Tag Archives: depression

The Psychological Purgatory of Depression

I’ve heard depression described as walking towards a sunset. You can see the light ahead of you, but even when you’re basking in the warmth of the light, you’re always aware that the darkness isn’t more than a heartbeat away.

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That sounds pretty accurate, but what makes depression so hard for those on the outside — and even those on the inside — to understand, is that being depressed and being happy aren’t always mutually exclusive.

People with depression can be happy, sad or funny just like anyone else. And while we’re all aware of the dangerous places depression can go, what no one seems to talk much about is that there’s a kind of psychological purgatory that exists somewhere in between the high points and the end of your rope.

When you’re having a good day, no one can tell you’re depressed because the symptoms aren’t as obvious as we think they should be. You might not be feeling that miserable “I can’t get out of bed” type of way, but your internal dialogue and view of the world is pretty similar.

There’s relief in knowing that you appear normal until one little thing sets you off — a comment, an obstruction to your routine, maybe nothing specific at all — and down that slope you go sliding again.

These are the times I sit at my desk at work, feeling panic and claustrophobic with a need to literally go run away from myself.

These there are the times when I’m at home on the couch, mindlessly flipping through the same websites, the same channels, feeling nothing but a need to not think.

These are the times when I should reach out, but the world I created is so narrow that I retreat back into my head, to distractions, to exercise to numb out the pain. These actions become habit, the habit then becomes an obsession and from there I’m stuck in a vicious cycle again.

But in some ways, as miserable as you — well, that I — can feel, you get used to it.

Depression doesn’t ask much of you other than to suffer, whereas happiness — in as much as you can remember it — simply can’t be trusted. It’s undependable and often fleeting, and while depression saps your energy, happiness is exhausting in a different way.

Even though you know there are people willing to help, you can never tell them everything. Revealing the plot of your story would give away that tiny shred of control — or the illusion of control — that you so desperately feel that you need just to get by.

Plus, seeing happy people makes you feel as if you have some kind of obligation to get well, and you don’t want to have any obligations or distractions that you don’t invite yourself.

So instead you avoid people when you can so you don’t have to make yourself vulnerable to questions, to wondering if everyone knows that you’re really a big jumbled mess, unable to figure out how to get back to “happy,” or at the very least, back to “content.”

That’s why it can be such a dangerous thing.

You can appear absolutely normal and functional to the outside, but be silently screaming on the inside. And when you’re down, you wonder why you can’t just “be happy” again, and when you’re happy you feel guilty for those times you’re stuck in the dark.

Then there’s the middle — that psychological purgatory — neither way up or way down.

These are the times to remember that isolation is a symptom, not a solution, and that flowery language aside, there still are those small shards of light. For me, sometimes it’s sitting outside. Sometimes it’s trying to be funny to people I see. Sometimes it’s getting lost in a book or emailing someone I trust.

Those things can spark the good days.

Of course you have to sift through the muck and the mud, but it helps to just enjoy the good days for what they are and not question why. Life isn’t easy all the time, even to the most well-adjusted individual, and the dark times aren’t a reflection of weakness or selfishness or anything you might tell yourself.

In other words, just because you deal with depression doesn’t mean that you are depression. A bad day/week doesn’t mean a bad life. After all, it’s not sunny every day but we know the clouds won’t last forever.

Enjoy that light when you can.

Originally published on The Huffington Post

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This Isn’t About Robin Williams

“Many who try to bring joy to the world are often the same people who fight a great war within themselves. Every fight lost is a tragedy.”

The death of comic genius Robin Williams spawned thousands and thousands of (well-deserved) tributes and blog posts about not only his career and his life, but also his mental health struggles.

I don’t want to read them.

I don’t want to watch them.

I don’t want to hear about depression and opinions from people who just have no clue.

That’s selfish, but I don’t want to deal with it because I live it every day of my life, a life that I’ve questioned the value of more often than I care to admit. While I would like to think that I would never go to that extreme, I’ve thought about what the world would be like if I were no longer in it, if I could never get “better.”

Because of that, Robin Williams’ death wasn’t surprising to me. Tragic? Yes. Surprising? No. Addiction and depression are equal-opportunity destroyers, regardless of age, sex or class. And the thing about addictions are that they’re all just a slow suicide, no matter your weapon of choice.

So why do some people make it while others lose the fight? I don’t think anyone knows.

What I do know is that for me, it’s not about lack of resources, because if I want to get help there are a million places to get it.

It’s not about people not doing enough to help, because I know you have to want and accept that  support in order to pull yourself out.

It’s also not about attention. My dark thoughts aren’t about death but rather the fantasy of finding some peace—any peace—to quiet the storms in my head.

That probably doesn’t make sense, but I wrote a piece for Huffington Post about my OCD that I never shared on this blog because I didn’t want to be misunderstood. Plus, sometimes I just don’t want to deal with that reality.

But it is reality, and so are suicide and depression and all those things I don’t want to read, hear or talk about a lot of the time—all those things I am forced to think about all the time anyway.

Yet that’s probably part of the problem.

After Williams’ death I posted that quote above on Facebook and linked back to a post I wrote on depression.

The response was huge, both on that older post and to the simple quote. People sent me emails sharing their stories, and someone commented, “Thank you for things that you write. You have a medium where you can reach out to other people and truly help them with your own experiences.”

Whether he liked it or not, Robin Williams had a platform to talk about mental health, and maybe in some tiny miniscule way, so do I–whether through humor or sharing my struggles. If nothing else, I need the support myself on most days.

Of course, there’s no magic cure or easy answers. But what there is is support if you accept it, people who care and a dialogue about mental health that has been reopened up with another loss of life.

This time it wasn’t you.

It wasn’t me.

And if it was, it’s safe to say the whole world wouldn’t be mourning our passing. But somebody would. Somebody cares. And every fight lost is a tragedy.

Keep up the fight.

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You Don’t Have To

There’s a lot of guilt and obligation floating around both online and off. And while you don’t have to believe a word that I say—trust me, I don’t always believe these myself—just for today, try.

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You don’t have to hide your quirks. They make you unique.

You don’t have to drink coffee, and if you do, it doesn’t have to be designer Arabica beans or a $6 latte from Starbucks.

You don’t have to love a certain food because everyone else seems to love it. You can if you want, but do it for you. Not for any other reasons.

You don’t have to check your phone right this minute. Remember how life was a decade ago? Whatever it is can wait.

You don’t have to be the best parent, spouse or friend, but you do have to be there when those people need you.

You don’t have to love yoga or CrossFit or running. Try to be healthy, but be healthy for you. We all need to find out what works.

You don’t have to like everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like you.

You don’t have to cook complicated meals with a lot of ingredients. Microwaves were made for a reason.

You don’t have to make Pinterest-worthy desserts. Bakeries are there for a reason, as are Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines mixes.

You don’t have to pin a damn thing.

You don’t have to hide your successes, but it’s far more impressive when others discover your charm without you having to tell them.

You don’t have to tweet a damn thing.

You don’t have to be mean to be funny. In fact, you don’t have to be mean at all.

You don’t have to love your job. You don’t have to hate your job. But you should do a good job when your name and your rep are attached.

You don’t have to tell everything you know because you have a spare minute.

You don’t have to undervalue your strengths or overvalue your mistakes.

You don’t have to hide your scars. They show that you have survived.

You don’t have to take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

You don’t have to write a book. You don’t have to read a book, but if you don’t, you’re missing out.

You do not have to complain each time you’re annoyed, but silent gratitude feels rather wasted.

You don’t have to love being a parent all the time. You don’t have to feel guilty for that.

You don’t have to complain about being a parent all the time. Nobody likes a martyr.

You don’t have to write if you really don’t want to, and when you do, write for yourself.

You don’t have to compare yourself to others. You are you. That is enough.

You don’t have to be inspirational—life isn’t unicorns and glitter—but everyone has their own junk. Try and provide some relief.

You don’t have to click on the link and read through. In fact, you can log off.

You don’t have to make the bed, fold the laundry or clean every day. A house is meant to be lived in.

You don’t have to have it all figured out. Nobody does, and you don’t have to believe them if they tell you they do.

You don’t have to take the road others have taken. Just make sure the path is your own.

And most of all, you don’t have to be the exception.

You are worthy of happiness in your life.

You are worthy of laughter, good food and good friends.

You are worthy of love and support.

You don’t have to do it alone.

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A Light In the Dark

As a writer, I try to write about everything.

It’s basically all that I know how to do.

But the thing about writing humor is that it sometimes makes me feel like I’m hiding behind a mask and pretending I’m something I’m not. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a person who loves to laugh—who loves to make other people laugh even more—but yet most of the time that’s not me, or at least that’s not how I feel.

But it’s hard to ignore what goes on in my head and even harder to write about depression. For one, there’s the fear that writing about it makes you look weak and turns people off because it’s not funny or light. Most people have their own problems, so why would they read about mine?

The other trouble is that it is often incredibly difficult to articulate just how I feel.

Deep depression is hard to understand, especially if you’ve never been there. It has manageable days that for me usually include writing something I don’t hate or spending time outside. In other words, I function and appear to be fine.

But then there are days—sometimes even that same day— when like a virus it flares up and all I can do is remind myself not to swerve my car over the center line or walk a little too close to the edge.

These are the times that I should reach out, but the thing about depression is that it comes with the sense that you shouldn’t have it to begin with, that it’s a bunch of self-indulgent navel gazing and not an actual illness like those that everyone can see looking in.

And so I swallow it down and isolate more, feeling that talking about it at all with people will only make me sound whiny. It’s hard to explain that depression isn’t like being sad and OCD isn’t just “needing to clean,” but rather that they are entirely crippling.

Unfortunately for me, it has crippled me both physically and mentally.

My concentration is barely existent, and more times than not I alternate between staring at my computer and feeling trapped behind a curtain too heavy to lift/inadequate in comparison to everyone else and doing unhealthy amounts of exercise in an attempt to distract myself and feel something, anything other than flat.

At least the exercise—the slow self-destruction in part because of my OCD —gives me some false sense that I’m coping or in control…until my body can no longer take the brunt of my mind. But no matter what I do, it’s never enough, and the addiction can only temporarily serve as distraction before my body literally breaks.

The effects devastate me not because of what they’re doing to my body, but because they take away the only coping mechanism that I feel like I have when everything feels like too much and yet not enough. The immediate consequences don’t matter because at that point, nothing really matters.

But that’s what depression does.

It twists things around in your mind. Any activity takes many times more effort, like trying to run through quicksand. Work is boring and intolerable. What felt joyful feels dull and what felt sad feels unbearable. Everything seems meaningless, including previous accomplishments and anything you used to like.

Depression is truly the absence of hope.

So why am I writing rambling this post?

Because May is Mental Health Month and ignoring that fact is ignoring what I deal with each day. But more importantly, maybe it’s because what you deal with, too, and hearing that others are in the same boat can be something you didn’t even know you needed to hear.

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After all, words have power. But this isn’t a motivational speech with a happy ending or solution, as I have neither of those things. It’s simply a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re not defective or broken or dealing with what you “deserve.”

No, you’re simply human.

You’re doing the best that you can with the strength that you have. You’re choosing to hold on to hope and to fight, and as much as I feel like I can’t on some days, I choose to keep fighting as well.

It’s basically all that I know how to do, but we don’t have to do it alone.

And hopefully at the end of the day—and most certainly in my next post—we can find something that makes us smile. Sometimes that’s all—and everything—that we might need.

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Who I Am

About eight or nine years ago I was in a group therapy session with 10 other women when the doctor had us go around the room and do a seemingly simple exercise: tell the group about ourselves.

Now keep in mind the setting—it was a hospital and not a wine bar—but one by one we went around the room. In the span of 10 minutes I learned among other things that one woman had severe depression, one was bipolar, one was struggling with bulimia and self-harm while another was checked in for a suicide attempt after a brutal sexual assault.

The doctor sat back with this look on her face and was quiet for a minute before she looked around the group and said, “You know what I find interesting? I see something entirely different.

“I know that you are a retired opera singer,” she continued as she shifted her gaze over the group. “That you graduated from dental school with honors, that you are a nationally published writer and that you have three children under the age of five. I don’t see your circumstances. I don’t let them define you.”

That really stuck with me.

It’s natural to identify ourselves using our circumstances, our struggles or how others perceive us. There’s an odd sense of comfort in being able to fall back on those things—more as a justification than an excuse—but none of those things are truly who we are. And the problem with latching onto these identities is, in addition to limiting our growth, we start to let them define us.

Why so serious?

Because this month’s “League” question as posed by Noa is: “Identity. Who are we? How did we get to the realization of who we are?”

I hate the “Who am I?” question myself, in part because it’s something I’ve struggled with now for years. It’s been a decade of survival, of retreating into intellectualizing everything and just being a quiet observer of life rather than fully immersing myself in it at times.

The problem is that through all my searching, I never found that “one” answer I needed, but rather the answers for somebody else.

It’s not so much that I don’t know who I am—I think I’m actually quite self-aware—but that I don’t know how to align where I am with where I want to go and how I want to live my life. And as much as I wish someone would just tell me what to do and how to get to that point, I also know it’s a journey.

Identity is constantly changing, and authenticity can’t be intellectualized or wrapped up in a neat little bow and printed on high-gloss business cards. But I’ve learned that it’s vital to be more concerned with how my life feels, rather than how my life looks. This is much easier said than done at times, but most valuable things often are.

So in response to Noa, I would have to say that among other things, I am a writer, a daughter and a loyal friend. I’m funny and grateful for humor, but introspective and complex as well. I’m someone who struggles, but I’m doing the best that I can and am unapologetically myself.

I am not my circumstances, but rather a survivor.

I am a constant work in progress.

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How would you answer the question?

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Under the Weather

If you’re tired of me complaining about the weather, I can promise this post isn’t just about that. Instead I’m going to use it as a fancy metaphor for depression in an artsy attempt to complain about the weather.

The fact is this winter has been brutal already. We have about 18 inches of snow right now, are already around 80 inches this year and they’re predicting another storm this weekend. We had four days in January with no snow and haven’t been above freezing in weeks. And it’s only February.

Needless to say, FTW.

Aside from the actual cold, I struggle with a commute that gets complicated and dangerous, keeping my driveway and car clean when there’s nowhere else to throw the snow, worrying about the impact of the weather on my house, the increased bills, etc.

And more than ever before, the weather has upped my depression. Well, I’m blaming it on the weather, but in reality that could be a coincidence seeing as it’s been just as relentless for years.

But much like the weight of this winter, lately it’s crushing me down.

The OCD, the exercise, the hopelessness—it’s come to a point where I wonder when I’ll break, either physically or mentally, and yet I keep  testing those limits. I keep waiting for some event so significant in my mind that I’ll feel compelled to change, that the cloak of depression and obsession will fade and voila! The metaphorical sun will melt the snow and everything will become sun-shiny great!

But of course, that’s just magical thinking.

So instead I fight myself from both sides—the terrifyingly powerful disorder that wants me to cling to it and the part that wants to live a life without it. Finding a balance between the two might seem like having the best of both worlds —Yay! I’m a semi-functioning person balancing disorders and depression, well done!— but we know that’s not the case.

Because while everyone has heard how things have to get worse before getting better, what it doesn’t say is that you should make things worse before they magically, somehow get “better.”

So for the first time in years I actually went to a therapist.

It’s early, but so far she “gets” me. She’s a vegan holistic yoga teacher and I want to move into her office, but I think that violates some kind of ethical code. Anyway, much like dealing with winter, therapy is a lot of work. It’s exhausting. It’s expensive. It’s not fun.

But eventually you just reach that point—breakdown again or breakthrough?—and that’s where I am right now. I don’t feel like I’m really “me,” and even more scary, I’m not sure who that “me” is anymore but I owe it to myself to find out.

Now you’re probably wondering a) why I’m sharing this with you and b) when I’ll shut up. Frankly, I wonder that, too. I mean, how do you respond to this as a reader? What good does it do to ramble on about this when I would rather put up something funny?

Part of it is healing for me, getting it out there and telling someone. Part of it is that social stigma (and pride) often prevents many people from discussing these things. However, I do it anyway because maybe reading that I feel this way will help someone to feel less alone — or at least ridiculously sane in comparison.

So to wrap this all up and come back to that meteorological metaphor, I’ll say I have no control over weather, but I have faith that spring will eventually come. The sun will shine, the gray and desolate cold will recede and we’ll start to dig out of this hole.

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I’m ready to dig out of this hole.

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Pulling Back the Curtain

I had two different posts written—a semi-funny one I’ll put up next (when there are more than five people on the Internet) and one of those personal ones that leaves me twitchy with my finger on the “delete” button—but I trashed the serious one.

Then I started to wonder why, if that’s how I was feeling, I wanted to push it away.

Part of it is that I like to keep things light here, another part is that some things are best kept offline, but yet another part is that it might change how you look at me. It’s easy to make fun of myself about certain things, but it’s not easy to truly make myself vulnerable. And so I often slightly hide the truth, internalize any issues and avoid feeling anything slightly uncomfortable.

How’s that working out for me, eh?

So I decided to write about that because I think we all use this trick from time to time, telling people what we think they want to hear, maybe saying we’re “fine” when in fact we’re a little bit (or a lot) less.

I admit it’s not always easy to do. There are times I feel like not sharing more crap gives off the air that I’m always okay. Since part of me wants to believe that that’s true, it feels like this act never stops.

Keep smiling, keep the messy stuff all to yourself.

But there are times this seemingly harmless omission starts to eat away at me, and it’s those times I wonder how many other people write posts they don’t publish, delete all the stuff that might blur up the lines between how they are and how they wish they could be.

We all know why we do this, of course.

We’ve heard the importance to put on a brave face, project unicorns and glitter and “fake it ‘til you make it!” I’m sure that works for some people, but for everyone out there who’s struggling, watching others do only that just adds to their feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt. For many, watching others just hurts and adds to the need to hide out.

Of course we can’t change what other people do or how others perceive us. The crafting of a perfect persona is part of our culture now — online and off — whether we like it or not (and I choose the latter.) I know I have to balance between honesty and oversharing, between personal and professional.

Because regardless of whether it’s honest or not, what you put out there is you—for better or worse.

But it’s unrealistic to think you can be happy all of the time. That would be weird and unnatural, like how people’s faces vibrate when they try and hold in a yawn. (Just let it go, people.)

And even though many of us have good lives and good opportunities, normal life isn’t easy for anyone—even those without depression or “issues” they face.

But I can tell you that if you decide to share a bit of the muck, to let the curtains peek open a crack when you crave the light most, the people you need in your life won’t reject you. They support. They entertain. They listen. They can talk you off the ledge that you’re on, knowing they’ve stood there before.

It’s more about trusting yourself.

So I’m still not sure that I’ll publish that “serious” post, but it’s not because I’m ashamed. I just have other, funnier things that I want to share. But I know that when the time feels right, I’ll pull back the curtain again.

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