Depression – a weird energy sucking flu


Earlier today I went on a bit of a sharing spree on Twitter. Instead of retyping it all here I’m just going to link the tweets.

I’ll probably be talking a bit more about my depression and the improvements I’m noticing over the next couple of weeks, as well as about other, exciting, things.

Advent – Give


Today’s word is “give.” Conveniently, today is also Giving Tuesday, an altruistic answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two days named after shopping events.

I didn’t give anything today. I didn’t have much to give today, either in the way of money or in the way of emotional support. I drank too much tequila last night and woke up with a hang-graine (a slight hangover that sparked a migraine). I drank too much tequila yesterday because I was enjoying myself and tequila sometimes helps me ignore the mean voice inside my head. I had a hard time ignoring the mean voice inside my head because I hadn’t been taking my vitamins or giving myself enough “down” time after a long weekend of socializing and being “on.”

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I know the primary intention behind this AdventWord is to encourage us to give of ourselves to others. We cannot survive as a society if we do not support each other and share our gifts. The world would be so much nicer if everyone took it upon themselves to genuinely care about others outside their family and social circle. Not just blithely donate canned goods once a year, but actually go work to end hunger in their community. Not just hand out a pair of socks to the homeless man on the corner, but actively work to end homelessness.

These are worthy goals.

But so often, we forget to give ourselves the care we need. We ignore the signs that we are neglecting our emotional or physical health because we’re too busy being there for someone else. Or because we don’t think we’re worthy. Or because of another of what are probably a million different reasons.

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There’s a meme I’ve seen in social justice circles suggesting we care for ourselves as we would a toddler: feed yourself something healthy, make sure to get enough rest, take your medicine, go outside and move around. It might seem silly at first, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. It’s a vital reminder. The fact that it was created in the first place means someone felt it was important enough to spend the time creating a reminder. That it gets shared around frequently means it resonates with a lot more people.

The idea is that one cannot help others without first taking care of their own needs. It’s the old line from the flight safety spiel: put your own mask on before helping others with their masks. You cannot help someone else breathe if you can’t breathe yourself.

So, what I am giving on this day? I am giving myself a break. I am giving myself permission to feel sad or angry or disappointed in myself, but then I’m giving myself a healthy dose of forgiveness.

And while I’m at it, I’m giving myself the freedom to not know what I want to do with myself. I’m giving myself a chance to sit with uncertainty and listen to myself as I work through it. And, most importantly, I’m giving myself as much love and kindness I can muster, and permission to seek reinforcement from others.

Friday Faves


Looking around, it was a bit of a challenge to find a couple of things that are making me happy in my immediate environment. I mean, other than food and Eric and the cats and friends. When thinking about the things around me, my most likely emotion isn’t so much happiness as anxiety, mixed with some resignation. And even, for certain things, a strong sense of dread.

The house is in a state of flux right now. We’re getting more serious about starting the kitchen work, and the front yard is waiting for a contractor to return a call so we can get started redoing that. The back yard, the garden, and most other rooms in the house have been somewhat neglected over the last couple of months. I’ve thrown myself into my new online social media gig a bit more heavily than I maybe should have, and coupled with my existing blogging goals for my “princess blog” and re-invigorating this blog, and a light sprinkling of depression, well… the house is a mess.

This anxiety is almost overwhelming at times, which, of course, makes it harder to pull myself out of any holes I happen to fall into. And, the worst part is, I know it’s all self-inflicted. The sense of “oh, that needs to get done too” is all coming from me. The feeling that I’m not doing enough is all from my own head.

Which, of course, is why it’s so important to take a few minutes to look around more clearly and really focus on the things that bring me joy.

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The Christmas cactus (which has never been transplanted) is enjoying the change in the the weather, and putting on loads of lovely buds. It’s even flowered once or twice! I keep thinking I’ll transplant it, but it seems so happy where it is.

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I get a happy, warm feeling every time I walk by our adorable pie-topper. I just can’t believe we actually got married! And I’m so so so happy with Eric and all the wonderful things he does and how much he loves me even when he doesn’t understand how my brain works.

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While the back yard and patio areas is mostly filled with dead plants in pots and leaves everywhere, the pink sourgrass is just coming back into its true beauty. I know some people think of these as weeds, but I think they’re beautiful. And it’ll make this lovely mounding pink puff all winter.

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And last, but certainly not least, even when I’m disgusted by my gross and messy kitchen (gross because it needs a serious overhaul AND because it’s often in need of a serious cleaning), I just have to look at the stack of jars on the windowsill, filled with beans and grapes and other miscellaneous dried goods that will get used eventually. There were more jars of beans here until recently when I made a big pot of mixed beans and spices for our breakfasts. But, slowly, over the winter, I’m sure I’ll restock it with a cup of this and a cup of that from the farm, and various dried veggies and fruits I plan to make with my new food dehydrator.

I fell in a hole


I fell in a hole. Again.

I guess the good thing is that I’m familiar with the sensation and can kind of brace myself when falling, and then keep myself calm while I’m down there looking for the way out.

I don’t know exactly what triggered it, but I suspect it had a lot to do with a combination of biochemistry (I have been struggling with anemia for several months now), and the stress of having to go to the dentist and have a root canal on a tooth that had already had one years ago, and the waning sunshine and returning rains. I just ran out out of the ability to navigate around the hole and resist the pull.

Anyway, I’m slowly pulling myself out of this one. After spending a couple of days of sleeping as much as possible and not much else, I knew I was on the way out Sunday night when I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about my cooking project for today (cream of broccoli soup — recipe coming, I promise!). I don’t doubt that the brief return on sunshine on Sunday helped as well.

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Another factor is that I have so many ideas, I feel a bit overwhelmed when I sit down and try to get stuff done. I am having some trouble finding a way to streamline much of my blogging work. I always feel like I’m just barely making my self-imposed deadlines and sometimes even missing them. When I’m tired or stressed (or tired AND stressed), it’s harder to stay positive in the face of what can sometimes feel like failure. The failure to keep up with the schedule that I created to support my goals. The failure to find the easy way around the tedious parts of the work. The failure to instantly be a super star blogger.

“The deepest fear we have, ‘the fear beneath all fears,’ is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It’s this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life.” Tullian Tchividjian

I know (today) that I will eventually will sort it out. It’s like a kind of puzzle, and I love puzzles. And one of my greatest work-related skills is the ability to do more in a day than others because I’ve created a streamlined process. So, I just have to keep reminding myself that I will eventually find the right system for this new career.

I also know that I will find my way out of this hole, just like I’ve done in the past. And I know that I will fall into another hole in the future. And another. And probably another. But, with each hole I exit, I gain more confidence in myself. Which, for me, is quite comforting when I need it most.

Into the Wild


I know I haven’t written in a long while. I’ve got so very much to talk about, and while it would probably help to put it into words, I just haven’t had the energy (read: emotional strength) to actually do the work.

I’m depressed. I’ve been trying to deny it for months now, but it has finally caught up with me. It started out as just a little anxiety a couple of months ago, and I was able to shrug it off or pretend it wasn’t there. Or simply ‘power through’ it and still get stuff done. But then more and more things started coming at me, needing attention and emotional energy. Some little, some very much not little. I tried juggling them all, and even started to purposely drop some of the little things hoping that it wouldn’t be a problem, that other people would pick up the slack, that in the end these little things wouldn’t matter.

Some of the little things turned into slightly bigger things when combined, and that …

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… I just can’t keep up with this juggling metaphor. I don’t have the energy to do the thinking necessary to make it work.

Basically, this blog post is a long explanation to myself about why I couldn’t finish a particular assignment for my Environmental Literature class, where we were asked to compare Thoreau’s Walden and the movie Into the Wild.

At the beginning of this semester, I knew it was going to be a challenging one. I’m taking more classes than I’d really like, and I still need to finish up my internship from a previous semester. So, effectively, I’m taking 14 units. Which isn’t a lot for some people, but it’s at least 4 credits too many for me. I was managing fairly well, but things started to pile up towards the end of February, and I started to slack off on readings and homework, and even stopped going to class as much as I should. I kept telling myself that it would be OK. That I could catch up once I’d gotten some rest. This should have been my first sign that something wasn’t right with me. And, to be honest, I was hoping that giving myself a little extra slack at this point would help me later on, so maybe I was at least somewhat aware of things not being right.

But by March, I was really starting to slide into full-blown depression. And then Bob got sick. Like really sick. Like I haven’t blogged about it because it was too scary and putting into words here would have been too painful. (Short explanation: We thought he was going to die. In our arms.) I was in shock and couldn’t function at all, much less even begin to think about school work.

I spent the first week after his diagnosis in an emotional panic. I couldn’t sleep or eat or think clearly. The only work-like thing I could do was endlessly search the Internet for an answer, a miracle, something to help me understand. For two weeks, I went back and forth between denial and severe depression. Sure, I tried to keep up with school work, and probably managed to get through about 25% of it, but even that little bit would leave me emotionally exhausted.

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It’s at about this point that the assignment mentioned above came up. Looking back, I can see where I was resisting watching the film for at least a week. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t focus on anything school-related. There was something about the film specifically that I was strongly resisting. I kept putting it off, telling myself I’d do a rushed watching of it closer to the due date for the assignment.

It’s also around this time that things started to look up for Bob (I’ll post more in a few days, I promise), and I found a thread of hope I could hold on to. Then, a few days later, my dad went into the hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery. While this may not seem like a very dangerous surgery for most people, my dad has special medical issues that complicate any kind of surgery. He had to go to the hospital to have dental surgery. Add to that the fact that I’m 2000+ miles away and unable to comfort my mom or talk to the doctors, and you can understand my worry. (After five stressful days in the hospital, he’s home and recovering fine.)

At this point, I was emotionally trashed. I had nothing left except the sheer will that has been keeping me going at even this low level. I told myself to pull up my big girl panties and get this project done, even if it was late. I ordered the film from Amazon and started watching it. And damn if it didn’t hit every single emotional trigger I had. Still, I made myself watch it, while allowing myself to take short breaks throughout. It took me 7+ hours to watch a 2 hour film. And, I’ll be honest here, I did not watch the last 15 minutes. I just couldn’t. This was a week ago. The paper was due last Thursday. I spent all day Friday trying my darnedest to make myself write the paper. And then Saturday and Sunday. And then Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. And now it’s a week late, and I’m just starting to come to terms about making myself watch the movie when every fiber of my being was screaming for me to stop. I won’t be turning in anything for this paper. In fact, this blog post is probably the closest I’ll come to even addressing it in writing.

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Interestingly, before this class, I hadn’t read either Walden or Into the Wild, but I had a pretty clear understanding of what they were about based on cultural references. I was 22 in 1992, the year Christopher McCandless went to Alaska. I think he was only about a year and a half older than me. I recall the news stories and discussions about his death. I don’t know if I had a distinct opinion about him other than it was a tragedy. And one I didn’t really care to explore further. Over the years, I’ve read other books by Jon Krakauer, but when friends recommended this one, I steadfastly refused. I never gave a thought to why, except that it made me feel uneasy and a little anxious.

Here’s where I’ll also admit that I haven’t seen or read plenty of stories about tragedy, and generally tend to steer away from them. I haven’t seen Schindler’s List. I can’t watch the end of The Anne Frank StoryLife is Beautiful left me a wreck. I routinely put down books that start to make me feel upset. I don’t think it’s because I have a rosy outlook on life and don’t want to explore these feelings. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m very familiar with these feelings, and don’t need to add more of them to understand them. I see sadness all around me all the time. And while some may find comfort in exploring these themes in literature and art, I find that much of it leaves me feeling more upset than comforted. Especially when I’m deep within an episode of depression.

Looking at the assignment questions for this blog post makes me upset. Just seeing the name Alexander Supertramp makes me want to cry.

  1. Thoreau had strong feelings about materialism. What were they? How do they compare with the feelings of Alexander Supertramp?
  2. What do you think motivated Thoreau to live at Walden Pond? What motivated Alexander Supertramp?

Looking at the assignment questions for this blog post makes me a little anxious. Just seeing the name Alexander Supertramp makes me want to cry. I have opinions on these questions, but they are going to be a struggle to get out.

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Comparing McCandless/Supertramp to Thoreau is an interesting juxtaposition, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. Honestly, I’d find it easier to compare McCandless/Supertramp to John Muir. Both had troubled childhoods they were eager to get away from. Both wanted to reject their upbringing and explore the world around them. Both went on long treks and took life-threatening risks.

As for comparing McCandless and Thoreau, their motivations were completely different, as were their circumstances and outcomes. Perhaps the comparison is justified in that they both tried to “go away.” And maybe this is why I have not ever felt compelled to read either’s story. I know from personal experience that one can not simply “go away.” There is no “away” to go to. But, for the sake of answering the questions, I will attempt to understand their motivations.

Thoreau went away, but told everyone where he was going and why. And he only went as far as a cabin on his friend Emerson’s property. Yes, he was living in the woods, but he was close enough to town that he often made the trip to visit friends and friends would come visit him. His goal was to separate himself from the influences of society, which in his case meant the daily expectations of city society, work, and leisure activities. His environment, although a bit more challenging than living in Boston, was far from that of true wilderness and seclusion.

McCandless/Supertramp left without telling anyone where he was going or why. Sure, he told the people he met while traveling, but they were powerless to stop him. Why didn’t he tell his family? Is it because they did have some emotional power over him, and he felt like he needed to break that bond by disappearing? Of course, we’ll never know the answer to that.

When I think about McCandless/Supertramp, I think of the folly of youth. He was ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and, in my opinion, literally ill. He was running away from something. Although he may have appeared to be running toward Alaska and his “true self,” it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see that he was wrestling with an emotional monster. Maybe he hoped to overcome his troubled family life by leaving it behind, but by rushing headlong away from it, he put himself into greater danger. Not at all unlike other young people with similar backgrounds who turn to drugs or other dangerous behavior.

As regarding their views of materialism, I think this one similarity gets entirely too much attention. The rejection of material items is as old as society itself. Acetics from nearly every religion give up their personal belongings and take a vow of poverty as a sign of their faith. That neither Thoreau or Supertramp/McCandless ascribe to an organized religion is interesting, but both are driven by belief. Rather than discuss the expression of their belief as it manifests as anti-materialism, I find it much more interesting to explore the beliefs themselves.

Thoreau was part of the group of Transcendentalist that came together during the early part of the 19th century in the United States. It has long been interesting to me that the Transcendentalist movement comes around at nearly the same time as the Second Great Awakening, and that both seem to be a response to the growing industrialization and ‘scientification’ of the time. It is also interesting to me that both were attempting to have a stronger emotional relationship with the divine, one through crowded revival meetings, and the other through solitude in nature.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to link McCandless/Supertramp to a larger movement of sorts. Perhaps there are others who, like him, attempted to slough off their social requirements and are busy tramping around in the backcountry. There are a few who have gained some attention, like the Soul Pilgrim and those who have followed her. But whether these individuals can be grouped together under a title is difficult to say. I suppose that, like Thoreau and his cohort, McCandless/Supertramp was also attempting to make a statement about modern society. The movie only lightly touches on the fact that he studied issues related to poverty and other social concerns of the era. Perhaps that was part of his personal motivation, but I do not believe it was the driving factor that took him to Alaska.

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Anyway… it’s time for me to leave for class now. I guess I’ll leave it here. Interestingly, I feel a whole lot lighter having done this exercise. I’m still stressed and depressed. I still don’t really want to think too deeply about Into the Wild, and I certainly have no interest in re-watching it. But it has been good to finally get the fragments of thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for the last couple of weeks out into words. It’s like there’s more room for other things now — happier, more hopeful thoughts.

Mental Health Check-in


I’m sorry that it’s been ages since I posted an update on my mental health, especially with so much talk about depression in October and November of last year.

I’m actually doing much better! Taking vitamin D regularly (at least once a day) has done wonders for my overall mood and tiredness. Such that, I when started feeling better, I forgot to take it, and just this week found myself feeling tired all over again. Back to the D!

This is what Self-Care looks like for me.

This is what Self-Care looks like for me.

As you can imagine, with even a little bit more energy, I’m able to make better decisions, and thus don’t find myself feeling down as often. Coincidentally, this image above was from a previous post, also about Self-Care. I didn’t even have to change the caption.

My life is by no means all sunshine and happiness (we had our car stolen!), but I’m better equipped to work through the tough stuff without the negative self-talk.  Which, in itself, is a curious thing. I can’t decide if the negative self-talk is still there, but very very quiet. Or if it’s gone altogether. I think it’s a little of both. There’s less of it, and the few messages still there are quite faint.

That said, I still find myself with a decreased tolerance of problematic people, which makes me wonder if that’s just a general self-care thing that just gets out of balance when I’m depressed (or, more likely, because it’s unbalanced, I get depressed more easily). My level of patience is quite high, but only when it comes to unavoidable things like standing in line or freeway traffic. My patience with individual people who need what I think of as excessive hand-holding or routine scolding is quite low. And the number of “second chances” I’m giving out lately has certainly decreased.

I’m starting to think that’s more a function of being older and less tolerant of BS.  TOWANDA!

Depression isn’t something to be scared of


I had a hard day on Monday. I was having trouble getting out of bed and getting going on a day that I knew was going to be stressful. I posted this on my Facebook as way to just be honest with myself about what was going on and to ask for a little strength from my friends to help me through the tough patch:

Having an especially hard time finding my way out of the depression today. 😦

Nothing serious. I could have called it a “Monday Funk” or something silly, but that’s not really accurate. It’s not just a funk. It’s depression. I know what depression looks like for me, and calling it something else isn’t going to help me. And, frankly, I think we should start calling depression what it really is. There are too many people struggling with it but not able to name it.

Depression is something I’ve lived with most of my life. It comes and goes. Some years are better than others. Some days are harder than others. I know how to recognize it when it shows up and have a decent handle on dealing with it most of the time. But when I’m tired, or stressed, or otherwise struggling with difficult issues, I may not have the resources to overcome it as easily. I’m not suicidal. I never have been and don’t expect I ever will be. My depression isn’t as debilitating as what others deal with, but it does have a negative impact on my life from time to time. Which isn’t to say that it’s all bad. I firmly believe that my depression is related to my personality trait of being sensitive and thoughtful. I spend a lot of time in my head thinking about things, trying to understand them on both a mental and emotional level. I think this makes me a good friend and helps me relate more deeply to others. It’s just that sometimes all this sensitivity and thoughtfulness leads to depression.

I know it’s all in my head. No, it really is. It’s a brain chemistry thing, pure and simple. It’s not that I’m a weak person. Or living my life wrong. Or not able to handle life. It’s purely something going on in my head that I can usually handle, but sometimes gets out of control. I think of it as though my brain were two different parts. One part is the emotional, reactive part. Since I’m usually an optimistic person, this part is generally happy and healthy. But it has some faulty wiring and sometimes sends the wrong message. Fortunately, the other part of my brain, the thinking part that analyzes the facts before making any decisions, is able to catch many of these faulty messages and send them away before they cause any problems. But, if the thinking part of my brain is tired, or focused on an especially troubling problem, it can miss of of these messages and before too long they get piled up. And then the depression sinks in.

There are three tell-tale signs of my depression:

1. I start to lose my sense of humor. Normally I enjoy a good joke, a funny story, and a silly moment. But as my depression gets more power, I find myself rolling my eyes more and generally not laughing enough. Sometimes, simply watching a funny movie is enough to help me get out of the depression.

2. I start to think that the world is populated by terrible, horrible people. I know it’s not. Sure, there are lots of terrible people out there. But there are more really good people doing really good things. But when the depression comes around, I start seeing more stories about the terrible people. And when it’s really bad, I start to not believe the stories about the good people. It doesn’t help when, like this recent bout of depression, the thing my thinking brain is stuck trying to workout is a case of someone I thought to be good doing something really rotten.

3. I start to believe that if it’s possible for me to screw something up, I will. This is the worst one of all, because it totally feeds the depression. Depression makes me not attend to the things that need my attention, which creates troublesome situations, that I can let get out of hand, and then… voila… I real life case of me screwing something up! Fortunately, I’ve learned to spot this one pretty early on and that usually helps me push myself to either reduce my responsibilities or triage the things that need my attention — making sure the really important things still get what little energy I have.

I’m going to keep calling my depression what it is. I hope that by being so upfront and honest about my own struggle, others are able to name their depression and begin to learn how to overcome it. Or at least how to live a rich and productive life while they work on it.