The Trinity

Depression. Fear. Anxiety.

2016 has been a really tough year for me. I’m used to tough years, used to struggling with the depression, fear and anxiety that have been a part of my life for so long. I’ve been working hard to learn to manage but it’s hard, and I’m not there yet, so things are still challenging.

Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot about myself and my illness. I know that my depression is a combination of many things but much of it can be traced directly back to the sexual abuse that happened in my childhood. It’s not easy to look at symptoms and behaviors and accept that so many of them are predictable given my experience, but it’s true and I guess understanding them is a part of living with them.

This year seemed particularly difficult though. As 2016 inches toward its end I look back and I’m not pleased with much that transpired over the last 12 months. I’ve been ridiculously unproductive, I am concerned about my lack of understanding of the world around me and my complete lack of patience with others.

It’s the year we lost Bowie, we lost Prince, we elected Trump, I withdrew even further than I had in the past, I disconnected from nearly everyone and my faith in my fellow man has fallen to its lowest levels. I can’t stand to even think about the world outside my home, it’s bleak and it’s depressing and each instance of hate and racism that I see makes me hate it even more.

Most days it’s hard to accomplish anything. I manage to get myself out of bed but only so I can get to the couch. I struggle to find the energy to complete tasks, to find the inspiration to create something, and while my mind is actively doing what my mind does, very little of it actually turns in to something useful.

So it’s been a year, a not so good year, but I made it through it. I’ve continued my 100% success rate for getting through shitty days and shitty years so that’s good I guess. Some people say things like “I’ll be so glad when this year is over” and I guess I think the same thing, although to be honest I don’t really anticipate next year being any different, or better. So another year will pass and I will struggle and I’ll likely feel the same way at the end of next year.

In the interim I will spend my days with my wonderful wife Gina and our two wonderful feline boys Eggs and Cooper, and I will bask in the joy that they give me, the only real joy I think I feel anymore. They sustain me and I will continue to live for them.

Photo via Flickr – Christopher Paquette CC Attribution 2.0

I Don’t Think It’s Working

On November 18th I stopped using Twitter. It had been weeks since I had opened my RSS Reader, many months since I quit Facebook and who knows how long it’s been since I watched any sort of TV news. News was overwhelming, triggering, and generally a cause of much distress. Distress I was, and am, unable to endure or process.

I am currently avoiding most any media which will present me with current events or news of any sort. I get some music news (RIP Greg Lake…) but generally remain outside of the realm of anything that is happening in the world outside of my home. I can’t avoid all of it but my exposure has been reduced to almost nothing.

My social interactions have been pretty minimal anyway but are now currently limited to Gina, my therapist, my Mom and Dad, and my friend Christelle.

My world is very small and for now I am managing it. I don’t really think it’s working though.

Depression – The Words Matter

There are certain terms that are frequently used when talking about or describing depression. It’s a darkness or a hole, an abyss or a void. You fall in and then sink to the bottom. You can hopefully climb out of it. It’s a battle, a war, you fight it as if it’s a person. It’s demons or monsters, a mountain or a tunnel.

You may read these and think the words are cliché, and they probably are. You can hear them and swap them out nearly interchangeably, choose them from a master list, they are generic.

This is worrisome to me, I fear that they have lost their meaning because of their use, or overuse. We have rationalized these descriptions to the point that they no longer convey what they once did.

I was depressed long before I realized it, before I even knew what depression was. It’s a set of feelings that encompassed my life, feelings I couldn’t identify, feelings I struggle to recognize even to today. What do you do when you don’t understand something, don’t have the right words to try to explain it? I grasp for things that are similar, I make analogies, and these analogies work because they are universally understood. They give people who aren’t experiencing depression the ability to try to understand how it feels, a glimpse in to a world that is different than the one in which they live.

They also help me make sense of my own experiences. If I can put something in to words, turn it in to a concept that is known, then maybe I can understand it, and maybe even change it.

These are the terms I use because this is how it feels, at least this is how it feels to me. These words are important. These descriptions matter, they are real and when people share them, try to step back and think beyond the words, think about what people are saying, and think about the actual feelings that are behind these words. Most importantly think about the people saying them, people who are desperately trying to make sense of things, trying to connect with others, and trying to find a purpose for each and every day.

Photo via Michael Chen CC Attribution 2.0

Need

This is beautifully written – I have chosen an excerpt I found particularly relevant to me but the whole thing is well worth reading.

Sometimes just reading that others feel the way I do helps so much, proving that we do in fact need each other.

It’s a long road.

Now, I am learning to give up my favorite coping skills. And when I do, all of those old sensations are stored in the stillness. They waited for me to mature and center. That seems so mean.

But this is the work, and sometimes it pisses me off that my energy is spent on this.

I often look for an easier way. I wonder how old I’ll be when I’m done unraveling the knots in my nervous system.

I’m sick of being sick of the process.

I’ve been an adult longer than I was a child and I don’t want to be impacted. Can’t I at least circle new drains or upgrade the scenery on this repeat track. I don’t want to have to do regular exercise to keep off the emotional pounds.

I feel burdened, exhausted, and martyred at times, wearing an itchy wool coat I can’t disrobe.

It is not the presence of bad (abuse) but the absence of good (love, attachment, boundaries, modeling) that injures children into adulthood. Most of us have learned not to drink, abuse, and be violent (yay us!), but the more subtle aspects of self-care and recovery are healthy nurturing, interdependence, making time for love and joy. Those can be mysterious.

Christine Cissy White

Why Survivors Need Each Other – By Christine Cissy White

Photo Via CC 2.0

Beautiful…

I’ve talked a number of times with my therapist about journaling, documenting some of the things that I experience between our sessions. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the things I see and feel during a normal day and I think it’s been interesting. Here’s something I wrote last night. It was pretty stream of consciousness and is unedited.

One of the blogs I follow routinely posts a picture with the heading of ‘find something beautiful today’ with a correspondingly beautiful photo. A great sentiment for sure but I realized that I don’t do that, or am unable to do that. When I leave my house I don’t see beautiful. I don’t see blue skies or flowers blooming in our yard. I don’t see the trees starting to change color. What I see is the trash that someone threw out of their car window on to our parkway. I still see the cat that someone hit with their car and left to die on our driveway (not literally, we have removed it) – As I pull out of our driveway I see the fence that the vandals have broken between us and the grocery store. As I approach the corner I slow to a near stop and make sure that someone isn’t going to turn in to the street from the t-street that connects. There’s no stop sign there for me but I’ve seen folks cut in without looking so many times, or kids rolling across without looking to reach the park across the way, that I worry each and every time. While I’m slowed there, I can’t help but notice the computer monitor sitting in the tall grass to my right. Someone dumped it there. Just dumped it. In a few weeks I’ll see bags of leaves dumped there. People will dump the leaves so that they don’t have to buy the yard waste stickers. Big plastic garbage bags full of leaves. Probably a dozen of them. They’re not there yet but I see them, think about them. Get mad about them.

When I get to the intersection leaving my subdivision, I’ll watch as the cars from the far-left turning lane turn left into either the middle or even far right lanes, even though there are cars from the other second turning lane to the right trying to turn there. It happens every time.

As we drive west I watch people get tailgated even if they are doing well above the speed limit. Cars speed up to change lanes, cut others off, jockeying for position as we reach the stop light. Of course, many can’t be bothered enough to lift their arms enough to actually turn on a signal so I just have to watch them closely as they prepare to make their move.

It’s a short drive to Target or one of the other places I go. On the trip I’ll see at least one person toss trash or a cigarette out their window. More weaving and cutting off and tailgating as people try to win whatever race it is they are in. As I pull in the parking lot, I avoid the cars going down the lanes in the wrong direction, find a spot away from people who feel their cars are important enough to use two spaces, and I park. Gina usually runs in. I watch a car pull in to a handicapped spot. A young guy hangs a blue placard from his rear-view mirror, climbs out from his tall SUV with no trouble and maybe even jogs across the parking lane to avoid oncoming cars. While I wait, I see another person dump their ashtray. A man tries to toss his cup in to the trash as he approaches the store but it misses. He leaves it on the ground.

This is what I see, what I experience, every time I leave my home. None of this is beautiful.

Photo Via CC 2.0

Here There Be Monsters

To you, anxiety is an ever present monster just waiting for you to show the slightest bit of fear. How could they know? Their closets are not open ended. Their neatly ordered stacks of things are not illusions. They’ve never swam in the murk in the Land of the Irrational. And they don’t understand why you can’t just make it stop. Don’t open the closet. Don’t go back there. Don’t fear. Don’t over think. Just turn away when you feel yourself opening the doors. It’s so easy.

It’s so easy.

Nothing is easy. Not when you know this place.

Michelle Catalano

Please read more here.

Photo Via CC 2.0

Gina’s Thoughts on the Bitch, Depression

This is a guest post written by my wonderfully wonderful wife Gina.

Author’s note: I wrote the lion’s share of this post quite spontaneously very late last night. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, if it was “finished” or if it made any sense whatsoever. But I write. It’s how I deal with many thoughts and emotions, converting them from inklings and nudges to real concepts I can try to comprehend and/or deal with. So I wrote and wrote about that which was heavily on my mind. I was just going to let it sit here, possibly unfinished, forever, the cathartic exercise that it was completed. But then this morning, I read this by another author and I was emboldened to share what I’d written – because, like her words, mine matter, they could possibly help shed light on a deep, dark, damaging secret and they may help people understand the isolation and pain of living with depression. Like hers, this is a quick draft, probably poorly edited and definitely hastily written, but here it is – not because it’s a fine piece of writing but because it’s important.

8/11/14

I need to speak out today. Because of my urgency to get it out while it’s relevant and people will be receptive to reading what I have to say in light of Robin Williams’ tragic death, it may not be my best writing (or the most completely edited) – but it needs to be expressed N.O.W. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly ponder the issue of depression. As the wife of someone who has been bravely living with the disorder, I feel I can shed some light on this subject from a first-hand perspective. Here’s my personal view of the disease:

Depression is a bitch. She’s a disease of the entire self – affecting thought, body, and emotions equally. Here’s how she breaks a person down:

She’s tricky. While everyone gets an occasional headache, everyone does not have a brain tumor. In a similar way, everyone occasionally feels sad and disheartened, but everyone who does, doesn’t have depression. Having depression is not the same as being sad – even being sad for an extended period of time. It’s not a matter of, “Waiting out the storm.” It’s an ugly pervasive cloud that colors every thought, interaction and feeling to some degree.

She doesn’t allow her victim to think, experience or feel that which is outside her desired world view – which is that everything sucks, is meaningless and unchangeable (even in the face of evidence to the contrary).

Her grip is unflinching and you often literally breathe at her will.

She is determined to have her way and it doesn’t matter what happens in your life, in your world, in your relationships – she wins and you lose.

She is egocentric. You have an independent thought or emotion? Who cares? You’re not in charge here – she is.

She is a bully. She steals what is yours just because she can.

She doesn’t care what you want to do with your day – or with your life. She steals any and all motivation, hope or desire, convincing you that nothing is worth trying for.

She strikes without provocation – or at least not in obvious ways. Depression’s trigger is oftentimes a mystery, taking her victim down and sometimes down fast.

Like any disease, she presents herself to each victim individually. One person’s depression is unique to them and responds differently to medication, counseling and other treatments.

She thrives on the vicious circle she creates: Feel depressed. Feel bad because you feel depressed. Can’t work/attend to other important things/find satisfaction because you feel depressed. Go through tough financial times. Feel bad about that. Feel bad about everything you can’t do. Rinse. Repeat.

All her victims want to do is to get out from under her influence – to feel something different than her never-ending negativity, sapping their energy, desire and focus. They don’t want to be defined by their disorder – they desperately want to overcome it.

There is more – so much more – that depression is. I know that I haven’t said it all here but at this point in time, this is how I see this bitch of a disorder because it’s how she manifests herself in our life.

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I want to close by saying that the depressed are rarely comfortable around others, fearing that their disorder will be visible – or make others uncomfortable – which in turn increases their depression because they end up feeling (on top of everything else) like a pariah. Sometimes it’s easier to isolate themselves to minimize the chance of something cropping up that exacerbates their symptoms. When the depressed seem “antisocial,” it’s not because they don’t want to – or don’t like to – be around people. It’s a self-preservation measure. Please, if you love and care for someone who is depressed, don’t avoid him or her. Show you care and want to help. In the same way that you’d offer an aspirin to someone with a headache, offer your ear and and open mind and heart to someone who suffers depression. Although it may be initially uncomfortable (for both of you), reaching out is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate your support. It’s difficult for the depressed to articulate how they feel – it’s complicated, illogical and frustrating beyond belief. But do – please do – show those who struggle with depression that you are willing to make the effort to be part of the support system they desperately need.

Those struggling with depression aren’t the only ones, of course, who battle demons. Life is complicated and messy for everyone; we all have struggles that may go unseen by others. The loving thing to do, in my humble opinion, is to accept that this fact binds us in our humanity rather than separates us into arbitrary camps of “the happy” and “the unhappy.” The only way to ease our struggles is to share them and offer to do what we can without judgement, blame or expectation. We’ll never know if anything could have helped Robin – but, well, all we can do is make our best effort to be the reason someone holds on one more day.

Gina Blitstein