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?

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Today, I Turn 30

thirty

My mom once told me that she cried her eyes out on her 30th birthday. She felt bad about how little she had accomplished, or at least, how her accomplishments hadn’t met her expectations. I’m assuming we all are familiar with the stereotypes associated with turning 30. Supposedly, by 30 one should have an established (good paying) career, a vehicle, a house, be married, have at least one child or have such a successful career that you’re traveling and changing the world. A 30 year old is supposed to be reaping the benefits from all of that hard work in his/her 20’s. These stereotypes lead us to believe that 30 marks a point in your life where everything should have come together for you and all because of you.

Today is my 30th birthday. I’ve thought about what this day would be like on many occasions, particularly over the last few years. But, here I am, alive. The sun rose this morning just as it always does. It’s Monday and people everywhere cursed under their breath as they began the daily grind. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes that I’ll have to tackle eventually, like most days. I just made my typical second cup of coffee. I’ll pay my phone bill today, just as I do on the 20th of every month. Big deal if today is my birthday. It’s just another day, right? Right?

Who am I kidding; I know that’s not true…this time. It isn’t just another day, or even just another birthday. This 30th year of my life marks a milestone in my evolution, so to speak. I realize that societal pressures and stereotypes about turning 30 are responsible for some of the anxiety I’m experiencing, but truthfully the concept of time became noticeably real a couple years ago. How time flies. I can remember turning 20 and getting second piercings in my ears because I felt like an adult. I’m not sure how additional piercings represent adulthood, but that logic only proves I truly was just a kid. I didn’t yet have a clue what it meant to be an adult.

That is perhaps one of the most striking aspects about all of this – I’m an adult. In my early 20s I waited tables while attending college. I reached a burnout point and despised being a server because I was disrespected so often, but I could always pull myself through another shift as I envisioned the “adult” me as a successful professional. At 22 I hadn’t yet finished college; it took me 6 years rather than 4, mostly because I wasn’t exactly organized and had little guidance. At 23, I imagined that by 30 I’d be  this sophisticated cultural anthropologist/writer/ethnographer/women’s rights activist. I thought I’d have traveled and published some of my research but also be working on a few fictional novels. Of course, I would’ve completed my Master’s degree, if not be in the final stages of a Ph.D. I was going to change the world. That’s right. That little brunette waitress serving you your fried shrimp was going to be somebody, you just didn’t know it yet.

I don’t think my goals were unrealistic, especially because there are many people who have shared and achieved those same goals. Bless them. It was the way I believed the world functioned that set me on the path to disappointment. I tackled life with the belief that hard work always pays off and that it always should. That I’d be rewarded with prosperity, happiness and respect after completing a goal and I believed that to be true success. I thought I’d be “discovered” through and by my work – as if there were somebody watching and waiting for me to ripen. A large part of me hoped that I was special (as I had been brought up to think) or had a unique perspective and a decent chunk of me truly believed that. Because of this, unbeknownst even to me, I thought things would simply fall into place and that opportunities would pour in. It would be up to me, at that point, which path to take and any path I chose would be rewarding in some fashion. I deserved only the best right? Now I’m not so sure.

I can’t completely bash the ideals which compelled me to desire success – I am still proud of my education and my quest to find fulfilling work has not ended. However, years ago I didn’t yet know of real competition or accountability. My actions, should they be negative (and many times were) could be justified and dismissed without being a reflection of my character. It was always the worlds’ fault if something didn’t work out. Don’t get me wrong. I was and always have been hard on myself and highly critical of anything that I did. There was a love/hate relationship there, but I didn’t see myself as part of a bigger picture – one where we’re ALL striving to find fulfillment. I didn’t know that my desire wasn’t any more important than that of someone else. This resembles selfishness and arrogance (and is to a degree) but I will partially attribute this to being a product of the time. There are theories on the subject of Generation Y and its sense of entitlement. This article provides a simplistic yet accurate explanation about the very thing I have been afflicted with. I highly recommend giving it a go.

If turning 30 indicates some element of wisdom, I’d say that I’ve been humbled. Life has not been easy and I have made some terrible decisions – some I’m still shuddering over and cleaning up. I am not special in the sense that my life will be any more influential, helpful or that my struggles are more deserving of acknowledgement. Maybe I will make a difference in the lives of others in some way, but I’d deserve no more gratitude than others who help, too. Hard work can pay off…but only if I keep it up and believe in the reasons why I do it. I’ve learned that I can find success without needing consistent praise from others and that my personal success should be defined by me, not everyone else. There will be no finish line swarmed with cheering fans applauding me simply for living my life.

I suppose that could all sound like I’ve thrown in the towel when it comes to my dreams. This is not true at all. With each mistake and setback I’ve had I discovered just how human I am. Some of my biggest setbacks include being penniless and having a drinking problem, having to quit grad school due to a depressive episode, being fired from a good job and having to move back in with my mom for a while at 28. Let’s say that on the surface I appeared to have everything together but I was secretly (and eventually not so secretly) living the life I thought I was above. I thought I was “special” and “talented”. Yet, there I was scrounging together coins to get on the subway so I could make an attempt at a job interview. I remember once having to ask the guy I had just started seeing if he could buy me groceries. I had become pathetic. It was a humbling moment to have realized that I was just as susceptible as everyone else to a future filled with pain and struggle; in fact, that was exactly where I was headed. Deep shame filled my heart and I finally realized that NOTHING fulfilling was ever going to just happen, I had to do the work. I wasn’t born more deserving of anything than anyone else.

I’m in a much better place now, and I’m on the brink of making some major life changes such as a new career, marriage and children. I’m living with my boyfriend whom has taught me much more about love than I thought humanly possible. Selfless love. Love free from guilt. Love was probably the first thing I thought I was undeserving of but I’ve been learning that it’s the opposite. If turning 30 required from everyone a single phrase about life, I’d say – IT GOES ON. Let your mistakes, no matter the scale, be your teacher as you move forward. Don’t let giving up be an option. If you need to slow down, take a step back or even pause for a moment in life, don’t feel that you’ve failed. When you’re ready, you can make your next steps the best yet. Don’t bog your life down by proving how “different”, “special” and “unique” you are, rather, reveal your true character through actions – actions you can feel proud of. You may discover aspects of yourself that set you apart, but don’t do them just to be different. Apply meaning to your actions.

Over the last few years, I’ve feared turning 30, but this decade is one where I hope to keep my biggest mistakes behind me. Many wonderful memories come to mind about my 20’s and I can remember a time where I never wanted to grow older. Life was just that much fun. But that life was exhausting…and empty. There was little stability and I was lonely whether I admitted it or not. Perhaps the loneliest feeling is being a stranger to yourself and letting it get so far that you don’t even know who you are anymore. Nor do you care. I’m choosing for this day, my 30th birthday, to not be tear or regret filled. Naturally, getting older isn’t an easy pill to swallow but I am ready to feel the freedom that comes with granting myself acceptance and moving on from there.

I have been plucking out the grays that have begun sprouting and I just ordered a 3 pack of retinol cream. THAT part of aging is another story, for another time.

Birthday cake with sugar clown decoration and candles

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.