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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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.

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?

Tuneful Tuesday: Let It Go

You know it’s coming.

Your daughters have forced you to watch Disney’s Frozen for the 735th time. Despite the familiarity, you find you’re actually not minding having to watch it again. You may even finding yourself singing the words “Do you want to build a snowman?” or “For the first time in forever…” slightly under your breath. You almost forget about it. And then…

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight…”

If it wasn’t already running through your head, you know it is now. “Let it go, let it go…” Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know the melody that accompanies those six words? Chances are most of us could sing them in our sleep. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez accomplished what every songwriting team in history has set out to do – create a song with a hook so memorable that even people who don’t like it can’t get it out of their heads.

I mentioned the first line of the song earlier, but I would almost lay money not many people know any words outside those famous six from the chorus. What is it about them that makes everyone remember them? Is it the tune, the vocal delivery, the sequence from the film? Personally, I don’t think it’s any of those reasons.

I believe the reason this song so sticks in the minds of everyone who hears it is because everyone has something they want to let go of. For Queen Elsa that was her fear and shame brought on by the special powers she possessed. It’s different for everyone, though. For some it may be an addiction. For others it may be a past sin. For others it may be a mental or emotional hangup. Whatever the case may be, there’s something there that is being held onto and needs to be released.

So if you’re like me, you’re going to mumble through the verses of this and then start belting the chorus, much like Chris "Hmm...that's a mystery!" - Tommy BoyFarley and David Spade did with R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World and We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” in Tommy Boy. You may not need to know the rest of the words anyway.

Because I Can

This blog is supposed to deal with heavy subject matter. Topics such as depression, addiction, anxiety, God, regret. You know, serious writer stuff. There also needs to be something written here daily, something of benefit and sustenance. Maybe a little fun here and there, but mostly very dour and introspective.

Sometimes, though, I just put something on here because, gosh darn it, I like it.

So as I sat down tonight and turned on my computer, I briefly checked the news feed on my Facebook page, only to discover that the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron – which wasn’t supposed to be available until next week – could be watched online. That made this depressed dude pretty freakin’ happy. So happy, in fact, that it just didn’t seem right to come here and write about anything else.

Sometimes it’s cool just to do something, well, because you can. Marvel movies make me happy. I have a blog about fighting depression. My advice in this post? Watch the teaser trailer. Don’t feel guilty about it. We’re looking for lights in the darkness here.

Why, then, am I posting a video about comic book characters on my super-serious blog site?

Because I can. That’s why.

Ten Years

I have many friends who love to eat. Not only do they love to eat, they love to take pictures of what they eat and post them on social media wolfgang-puckwebsites. I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of this practice. I mean, if you’re out at a restaurant or it’s some special occasion, sure, go ahead and snap a picture of your plate. If it’s the Tuesday night meal at home, it’s slightly less interesting to me. Personal preference, though; you post what you want, Wolfgang.

Because I can be something of a smart aleck when I’m protected by the security of a keyboard, I decided one day to post pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ (Yes, I actually use that one, too.) of everything I ate. It was all really mundane stuff – a banana, a peanut butter sandwich, a bag of Lay’s potato chips. I don’t know if anyone else found it funny, but I at least amused myself that day. The exercise also taught me something else, however: I don’t eat very much over the course of a day. I didn’t realize it until I saw everything laid out in pictures.

Sometimes we can’t see things clearly until they’re placed very obviously in front of us. I was challenged by someone recently to come up with a 10-year life plan for myself. I knew when they asked me to do this that it would be difficult, but what I didn’t know was that the process of trying to write it down would trigger so many feelings. Optimism, anger, frustration, depression, hopefulness, despair… Mostly, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the concept of seeing ten more years pass was very difficult for me to grasp. Most days, I’m doing good to make it through the next ten minutes.

That’s when it hit me: I expend a remarkable amount of mental energy just getting through one day. Addicts mention the term “one day at a time” a lot, and sometimes that’s how I feel like I’m dealing with life. If I can just get through this one day, then maybe I can face the next one. Author Richard O’Connor once wrote, “People with depression generally are working too hard but not getting anywhere.” I can’t even fathom ten years right now because I’m just trying to make it from Point “A” to Point “B.”

Sitting down and going over this plan with someone else will, hopefully, help me to see things differently. As I told someone recently about my desire to go back to college to pursue a degree in psychology, “I want to get the whole thing finished in about two weeks.” I want immediate results, but in this instance I’m attempting to unravel 40 years of thought processes. It may take some time. Maybe even ten years.

A Little Trouble

dream teamI recently finished reading the book Dream Team, by Jack McCallum. If you’re even remotely a fan of professional basketball, I’d highly recommend picking it up, as it provides a fascinating look at how some of the most cutthroat competitors in the history of sports managed to put aside their professional rivalries long enough to win Olympic gold, decimate its competition, and change the face of international basketball forever.

The book is also a virtual treasure trove of memorable quotes, many of which could not be printed here without barkleya disclaimer for language. Most of my favorites came from the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, current TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley. Of all Sir Charles’ quotes that are fit to mention, his legendary answer to a pregame question concerning upcoming opponent Angola still ranks as my favorite: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Angola. But Angola’s in trouble.”

I was reminded of that quote this evening as I read over an article concerning the suddenly very troubled Mars Hill Church. I knew pastor Mark Driscoll had stepped down, and I knew at least one other pastor on the church’s staff had done the same. Prior to reading the aforementioned article, though, I could only claim a Barkley-esque knowledge of the situation: I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill. But Mars Hill is in trouble.

Rewind just a couple of days, though, and you would have found me sitting a table following the service at my own church involved in a conversation with a friend in which I was discussing some troubles of my own. This came after he had mentioned some of his own struggles. And the service itself had featured some pretty open discussions on authenticity and transparency (See this post for more on that.). Go back even further, and you would have found me Heather1watching a movie about the personal struggles of the late Rich Mullins and listening to author Heather Kopp talk about her life as a Christian drunk.

So maybe this is what I should be asking: Is my friend in trouble? More to the point, am in trouble?

Well, yes, we probably both are. The fact is, though, I’m running across more and more stories of Christians being in trouble. The big difference I’m noticing today, though, is that more and more Christians are actually admitting to being in trouble, whether that’s confessing their bouts with depression, acknowledging their struggles with lust, owning up to their poor financial habits, or just straight-out saying, “Hey, I’m a sinner, and I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to stop what I’m doing.”

But wait, wait, wait. I thought Christianity was supposed to clean you up. I thought it was supposed to make you happy all the time. I thought it was supposed to end all your addictions. I thought it was supposed to put me in a position to show the sinners of the world how to live a spotless life. If it is, I’m doing it wrong. A lot of us are doing it wrong. And a lot of us are coming clean about why we think we’re doing it wrong.

Since the “we” I’m referring to here consists not of lost souls but of Christians, I suppose it could be asked whether the church itself is in trouble. That would be an easy assumption to make. Our houses of worship seemed to be packed with sad people, addicted people, tempted people, hurting people, and frightened people. At times, we don’t seem to be that much different from those who are not Christians. And sometimes we’re not even sure we can claim a difference anyway.

I would contend, though, that all this is not a sign of the church being in trouble. I view it as a sign the church is waking up. And I think that’s a good thing.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As the famous quote goes, the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. The fact that people are coming forward in honest confession is, in my opinion, a sign that the church is coming to terms with reality. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we can’t turn to the church to help us overcome our sins and hangups, where can we turn?

I still don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill, but I do know this: When the church becomes a place where the imperfect Christian can feel safe and where the broken and imperfect can go for restoration, the glory of God will be revealed there. Maybe a little trouble is just what we need.

 

Just Stop It

“So, that’s my story. I really want to stop, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, the first thing you should do is stop…”

Ah, yes, the circular reasoning most of us apply to the addict. Obviously, what would help the addict most is to simply stop whatever it is they are addicted to. If it’s smoking, stop smoking. If it’s overeating, stop eating so much. If it’s pornography, stop looking at pictures of naked women (or men). I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Right?

matthew perryConsider the following quote from the Psychology Today website: “When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Or consider the words of actor Matthew Perry: “A lot of people think that addiction is a choice. A lot of people think it’s a matter of will. That has not been my experience. I don’t find it to have anything to do with strength.”

What makes an addict an addict? Not being able to resist compulsions. In other words, what makes an addict an addict is the fact that they’re addicted to something. If it were as easy as just stopping, they would probably have stopped by now.

Do some people need a firm word or a swift kick in the pants to get their heads straight? Yeah, definitely. Not everyone is able to respond to that, though. Call it a lack of will power or chemical dependency or an addictive personality or whatever, but there are those who just can’t flick the switch and turn it off. They struggle.

And for years I’ve sat in the judgement seat and pointed my finger at them.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how someone could be an alcoholic and still be a decent person. I didn’t get how someone could drift in and out of rehab and still have a place in society. I didn’t get how someone could look at pornography and claim to care about their marriage and family.

I didn’t understand addiction. And I didn’t understand mercy or grace.

I want to just stop judging the addict. I’ve been where they are, and most days I am where they are. I want them to feel free to come forward and ask for help without fear. I want them to be able to just stop hiding and get the help they need.

Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t that easy, though.

Recovery

For lack of a better way to put it, I spun out at the end of last week. Situations were pressing on my nerves, and I went to bed Thursday evening nearly nauseous. I lost my perspective, handled things poorly, covered things up, and lost my peace. I regained a little of it yesterday, and then woke up today without it again. I stood in front of the mirror and called myself names. I just wanted to be alone, which is very difficult to achieve in a house with a wife and five children. I escaped for a two-mile walk, but not before irritating pretty much every member of my family with my rotten attitude.

I’m leveling out a little this afternoon, but my stomach still feels weird, and I’m still wrestling with what upset me in the first place. I headfeel angry and stupid and foolish and hurt and weak. This isn’t exactly new for me. I’ve been here before. But I haven’t been at this level in a while. I remembered my counseling, took my medication, exercised, prayed, even poured my guts out to a friend over some burgers and fries Friday night, but I couldn’t shake that old ghost. I knew I had messed up, and the thought crept back into my head that I was always going to mess things up because that’s simply what I do. It’s in my DNA.

Thankfully, I’m slowly learning that recovery does exist when these feelings hit, but I’m also painfully discovering that I have to own blame and accept consequences when I do idiotic things. And while my grace tends to extend pretty far when it comes to other people, I have virtually zero tolerance for myself. I expect the hammer to fall on me because I deserve it, but at the same time I really don’t want it to because I’m a coward. I scheme and I plot to mitigate the damages, all while chastising myself for repeating the same old mistakes over and over again.

Recovery from depression can be a vicious and unforgiving process. Feelings have to be acknowledged before they can be dealt with. I mean, if I broke my leg but I kept insisting that the bone was intact, I would never heal properly because I would keep trying to walk around on it as if it was a healthy limb. As crappy as it feels, there is a necessity in admitting fear, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and any other number of emotions that commonly accompany depression. The key is to not wallow in them or just accept them as states that are always just going to be. A daily process and battle exists to achieve victory, but no one should ever claim it is easy.

I forgot all this over weekend and sunk into a hole. I wanted to think of myself as “cured,” when wellness is a process I’ll probably be walking out for the rest of my days on this earth. I gave wounds power over me, and I let my emotions get away from me. To be honest, I don’t feel a whole lot better today, but I have no choice but to keep pushing. It recently dawned on that in certain areas of my life, I’m not even sure what “normal” is, but I know it exists.

fergusonComedian and actor Craig Ferguson once offered a tremendously accurate description of how suffering in a disease is often what promotes healing when he said, “… What mattered was that when treated as a disease, those who suffered from it were most likely to recover.” Even though Ferguson was addressing alcoholism, I believe his words ring true for depression as well. Recovery doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it downright sucks. It’s necessary, though, as we progress through life, whether we have a broken bone or a clouded mind. I just wish it was a faster process.