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.

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(Mental) State Of The Nation

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on Facebook the past three days. I wish I could say it has been an enjoyable experience, but the only thing I can liken it to is standing by and watching a train wreck. Everyone was just crashing into each other. There was no good end to anything. It just felt like … death.

taylor-swift-pressurizes-apple-to-reverse-apple-music-dealOf course, there is no shortage of things to talk about on social media these days. The Confederate flag. Gay marriage. Taylor Swift and Apple. (Okay, that last one, not so much, but there is some stuff going down there.) Instead of talking, though, most people just snipe at each other. Proponents of homosexual marriage love how the “haters” got it stuck to them. Southerners try to play up the heritage aspect of the Confederate flag. Everyone is convinced they’re correct. No one allows that they might be wrong. It’s an online shouting match.

I have my share of personal beliefs, just like anyone else, and I can certainly understand passion in people regarding the issues of the day. Everyone wants to leave this earth believing they made a difference, and being a part of a social movement is something everyone dreams of. They can say they helped, literally, change the world. Occasionally, passion may trump logic, but it is undeniable that the force of a public tidal wave of opinion is something people not only can be caught up in, but also want to be caught up in.

I am concerned about our nation, though, and it has nothing to do with what flags are flying where or who is marrying whom. I am concerned because there is a growing cloud of darkness over the American psyche today which threatens to plunge our culture into a new age of violence, hate, and depression.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to conservative talk radio. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the opinions being expressed there; rather, it was the tone of everything. Conservatives had all the right ideas, and liberals wanted to submerge the country in darkness forever. That was pretty much the basis of every discussion I heard. And I got mad at liberals. I would get to work after listening to one of these shows and not want to talk to anyone. That’s when I realized I had gone beyond anger, maybe even beyond hate. I had fallen into some type of abyss, and there was nothing good there at all.

I feel us all sliding into that abyss today, and for those already predisposed to darker moods, there may not be any Peacecamp&downhillestatejuly21st012-1way back. I have been down this weekend, and I feel heavy inside. That heaviness then begins to spread into the doubts and fears and anxieties I wrestle with on a daily basis. My mood begins to be colored in a different way, and soon I begin to let hopelessness creep in. For me, this means a deepening depression. For those disposed to violence, though, or those who possess great anger, where does it lead them? And do the hopeful become bitter? Where are we going?

I was reading an interesting article this weekend about the suicide rate in Belgium. Doctors are permitted to assist with suicides for all different types of reasons in Belgium, including non-terminal conditions such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, Belgium ranks 17th internationally on the list of suicides per 100,000 people per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 50th. My theory is this: When a nation expresses a willingness to condone taking one’s own life, its citizens follow suit. Therefore, if a nation projects depression and conflict, it stands to reason its citizens will feel the darkening mood.

Maybe I should get away from social media, television, everything where an opinion might be expressed. Then again, this is America, and those opinions have a right to be heard. I just wish it could be done in a way where sides are not so starkly chosen and battle lines are not so plainly drawn. The thought of us hacking each other to pieces is a depressing one indeed.

I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

What It Looks Like

Normally, I become very annoyed with social content websites. It seems as if every time I click on one of their links (which I usually see on Facebook), I am disappointed by the results. I either get a slideshow or a link to some other site or God knows what else. Still, I continue to visit these sites, with the hope that perhaps one day they will deliver what they promise.

Yesterday, I noticed a Buzzfeed link in my Facebook news feed with a title that caught my attention: “This Is What Depression Really Looks Like.” Against my better judgement, I clicked on the link, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Time to Change (http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/) has launched a campaign called “Get the Picture.” The aim of the campaign is to break the myth of the image of the “headclutcher.”  What that means is this: That image of a person with their head in their hands that is always used for depression? Guess what? It doesn’t always look like that.

I applaud Time to Change for their efforts, as many of the people I have known who have suffered from depression were masters of hiding it. Check out this link from Buzzfeed to see what I’m talking about. And keep your eyes open. It doesn’t always look like you think it will

Envy & Us

Yesterday, I wrote about how depression can cause people to become very selfish and unsupportive. I only sort of hinted at what can cause this type of behavior, though, probably because I didn’t want to admit I had it hiding in myself, too.

It’s envy.

Here is a comment a friend of mine left on Facebook after I posted a link to yesterday’s post there: “But what’s worse for me? It brings me down even further knowing that I have those selfish feelings. It is an evil cycle.” The word cycle is one that can be used often in the life of a depressed person. It basically means there are feelings that beget feelings that beget feelings… It’s almost like building blocks.

facebook depressionSpeaking of Facebook, the news world was abuzz this week concerning a study by University of Missouri researchers published in Computers in Human Behavior which linked use of the social media site to feelings of depression. Specifically, researchers discovered a link between Facebook use and envy. The problem seems to stem primarily from people perusing other people’s pages rather than participating in the more community/social aspects of the site.

Why is this a problem? Well, just browsing over a person’s profile is not going to produce an accurate representation of that person as a whole. We all want to put our best foot forward in the public eye, so all of our pictures are going to be smiling and happy; none of our posts will expose our darkest secrets; and we will do our best to appear busy, confident, productive, and happy. Without a component of human interaction, why wouldn’t we all think everyone else has a better life than we do?

Interpersonal relationships often yield surprising results. They let us know that other people are just as vulnerable, just as scared, and just as apprehensive about certain things as we are. Facebook, as a whole, can yield some incredibly positive experiences. It can reunite old friends, deepen relationships, even lessen the symptoms of depression in some instances. The problem isn’t with social media; it’s with us.

We get jealous and envious of those who seem to have it better than we do. We perpetrate a false image of ourselves to the world because we are convinced no one would accept the real us. We turn away from those who actually are honest about their struggles because they make us uncomfortable. All social media has done is just give the already-envious people within us the chance to step out onto the stage a little more.

The great irony of a site like Facebook is that it is ultimately antisocial at its core. It is designed to allow us to communicate with others without having to spend actual, physical time with them. A survey such as this one is exactly right and exactly wrong at the same time. It is highly accurate in connecting social media use to intense feelings of envy and depression. It falls short in painting Facebook as the villain. The enemy, as they say, is us.

Caring

When I was sick two weekends ago, I decided to catch up on some movies I had really wanted to see but couldn’t interest anyone else in seeing with me. One of those movies was Nebraska, the 2013 much-lauded comedy/drama starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. Overall, I thought the film was pretty good, and I was pleasantly surprised by Forte’s dramatic acting chops and Dern’s heartbreaking performance. I don’t know that I would have given it an Oscar nomination, but the fact that it did receive several gave me the opportunity to feel slightly more sophisticated for having watched it.

living roomWhile the film’s dramatic scenes carried considerable weight, a comedic moment was what resonated most with me. A family gathering is depicted, with Dern and Forte’s characters surrounded by male family members. Most of them are older (Dern’s character’s brothers), and they are all staring blankly at a television as some random sporting event is taking place. A totally inane, meaningless conversation begins about one of the men owning a Buick. Few words are spoken, even fewer are actually listened to, and the conversation ends just as it began, with awkward silence.

I have been in that living room before and sat through that conversation.

The area where I live received a significant amount of snowfall last night and today. I’m not exactly sure of the treesamount, and I’ve had to work extremely hard to not find out. There may be eight inches or 10 inches or a foot or who knows how much. I don’t do well when I dwell on such things. If I have to get out and go to work (which I didn’t today), then I have to get out and go. Every report of how awful everything is outside just fuels my anxiety and makes it even more difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand. I would rather just meet the challenge and get it over with.

Being in radio, I understand the necessity of media outlets to report what the forecast is going to be; to warn the public of any potential hazards the weather might create; and to describe travel conditions for those who will have to be on the roadways. It’s a public service, and it’s just the nature of what they do. What I do not understand is why some people feel the need to inform me of every single happening they heard about from social media, other friends, random acquaintances, and anyone else with the ability to communicate with words. Sometimes what they say is true; sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is greatly beneficial; sometimes it is not. For some reason lately, though, it is almost always annoying to me, and I haven’t been able to figure out why.

I’ve run through several possible reasons for this in my mind. I could just be an uncaring jerk. As I mentioned earlier, it could be because second-hand information of this sort usually only serves to increase any anxiety I might have over a situation. It may have something to do with my background in newspapers, where you had to make absolutely certain you had your facts correct before you shared them with anyone else. Maybe I feel inundated with information sometimes and just want it to stop.

Perhaps the saddest part of the living room scene I mentioned earlier is how it seemed everyone in the room had run out of not only things to talk about, but also things to care about. Nothing was exciting anymore. Nothing was new to them anymore. There was nothing on the horizon for them to look forward to. All anyone could muster was a stilted discussion about an old car. Sometimes discussions about the weather or who’s sick in the hospital or who’s left what church or who’s getting married (or divorced) put me in that living room. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being there; it’s just not where I want to be.

Barring something unforeseen, I will go outside in the morning, warm up my vehicle, and attempt to drive it to work. I’m sure a thousand-and-one stories exist to encourage me not to do that, but I don’t really want to talk about them. There’s a certain sort of excitement and adventure that comes with just doing what needs to be done and ignoring everything else, even if it’s not the wisest thing to do. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to sit around their living room and talk about snow or cars or anything else. I just can’t do it anymore.

I just don’t care enough. Or maybe I actually care too much about other things.

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.

TMI?

brain-gameI am 99.9 percent sure I have mentioned this before, but just in case I haven’t, I love the National Geographic Channel series Brain Games. The way the human mind processes information, balances chemical and emotional factors, and even sometimes tricks itself into believing various things fascinates me. As someone who over-analyzes everything to death, the series is a small slice of heaven on earth for me.

I follow Brain Games on Facebook (www.facebook.com/braingames), and yesterday an article appeared on the show’s feed that I felt the need to go read immediately. Titled “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain,” the article contains an excerpt from the book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, written by Daniel J. Levitin. In a nutshell, the article outlines how the fact that human beings have more information to technology and more capacity to obtain information than ever before is actually bad for their brains.

Rather than attempt to inject myself into the conversation concerning this article, I’m just going to post a link to it and see what you think about it. Then maybe I can follow up on it later. In all honesty, I’m about to fall asleep at my keyboard right now, which is possibly an indicator my brain needs to shut down for the day as well.

Five People

I work with a gentleman who is 72 years old. He’s a rather interesting fellow. He once managed a radio station, ran his own advertising company, and now lives on a houseboat (I don’t know, there’s just something interesting about living on a boat.). He also possesses a Masters degree in Psychology, which means I pick his brain quite often concerning mental health issues.

i-wonder-how-other-people-see-meMore often than not, though, he uses his education and experience to discern different things about me. For example, after I told him this morning about the long walk I was able to take by myself this past Saturday, he said a psychiatrist once told him to not feel guilty about getting out and doing things on his own every now and then. Then he looked at me and said, “I bet when you did that (i.e., went for the walk), you felt like you were abandoning someone or letting them down.”

Ping.

As a result of instances such as this, I tend to listen very closely when this gentleman dispenses any type of psychological advice. Now, I have always shied away from the “Choose one word to describe me” types of Facebook posts or cornering people into telling me what they think of me. It just feels too much like manipulation. I mean, what person is going to write or say in plain, public view, “Yeah, you’re kind of a jerk”? After something my co-worker said this morning, however, I may have to give this a shot.

He told me someone once recommended that he go to five people – family members, friends, whatever – and ask them what they thought about him. I would have completely brushed this idea aside if not for a reaction I received from the last piece I posted here this past Saturday. After posting a link to what I wrote on Facebook, one of my best friends from school messaged me and said, “That did not sound like the guy I remember.” That made me wonder… If one person didn’t see me the way I saw me, I wonder if others didn’t either?

So I’m posting this to look for my five people. Or it could be more than that. Send me a message on Facebook. Message me privately here. Send me a message on Twitter. If you know me well, great. If you don’t know me that well, take a shot in the dark. This is my little experiment, and I may immediately regret doing it, but I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe I’ll even hear from you.