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Response to Your Responses RE: Revisiting the Depressies

So this post has been getting some good feedback.

In addition, I had a late night Twitter rant that served as the genesis of this post. Read that first, if you can stomach the foolish rambling and spelling mistakes.

More than a few of you have reached out to me, expressing feelings of solidarity and understanding. Encouraging words have been spoken. Attempts at understanding have been given.

There’s a two-fold issue here for me:

  1. It’s absolutely encouraging to hear that other people understand and have felt similar things. I’m not alone, and as much as I tell people to know that they are not alone, I easily forget to give myself the same reassurance.
  2. It’s absolutely heart-breaking to hear that other people understand and have felt similar things. They are not alone, yet they feel that they are, no matter how many people like me in their lives attempt to reassure them otherwise.

It’s #2 that reassures me I still know how to feel like a human. That I’m still capable of empathy and sympathy. That I’m actually able—for no matter how fleeting of a moment it might even be—to think outside of myself and consider another person. If that sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, you’re damn right. This is a victory for me, and for any of you who have struggled with depression, you know well how good it is to feel something that isn’t centered on yourself for once.

To be sure, understand that if anything I’ve said here has been encouraging to you, know I’ve only shared it because I’ve had to first scream it at myself in order to believe it. While I wish I could be altruistic and say I write so openly about these struggles solely for the fact that others like me might read them, the truth is there is another component that is just as satisfying. It helps me greatly to write them down. It gives me focus and a moment to center myself. To express what I otherwise have no other means of expressing. Those closest to me who are privy to (read: unfortunately touched by) these moments ask me what I’m feeling, and often I have no words I can share.

Here is where I seem to find those words. Here is where I gain the clarity and ability to look more clearly, even if I still don’t understand it. Here is where I attempt to help you understand while I attempt to understand myself, even if it results in you giving me a Side-eye Chloe.

Find your outlet. Seek your peace. Discover your zen. Do whatever it takes, but don’t let the darkness take over. And while it might be referencing a different circumstance, read some Dylan Thomas and rage.

If any of this sounds like hyperbole to you, then you don’t understand and I encourage you to seek understanding. Seek empathy.

Hell, forget seeking empathy; require it of yourself!

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Revisiting The Depressies

It’s been nearly four years since depression had its strongest grip on me, and almost three since I wrote this.

The multitude of things that have changed for me in that span of time is seemingly incomprehensible, at least from my own perspective. The improvements that have been made, as well as the destruction of personal potential and potential relationships; they’re all right in front of me. There’s an ebb and flow to all of life, and sometimes that results in a net gain and net loss.

I’m happy with where I am—a rare thing for anyone to be able to say, even if I’m sort of faking it (but only sort of). I’ve avoided writing on my personal site for so long now because the majority of my posts were melancholic and getting a bit redundant in their depressive nature and tone. I’ve had to resist the urge to virtually light everything on fire and watch it burn while marshmallows rested at the end of a pointy stick. However, it’s still a release, especially in those moments when a case of the “depressies” can rear its ugly head.

We all have our shit, and all of our shit can seem insurmountable in the faintest of moments, however long or short. I’ve been having my moments more frequently lately, and I can pin them on a number of things. Here is where depression can hurt as much, if not more: shit is hard even when shit is good, or at least when that shit should at least be considered good.

There are moments of doubt, whether about yourself or everything else. There are things you fear that keep a tight grip on you, even if they’re rather inconsequential. There are people you will distrust, no matter how many opportunities they prove worthy of your trust.

Struggling through depression is certainly not unlike being a drug addict. The drug of choice in this instance is more a cocktail of emotional narcotics—sorrow, pain, worry, anguish, insecurity, loneliness, etc. A nice, long hit of any of these brings a physical release like an alcoholic’s sip. We get addicted to them, and like the addict, we typically know just how terrible they are for us. In spite of that we refuse help, or feel that no help is given when wanted. Our loved ones suffer through it, wondering what they could be doing better, or if they even have the power to continue suffering alongside us.

We will always be considered depressed, even if we aren’t relapsing or falling off the wagon. We will carry this weight with us the entirety of our lives, managing it and fighting it until our last breath. And so will our loved ones.

If you’re reading this and you relate, whether personally or by proxy, then understand you aren’t alone. Seek help as often as you can. Pull yourself as far as you can go, and then ask someone to pull you the rest of the way.

You are not alone. 

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Screams

Depression, loved ones, and and how the latter can harm the former.

There are more than 17,000,000 people in America diagnosed with clinical depression, and I am one of them.

Those numbers would greatly rise if we were somehow able to quantify and take into consideration those not diagnosed, yet still affected by depression. It’s a very real and present thing in our society, even if it’s rarely understood or discussed by most individuals.

If you’ve read this space for a period of time, you’ve no doubt seen me discuss my past and current struggles with mental health. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a point in my life where I’m not so afraid to talk about it openly with others, though that hasn’t always been the case; and sadly, that isn’t the case for a large number of people. There are innumerable and various obstacles and pitfalls for someone struggling with depression, but perhaps the most universal is that of explaining to loved ones just what the hell is actually going on.

I can give you countless examples of someone asking me what’s wrong and why I’m feeling this way. I can give you one answer I’ve given all of them: I don’t know.

That’s not easy to say, and it’s certainly not easy to hear from someone who’s depressed. As a friend and loved one, we want to help and aid the person we care about who is struggling. When we have no way of understanding what the central cause might be, it’s not so easy to digest. It makes the situation far more murky and difficult to wade through, like walking through a forest at night without a flashlight and compass to guide us.

I know this is a feeling most of my loved ones feel when we discuss my depression, and it increases my level of anxiety when I can’t provide an answer. While I’ve coped with and learned how to manage my depression over the last couple of years, I still have my days and weeks in which I am overcome with worry, anxiety, and outright dread. It’s during those periods I tend to pull away from society.

I don’t return calls or texts. I don’t reach out to my friends for company. I’m not as active on Twitter or Facebook (yes, social media is and has been a benchmark for my mental health, as it tends to be for most people who use it).

I don’t know specifically why I reject community and friendship when I certainly need it most, but that’s the common thread of depression: I don’t know why I do what I do and feel what I feel. I just do it and feel it. The best reason I can surmise is that I know how frustrating it is for them to hear me say these things, and I begin to sound like a broken record that never really played anything of value in the first place. I want to avoid having to apologize for what I feel, or at least feeling like that’s what I have to do.

As difficult as it is to hear that as a friend trying to help, it’s exponentially difficult to say it as someone who is depressed. Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by a good number of people who understand that they really aren’t going to get a detailed answer from me regarding much of this, and they let that be enough. They let their presence and words of encouragement be enough, regardless of specificity. Which is good, because sometimes that’s all I need or want. Sometimes that is enough.

However, not a lot of people who struggle with this disease are as fortunate as I am. Their isolation is exacerbated by fear and worry wrapped in flesh and bone. They experience the personification of much of what hurts them as represented by their loved ones.

Worry begets worry. Anxiety produces anxiety. On and on it goes, and where it’ll stop nobody knows.

If you’re a friend or family member of someone struggling with depression, it’s helpful to keep this in mind. It’s important to remember that your actions can and do have a powerful role to play here, and to be ready and willing to accept that the answers we give aren’t really answers at all. Be mindful. Be considerate. And above all else, be gracious.

You didn’t start the fire, but you might be pouring gasoline instead of water.

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Screams

Death visits

I found out this afternoon that a friend perished in a helicopter crash yesterday. Her name was Brynne, and she was 25 years old.

While this post isn’t going to necessarily center on her (I’m not emotionally equipped to do that just yet), it will cover some thoughts and feelings as brought on by this tragic event.

I’ve been in a sort of emotional haze most of the day, going between feelings of intense sadness and self-preserving detachment. For the past two years I’ve crafted a narrative that indicated I was immune to most extreme emotions; that I was calm and strong enough to withstand the onslaught of unfortunate happenings and circumstances that life would inevitably visit upon us all. I’ve lived a relatively charmed life, but I’ve also experienced my fair share of pain; if you could call any experience of pain “fair”. The coping mechanism I’ve developed during my battle with depression is to not even feel pain. To avoid it at all costs, as if I wasn’t easily affected. What was once viewed as a cool aloofness by many of my friends has come to my attention to be a lonely state of denial. Sure, we all want to avoid pain. It’s just that some of us go to greater lengths to keep that pain at bay, locked away so as never to get too close.

I once had a conversation about death with an 89 year old man who was a member of a church I worked at. He stated that while he was grateful to have lived such a long life filled with joy and happiness, his most difficult truth to adjust to was that he was outliving those closest to him. One by one his friends and family passed, and he remained while death loomed like a schoolyard bully awaiting an opportune moment. Death visits us all on occasion, and will eventually take up permanent residence. For such a crucial, almost singular and scientifically proven fact about the human existence, death is still surprising. We know that it will come, but when it arrives we are shocked. The sudden pain numbs and dulls our senses, and we are left in a near catatonic state. Or we explode. Or both.

I have no words of encouragement for those experiencing a similar despair. No universal truth that will assuage the pain and transition it into acceptance, bypassing the stages of grief that we all experience.

Death is terrifying, but it’s not my own eventual death that keeps me up at night; it’s the death of those around me whom I care about. It’s the utter helpless feeling I have that there’s not a thing I can do to change it. That no matter how hard I ignore or wish it away, it will be as persistent as a pit bull with its jaws around a rope. (I have one of those; they don’t let go.)

In my sadness over Brynne’s passing, I wasn’t sure where I could turn to. Who I could talk to. You see, I’ve compartmentalized my entire life into segregated groups of people, rarely allowing for overlap because it’s so much easier to manage things that way. One group of friends can help me forget about a terrible situation with another group because nobody even knows about it, so it’s never brought up. This works great for when I don’t want to confront something terrible, but it works equally as bad for when I need the help and love of those closest to me. When you decentralize your relationships, you lose a stabilizing force that allows you to stumble with the protection of loved ones surrounding you. By allowing myself to get close with many groups of people—but not close enough—I’ve removed the risk of community, with community being something I’m utterly terrible at.

The risk of community is shared pain. A sharedness that allows for the lamenting of pain people other than just you feel and understand. Brynne’s passing has shown me how I’ve avoided such a safety net because while I was close with her, I wasn’t close with many other people that knew her. I don’t have anyone to share a story with that contains a mutual context of the type of person she was. This makes it difficult to grieve, as I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to be grieving in this moment. All I am left with are my own thoughts and emotions, and they are of little consolation.

Some nights I’m afraid to fall asleep because my worst fears play out in my dreams, as if my mind wanted to present a massive middle finger in my direction. This is one of those nights.

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Why I post so many damn photos of my dog…

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I have a dog named Deuce.

Chances are, that if you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you know this already. And more than likely hate me for it.

Most of my photos on any social network site involve him. People could say it’s because I’m bored and don’t have much going on in my life in terms of excitement, hobbies, and good lovin’; and they’d be correct. But the other side to that coin is that I also really love my dog.

Like really.

When I’m at home with nothing to do, I’m typically paying attention to him. Of course, he demands this of me, even when I have plenty to do, but that’s all right. I like it.

It’s almost like he’s my kid.

OH PLEASE! HAVING AND LOVING A DOG IS NOTHING LIKE HAVING AND LOVING A KID!

Well, hang on just a second there, Overzealous Imaginary Kid-Having Person In My Head Who Has The Caps Lock Glued Down. I’m not saying the two are one and the same, but up to this point in my life, he is the closest thing I know of what it’s like having a kid. And while I know I’m not ready for kids just yet, and don’t plan on having any for a long time (if ever), I love him like he’s my own child. Quite frankly, it excites me that I can love anything like I love him, considering my lack of ability to give any semblance of adequate love to many people at different times in my life. It gives me great hope to know that I can love him in that way, and reminds me that if I’m ever an actual dad, I’ll probably be a damn good one.

But my love for Deuce is more nuanced than that. You see, I got him during a very difficult time in my life. Months prior, I had just attempted suicide, and two weeks after having rescued him, I will have fled Indiana in search of brighter skies and possibilities in Arizona. Needless to say, he’s been one of my main constants during a very dark and life-changing period. During my first few months in Phoenix, I was a wreck.

Directionless. Friendless. And a whole bunch of other “lesses”.

None of that mattered to Deuce. It didn’t matter one bit to him that I was a self-pitying idiot who couldn’t get out of bed before 11:30. He stayed right there with me. It didn’t bother him that I watched way too much TV than a human should, without any desire to go anywhere and see anyone. He was cool with chilling on the couch and watching Deadliest Catch and Mythbusters on repeat.

In the year and a half since I got him, I’ve experienced numerous changes.

Five different jobs. Three different housing situations. And more. Basically, a metric ton of things that dogs hate. They thrive in consistency, and my life has been anything but since he graciously became a part of it. I have been far from the best friend he’s been to me. I’ve raised my hand in anger and extreme frustration. I’ve forgotten to feed him. I’ve neglected entertaining him in favor of entertaining myself.

Basically, I’m kind of a shitty owner, at times.

Yet, he’s still there every morning with anxiousness to play, and every evening with excitement to see me when I come home. He’s intuitive to my emotional fluctuations; giving me the sort of selfless love that I wish I was more consistent at giving to him and to other people. No matter how many times I’ve been terrible towards him, he’s always by my side. Sometimes too much, but I won’t complain about that. Perhaps you think I might be reading too much into his proclivities. After all, he is JUST a dog, right?

No. He’s my dog. And quite frankly, I’ll Instagram the shit out of him and you’ll just have to learn to like it.

Get a dog, folks. Trust me: you learn a lot about yourself. How selfish you are. How incapable of being consistent you can be.

And then, if you’re as lucky as I have been, you’ll learn how capable of fixing all those things you are.

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You are not alone…

I attempted suicide once.

It’s been a little over a year since I spent the night at my closest friend’s house and decided—in one fleeting moment—that I didn’t have the chops to keep truckin’ along. I had a bag of over-the-counter sleeping pills that I used to help me fight a bit of insomnia; but if I was honest, I would tell you that I kept them around because I had thought about this before that night. A few times, actually.

I don’t remember swallowing those pills, really. All I remember is looking up at the ceiling in the bed that I was lying in, wondering if I would feel anything before slipping under. No more than a couple of minutes went by when the gravity of everything I had just done dawned on me.

This wasn’t my bed. This bed belonged to my friend’s little brother. How could I do that to him? What kind of toll would this take on their whole family?

You see, I wasn’t planning on swallowing those pills at his house; I would never wish something like that to happen to them. When I had considered doing it a few other times, I always told myself I’d make sure it was done in a manner that would require as little work and heartache as possible for everyone to handle after the fact.

Clean up. Organizing my affairs. Getting rid of my stuff. I didn’t want anyone to have to do too much work.

What a stupid idea all of that really was.

Things get a lot more complicated after suicide. Maybe not for the one who actually commits the act, but definitely for those he or she leaves behind. Perhaps it’s an atrociously cynical viewpoint to take, but that thought (at least initially) was what made me realize I needed to get those pills out of my stomach. I woke my buddy up, and he rushed me to the hospital.

Talk about an awkward drive.

The doctors did their job and then I had a little meeting with the hospital counselors. I was faced with a choice: spend at least 72 hours in a behavioral hospital on my own free will, or wait for a court mandate requiring me to go, and more than likely spend more time there.

It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.

I spent the next four days (it was a weekend; the psychiatrist assigned to me was gone, naturally) surrounded by broken people with intensely painful stories and backgrounds. I discussed politics, faith, and love with men and women who had fallen in and out of drug and alcohol addiction, psychotic relapses, and extreme periods of depression. It wasn’t exactly the cheeriest group of people, yet I remember sharing some of the most vulnerable, genuine laughs with a few of them.

The conversations I had in the hallways of that hospital are the ones I remember the most. Not the group therapy sessions led by surprisingly cold and arrogant counselors. The words shared between myself and those people that I haven’t spoken to since (anonymity was key at the hospital) have done more for me than any pill the doctors pushed my way, and there were quite a few of those. Don’t misunderstand; the medication I was given while in the hospital and for a few months beyond definitely helped, but those conversations are what did the most to rebuild what I had already attempted to shatter to pieces with 12 little pills.

“I understand.”

I never really felt the power those two words held until I heard them come from the mouths of these people. I had been battling a private (to most of the world, anyway) bout with depression on and off for a couple of years, and even though I had a solid group of loved ones who would do anything for me, I still felt sadly alone. While that was absolutely the furthest thing from the truth, it was an inescapable false reality for me. Brought on by my own massive amount of insecurities and attempted masking of those insecurities with an unfortunate amount of forced self-awareness, this deep despair had come to its (seemingly) inevitable climax, whether I was ready for it or not.

I had four visitors in the hospital (my family was unable to visit, as they all lived in Arizona, and I was in Indiana at the time), and I’ll never weary in my appreciation for those that showed up. My friend and his fiancé were the first to come; bringing me extra clothes, books, and a whole lot of tears and questions. He actually came back a couple of other times just to hang out. That was what I needed most during those days. My professor/academic advisor/mentor from my days at TUFW was the next visitor; bringing me wisdom, encouragement, and a healthy dose of readings from Psalms and Ecclesiastes (the second book of course being a depressed person’s wet dream). Finally, the fourth visitor was from a woman who had quickly become a sort of mother figure to me over the last couple of years, taking me into her home when I needed a place to stay while interning at various churches for basically zero dollars.

On Monday, May 23 of 2011, I walked out of those doors and into the parking lot. My car had a flat tire.

“Go screw yourself, Universe,” I thought.

Things have gotten better.

I stayed on the pills the doctors prescribed me for about two months, until I could no longer afford them (being a church worker with no healthcare does not a rich person make). While it had by no means been easy, I was on a steady road to improvement. Then November came and I had an unfortunate series of events take place that could have been avoided, and I was forced once again to look long and hard into myself and ask if this was something I was finally going to face, or finally going to give up on. I needed a change. I needed to change. So, I moved out to Phoenix to where my family lived in a rather hastily manner.

One suitcase. One backpack. One dog.

Everything else I owned stayed back in Hoosier Land, and was eventually sold or given away. Or awaiting one of those two fates, as of this writing. I holed up at my sister’s house for way too long, spent more time in the gym than I ever had in my entire life (depression was proving to finally have a positive effect on my physical health, albeit for a short while), got a job working at the best company in the world, and began meeting up with a number of powerfully compassionate and loving people on a consistent basis. My dog and I have now moved into a place of our own; well, with three other guys and an overweight basset hound. His name is Danger. He is about the least intimidating dog you can imagine.

Why talk about this now?

I just got back from a week in Indiana to be in the wedding of that closest friend I told you about earlier. While there, a lot of emotions and thoughts came rushing back to me that I had been pushing away for the last seven months. Emotions and thoughts that I needed to deal with.

My friend got married a year and one month to the very day I walked out of that hospital; Prozac, Trileptal, and Ambien in hand. I don’t know if it was the perceived cyclicality of it all or what, but at one point during the admittedly fantastic and sweat-filled reception dancing, I had to take a few minutes to myself.

Here I was celebrating the biggest day in my best friend’s life, and I almost missed it.

In just a couple of months, I’ll be welcoming my first nephew into this world. (At least the first one that’s not older than me. Long story.) And I almost missed it.

Nobody should miss those things.

Depression is the ugly step-child of personal struggles. We don’t talk about it enough; and when we do talk about it, we shrug it off as a matter of the person not being able to grow up and deal with their shit. While Christianity has been making leaps and bounds in the arena of treating depression in a spiritual and loving manner, we still have a long way to go.

Depression is not funny. In fact, it is the exact opposite of anything that is worth laughing about. That person in your life who is struggling with feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, and lack of hope? They need you. To you, they may look like they’re just being dramatic—and ultimately, that’s actually what it really boils down to—but that doesn’t negate their feelings. That doesn’t mean we should discount their struggle as something merely to “get over.” In a lot of cases, it really is a matter of life and death.

But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s not simply a matter of prayer. It’s a matter of presence.

Your words, when spoken to your Creator, mean a great deal. But when spoken to your friend? They mean just as much, if not more. Your words and presence are the answers to those prayers you speak. They are the answer to those cries from your loved one. We are not meant to live in solitary confinement. Let your presence and your love be known by those in your life and you will break down the walls of despair and hopelessness. Without Christ’s presence in human form, there is no redemption. His life was one giant act of love, and it all started with Him simply showing up. That’s where you should start, as well.

If you are the person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, hold on tight. I’m not going to promise that it won’t be something you never struggle with again after this; but if you allow yourself to lean on those around you who love you, it won’t be something you have to struggle with alone, either. They are your lifeline.

God doesn’t always show up like we want Him to. But—and I hate that I’m saying something that is so cliche and oftentimes misguidedly overplayed—He does show up.

Keep fighting. Get help and be help.

May these words be as much a comfort for you to read as they were for me to write.

Remember, I understand.

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