A Day Off: Age of Ultron Edition

Nothing in-depth from me today, folks. I am going with some friends to see Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight! Of course, I am having to fight my usual anti-social feelings to actually go out and do something, but the promise of more Marvel goodness on the big screen is too tempting to pass up. Catch you all tomorrow…

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Your Condition

One of the major concerns I had when I first decided to write about my depression was that someone was going to read it and label me as damaged goods. As someone who was something less than capable. As someone who could not be trusted. As someone who “needed help” to make it.

The world is full of stories of people who were told that they couldn’t do something, and how that offensive perception motivated them to prove their naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, none of those stories are mine. I have had a tendency to let criticism force me into a hole and make me doubt everything about myself. I have let many a critic destroy my self-confidence over the years because instead of choosing to prove them wrong, I merely accepted that they were right.

Recently, though, I experienced something for the first time that made me want to rise up. Someone (who shall remain nameless here) made mention of my “condition.” It wasn’t presented in a derogatory way, but the underlying implication was this: You have not been adequate because of your depression. It was also suggested that I “get some help with it,” which I already am, so this just added insult to injury. I did not feel shame at that moment; I felt white-hot, pure rage.

silentThis is the danger and the double-standard people who choose to speak out about their depression face. On the one hand, they are heralded and applauded for their bravery. They receive encouragement and well wishes when they initially disclose this information. They are also branded, though. Their every flaw is suddenly put under a microscope. Things a “normal” person might say – “I’m having a really bad day today.” – become immediate red flags when uttered by a person who has been honest about their depression. It becomes a scarlet letter they wear.

Yes, there are certain aspects of life that are made more difficult by my “condition.” I tend to be hyper-emotional sometimes. I sometimes shun contact with other people. I am abnormally obsessed with thoughts about myself and my own condition. At times, I even have difficulty deciding on what color shirt to wear in the morning. My anxiety levels can spike to ridiculous levels. If living with depression were an easy task, it probably wouldn’t even have a name.

To bring someone’s “condition” up to their face, however, seems to be in incredibly poor taste to me. Unless it is accompanied by some sort of offer of assistance or encouragement, it is nothing more than a reminder to that person that they are what they always thought they were in their darkest and lowest moments – an inadequate creation. Society now preaches that those with depression should not fear coming forward with their struggles, but then it turns right around and makes an issue out of what they had been so afraid to share. There is no grace or dignity in that. No wonder people hide their afflictions for so long.

I want to be better than my “condition,” as I know everyone who struggles with depression does. There are scores of blogs online that delve into much messier and confessional descriptions of depression than this one. I am amazed by how freely some writers share their struggles. I have learned not to look down on them for their honesty, however, even if some of their writing comes dangerously close to online gripe sessions. I believe they can be successful, happy, well-adjusted people. They’re just having a tough time with things because of this demon they wrestle with daily.

When I took time off from writing this blog to study for the GRE test, I strongly considered not taking it up again. If this was going to be the stigma attached to me, I might as well just keep everything to myself. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided there were still some things worth saying. They may be just for me, but, if so, so be it. Even though I choose to speak out on this “condition,” I will not be defined by it. Shame on the person who thinks I am or will be.

Tuneful Tuesday: Invisible (And Different)

People are happy doing a great variety of things. Some are perfectly content to curl up at night with a good crossword puzzle. Some enjoy sitting on their front porch and watching traffic pass by. Some religiously watch their favorite television shows each week. Some may even be happy just leaning back in their recliner at night and dozing off after dinner.

I can’t begrudge anyone for what makes them happy. All those things I just mentioned, though? They’re not for me.

I have always felt a great pressure in life to be normal. To do what was expected of a regular person. If you think about it, ultronthough, people who are vastly different are celebrated daily in our culture. For instance, the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in the United States this week. It will be watched by scores of “normal” people, but it will have been produced by people who think largely outside of the box. A movie which deals with the fantastic would, logically, come from minds which dwell on the fantastic, and those minds are not going to fit the common mold.

For those among us who aspire to be writers, actors, musicians, painters, photographers, or anything else outside of a normal career, our thinking has to become different. Writing is an odd task, at least in my eyes, because it doesn’t produce anything tangible or usable. It’s words on a page, not a tool that can be used for repairs or clothing that can be worn or a house that can be lived in. It does have worth, though, so it requires someone who can stand apart from the crowd and be comfortable there.

I have not arrived at that place yet, and I believe there is a great number of people who are in the same predicament. As a result, a lot of us feel invisible to the world around us, or we feel like outcasts who don’t fit in anywhere. Some people push through, though, and make it.

This song is for all of us…

Back At It

It’s nearly 11 o’clock at night, and I have to be at work at 6 in the morning. Sometimes, though, you just have to get to a keyboard, ya know?

backIt’s been over two weeks since I’ve written anything here. Most of that two weeks was spent studying for the math portion of the GRE test, which I took this past Friday. Plenty of other things happened as well. I was given some devastating news by some people I really trusted. I’ve been to the bottom emotionally, to the point I even scared myself, and then I had to rebuild everything again. Through all of this, I’ve wanted to write, but I knew I had to take the break.

So, this week, I’m back, and I’m going to be detailing all those things I just mentioned, plus some other things. I’m actually not sure if anyone noticed I was gone, but I know I missed writing.

Good night…

Taking A Break

Fifteen days from today, I will take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test.

I am scared out of my mind.

I’ve written about my desire to return to school and obtain a master’s degree so I can work in some type of counseling field. I put action to my intention by making an appointment to take the GRE April 24. I have two fairly thorough study guides I’ve been going through, and I downloaded the GRE PowerPrep II software, which contains some practice tests. I feel like I have some good materials to get me prepared.

BloggingBreakAs I expected, I feel relatively confident on the sections involving English, writing, and analytical and reasoning skills. And, also as I expected, the math and geometry/quantitative reasoning sections are kicking my butt. I wasn’t good at geometry when I actually was a student in school, so asking me to tackle it now that I haven’t been in a classroom setting in over a decade is a tall task.

Since writing is what I really enjoy doing, I’ve been attempting to keep this blog up to speed at its regular pace, but I’ve realized that writing in the way I want to every day is keeping me from studying like I should be. So, with much reluctance, I’m going to take a break from writing here until I can get the test out of the way. I am petrified I am going to have spent all this money on taking the GRE and then fail it, so I am going to really buckle down the next two weeks.

As with most decisions I make, I’m sure I will get wishy-washy at some point and write a short post here and there, but I realize this is something I really need to do. So I wish you all nothing but strength, hope, and happiness as you continue to fight the good fight. Hopefully, when I return, I’ll have some good news for you.

The Year I Got Old

I turned 40 last year. To be honest, the whole experience was far less traumatic than I thought it would be. No black balloons, no aches and pains, no feeling that my life was ending. I ate Chinese food and went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The whole experience was nothing like I had pictured in my mind.

I felt like a relatively young 40. I was still in good health. I wasn’t on any major medications of any kind. I was physically active. I had a pretty decent idea of what was popular in the culture, so I was able to fit in fairly well with younger people. The only tip-off might have been the white hairs in my beard, but I thought those actually looked kind of cool, so I didn’t mind so much.

keep-calm-you-re-getting-old-4Something changed this year, though. There was something about passing 40 that seemed nearly more dreadful than reaching it. That wasn’t all, though. While I stayed physically active and maintained a good weight, my body was occasionally hinting that it might need more care than I was giving it. I found out I had some bone spurs in my lower back, which meant returning to the chiropractor on a regular basis. I would still occasionally feel pain in my quads, which I injured playing softball a few years ago. I would get shin splints if I tried jogging. I wasn’t falling apart by any means, but chinks in the armor were beginning to show.

I also noticed I was having to explain my references to the younger people I work with more often. On the flipside, they were mentioning more things I had never heard of. In my estimation, this kind of thing shouldn’t be happening quite yet. More and more of my stories were beginning with the words “Back when…”, and most of the people I was talking to weren’t even old enough to have a “back when.” As hard as I tried to stay on top of what was new musically, I found myself turning more and more to my iPod, which is largely filled with songs from the 1990s. I would see “celebrities” on television and wonder who the heck they were.

Most of all, though, I began to notice a lack of enthusiasm for certain things. Granted, part of this could have been caused by my depression and attempting to regulate my medication for it, but I felt a certain tiredness setting in. For the first time I can remember, I looked out the window this spring and didn’t want to go out and mow the yard. That chore is usually like a fortress of solitude for me. As much as I enjoyed getting my bicycle out and riding it again, I nearly had to drag myself out the door to do it. I found myself having to be more and more diligent to keep myself from sliding into the cold, gray area of just not caring that much about anything.

That is a part of getting older, though, isn’t it? You have to work a little harder to maintain things. You have to adapt to your surroundings a bit more. You have to adjust for limitations. You have to become comfortable with the fact that you don’t know the name of every member of every new band or have never watched the most popular video on YouTube. You have to realize that sometimes not caring can actually be a good thing. Yes, you get old, but you somehow learn to do it gracefully.

So I will mark this down as the year I got old. Somehow, though, that doesn’t sound so scary to me now. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And that may not be such a bad thing after all.

By Definition

We all want so badly to be right. We just know that what we’re thinking must be superior to the opposing point of view, and we believe if we just yell loud enough that we can convince them of the error of the their ways. It is just so obvious that our answer is the correct one.

I had never heard of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International before today. According to the organization’s website, CCHR International is “a non-profit, non-political, non-religious mental health watchdog. Its mission is to eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections.” Sounds noble enough. CCHR International is also committed to “working alongside many medical professionals including doctors, scientists, nurses, and those few psychiatrists who have taken a stance against the biological/drug model of ‘disease’ that is continually promoted by the psychiatric/ pharmaceutical industry as a way to sell drugs.” Perhaps a little strongly worded, but, again, a fairly noble endeavor.

I found out about CCHR International through a video posted on a friend’s Facebook page today. In the video, a series of teens and children are seen wearing tee shirts with the name of various mental disorders (bipolar disorder, personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc., etc.) on the front of them. Those stickers are removed as the video progresses to reveal words such as “leader,” “inventor,” “artist,” and “revolutionary.” The video concludes with the words “Stop psychiatric labeling of kids” being flashed across the screen.

In general, I approve of the message the group is sending. Plenty of children who have been labelled with behavioral disorders were acting merely as, well, children would act. And certainly many behaviorisms which could be perceived as negative can actually work in a person’s favor. Many times, efforts to eradicate those behaviors serve more to strip the child of their natural personality and may even leave them more confused about who they are and what their gifts are.

There is a part of me, though, that believes this is not the entire picture. Sure, some kids (and even adults) can push through the haze of a mental illness or behavioral disorder to discover an even greater resolve and a dedicated lifestyle of concentration and effort. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was reported to have major bouts of depression, but was also one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. Some kids, though, cannot climb these mountains on their own. Whether it be counseling or medicine or a different style of learning, they need a hand to get to the top.

I think back to some of my more difficult years in school. Could I have benefited from some extra help? It’s difficult to say now, but I don’t believe it would have hurt. I remember a time in the first (or maybe second grade) when I would inexplicably burst into tears every day in the cafeteria. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on there, other than remembering feeling really scared. Perhaps I could have used some counseling. Times were very different back then, though. “Depression” was a not a word I grew up familiar with.

Accompanying the video on the CCHR International Facebook page was the following statement: “Childhood is not a mental disorder.” That is very true. Severe depression is a mental disorder, though, and it can scar children well into their adult years. Medicine people versus non-medicine people just doesn’t cut it. Each child has to be evaluated on an individual basis, and then what is best for them has to be decided. In our effort to declare a winner in the argument, let’s not forget that each person is an individual and that blanket statements will keep the conflict going on forever.

Feedback

ampFeedback, depending on how it is used, can either be a great asset or a great detriment to a musician. That squealing, high-pitched sound is cool if you’re Eddie Van Halen; not so much if you’re, say, Paul Simon. Whether it fits or not, though, the concept of feedback is always the same: A loop is created, which causes sound to be amplified over and over and over again, creating either a screech or a deep, booming roar, depending on the frequency.

In the “normal” world, feedback can also be a positive or a negative. If it is offered and accepted in the correct manner, it can greatly improve a situation. If it is resoundingly negative and harsh, or if the person receiving it does not accept it, it can be toxic. In either instance, though, it is required for a reaction.

I am a person who thrives on feedback. Does that mean I always enjoy the feedback I receive? Absolutely not. I’ve gotten downright mad about some of the feedback I’ve received. To me, though, that is better than being left to wonder. Positive feedback gives me tremendous confidence. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I feed off of it. The only trap I fall into regarding feedback is that too many times I let it define my worth.

What do I mean by that? Well, ironically, much of what I do is feedback-reliant. Take writing this blog, for instance. Yesterday, I wrote a post about light therapy, and near the end I asked for comments on the effectiveness of this. As of the time of this writing, I have received zero feedback. Sometimes I read other people’s blogs and compare the number of people liking their posts to the number who like mine. I want that continuous loop. Sometimes I want it too much.

Believe it or not, I did not write all that to attempt to manipulate you into commenting on or liking my posts. I wrote all that because I have noticed that as much as I crave that feedback, I am horrible about giving it myself. I’ve watched other successful bloggers form great networks and lasting friendships through interaction. I haven’t really done much of that. I have a few regular readers and “likers,” but there’s no one really promoting my stuff, and I don’t really promote anyone else’s sites either.

So feedback, I’ve come to learn, is indeed a continuous loop, and as frustrated as I may have been at different times over the lack of it I have received, I have also realized that many times I am the one not completing the loop. I’m the one not offering a pat on the back. I’m the one not following your blog when you follow mine. I’m the one ignoring your questions while asking you to answer mine. I need to do a better job of connecting the loop.

Let the feedback begin then.

Here Comes The Sun

I have felt unusually good this week. In fact, I’m a little hesitant to even mention how good I’ve felt for fear of another crash. Even though I know the possibility of “jinxing” things is probably not real, I’m still leery of shouting positive things from the rooftops. Remind me to add this to the “Things I Need to Work On” list.

I can’t exactly put my finger on the change this week. It could be a combination of a number of things. Maybe my new combination of medications is finally beginning to work. Maybe I’ve had less strife in my personal relationships. Maybe it’s because the temperatures have been warmer. Maybe it is because I have been bicycle riding every day this week. All of these could be working together for my benefit, but there has been one other significant factor I haven’t mentioned yet – the sun.

Occasionally, when I have entered into self-diagnosis mode, I have looked up information on seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I am far from an expert on it. I do know that it can have something to do with the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to. More than likely, a significant part of my improved mood this week has come from the combination of exercise and sunlight, but I’ve also noticed in the past that I don’t get the same “bump” from exercising inside. There’s something about the two working in unison.

I’ve read that light therapy boxes are an effective treatment for SAD. I’ve often wondered if a light box would help me DIAMOND_4_Light_Box_Sun_Simulator_for_SAD_(Seasonal_Affective_Disorder)through the winter months or through several days of rain in a row. I don’t guess I’ll know unless I try one out, but I wanted to put the question to you, dear readers: Are light boxes an effective way to decrease the symptoms of depression? I’m still not fully convinced I’m not chasing my tail on this one, so any input you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

The forecast here for the next couple of days is calling for rain. I suppose this will be an interesting time to test my theory, since there won’t be much sun. As I’ve written here before, I am one of the world’s worst about over-diagnosing myself, so maybe I shouldn’t think about it too much. Maybe I should just enjoy the high while it lasts. Then again, every little bit of information helps, so here I go again. Please leave some feedback, if you can. Thanks.