What Do You Do To Fight The Blues?

Busy-man

Do you ever look back at a version of yourself from a few years ago and say, “how the hell did I used to do ALL of that?” Maybe you were running around your house like a mad person scrambling to get your kids out the door for school followed by unloading the dishwasher, hopping in the shower, making coffee for the road and then heading into work. After a busy day (regardless of the job), you come home to your second job of “parenthood” and tend to all of it’s often unpredictable physical and emotional demands. You also kept up with emails and making/going to appointments. You made dinner, or at least took the time to figure out what to do about it, you went grocery shopping and took the car in for repair. You settled a health insurance conflict, which took months to resolve, and you frequently stopped by your parents house to do the laundry and clean up a bit since they were both not as spy as they once were. MAYBE you were even able to squeeze in a little “you” time and go for a walk, or have coffee with a friend. Just maybe, you were able to manage something along those lines in. Regardless, you were able to “do it all”, or at least it seems that way upon reflection.

Perhaps you were doing all of those things even while you were living with depression. That may give you even more reason to ask yourself in wonderment, “how?” I have moments when I look back about 7-8 years ago while I was an undergrad student. I have no idea how I found the energy to live the lifestyle I did. I was depressed then, too! I was a full time student and worked nearly 40hours per week as a waitress. If you’ve ever waited tables, you know exactly how exhausting it tends to be. It truly tests your temperament and your patience. I used to go out after work ALL of the time, too. My schedule was all sorts of screwed up with me often working until 2am, getting home around 3 and not falling asleep until around 4 or 5. After a busy, chaotic shift, it was often difficult to wind down. I’d sleep until 1pm and scramble to accomplish as much as I could, including homework before having to return to work at 4:30pm. My days off consisted of classes, studying and taking care of any appointments or running errands. Just thinking about all of that exhausts me, but I somehow feel a sense of accomplishment about it.

We do that don’t we? We feel proud of ourselves when we’re able to accomplish things. Naturally, our energy levels are higher when we’re young, so go ahead and cut yourself some slack for no longer being able to work all day, party all night and do it all over again the next day (sans hangover, too!) We set long-term goals like getting a promotion at work, losing weight, going back to school/graduating, being an active member of a commendable cause, writing a book, traveling the world etc. The list is infinite. But as we’ve learned or are currently coming to understand – things don’t always work out as planned. Things just keep “coming up”, don’t they? It’s disappointing when you realize you need to put something off for a “less hectic” time. That sense of disappointment can hang us up a bit, but we continue on with our daily responsibilities.

But what about when you’re experiencing a depressive episode? What happens to those goals and dreams? Sometimes it’s as if they never existed in the first place. That’s often the scary part of it all. Those goals were what set you apart, they were the driving force in your life. Your dreams – they were the fuel which ignited the light in your eyes. In their absence, not only do you feel disappointment, you feel empty. You no longer feel like you. I would panic as my mind took me “there”. I was abandoning myself by allowing my dreams to slip from my psyche. Depression does that, though. Suddenly, everything seemed silly and pointless. “Who cares if I ever write a book, I have nothing of importance to say.” “It doesn’t matter if I travel to other countries, the world is just a rock filled with people who don’t give a damn about anyone.” “What does it matter if I lose weight? I’ll still be an unworthy, bad person on the inside.” The ambition you once had is whittled away by the coarse grain of depression. I’d look at myself in the mirror and ask, “what happened to you? Fuck you.”

Having said all that, not only does depression rob you of your soul, so to speak, it often makes daily tasks arduous. Things that ought be simple and mundane like, running to the grocery store or washing your bedroom sheets become challenges. Sometimes we can’t take a shower because the thought of getting wet and then having to dry off seems exhausting. Eventually, I would NEED to go to the grocery store and I’d find myself aimlessly pushing a cart. Outwardly, I appeared normal, I’m assuming, but in reality my blank eyes were glossing over the dozens of bread brands and the unnecessary varieties of toilet paper. Plush? Pocketed? What did I used to buy? What does it matter? It’s toilet paper – it’s going to be used to wipe shit from my ass, right? In each hand I’d be examining a can of soup. Which was better, Campbells chicken noodle or Progresso? Suddenly I’d realize that I wasn’t even thinking about soup and I’d set them both down. Why so many choices? Why can’t I just pick one? Eventually, I’d check the time and realize I’d spent 45 min in the store with nothing but oreos, pizza rolls and 2 free-rolling apples in my cart. “Fuck this.” And with that, I’d walk out empty handed.

empty_cart580

So, not only had I lost sight of my goals, but I could no longer accomplish small tasks. Realizing this made me feel even worse about myself, subhuman. Remember how I mentioned that we feel good when we’re productive? Yeah, that wasn’t happening. My sense of self-worth was dissolving. “What good am I to anybody if I can’t even take care of myself?” For me, it was not only difficult to realize I wasn’t needed by anybody, even friends, but I had become a burden to some people. I had my mom worrying about me like I was a newly licensed 16 year old driving around on my own. She worried about me losing total control and putting myself in danger – causing harm to myself. She had every right to worry. I had contemplated suicide dozens of times. I could never go through with it because I was scared of the pain. I was at least “well” enough to know that my emotional pain wouldn’t be as bad as the pain of hurting myself.

Once the depression has lifted a bit, whether it be due to therapy, medication or a combination of treatments, you realize that you have to start cleaning things up. You’ve made a mess – you were an absent landlord when your property was falling apart. I was taking each day as it came and had to relearn the meaning of accomplishment. At one point, just doing my laundry was a big deal. The simple act of doing it was negating thoughts of it not mattering what condition my clothes were in because I didn’t have anyone to see. I just did the laundry. With each task I completed, day after day, I started to feel a small sense of routine again. The sense of accomplishment was reintroducing itself to me. For anybody that hasn’t experienced depression, this entire story may read as pathetic or lazy. Believe me, the depressed voice inside my head whispers this from time to time and it’s not easy to ignore. But, moving past depression involves learning how to combat those negative voices with actions.

This is where the title of this post finally makes sense (thanks for getting this far!) I’d like to know what you do to fight the voice of depression. Have you been able to find the energy to get involved or re-involved in a hobby? Have you taken up a form of meditation or exercise? Do try seeking faith or spirituality? Have you gotten involved in a group or club? Even small things count, they count a tremendous amount. There were a few things I began as a means of turning my life around. I started running, which was something I always believed I hated. Why running? One day I was so angry and I’ve never been the type to punch a wall, but I needed to exert myself in some way. I was pacing, pent up in my room needing to scream or break something. I went outside and I ran. I didn’t get far, mind you, but I ran fast and hard and it felt good. Afterward, I huffed and wheezed and massaged my knee but I told myself that when I woke up the next day, I’d do it again. I got to a point where I could run 8 miles a day 5-6 times per week. No doubt about it, it was a ROUGH start. I often thought I’d quit, and my depression told me that I inevitably would. Within a month, I saw that I was beginning to lose weight so I began to change my diet. I got into cooking again, which was something a couple years prior, I highly enjoyed. After a year, I had lost 50lbs, which put me right back into a healthy weight for my frame. Talk about feeling a sense of accomplishment.

homer runner

My journey with running began nearly 2 years ago and I now consider it to be a part of my lifestyle. I love searching for unique music to add to my ipod, put on my running shoes and go! I’ve been able to keep the weight off and I continue to develop my cooking skills with new recipes. I have down days where I don’t feel like cooking, but don’t we all? I also have periods of time where I don’t run, sometimes I take a couple months off, but I always start getting the itch to get back out there. It’s become therapeutic and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s exactly what a depressed gal like me needs.

Depression does affect my energy levels, often causing a lack of motivation but I try to stop it there. If I continue with that train of thought it can lead to “rationalizing” why I shouldn’t do things. Thoughts like “there’s no point in me leaving the house today because I’m not needed anywhere” or “I’m not going to bother applying to jobs today because I already know what’s out there and I’m not qualified”. See? I can’t allow those thoughts to run me. I’m trying my best. A big step in the healing process is just being able to identify the negative self-talk. Hear it, ask yourself if you actually believe it and make the decision about how to respond. How do I know I’m not qualified for a job that I want? My boyfriend applied to a job he didn’t think he was qualified for and ended up getting hired. That’s how we ended up here in the desert.

So tell me, what do you do to fight the blues?

Tomorrow Is Another Day

art by Piper Macenzie“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

What a great time for me to start this blog! I’m thrilled to be a participant in a cause like this. As part of this pledge and for the sake of this blog…I will tell you the short version of my battle with depression. As the blog goes on, I will share more details and individualized experiences.

I finally allowed myself to believe I was depressed when I was 24. I had an apartment by myself and one evening after an exhausting shift at work, I dared to Google “depression”. I suppose I wasn’t really afraid of it, but I knew if it was what I was actually going through I wouldn’t be able to tell anybody.

When I was 27, I responded to an email from a friend from college with a “life update”. She’s an articulate, sarcastic, intelligent (aspiring) writer. I admired her for her no-bullshit attitude and ability to (mostly) refrain from conforming to societal expectations. In the email, I hesitantly told her that I had been going through a deep depression. This was a few months after beginning grad school. Perhaps my email was sappy or pathetic or whiny…in her eyes. Because I was so engrossed in sadness, it probably was. She told me to “drop the capital D in depression and move on”. I was negatively struck by this for two reasons. Firstly, I was in grad school for mental health counseling and was planning to make a career out of working with and diagnosing depressed people. Secondly, those words invalidated all of the emotions I was experiencing and basically we’re saying, “stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take some accountability and stop blaming a questionable disease”.

One of my downfalls is that I’ve always tended to be easily persuaded. I held tight to my morals, but when somebody I respect holds a strongly differing opinion, I seem to give my beliefs a second thought. In some cases this characteristic has helped me to keep an open mind, but sometimes I’ve lost myself a bit “going with the flow”. At the time, this made me question everything, especially my career choice. IS depression real? If it is, can it EVER be relieved? Is therapy ACTUALLY going to help people learn to cope? Would therapy even help me? (I had only a brief experience with a therapist a couple years prior). After learning about some of the mechanics behind therapy, did I still believe in it? Honestly, I didn’t believe in much of anything.

Within that year, I had to stop taking classes as I could no longer focus on…anything. I lost a job because I put in very little effort. The supervisors sugar-coated it for me when they let me go, but I knew better than anybody what was happening. I was drinking alone a lot with my main goal being to eventually pass out. I ran out of money and couldn’t afford my rent. I remember I was at a point where I was eating walnuts as meals because I couldn’t afford food. At one of my lowest points and after having drank a few beers, I contemplated prostitution. I lived in an urban area where I could’ve found a customer quickly. I REALLY thought about it. As I sit here now, I can’t believe how little I respected myself. Fortunately, it was never anything more than a thought.

I was killing myself, chiseling away any dignity I had left as I went on dates with strangers I met online. A few of them I slept with. I’d get stupid drunk on these dates and convince myself I was having fun. Ultimately, I didn’t care about what the guys thought about me. If they didn’t like being out with me, then they didn’t have to see me again. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship anyway and I didn’t blame them if they thought I was a wreck! I had moved from having a broken heart to having an empty heart and when you’re empty inside there is nothing to give. There were a few people I met who made an effort to become friends with me but the more they called the more I secluded myself. I no longer felt comfortable around people. When they’d ask me questions about myself, I’d draw a blank. I didn’t know how to talk about myself anymore, I didn’t have anything positive to say. Being around people became intimidating, so I tended to stay within the safety of my own bedroom. I even secluded myself from my family. I believed I was poison.

alone in crowd

It brings tears to my eyes to think back to this. I’ve dealt with depression since a teenager, but that was the deepest bout. I’ve come a long way from that point, but some of the damage from that time has been difficult to overcome. Not only was I damaging myself, but I was hurting some of the important people in my life. Sometimes I think back and feel disgusted with myself. I cringe and shudder remembering some of the choices I made and situations I put myself in. However, when I was in grad school, I had a few conversations with one of the clinical psychology Ph.D. students. She was a 35 year old recovered alcoholic. She openly admitted this to me, which at the time I found flattering. I later came to understand that she had reached a point in her life where there was no room for denial or shame. Her past tumultuous lifestyle was just that, her past. I opened up to her about some of my problems and she judged me not one bit. She told me, “it’s important that you have compassion toward yourself. Show yourself the same care as you would for a close friend.” The word compassion, in the form of a foreign substance, filtered through my tough skin and penetrated my being. I had NEVER held compassion for myself.

Sometimes I sink into a dark memory I wish would just leave me be. I feel my cheeks flush with humiliation and experience a few seconds of anxious discomfort. But I tell myself this: You cannot change the past. It is over. It cannot happen again therefore you should not let it rouse fear in you. You are trying be a better person now. You are in the PRESENT. You are changing and you are allowed to look back at that version of you with COMPASSION. Don’t be angry. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be sad. Just let it be and move forward. This helps me to calm down more often than not and it helps me to be mindful to take each day as it comes.

Depression is something I’m living with and probably always will. Some days are more difficult than others but whether or not they’re difficult, I must keep trying. I still struggle with accepting myself. Not every day is a productive one. I’m not always able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ll always have work to do being that I live with this, but now I’m able to share my version of depression with all of you. I will be honest, as I feel that it’s an important part of the healing process – being honest with yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to type the words to explain these memories, but I can’t punish myself any longer. None of us should.

If you’re interested in participating in the Blog For Mental Health 2014, feel free to click the link to the original post on A Canvas Of The Minds for detailed instructions. Thanks for reading 🙂

FREEDOM