Resolutions

“Reading your blogs, you talk about fixing the depression and yourself all at once. That’s a LOT OF PRESSURE on you. Why?? Pick one thing. Make it attainable.”

Those words were written to me on Facebook a few days ago by a very dear friend of mine, someone who is also no stranger to struggles with depression. I’ve been thinking of what she said today as the dawn of 2015 draws nearer. The new year is a time to make resolutions and to set goals, and far too often the temptation is there to shoot for the moon and achieve the impossible.

The only problem with achieving the impossible, however, is it’s, well, impossible.

small-goalsMoving outside of the realm of depression for a moment, consider one of the most common of New Year’s resolutions – to get in shape and lose weight. When you stop and think about it, that’s a pretty broad goal. It’s also one of the most common to overshoot. It’s simply to large to be taken as a whole. A series of smaller goals, such as resolving to exercise at least 30 minutes every day or not snacking after dinner each night, will eventually add up to achieving the larger one, but they require more discipline and planning and, ultimately, determination.

It has been very easy in the past for me to resolve to not be as depressed in the upcoming year. I didn’t have a particular plan mapped out for this; I was just going to do it, the same way someone who wants to get in shape is just going to get up and start cross-training one day. It was really more of a hope than a resolution, because I didn’t even know what I was facing, really. I just knew I didn’t feel good, and I wanted to feel better, so I resolved to do so.

I still struggle with that mentality, even after going through a few rounds of cognitive therapy. It’s like my friend said; I want to fix everything all at once. The reality is, though, the road to recovery is made up of numerous small goals along the way. Instead of “I’m not going to be depressed anymore,” why not “I will read at least 30 minutes a day” or “I will sleep at least eight hours a night” or “I will invite at least one friend out for lunch every week”? While none of these may sound very grandiose, they are the building blocks to something more structurally sound.

So as I close out 2014, I’ve been compiling a list of smaller goals that I hope will propel me toward larger ones. “Smaller,” however, does not always equal “easier,” which means 2015 could be shaping as a year of great work and effort for me. On the flipside, “great work and effort” don’t necessarily mean I have to figure everything out this year.

I wanted to conclude this final post of 2014 with a huge “thank you” to everyone who has stopped by to read what I have written this year. I have questioned the usefulness of what I’m doing here with almost every post, and your views, likes, and comments have been such an encouragement to me. I feel as if we’re all on this journey together, and I pray that all of us are able to progress and grow in 2015. God bless you all.

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Tuneful Tuesday: New Year’s Eve

I’ve never been a big fan of lounge-type music. I guess there is a certain hipster quality to it, but I’ve never quite been able to shake the stigma of my youth which classified it as “old people music.” Of course, I realize now it never was really meant for old people and has been pretty cool for quite some time, but it’s not a genre of music I’m going to drive around in my truck listening to on a daily basis.

Without a doubt, though, one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time is Harry Connick, Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas. Yes, I know Christmas came and went last week. The reason I’m writing about this album now is because of its closing track, a beautiful rendition of Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”.

Unlike most things I post here, I have no particular reason for featuring this song other than I just like it. Plus, tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. That’s about it. Sometimes you just need a good song.

Not Enough?

I turned 40 years old in April of this year, and we all know what that means: I’m at that age. When the eyesight starts to fade a little more. When the physical prowess begins to decline. When the luster of the job begins to wear off. When, theoretically, half of a man’s life is over, which means two dreaded words…

Midlife … crisis.

midlifeI actually do plan on writing about this subject a little more in-depth here in the future, but for this particular post I only introduce it to bring up a line I noticed in a book I was recently reading: Men in Midlife Crisis, by Jim Conway. I checked the book out of a local library just before Christmas, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish reading it, but what I managed to get through was quite insightful. In fact, I may have to add it to my own personal library at some point in the future.

As expected, the book contains plenty of discussion on affairs, a hallmark of many men’s midlife periods. I’m certainly not going to explore that subject here, but I was struck by something Conway wrote about it. Observe the following paragraph on attempting to end an affair:

I have helped both Christians and non-Christians through the painful disengagement process. None of these people has been willing to disengage simply because of the clear moral teaching of scripture – “You must not commit adultery.” Nor have any of these midlife men been convinced to disengage because of obligations to their families or previous commitments. It is my experience that people are only ready to disengage from an affair if the dissatisfaction level rises high enough so that the couple feels there is greater stress and less satisfaction than what they had hoped for.

A local Bible teacher who passed away earlier this year used to have a saying: God plus nothing equals everything. There’s the principle of sola scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. There’s even an old Southern Gospel song that says, “When Jesus says it’s enough, it’ll be enough.” What gets us to Jesus and draws us into scripture, though? There has to be some breaking point where we just say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. This is just not working anymore. I’m done.”

I’m not trying to say that Jesus cannot lift us out of any situation, or that scripture is somehow not sufficient to instruct us on how to live our lives correctly. God, after all, parted the Red Sea and formed man from the very dust of the Earth. In many instances of life, though, we have to come to a place where we decide the path we are on is vastly inferior to the one He wants to take us on. We have to see in real life that our decisions aren’t working and our habits are harmful to us and we need to make a change.

It almost feels blasphemous to even suggest it, but sometimes what works isn’t enough. Sometimes the strain of what is not working has to become so great that we are spurred to action. Things have to become intolerable sometimes to make us want to change. I wrote here Friday about the insanity of how I stubbornly refuse to give up certain habits that only worsen my depression. I’m beginning to notice a life principle here: Getting sick of a situation or a behavior is often the only way to begin the process of getting rid of it.

So as the new year rapidly approaches, if you’re hearing that tiny voice in your head saying, “This isn’t worth it anymore,” maybe you should give it a listen. It might be prompting you toward the answer that really is enough.

Preventive Measures

I’m sitting on my couch right now, with a sleeve of saltines on my left and a bottle of Gatorade on IMG_0207my right. I’m wearing pajama pants, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a bathrobe, a Snuggie, and slippers, and I’m still cold. I’m intermittently stretching my legs because of random muscle spasms which are causing my toes to literally curl, a sure sign my body is running low on fluids.

Yes, dear reader, this is the onset of a stomach bug.

I’ve had many of these throughout my life, and I feel as if in 40 years I’ve learned a thing or two about what I need to do when I feel one coming on. Hence, the saltines and Gatorade. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I’m taking things extra-easy this evening and not tempting fate by chowing down on, say, a pizza or a cheeseburger. Will it stave off the worst? Eh, maybe, maybe not. It’s at least worth a shot, though.

It’s amazing the things I am willing to give up to avoid a negative physical outcome for myself. It is also quite astounding the things I am unwilling to give up on a daily basis which can drag down my mood. It’s as if I’ve elevated my body to a greater stature than my mind, which really doesn’t make much sense since I am a relatively healthy person physically who has been diagnosed with a type of depression. You’d think I would at least be willing to give them equal importance.

Just look at me right now (Well, imagine me right now.). I’m pulling out at least most of the stops to avoid getting sick. In addition, I take a multivitamin and a fish oil pill every day. I exercise when I can, although I’ve been slacking a little in that department lately. I try to avoid sugar as much as I can. I don’t exactly treat my body like a shrine, but I at least try to take care of myself.

coffee1Perhaps the most radical thing I’ve ever done in this regard is cutting out drinking caffeine several years ago. I was having severe headaches and having to get up several times a night to go to the bathroom. I eventually traced the cause of both to drinking caffeine, so I knew I needed to stop drinking beverages which contained high amounts of it. Instead of doing the logical thing and scaling back, however, I just quit cold turkey. And it hurt. Basically three days of intense caffeine withdrawal and headaches … but I made it, and I haven’t looked back since.

Consider, though, all the things I have not been that diligent about concerning my mental upkeep. I am very spotty with my thought journals. I stay on the internet too much. I jump to the worst case scenario too often. I don’t get as much sunlight as I should. I complain more than I ought to, sometimes because I fall in line with complaints brought to me and sometimes because I originate them. All those cognitive thinking exercises I’ve learned? They get tossed out the window on a regular basis.

Why, then, don’t I start treating my mind like my body?

It makes all kinds of sense, when you think about it. If I had a heart disease, I’d alter my diet, keep an eye on my cholesterol, and do whatever else it took to keep it at bay. So I have a form of depression known as Chronic Depressive Disorder. Why wouldn’t I take any measure necessary to reduce its effects as well? I have my theories, but that’s another discussion for another time. I have a tremendous fear of being seen as selfish, but no one else is going to do this for me. Just like what I put into my body is my decision, what I put into my brain falls along the same lines.

Will I be sick in the morning? I don’t know. I did my best tonight to not be, though. Can I say the same for my mind?

Do It Now

One of our Christmas traditions as a family each year is to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I muppet_xmas_3am not ashamed to say this tradition is not because of my children, but because of me. For a movie populated for the most part by felt-covered marionette/puppet hybrids, it stays remarkably true to the source material, which is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve actually read the book more than once, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Most of the appeal of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge lies in his redemption, and rightly so. The idea of there being hope for even the worst of souls is one everyone would like to believe. What often strikes me about Scrooge’s story, though, is how many things he loses that he can’t get back. His childhood. Scores of opportunity to help the poor in past years. His business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s future may look bright, but his past is littered with loss.

Of course, Scrooge’s greatest loss is that of his one true love, Belle. Most movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol do not include what may possibly be Scrooge’s most humiliating moment in the book, when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him a glimpse of the then-married Belle’s family on Christmas Eve. It’s that terrible moment when a person realizes everything they should have and could have said that would have made things turn out differently, but they have no power to change any of it. By the end of the story, there’s no great reconciliation between Scrooge and Belle. What’s lost is simply lost.

It’s Christmas Eve here in America, and we just finished our annual Muppet viewing for this year. I’m thinking of all the times I didn’t speak up when I could have, all the opportunities I let slip past me, the words I needed to hear that were never spoken to me. Even in what might be the most poignant redemption story of all time, there were no second chances to say what needed to be said or do what needed to done. Just like Scrooge, we can walk through the memories of the past, but we can’t touch them, speak to them, or alter them.

If there is someone in your life this Christmas that needs to know you love them, tell them right now. If there is someone you need to walk away from, walk away right now. If someone needs a sign that your care about them, show them right now. If you’re thinking of getting someone a gift, buy it right now. If there is something wrong, make it right. Once the chance is gone, it might be gone forever.

Since tomorrow is Christmas, I don’t plan on writing anything here. From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas. God bless you all.

Tuneful Tuesday: Same Old Song

Every year, it’s the same thing.

“It’s been a long December, and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last…”

The words almost feel like a warm blanket to me every year at about this time. Money starts to get tight, old habits creep their way back in, and the realization that you’ve lost a good portion of the past year to either depression or busyness or just good old-fashioned stupidity on your part begins to set in. December starts to seem very long … and cold … and lonely.

“I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower…”

Never mind that the song is about the breakup of a relationship. Thinking that this year might indeed be better than the last strikes a universal chord. The months do get long. The laughs do come a little slower. There isn’t much optimism to be found in the past, so looking ahead is about the only option left.

“And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls…”

I am sick and tired of identifying with this song.

I remember thinking not that long ago that days and months and years weren’t ever really bad; it just depended on how you viewed them. “All things work together for the good…” December could be long, or it could be a beneficial struggle; the choice was really up to me. Then things started to get a little sideways. I stopped doing healthy things and fell back into unhealthy patterns. Suddenly, December began to lengthen, to get colder, to be not so good

This is the last December I want to spend like this. A new attitude from me won’t change the fact that this is a great song, but it might make it seem not so comfortable to me in the future.

“Drove up to Hillside Manor, sometime after 2 a.m., and talked a little while about the year…”

I want it to be a good talk next December. Maybe this year will be better than the last.

Christmas Is For Losers

I have a difficult time letting my children watch Peanuts cartoons. “What?” you might be asking. “What kind of problem could you possible have Snoopy and the gang?” Well, it’s quite simple, really: The other kids treat Charlie Brown like crap most of the time, and I don’t really want my kids thinking it’s okay to talk to other people that way.

charlie brownThere was this one time, though, when all the other kids came together and were actually nice to Charlie Brown. It happened one Christmas. You know the one. Charlie Brown was in charge of buying a tree for the school’s Christmas program, and he came back with a glorified twig. After a stern lecture from Linus, the gang decides to give Charlie Brown’s tree a makeover, and Christmas cheer is felt by all.

That seems to be the theme for most Christmas stories: Somebody gets heckled or cheated or messed around with, but by the end of the story everything comes together for them (See: Bob Cratchit.) In real life, though, the downtrodden don’t always get the breaks in the end. For someone suffering from depression, it’s very easy to look around a room and think everyone has it more together than you do. Better jobs, better relationships, better social skills, etc., etc. It can make a person want to find the nearest hole and hide in it.

If you’re thinking that just because your Christmas is rushed and hectic and not going according to plan, however, it should be pointed out that the “first Christmas” wasn’t exactly the most organized event either. Think about it for a minute. A baby was born in a stable. People are taking off to other countries because of dreams. Everyone is crowding into town for a census. There’s chaos happening everywhere.

And then there are the people. You have a carpenter who just found out his fiance is pregnant, and the only explanation he has is “It’s God’s son.” You have a young bride-to-be who would have been dumped, save for another dream intervention by an angel of the Lord. The first group of people called upon to visit the Christ child was not teachers or scribes, but sheep-herders called in from the fields. Really, couldn’t God have picked a little better cast for this?

Depressed people have a tendency to think of Christmas as a time when everyone has it better than them. They have difficulty going to parties or attending family gatherings or even facing the holiday because they feel sort of ashamed of where they are in life. They should be happy. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” right? When they don’t feel joy during a season which is specifically set up to provide it, they get a double-dose of guilt.

In reality, though, Christmas is practically tailor-made for the losers in life. Jesus, the whole reasonjesus understands for the holiday, was born in a stinky barn. Then he ended his life on a cruel Roman cross. He understands what it’s like to be on the low end of the totem pole. He understands what it’s like to be an outcast. He knows anxiety because he sweated drops of blood. The whole reason he came down, and the whole reason we have a Christmas today, is because Jesus went looking for the losers – the depressed, the anxious, the lonely, the afraid, and the addicted.

Some people may have more finely-decorated homes, flashier presents, and better-looking families, but everyone has Jesus on Christmas Day. Even Charlie Brown.

Reblog: Learning To Love My Name Again

I am not a fan of re-posting items from other people’s blogs. It feels like cheating to me. I mean, I didn’t write the content, so I sort of feel as if I’m plagiarizing someone else’s work, particularly if I don’t know them.

Sometimes, though, a post will arise that so strikes a chord with me that I feel like everyone else should read it, too. This entry is from a blog titled Under Reconstruction. It’s written by a woman named Karen Zainal, and I will just admit now I don’t actually know her. She has been kind enough to like a few of my posts, so I started following her blog as well. I could steal more details from her site (http://karenwriteshere.com), but you should go there and read her story for yourself.

So, without further adieu, here is Learning to Love My Name Again, by Karen Zainal. I hope it touches you as much as it touched me.

http://karenwriteshere.com/2014/12/17/learning-to-love-my-name-again/

Validation

“Gosh, I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble. I’m really not worth that much.”

These are actual words that came out of my mouth this week. Someone had done something nice for me, and this is what I chose to say. Not “Thank you” or “How nice of you” or even “I don’t really want that.” No, I went with “I’m not really worth that much.”

Why?

I used to think I said things like because I had low self-esteem, which is almost certainly true. I thought I was putting myself down because I just didn’t like myself very much, which is probably also true. I also wanted desperately to not be seen as prideful, so this was my flawed way of displaying humility, by basically not accepting any compliments. While being humble is normally a virtue, it can be taken to the extreme.

Today, though, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I began to think about this behavior from another angle. What type of response am I hoping to receive when I say negative things about myself? Well, I can say for certain I am definitely not looking for negative reinforcement. I, like most humans, don’t like it when people say bad things about me. Therefore, if I’m not looking for a harsh response, what exactly am I looking for?

Again, for reasons I can’t fully comprehend, I think I may have figured out the answer to that question today.

I am looking for validation.

al-inspiring-quote-on-self-acceptanceFor example, if I do something wrong and I blurt out, “I suck,” I would really like to hear someone say, “C’mon, man, lots of people make that mistake. Shake it off. You’re not that bad.” Now, whether or not I believe their assessment may be open to debate depending on the circumstance, but what is certain is that I wanted someone to disagree with me. If I say I’m ugly, I fishing for someone to say I’m not that bad looking. If I say I don’t play guitar that well, I’d like to hear that I’m actually pretty decent. If I say bad, you say good.

The only cure I see to this behavior is developing a strong sense of who I am, coupled with a firm belief that I actually do have potential and worth as a person. My belief is that true identity is found in Jesus Christ, but there are day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts things that come into play as well. I can’t chase people around looking for validation. I can’t rely on them to give me my worth. I have to incorporate the positive things I hope they will say into what I’m able to say about myself.

This theory is still sort of in its infancy, so I haven’t exactly worked out all the details yet. What a great feeling, though, to have the light bulb go on and realize what you’ve been blind to for so long. I have a lot of other things on my mind right now, but I’m a little too tired to articulate them all. Don’t worry about telling me I can do it now. I’m okay without that validation.

Catching Up

Every article I’ve ever read on being a successful blogger says the same thing: One of the keys to increasing readership is to write at least one blog post a day. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to post more than one entry per day, with the length of each entry being shorter in nature. This, apparently, encourages traffic to your site.

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but I haven’t posted anything here since this past Friday. I believe I had 12 page views today, so maybe all those experts on blogging are onto something. As I’ll explain in a moment, I had some pretty good reasons for going that long between postings, but I quite honestly have many times questioned the wisdom of posting more than once a day. That just feels like overload to me. Plus, I don’t understand how people have enough time to do that anyway.

Prior to Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, I honestly felt as if I had somehow managed to drop off the face of the planet. I’m not sure how it happened, but I managed to become incredibly, almost frighteningly, isolated this year. Most of my evenings seem to be spent doing what I’m doing right now – working on this blog. Don’t get me wrong; I love writing, and I love being able to use this space to contribute something to the growing discussion on depression these days. Creating a compelling blog does not a fulfilling life always make, however.

I have mentioned here before that I have struggled with social anxiety issues for a long as I can remember. I consider myself a very introverted person. Given my preference, I would probably choose to be alone as much as possible. It would seem to make sense, then, that living a life of general solitude would be very appealing to me. Lately, though, I’m finding the opposite to be true.

I need people … darn it.

Sunday night I played basketball with a group of guys; Monday night was our company Christmas 1503361_10154899491520551_4710955220160445037_nparty; and last night I attended a showing of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with some friends. Three nights in a row of not sitting on my couch and actually interacting with other people, a fairly miraculous achievement for me. I’m not sure I would have the mental stamina to keep up that kind of schedule all the time, but I feel infinitely better than I did this past Saturday, when I found myself sitting in my bathroom wondering if I ever wanted to come out again (That will probably be the subject of another post soon…).

Isolation is one of the classic traps of depression. You start feeling as if everyone has forgotten about you, that no one knows how you’re feeling, and that no one particularly cares about either one of those two points. Perhaps even more insane, you start actually believing you can handle everything on your own, leading you even further down the path of being alone. Bitterness, anger, loneliness, and all kinds of other negative emotions can follow. It’s a downward spiral.

Today, I am catching up on this blog, but for the past three days I feel as if I’ve been catching up on being a normal human being again. I’ve been re-learning how nice it is to have casual conversations and play games with other couples and eat out at restaurants without having to make sure a high chair is available. I missed writing here Monday, and there was no Tuneful Tuesday entry yesterday, but I think I can live with a few less page views if it means me reconnecting with reality.