I Can’t

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

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

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

By Definition

We all want so badly to be right. We just know that what we’re thinking must be superior to the opposing point of view, and we believe if we just yell loud enough that we can convince them of the error of the their ways. It is just so obvious that our answer is the correct one.

I had never heard of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International before today. According to the organization’s website, CCHR International is “a non-profit, non-political, non-religious mental health watchdog. Its mission is to eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections.” Sounds noble enough. CCHR International is also committed to “working alongside many medical professionals including doctors, scientists, nurses, and those few psychiatrists who have taken a stance against the biological/drug model of ‘disease’ that is continually promoted by the psychiatric/ pharmaceutical industry as a way to sell drugs.” Perhaps a little strongly worded, but, again, a fairly noble endeavor.

I found out about CCHR International through a video posted on a friend’s Facebook page today. In the video, a series of teens and children are seen wearing tee shirts with the name of various mental disorders (bipolar disorder, personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc., etc.) on the front of them. Those stickers are removed as the video progresses to reveal words such as “leader,” “inventor,” “artist,” and “revolutionary.” The video concludes with the words “Stop psychiatric labeling of kids” being flashed across the screen.

In general, I approve of the message the group is sending. Plenty of children who have been labelled with behavioral disorders were acting merely as, well, children would act. And certainly many behaviorisms which could be perceived as negative can actually work in a person’s favor. Many times, efforts to eradicate those behaviors serve more to strip the child of their natural personality and may even leave them more confused about who they are and what their gifts are.

There is a part of me, though, that believes this is not the entire picture. Sure, some kids (and even adults) can push through the haze of a mental illness or behavioral disorder to discover an even greater resolve and a dedicated lifestyle of concentration and effort. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was reported to have major bouts of depression, but was also one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. Some kids, though, cannot climb these mountains on their own. Whether it be counseling or medicine or a different style of learning, they need a hand to get to the top.

I think back to some of my more difficult years in school. Could I have benefited from some extra help? It’s difficult to say now, but I don’t believe it would have hurt. I remember a time in the first (or maybe second grade) when I would inexplicably burst into tears every day in the cafeteria. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on there, other than remembering feeling really scared. Perhaps I could have used some counseling. Times were very different back then, though. “Depression” was a not a word I grew up familiar with.

Accompanying the video on the CCHR International Facebook page was the following statement: “Childhood is not a mental disorder.” That is very true. Severe depression is a mental disorder, though, and it can scar children well into their adult years. Medicine people versus non-medicine people just doesn’t cut it. Each child has to be evaluated on an individual basis, and then what is best for them has to be decided. In our effort to declare a winner in the argument, let’s not forget that each person is an individual and that blanket statements will keep the conflict going on forever.

What It Looks Like

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

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

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

Envy & Us

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

It’s envy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P., Chickadee

Chickadee, the chicken, is dead.

Chickadee didn’t have the best of lives. Her mother decided to stop caring for her as a chick. Then an animal of some sort killed her mother and all but one of her siblings, a chick named Lucky. Shortly after that, the two chicks came into our possession as a birthday present for my 10-year-old daughter. The two chicks quickly became one, though, as Lucky escaped the hutch we were keeping the chicks in and disappeared one night without a trace, leaving Chickadee alone.

We have two other chickens – Haley and Bailey – and we figured we would eventually move Chickadee into the same pen with them. When we tried, though, the other two chickens ganged up on her, pecking her and wounding her so badly we had to move her back out to her own area. She spent a couple of months of relative happiness, laying eggs and enjoying her own space.

Then, this morning, we found her decapitated body inside her pen.

I don’t really believe animals feel or experience thought and emotion like human beings do. I don’t know if they have any real awareness of what is happening to them, other than knowing when they are in danger or when they aren’t. Chickadee probably didn’t know she had a tough go of things. It’s sure hard to deny that she did, though.

lion kingPeople, on the other hand, do know what is happening to them in times of distress, and they process information on an intellectual and emotional level. And some people have really, really crappy lives. They come down with mysterious diseases and ailments that wreck their health. They are abused physically, sexually, or mentally by those who hold power over them. They are abandoned by friends and loved ones. And they feel every bit of it.

Some people are able to take their terrible circumstances and use them as motivation. They become shining testimonies of the power and endurance of the human spirit. Some, though, just can never seem to pick their heads up off the floor. I saw a photo posted on Facebook this week with the words “Sometimes the only difference between a bad day and a good day is your attitude” written over it, and I thought, “The key word there is sometimes. Sometimes a day is just bad, no matter what your attitude is.”

I wondered this morning why an animal would be placed here on earth to endure such hardship. Then I wondered why people would be placed here on this earth to endure the trials they face. I didn’t come up with any answers for either. Really awful people will prosper, and really good people will suffer. Really good people will prosper, and really awful people will suffer. Some who experience calamity will rise above it, others will not. The good days will not always be a matter of attitude. Sometimes they just won’t be there.

R.I.P., Chickadee.

What Is It?

A good friend sent me a link through Facebook to the following article: “New Research Discovers That Depression Is DepressionInflammation-657x360An Allergic Reaction To Inflammation” It basically states that doctors are now having great success treating the inflammatory symptoms of depression, rather than the neurological ones. Much scientific jargon is contained within the article, and I am not even sure I understand all of it. Any piece that references an article from NOVA tends to largely fly over my head.

I have read many, many articles and books on the causes and symptoms of depression. There is a wealth of information out there. There is dietary information, sleep recommendations, exercise tips, even prayer and meditation teachings. Everyone wants to know the way out from under this terrible affliction, but a solution can never truly be found until the cause is deduced.

And, unfortunately, no one really knows why depression happens. It just does.

There are certainly issues that can be pointed to. Traumatic life events, stress, chemical imbalances in the brain, childbirth, genetic predisposition, bad decisions, abrupt life changes… The list could go on forever. Sometimes it seems as if there is a demon lurking around every corner waiting to spring some mental trap upon us. Some people who have been through horrible circumstances, however, never feel the sting of depression. Others grow up in fairly normal circumstances and grapple with it daily.

Why?

I wish I knew.

Five People

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

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

Ping.

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

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

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

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.

The Petulant Child

No man enjoys being treated like a child. Well, okay, maybe some men do, but that’s an entirely different issue. In fact, that’s probably something to be discussed on an entirely different blog.

At any rate, we men are a prideful lot, and as a general rule we don’t particularly like being told what to do, particularly if we feel we are being talked down to in some way. Of course, the irony is that we men can also be grossly immature and quite often place ourselves in positions where someone has to step in and keep us from completely wrecking ourselves and those around us. It’s no wonder a large majority of us have legendary stories of breaking things (Mine involves a pane of glass on a car port door.); we don’t know whether to be sorry or indignant, so we just wind up pissed off.

So what’s a guy to do when he gets cornered like this? I’ll tell you my first impulse: Start swinging. I don’t mean literally throwing punches (Again, another topic for an entirely different blog…), but rather getting up on my haunches and defending my right to do whatever the hell I feel like doing. I don’t like being nagged, pushed, or cajoled. Case in point: Two days ago, my wife sent me a video on how smartphones and social media are actually eroding society’s ability to connect with each other (I would like to point out, however, that this video was sent to me through Facebook.). I knew she had been concerned about how much time I spend on my phone, so when I received the video I felt harassed. “Well, I ain’t watchin’ that,” I thought.

The reality is, though, that I probably do spend too much time on my smart phone. I joked shortly after getting my first Android phone that gollumhaving it in my pocket was akin to carrying around the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. Even if I wasn’t using it, I was kind of fiddling with it in my pocket. I did stop short of calling it “my precioussss,” but there weren’t many times of the day I was without it. I switched to an iPhone two weeks ago, and I seem to be even more obsessed with it than the first phone. I should be living in caves and eating raw fish any day now at this rate.

Suggestions have trickled in here and there. “Maybe you shouldn’t keep the phone in the bathroom.” “Maybe you could find a different place to charge the phone.” “Do you have to use the phone right now?” Okay, so that last one wasn’t a suggestion, but to my ears there wasn’t much of a difference tonally from the first two. “You are out of control, and I need to tell you what to do.” That’s what my man ears were hearing, and I was ready to fight. “I can carry my phone wherever I please.” And so on and so forth…

One of my arguments against all this was that every suggestion seemed to paint me as some type of petulant child who couldn’t be trusted without proper supervision. Again, though, irony being what it is, I’ve actually proven several times lately that I can’t be trusted in certain situations. When someone steps in to tell me that, however, my independent streak kicks in. “I can handle this. It’s not that bad. Just back off.”

I think the worst part of all this, though, is the embarrassment for the man. He’s supposed to have it all together, be the family leader, be the rock that doesn’t falter. He’s supposed to be able to conquer addictions and problems and whatever else that comes along. He’s not supposed to have to be told he’s out of control or needs help or isn’t doing the best job. It’s humiliating to have someone sit you down to correct you or tell you you need help, so we lash out, blindly defending ourselves. We want to hang on to our dignity, even though we have this sneaking suspicion we may actually be in the wrong.

This is a ready-made, perfect recipe for depression because everything at its base screams failure. People with depression generally feel as if they’re failing at everything anyway, so instances like these often come as a double-blow. You get really mad at the accusing person, but you’re also pretty ticked at yourself as well. And when you’re angry with everyone, well, what recourse or relief do you have? You just fester, until one day you either move past it or you explode in some kind of ugly way.

To be honest, I can’t say I’m any more thrilled with my wife’s suggestions than when I started writing this. Not necessarily because I think she’s wrong, but because I’m embarrassed she even has to worry about my stupid phone in the first place. Plus, I like checking my email and Facebook in the bathroom, so I may not go down without a fight in this debate. I’m not even sure if I’m right or not, but we males often don’t consider our chances of victory to be that crucial an element in determining whether we fight. We just don’t like being told what to do.

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.