Straddling The Line

Being out in the open about depression (or any other mental illness, for that matter) is not always an easy experience. There are all kinds of risks that come with sharing an affliction publicly, from public and private misconceptions to outward bias to destruction of relationships. Writing a blog also produces its share of hazards, most of which are associated with who reads it, what they think about it, and what level of influence they play in the writer’s life.

Put the two together. Then just take a step back and watch all the loads of fun unfold before you.

Aside from a couple of instances, I haven’t had too many run-ins concerning things I’ve written about here. Because of my dysthymic, pessimistic, and generally melancholy state of mind, however, I usually chalk that up to the fact that people who know me are much freer with their compliments than their criticisms, and I figure there are at least a couple of folks out there who really don’t like what I do here at all. One of the people I had an issue with before is effectively out of my life now, so I suppose that’s one less person I have to worry about offending. Woot.

Because I’m sort of obsessive about how many people read my posts every day, I try to keep track of which ones are doing better than others. There are a few sure-fire topics that always bring more readers in. Parenting is one. Anything about children always gets lots of views. Memoriams about people who have passed away always do well, too. Most of the time, though, topics with a pleasant vibe do not do nearly as well as the ones that take on a darker tone.

Even in people who do not suffer from any type of depression or mood disorder, there ss-140404-Kurt-Cobain-tease.blocks_desktop_medium_is a certain allure to the darker side of things. Think of the biggest songs and movies of all time. There is usually some element of death or heartache or longing in them. Many of those who produce art are among the most unhappy people on earth. Who did my generation celebrate as its martyr? Kurt Cobain. ‘Nuff said.

With that in mind, it is a real struggle for me sometimes to not just go fully off the rails and spill every deep, dark thing I’m thinking about onto the page. “I don’t know, dude; you’re not real cheery anyway.” That may be so, but, believe it or not, I hold a lot of stuff back. I don’t throw every depressive thought out there for just anyone to hear and judge. I could very easily, and there are many days that I would like to. I would love to delve into the depths I’ve seen the last two weeks, for instance, but I restrain myself.

Why? I guess there are a couple of different reasons. For one thing, I’m scared of how people will react. There are honestly times I am afraid someone will try to commit me. I don’t think what I’m thinking is that bad, but to someone who has never dealt with depression, what’s in my head may seem like a cause for major concern (and maybe it is.). Mostly, though, I’m just not sure how writing about my darkest hours is going to benefit someone else. Maybe if I can frame it in some way someone can identify with, I’ll go there, but negativity simply for the sake of negativity just seems wrong to me.

A thousand different thoughts are swirling around my head right now, and there are so many things I want to be point-blank honest about. I don’t want to give readers another “Here Are 5 Steps to Overcoming Depression!” article because I don’t know what those five steps are. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing posts like this, I can tell you that. I want to be real, but I don’t want to be so real that this becomes a wallowing party or, even worse, an excuse for someone to do something really bad to themselves.

At the moment, I feel incredibly free and incredibly restrained at the same time. For anyone who has ever bared their soul online, I certainly don’t mean to condemn you. Your pain is real, and you expressed it the only way you knew how. I hope it was therapeutic for you. Maybe I’ll let you deeper into my world with an email or a private message sometime. In the meantime, I’m going to keep straddling that line, hoping to not fall too far in one direction or the other.

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I’m Still Here!

I have not posted anything here since last Tuesday, but I have a very good reason why: I am a college student again! My first night of classes began last Wednesday, and I also have one class online. These are summer classes, so everything is going to be pretty compact and intense. I spent all day today reading, typing up a paper, and making copies of pages from a workbook. Welcome back, my friend.

SUMMMER-SCHOOLThat last line may be a joke, but I had honestly forgotten about the intensity of college courses in general, and I had definitely forgotten how compressed a summer class can be. As a result, I have been more than a little overwhelmed just trying to set up some sort of routine to deal with everything. I believe the newness and initial shock will wear off, however, and I will find my groove eventually. In the meantime, my posts here may be sporadic, which is sort of a shame because I’m getting some great material to write about from these classes.

So there you have it. Just my quick little check-in to say I’m still here, I haven’t stopped blogging, and I will have some really good stuff coming up in the future. Of course, the future maybe two years from now, but… 🙂

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

Tuneful Tuesday: What I Like About You

Okay, first of all, this song really has nothing to do with depression, nor have I ever associated it with any particular feelings of melancholy I may have had. In fact, it’s one of the few songs I can simply shut my brain off and enjoy simply for the heck of it. It’s got energy, it’s easy to sing, and it has a rippin’ harmonica solo. What more could you ask for?

The website www.bebraveandtalk.com published an article in April of this year titled “10 Depression Symptom Analogies For Those Who Have Trouble Understanding.” It contained some remarkably profound observations on how living with depression might be described to someone who has never dealt with it. My favorite analogy had to do with self-loathing (Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sentence is.). Here is how this feeling was described…

“What if that person you can’t stand being around, that person you have a hard time finding good qualities in, that person you just can’t seem to like, was tied to you with a three-foot long rope for an entire day? ‘No way in hell,’ you are probably thinking. Well, if you suffer depression, that person is tied to you permanently. That person is yourself. It is a very sad, but very true, reality of depression. The majority of the time during a depressive episode the sufferer thinks very negatively about themselves, and they might even have feelings of self-hatred.”

Every now and then, I’ll be given a worksheet or an exercise asking me to identify positive qualities about myself. You would think I had been handed the algebra portion of the SAT test (Please, math geeks, do not shrug your shoulders and cockily ask, “What’s so bad about that?”. Things will turn ugly very quickly.). I can usually hit on a couple of obvious points – “I write well” or “I’m a good bass guitar player” – but, for the most part, I struggle to come up with answers. And even if I do believe I am good at something, I usually feel as if no one cares; it’s not useful; a billion other people are better at it than me; or I’m never going to be able to use it for anything.

This song is basically a guy listing all the things he likes about a girl. I’ve always found it easier to list good qualities about other people than about myself. I wondered today, though, what if that guy had to write a song about all the things he liked about himself. Would it come that easily? Would it be that positive? And would there be a harmonica solo?

Yes, once again, I seem to have successfully taken a fun song and analyzed most of the fun out of it. Another of those qualities I don’t like about myself all that much. The good thing is, I think this song is strong enough to withstand it. I guess it’s time I wrote one of my own that can, too.

Tuneful Tuesday: Invisible (And Different)

People are happy doing a great variety of things. Some are perfectly content to curl up at night with a good crossword puzzle. Some enjoy sitting on their front porch and watching traffic pass by. Some religiously watch their favorite television shows each week. Some may even be happy just leaning back in their recliner at night and dozing off after dinner.

I can’t begrudge anyone for what makes them happy. All those things I just mentioned, though? They’re not for me.

I have always felt a great pressure in life to be normal. To do what was expected of a regular person. If you think about it, ultronthough, people who are vastly different are celebrated daily in our culture. For instance, the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in the United States this week. It will be watched by scores of “normal” people, but it will have been produced by people who think largely outside of the box. A movie which deals with the fantastic would, logically, come from minds which dwell on the fantastic, and those minds are not going to fit the common mold.

For those among us who aspire to be writers, actors, musicians, painters, photographers, or anything else outside of a normal career, our thinking has to become different. Writing is an odd task, at least in my eyes, because it doesn’t produce anything tangible or usable. It’s words on a page, not a tool that can be used for repairs or clothing that can be worn or a house that can be lived in. It does have worth, though, so it requires someone who can stand apart from the crowd and be comfortable there.

I have not arrived at that place yet, and I believe there is a great number of people who are in the same predicament. As a result, a lot of us feel invisible to the world around us, or we feel like outcasts who don’t fit in anywhere. Some people push through, though, and make it.

This song is for all of us…

Back At It

It’s nearly 11 o’clock at night, and I have to be at work at 6 in the morning. Sometimes, though, you just have to get to a keyboard, ya know?

backIt’s been over two weeks since I’ve written anything here. Most of that two weeks was spent studying for the math portion of the GRE test, which I took this past Friday. Plenty of other things happened as well. I was given some devastating news by some people I really trusted. I’ve been to the bottom emotionally, to the point I even scared myself, and then I had to rebuild everything again. Through all of this, I’ve wanted to write, but I knew I had to take the break.

So, this week, I’m back, and I’m going to be detailing all those things I just mentioned, plus some other things. I’m actually not sure if anyone noticed I was gone, but I know I missed writing.

Good night…

The System

In college basketball-crazed Kentucky, being a fan of the NBA makes me something of an anomaly. Most of the time when I mention I like professional basketball, the responses will almost always be the same…

“They don’t play any defense.”

“It’s a thug league.”

“Too much one-on-one basketball.”

“I don’t have time to follow it.”

Almost all of those assumptions are untrue. Defense in the NBA is actually pretty intense on most nights. Yes, there may be some thugs, but show me any professional sport that doesn’t have its share of bad apples (I’m looking at you, NFL.). There are some isolation plays, but no more than you would see in the average college game these days. And with the internet, apps, and 24-hour sports television, a person can basically be a follower of any sport they want.

san-antonio-spursTo me, the best example of how entertaining the game of professional basketball can be is the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Spurs have not quite been the juggernaut they were in the NBA Finals last June when they were steamrolling the Miami Heat, but they do still possess the sixth-best record in the loaded Western Conference this season. But, my goodness, the Finals! I don’t know that I have ever seen a basketball team, professional or otherwise, share the ball like the Spurs did in that series. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

I had a chance to watch the Spurs play the Chicago Bulls today on ABC, and I was reminded of that series. In addition to the ball movement, though, I remembered another thing that always amazes me about the Spurs – the way they can fit nearly any player into their structure and turn him into a valuable part of the team. I’m not saying players like Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Patrick Mills aren’t talented, but would they have the kind of impact on another team that they do for the Spurs? It’s difficult for me to imagine they would.

Even though I feel like the term is overused these days, the Spurs certainly posses a “system” of some sort. Everyone seems to know their roles. They seem to get along with one another. They don’t mind taking a backseat to each other. They don’t appear to be selfish. And despite the fact that they’re getting older (by NBA player standards), they keep on winning. Whatever the system is in San Antonio, it works.

I’ve wondered for years how certain people can be total failures in one place and then go on to success somewhere else. I think maybe my bewilderment stems from never quite feeling like I fit in. Everyone has weaknesses, everyone has flaws, everyone has strengths, and everyone has areas they excel in more than others. Somewhere inside me, I’ve always felt I work better as a part of a team, drawing upon the strengths of others to make up for where I am lacking. I have been looking for a system.

There are definitely times when we are forced to stand on our own. For instance, being a writer forces you to put yourself out there in a very individual kind of way. Even outside of work-type situations, though, there is a system somewhere we’re all looking to plug into. It may be a lifestyle regiment to bolster us. It may be a support network of friends. It may be a regular routine of giving. Whatever it may be, it involves accentuating strengths and reducing weaknesses. It reduces selfishness. Most of all, though, it wins.

I haven’t found my system yet. I’ve caught little glimpses of here it here and there, but it never seems to last. I either break it down myself or someone or something else does along the way. When I see a system working, though, it gives me hope that the right one is out there for me somewhere. It may take me a while longer yet to discover. Even the Spurs weren’t always the way they are now, and they don’t win a championship every year. A system that works, though, is a winner every time, if you ask me.

Thank You Very Much

It has been brought to my attention lately that I have difficulty taking compliments.

I’m not really sure when this began, but at some point in life I developed a talent for dismissing nice things that were said about me. It went beyond simply having a sense of low self-esteem; it descended into a full-blown lack of trust for my fellow human beings. Of course, one could logically point out that the second point doubles back on the first, with the lack of trust actually stemming from having such low self-esteem I couldn’t believe anyone could genuinely believe such nice things about me.

It doesn’t really matter what the reason was. Even though I craved positive affirmation, I could never take a compliment cleanly.

quote-Mason-Cooley-we-are-prepared-for-insults-but-compliments-56053_1

Two instances in the past two months have made this abundantly clear about me, and the ironic thing is they both involved the one thing in life I am actually confident in – my ability as a writer. I write a short column each month for the monthly newsletter at the radio station I work for. For some reason, writing it the past two months has been nothing short of maddening. At one point, while writing last month’s column, I literally reared back in my chair and hit my head against the wall behind me. I submitted something for publication each month, but I wasn’t happy with what I had produced.

Shortly after I had submitted last month’s entry, one of my co-workers complimented me on what I had written. In fact, I think he even used the word “perfect,” and if you knew how loathe I am to mention that, you would realize I didn’t drop that word in to brag on myself. I almost immediately countered his compliment by telling him how much I hated what I had written and how much of a struggle it had been to even finish it. I also figured he was just trying to puff me up, since he and I had discussed my self-esteem issues before.

Earlier this week, another co-worker actually called me from home after getting off work to tell me he had just read what I had written for this month’s newsletter. He was very effusive in his praise, telling me how what I had written was powerful, beautiful, and poetic. He may have even used the words “nailed it” at one point. Since I wasn’t that crazy about this month’s entry either, I again launched into an explanation of how difficult it had been to write and how I wasn’t happy with it. In this instance, I figured his praise was an instance of someone trying to kiss up to me, since I am technically his boss.

We’ve had a couple of snowstorms in the past few weeks, and I have been able to spend some time at home just doing this – writing. Today was one of those days. I set up my laptop on the kitchen table and did what a great many writers spend significant amounts of time doing – staring blankly into space. For some reason, as I sat there, those compliments I described came into my head. I wondered, “What if they really meant what they were saying? What if I really did do as good a job as they were saying?”

So I’m going to try to do a better job of accepting compliments. I’m going to try to just say “thank you” more often. I’m going to try to stop questioning people’s motives when they say nice things about me. I’m going to try to not look at the floor when someone talks to me about something they think I did well. I’m going to try to not point out all the mistakes I made when someone tells me I did a good job.

Just as I didn’t realize when I stopped accepting compliments at face value, I probably won’t realize when I eventually do. That would be fine with me, though. I’ve been too self-aware for too long now anyway. And if you agree with that last statement, I will just say “thank you” and move on…

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.

The Bicycle

dark nightOne of the curses of thinking like a writer is the phrase that just won’t let go. I say this is a curse for several reasons. One is that quite often constructing a story to work the phrase in question into is nearly impossible, so it winds up losing its power because it gets shoehorned in where it doesn’t quite belong. Another is that sometimes even though you know a phrase is a good one, you don’t particularly feel like using it. This mainly happens with me when I know what I’m thinking is right, but I don’t want to admit it.

Case in point. Earlier today, the following phrase popped into my head: “Walking with God is like riding a bicycle.”

It sound ridiculously simple, for one thing. Walking with God requires a complex interaction of emotions and bodily control and spiritual discipline. Riding a bicycle requires, well, balance. For another, it seems incredibly clichéd. To me, comparing walking with God to just about anything we could do here on Earth seems like a gross understatement, completely lacking in the depth it needs to be accurate. It sounds like something someone would put on a meme and blast out over the internet.

At the same time, though, there is an undeniable truth within the two parallels. In both instances, there comes a time when we pretty much think we have everything figured out. We feel as if we are in control of the situation, and that nothing can topple us again. We may even start to believe we’ll never be hurt again. Of course, all of those assumptions are incorrect. We will eventually crash at some point.

I thought of this today as I was considering the ongoing struggles I have with depression in my life. A few months ago, I believed I had this thing licked. I felt as good as I ever had. My troubles seemed a million miles away. I was coping with things beautifully. And then I began to slip back into old habits. I let old thought patterns creep back in. I started to complain a little more. Next thing I knew, I was having to rebuild from the ground up again. Well, maybe not the ground up, but it sure felt that way.

Once I learned how to ride a bicycle as a kid, I went many years without falling off, save for one disastrous trail 469273_10151421480105217_1614021527_oouting in which I discovered it was indeed possible for a human body to hit the ground and not bounce. I knew how to balance and pedal and accelerate and break. I couldn’t see myself wiping out again, as long as I didn’t do anything too daring. Then, one beautiful spring day a couple of years ago, as I swung my left leg over my bicycle to get on it, my foot got caught, bringing me crashing down on top of the frame. My worst biking injury in years, and I wasn’t even moving.

Did that bicycle injury mean I hadn’t ever learned to correctly ride a bike in the first place? Well, no. Did it mean all those other years of not crashing were apparitions? No, of course not. Did it mean the person who taught me to ride a bike would be totally disappointed in me? Probably not. So, conversely, does that mean if I sin or let my guard down or entertain depressing thoughts that God will turn his back on me entirely? I used to believe that was true. Today, though, as much as I want to believe that punishment is coming, I’m learning God is much more interested in seeing me get back on the bicycle than keeping me lying on the ground.

So, there. Walking with God is like riding a bicycle. Phrase used. Mission accomplished.