New Site!

Hey, for all of you who only follow me here on wordpress.com, I want to let you know Lights in the Darkness now has its own website, lightsinthedarkness.net! Everything from this site is imported over there, and that is where I will be writing from now on. I also have a “Donate” option up there as well, so you can chip in a little bit and help me keep writing. So everybody head over there now and follow lightsinthedarkness.net!

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All Or Nothing

I really hate it when I repeat myself, but the truth is I do it all the time. As much as I try to stop myself from telling the same stories or writing about the same topics, I catch myself doing it frequently. At least with what I’m about to write here, I realize I’m doing it, and I acknowledge it freely.

I know I have written here about dichotomous reasoning, but when I did it before it was in reference to that also being recognized as “black-and-white thinking.” Things were either good or bad, right or wrong, and there was no in-between. Dichotomous thinking also refers, however, to “all-or-nothing thinking.”

All-or-NothingAll-or-nothing thinking can manifest itself in a number of different ways. For example, there’s perfectionism, where a person might insist on knowing a project will turn out perfect or just not start it at all. My issue with all-or-nothing thinking is a pass/fail mentality. Either what I do or have done is a complete success or it is a total failure. There is no “pretty good” or “acceptable,” and there is no room for the possibility that an outcome I haven’t seen yet could come true. I either succeed or I fail, and that’s that.

I have sort of a big week coming up, and I am trying my darndest to realize that the outcomes of upcoming events are not going to define me or lock me into an irreversible future I won’t be able to escape from. I’m also trying to remember that even if every plan I make this week goes awry, it does not mean that I am a complete failure, and it does not mean that I am doomed forever. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

I wish it were that easy. The more I come to learn about dichotomous thinking, the more I realize it is one of the more insidious aspects of depression. It terrifies a person, mainly because they constantly feel as if they are on the brink of falling into utter ruin. Anytime I have lost a job or been passed over for an opportunity or gotten a poor grade on an exam or struck out in a baseball game, I felt like my life was over. It obviously wasn’t; I’m still here. But I live in this uncomfortable place most of the time, where it feels as if the knockout blow is just around the corner.

Tomorrow, I will try to kick off a week of keeping dichotomous thinking at bay. It’s already tugging at me, and it almost makes me want to just pass on some things out of sheer terror. I won’t know the results unless I try, though, so I just have to put one foot in front of the other and take things one step at a time. I need to repeat those words over and over and over…

Hate

I’ve experienced a rather unsettling revelation.

I hate someone.

This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. People, by nature, are almost designed to bump up against one another and cause friction. Arguments and misunderstandings and dirty deeds will continue to happen between human beings from now until the end of time. Grudges will be held, friendships will be severed, and dislike will bubble over into hatred time and time again.

Something feels different about this, though, and that’s what is bothering me. Like most all of us, I have been mistreated personally and professionally at various points in my life. I’ve been picked on, although I’m not sure I was ever bullied. I was put down verbally and made to feel worthless. In most of these instances, I knew who the people were. It wasn’t as if pain were being inflicted on me by strangers. I always managed a certain amount of disconnect somehow, though, as if these people were more constructs of things I didn’t like than antagonists capable of wounding me.

As the old saying goes, this time it’s personal.

hateI’m not sure if fully realized hatred is possible in cases where trust has not been fully given. I’m not sure if a bona fide enemy can be acquired without some sort of relationship with a nemesis. I can’t imagine a deeper wound being inflicted by someone other than a friend, someone you have shared details of your life with and never dreamed they would ever do anything to hurt you.

This happened to me. I still can’t actually believe it. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up one day to discover it didn’t actually happen. I did trust someone. I did have a relationship with someone. I was friends with someone. It feels strange talking about it in the past tense, but it’s true. That state of being is over, and I’m not sure it will ever come back.

It also feels strange to feel absolutely no remorse over feeling the way I do. Even now, I want to include a paragraph about how I feel bad about how I feel and how I wish I could figure out how to put things right. I would be lying, though. I feel nothing right now but blind rage, and I wish nothing but vengeance on this person. I at least have the morality left to not try to inflict that vengeance myself. It is difficult, though, to not stoop to that level. I want to be a wrecking ball, destroying every object of hate in my path.

This feeling is not fading. It feels as if it will last forever, and everything from common sense to religion to quotes in the Reader’s Digest are telling me to let it go. I can’t, though. I don’t even want to right now. Is this meanness? Is it sin? Is a byproduct of depression? Am I just not a very good person, or am I simply a human being who is having a very natural reaction to a terrible situation?

I hate not knowing the answer.

Surprise!

fluSometimes I wish I just had the flu.

You know, you have a sore throat, a fever, a cough, maybe even a little upset stomach. There are very visible, outside symptoms. You can go to the doctor, he (or she) can look at you and compare the data in front of them to what they learned in medical school and then make a reasonably well-informed guess as to what is wrong with you. Then they can write you a prescription that is time-tested to cure whatever it is that is ailing you, whether it is actually the flu or some other illness you’ve managed to contract. Lie down for a day or two, take your medicine, and next thing you know, you’re good as new.

If only problems with the human mind could be as easily solved.

As I have written here before, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. To show how quickly terminology can change in mental health, however, it is now known as “persistent depressive disorder.” I have tried out several medications in an attempt to curb the symptoms of this particular form of depression, experiencing varying degrees of success with each one. I am currently taking Abilify, which is technically not even an antidepressant, but it seems to be working fairly well for me. “Fairly well,” however, does not equal “very well,” so I made an appointment several months ago to see a psychiatric doctor about what I should be taking.

Now, before anyone becomes overly concerned about me, the term “psychiatric doctor” pretty much just means a counselor-type who can prescribe psychiatric drugs (Yes, I am aware I just totally insulted the profession with that dumbed-down description.). I was not wrapped up in any kind of straightjacket or confining clothing, and no one attempted to have me admitted to any kind of facility. The appointment was more like a friendly chat discussing my symptoms and what medicine (or medicines) might work best to combat them.

Have you ever been to see the doctor, though, nearly absolutely convinced you knew exactly what was wrong with you and what the doctor needed to do to cure you? I approached yesterday’s appointment with that type of mindset. I was depressed and had been experiencing some anxiety-like symptoms, so I figured I obviously needed to review antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications and let the doctor determine which ones would work best for me.

How in the world, then, did I walk out of there with a prescription for Adderall?adderall

In case you’re not familiar with Adderall, it is most commonly used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (better known as ADHD). I do get sleepy sometimes, but not enough to constitute a diagnosis of narcolepsy, so that only leaves you one guess as to why it was prescribed to me.

That’s right: Mr. Shy, Mr. Good Grades All Through School, Mr. Back of the Room at a Party was told yesterday he met five of the 10 criteria for adult ADHD.

Huh?

adhdI thought people with ADHD were the ones who couldn’t shut up. I thought they were the ones who struggled with bad grades all through school. I thought they were the ones who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes at a time. I don’t fit any of those descriptions. I just got A’s in my two master’s classes. Why do I have a prescription for Adderall now?

It actually makes more sense than it might initially seem. I have always had a bit of a wandering mind. I remember being young and my dad trying to teach me how to work on cars. I don’t remember a word of what he told me. I know even now during sermons or long lectures, I have a tendency to nod off or lose attention. I have a horrible time getting organized, and as much as I talk about wanting to be a writer, I never actually get focused enough to put anything down on paper (or computer screen). I can barely pick out a shirt to wear in the morning without having a low-level debate with myself.

This kind of scatteredness is what drew the doctor to his opinion that I might need to be treated for ADHD. Actually, it sort of came down to a coin flip between that and anxiety, and since anti-anxiety medicines sort of slow you down and I’ve been struggling with drowsiness lately, we decided to try the ADHD treatment first.

Today was my first day on the drug, so I’m still not sure how much of what I experienced were actual effects and how much was placebo. I do know I was much more awake than I have been for a quite some time, and I did tons of work at my computer today. On the sort of weird side, I didn’t eat anything between breakfast and dinner. Not a snack or anything. Didn’t even want food. I guess this could possibly be a positive, as I seem to gained a few pounds since I started taking Abilify. Kind of hoping it isn’t an everyday occurrence, though.

As with any drug, one day’s worth of results is not enough to measure the effects of taking it, so I still couldn’t tell you if attempting to lessen the effects of ADHD (which I may or may not even have) is the right way to go for me. There may be a complete reversal of treatment in my future. Or there may not be.

Sometimes I wish I just had the flu.

Straddling The Line

Being out in the open about depression (or any other mental illness, for that matter) is not always an easy experience. There are all kinds of risks that come with sharing an affliction publicly, from public and private misconceptions to outward bias to destruction of relationships. Writing a blog also produces its share of hazards, most of which are associated with who reads it, what they think about it, and what level of influence they play in the writer’s life.

Put the two together. Then just take a step back and watch all the loads of fun unfold before you.

Aside from a couple of instances, I haven’t had too many run-ins concerning things I’ve written about here. Because of my dysthymic, pessimistic, and generally melancholy state of mind, however, I usually chalk that up to the fact that people who know me are much freer with their compliments than their criticisms, and I figure there are at least a couple of folks out there who really don’t like what I do here at all. One of the people I had an issue with before is effectively out of my life now, so I suppose that’s one less person I have to worry about offending. Woot.

Because I’m sort of obsessive about how many people read my posts every day, I try to keep track of which ones are doing better than others. There are a few sure-fire topics that always bring more readers in. Parenting is one. Anything about children always gets lots of views. Memoriams about people who have passed away always do well, too. Most of the time, though, topics with a pleasant vibe do not do nearly as well as the ones that take on a darker tone.

Even in people who do not suffer from any type of depression or mood disorder, there ss-140404-Kurt-Cobain-tease.blocks_desktop_medium_is a certain allure to the darker side of things. Think of the biggest songs and movies of all time. There is usually some element of death or heartache or longing in them. Many of those who produce art are among the most unhappy people on earth. Who did my generation celebrate as its martyr? Kurt Cobain. ‘Nuff said.

With that in mind, it is a real struggle for me sometimes to not just go fully off the rails and spill every deep, dark thing I’m thinking about onto the page. “I don’t know, dude; you’re not real cheery anyway.” That may be so, but, believe it or not, I hold a lot of stuff back. I don’t throw every depressive thought out there for just anyone to hear and judge. I could very easily, and there are many days that I would like to. I would love to delve into the depths I’ve seen the last two weeks, for instance, but I restrain myself.

Why? I guess there are a couple of different reasons. For one thing, I’m scared of how people will react. There are honestly times I am afraid someone will try to commit me. I don’t think what I’m thinking is that bad, but to someone who has never dealt with depression, what’s in my head may seem like a cause for major concern (and maybe it is.). Mostly, though, I’m just not sure how writing about my darkest hours is going to benefit someone else. Maybe if I can frame it in some way someone can identify with, I’ll go there, but negativity simply for the sake of negativity just seems wrong to me.

A thousand different thoughts are swirling around my head right now, and there are so many things I want to be point-blank honest about. I don’t want to give readers another “Here Are 5 Steps to Overcoming Depression!” article because I don’t know what those five steps are. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing posts like this, I can tell you that. I want to be real, but I don’t want to be so real that this becomes a wallowing party or, even worse, an excuse for someone to do something really bad to themselves.

At the moment, I feel incredibly free and incredibly restrained at the same time. For anyone who has ever bared their soul online, I certainly don’t mean to condemn you. Your pain is real, and you expressed it the only way you knew how. I hope it was therapeutic for you. Maybe I’ll let you deeper into my world with an email or a private message sometime. In the meantime, I’m going to keep straddling that line, hoping to not fall too far in one direction or the other.

Tuneful Tuesday: My Real Life

There are a handful of songs I have avoided featuring on “Tuneful Tuesday” because, quite frankly, they cut a little too close to the bone. They dig down past my simply liking the song or feeling as if the words were significant to a place inside me that is not comfortable anymore. They make me squirm a little. They almost act as mirrors of things I am feeling or have felt in my heart and soul at one time or another.

One of those songs is Colin Hay’s “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin.” Most people are familiar with Hay as the lead vocalist of Men at Work, whose hits included “Overkill,” “Who Can It Be Now?”, and, of course, “Down Under.” What most people don’t realize is that he’s been recording music as a solo artist ever since the band broke up in 1985. Apparently, actor and director Zach Braff is a fan, as Hay’s music was featured in both the television series Scrubs and the film Garden State.

I’ve seen people list this song among those they find very hopeful and encouraging, but I’ve never quite taken it that way. To me, it represents all those hopes in life that never quite come true, no matter how optimistic our outlook may be. Two lines, in particular, always get to me…

“Any minute now, my ship is coming in…”

“When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened…”

To his credit, Hay doesn’t wallow in self-pity in the song. Those two wistful lines are actually followed by ones of optimism, although it’s difficult for me to tell sometimes if he is actually attempting to be optimistic or if he is merely being sarcastic. In fact, I’ve never actually figured out if this song is about hope or denial. It’s obvious the singer’s hopes have been dashed time and again, but he keeps spouting lines that appear to ring of hope. Is he really staying that positive, or is he so sick of hearing cheery sayings tossed at him that this song represents a kiss-off to all those who keep telling him things will get better?

“Just let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”

I am a year past 40 years old now, and I still don’t feel as if my real life has begun. I haven’t found my niche. I haven’t gotten any big breaks. The things I dream of doing haven’t happened yet. And there are many, many days now where I wonder if they ever will. I’ve been waiting a long time. Is the fault with me? Is it just not God’s timing yet? Have I been dealt an unfair hand? I don’t know the answers to those questions. So when Hay sings “suddenly nothing happened,” I get a knot in my stomach and, if the day is bad enough, a lump in my throat.

The song finishes up with the line “On a clear day, I can see, see for a long way,” repeated once. I’ve had those days, too, where I felt as if I was bulletproof and that nothing in the world could bring me down. Unfortunately, that hasn’t turned out to be real life. I’m still waiting for that to begin.

And You’re Living For…?

The Dreamworks Animation movie The Croods has become one of my children’s favorites. We must have watched it at least three times now, and it’s grown on me a little more each time I’ve seen it. I’m not sure why I resisted it in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on caveman stuff. Or maybe I’m just not a big Emma Stone fan. Whatever the case may be, it had to win me over … and it did.

I’m struck a little more each time I watch this movie by how much I identify with the grugrole of the father, Grug. (Just a side note: Nicolas Cage totally knocks this voice-over out of the park. It’s a shame it took an animated caveman movie to remind me what a great actor this guy can be.) Here is a guy just trying to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t even really understand why he’s doing it. He just knows he’s supposed to keep the family alive, and that’s all he concentrates on. He’s so absorbed in performing that task, his own family even begins to tune him out. He winds up feeling like a failure, all because he did what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

There is a very poignant line spoken in the movie by Grug’s daughter, Eep (voiced by Stone), that so resonates with me every time I hear it: “That wasn’t living! That was just … not dying!” A counselor once told me it seemed as if instead of living life, life was just dragging me along. That’s what happens to me a lot. I don’t live; I just … not die.

As human beings, we seem to be hard-wired with a desire to stay alive. We cling to life under even the harshest of circumstances, even when there seems to be little promise waiting on the other side if we do. Those contemplating suicide are put under watch just to ensure they do not end their lives, meaning that even though they may have given up on holding on, the desire for them to live is so strong in someone else extreme measures will be taken by others to preserve a life that is not even their own.

Life is precious. We’re told that, over and over again. But no one ever says not dying is precious. Because it’s not.

See, holding onto to life is not quite enough. It’s like white-knuckling a ride on a roller coaster; you might make it to the end, but you didn’t have any fun getting there. You didn’t feel the freedom of letting out a primal scream or throwing your hands in the air and feeling the release of letting go. I believe there are so many of us stuck in this place. We keep doing things because we’re supposed to be doing them, but we really don’t take much enjoyment from them. They don’t leave us fulfilled, and they don’t increase our joy. They are billed as “living,” but they feel more like death.

In The Croods, the Crood family meet a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Guy-the-croods-34964097-480-379Reynolds). Guy is the opposite of Grug. He takes chances. He’s inventive. He’s not afraid. Most of all, though, he is hopeful. “Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to tomorrow.” There was a tomorrow for Guy that held more promise than today. When we’re just punching clocks and meeting requirements and unsure of what in the world we’re doing, tomorrow looks like death. You don’t follow the sun because it’s not there.

I would very much like to live and not just not die. Like Grug, though, I have spent a long time banging my head against the wall, simply trying to do the things I thought were most important. Maybe it’s time I came out the cave. Maybe it’s time I followed the sun.

Maybe I should go looking for tomorrow.

I’m Back

I really wasn’t sure I wanted to do this anymore.

Actually, I’m not sure if “wanted to” is exactly the right phrase. Maybe I should say “could” do this anymore.

I wrote a post yesterday for the first time in a long while. I’m still not exactly sure why I did it. I think I just had some things I needed to get off my chest. I can’t say the actual exercise of writing made me feel that much better. If anything, I had a lot of trepidation about how what I wrote would be received.

im-backMuch to my surprise, though, I received a few “likes” and some very nice comments on social media. It seemed that at least some people could identify with how I was feeling. The number of views wasn’t through the roof, but it was solid, especially considering I hadn’t written anything in quite a while. To say all this was a pick-me-up would be a massive understatement.

Basically, certain people have caused me lately to doubt whether I am good for much of anything anymore. They knocked me down to a level I don’t if I’ve ever been at before. I have been anxious and nervous, unable to sit still longer than a couple of minutes at a time. The looming feeling of worthlessness has badgered me, and there are times when I genuinely agree with it. I have been knocked completely off my feet.

So to type up something on the internet and have people – even people I’ve never met before in my life – respond to it in a positive way is huge. It’s enough to make me want to keep writing, which is what I love to do more than anything else anyway. It lets me know there may be some actual worth to what I have to say. And it gives me something to do, which is something I desperately need right now.

I feel, in a way, that certain restrictions have been lifted off of me concerning what I write here. That means what I post from now on may not be pretty. It may not be inspiring all the time. It may offend someone or hurt someone’s feelings. I certainly don’t aim for these things to happen, but they might. I just want to be real, and I deserve the freedom to me.

I’m back. Let’s get started.

No Thanks

It is true that I haven’t written anything here in a while because I have been taking graduate level summer school classes. I have another reason, though, one which I’m a little reticent to talk about in specifics. So, in order to be as evasive as possible, I’ll just say that life has put me through the ringer lately. The last two weeks have been some of the toughest I have ever faced from a mental health standpoint, and the depth of feeling I have reached today is nearly alarming. I feel empty, used up, hopeless…

saltUndoubtedly, someone will read that last line and take me to task on it. It is in these times that I have to remember not everyone has wrestled with depression in their lifetime, and quite possibly they never will. Or perhaps what they perceived to be depression was merely scratching the surface of what it can do to a person. Whatever the case may be, it is in these times that these people will try their best to help, to say the right thing, to “fix” whatever is wrong, and one of them will invariably tip the bucket of salt to pour directly onto the wound that lies open.

There are a great many things people will say in times of struggle, hardship, and emotional suffering. Many of these can be written off as benign sayings which we have all undoubtedly heard countless times before: “This is just a season. It will pass…” “You just need to get over it…” “One day, you’ll look back on this and be thankful for the lessons it taught you…”

Um, no to the third one. I will not.

To clarify, I do believe that one day someone can look back on a situation and express deep, heartfelt thankfulness that they are not in that situation anymore. In fact, I believe a person can even look back at a traumatic event and pick out some reasons they are glad the actual event occurred. But to be thankful for the symptoms? Uh-uh. No. No way. Not happening.

I refuse, then, to be thankful for the dark hole of depression I have suddenly been flung into. The person who experiences post-traumatic stress should not be expected to cozy up to it like it’s some bosom buddy. The thought of someone dealing with suicidal thoughts sitting down one day and chronicling how grateful they are for that season seems absurd to me. These things I just described all suck, yet there seems to be a strange sentiment floating around that they’re somehow blessings. They are not.

Hopefully, I will reach a place of happiness and mental healthiness again, and I will be able to sit down and write about how much better things are. Just don’t expect me to hail the benefits of being depressed, hopeless, and distraught. The only good aspects of these things is the part when they are left behind. If that makes me ungrateful, color me the most ungrateful man on the face of the earth.

What It’s Like

Have you ever noticed no one ever really asks what depression is like? It’s odd, considering people are prone to ask all kind of questions about other seemingly taboo conditions, everything from colonoscopies to prostate exams to hemorrhoids. With depression, though, there seems to be some type of fear of the unknown, as if knowing about it will forever lead a person down as long and dark a road as the person they are talking to.

What I have found, however, is that people who suffer from depression seem to not have much of a problem talking about themselves. Or at least they don’t have a problem talking about it with counselors or other depressives. With the rest of the “normal” population? Eh, not so much. I know in my case it is because I feel an immense weight to keep up the facade that I am a good person who has been blessed greatly and always does what is right.

I can assure you here, I am not that person.

Take today, for instance. The blade on my riding lawnmower has stopped working for the umpteenth time now. In itself, this would be a regular snag of life, something to be repaired in the natural stream of occurrences. Not for a depressive who is having an off-day, however. I was already quite overwhelmed by school and work from the rest of the week coming into today, and I had not been able to get to the yard all week because of intermittent rain nearly every day. Even the sections I finished were difficult, as wet grass kept clumping up beneath the blade deck, actually killing the engine a few times. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to be done with the whole thing, but I still had a at least another acre to go.

This feeling of wanting to quit eventually began to spread into other parts of my brain, and suddenly nothing seemed particularly worth doing anymore. I tried to pray that the lawn would become easier to mow and that the feeling would pass, but that was almost exactly when the blade stopped engaging. I was then able to completely bypass everything else and focus all my anger and frustration directly on God, who, instead of making things easier, saw fit to make them infinitely more difficult. Yes, I believe God can control lawnmower blades.

Following a (very) halfhearted and unsuccessful attempt at using a push mower to complete my task, I decided depressionperhaps a bicycle ride would do me good. After all, exercise is highly recommended for those who suffer from depression. It is supposed to work as a natural mood enhancer, and sometimes it does. Today, however, I was struck nearly immediately by the same feeling I had on the lawnmower: I want to quit. Being nearly four miles from home, however, I didn’t really have much option as to whether to continue on. I did make it home eventually, but I really wasn’t feeling any better about things.

And now I am here at this keyboard, realizing I haven’t written much of anything at all here all week, even though blogging is probably one of my most enjoyable activities. Today, though, nothing is really feeling like much of an enjoyable activity. No future scenario looks all that good to me. No present assignments seem all that important to complete. And at the same time, I feel an overpowering fear within me of being bored and finding myself un-useful to everyone. I want to be alone, but I am afraid of being thrown away. I know exactly what I want, but I have no way of getting it at the moment. Or at least that is what I have convinced myself.

So this is what it can be like. Is every day like this for me? Thankfully, no. But a lot of them are. And a lot of them are for other people as well. We just don’t tell you because we know you’ll either judge us, run away from us, or start trying to help us by throwing out advice we’ve heard about a billion times before over the course of our lives. We put up strong, friendly, smiling fronts, and all the while we can feel tears welling up behind our eyes and lumps buried in our throats. We don’t want you to see that, though. More accurately, we don’t feel like we can let you see that.

Sometimes we just need to know we can break down. We need to know we can unleash our secret thoughts and not be judged for them. We want someone to just say hello for the heck of it. We want to think something is worth fighting for, without everyone dictating to us what that something is. We need honesty and transparency. And more often than not, we get none of those things.

This is what it is like.