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 You are feeling very different, maybe withdrawn and quiet, and you’re asked to explain yourself, or you need to pretend that you are feeling fine, ready to go, full of life.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.

 

 

 

 

Journaling

It’s your life, how much do you know about it?  In your latter years will you think back on what must have been your golden era and wonder how you filled your days?  What were your priorities?  Who was important in your life past, and what about those thoughts that occupied your waking mind?

Journaling has been a therapeutic outlet for depression sufferers since the 1960s because the written word, the expression of those ideas that may not have fully formed, when penned to paper they take shape and are memorialized for your own thought, reflection, and action planning.  Journals have been steamy diaries, the hiding places where secret wishes, unexpressed passions, and the final resting place for the “if only” bucket list of a phase of life is waiting.

Today it seems with social media, modern day people are much more visible to the cosmos, expressing snippets of thoughts, favorite memes, or whole diatribes about injustices, rants, and opinions.  The blog, a view into the life of the author, is like a personal FaceBook journal, a place where your cordoned off piece of the internet is like a comfortable kitchen space or perhaps a man cave in the home.  The artwork, the furniture, all reflecting the tastes of the author, but formatted expressly to be seen, evaluated, and publicized for sharing with others.

Sharing for mental health

I began blogging a month ago like someone begins a road trip with just the idea of heading south, or west.  No GPS, timeline, no schedule, just the idea I’d like to go somewhere, and I don’t feel like going by myself.  With the driving idea that I had a message to share about near death, walking dead depression, I felt as though some of my experience might map or resonate with others.  The altruistic hope was to prevent other people from losing their grasp with natural gifts like sleep, the emotional unavailability for family, and functional sanity, things I have lost sight of periodically over the past 10 years. Nobility is not my best quality, but as I explained in a former post, it turns out that humans are wired to be social, and to care about others.   I share for mental health reasons, both for my own and for others to evaluate, possibly enjoy, or maybe to ponder.

I wonder how many people glance at these entries do have some thoughts, but end up stifling their urge to offer an opinion.  Missed opportunities, the chance to form a bond, receive feedback, or to see another person’s perspective are priceless compensation for a blogger.  Assessing one’s potential value, or in business terms “final results” of your cordoned off piece of the cosmos is important and provides meaning or purpose.

I would enjoy having some connection to those of you making the journey with similar or even complementary experiences to those I’ve shared with you here. If you have comments, an idea, a perspective, affirming or constructive, please do share it.  Imagine how good you’ll feel enriching the understanding of others, and putting your mark on what could turn out to be an original work of art.

 

Ridding the soul of hate

“Hate begets hate,” a central theme in a great movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a great cinematic message for the world.  Celebrated at the Golden Globes and a box office hit, this movie was a great wakeup call on many levels.   If you’ve read my posts, you know I enjoy great films, and this one is destined for a place in cinematic history.  I promise not to spoil the film for anyone, but one of its  many messages is about hate being like a cancer, and ridding the soul, replacing hate with love will lead to renewal, achieving life goals, and by extrapolation leads to a lightened depressed state, and reclaiming precious energy.

Many times in my most depressed moods I’ve beaten myself up for allowing my life to pass me by, dropping out of sight of beloved people, being emotionally unavailable, and for feeling so helpless about how this took place.  All whilst I schlogged through wet concrete trying to function and hiding my battle.

Hate of oneself or hate of your situation can happen at different junctures in your life, or at least it has in my life.  Resilience is that coveted ability to bounce back from setbacks, something that we depressed, anxious people wish we could do. Resilience is a learned skill.  Do you ever stop and think about resilience role models you’ve known?  Have you gained resilience by watching the example of others?  When you receive a setback in life, whether it’s a flat tire on a workday morning, a medical diagnosis like high blood pressure, or being laid off your job,   these events require our mindfulness, our concentration, and some degree of resilience in order to function.

As I look back at my life, the largest portion which is behind me, I cannot ever remember myself as being someone who is effortlessly resilient, able to recover quickly from setbacks and dust my butt off to get right back into the game.   Nope, rather than bounce or spring back like an employer might expect, instead I choose to re-think the event, brood, fret, lash out behind closed doors, blame & curse others.  Only after this cycle is complete, it is then that I feel myself begin to plot my return.  The loss of perspective is my depression.  The period of time I need in order to process the setback is the refractory period, the gathering of great resilience.

In “Three Billboards,” the main character Mildred Hayes has endured months of unimaginable angst awaiting her small town police department to locate the culprit who brutally murdered Mildred’s daughter.  Horrific circumstances that would shake the mettle of the strongest soldier, but Mildred reflects, she broods, and then one day she summons the strength and the resources to take effective action.  The movie is too real for many of us–we feel like we’ve been in Mildred’s shoes, hopefully in much smaller bursts of bad times.  We see her life backward and forward in time, dealing with phase-of-life circumstances like divorce, physical abuse, single parenting teenage children, alcoholism, all amid a backdrop small town of people who are also dealing with their own set of life circumstances.

Finding resilience through mindfulness

I’ve been so fortunate in my life to have known strong, selfless, mindful people.  I have a faith that tells me it’s no accident that I have crossed paths with great, principled role model people because we were supposed to teach each other, or learn from each other in order to get through this life mostly intact, and without a feeling of being totally alone in our struggles.  Lost perspective is regained when we step out of our own grudges, setbacks, and bruised feelings of being slighted. We need to pause the DVR of life and make certain our energy is properly focused, our efforts carefully prioritized.  We have to be number one in our own list of priorities before we can teach, coach, or be a help to others. How do you amass resilience?  Do you take time for reflection, mindfulness, and getting back to functioning again?

 

Renewal

Isn’t it beautiful to watch healing take place?  The renewal of human spirit, the strength and courage it must’ve taken for students at Stoneman Douglas High School to enter that compound and try to continue the school year in the shadows of 17 deaths, and countless telecast interviews from politicians who never had the fear for their lives speaking about weak and reticent concessions, ridiculous suggestions that bonuses will convince a teacher to become an armed services adjunct. Many very determined, young and well spoken future voters who were in the line of fire a short 2 weeks ago are leading the charge for better gun control and reduction in power of the NRA.  The National Rifle Association, with spokes Doberman Dana Loesch brazenly defending an indefensible and powerfully backed enemy of public safety, the gun manufacturers.

If ever the power and the optimism of youth were present in the minds of Americans, today and the weeks past have been that time.

What do you expect from our elected legislators?  Do they owe these future voters an audience to hear about their horrific experiences? Will the beneficiaries of NRA donations, some in the millions of dollars like senator Marco Rubio, will they be forced to give back this tainted money?

I want these students to be heard, and to be respected as survivors of a domestic terrorist attack in a place where guns belong only in the hands of school resource officers.

What do you think?

 

 

 

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