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?

“Facebook, Facebook – What’s On Your Wall?”

sad computer

In today’s world, we can join a social networking site, like facebook, and have a window into the lives of our friends and family that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We can read profiles and see where people we graduated high school with are working, if they’re married, who they married, if they have children, where they live and so much more. With the posting of pictures we can see the highlights of their vacations, warm family gatherings, weddings, new vehicles and new babies. Even if we haven’t spoken in years, it’s almost as if we become part of some of these former classmates/friends/coworkers lives just by following their facebook activity. Humans are inquisitive. We strive to acquire knowledge on all levels of the spectrum, but we can also be a self-absorbed species as we spend a large portion of our lives simply trying to understand ourselves. Facebook simply becomes an information acquiring tool.

It’s no wonder that facebook and similar sites completely enrapture us. We want to know how others go about life and whether or not we realize it, we can compare ourselves. We are constantly doing this to measure where we fit in within society. Am I working hard enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I attractive? Am I successful? Am I a good parent? Am I a good person? We look to the lives of our friends, families and, now more than ever, celebrities as a means of comparison. We also want people to know about our own lives. Here I am, keeping an online blog in which I can share aspects of my life with the hopes of reaching out to others. Facebook places all of that personal information right at our fingertips. Even when we declare (on facebook) that we are going to ‘take a break’, we often find ourselves right back on the site within a few days. I always found it contradictory to post on facebook that you’re “quitting” facebook. It seems that if you’re serious about it, you’d just do it without having to make an announcement.

Facebook-like dislike

But it’s true. Sometimes we should take a break from social networking sites. Personally, I’m not convinced that having this degree of access into the lives of others is positive. Various studies have yielded results indicating that increased internet use leads to feelings of alienation. This article from the New York Times explains the phenomenon. While there are many positives to social media like keeping in touch, sharing educational and inspirational information and networking, these forms of communication are still unnatural to us. We don’t yet know whether we’re losing touch with humanity or if we’re making great strides as a species. What I do know is that, while having access to a plethora of information is liberating, not all of the information displayed is true.

On Facebook, people can post false information they’ve found on the internet as truth, but we also tend to broadcast our own lives in an inaccurate way. Facebook creates a “boastful” environment where people mainly post the highlights or positive events in their lives. I recommend reading this article, “7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook“. It has an interesting section about bragging and creating a virtual illusion of perfection. It’s a new form of showboating. Think about it, do you ever see people post pictures of their dead cat or how messy their house is? Are they showing pictures of their rusting car, college/job rejection letter, or of disappointed children on Christmas morning? What about even deeper issues? We don’t see posts about having to make yourself vomit after every meal. Nobody’s posting about hiding a bottle of vodka and sipping on it all day or how they decided to abandon their children. We don’t share our struggles with our friends/family on facebook. Perhaps it’s because we believe we shouldn’t burden others with our problems. Maybe it’s because we don’t think it’s anybody’s business. Or it could be because we feel shame for our struggles. We view them as failures, so we conceal them.

Perhaps you enjoy facebook because you find it to be a light and positive environment. You may enjoy seeing the inspirational quotes and all the pictures of new babies and vacations. You can send a loving “hello!” to a friend and see what your cousins on the other side of the country are up to. To that I say, fantastic. However, I’d find it difficult to believe that you don’t walk away from the site feeling slightly envious of…something.

It’s not that I advocate a facebook filled with posts about hatred, anger, apathy and aggression – there’s already enough of that floating about the internet. I’m asking for us to remember that the lives we see projected online aren’t the whole truth. After looking at others pictures or reading their cheery statuses, you may ask yourself why YOU seem to be the only one suffering or having a difficult time. Don’t believe that for one second. I’ve done it and it made me miserable. At one point, I felt utterly inadequate, so I followed suit and juiced up my “facebook resume”. I had just moved to a new, beautiful city, moved into a new place, and started graduate school. My life appeared great and filled with opportunity as I wondered around the city taking exciting photos. I tagged myself at popular restaurants and bars. I’d post about how “tough” grad school was and follow it with some insightful quote I read in one of my psych books. I was out there dating and seeing the city. It was easy to make it appear as if I was on top of the world.

What people didn’t know was that I was dead broke, actually, in debt. I didn’t yet have a job and was living off student loans. I worked temp jobs here and there but nothing ever lasted. My apartment was a crappy, old house and I was living with 3 other strangers (I met on Craig’s List) whom never took an interest in me. I knew absolutely NOBODY in that city, so I had no friends. (Any time I tagged myself at a restaurant I was by myself). The two year relationship I had been in painfully ended and I was disgustingly heartbroken. I couldn’t go into a grocery store without bursting into tears. I was using a free online dating site and went on dates with guys that made me feel cheap. I was delving into a major depressive episode and I was drinking A LOT, and because I didn’t know anybody, I was drinking by myself. I was gaining weight like crazy because I stopped valuing my health; therefore, I stopped cooking for myself. I had no way of getting around other than the subway or bus, which was a HUGE hassle. I was in some deep emotional pain. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt alone and truthfully, I wasn’t wrong about that.

What compelled me to embellish my life when I should’ve been doing the opposite – asking for help? Why did the opinions of my facebook “friends”, some of them I’ve never even met, matter to me? I realize that this phenomenon exists in real life, too. We tell people on a daily basis that we’re OK when we’re not. We work when we’re sick. We wait to cry until we’re alone. I understand sometimes we must wear a mask in order to complete tasks, but it’s a shame to be ashamed of the downsides in life. They happen to us. It took me a couple years to learn not to judge my own worth against the masks of others.

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Recently, ABC’s news anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened up about her “anxiety fueled drinking addiction“. She admitted to being an alcoholic, which in my opinion, was an incredibly courageous decision. Because of the stigma associated with it, it’s difficult for any one to move past denial and admit to being an alcoholic . Vargas, however, is in the public eye so not only is she admitting this to friends and family, she’s confessing to the world. I admire her decision. I bring this up because it’s a perfect example of how the lives we portray are only a portion of the lives we actually live. Even her co-anchor, George Stephanopoulos whom she worked closely with on a daily basis, had no clue. She appeared put together, intelligent, successful, and confident but in reality she had been suffering for years with anxiety and alcoholism. She said it was “exhausting” trying to conceal her problems and she’s right, it is. Sometimes when thinking about addiction, I find it amazing how “functional” addicts (usually alcoholics) find the energy to not only fulfill daily tasks, but also to hide their addiction. I say this because I’ve been there.

If we could free ourselves from the fear of the judgement of others, even just a little, perhaps we could feel more confident about asking for help. We only perpetuate our vices as we continue to conceal or deny them. You are not alone in your pain and it’s easier to believe once you separate facades from reality. Remember to think of the limitations facebook has; it may provide a window into the lives of others, but we don’t have a clear view inside. Our deepest strengths involve confronting our problems and discovering ways to heal and grow. What is life if we don’t learn about our own selves? Sometimes are greatest opportunities to learn are when we are enduring adversity. While there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and “the things that go right” in your life, there’s also nothing wrong with acknowledging that you and everyone else are not perfect. Whether our technological advances in communication ever become “natural”, I don’t know but I do know that imperfection is.

This Is Who You’re Reading About

It's DRY.

It’s DRY.

I recently moved to the desert after living near some form of body of water all of my life. From a scenic standpoint, it’s drastically different but ultimately I have all of the comforts I’ve usually had…like Taco Bell. I moved here with my boyfriend after he accepted a great job in his field. We moved from the northeast coast all the way to the southwest. It was a big move for him as well, being that he’s never left his hometown. I, on the other hand, have lived in a handful of states and have moved countless times now. Most of the time it was by choice, and other times necessity.

I’m 30, all of a sudden. I’ve never been married and have no children. Currently, I don’t have a job (and I hate typing that). With the move, I had to quit my work but it wasn’t really MY work anyway. I had been waiting tables for the last 7 months and before that I was working at a wealth management firm. That one almost did me in. Those are some stuffy, stuffy folk. So basically, I have no career. I didn’t always have this much free time – I was in grad school for a year studying mental health counseling. I didn’t finish. Mid-way through a semester, I had a depressive episode which resulted in me making horrible decisions. I ended up having to move back home with my mom.

I have plans now though, sort of. I’ve considered using my B.A. degree in anthropology to get somewhere, but then again, I’m not sure I can use the words “get somewhere” and “anthropology” in the same sentence. I was an archaeologist once. Yup, I sure was. I was at the bottom of the rung, but I suppose I was actually doing the work people seem to think is so cool. Excavations are brutal, especially when you’re working on a scorching, humid afternoon. The machete was pretty cool, though. I was laid off from that during 2008 when the economy tanked. There didn’t seem to be much hope for the future as archaeology projects were coming to a halt/close. Through people in the field, I realized I’d need to get a Ph.D. if I wanted to ever see any money. That wasn’t going to work. That’s when I decided, for various reasons, to get a master’s in mental health counseling. I BELIEVED in it. I just lost myself in the process. I couldn’t protect myself from the very thing I was studying.

Since that extreme episode, I’ve been slowly rebuilding my life. While living with my mom, I took up running, which was something I THOUGHT I despised. I ended up losing 50lbs. I got into cooking with fresh, home grown herbs and making healthy meals. I have a thing for pepperoni pizza. That ain’t goin’ no where no time soon. I’ve been proud of these achievements, but I still have so far to go. Depression doesn’t just go away – you have to stay active. But here I am, living in a place where I can wear cowboy boots everyday and never get a second glance. I actually think I might get into it. I’m embarking on a new adventure, so to speak, but that doesn’t make it easy, especially with depression. I’m happy to share my stories with you through this blog and I hope to help in any way I can.

I got these boots for my 30th birthday. Never owned a pair before because I've always been a northern girl. These things are awesome.

I got these boots for my 30th birthday. Never owned a pair before because I’ve always been a northern girl. These things are awesome.