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.

 

Advertisements

Here Comes The Sun

I have felt unusually good this week. In fact, I’m a little hesitant to even mention how good I’ve felt for fear of another crash. Even though I know the possibility of “jinxing” things is probably not real, I’m still leery of shouting positive things from the rooftops. Remind me to add this to the “Things I Need to Work On” list.

I can’t exactly put my finger on the change this week. It could be a combination of a number of things. Maybe my new combination of medications is finally beginning to work. Maybe I’ve had less strife in my personal relationships. Maybe it’s because the temperatures have been warmer. Maybe it is because I have been bicycle riding every day this week. All of these could be working together for my benefit, but there has been one other significant factor I haven’t mentioned yet – the sun.

Occasionally, when I have entered into self-diagnosis mode, I have looked up information on seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I am far from an expert on it. I do know that it can have something to do with the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to. More than likely, a significant part of my improved mood this week has come from the combination of exercise and sunlight, but I’ve also noticed in the past that I don’t get the same “bump” from exercising inside. There’s something about the two working in unison.

I’ve read that light therapy boxes are an effective treatment for SAD. I’ve often wondered if a light box would help me DIAMOND_4_Light_Box_Sun_Simulator_for_SAD_(Seasonal_Affective_Disorder)through the winter months or through several days of rain in a row. I don’t guess I’ll know unless I try one out, but I wanted to put the question to you, dear readers: Are light boxes an effective way to decrease the symptoms of depression? I’m still not fully convinced I’m not chasing my tail on this one, so any input you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

The forecast here for the next couple of days is calling for rain. I suppose this will be an interesting time to test my theory, since there won’t be much sun. As I’ve written here before, I am one of the world’s worst about over-diagnosing myself, so maybe I shouldn’t think about it too much. Maybe I should just enjoy the high while it lasts. Then again, every little bit of information helps, so here I go again. Please leave some feedback, if you can. Thanks.

The Myths Of Me

I would consider my teenage years to be largely wasted ones. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the depression I wrestle with today had me firmly in its grip even back then. It’s not that I don’t remember any happy times at all, but I don’t remember many that weren’t overlapped by the shadows that lurked in my mind. There was lots of confusion, anger, and sadness, even more than the usual teen mind is able to muster.

As a result, I formed a lot of perceptions about myself which were almost entirely negative. My self-esteem was virtually non-existent. These beliefs about myself were so powerful that I carried a large majority of them into adulthood. In fact, most days I feel as I’ve hardly grown at all over the years. This is who I thought I was then and, on many days, who I believe I am now:

– Unattractive physically
– Shy and awkward
– Immature emotionally
– Talentless
– Unappealing to the opposite sex
– Too skinny
– Not athletic enough
– Unable to obtain what I wanted
– Unsure of what I wanted to do with my life

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that I had what was termed a “nervous stomach,” which caused me all kinds of embarrassment. Or that my hair curled at puberty and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to make it look like anything. Or that I had the usual teenage bad skin and acne. I did the typical fast food job all teenagers these days get, and I was a miserable failure at it. I couldn’t even work at Wendy’s.

true falseI had a chance to take a long walk by myself today. The sun was out, my schedule was clear, and I was itching to get in some kind of physical activity, so I took off. I have always struggled with what is God’s voice and what is the voice I generate with my own thoughts, so I hesitate saying God spoke to me today, but as I walked I began to think about how I still view myself in much the same way I did back then … and how much of that is wrong.

One by one, counterarguments began to present themselves against what I have believed about myself for so long. I am not confident enough to say my life changed today, but I knew by the end of that walk that I needed to get to a computer or piece of paper and write down everything that had come into my mind. Here, then, are some arguments against my own perceptions of and beliefs about myself:

Unattractive physically – I found a woman who found me attractive enough to marry me, and we have been together now for 16 years. I’ve cut out most of the sugar from my diet and hardly ever drink carbonated beverages anymore, so I rarely get pimples now. I grew a beard and keep my hair cut short, so it looks neat now.
Shy and awkward – I still struggle mightily with social anxiety, but I couldn’t even count the number of people I have met over the years. I have so many friends now that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I know lots of people through my job.
Not athletic enough/Too skinny – I can ride my bicycle ten miles at a time on the road. I don’t have a gut hanging over the front of my pants like so many guys my age. An antidepressant and an occasional pill for seasonal allergies are the only medications I take, whereas I know so many of my friends already on blood pressure medication. I’m thinner now than when I graduated college.
Talentless – I can play guitar and bass fairly well. I won a Kentucky Press Award when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I have over 150 followers on this blog, and it’s only been up a few months. I’m on the radio every day. I can even sing a little.
Unsure of what I want to do with my life – After going to counseling for my depression the past couple of years, I have decided I want to pursue a Masters degree in counseling. I am currently studying to take the GRE test to get into graduate school.

I should have written all of the things I was thinking down immediately, because I’m certain there were more. I realized my stomach isn’t upset as much anymore because I realized years ago I was slightly lactose intolerant. All those cartons of milk in school were tearing my stomach to bits. And the list goes on…

I still feel as if I have so many things mentally to overcome. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so sometimes it seems as if I’ll never escape what others will always believe about me, no matter how much I change or grow. I still feel so out of place sometimes, and you probably noticed I didn’t address everything I had listed concerning how I felt about myself. I don’t want to be who I was anymore, though. I can’t ever reclaim those lost years; all I can do is make an attempt to make the ones I have left count for something. I hope and pray I can hold onto what I was thinking on that walk today. I’m so afraid I’ll forget.

Maybe I should start reading my own blog.

Resolutions

“Reading your blogs, you talk about fixing the depression and yourself all at once. That’s a LOT OF PRESSURE on you. Why?? Pick one thing. Make it attainable.”

Those words were written to me on Facebook a few days ago by a very dear friend of mine, someone who is also no stranger to struggles with depression. I’ve been thinking of what she said today as the dawn of 2015 draws nearer. The new year is a time to make resolutions and to set goals, and far too often the temptation is there to shoot for the moon and achieve the impossible.

The only problem with achieving the impossible, however, is it’s, well, impossible.

small-goalsMoving outside of the realm of depression for a moment, consider one of the most common of New Year’s resolutions – to get in shape and lose weight. When you stop and think about it, that’s a pretty broad goal. It’s also one of the most common to overshoot. It’s simply to large to be taken as a whole. A series of smaller goals, such as resolving to exercise at least 30 minutes every day or not snacking after dinner each night, will eventually add up to achieving the larger one, but they require more discipline and planning and, ultimately, determination.

It has been very easy in the past for me to resolve to not be as depressed in the upcoming year. I didn’t have a particular plan mapped out for this; I was just going to do it, the same way someone who wants to get in shape is just going to get up and start cross-training one day. It was really more of a hope than a resolution, because I didn’t even know what I was facing, really. I just knew I didn’t feel good, and I wanted to feel better, so I resolved to do so.

I still struggle with that mentality, even after going through a few rounds of cognitive therapy. It’s like my friend said; I want to fix everything all at once. The reality is, though, the road to recovery is made up of numerous small goals along the way. Instead of “I’m not going to be depressed anymore,” why not “I will read at least 30 minutes a day” or “I will sleep at least eight hours a night” or “I will invite at least one friend out for lunch every week”? While none of these may sound very grandiose, they are the building blocks to something more structurally sound.

So as I close out 2014, I’ve been compiling a list of smaller goals that I hope will propel me toward larger ones. “Smaller,” however, does not always equal “easier,” which means 2015 could be shaping as a year of great work and effort for me. On the flipside, “great work and effort” don’t necessarily mean I have to figure everything out this year.

I wanted to conclude this final post of 2014 with a huge “thank you” to everyone who has stopped by to read what I have written this year. I have questioned the usefulness of what I’m doing here with almost every post, and your views, likes, and comments have been such an encouragement to me. I feel as if we’re all on this journey together, and I pray that all of us are able to progress and grow in 2015. God bless you all.

I Gotta

Have you ever had one of those mornings where all your issues seem to just lay themselves out right before your eyes? It’s like all of a sudden you see exactly what’s going on, and you begin to get a real sense of what is going to be required for you to turn things around. And then you make a fatal mistake by uttering those two terrible words…

“I gotta…”

Think you should be writing more? “I gotta get to work on that book idea…” Should you start bookexercising again? “I gotta get to the gym more often…” Missing old friends? “I gotta start being more sociable…” Thinking about getting the band back together? “I gotta start writing songs again…” Feeling a little far from God? “I gotta start reading my Bible and praying more…”

It’s amazing how two little words can turn something you’re passionate about or something you enjoy doing or something that could truly benefit you into grueling, grinding, miserable work of the most frustrating order. Suddenly, writing becomes a pressure cooker. Staying in touch with friends seems more like a weekly requirement. A relationship with God becomes a guilt-ridden minefield of good intentions gone awry.

It’s always astounded me, the way I’m able to put pressure on myself in a way no one else can or even does. Is there an editor somewhere expecting a manuscript from me by the end of the month? No. Do I need to set a new personal best time for riding my bicycle around my neighborhood because I need to qualify for some competition? No. Most of all, do I even possess the strength within myself to be the kind of Christian I should be?

No.

The problem with being a Christian and “I gotta” is that it flips the teachings of Jesus on their heads. When God puts a motivation on our hearts, what He wants us to do is turn to Him for the strength to do what needs to be done, not to place even more demands on ourselves. Instead of praying about my issues, I begin to obsess over all the things I should be doing more of. So I start putting forth greater effort, only to find I’m almost immediately overwhelmed and utterly depressed by my lack of success.

“I can’t do it,” I say to myself. “I’ve failed … again.”

You know what the only thing I gotta do? Trust God. Rely on His strength, not mine. Stop pressing so hard. Find some joy again in the things I love and stop making everything some sort of competition or deadline. Accept that if I make the attempt He’ll meet me halfway, instead of believing I have to complete the work and then present it to Him.

None of this is optional. I gotta do it.