Drag Me Along

I recently had a chance to talk to a gentleman who once spent a year in bed because of his severe depression. I had another Depression-in-Bedfriend recently tell me their struggles with anxiety had left them too exhausted to email me. Several years ago, I worked with a man who complained of chronic fatigue syndrome. In every instance, something forced these people down so far mentally that they couldn’t function physically.

I don’t get that.

I don’t mean that in any kind of disrespectful way. I just have never experienced a tiredness so deep that I couldn’t find the energy to complete an activity or obligation set before me. Now, there have been times in my life when I definitely wanted to stay in bed and not face the world. There was always something there dragging me along, though, almost forcing me to keep going when I didn’t want to.

I suppose that’s where my lack of understanding stems from. If I had a job, I went to the job. If I was sleepy, well, I just worked sleepy. If I felt as if I should reply to someone’s phone call or email, I would do it in the best way I could. I never felt like I had permission to stop. Probably more accurately, I felt like if I didn’t perform – even if it was badly – then I would be rejected and possibly miss some type of opportunity. And I couldn’t tolerate tiredness or someone using that as an excuse. I drug myself along; you should be able to do it, too.

As with so many things related to mental struggles, however, I’m beginning to see the world a bit differently now. To perhaps over-simplify things, some of us are just wired differently. Some people will just keep bashing their heads against the same wall over and over and over again because they really believe that’s the way to get through, while others will back off and go around it. One person raised in an emotionally-suppressed home will stuff their emotions just like their family did, while another will rebel against that environment and actually over-express themselves in an attempt to break the cycle.

I used to adopt a feeling of superiority over those who couldn’t push through those hard times. Looking back, though, I’m not so sure my methods of coping have been any better. I may not understand what that other person is going through, but I can ask questions, try to draw them out, and not get frustrated with them. I can let them know I care about them, and, hopefully, they can maybe get a better understanding of why I act the way I do, too. We may not be able to carry each other, but maybe we can at least drag each other along.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Let It Go

You know it’s coming.

Your daughters have forced you to watch Disney’s Frozen for the 735th time. Despite the familiarity, you find you’re actually not minding having to watch it again. You may even finding yourself singing the words “Do you want to build a snowman?” or “For the first time in forever…” slightly under your breath. You almost forget about it. And then…

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight…”

If it wasn’t already running through your head, you know it is now. “Let it go, let it go…” Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know the melody that accompanies those six words? Chances are most of us could sing them in our sleep. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez accomplished what every songwriting team in history has set out to do – create a song with a hook so memorable that even people who don’t like it can’t get it out of their heads.

I mentioned the first line of the song earlier, but I would almost lay money not many people know any words outside those famous six from the chorus. What is it about them that makes everyone remember them? Is it the tune, the vocal delivery, the sequence from the film? Personally, I don’t think it’s any of those reasons.

I believe the reason this song so sticks in the minds of everyone who hears it is because everyone has something they want to let go of. For Queen Elsa that was her fear and shame brought on by the special powers she possessed. It’s different for everyone, though. For some it may be an addiction. For others it may be a past sin. For others it may be a mental or emotional hangup. Whatever the case may be, there’s something there that is being held onto and needs to be released.

So if you’re like me, you’re going to mumble through the verses of this and then start belting the chorus, much like Chris "Hmm...that's a mystery!" - Tommy BoyFarley and David Spade did with R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World and We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” in Tommy Boy. You may not need to know the rest of the words anyway.

Reformation, Reels, And Reality

happy-reformation-dayEvery year in October, my church holds a Reformation Day celebration. In case you’re not familiar with Reformation Day, it’s a day to remember the contributions of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Technically, Reformation Day is recognized October 31, the same day as Halloween, but we chose to hold our celebration right after church this past Sunday.

Before anyone gets nervous, the point of this post is not to bash Halloween or Catholicism. The Protestant Reformation, however, did exactly what its name implies – it reformed the church as it was currently functioning in Luther’s day. It’s not easy to reform something, whether it’s a religious structure or a warped piece of pottery or a twisted mind. As in Luther’s case, sometimes God is the only one who can successfully do it.

As momentous a movement as the Protestant Reformation was, though, I’ve never been able to work up a lot of excitement for Reformation Day activities. For one thing, people are encouraged to dress up in period clothing, and I’m way too self-conscious for that kind of thing. I look goofy enough in modern clothing; I can’t imagine myself suiting up in some kind of monastic robe. There’s also usually this kind of odd mix of highland games, raucous singing, and country dancing, none of which generally pique my interest.

This year, though, things were a bit worse than usual. A number of factors lately have had me in a funk, and when I get in those moods I tend to want to hole up somewhere away from human contact. Of course, as author Richard O’Connor put it in his book Undoing Depression (which is sort of becoming like my Bible for depression-related issues), “One of the bitter ironies of depression is that depressed people crave connection with other people, while the nature of the disease makes it impossible for them to connect.” In other words, the very thing that might me feel better when I’m in one of these moods is the very thing I want to avoid.

Something was different this year, though. Maybe it was because the sun was out, and the temperature was over 80 degrees for most of the day. Maybe it was because there was less emphasis on yelling like wild men and more attention shown to exactly what Luther and the Reformation meant. Maybe it was because I actually got on a log this year and tried to knock somebody else off of it.

Or maybe it was the Virginia reel.

The Virginia reel is a folk dance that dates back to the 17th century. I say this to make it seem as if I know anything about the virginia reeldance, which I can assure you I do not. Through much cajoling and peer pressure, though, my wife and I found ourselves in a line of other couples, children, and adults preparing to learn the steps. We stopped after a couple of rounds because our youngest daughter was getting a bit fussy, but we actually enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right: I danced a little bit, and I sort of liked it.

I’ve struggled quite a bit with facing reality lately. As I mentioned in a post last week, I’ve been retreating into my smart phone too much lately. I’ve read books, watched movies, gone for long walks… Nothing wrong with these activities in themselves. The only problem is I can do every one of them without anyone else around. I prefer to think of myself as introverted, a loner who would prefer to be, well, alone. In reality, though, I need people just as much or more than anyone else. It wasn’t the dance that brought me out of the doldrums Sunday. It was the people and their laughter and smiling faces. Real people I could hug and shake hands with … or even avoid if I felt like it.

I hate to hear people talk about “comfort zones” and stretching yourself and things like that because I never feel as if they really understand depression and social anxiety. It all seems so easy for them and so difficult for me. Truth be told, though, they do have a point. Sometimes it might take a reformation or a reel to do it, but reconnecting with reality is always a worthy endeavor. It doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party or even be at the party, but it’s out there for you somewhere. Put on your dancing shoes and find it.

Rock & A Hard Place

picking shirtPicking out a shirt, picking out a shirt, picking out a shirt… This should be a really easy thing to do. Go to the closet, find a clean shirt, pick that shirt out to wear. Ah, but it’s never that simple. See, the forecast may be calling for cloudy skies the next day, so you don’t want to pick out something really bright. You might run into someone important or someone you haven’t seen in a while, so you want to look fairly decent, but you also want to be fairly casual. Then you have to get the right jeans – dark or light? Ooh, but then you have to figure in the weekend. You might want that shirt later on. But what do you have for tomorrow then?

If this all sounds ridiculous, it is. If you’re thinking it’s an exaggeration, it is not. I go through this very scenario at least once a week trying to pick out a shirt to wear. For every positive outcome I can think of, I seem to also be able to think of an equally compelling negative argument. Now, eventually, I have to pick a shirt out of the closet, so I’m forced to make a decision of some sort. Even if it winds up being the “wrong” one, I at least have done something to progress things along.

Not every situation is like that, however. There are instances where the decision to make a non-decision actually becomes a decision that makes a decision impossible.

Did you catch that?

Depressed people have major problems making decisions. In my case, though, I seem to be just good enough at making simpsonsdecisions to get myself into the middle of situations where no direction appears to be the right one to take. As a result, I adopt this weird sort of holding pattern where I just take it and take it and take it, feeling powerless to really do anything about what’s going on. It’s the classic “rock and a hard place” scenario; either way you go is going to end in some result you won’t really like.

Just like the shirt, though, the only way to reach some sort of resolution is to actually make a decision of some sort. This is where the specter of regret enters the equation. What if the decision I make is wrong? What if it actually makes things worse? What if it’s irreversible? Well, the answers to those questions are as follows: It could be, it could be, and it could be. Making the right move is never a guarantee, which drives the perfectionist tendencies of the depressed mind to distraction.

What I am having to learn right now through a very painful and trying set of circumstances is that every decision is made with the best resources and experience and knowledge and judgement a person has at that particular moment. In simpler terms, you do the best you can with what you have. With that attitude, even if the decision winds up being wrong, regret can be sort of headed off at the pass. A good friend of mine used to joke and say, “Whatever you did, that’s what you meant to do.” Maybe it wasn’t so much of a joke, though. Maybe learning to live with consequences instead of regretting them is the real key to resolving situations.

shirtsHopefully, I’ll remember all this the next time I’ve been standing in front of my closet for 10 minutes trying to decide between the grey or the blue T-shirt. More importantly, though, I hope I remember it the next time I feel as if my back is against the wall. There’s always a choice. Make it a good one.

The Petulant Child

No man enjoys being treated like a child. Well, okay, maybe some men do, but that’s an entirely different issue. In fact, that’s probably something to be discussed on an entirely different blog.

At any rate, we men are a prideful lot, and as a general rule we don’t particularly like being told what to do, particularly if we feel we are being talked down to in some way. Of course, the irony is that we men can also be grossly immature and quite often place ourselves in positions where someone has to step in and keep us from completely wrecking ourselves and those around us. It’s no wonder a large majority of us have legendary stories of breaking things (Mine involves a pane of glass on a car port door.); we don’t know whether to be sorry or indignant, so we just wind up pissed off.

So what’s a guy to do when he gets cornered like this? I’ll tell you my first impulse: Start swinging. I don’t mean literally throwing punches (Again, another topic for an entirely different blog…), but rather getting up on my haunches and defending my right to do whatever the hell I feel like doing. I don’t like being nagged, pushed, or cajoled. Case in point: Two days ago, my wife sent me a video on how smartphones and social media are actually eroding society’s ability to connect with each other (I would like to point out, however, that this video was sent to me through Facebook.). I knew she had been concerned about how much time I spend on my phone, so when I received the video I felt harassed. “Well, I ain’t watchin’ that,” I thought.

The reality is, though, that I probably do spend too much time on my smart phone. I joked shortly after getting my first Android phone that gollumhaving it in my pocket was akin to carrying around the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. Even if I wasn’t using it, I was kind of fiddling with it in my pocket. I did stop short of calling it “my precioussss,” but there weren’t many times of the day I was without it. I switched to an iPhone two weeks ago, and I seem to be even more obsessed with it than the first phone. I should be living in caves and eating raw fish any day now at this rate.

Suggestions have trickled in here and there. “Maybe you shouldn’t keep the phone in the bathroom.” “Maybe you could find a different place to charge the phone.” “Do you have to use the phone right now?” Okay, so that last one wasn’t a suggestion, but to my ears there wasn’t much of a difference tonally from the first two. “You are out of control, and I need to tell you what to do.” That’s what my man ears were hearing, and I was ready to fight. “I can carry my phone wherever I please.” And so on and so forth…

One of my arguments against all this was that every suggestion seemed to paint me as some type of petulant child who couldn’t be trusted without proper supervision. Again, though, irony being what it is, I’ve actually proven several times lately that I can’t be trusted in certain situations. When someone steps in to tell me that, however, my independent streak kicks in. “I can handle this. It’s not that bad. Just back off.”

I think the worst part of all this, though, is the embarrassment for the man. He’s supposed to have it all together, be the family leader, be the rock that doesn’t falter. He’s supposed to be able to conquer addictions and problems and whatever else that comes along. He’s not supposed to have to be told he’s out of control or needs help or isn’t doing the best job. It’s humiliating to have someone sit you down to correct you or tell you you need help, so we lash out, blindly defending ourselves. We want to hang on to our dignity, even though we have this sneaking suspicion we may actually be in the wrong.

This is a ready-made, perfect recipe for depression because everything at its base screams failure. People with depression generally feel as if they’re failing at everything anyway, so instances like these often come as a double-blow. You get really mad at the accusing person, but you’re also pretty ticked at yourself as well. And when you’re angry with everyone, well, what recourse or relief do you have? You just fester, until one day you either move past it or you explode in some kind of ugly way.

To be honest, I can’t say I’m any more thrilled with my wife’s suggestions than when I started writing this. Not necessarily because I think she’s wrong, but because I’m embarrassed she even has to worry about my stupid phone in the first place. Plus, I like checking my email and Facebook in the bathroom, so I may not go down without a fight in this debate. I’m not even sure if I’m right or not, but we males often don’t consider our chances of victory to be that crucial an element in determining whether we fight. We just don’t like being told what to do.

Because I Can

This blog is supposed to deal with heavy subject matter. Topics such as depression, addiction, anxiety, God, regret. You know, serious writer stuff. There also needs to be something written here daily, something of benefit and sustenance. Maybe a little fun here and there, but mostly very dour and introspective.

Sometimes, though, I just put something on here because, gosh darn it, I like it.

So as I sat down tonight and turned on my computer, I briefly checked the news feed on my Facebook page, only to discover that the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron – which wasn’t supposed to be available until next week – could be watched online. That made this depressed dude pretty freakin’ happy. So happy, in fact, that it just didn’t seem right to come here and write about anything else.

Sometimes it’s cool just to do something, well, because you can. Marvel movies make me happy. I have a blog about fighting depression. My advice in this post? Watch the teaser trailer. Don’t feel guilty about it. We’re looking for lights in the darkness here.

Why, then, am I posting a video about comic book characters on my super-serious blog site?

Because I can. That’s why.

Tuneful Tuesday: Unsuccessful

As far as songs about depression go, I might as well just rename these Tuesday posts “Another Song Written by Bill Mallonee,” because I can’t think of any songwriter who has written more songs on the subject that I can identify with. Of course, Mallonee never directly identifies depression is any of his songs, and when I first became a fan of his work with Vigilantes of Love (which was basically just him and a revolving cast of musicians) I didn’t even really know what it was. I just knew the words he was singing were connecting with something in my soul that I knew wasn’t quite right.

In an interview with Communiqué, Mallonee describes having what he calls “cyclical depression” when he was younger. This would explain a lot of his lyrics later on, like the ones featured in the song “Unsuccessful” from my favorite VoL album, Blister Soul. The first verse, in particular, always strikes a chord with me:

I’ve been swallowing lots of things
Trying to take care of my mental health
I’ve been trying all the twentieth century
Trying to make friends with myself

Each verse of the song is followed by Mallonee wailing the words “Oh, unsuccessful” in his trademark Georgia twang. It’s a refrain I could have wailed quite a few times myself. You try and you try and you try, and nothing seems to work. Today was pretty much one of those days for me, so, without further explanation, I give you “Unsuccessful,” by Vigilantes of Love.

Clutter

IMG_0016This is a picture of a desktop organizer my wife bought for me several years ago. I’m sure the first thing you will notice is that it is not very organized at all. In fact, it is completely the opposite of organized. I have some guitar strings on there, a little cash, and, buried beneath the rubble, are my traditional red-and-blue and black Marvel Secret Wars Spider-Man action figures. They deserve better; they really do.

This organizer could actually represent my brain. Sure, there’s some cool stuff on there, but it’s sort of difficult to find because everything is so mixed up. There’s even some pretty neat things in there that may never see the light of day because they’ve been forgotten about. Some things are completely in the wrong place entirely, and it’s a mystery how some things ever wound up there in the first place.

In other words, it’s a cluttered mess, much like my… Well, you get the point.

I had a really great idea for a blog post yesterday. I was walking around the mall with my family, practically writing it in my head as we passed all the different stores. By the time we got home, though, I was tired and wanted to make sure I got in bed a little early before the start of the work week. I didn’t jot the idea down anywhere, and so as I sat down tonight to try to recall it … nothing. A hundred other thoughts from the day are bumping against each other, and the one I actually need is covered up in the mess in there where I can’t find it.

I’ve always prided myself on not having an appointment book or a calendar because I could always remember things so well. My pride is beginning to become my downfall, though. Just like I can’t remember my idea for this blog, I forget about books I wanted to read, songs I wanted to look up, and … and … well, I forgot the other thing. All kidding aside, I think it’s time to drop the act. Parts of my brain are scrambled because of depression, and I have to start being more intentional about things I want to remember.

It’s been a long day, I’m tired, and that’s all I got for tonight. I know, it’s not much, but I gotta get some clothes put away so I can find my side of the bed. Yeah, you guessed it – there’s a little clutter there.

Ten Years

I have many friends who love to eat. Not only do they love to eat, they love to take pictures of what they eat and post them on social media wolfgang-puckwebsites. I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of this practice. I mean, if you’re out at a restaurant or it’s some special occasion, sure, go ahead and snap a picture of your plate. If it’s the Tuesday night meal at home, it’s slightly less interesting to me. Personal preference, though; you post what you want, Wolfgang.

Because I can be something of a smart aleck when I’m protected by the security of a keyboard, I decided one day to post pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ (Yes, I actually use that one, too.) of everything I ate. It was all really mundane stuff – a banana, a peanut butter sandwich, a bag of Lay’s potato chips. I don’t know if anyone else found it funny, but I at least amused myself that day. The exercise also taught me something else, however: I don’t eat very much over the course of a day. I didn’t realize it until I saw everything laid out in pictures.

Sometimes we can’t see things clearly until they’re placed very obviously in front of us. I was challenged by someone recently to come up with a 10-year life plan for myself. I knew when they asked me to do this that it would be difficult, but what I didn’t know was that the process of trying to write it down would trigger so many feelings. Optimism, anger, frustration, depression, hopefulness, despair… Mostly, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the concept of seeing ten more years pass was very difficult for me to grasp. Most days, I’m doing good to make it through the next ten minutes.

That’s when it hit me: I expend a remarkable amount of mental energy just getting through one day. Addicts mention the term “one day at a time” a lot, and sometimes that’s how I feel like I’m dealing with life. If I can just get through this one day, then maybe I can face the next one. Author Richard O’Connor once wrote, “People with depression generally are working too hard but not getting anywhere.” I can’t even fathom ten years right now because I’m just trying to make it from Point “A” to Point “B.”

Sitting down and going over this plan with someone else will, hopefully, help me to see things differently. As I told someone recently about my desire to go back to college to pursue a degree in psychology, “I want to get the whole thing finished in about two weeks.” I want immediate results, but in this instance I’m attempting to unravel 40 years of thought processes. It may take some time. Maybe even ten years.

The Journal & The Confessional

I once dated a Catholic girl in high school, but I think the only real experiences I had with the Catholic church involved a youth group meeting and an Ash Wednesday service. Oh, and I gave up potato chips for Lent one time – which is actually much more difficult than it sounds.

The point is, I know next to nothing about the Catholic faith. I have some vague notions of Hail Marys and sacraments and sainthood, but none of it really jibes with what I believe the Bible says about Christianity. I also don’t believe it’s necessary to be absolved of your sins by a priest, since the Bible describes Jesus as our high priest. None of this means I dislike Catholics or think they’re going to hell; I just don’t agree with all of their practices.

The one aspect of Catholicism that has always intrigued me, however, is the confessional. The Bible does state that we are to confess our sins confessional“one to another,” but sometimes it’s difficult to be sure whether what you say to just any other person will stay between the two of you. Plus, you usually have to look them in the eye. There’s something strangely appealing to me about going into a small room, face obscured by a divider, and being able to bare your soul to a human being who is bound by his position not to tell anyone else what you just said.

On second thought, it’s not that strange at all. It’s freedom.

Some things are just very difficult to say out in the open. They’re either too shocking or too embarrassing or too troubling. The fact remains, though, that they are there, somewhere inside us. Our responses to these issues often become muddled. We either present them with halfheartedness to others because we don’t want to look bad or we just stuff them down deeper and deeper inside our souls. In either instance, they don’t fully come out, and we’re usually not strong enough to carry them forever.

So the priest exists for the Catholic, and I suppose the counselor or psychiatrist exists for many others. What happens, though, when there are no listening ears you’re necessarily comfortable with? Someone once suggested to me that I begin keeping a journal of my thoughts. This type of journal would work more as a diary – no one would see it but me. I’ve tried for a while to pass this blog off as my “journal” … but it’s just not enough anymore.

I need a confessional.

Hello-Kitty-Summer-Fruits-Strawberry-Lock-Diary_700_600_3Z89VI suppose as long as I don’t go out and purchase a Hello Kitty diary with a padlock I’ll be able to treat this as an adult endeavor. Fact is, I’ve always viewed journals as sort of a juvenile thing, even though some of the greatest historical writing on record has come from the journals of astounding men. The purpose of my doing this isn’t to hide all my dirty little secrets, but rather to try to understand where certain thoughts come from and have a record to look back on.

Oh, and it’s also to hide things. Sort of.