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.

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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.

 

Oppressing Myself

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about multiculturalism and how being a part of a race or ethnic group other than Caucasian can foster feelings of tremendous inadequacy. These feelings can lead to those in these groups seeking to dull the pain of their experiences through any number of means, including denial, assimilation, and even outright hatred toward their own heritages. Indeed, there is a desperation for some people to not only escape their situations, but also to escape who they are in general.

This is not light reading I have decided to pick up for myself on a whim. It is part of two college classes I am taking this summer. The prevailing opinion I seem to be picking up on so far is that white people – whether they realize it or not – are part of a privileged race. This privilege is not even necessarily evident; it simply exists because white people (white males, in particular) have traditionally been the dominant cultural group in America. As a result, many Caucasians have never experienced the type of prejudice and even hatred directed toward other ethnic and cultural groups. Therefore, they have less of a reason to loathe themselves because of their cultural station.

I’ve been turning this idea over and over in my mind, and I have come across a feeling of self-hatred for myself. It has not come from a sudden realization that I have acted in a racist way toward anyone, although I do not rule out the possibility that I have. I also do not mean that I necessarily feel as if I have been wronged by some other ethnic or social group, although specific incidents where this may have happened certainly spring to mind. If these two variables have been eliminated, then, where exactly does it come from?

Here’s what I have concluded: I have discriminated against myself.oppression-fists

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, it has to do with my depression and my lack of self-esteem. By result of my never believing I was very handsome, talented, skillful, or desirable, I denied myself many opportunities. It’s not that I didn’t want to succeed; it’s just that I didn’t particularly think I was worthy of it. Of course, external factors may have had a role in this as well, but the driving force in my desire to change myself came as much from inside myself as it did outside. Any barb or slight directed at me was not deflected by a sense of self-worth, but was rather taken to heart and assimilated into my personality.

I have reached a sort of crossroads in my life. I am starting to believe I am worth more, but I am concerned that I have spent so much of my life believing I was less that no one will give me a chance to prove otherwise. This is a hopeless feeling, to say the least. It almost describes the tree falling in the woods: If a person changes but no one takes notice, do they really change? Just as the answer to the question about the tree is affirmative, however, so is the one to this question concerning change. A member of an ethnic or cultural group who makes a lifestyle change does it as much for themselves as for the society around them. Perhaps that is the truth I need to focus on.

I’m Still Here!

I have not posted anything here since last Tuesday, but I have a very good reason why: I am a college student again! My first night of classes began last Wednesday, and I also have one class online. These are summer classes, so everything is going to be pretty compact and intense. I spent all day today reading, typing up a paper, and making copies of pages from a workbook. Welcome back, my friend.

SUMMMER-SCHOOLThat last line may be a joke, but I had honestly forgotten about the intensity of college courses in general, and I had definitely forgotten how compressed a summer class can be. As a result, I have been more than a little overwhelmed just trying to set up some sort of routine to deal with everything. I believe the newness and initial shock will wear off, however, and I will find my groove eventually. In the meantime, my posts here may be sporadic, which is sort of a shame because I’m getting some great material to write about from these classes.

So there you have it. Just my quick little check-in to say I’m still here, I haven’t stopped blogging, and I will have some really good stuff coming up in the future. Of course, the future maybe two years from now, but… 🙂

Tuneful Tuesday: Everything Has Changed

In May, for my job, I attended a concert featuring contemporary Christian bands The Afters and Hawk Nelson. It was a pretty decent show, even though neither of those bands are exactly on my list of favorites. The Afters probably had the more polished sound, but Hawk Nelson brought more energy to their stage show. Plus, I would up downloading a Hawk Nelson song after the concert, so I guess they won the night.

Except they didn’t, really. The opening act of the concert was advertised as Dan Bremnes, but when we arrived we noticed banners up for Justin McRoberts. I was familiar with one of Bremnes’s songs, but I had never heard of McRoberts. Turns out, he’s been around for quite a while, but has stuck mostly to the independent circuit. After a few notes of his first song, though, I was hooked. This dude could sing, and he was a fiery and passionate singer and storyteller as well. He performed with only an acoustic guitar, but for me he stole the show.

Justin McRobertsSince that night (and a few additional downloads of his music), I keep an eye out for mentions of McRoberts. I caught one this weekend on the NoiseTrade.com website. For anyone who is not familiar with it, NoiseTrade offers music for free downloads, with the option of leaving a “tip” for the artist. McRoberts had a song titled “Everything Has Changed” on a sampler from the syndicated radio program Under the Radar titled Escape to the Lake. Under the Radar features music from Christian artists who do not receive the type of radio airplay of, say, The Afters or Hawk Nelson.

I am not having the greatest of weeks so far (Read yesterday’s post for further explanation.). Right now, as I’m typing this, I don’t feel as if there is anything in the world I can actually do right. I feel as if all the progress I thought I had made recently was merely an apparition and that I am going to forever cycle in and out of feeling like there is no hope in even trying. I don’t want to just change small parts of me; I want to change everything.

This song by McRoberts is a mighty realization and coming to terms with who someone is and the changes they have made to become, in their eyes at least, a better person. It’s about freedom, or, more specifically, getting free from yourself. It really is a song about everything changing. I have listened to it five times now just in the course of typing this blog. It is where I want to be. It is who I want to be.

Everything will change. That’s what I need to hold onto right now. Everything will change.

(Unfortunately, I could not find a video for this song, so I am including the link to the NoiseTrade page with the sampler. It is well worth the download.)

http://noisetrade.com/escapetothelake/escape-to-the-lake-2015-22-artist

Panic/Anxiety Attacks

I still very distinctly remember my first panic/anxiety attack as an adult. I was a student at the local university and was working for a used college textbook warehouse. I was in the shipping department boxing up an order to be sent out. I don’t recall exactly what was going on at the time, but I believe I had some sort of combination of not liking the job, being stressed out by school, and figuring no female would ever take an active interest in me going on. I remember picking up a book, turning to my right, and freezing. I literally couldn’t move for a second or two. It was almost like a weird out-of-body experience.

And then it passed, and I didn’t have anymore … until today.

panicAt least, I think I had one today. To be honest, I don’t know enough about panic/anxiety attacks to say for certain if I’ve ever had one or not. The symptoms of this one were even different. Whereas I froze up the first time, I became very agitated with this one. I don’t remember my breathing being affected the first time around, but it was sort of labored today. And my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest today, which didn’t happen before. Like the first time, there was a combination of circumstances involved, but I don’t really want to go into them all here.

I actually do remember being very young – in the first or second grade – and breaking down crying in the school cafeteria for a few days. I’m still not sure why. Something in there just panicked me, and I would burst into tears. With that in mind, I suppose it would be safe to say I’ve had some anxiety lurking inside me for quite some time now. Whether that is related to my depression is almost impossible to guess, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s there, and it apparently has triggers.

I guess my point of writing this, though, is to find out a little more. Did I actually have a panic/anxiety attack? If I did, how can I do a better job of dealing with it if I have another one? What are the symptoms to look for? And, of course, I always want to hear stories of others who have walked through a fire of some sort. Share your stories here, too.

And don’t be anxious about it. 🙂

(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.

Exposed And Unconfident

I did something really stupid this weekend. I mean really, really dumb. Monumentally idiotic. Imbecile-level.

I shaved my beard off.

Now, there is an actual story behind this. My soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter, Emma, has been on me forever about 11535683_10155777623840217_2116900964301603517_nhow my beard scratched her face when I gave her kisses. She had actually started refusing to let me do it. As a sort of truce, I said I would shave it off for her birthday, which is in August. I decided to surprise her, though, by doing it a little bit early.

Well, actually, that’s not my entire reason for doing it when I did. I’m going to be starting college classes soon, and it was very important for me to have the beard when those began. Let me explain.

I’m pretty sure that before this past weekend, I had not been without a beard or at least a goatee for somewhere around the last 10 years. I distinctly remembered despising what I looked like the last time I shaved everything off before that. I had grown a beard in the first place, though, because I hated my face. I mean, I literally hated my face. It’s pasty and doughy looking. It has no real shape. It’s just this white mass of flesh, and my skin isn’t the best in the world either. A beard, as the old saying goes, covers a multitude of dislikes.

Okay, so I made that last saying up, but it really is true. I didn’t realize the level of confidence facial hair gave me. If you’re thinking I’m attempting to make a joke here, I assure you I am not. While most men (and women) are attempting to look younger, I actually wanted to look older. Nothing like a few white hairs in the beard to accomplish that. It not only made me look older, though, but it also made me feel older. The baby face was hidden away, and I finally liked what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t worry as much about what everyone else was seeing because I was so comfortable with what I was seeing.

vitabeardI can’t really put into words how traumatic this shaving experience has been for me. Several times, I have literally wanted to be sick when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror these past few days. I have actually looked up information on the internet about beard-growing supplements (Yes, Virginia, there is something called “Vitabeard.”) and ways to stimulate facial hair growth. Since I started noticed stubble again, I keep rubbing my face just to feel it there.

I am serious when I say this has messed me up a little.

Thankfully, even Emma has said I should grow back the whiskers, so I don’t have to fight with anyone about the decision to do so. As I creep toward rejoining the ranks of beardom, I am realizing I have learned a valuable lesson from all this. If you find something that makes you feel whole and confident and true to yourself, think very carefully before you go messing with it. Even if you do change it, though, and you don’t like it, you can always try to get it back. It may take a little time, but keep your eye on the prize.

Now, if you’ll excuse, I have to go count the hairs on my face. And measure them. Individually.

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

Tuneful Tuesday: The Mellow Zone

mushroomI had the opportunity to eat lunch at the Mellow Mushroom in Nashville on Father’s Day. I would highly recommend it. They have some really awesome pizzas there, and the service was great, too. Lots of music stuff inside, which is right up my alley, of course. Just an overall pleasant experience.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually focused much on the music playing inside a restaurant I was eating at. There are usually so many other distractions around, particularly now that every restaurant seems to have at least five different televisions all playing five different things at the same time.

(Pet peeve: Why do restaurants put a television on a sitcom or newscast or something, turn the volume all the way down, and not turn on the closed captions? You’ve reduced the viewing experience to basically watching mimes.)

For some reason, though, on this particular day, I was listening to the songs being played with some degree of attention. As a string of ’90s alternative tunes reeled off, I had a realization: Even though some of those songs came out during really difficult periods of my life, when my depression was at some of its lowest points, I smiled after the first few notes of each of them played. It was like I was running into a bunch of old friends again.

With iPods and digital music, I think we’ve sort of lost the value of hearing a song from long ago played over a distantblur speaker. We can put our whole libraries on something the size of a notepad (or smaller). There are still those moments, though, when the past comes creeping in and taps you on the shoulder, just as it did for me Sunday. Counting Crows’ album Recovering the Satellites was like a depression soundtrack for me, but I sang nearly all the words to “Angels of the Silences” when I heard them. I don’t know what I was doing when Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot” came out, but I know I was diggin’ it Sunday. And even though I only know two words of Blur’s “Song 2” (“woo” and “hoo”), the energy of it made me sit up and take notice.

There may have been songs that took us to the depths of despair, but, man, aren’t we glad later on they were there? They came through when the happy, poppy stuff didn’t, then they came back years later to share war stories. Sad songs don’t always have to make you cry; sometimes they can make you smile because you’re not in the place you first heard them anymore.

That, my friends, is a pretty mellow trip, indeed.