Obsession With The Beast

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee, as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

moby dickI have attempted to read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick three times in my life. None of those times occurred while I was in school. Somehow, even as an English major in college, it was never an assignment in any class I was in. I obtained a copy of the book for myself years ago when I worked for a used college textbook warehouse. I’m not sure why I felt as if I needed to have it then. It just seemed important somehow.

I say that I have “attempted” to read Moby Dick three times in my life because I have never actually finished it. In fact, I’ve never even gotten that far into the book. It’s not an easy read, and it is very, very long. I think what keeps me coming back to this literary classic is the character of Captain Ahab. Or, at least, the idea of Captain Ahab – a man so blinded by his obsession with a gigantic sperm whale that he eventually allows the very thing he has been pursuing to literally drag him down to his death.

Over the past two years, I’ve been reading a lot about depression. I have a real passion to understand this beast. I would eventually like to help people escape from it. I sometimes feel as if it has stolen large chunks of my life from me. There are times, though, when I wonder if I really want to escape it. It has been with me so long, I am not sure how to live without it. Sometimes I’m not only not sure if I can get better, I’m not even sure if I have the desire to get better.

I have gained a ton of useful knowledge on the topic of depression from all the reading I’ve done and the counseling I’ve received. In a weird way, I actually enjoy learning about it. It helps to unravel many of the mysteries of my life I’ve never been able to figure out. I like to hear people’s stories, even though some of them do not necessarily have happy endings. I’m fascinated by how our own minds can turn on us, warping how we perceive our own realities. I’ve become this sort of morose geek, I guess.

More than once, though, in the process of writing this blog, reading all those books, and talking about depression with anyone who wanted to strike up a discussion about it, I have been confronted with the following question: Do you ever wonder if you’re getting a little too into this? The world is full of authors and actors and researchers who have been sucked into the abyss of whatever dark knowledge they were pursuing. They chased the whale, and the whale took them down into the depths of the sea.

I enjoy writing this blog. It’s therapeutic, in a way. I want it to be somewhere people can come to and say, “Oh, I’ve experienced that before!”, and know they are not alone. Eventually, though, I would like to offer the occasional story of how I’ve overcome something or some accomplishment I can celebrate or some tip I can pass on to someone else. Not that I haven’t done that here before, but those types of postings have been few and far between. I suffer from depression, and I know it. I just wonder sometimes if I am a little too comfortable in that knowledge.

Maybe the point of Moby Dick was to show that Captain Ahab literally could not live without his arch nemesis in his life. He could not exist without the pursuit of his enemy. One has to wonder if Ahab had managed to kill the whale cleanly and live if he would have been any happier. Some days, I feel as if I am chasing that same whale, and I wonder if the pursuit is worth it. And I wonder if I can live without it.

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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.

Small Doses

undoingI still haven’t figured out yet if reading books on depression and low self-esteem is actually helping me or just freaking me out. I mean, it would stand to reason that someone diagnosed with depression would want to read up on and understand more about the condition, but there are just times when authors’ words hit a little too close to home and I have to take a step back to gather myself.

For example, I picked up a book at the local library this weekend titled Undoing Depression, by Richard O’Connor. Just flipping the book open at random a few minutes ago, I came across the following paragraph:

Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express our feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile or withholding, and we are pessimistic about things ever changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our own needs, misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear that honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings.

And then I closed the book, stuffed it under a pillow, and ran out of the room.

Okay, so the reaction wasn’t quite that strong, but there’s something almost unsettling to me about reading a description written by someone I’ve never met before that perfectly describes me. Even more unsettling, though, is when an author puts his or her finger right on some coping mechanism you didn’t even realizing you had been using. In a book I was recently reading on self-esteem (the name and author of which I, unfortunately, have forgotten), the author pointed out how people with low self-esteem typically imagine the worst case scenario in every situation. This often invokes the “fight-or-flight” reflex, which can, to put it bluntly, cause all kinds of hell to break loose in a person’s life.

I think I may have actually run out of the room after reading that.

After reading enough books and articles of this nature, I’m finally learning that I have to take this information in via small doses. The obvious downside of this is that it’s taking me forever to finish any of the books I’ve been trying to read. I’m 40 years old, though, and I really just started seriously addressing depression in my own life in the last couple of years. A lot of untangling has to be done, and I just can’t hammer multiple issues at the same time. So if I read a paragraph like the one I quoted above, I have to stop for a few minutes or a few hours or even a few days and let it process. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to get things done, but it’s keeping me out of the fetal position for the moment.

So the new book is lying on the couch next to me right now, daring me to pick it up. I think I’m going in. Maybe I’ll at least manage to digest a whole page this time. I think at my current rate, I should finish reading this by 2017.