Return to function

So many things go through my mind after I’ve had a bad flu or stomach bug for a few days.  It’s as though a prisoner of bad health has been set free, on a sunny day, with a gaggle of waiting family and friends to welcome you back.

Over the past 30 days I’ve made some decisions about why I continued to have nightmares and adrenaline rushes so frequently at night, interrupting my very precious sleep cycle.  Could I be causing these events by remaining loyal to medications I’ve been taking for too long? Maybe it was a theory worthy of testing?

One of my close friends is a seasonal allergy sufferer like me. She has it bad, and each spring and every fall we commiserate about how dreadful it feels to have congestion in the morning, and grisly symptoms of histamine havoc in our bodies.  Like two old pros, we began comparing our results with treatments, and I asked if she’d tried Singulair for her symptoms.  I’d been taking it for years, and it worked well, keeping sinus infections to a minimum, costing very little, and stopping the body’s response to the allergic reaction.  Lucky for both of us she had done reading about it and said “I’m anxious anyway, and I read that one of the side effects of that drug is increased anxiety, and sleep loss.”  I think the color left my face.  For years I had enjoyed the benefits of Montelukast, the generic name, and never once paid attention to the fact that it might contribute in some way to the increased anxiety I’d experienced.

In no way was Montelukast responsible for my pushing myself too hard for too many years of long haul travel, but when many little pieces come together, sometimes the aggregation can cause big, bad changes.  The words of my doctor came back to me… “take a vacation from Montelukast every once in awhile,” and my not thinking much about it because at that time I was  not suffering any ill effects of any note, I’d seldom stopped taking it, always right before going to bed.

Today marks a week without Montelukast.  I’m happy to report that the difference in sleep is positive and notable.   I fall asleep with greater ease, and I am not waking with unbearable sinus congestion though there is some to deal with.  A saline rinse takes care of the change, like using a Neti pot.

I’ve also had some great news with this return to function, that I’m feeling more rested, and more confident that I could successfully return to the work that I enjoyed so much, conducting training seminars for adult learners.  I’m so very grateful that IBM is looking at bringing me back after a 3 year sabbatical!   Living the values of a great company, valuing diversity, hiring people with disabilities, and providing a culture of great people, as I’ve described before as the highest achieving professionals I’ve known.  I’m excited again, and it feels great.  I was afraid to publish this news before now because I didn’t want superstitious jinxing to muck up my great outlook.  This is hope, this is returning to function, and this is a dream realized again– the first time over 30 years ago.

Wish me luck, and keep some hope for yourself, spreading it around if you can.  I’d enjoy hearing from anyone who has had similar results with medicines that no longer provide relief too.

Self talk

I’ve done it for years, and I have noticed others too. Self talk, the gentle encouragement, or the talking of oneself off a ledge, so important a coping tool for depression sufferers and those with anxiety.

It’s usually done silently for fear of being discovered by those around us. We fear being judged or avoided for being a nutbag. Today I view self talk as a sign of great strength. I was asked on social media, “What’s something you miss from childhood?” and I was surprised to learn by reading the first few responses that there were people who had nothing good to say about their formative years. One person had been adopted, another abused, both potentially severe traumas for young people. I miss most the encouraging words I received from my folks, my sisters, my teachers, and friends. I think that gift of encouragement in the form of talking me through challenges, led me to the practice of tapping into my inner messages. These are the most private messages sent to yourself when stressed or faced with some important task.

“What the hell have you done?”

“What gave you the idea you could do this?”

“Nobody knows how really scared I am right now..”

All of these types of messages, the self talk in our own heads, have to pass through your ear gate. In his book “Attitude is Everything,” Keith Harrell defines your ear gate as the source of entry of power or the lack of self esteem that people encounter throughout their waking life. I had the great pleasure of seeing Harrell speak at a seminar for professional skills trainers sponsored by AchieveGlobal. Harrell was one of the most dynamic motivational speakers I have ever encountered. He took his audience through a range of emotions, at times bringing us to tears with the power and truth of his message. I’ve hyperlinked his Vimeo story in case you need a lift in your day. It’s about 17 minutes long, but worth every second of your time investment, and it explains the importance of guarding your psyche from negative messages that we may let past our ear gates.

Self talk has helped me to dig myself out of a very deep and lasting depressive episode in my last 4 years. I’m now getting ready to re-enter the workforce and I am using self talk to help me regain the great confidence and love for public speaking I once enjoyed. Please give your impression of the value of self talk, and also your thoughts about one of my favorite people, Keith Douglas Harrell.

Is this destiny?

Have you wondered if you were meant to be just exactly who you are?  Did all the planets, and all the stars align on the day that you were born in order to produce you for whatever benefit to human kind that might come from your actions and legacy?  If I was put here for a great purpose, then was I meant to carry around this burden of being deeply depressed, anxious, and unable to sleep at night?

This question frequently haunts the depressed and anxious.  We sometimes wonder what we’ve done to deserve this anchor, the darkness that seems to follow us, drain us of energy, and engulf most or all of our enjoyment. One of my friends is an artist who eschews antidepressant medications because he believes his depressive episodes feed his creativity, and his art is the outlet of the darkness.  How about you?

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I’ve discussed resilience, lost perspective, and how we could limit the grasp of depression on our lives through mindfulness. Many times that means medicines plus exercise, or psychotherapy with a worthy therapist.  One valuable lesson that my therapist taught me is that we can take control of our depression at time just by practicing awareness of what is happening to us, pausing the big DVR of our lives gives in order to give us an opportunity to put into perspective what is happening.

Another fact you may know about me is that I enjoy great movies, and this idea of accepting your destiny, even embracing it with all of its bumps and pitfalls may mean that we are made stronger and our lives enriched by what may lie just beyond the next hurdle.  This week I saw the movie “Downsizing,” billed as a comedy, but not at all what I expected.  Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, an Occupational Therapist who like many today is struggling financially to pay his debts.  Paul and his wife hear about friends who have undergone “downsizing,” or cellular miniturization in order to consume less, help the planet to use less resources, as the human body becomes 5 inches tall.  Paul feels with getting small he can stretch his life savings and provide a better new life for his family in a “small world.” If you suspend disbelief for just long enough to let the story wash over you, you will find Paul to be a good soul.  He genuinely cares for people and in his new life he is hit with many unforeseen setbacks that test his decision to get small.

Damon’s character and this very thought-provoking new movie left me thinking about these lasting, important messages portrayed days after seeing the film.  Paul is unflappable, and he meets some wonderful and strange people in the new small world.  During his adventure he never questions “why me?” or opines “poor me!” for the setbacks.  Instead his perspective, which comes at a pivotal point in this movie, is his belief that in fact the planets *did* align, the stars *were* just exactly where they were supposed to be, and life unfolded for him in its imperfect and very profound ways.  I will admit that I am a big fan of Matt Damon, with the exception of some of the Bourne films which I found to be repetitive.   This piece of wonderful cinematic storytelling is as powerful a work as was “Goodwill Hunting.”  The message for those dealing with depression is that we can choose to recognize the hurdles.  We may fall down, but that only means we must stand up when we are ready. We have experiences that are guiding us to take positive steps to minimize the duration of a bad episode of sadness or loss of functionality, and we move on to live another day.  If you enjoy fantasy genre movies that leave you awestruck and a little pensive, then I recommend that you invest the two and a half hours to watch “Downsizing.” Then please, let us know if you had the same reaction I did, or a different perspective to add to this blog.

Thanks for the time

I enjoy a good story every so often.  Going through some very old files I came across this story and thought it was worthy of a post about our frenetic paced lives.  Hope you enjoy it even though it’s a bit long.

Thanks for the Time

A young man learns what’s most important in life from the guy next door.

It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

Over the phone, his mother told him, ‘Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.’ Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days.

‘Jack, did you hear me?’

‘Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,’ Jack said.

‘Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,’ Mom told him.

 

‘I loved that old house he lived in,’ Jack said.

‘You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,’ she said

 

‘He’s the one who taught me carpentry,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important…Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,’ Jack said.

 

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time.

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture….Jack stopped suddenly.

‘What’s wrong, Jack?’ his Mom asked.

‘The box is gone,’ he said

‘What box?’ Mom asked.

‘There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,” Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

‘Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,’ Jack said. ‘I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.’

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. ‘Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,’ the note read.

 

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. ‘Mr. Harold Belser’ it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside.

 

‘Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.’ A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch.

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved:

 

‘Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.’

‘The thing he valued most was…my time’

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. ‘Why?’ Janet, his assistant asked.

 

‘I need some time to spend with my son,’ he said.

 

‘Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!’

‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away,’

Think about this. You may not realize it, but it’s 100% true.

  1. At least 2 people in this world love you so much they would die for you.
  2. At least 15 people in this world love you in some way.
  3. A smile from you can bring happiness to anyone, even if they don’t like you.
  4. Every night, SOMEONE thinks about you before they go to sleep.
  5. You mean the world to someone.
  6. If not for you, someone may not be living.
  7. You are special and unique.
  8. When you think you have no chance of getting what you want, you probably won’t get it, but if you trust God to do what’s best, and wait on His time, sooner or later, you will get it or something better.
  9. When you make the biggest mistake ever, something good can still come from it.
  10. When you think the world has turned its back on you, take a look: you most likely turned your back on the world.
  11. Someone that you don’t even know exists loves you.
  12. Always remember the compliments you received. Forget about the rude remarks.

13 . Always tell someone how you feel about them; you will feel much better when they know and you’ll both be happy .

  1. If you have a great friend, take the time to let them know that they are great.

 

 

Fight for the light

Looking backward on a life spent dodging anxiety and depressive episodes, I have realized that with experience (read age) it’s easy to see that the major depressive disorder is a fight.  It’s a fight that drains you of energy, desire, love, and perspective.  Darkness is often the metaphor for the feelings associated with depression, and emerging out of darkness is the desire most depression sufferers say is the sign their enemy has retreated, their feelings returning to a “midline,” or a feeling of functionality.

As the last few weeks of another kind of fight unfolded, the fight to be heard and respected, I’ve watched young adults from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School struggle for attention and answers from their elected officials.  These young adults who likely suffer Post Traumatic Stress as a result of witnessing maimed, bloody bodies of their murdered and injured friends, are fighting an old and well funded opponent on the side of hatred, ignorance, and greed.

This blog is dedicated to these young adults, those dealing with a very adult subject matter, and demonstrating to the world that they are intelligent, determined, and mature human beings.  These fighters are encountering opportunities to tell their horrific stories over and over again, each time being asked “so you’ll be moving on to college, and other things; how do you think this momentum you’ve begun will continue after you’re gone?”  Without hesitation, many of the representatives have said “if you think we’re going to go away, if you think this is a cause we will abandon, think again.”

That determination, the optimism of youth and the fight for what is right, beneficial to many, not just a special few– this is the determination and energy that saves depression sufferers from protracted episodes of dark times.  May these young adults be successful in garnering attention of more people like the big advertisers who have acted bravely and strongly in support of banning assault weapons, the guns of war, from WalMart stores, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and reducing advertising revenues to the National Rifle Association and all the greed and outdated traditions it represents. To the Marco Rubios, and congressional representatives who continue to accept NRA campaign donations, I wish for you a conscience, and an awareness that your child could be one of the next victims of gun violence in the school system. You must take responsible action instead of accepting bribes that continue the dangerous practice of gun show purchases of military grade weapons and abetting American terrorists.

Planning in secret

I did this.  Because of major depressive episodes I felt so bad, and still do feel bad to possess the cowardice within me to consider an easy end to tough times. All told my worst feelings were only a reality for a few years, however, it felt like decades of unabated mental angst that had followed me everywhere.  The rational mind knows my feeling is not factual. The heart disagrees and it says that there is an unrecoverable loss of function, and you’re not good for anything or anyone any longer.  You’ve lost the feeling of enjoyment that used to be part of everyday things. The loss supports the heavy feelings in your heart.  Food no longer tastes good. To be close to someone whom you care about means that you need to “fake it” so you’re not discovered. You are feeling very different, maybe withdrawn and quiet, and you’re asked to explain yourself, or you need to pretend that you are feeling fine, ready to go, full of life. In fact your life is at a low point, some terrible crossroad that you’d hoped never to reach.  I’ve had down times, but that severely depressed feeling, the almost indescribable abandonment by all things that you’ve loved or enjoyed, that’s different and strongly motivating.

With time, the people who have loved you begin to give you distance, and may make assumptions why you place distance between you and them. To you, life feels like the people in your circles all have neat and tidy lives, but only my life is in the shitter, ruined and irretrievably broken. That feeling of defeat, sustained over several months led me to plan the end of my life.

I heard my own voice inside me grow strong, and the messages more frequent. “You’ve had no good sleep for over four years now.”  I knew people who fell from functioning due to the same affliction, and there is a draining miasma of dying flesh that is your flesh.  It’s around every corner, part of every breath telling you that your life is no longer fun and has no quality, little light.

Sometimes trying to find something to distract your mind helps to lift your mood. Other times unfortunately you are unable to distract the depressed mind, and you become obsessively focused on the reality that sleep is elusive and short lived.  There is an anxiety surrounding bed time that begins about an hour before your body clock would have normally signaled “time to go bed.”  Now the bedroom is no longer a place for relaxation, but it also is an unpleasant reminder of lost enjoyment, the comfortable, safe sanctuary, and the pleasant place where the phone, the internet, and the stress of your life isn’t supposed to follow you.  It does follow you.

This might be where some people would drink alcohol or maybe seek  street drugs in order to feel relief in a temporary escape of the loneliness and feeling of being a burden.  It’s irrational, and it’s real.  This is insomnia. This is the feeling  that my doctor warned me about. He said “you’ve managed to keep going for quite a few years, but it’s time to think about your future given this pace of travel and no restful down time.”  I could not tell him about the dark thoughts.  I could not look him in the eye.  I could not be honest with myself at first, so that meant that I could not gather the words to speak about what was happening.  Was this self-abuse?  Had I passed the point where I could chicken out? Was it what many others before me had felt before they put an end to their own miserable feelings and a life with no purpose?

I knew the doctor was correct, but I wondered why he cared about my case? Why couldn’t he have been like other doctors who simply wrote a paper prescription for a drug that would deaden my awareness, or medicate me to unconsciousness?

I’d seen this whole dysfunctional story before.  This was my mother’s life.  It’s how she had lived for about 20 years as I was growing up in her home.  During the work week her habit was to drive home from her banking job, a career that she hated, and as a result she relied heavily on prescription Miltown tranquilizers in order to escape her own tortured feelings. Weeknights she’d almost bolt from the garage straight back to the bedroom and shut the door. We kids knew to be quiet, pray the phone didn’t ring, turn down the television set, and speak in whispers. Inside her closet were the Miltowns, the pills which she obtained in quantity years before Sam’s Club or CVS. Miltowns gave Mom several hours of unnatural sleep. Depending on how many she took, a few hours would pass until she would wake around 10pm, stumble into the living room of our small house where my sisters and I did our homework, and she’d ask us “where is my dinner?”  I had to research today Miltown tranquilizers because you don’t hear about them much.  Carter-Wallace was the company back in the late 1950s that introduced Miltown, an accidental drug originally used to preserve penicillin, but re-purposed for curing everyday ills.  Doctors found Miltown was  an effective relaxing agent, and Hollywood celebrated its arrival. Celebrities distributed the pills at parties in cocktails called “Miltinis.” Today we’d call it a “new normal,” like a decade ago when ads for prescription medicines hit television audiences in numbers, encouraging us to ask our doctors whether this new product was right for us.  Does it give you a chill to hear the calm voices say “could produce side effects such as….” and then the long list of horrific and potent problems are listed.   As a society, we’ve done a great disservice to ourselves by normalizing prescription drugs in TV commercials, like a toothpaste or feminine hygiene product.  I find it disturbing that 90% of opioid prescriptions are written by US physicians. We’d rather treat symptoms than address anxiety and the fatigue caused by stress. We hire and promote people who sacrifice their existence in order to make the rent and maybe a little bit extra.

No good plans

With time to review what had been my final plan, and then to reflect, I’ve had the time to think about who would miss me, the holes I would leave in a few places, and what pain for those who love me. A few would have blamed themselves for not recognizing a non-existent sign.  I would have caused loved ones to suffer because of my short-sighted choices. I’m still a depression sufferer, but I’ve come to realize that no good plans should be executed before you let someone in.  When we assume that we are a burden, or when we have little to no purpose, we are devaluing the feelings of those we care about.  In the darkest of times I’ve lost perspective about my life and its potential.  I’ve taken for granted the love of good people who would have wanted to say good bye, and maybe offer me their perspective, one that I hadn’t considered. If you’re feeling deeply depressed, this post may have meaning for you.  How do you cope? Do you have a perspective to share?