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?

 

 

Courage to continue

Success is never permanent. Failure is never final.  It is the courage to continue that matters most.

— Sir Winston Churchill

I’ve just watched the Oscar winning performance of Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” and am in awe of the leadership and imperfection that was portrayed in the life of one of history’s most colorful and charismatic leaders. As usual I will not spoil the film for those who may not have seen it, but one clear message that sticks with me is how important the belief in oneself is in life. There is wisdom to periodically question yourself, and value in listening to your gut but also to seek the counsel of others.

As depression strikes people, we doubt our ability to perform even simple tasks. We question our judgment, fall prey to detractors, and lose confidence often in a visible and noticeable way.  Depression never chooses a good time to slap us in the face or pin us to the floor.  Just this week I’ve had two very powerful people succumb to depression, and I was very grateful to be welcomed into their trust when they asked for my ear.  Both are learned professionals, dedicated to their jobs, and known to me for over forty years.  Both have survived divorce, abuse, and learned for themselves to survive and to cope at early ages.

What I find to be most admirable about them both is that they possess immeasurable courage to continue.  One is a school teacher who was devastated by the school shooting at Parkland, Florida.  She teaches special needs students and was commanded by the state of Florida to present a video recorded message preparing young school children in  the event of a live shooter siege that might occur.  As my teacher friend screened the message, the gravity of what was conveyed hit her.  She envisioned what might happen if she had to place herself in the line of fire in order to protect a beloved student.  The weight of this development in her job, on top of immense responsibility for managing the care of her mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, was too much and she snapped.   By the time I was able to see her at the hospital, she had already recovered significantly to know that she could no longer be a teacher in a state like Florida, where we have spineless leaders, owned by the wealthy gun manufacturers, unwilling to limit in any way the access to Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Courage to continue was driven by self preservation, but also for the precious family for which she will always be a rock.

Do we give ourselves credit for our courage?

Can you remember the last time you stroked your own ego, even if just a little bit, for the courage we summon to power through difficult times?  It’s not hard to find people in our circle of friends, those people who are battling dread disease, or have endured abuse of some kind. Humans are resilient, even if in the midst of a depressed episode we may not feel like it.  I was worried for my two friends because it is my nature to be pessimistic. When it comes down to it, at no time during these long friendships have I ever been disappointed by them.  As I sat by the bedside of my very beleaguered teacher friend, she thanked me and reminded me of times in our history that I’d come to her aid years ago, the things which I’d long forgotten, and she has long remembered.  In return and without thought for the cost, she had pulled me from a two year depression that followed my divorce.  Courage is just a helping hand to get started down the path that we know is away from depression and toward feeling better.  I’d like to recommend to anyone reading this that you can easily find one thing for which you deserve credit for having the courage to continue.  Celebrate it. Replicate it.  Pay it forward, and hold on to the great feeling of being courageous.

Anger

Why not be angry? You’re depressed, your life and senses are different than most people. One friend from this site told me “if one more person gives me an eye roll,” or “yes I know that I am lucky to be alive, and to have what comforts I do, but that’s not helpful to remind me how YOU think I should be feeling.” Imagine judging someone’s deeply personal feeling, and trying to shame them out of a condition like depression. Depression isn’t a choice for people, though I believe depressed people do have some control over how long a depressive episode lasts. If people could choose their emotions, depression would not be my choice.

I remember having a discussion with my mother a year or so before she died. She was 94, had arthritis of the everything, a fibrillation, stenosis of the spine, hypothyroidism, a host of maladies that would likely beset peers of her age. In spite of those problems, Mom walked on her own, or with a cane for distance. She colored her own hair, prepared some of her own meals. She had abilities that many people decades younger didn’t have. On this night, I’d prepared dinner for Mom, her boyfriend, my sister, and me, packaged it up and drove it across town to Mom’s house. As was her usual habit, Mom had a late start getting bathed and ready for dinner, so the food I’d brought over would be cooling while we waited for Mom to finish dressing herself. As she came to dinner, glancing at the covered food dishes, she sneered “I had potatoes with lunch.” I was displeased, but I remained calm as I said “wish I’d known that, I could’ve made us something else.” “How are you doing?” I asked as I hugged and kissed her. “Terrible….” she answered, everything hurts me.”

I knew she was sincere, and a few years after her passing I know now that she hated being the Last Mohican of her family and friends. She watched them die in hospitals, homes, and attended their funeral services. I know that it troubled her to think about how many different medications she had been prescribed for blood thinning, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on. Yet I still said, “Wow Mom, you are so much better off than people younger than you are, in Assisted Living Facilities, or nursing homes, unable to do or care for themselves.” “There are people living with advanced organic brain syndromes who don’t recognize their own children.” “They’d trade places with you in a second.”

Wasn’t that a cheery thing to say to Mom? She didn’t answer or snarl at me. In her heart, she knew that I was doing what people her age had always been told to do. Accentuate the positive, don’t dwell on the half empty water glass, the things you can no longer do.

About a year ago I finally heard an acceptable answer to the water glass analogy, forgive me if you’ve already heard this, but I found it to be very enlightening. When considering optimism or pessimism and a glass of water metaphor, it does not matter how much water is in the glass. What does matter is:

  • How long do I have to hold this glass of water out in front of my body?
  • If I’m forced to hold onto it for a long time, then being full means the glass becomes very heavy over time, and much more difficult to hold onto without dropping it.

Depressed people have to process through their depression, or if they choose to repress it, the depression becomes a heavy glass being held indefinitely. It hurts, and nobody knows just by looking at you that you suffer depression. There’s no plaster cast to show evidence of a broken bone, no stitches, no burned skin, or something tangible that lets others see our predicament.

What do you think others should do?

For the purposes of coexistence, the tolerance of those unwitting people who do not suffer depression and therefore they can’t relate exactly with how we are feeling, what can we want them to do? Should they leave us alone until we come around? Should they try to talk us out of our bad mood by telling us how good we have it? Depressed people can do the world a favor and help others know there are some helpful things we want them to accept about us.

  • Depression is real
  • Feeling depressed is not a choice, we don’t feel depressed for attention
  • Sometimes an episode is protracted, it takes time to get through it
  • We need awareness, and some slack.
  • If more than a few days pass, it’s ok to ask “what can I do?”

That last one has a big caveat; if the answer is “you can’t do anything,” that needs to be acceptable by both parties. If I’m in a funk, I now realize that others have detected my mood swing, then I should acknowledge their concern. Maybe “please forgive me, I’m having some personal down time.” I guess they’ll just have to believe us when we say “I’m not quite feeling 100% today,” or something more pointed such as “I’d rather not go there” and wait us out.

What do you think?

Setbacks

Those of us who have known depression, felt the grasp on your functionality slowly leave your reach, you know what a loss of resiliency can cause you when you experience even minor setbacks. Setbacks can seem insurmountable, like a huge crater opened up on the kitchen floor and your car keys are on the sill out of reach.

The self talk sometimes helps, but if it doesn’t, I wonder why the antidepressants I’ve been taking for many years have not averted this sudden disaster.  It’s a helpless feeling for me, almost like a child feels when his ice cream cone fallls into the mud. I just don’t have “it” anymore; I’ve lost “it,” and I want to go barricade myself in my sanctuary place until I regain “it.”

Sometimes I reflect on the many interventions my doctors tried on me, and even a few I tried on my own.  St. John’s Wort, the popular herbal remedy that comes with special warning to stay out of the sun when taking, or you may be susceptible to sunburn.  I doubled the recommended dosage.  I tried making SJW salads, and brewed tea, and it just didn’t budge my bad days.  Wellbutrin, the wonder drug, one with fewest reported side effects seemed to help me for awhile, though I could not tolerate anything more than the loading dose of  150 mg.   The recommended 300 mg dosage side effect was urinary retention, and I’ll leave it at that since medical conditions can be unpleasant to describe in gory detail.

I’ll long remember my psychiatrist’s happy face when my DNA test results suggested several new and expensive antidepressants that worked on different pathways for warding off the blues.  I’ve always believed in the placebo effect when taking medicines.  If you believe that the drug will help you to feel better, then your chances of having a good response will be higher.  Well Belsombra, made from a nightshade plant, almost killed me.  I remember the psychiatrist and then my general practice physician both insisting this new cure would be lasting.  My experience was paralyzed sleep.  Waking up seven hours after going to bed, still and sore from not moving at all during the night, dry mouth from mouth-open sleep, and drool down my chin and front of my T shirt.  Excited with my results, my doctor said “but you did get sleep, right?” My response was “I was paralyzed in bed, felt like I’d been rufied the night before, and was dead in the head until 3:00 pm the next day, barely able to function, feeling sore and stiff, unrested, and worse off for the trial. It’s the only time I can remember raising my voice to the doctor.

What should you do when you experience setbacks?

The best advice I received for addressing and surviving mental setbacks was given to me by a very dear friend, and it was threefold:

* Take your time

*Forgive yourself any elongated recovery time

*Talk with someone about the really bad setbacks

Brutally common sense, but for me, immensely important because I trusted the source.  She was my placebo effect, someone whom I knew had a rough life, but was a world-beater, and wasn’t going to curl up into a fetal ball and be institutionalized.  She’d beaten cancer, and faced several bad breakups.  She was successful in life, professionally and personally, and though she’s been gone for several years, I’m still inspired by her grace and loving manner.  There’s always someone battling setbacks, some potentially worse than your setback.  When you follow the 3 steps, you learn more about success in dealing with them.  If you find a good fit for antidepressant drug therapy, ride it for as long as it works for you, but remember you can do your research and ask your doctor for advice on any new drugs that have come to market for which you might be a match.  There are also some medical trials that work their way into social media feeds, I’ve thought about volunteering for one of those too.

My depression is here with me waiting to bloom like dandelions from between your driveway paver stones.  It’s up to us to figure out how to keep it at bay, or whether we need to take some time to process through it.  Sending you well wishes of depression free months and a minimum of drug interventions.