not talking about that at all. What I am talking about is the kind of break-up where your gut is actually wrenched (is that a word?) – where you feel your stomach tied in knots, where every contact is painful, where people feel the need to vilify their ex’s.

…or worse…

I have heard about this phenomenon many times. From family, friends and clients. I have heard stories of ex’s who fight over golf clubs and/or parenting schedules with equal ferocity. I have heard of ex’s purposely disagreeing with the other merely for the effect of watching them squirm (I mean I’ve heard it from the one’s doing it, not just the one squirming). I’ve heard of ex’s who make visitation schedules ridiculous to the point of making it almost impossible to keep up with.

I’ve heard from people in the throes of these situations about the effect it has on their physical and mental health. Stomachs tight with worry and anticipation of the next shoe (to drop), ulcers and compulsive nail biting. Deep depressions or high anxiety (sometimes both!), difficulty concentrating, sleeping, eating, even driving.

I think the toughest part that I’ve heard about is they way people feel when they are in the middle of this kind of break-up. I’ve heard that people start to question themselves in the middle of all this, they start to genuinely feel as if they are going crazy – as if one should somehow be able to handle all of this insanity. In sitting with my friends over the years, I offered a supportive shoulder. With clients, I listened and did my best to help them to manage their own out-of-control emotions.

But all along, I had never had one of my own. And let me tell you, I have had a good number of break-ups in my time. For lots of different reasons. I mean, I’ve been dating since I was 15 years old. And I’m single today. Lots of break-ups. But none that sounded remotely like the ones people tell me about.

I’ve heard it said before that you can’t take someone where you’ve never been (often in reference to therapy and addiction counseling). In some ways over the years, I have agreed with this idea, knowing that some of the time I am able to be helpful because I have “been there.” However, I also know that I have helped people (by their account) who’s experiences were radically different from my own.

Now that I’ve had my very own experience, I gotta tell you, I don’t know how this will help me help anyone at all. I don’t even think that my own experience of a deeply disturbing gut-wrenching break-up will make me more empathetic. In fact, it might just trigger some kind of horrible PTSD-type reaction! I certainly never want to experience anything like that ever again.

And it’s so useless! The first line of this post is still true, even though I’ve experienced it first hand. I still don’t get it. Because guess what? The whole gut-wrenching, name-calling, angry emails, texts and phone calls did not make anything better. The relationship was over, and it’s still over. Only now it’s over with lots of extra bad feelings, with no chance of friendship or trust. Now it’s over and there’s a hole, a piece missing from my life that I don’t even want to think about. Now it’s over and instead of being able to look back at the parts that were good, they’re all colored over by this horrible coating of ick.

When it’s over, it’s over. Cut your losses and go. Say goodbye and go gracefully. Or say fuck you if you feel like you need to, then drive away. That way when you look back you can really what’s back there, rather than just seeing that wall of ick. You can pick out the good things and put the not-so-great ones in perspective. Can we just make a pact to give up the gut wrenching break-up?

Can I get a quorum?

After yet another grueling, yet useless seminar, wherein one of the other interns bashed me and no one said anything in my defense, I headed home with my fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables and let the tears fall. I know my life is good, I do. But these Tuesday meetings are seriously sucking the life out of me. It’s a good thing my CSA pickup is on Tuesdays, because at least I can look forward to that.

Depression is not new to me, nor is the scenario that is playing out with the interns. In a nutshell, there is a person who gets picked on whom I defend. That is kind of my way in the world and most of the time it works for me. In this scenario, of course it isn’t my “job,” so I try to keep my mouth shut and limit myself to supportive comments to the picked on person. However, once in a while it gets to be too much for me and I speak up. This has played out several times. Meanwhile there is a third person who, from time to time, points out that I am being mean to the person doing the picking. This has also played out several times.

Here’s the part that got to me today: when all these roles get talked about (and they do, we’re psychologists, for fuck’s sake) everyone says something nice, everyone get’s a little pat on the back, except me. No one ever points out that my behavior, while not always polite, is useful. No one ever defends me, although I defend the picked on. Meanwhile, while I defend that person, that person defends the picker! The third person, stirring the pot, never gets called on anything.

That’s a pretty big nutshell, huh? Here’s the thing, in a smaller nutshell. No one stands up for me. Not even me. Not that that would help matters. I’m pretty sure if I stood up for myself in this situation, I would just look worse. It isn’t like the person has asked me to speak up for them. I know I would be better off if I kept my mouth shut (like I said, that isn’t new for me).

That does not change the fact that I feel quite alone whenever this happens, there I am, waving in the breeze, hung out on the line, an easy target. I’m already lonely, you know? I don’t really need the beat down on top of that to remind me that no one is on my side.

Of course I didn’t come here to make friends. I knew I was probably only going to be here a year. But the part that gets me is that while we aren’t friends, I feel like I try to treat people as if we were. I try to be kind and supportive. And people are totally ok with that, right? As long as they don’t have to do anything for me in return.

I know I have to make it through the rest of the year and probably none of this is going to change. After all, I’ve been lonely a long time, right? What’s four more months?

Social media addiction?

Someone who isn’t quite as connected to social media was asking me about my experience of it recently and even as I tried to explain it, I realized I never really thought about it much.

I’ve had a Facebook account from before it was cool, 2007. When I first logged on, I was eager to friend family members and friends from far away. It didn’t take long for me to become a frequent poster. When friends in Italy and Peru logged in I was ecstatic.

I have a long complicated history with Facebook that I won’t go in to here, suffice it to say I enjoyed it a lot – until I didn’t any more. I am here writing today because my friend’s questions about my attraction and affection (addiction?) for social media started me thinking. Why do I like it so much?

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A tweep (a friend on Twitter) of mine tweeted last month that she found herself caught up in “tweeting for her audience,” saying that she felt that she was tweeting to impress people, and that she didn’t want to do that. I began to wonder about my own tweets. Why was I tweeting?

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I thought about it a lot and I realized that really, I tweet for my best friend from MN more than any one else. Even when we lived in the same state, we didn’t really see each other that often (except when we lived together). For a time we had a Sunday night date to watch TV together. But we each had our lives and our other obligations, and so that eventually ended. Facebook posts and later tweets were my way of staying in contact with her. I have a few other friends that I tried to rope in to my addiction for the same reason – to stay close to them. But I think there is more to it than that.

Anyone who has known me in the last 11 years will have heard me talk about living in Minnesota and how lonely I was there. As an adult I have lived in several countries and five different cities in the US. And in all of those places, I made friends within a few weeks of arriving. In Italy, I made friends with the people from the park before I could say more than a dozen words in Italian. Even in Egypt I made friends with the people in my neighborhood (Shobra) using the most rudimentary Arabic.

Minnesota was different. In Minnesota, the first few “friends” I made turned out to be – well – to put it nicely – they turned out to not be friends. And I have to add here that I’m no hermit. I joined groups, sang in choirs, and even tried to make friends at grad school once I got there. My first year in MN was the first year I became really depressed, slowed down, tired all the time depressed. I’m not blaming MN for my depression, but it was in there.

The thing was, I’d been surrounded by groups of friends all my life, and suddenly I had no one but the people I worked with. They were pleasant people, people I wanted to get to know better, so I offered to go out for coffee or lunch or to the dog park the way I had in the past when getting to know new people. And while many people said, “hey, that’s a great idea,” very few ever accepted my invitation. There was a person I worked with who seemed to have so much in common with me and we had great conversations whenever we worked together, and though she always said, “let’s do that” when I suggested meeting up outside of work, she never could make it.

Long grey days...

After about a year in MN, I finally went to see a therapist and told her how alone I felt. She told me that there were regional norms for making friends and that it wasn’t entirely about me and my presentation (although my straight-forward attitude was not really considered particularly attractive).

She gave me three rules (although now I can only remember two):

1. Minnesotans (and others in the region) “fill up” on friends. The fill-up is individualized, some people may have five great friends some only three, but either way, once they have them, you cannot get in. Unless one of them (god forbid) moves away (however chances are very good that they will move back eventually). So even though you have lots in common and have a great chat…they aren’t going to accept your invitation to coffee because they already have all the friendship commitments they can handle.

2. Minnesotans (and others in the region) need to see you around for a while before they are going to accept your invite or invite you themselves. She told me the number is not “set in stone,” but she suggested I attend a church for a couple of years and see what happens.

I know Minnesotans don’t like to hear me talk about these things, and I realize they are generalized regional rules, so of course not everyone adheres to them, but I’m just saying that the first time anyone invited me to dinner before choir I had been singing with the same group for 2 years.

If you squint a little you can see me there with my bald head...

And just so you don’t think I am making all this up, there are other sources that say similar things. Here you’ll find a story from MPR about a group call Twin Cities Transplants that was started in 1990 to help transplants manage the difficulties of Minnesotan life, now there’s a Meetup version of the group. Here is another piece by MPR about how out-of-towners are missed once they ar gone. Even Garrison Keillor jokes about how a family living in his mythical town Lake Woebegone have been there for 30 years but are still considered “outsiders.” Just to prove I’m not completely biased, this is a letter is kind of bashing East Coasters for their irritation with Minnesota rules. In my defense, I did live in MN for 11 years, unlike the subject of that letter who didn’t make it through the first winter.

And it did get a little better after I’d been there all that time. I have my very best friend who I miss terribly and tweet frequently and was just making friends with the lovely ladies from the Spades Meetup group just before I left.

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I didn’t come to bash Minnesota, though. The only reason I am bringing it up is that maybe part of my addiction/attraction to social media is related to the intense loneliness I have felt for the last 10 years. It was an experience that was radically different to the previous 10 years of my life.

In Denver, I saw my friends almost every day – not the same friends, but one friend or another. I went to the gym several times a week with one friend, to the movies nearly every week with another. I had a regular dinner date with another friend and spent some time at my spiritual community.

http://www.milehichurch.org/

Mile Hi in Denver

In Italy, I saw several of my same friends every weekday for several hours as we rode the same city buses together. Three times a week I was at band practice with other friends – two nights with my partner’s band and another night with my own.

Singing with Walter

Even in Egypt I spent hours nearly every day with friends of the family. Once I came back to the states (Georgia) I made friends at work and in my spiritual community and saw those people three or four nights a week and usually spent another two with family.

In Minnesota, (once we didn’t live together) I had occasional dinners with my rumi, choir practice and there at the end of my stay, great games of Spades. All of these meetings were fabulous – no lie – but they were not quite enough. So I supplemented with Facebook and later Twitter and Skype to help me through my days.

I like the feeling that my friends in MN, GA, IL, Peru, Milan and Cairo know a little about my every day life. I like hearing about their days, sharing laughs and commiserating. I enjoy meeting like minded people on Twitter, other PhD candidates, students, activists and workout partners. I like having tweeps that encourage me as I try to stay centered, keep my commitments to myself and stay focused on my goals.

I don’t worry that I am posting on Twitter to make myself look better or to garner fans. I don’t imagine that my posts on Facebook make people think I’m awesome. I just want to stay in touch with the people I love who are far away. And I think that my long, lonely stay in MN increased the attraction of these methods of staying in touch because for a while they were my only real, positive connection with the people I care about.

So there you have it. Facebook has been something of a lifeline for me for the last five years, and Twitter stepped in when Facebook didn’t do it for me any more. Am I addicted? I really don’t think so. Will I be stopping any time soon? Not likely. 🙂

Oh yeah, well…take that!

I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced much anxiety, but what I have experienced seemed pretty straight forward. Either I was anxious about something in particular, or maybe I didn’t know why I was anxious, but when I was, I knew I was. Depression is different, at least it is for me.

Everyone experiences depression differently, I know that, but sometimes I forget that even within an individual experiences of depression can differ. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I get low, so low I can hardly get through the days. I get this feeling like there’s a heavy blanket pressing down on me and it even seems difficult to breathe. I lose interest in everything, even food and books. I find everything tiring, even doing regular, every day chores. I want to sleep a lot and I fall behind on my paperwork.

Van Gogh knew depression

But this is not my “normal” expression of depression.

What I usually experience is quite different. What it usually looks like for me is that I get busy. I mean it, I get completely swamped. My schedule gets packed. I work, take classes, start projects. I fill up blank moments with 7 books at a time, including at least one audiobook. I start learning something new, organize my cabinets, my closets. I clean – oh how I clean! I even clean up my computer files, delete old emails, reorganize my itunes. I clean out my car, organize the freezer, build a desk thing for my treadmill.

And away we go...

From time to time, someone in my life will say, “Depressed? You don’t look depressed to me.” And they’re right, I don’t “look” depressed, because most people think of depression the way I described it before, sleeping a lot, not being able to get things done and all of that. Me racing around doing a million things doesn’t look much like depression, but it has a similar affect. Even though I’m moving a lot, I’m not getting much done. If you’ll look back at my list, you’ll see that while those things might be useful, none of them are particularly essential. In fact, they frequently keep me from doing what I actually need to be doing. I don’t sleep enough and start to fall behind on paperwork. Sound familiar?

Here’s the interesting part. When I’m down and slowed down, it isn’t particularly pleasant, but I can usually see it (after a day or three) and I know what to do about it. Back in the day I would sort of force myself up, and out. I’d make myself do more social things, make myself get more physical, that kind of thing. These days I’m a bit more gentle with myself, allowing myself some down time and easing myself back into the swing of things.

The problem is much more difficult to manage when I’m experiencing the other kind, the do-bee kind. Because I forget myself that this, too, is depression. I get so busy I don’t notice that things are slipping. And because I’m busy, I mostly think things are ok. And, hey, busy isn’t so bad, right?

Bzzzzzzzzzz

The part that really messes with me isn’t the doing, or the not doing. The part that really messes with me is the thinking – or rather the not thinking. See, that’s the other side affect of being intensely busy. When I am staying fabulously busy, I keep my mind spinning and churning, circling and flitting from idea to idea. What happens is that I keep myself from pondering, from really thinking about the important things in my life. All that spinning is like so much busy work – remember those dumb worksheets teachers used to hand out that had nothing to do with any lesson you were learning, but was just about keeping you quiet for 10 minutes? My busyness ends up doing that…keeping my mind occupied on something relatively unimportant while carefully ignoring much more important things.

Cuz this is teaching kids...what?

Sometimes the important thing is related to work, setting up my billing the first time, for instance. For the last few years it’s often related to school – finding a dissertation chair, completing a paper, typing transcriptions. Sometimes it’s kind of both – looking for an internship, for example. As I was going into that process, I stayed so busy that I couldn’t think about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was on my mind. I talked about it and looked at my options over and over again, but this wasn’t thinking, not really. This was more like spinning my wheels. At that time I wasn’t sitting down, thoughtfully and meditatively going over my options. I wasn’t carefully weighing possible placements. I didn’t sit down and listen for any still, small voice. No, I was just racing in circles.

Round and round and round

Now, in that particular example, maybe it didn’t matter that I spun my wheels for so long (right up to the deadline, in fact). Most of the selection process was out of my hands from the beginning. But that isn’t always the case. And sometimes what happens is that I spin for a long time and when something finally gets through and I realize that I’ve been spinning, it’s too late. A deadline is missed, a mistake has been made, something gets lost by the wayside.

For me, those times are much worse than the depression doldrums, because I tend to be pretty hard on myself afterwards and because it usually goes on much longer than the doldrums. I don’t see it happening and so miss pieces of my own life. I’ve just been through a period like that and when I suddenly realized that I was spinning, I was stunned and disheartened. I’m up now, and am determined to leave the spin, but I just wanted to say that depression is a mean old bastard, and sneaky, too.

Take that, depression!

Back to the D’s

Yes, I know I still have an open post out there, hanging in limbo, waiting to be posted, but I won’t be finishing it today. Today, I woke up to The Big D, depression.

I have had the symptoms of depression for about 10 years now and some days are just better than others. Today it is likely that the weather is seriously influencing my mood. It is a grey day in Minnesota, and while that may not seem like a big deal to those of you who live in places where there are four seasons each year, Minnesota is “different.” I could do an entire blog of my use of the word “different” just there, but I will save that for another day. What you need to know about Minnesota is that once winter really comes on, the grey days stay and stay.

Long time Minnesotans will tell you how the weather isn’t as cold as it used to be and how the drifts used to close the highways. I have been here 10 years and even I have noticed that winters are not as cold now as they were when I first got here, but none of that changes the fact of the grey days.

Grey days in Minnesota can seriously go on for weeks, I am not kidding. The sky can get overcast and just stay that way. I mean, one grey day, ok, no problem. A couple of cloudy, rainy days, you can just cuddle up and stay inside. But a week of them? That’s  enough to kick the motive out of my vation.

So today, you say, is just one grey day, right? But it is September, remember, and for Minnesotans, that means winter is very close. When I went outside today around noon and looked up at that grey sky, something inside me wilted.

I am coming back to finish this after a couple of sunny days. After I thought I was all done with this post I realized that I never even get to the point of my post. The reason I started this post was to reiterate the idea that when you are feeling depressed, it is difficult to do things that will help you. After skipping my run I felt bad most of the day – partly because of the weather, yes – but also partly because I was feeling a bit guilty about not running, some old tape about being a lazy person. Also, I knew that if I had run, I would have probably felt better. Running is a great antidepressant for me, I usually feel good about myself and my day after a run. I feel strong and capable – even after a difficult run! So, I wake up on a grey day and am unable to make myself do something that I know will make myself feel better.

That’s what I came to say. But then I got completely fixated by the grey day. Weird, huh?

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