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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Alone

It’s always amazed me that it is so difficult in this world to forge lasting relationships, but it is so very easy to wind up alone.

Lasting relationships require hours upon hours upon hours of getting to know someone. They require regular, consistent contact. They require honesty and commitment. They require the ability to apologize and admit when you’re wrong about something. They require sacrifices of time, effort, and sometimes even money. And they have to be constantly maintained.

Losing relationships, however, is a relatively simple thing to do. Just insult someone, directly or indirectly. Just miss your monthly or weekly lunch date a few times. Just get busy enough with work or kids or other obligations that you stop going out as much. Just don’t use the phone as often or email anyone or leave comments or messages on social media.

beach-fog-figure-1-ls-120120527_1721Imagine a scenario in which you’re walking with a large group of people. Suddenly, you all begin to enter a deep, thick fog. You’re aware of where everyone else is as you step inside, but you gradually begin to lose sight of them, one by one. Soon, you’ve made your way deep into the heart of the area, and you can’t see anyone. Even worse, none of them can see you either. You’re isolated, lost, and you don’t know how to get back to where you started from.

This is what seasons of feeling alone seem like to me. I know at one point I was in a place where I had plenty of good, reliable relationships. Then things start to get busy. Or I start to feel my depression a little bit more. Or my friends start to fade away a little. It’s not rare in these times for me to look around and ask, “Where did everybody go? What happened?”.

I believe these seasons are fairly natural for all of us. We all experience times when it seems we’re adrift on an island somewhere. Some people, however, are better equipped to handle these times than others. Confident people easily realize that their lives will eventually return to a normal social pattern, either with the relationships they had before or with new ones.

Those with depression or anxiety, though, often struggle through these seasons. We don’t understand where everyone went, and we’re not brave enough to reach out and ask anyone what happened. We’re not confident in ourselves or our ability to forge new relationships, so we become afraid things will always be this way, even though somewhere in the backs of our minds we know they won’t be. We fiercely try to hang on to any relationship we do have, because we dread those times when it feels as if no one is there.

Perhaps the worst part of feeling so alone for someone with depression is that we are simultaneously angry at the people we feel abandoned us and at ourselves for not reaching out more to avoid feeling so alone in the first place. So, a lot of the time, we just stew. It’s an anger that’s difficult to explain. It’s like attempting to punch your way out of a box you sealed yourself up inside. And there is still that part of you that sort of likes being alone and tries to convince you it’s really not that bad, even though you’re suffocating emotionally.

Strong people, this is when your depressed friends need you most. Invite them over to your house. Go see a movie with them. Meet them at a Starbucks for coffee. Randomly call or text them during the day. If you think they’ve been avoiding you, well, maybe they have been, but it hasn’t always been because they didn’t want to see you. They may have just not had the strength to reach out to you.

If any of this sounds hard, it is. The alternative is easy.

Too easy.

You’re Like Me!

I never get any joy out of hearing someone either has had to or is dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other mental issue. I would rather no one ever have to walk down those roads. I would rather everyone lead happy, peaceful lives completely removed from any uncertainty, distress, or sadness.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case in life. The more I come to know about human nature, the more I see that even the most composed among us have some sort of hang-ups they’re dealing with. As first, this was sort of disarming to me, but after a while I began to take some comfort in the fact that the standard of perfection I had perceived in others that I was trying to live up to wasn’t unattainable after all. In fact, it didn’t even exist.

As a result, I feel a sort of odd kinship with anyone I run across who is open and honest enough to share a little bit about their struggles. It’s almost as if we simply understand one another better after we’ve been transparent with each other. I also feel a weird sort of excitement in finding someone I can relate to. I guess you might even say I’m … happy?

Happiness in this situation doesn’t come from rejoicing in someone else’s suffering. It comes from realizing I’m not alone. The kinship I spoke of earlier comes from the other person realizing they’re not alone either. In a way, it’s sort of a beautiful thing, being able to look at another person and say, “Hey, you’re like me!”. Neither one of you may have your act together, but you feel a whole lot better knowing someone else is on the same journey you are.

I had a chance to sit down with someone like this today, and I now have a so much better understanding of who they are as a person. I’m not sure, but I’d like to think they have a better understanding of me as well. I think I may have even said the words “you’re like me” at one point. We didn’t exactly solve all the world’s problems, but we didn’t have to either. That sounds like a pretty good recipe for happiness to me.

The Downside Of Awareness

One of the unexpected consequences of my starting this blog has been the number of friends and acquaintances who have shared their own experiences with depression with me. In the cases of many of them, I would have never guessed them to be people who would ever be affected by any type of mental struggle whatsoever. They seemed to be highly confident, outgoing, successful people, but their stories were every bit as real as my own. I just wasn’t around them enough to spot the signs.

It was with great interest, then, that I read an article today citing a report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health samhsa2Services Administration which estimated nearly 44 million Americans experienced a mental illness in 2013. To further put that number in perspective, that’s approximately one out of every five people.

That is an astonishingly high number. So high, in fact, I wondered if it was even correct.

As someone who stumbled through a large majority of his life not even knowing what depression was, I am often the first to applaud efforts to shine a light on mental illness and de-stigmatize it as much as possible. While the SAMHSA report pointed out how large numbers of people never even seek any treatment for their illnesses, however, it also notes that in nearly three-fourths of mental illness cases, the symptoms do not significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function.

This leads me to ask a somewhat uncomfortable question: Is it actually becoming too easy for people to claim they have a mental illness?

I certainly don’t want to discount anyone’s experience with mental struggles. I just know that in my own life I am deathly afraid of getting to the point where I use my depression as a crutch for everything. “Well, you know, it’s because of my depression…” I mean, I’m already sort of guilty of that now, and I find myself slipping into that defense much too easily. Could, then, these extremely high numbers indicate that maybe some people are confusing some of the normal bumps in the road of life with mental illness?

mental healthIt seems to be more acceptable in this day and age to admit to struggling with a mental illness. I was extremely worried about starting this blog, but I haven’t experienced any noticeable negative effects from it yet. I haven’t noticed anyone shunning me in public or crossing to the other side of the street when they see me. It’s actually opened some doors, in a way. With that in mind, it might be easier for someone who, for instance, isn’t very organized to say, “I think I have Attention Deficit Disorder” or for someone who gets nervous driving to say, “I have anxiety issues.” Is it becoming to easy to attach labels?

There is a certain amount of fighting involved in dealing with mental illness, but there is also a certain amount of fighting involved in just getting through everyday life. I worry when so many people are believing their minds are different from everyone else’s. Everyone has their own issues; that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has a mental illness. There are definitely those who have issues requiring extra assistance or counseling, but there are also those who are just working through all the things we all have to work through.

Again, I don’t say any of this to diminish anyone’s experiences. Maybe my concern is more personally rooted. I don’t want to reach the point where the illness defines me. I was diagnosed with a form of depression, but I don’t need to have that printed on my business cards. We don’t need to become a nation that believes it’s all messed up in the head. Awareness is one thing; over-acceptance is another.

Drag Me Along

I recently had a chance to talk to a gentleman who once spent a year in bed because of his severe depression. I had another Depression-in-Bedfriend recently tell me their struggles with anxiety had left them too exhausted to email me. Several years ago, I worked with a man who complained of chronic fatigue syndrome. In every instance, something forced these people down so far mentally that they couldn’t function physically.

I don’t get that.

I don’t mean that in any kind of disrespectful way. I just have never experienced a tiredness so deep that I couldn’t find the energy to complete an activity or obligation set before me. Now, there have been times in my life when I definitely wanted to stay in bed and not face the world. There was always something there dragging me along, though, almost forcing me to keep going when I didn’t want to.

I suppose that’s where my lack of understanding stems from. If I had a job, I went to the job. If I was sleepy, well, I just worked sleepy. If I felt as if I should reply to someone’s phone call or email, I would do it in the best way I could. I never felt like I had permission to stop. Probably more accurately, I felt like if I didn’t perform – even if it was badly – then I would be rejected and possibly miss some type of opportunity. And I couldn’t tolerate tiredness or someone using that as an excuse. I drug myself along; you should be able to do it, too.

As with so many things related to mental struggles, however, I’m beginning to see the world a bit differently now. To perhaps over-simplify things, some of us are just wired differently. Some people will just keep bashing their heads against the same wall over and over and over again because they really believe that’s the way to get through, while others will back off and go around it. One person raised in an emotionally-suppressed home will stuff their emotions just like their family did, while another will rebel against that environment and actually over-express themselves in an attempt to break the cycle.

I used to adopt a feeling of superiority over those who couldn’t push through those hard times. Looking back, though, I’m not so sure my methods of coping have been any better. I may not understand what that other person is going through, but I can ask questions, try to draw them out, and not get frustrated with them. I can let them know I care about them, and, hopefully, they can maybe get a better understanding of why I act the way I do, too. We may not be able to carry each other, but maybe we can at least drag each other along.

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.

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.