Is It Over?

I have been sort of reluctant to write about something going on with me, something I am not exactly used to. I may have touched on it a few times here, but I’ve never been brave enough to bring it fully into the light when it’s happened before. I’m not sure how many of you will believe me when you read it anyway. Tonight, though, I’m taking the chance. So, here goes…

I’ve been feeling really good lately.

My typing those words makes me want to duck and cover. It’s like someone throwing a lit match into a propane grill filled with gas – you know the grill will light up just fine, but you’re also terrified that it will light you up as well. I’m nervous about even speculating that I might feel good, because usually when I mention it, that’s when the wheels fall off and I’m left wondering how I ever thought I could not feel bad in the first place.

At the moment, though, I’m in a good place. I mean, everything’s not perfect, but I don’t figure it ever will be. I can’t even really put my finger on what it feels like to be in my head right now. It’s just … just … clear. The new medication seems to be working, although I’m wrestling with some side effects. My becoming a college student again is progressing along. I’m actually beginning to feel as if I’m good at a couple of things. While this may be totally normal to most of the world, to me, it is not.

can-depression-be-cured-5-638Will it last, though? Or is this part of being (gulp) … cured?

Is there really a cure for depression? I mean, the debate has raged for years as to whether addicts can be cured of their addictions completely or whether they simply learn the means to manage them. Can someone who is depressed ever be not depressed, or do they merely become more and more adept at managing the wolf at the door? As with the addiction question, the answer depends largely on who you ask. Some people believe it can go away; others believe it will always be there.

To be perfectly honest, I have felt the way I do for so long, the prospect of feeling different actually makes me a little apprehensive. I mean, who will I be? Will I be happy in my own head, but unbearable to those around me who knew me before? Will I make wise decisions when I’m not under the cloud anymore, or will the cloud never really go away? I’m happy now. Will I be happy tomorrow?

I suppose in the end, the answers to these questions don’t matter so much. Either way, there will have been a sadness there that will have lightened, and that should be enough. My problem is that I have let this feeling define me for so long, I’m not sure what I would do without it. If right now is any indication, though, I’m pretty sure I can figure it out.

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Obsession With The Beast

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee, as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

moby dickI have attempted to read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick three times in my life. None of those times occurred while I was in school. Somehow, even as an English major in college, it was never an assignment in any class I was in. I obtained a copy of the book for myself years ago when I worked for a used college textbook warehouse. I’m not sure why I felt as if I needed to have it then. It just seemed important somehow.

I say that I have “attempted” to read Moby Dick three times in my life because I have never actually finished it. In fact, I’ve never even gotten that far into the book. It’s not an easy read, and it is very, very long. I think what keeps me coming back to this literary classic is the character of Captain Ahab. Or, at least, the idea of Captain Ahab – a man so blinded by his obsession with a gigantic sperm whale that he eventually allows the very thing he has been pursuing to literally drag him down to his death.

Over the past two years, I’ve been reading a lot about depression. I have a real passion to understand this beast. I would eventually like to help people escape from it. I sometimes feel as if it has stolen large chunks of my life from me. There are times, though, when I wonder if I really want to escape it. It has been with me so long, I am not sure how to live without it. Sometimes I’m not only not sure if I can get better, I’m not even sure if I have the desire to get better.

I have gained a ton of useful knowledge on the topic of depression from all the reading I’ve done and the counseling I’ve received. In a weird way, I actually enjoy learning about it. It helps to unravel many of the mysteries of my life I’ve never been able to figure out. I like to hear people’s stories, even though some of them do not necessarily have happy endings. I’m fascinated by how our own minds can turn on us, warping how we perceive our own realities. I’ve become this sort of morose geek, I guess.

More than once, though, in the process of writing this blog, reading all those books, and talking about depression with anyone who wanted to strike up a discussion about it, I have been confronted with the following question: Do you ever wonder if you’re getting a little too into this? The world is full of authors and actors and researchers who have been sucked into the abyss of whatever dark knowledge they were pursuing. They chased the whale, and the whale took them down into the depths of the sea.

I enjoy writing this blog. It’s therapeutic, in a way. I want it to be somewhere people can come to and say, “Oh, I’ve experienced that before!”, and know they are not alone. Eventually, though, I would like to offer the occasional story of how I’ve overcome something or some accomplishment I can celebrate or some tip I can pass on to someone else. Not that I haven’t done that here before, but those types of postings have been few and far between. I suffer from depression, and I know it. I just wonder sometimes if I am a little too comfortable in that knowledge.

Maybe the point of Moby Dick was to show that Captain Ahab literally could not live without his arch nemesis in his life. He could not exist without the pursuit of his enemy. One has to wonder if Ahab had managed to kill the whale cleanly and live if he would have been any happier. Some days, I feel as if I am chasing that same whale, and I wonder if the pursuit is worth it. And I wonder if I can live without it.

Epilogue

I like books. I don’t mean I just like reading books. I mean I like books. It just feels wrong to me to read a book off of a computer screen. I like to turn the pages. I like to feel it in my hands. I like to find some odd piece of scrap paper or some random bookmark to hold my place until I can start reading again. I like to see books sitting on my bookshelf, whether I actually read them or not.

Because of this, I love to randomly cruise bookstores. I hardly ever buy anything. It’s odd. I can watch a movie multiple times and not get tired of it, but once I finish a book, well, I’ve finished it. I don’t pick it up and read it again. Nevertheless, I still like to rummage through bookstores, and occasionally I will actually spend a little money on something to read.

beyond beliefOne of my purchases last year was Josh Hamilton’s autobiography Beyond Belief. The book had been out for several years, so I was able to snag it cheap at the local Books-A-Million. Hamilton was still a member of the Texas Rangers when the book was published, before he signed a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. I had a little money with me and had always wanted to read it, so I bought the paperback edition.

By now, even non-baseball fans know Hamilton’s story of being a five-tool prospect to bottomed-out drug and alcohol addict who was booted out of baseball completely to born-again Christian who rose from the ashes of his own story to return to the major leagues and become a star player. It is a truly inspiring story, a light of hope for anyone who has ever sank to the depths of addiction and wondered if they could ever recover again.

On the left side of the book’s cover, there is a small, red circle. Typed in white letters are the words “Includes a New Chapter Updating Josh’s Journey.” This update comes in the form of an epilogue added to the end of the book. In the epilogue, Hamilton and his wife, Katie, recount his 2009 relapse, during which he was photographed shirtless in an Arizona bar with several women.

Unfortunately, the events described in that epilogue would not represent the last time Hamilton would relapse. Major League Baseball officials are currently debating whether or not to suspend Hamilton for admitting to abusing alcohol and cocaine this past February. At issue is whether the incident constitutes a violation of the drug treatment Hamilton was required to be a part of to be reinstated to baseball in 2006. He could be facing up to a year’s suspension from the game.

We Christians love heroes. We love to celebrate stories of recovery, and we love to push those who have those stories out in front of the crowd. When one of them falls, the public fallout can be vicious. Christians and non-Christians get angry. At the heart of their anger is this: That person claimed to be one thing and turned out to be another.

Obviously, Hamilton’s latest relapse is a stark reminder to Christians everywhere that no one is above a fall from grace. It is also a reminder of why people become Christians in the first place. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to stumble from time to time. Sometimes we may not even be stumbling; we may just want to leave the narrow way for a while. Whatever the case may be, we are not going to be perfect.

A greater issue to me, though, is the point I mentioned earlier about the image Christians attach today to their heroes. Barnabas Piper wrote the following words in article for WORLD Magazine:

Christians often try too hard to find heroes. There is a distinct difference between appreciating someone’s story of redemption and making them a poster boy of faith. In doing so we put the emphasis on their lives and their works, and take it off of God’s grace. Grace is the differentiating characteristic between Christianity and every other religion, and when we downplay it we actually lose our witness. So how do we respond when one of our heroes relapses? We see ourselves in it and recognize the universal, deep need for God’s grace. This is what sets us apart and it’s what Josh Hamilton (and you) need now.

I remember talking with a friend once about this particular issue. I told him I thought it was interesting that all of the Christian testimonies I hear are from people who have totally overcome their issues. Wouldn’t it be odd, I asked, to hear a speaker say that they were still struggling with sin? No one would want to hear that, even though it would be totally identifiable for scores of people. People forget that Josh Hamilton had to be accompanied by a handler everywhere he went, couldn’t have cash on him, and had to submit to weekly urine tests to keep his job. It’s not like he was an addict and walked away scot-free. That seemed to be how we all wanted to view him, though.

There could always be an epilogue to anyone’s inspiring story. King David did a lot of wonderful things … then he saw a woman bathing on her roof. Noah was the only righteous man on Earth … then he got drunk. Hamilton’s story continued after the epilogue. Everyone’s does, even if they fall a thousand more times. Whatever Hamilton’s ultimate punishment may be, the grace that saved him will always be there. Just like it is for the rest of us.

World Full Of Triggers

In a recent post, I described how I had been sick one weekend and had spent an entire day just watching movies on my computer. I wrote about watching the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. What I didn’t mention were the other two movies I watched that weekend. One was Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and the other was Thanks For Sharing, an ensemble-type movie with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, and Pink.

Locke was a very interesting exercise in minimalist film-making, with the whole movie comprised of Hardy driving in a car, talking to people on the phone. It’s actually much more interesting than that synopsis, but I don’t want to give too much away. Thanks For Sharing has been billed as a romantic comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is a movie about sex addicts struggling to live lives of sobriety. It’s not without its lighter moments, but it is definitely not “date night” fare.

For the most part, I respected how the film dealt with the struggle sex addicts go through to try to beat their thanks-for-sharing-movie-12step-therapy-group-sex-41addictions. Ruffalo, in particular, goes to great lengths to keep his addiction at bay, including using a flip-phone, avoiding the internet, and having televisions removed from any hotel rooms he stays in. He becomes a mentor to Gad’s character and forms a romantic relationship with Paltrow. He looks like the guy who is going to make it.

But he doesn’t. He falls. And he falls hard.

I figured a movie dealing with sex addiction would go to some uncomfortable places, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Ruffalo’s relapse. It features an explicit sex scene, with nudity, and a horrible incident with a former lover after that which nearly ends in tragedy. The fact that these scenes exist in themselves could possibly be understood from the viewpoint of someone making the film. From the standpoint of sex addicts who possibly were watching the movie to observe how it treated the condition, the two scenes could basically be considered triggers for relapses in their own lives.

Let’s face it: If you are addicted to anything in this life, you don’t have to search very hard to find something to trigger your addictive behavior. Gad’s frustrated character in Thanks For Sharing remarks at one point, “Is all of Manhattan just one big (explicative) catwalk?”. It’s not just sex, though. Alcoholics are bombarded with how cool drinking beer is. Food addicts are daily served up a steady diet of unhealthy options. Those suffering from depression can get their daily downers simply by turning on the radio for a few minutes.

All this makes me wonder… Are we actually killing ourselves?

I mean, if we’re all trying to stay away from something, how does it make sense that we get assaulted every day with the very things we’re trying to avoid? In this pretty stunning video, comedian and actor Russell Brand talks about how soft-core pornography is readily available and even the accessibility of hard-core porn has skyrocketed over the years. Numerous studies have been produced about the negative effects of pornography on the brain, but we just keep pumping it out. Are we naive or stupid or do we just not care?

Life is hard. Life with an addiction of some sort is even harder. It would be difficult living alone in an enclosed box. We don’t live in boxes, though. We live in a world where the guns are loaded.

And there are triggers everywhere.

Feel Anything

When most people hear the word “depression,” they equate it with sadness. If someone is depressed, the reasoning goes, they must be really sad all the time. The key, then, is to find out how to make the depressed person happy. Easy enough, right?

Well, not always.

Just type the words “I feel dead inside” into your search engine and see how many results come up. A great majority of people who experience depression report not being able to feel any emotion at all as being one of their primary symptoms. They don’t feel happy, but they don’t feel sad either. They aren’t at peace, but they can’t muster much anger about anything. They don’t feel emotional pain. They become numb to emotions.

People often wonder at the number of those among the depressed who also have various addictions. The practice of cuttingcutting is rarely understood. Researchers have often pointed out links between depression and high-risk behaviors. All of this would seem to run counter-productive to a depressive ever getting any better, since all of these behaviors usually result in making the sufferer feel guilty or ashamed and can even result in physical harm.

The obvious question, then, is, why?

There’s a line in the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” has a line in it I always found very poignant: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.” Sometimes the action is not intended to accomplish anything except producing a feeling of some sort. Any feeling, whether it’s pain or pleasure or a high of some kind or even some type of near-death experience. Someone with depression may make a decision that can only be described as stupid simply to experience a jolt in their emotions.

Of course, depression cannot be cited as a reason for every not-so-good decision in life. Every day, though, someone wakes up feeling absolutely numb to the world around them. Nothing brings them enjoyment. Nothing makes them grieve. Nothing makes them laugh. Nothing makes them cry. They desperately need something, but they don’t know what it is, so they fling themselves at anything they think might make them care again.

So for everyone who believes the key to conquering depression is to just figure out how to make everyone happy is missing the point. The solution is to make people excited to be alive again. To give them a purpose for getting out of bed every day. To replace whatever harmful behavior they are using to cope with something beneficial to them.

Sometimes it’s not just a matter of “taking a happy pill” and “turning that frown upside-down.” It’s about becoming a person again. There is no equation for that, and the journey will look different for everyone. Judgement will have to be replaced with mercy and understanding, because they are going to get it wrong along the way. The trick, though, won’t be to just keep going. It will be to just keep feeling.

The Bone

I haven’t written anything here in a few days. I could blame that on a lot of different things. I was catching up this past week from being sick and basically out of commission the week before. I had a lot of extra work to do. I had to drive my kids to some various events. I went to a college basketball game one night. I could go on, but you probably get the point. If I needed a nice, tidy excuse, I could come up with one fairly easily.

Real life, however, is rarely ever nice and tidy, and neither is the mind of someone learning to deal with depression. We live in a day and age where people’s ability to share personal details is unprecedented. I have been routinely astounded by the amount of personal details shared by my fellow bloggers. In a way, they are providing a great service by letting other struggling souls know they are not alone in their struggles. Some of it is just so raw, though, almost to the point of being uncomfortable to read. Maybe that’s the point.

I have not reached that level of confessional writing, however, so when I found myself faced with some rather uncomfortable truths about my own thought processes last week, I wasn’t willing to share every minute detail with anyone with an internet connection. I suppose this could be a matter of pride on my part. There is enough of a people-pleasing narcissist in me that I want to appear as angelic as possible, so anything that would diminish my illusion here as a purveyor of some type of wisdom on depression and/or mental health tends to not have a spotlight shone upon it.

Sometimes in working through this journey, some issues just cut too close to the bone. Like when you discover you don’t have as much of a handle on your anger as you thought you did. When you realize you may be addicted to something. When you find yourself a little bit afraid of what you might be capable of. When the sadness you thought you had pushed down and triumphed over peeks out and shows its ugly face again. And, of course, when you realize you have spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over those very issues when you would have benefited more from just living your life unaware and focused on the world around you rather than the battles in your head.

So rather than hammering away at topics that were largely exclusive to my own brain, I decided to take a break. I felt if I were to write about all my self-analysis, all I would be doing is descending deeper into the rabbit hole, and that was not a place I needed to be. I actually had someone tell me recently I needed to get out of my own head so much, and maybe they were right. Some self-assessment is a good thing, but when it begins to become the entire scope of what you think about, you lose touch with the world around you. Depression makes us feel alone; the best way to foster a feeling of being alone is to hole up in your own thoughts.

What’s in store for this week? Who knows. Maybe a nicer, cleaner wrap-up of what happened last week? That sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?

If only it worked like that.

One Day I Was

One week ago today, I was in the process of working an 11-hour day. The next day, I played basketball in my driveway. The day after that, I went to church that morning and attended a Super Bowl party that evening.

Since that time, I have worked a day-and-a-half. I found out I have the beginnings of arthritis and bone spurs in my lower back and been to the chiropractor twice. I’ve also visited my family doctor twice, had two strep tests and one flu test (none of which came back positive), and received a new prescription today, bringing my total for the week to three.

I have no plans for this weekend, save for lying around the house, resting, sleeping, and, hopefully, healing up enough that I can return to work Monday.

What happened?

I mean, last week, I was a picture of health. I was running around everywhere, picking up portable tables (which sort of got me into some of the back trouble I mentioned earlier), playing guitar, blogging every day, eating whatever I wanted (to an extent), going wherever I wanted to go. I worked a full day yesterday, came home, and spent an hour in the bathroom sitting in front of a space heater to get warm.

What a difference a week makes.

I’m going to get over whatever this sickness is, and my back is going to improve. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant; I just know that sicknesses go away, and my back has been messed up like this before and gotten better. What all this has reminded me, though, is how quickly life can change. In this case, the changes have been purely physical. In other instances, though, they can be mental. And heartbreaking.

One of the stories that broke while I’ve been laid up this week was the one concerning Randy Quaid. As I watched 635586404474725712-Randy-Quaidhim bizarrely rant against Rupert Murdoch and Warner Bros., sporting that long white beard but still speaking like the Cousin Eddie I remember, I thought of all the people I’ve known who have done things I never expected them to. I don’t just mean they were mean when I didn’t expect them to be or they had some type of moral failure; I mean they went freaking nuts.

They changed. One day they were normal; the next thing I knew, they weren’t.

What happened?

Life and health are precious things. They have to be guarded and protected. Mental health is no different, though. Just as whatever sickness I had developed in my body and my back trouble accumulated over time, falling from healthy thought into mental illness or struggle is not something that just happens in an instant, no matter how sudden it may seem to us. Just as I couldn’t see any of the physical problems I’ve experienced this week coming, however, we rarely see mental difficulties setting upon us. One day, we’re just there, and then we have to figure out how to get back.

I’ve never become ill and not believed I would get better, but the day will eventually come when that happens. It’s not today, though. I have lived under the impression I would be depressed forever, and that is faulty thinking I have to battle every day. One day I was healthy; next day I wasn’t. I will be again, though. Whether you have suddenly awakened to the fact you are depressed or anxious or addicted, you can be okay again.

One day you were well. I want you to be well again.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

If you’re a follower of this blog, you probably noticed there wasn’t any “Tuneful Tuesdays” post here yesterday. In fact, there wasn’t any post at all here yesterday. The explanation for this is pretty simple.

Yesterday sucked.

External factors were certainly involved. My mom is in the hospital right now with the symptoms of what is likely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My youngest daughter had a case of strep throat this week. My two oldest daughters are still playing basketball for a local Christian private school, practicing three days a week, and my oldest son has started Upward Basketball now as well. And, of course, as with any job, there has been no shortage of workplace drama to occupy my time.

Certainly a list such as this could cause a day to not go so well. The real problems, though, were internal, with me. I threw the day away. I stayed on the internet too much. I didn’t get enough work done. I was irritable with those around me. I did morally disappointing things I won’t discuss here. All of this put me in a state of agitation, guilt, shame, and depression. In short, I found some mud, and I wallowed in it.

Identity-ChrisYM-Blog-4-In the midst of all this, I began taking a new antidepressant yesterday. Most antidepressants don’t really start showing any effects until after a few weeks of use, so there is obviously going to be an adjustment period. I was discussing this with someone yesterday when they gave me a somewhat unexpected admonition: Be very careful to not to start identifying yourself too closely with what you’re dealing with. In other words, just because you struggle with depression, don’t let your whole life be about that.

So yesterday was a train wreck, today was me coping with the fallout of everything that happened the day before, and tomorrow will be … what? Well, I know what it could be. It could be another day of me filtering everything through the lens of a person who is struggling with depression. Someone who is going to do the best he can to cope with the struggles he faces. Someone who has to fight back the various temptations that have dogged him for years, temptations that will never go away.

Or…

Instead of focusing on the symptoms of my depression, maybe I could focus on ways to alleviate those symptoms. Better yet, I could start living as someone who has figured out what was going on with himself mentally and has taken strides to improve himself. I could put safeguards in place to avoid those temptations and realize I am someone who can overcome them. I could stop dwelling on all the things I’ve done wrong in the past and start living in the present instead. I could take one step at a time instead of attempting to review the past 20 years and map out a strategy for the next 20.

I started this blog to offer encouragement for those struggling with depression or mental issues. I wanted to let people know they weren’t alone, that someone else out there knew how they were feeling. Somewhere along the way, though, I became more focused on problems than solutions. I never want to pretend I have all the answers. In fact, I generally don’t like bloggers who claim to. If I don’t begin to think like an overcomer again, though, I am doomed to just keep repeating the same miserable days over and over again. When I went in for counseling over a year ago and began taking medication, I didn’t do it so I could remain the same. I did it so my days would get better.

So, to summarize… Yesterday, bad. Today, rebuilding. Tomorrow, hopeful. All I can do is move on. I haven’t been doing very much of that lately. Tomorrow would be a good day to start again.

Someone, Sometime, Somewhere

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you didn’t matter.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you weren’t good enough. Actually, worse than that. They told you that you would never be good enough. Ever. They didn’t apply that to what you were doing; they applied it to who you were. It wasn’t a matter of your ability or your skill level of your aptitude for learning things. They made you believe you were so flawed as an individual that nothing you ever did would succeed.

Someone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you couldn’t really be worthy of love. Sure, you may have found love in different places or relationships. You may have experienced it on a deep and personal level. But you never felt like you deserved it. If anyone ever found out who you really were, they would take their love away. All of your relationships would have to be maintained by you never quite letting the other person see everything. You would always be one bad move away from being left all alone.

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbSomeone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you would never get better. Your depression, your addiction, your sickness… You were going to have to live with those forever. You could try a lot of different things – medication, therapy, prayer – but none of them were really going to work. You might make a little progress here and there, but you would always slide back to your basic state. They may have event old you it would be better just to put an end to everything, so you could save yourself and everyone around you a lifetime of heartache.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you a lot of things. You’re ugly. You’re crazy. You think too much. You feel things too deeply. You over-analyze everything. Your feelings aren’t relevant. You’re too shy. You’re too loud. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re a hothead. God couldn’t love someone like you. You can’t change. You’re going to be the way you are forever. You might as well just give up.

Someone, sometime, somewhere also told you that you were wanted. That you were loved. That you had hope for a future and strength enough for the present. That you didn’t have to stay the way you are. That it might take years and year of work, but you could actually get better. That you were handsome enough or pretty enough. That you would never be left all alone. That you could actually win every now and then. That you had hope.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you did matter.

Who do you believe?