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Future Bother

I was talking to a friend last week and gave them a piece of advice – don’t borrow from future bother. Which, is pretty damn good advice. I’m not patting myself on the back here, because I didn’t come up with that. I’m pretty sure I read it on a meme on Pinterest*, and I told the person that. I’m not gonna take credit where credit isn’t due. That aside, it is damn good advice. Don’t borrow from future bother. I have also come to realize that I need to take my own advice.

Future Bother

I’m not a huge worrier per se. I tend to be pretty good at focusing on solutions and preparations instead of problems. That wasn’t always the case though. In the past, I tended to always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was always expecting something bad to happen. I didn’t know what that thing would look like, or whether it would be big or small, but there would be some sort of crisis. I had every faith in myself that I would be able to handle whatever came along though. I’m great in an emergency. The only problem, is that it is exhausting being on ready alert at all times. Especially since, if I got to the end of a day and all had gone well, it’s not like I would let out a huge sigh of relief and pat myself on the back for a job well done. Oh no! I simply figured that I got by with a lucky day, but tomorrow would make up for it. So I had to be ready. It. Was. Exhausting.

You’re probably thinking that this is a conversation that I should really be having with a trained professional, and you are right. I have already had this conversation with two different trained professionals. I know why I did it. During my childhood, a member of my family died every even year of my life from the ages of 8 – 20. Needless to say, those last couple of months of my 22nd year were a little hair raising. Every time my phone rang, I assumed that someone had died. I didn’t realize that I had been doing this until I woke up on my 23rd birthday and a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was almost as if a curse had been broken.

Unfortunately, I have lost people since then, but it hasn’t been on any sort of a schedule and in 12 years it was only three. Huge improvement! Until last December, when my aunt died. I think it was probably the suddenness of everything that rocketed me back into my childhood, but ever since, I have returned to that old feeling of dread. That feeling that disaster is right around the corner. And I am exhausted. I don’t want to be on alert for trouble that isn’t even on the horizon. I don’t want to keep borrowing from future bother. When a crisis crops up I will deal with it, but worrying about it now, will not relieve any of the stress then. So no more shoes dropping, no more dread. The world gets to be a bright, shiny, happy place . . . until it’s not, and when it’s not I’ll deal with it then. For now – bright, shiny, happy.

I will not bother from future bother.

I will not bother from future bother.

I will not bother from future bother.

 

*Okay, I have no idea where I saw that, but it definitely wasn’t a meme on Pinterest, as I just had to make my own because I couldn’t find one!

Doldrums

As anyone who has ever dealt with depression for any length of time can attest, there will be days that you just can’t get out of bed. Not that you don’t want to, but that you cannot emotionally get out of bed. The very thought of arising and facing the world is so inconceivable that your body becomes a leaden weight, stuck in its place. Your brain is stuck, your body is stuck, you are stuck. No amount of cajoling or bargaining that you do with yourself will work. You are staying in bed. Hopefully just for the morning, but more likely than not all day. If you do happen to get yourself up and about, Eeyore will seem like a cheerleader in contrast to your energy and motivation. It sucks. It is a part of living with depression, and it sucks.

I had that day yesterday. I was late to work, but I did eventually get myself out of bed. There wasn’t anything in particular that happened to cause this, just a bunch of little things that had all been adding up for a while. I think mother’s day was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, but who knows. At any rate, I am know working at digging myself back out. Climbing that hill to get back to the top where there’s sunshine. So until I get my writing groove back on, here’s a compilation of dog fails. Because, with the exception of the slide, Bubba has done every one of these, and that makes me smile.

To The Outcasts

I read an article today about how people feel the need to tone down emotion. Whether it be happiness, sadness, anger it must be expressed in moderation. When I first read that, I scoffed. What good does toning down emotion do? Then, the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I do believe this article is entirely true. Some people become disconcerted when emotions swing outside of a normal, “acceptable” range.

I have never been that person. Well, that’s not true. I was forced to be that person for many years and I was miserable. But I have never inherently been that person. If something makes me happy, or excites me I’m going to express that with a joyously ecstatic fervor. I guess I figure if you’re going to get excited, GET EXCITED! The same goes for concentration. If I truly want to accomplish something my focus is on that and that alone. The room could come down around me and I would be clueless. I can’t tell you how many times I have been at dinner with friends and been industriously trying to dig the cherry out from the bottom of my drink only to look up and discover the entire table looking at me with mirthful smiles. Which officially begs the question, why do they put the cherry on the bottom?!?!?!? Okay, that’s probably not the first question that springs into your mind, but I would certainly like to know!

Cherry at Bottom

At any rate, reading this article made me aware of just how much my life has changed. Throughout my childhood I was admonished to squelch this side of my personality. I was told that it was, that I was, inappropriate. Because of this I became afraid to express myself. I doubted my ability to appropriately react in situations and I felt the need to constantly wear a mask, pretending to be someone that I was not. It sucked! It wasn’t until I began to venture out on my own and question the precepts of my upbringing that I discovered that there was nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with feeling and expressing emotions outside of “normal” ranges. If that makes other people uncomfortable, then that is their problem, not mine. My feelings and how I choose to express them are legitimate and correct for me.

Weird

Now the people that I spend my time with are not embarrassed when I drag them over to another aisle in Smart and Final to show them the epically large can of ravioli – those things are ginormous, you have to check it out some time. They think it’s funny, they think it’s ridiculous, actually who knows what they think, but they don’t disapprove. They don’t tell me to knock it off, or tone it down. They smile, laugh, or sometimes join in my excitement and generally accept me for who I am. That is a state of being that I never fathomed could exist. Being surrounded by people who accept me and love me for who I am, in all of my quirky goodness. So I guess the point of all of this is to say to the outcasts, to the people who feel like everything they do is wrong, stay strong and hold on to who you truly are. There are people out there in this world who will love you for you, not a modified or “corrected” version of you. Be joyously ecstatic, or dorky, or quirky, or whatever, and don’t let anybody tell you that it’s wrong. Your people are out there, you just have to find them.

Recognizing Happiness

I was having a bit of a stress break down this weekend, when a friend said something to me that really hit home, “Happiness doesn’t have to be hard.” What a novel concept. Well, at least it is for someone who battled untreated clinical depression for 15+ years. Being happy was never something that came easily to me. How could it? Environmental factors aside, I didn’t have the right chemicals in my body – or if I had them, they weren’t be used/absorbed correctly.  Add to that, the fact that I spent many of those years hating myself, and it becomes very clear why, in my mind, happiness is something that you have to fight for. Something that you have to overcome obstacles to achieve.

I was set-up to be miserable, and therefore I was miserable. I had to consciously retrain my inner monologue to focus on the positive instead of the negative. I had to recognize self-destructive habits or situations and avoid them. I had to learn how to set boundaries and respect myself. I had to learn to say no, and to stand up for what was important to me. I had to learn how to set realistic expectations for myself and for others. The list goes on and on, and then is topped off by medication that allows my body to actually experience happiness and contentment. So you would think with all of that work behind me, I would be able to sit back and bask in pure bliss.

71262-Happiness-Is-A-Choice

Nope. That’s too easy, literally. I don’t think my brain knows how to recognize happiness unless I’ve done something to earn or deserve it. I finished cleaning my house, therefore I get to feel happy. I completed everything on my to-do list, therefore I get to feel happy. I did a favor for a friend, therefore I get to feel happy. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. How ridiculous is that? Everyone deserves to be happy, and you don’t have to do anything to earn happiness. It is a state of being, not a destination. Yet in my mind I have it set up as a quid pro quo.

So now, I am making the conscious decision to be happy without qualifications. To recognize happiness because of the current state of my being, not the state of my to-do list – happy should be easy. Which, granted, is significantly easier said than done. I feel like I can’t be the only one that does this though. What roadblocks do you put in the way of your happiness?

Life is Too Short

Life is too short for maybes and what-ifs. It is too short for tomorrows and some days. For mincing of words and holding of tongues.

Life is too short to let work rule your life. It is too short to put off happiness. To wait just one more day to follow your dreams.

Life is too short to spend it with people who aren’t as amazing as you are. It is too short to spend it with those who suck your energy and time. Those who kick you when you’re down.

Life is too short to obsess over every ounce, every blemish. It is too short to fixate on things that are out of your control. To hide because you don’t like the way that you look.

Life is too short for complaints and whining. It is too short for worrying about what other people say. For focusing on anything but the positive.

Life is too short.

Shawshank

Fall and Recover

The Fall

I stand atop my hill,
Though not triumphantly.
I stand.
I await.
I await a battle that always comes, but seems impossible to win.
The battle begins, slowly at first.
A harsh word,
Stare,
Or sometimes it only takes a silence to cause me to slide down my hill.
But I fight, and I struggle to regain the top.
I claw and bite and kick.
Anything to keep me from sliding backwards into the dark abyss.
But I don’t win.
By the end of the day every step forward I’ve taken, I’ve fallen back three.
Before long I’ve assumed a continual descent.
Not quietly though.
I grab for every branch, no matter how small.
I scream for help.
Yet nobody hears me. The branches eventually break.
Quickly my descent becomes more and more rapid,
Until the hill is gone.
I fall backwards screaming and kicking into my own dark abyss.
Suddenly I hit the bottom with all the force of a cosmic explosion that no one feels but me.
I weep uncontrollably.
I curl myself into a ball and weep for no reason.
When I am through, I fall into a slumber greater than that of the Beauty.
Slowly I feel myself lifted, as if on a heavenly cloud escorted by a band of angels.
They lift me heaven-ward and deposit me back on my hill.
Where I will awake, once more, to fight my demons.

 

The Recovery

I stand upon my hill.
I fell like every time before,
But this time I did not fight.
I did not struggle.
I did not claw, bite and kick.
I allowed the branches to whiz by,
And I allowed the silence to remain untouched by my screams.
By not fighting I finally won the battle.
I learned something,
My demons inhabited the corners of my mind, and my mind alone.
By denying the fight they had grown to cherish, I denied their existence,
And they disappeared.
When I hit the bottom, it was with a whimper.
However, this time I did not curl up and weep.
I did not give in to the peaceful slumber.
I got up and sent the angels back from where they came.
I got up and climbed,
Hand over hand.
Every slip renewed my strength and conviction that I was going to reach the top.
This time on my own terms.
Exhausted, battered and bruised I reached the peak as the fiery sun crested the ridge.
But I did not need the sun.
For the power that was granted to me through victory out shown even the brightest star.
I finally stood atop my hill, triumphant.
Weary, but too proud to sleep.

Suicide is Not Selfish

With Monday’s announcement of the death of Robin Williams I’m sure that like me, you have been inundated with shocked reactions, tributes and more articles than you could possibly read about depression and suicide. Well, as loath as I usually am to jump on any social media trending bandwagon, this one I’m getting on board, because this is a topic that has been on my mind as of late. About a month ago I finished reading a book where the main character kills herself and I wrote a blog about the emotions that journey churned up inside of me. You can read that post here. A couple of weeks later one of my followers on Twitter asked how I would describe suicide in one word. She told me that it was for a survey. I told her short-sighted.

In my opinion, the biggest symptom of depression is short-sightedness. When you are depressed, truly, clinically depressed not just bummed out over something, you become short-sighted. You can’t see beyond the pain. You can’t see beyond the haze, the loneliness, the dejection and the failure. The burden that your heaviness places on all those that you encounter. It’s as if there is an all-encompassing fog. You can be surrounded by people, hear them, feel their presence, see them swirling the fog around you, but be completely unable to reach them. Unable to absorb their words, unable to feel their comfort, unable to process their presence. You are absolutely alone. No one can understand what you’re feeling, no one has ever felt like this before, and no one cares. So you sleep. You sleep more than anyone needs to sleep, because in sleep you escape. The pain eases and the fog lifts. You are free to just be.

freeee

 

The second you open your eyes, however, it all rushes back in with a whoosh and the weight of it takes your breath away. Do you get up and fight through one more day, or do you sleep some more? Eventually the lure of sleep becomes stronger and the need to fight wanes. The struggle seems insurmountable. There’s a looming giant blocking your path that takes a step closer every time you reawaken until you are finally forced with the decision; do you stand alone on the field of battle with no weapons and your reserves of energy spent to fight the goliath, or do you peacefully slip into sleep forever? In that moment, that pivotal all-encompassing moment the decision is easy. Your short-sighted depression has already told you that you won’t win against the giant. So why delay the inevitable? Why cause yourself more pain?

I have definitely seen people react to a suicide by calling the person selfish. I disagree. Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is the only logical answer in a disconnected world where sophistry rules. In a mind where all thoughts, interactions and beliefs belittle, shame and discourage the self. For those people, in the grips of that disease, suicide is the only logical answer. It not only ends the mind-numbing pain, it removes the burden placed on all those around you. Your family, friends, and co-workers will no longer have to deal with you. To a depressed mind, suicide is the cessation of a great burden and the removal of pain for everyone involved. The theme song of “M.A.S.H.” – “Suicide is Painless was clearly written by someone who knows the grips of true depression.

MASH

Of course, to a healthy mind, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And everybody has felt depressed from time to time, so they assume that they can relate. However, I think the best comparison I have ever heard is that somebody who has only been momentarily depressed (in my opinion any episode that lasts less than a year is a moment) telling someone who is clinically depressed that they know what they’re going through is like somebody telling an amputee that they can relate because they once had to get stitches. It’s just not the same. Clinical depression is a disease that affects everything you do, every day of your life.

I have been clinically depressed for 21 years. This way of life is all I know. So when I heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide, unlike all of the people around me, I was not shocked. I was saddened, but I was not shocked. In my mind it made perfect sense that this man, with a history of depression and addiction who made a living making people laugh uproariously for years, would commit suicide. You heard me right. I lumped his comedy in with his darkness. There is a reason that the majority of painted clown faces are crying. I would hazard to guess that most comedians are, or have been at some point in their lives, severely depressed. David Wong an editor at Cracked.com wrote this article about that very topic, and he hit the nail on the head. Even going as far back as the class clown in school, there is usually something lurking beneath the comedy.

The Sad Clown by jlmorris

The Sad Clown by jlmorris

I was not the class clown growing up. I didn’t discover the magic of laughter until later in life. Now I use it all the time. I love to make my friends laugh and I revel in that moment of power that that laughter brings me. I made them laugh. I must be worthwhile after all. But if you really look closely, you’ll notice that my particular brand of humor is self-deprecating. I tell funny stories of me doing embarrassing things. I make funny faces and noises. Sometimes I do so unintentionally and when a friend says, “say that again, “obviously making fun of me, instead of blushing at my out of place remark or reaction and fumbling forward, I repeat whatever I did or said with pride, usually exaggerated a little bit for better effect. I do so because I know that I’ll get the laugh, and there are times that that laugh is the only thing that connects me to the people around me. That laugh is the only thing that I have that says that I belong and that those people want me around. So I make them laugh again and again, and each peal is a gentle pat on the head saying “There, there. Someone wants you.”

Sounds pathetic doesn’t it? Well it feels pathetic too. And I can tell you right now, that reaction does not come from low self-confidence, or low self-esteem. It comes from my depression.

It’s a part of my disease that I recognize and acknowledge. I always have. That’s why when I was an actress and the cast was encouraged to greet the audience after the show I would drag my feet. I would take extra-long to get out of costume and make-up so that by the time I made it to the lobby there were only a few patrons left. I yearned for their praise and applause, but I knew, that like the laughter I could provoke, that praise wouldn’t penetrate to create a connection and so would leave me feeling hollow after time had passed. It would leave me seeking more and more, and it would leave me broken if I didn’t get a steady stream. So I didn’t allow myself to drink from that well. It didn’t matter if people liked my work, as long as I didn’t like myself. Somewhere in my brain or my heart or my very being I understood this. I also understood that as long as I let my depression have free reign in my head, I would never like myself. So I waged war on my depression. I took the battle to the goliath before he had a chance to get too close and overwhelm me. I didn’t go alone either. I armed myself with knowledge, therapists, pharmaceuticals, exercise, sunshine, diet, vitamin supplements, emotional-release therapies, herbal remedies and a good deal of thick-headed stubbornness.

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Did I win the battle? Nope. I’m still depressed and probably will be until the day that I die. The difference is that now I know how to manage my disease, and I understand that that management is going to have to change as my disease shifts and fluxes with my life. Depression is a wily little fucker, and just when you think you have everything figured out it’ll throw you a curve ball. It keeps things interesting.

The one weapon in my arsenal that is new, is talking about my disease with more than just a therapist or a really close friend. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders the moment that I decided to throw caution to the wind, stare all of the stigmas in the face and admit to my condition. There are those in my acquaintance who do not approve of this choice. I don’t care. Having a mental illness does not mean that I am weak, and it does not mean that I have been “strong for too long.” I think we’ve all seen that meme floating around. It means that for whatever reason, physiological or environmental, my body does not produce the correct chemicals in the correct amounts. End. Of. Story. There is nothing shameful in that. Therefore, I am not ashamed to openly admit that I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety, and if that admission makes some people uncomfortable, that’s their problem not mine. I will not hide a huge part of who I am for the comfort of others, and nobody else should have to either. It is in the hiding and denial that the giant is allowed to creep ever closer.

Robin Williams has undoubtedly left a rich legacy behind him. I thank him the most for unwittingly opening up the door for a frank discussion about depression and suicide. Thank you for that. May you stand in the sunshine and finally be at peace.

Aladdin

Thoughts on Suicide

I just finished the book 13 Reasons Why, and there were some things that I liked and there were somethings that I didn’t like. The premise is that a teenage girl has committed suicide. But before her death she recorded tapes explaining the events, more precisely the people involved in each event, that snowballed her life to the point where she felt that suicide was her only option. After her death these tapes get mailed out to each and every person that has a feature part in her story. Sort of a blame game from the grave. From a psychological stand point, this book was very intriguing, and for me hit a little close to home.
ThirteenReasonsWhy
I have battled depression since I was 11, and while I never wanted to end my life, I most certainly contemplated attempting suicide. Like Hannah, the girl in the book, I couldn’t understand how people didn’t see how miserable I was. And if they did know, why they didn’t do anything about it? Also, like Hannah, I reached out for help. However, this is where our stories diverge. Not because I got help, boy wouldn’t that have been nice, but because my reaction to the refusal of help was different. I reached out to three people.

Person #1 – I went to a teacher that I trusted and had a relationship with. I told this teacher that I was horribly depressed, that I hated my life and that I wanted to get help. I wanted to find a therapist, but I didn’t know how. This teacher’s reaction – “But you function so well, you don’t want to get involved with a therapist. They usually screw you up worse.” There was a suggestion of journaling and meditation. End of conversation.

Person #2 – Another adult, outside of school. Again, I told this person that I was horribly depressed, that I hated my life and that I needed help. I needed to talk to a therapist. Are you ready for this person’s reaction? “But it’s such a small community and there’s only one therapist. Everybody would know. Are you sure?” No suggestion of something else that might help, I was told to think about it whether it would be worth it.

iceberg

At this point I was at my wits end. I didn’t want my life to end, but I was seriously starting to think that the only way that I could get someone to help me, is if I tried to commit suicide. If I attempted suicide then people would finally believe me that I needed help. Then people would understand that I didn’t give a crap who knew. I wanted to feel better. I wanted life to not suck so much. So I started to devise ways to kill myself that were guaranteed to fail. The main problem, I had always been an overachiever. I needed it to look like a genuine attempt or people wouldn’t believe me, so I was afraid that I would accidentally succeed. So enter:

Person #3 – I was fed up with adults by this point, so I went to someone my own age. I told this person that I was horribly depressed, I hated life and was thinking about killing myself. Then I asked if I could stay with them for a bit, so that I wouldn’t. This person’s reaction? They yelled at me. Why was I coming to them with this? What were they supposed to do? Why did I say that?

My reaction? I left. I have a feeling that most people in my situation would have then gone on to carry out their plan. After all, how much more validation that nobody gives a crap does one person need? That is not what I did, and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because I have a stubborn streak the size of the Mississippi River. Maybe it’s because I knew deep down that I wanted to keep living. Or maybe it’s because I finally realized that in this instance, as in almost every other thing in my life, I was on my own. If I needed something, I had to get it for myself. So instead of being crushed, I was furious. I had point blank, no beating around the bush asked for help three times and on each occasion that person couldn’t see beyond their own feelings or stigmas to help me. So fuck all of them! Fuck everybody! I was going to live and I was going to get my own help just to spite them. (Remember that stubborn streak I mentioned?)

Drowning

When I went off to college, I did just that. I found myself a therapist. And when she didn’t work out, I found a different therapist. I did this until I found one that clicked with me and then I stuck with her until the clicking was gone. Then I found a new one. I did it on my own, but I shouldn’t have had to do it on my own. I was a teenager who worked up the nerve to tell people that I needed help, and I was denied that help. Until the end of my days, I will never understand that. I will never understand how someone can ignore a person standing right in front of them asking for help. Asking for help, especially for mental health issues, is one of the hardest things anybody can do. Looking back at my own experience and after reading this book I can understand why some people feel that suicide is the only answer. When no one is willing to help you, that seems like the only option to make the pain stop.

So if someone stands in front of you and asks for help, HELP them! If you don’t have the skills personally, help them find someone who does have the skills. If you think that they’re just looking for attention, you’re right. They are screaming out for someone, anyone to pay attention to them. To prove to them that they are worthwhile, that their life is precious and worth saving. Help those who ask for it, and even if they don’t ask for it outright, if you see the signs show them that you care and that they matter. Sometimes all it takes is one person, one smile, one shared can of soda and a moment or two of truly listening.

I was watching “The West Wing” one day and one of the characters told a story. That story affected me so much I re-watched it several times before continuing on with the episode. In that story a man falls down a hole and can’t get out. He’s screaming for help, but no one seems to hear him. Until finally a doctor peers down into the hole. The man pleads with him to help him out, but not seeing an easy way to help, the doctor writes a prescription, throws it down into the hole and goes on his way. Again the man starts screaming for help. This time a priest stops and peers down. The man pleads with him to help him out. Again, not seeing an easy way out, the priest writes down a prayer for the man and throws it down into the hole. Frustrated and with two worthless scraps of paper, the man starts screaming for help again. This time a friend of the man peers down the hole. Upon realizing the predicament, the friend jumps down into the hole. The man is incensed with his friend. Why did he jump into the hole? Now both of them were stuck! But the friend smiles and shakes his head. Clasping his hand on the man’s shoulder the friend says, “Never fear, I’ve been down in this hole before, and I know the way out.”

To those who are at the end of their rope contemplating suicide, don’t give up. As hard as it is to believe, there is someone who would miss your smile, or the particular color of your eyes. There is someone who wishes that they could get to know you better. There is someone whose life will be irreparably damaged if you’re not in it. You are not alone. I’ve been there before, many of us have been there before and we know the way out.  There is always someone who has stood exactly where you are right now. Their reasons for being there are probably different, but it doesn’t change the fact that they have stood in that same hole, and they now know the way out. They know what it is to feel so alone that the very thoughts in their head echo like a canyon. They know what it is to feel so beaten down, abused and misused that even the thought of moving is exhausting. The very act of breathing hurts. There are people who understand and know full well that some exercise, St. John’s Wart and a better attitude are bullshit. And even better, they know that life doesn’t have to be so hard. They know that there is a way out of the hole, you just have to keep screaming for help until that person arrives.

So hold on. It doesn’t matter if it’s a life line that someone has thrown to you, or the tiniest, most delicate thread of hope or faith that things have got to get better. Find something, anything to hold onto and never let go. This world needs you.

For help 24/7 in the United States call this number – 1-800-273-TALK. Click here for help worldwide.

Nest

If it’s Good Enough for Me . . .

I recently made the decision to put my dogs on Prozac. They’ve always been high-strung, especially Zoey who has had separation anxiety since she was a puppy. Because of this I have a very set routine for when I leave and when I come home.  I’ve done thunder shirts, calming phermones, blanket over the crate, blanket that I slept with in the crate. You name it, I’ve tried it and kept the things that worked to maintain our precarious balance of momma being able to leave without the puggles freaking out.

However, back in December, for no specific reason that my roommate or I can come up with, they started to howl and cry every morning when I would leave for work. For a while my roommate would come out tell them to knock it off, give them a treat and they would settle. But after a while that didn’t work, and on days when she wasn’t home they would cry for hours annoying all of our neighbors. Sorry! I took them to the vet, clean bill of health. I tried to identify something that was causing the upset, no luck. I tried all of my old tricks and read a bunch of new articles that gave advice to do all of the things that I was already doing. I tried everything that I could think of to avoid putting them on medication, but nothing worked. They were miserable and strung out and so was I.

Election Over

Then one day it occurred to me. Why was I okay medicating myself so that I felt better and could function normally, but I was hesitating to do the same thing for my dogs? Before this realization if you would have asked me about the stigma of anti-depressants I would have told you that I’ve gotten over it. After all, I now openly admit and talk about the fact that I take them and that I have no shame about that. That wasn’t always the case. For a very long time I felt ashamed about taking them or admitting that I have clinical depression. Because of that I wasted years feeling horrible because I felt like I was less of a person if I succumbed to my depression and took meds to lift my mood. I had this asinine belief that I was strong enough to do it by myself. That I was fine.  That somehow having clinical depression made me weak and I had to fight against that. Talk about expending your energy in the wrong direction!

It wasn’t until I looked at my depression from a different angle that I was able to get over this belief.  If I was diagnosed as diabetic, I would try everything in my power to control my blood sugar through diet changes, exercise, etc. However, after trying that, if my doctor told me that it wasn’t enough and that I needed insulin, I would take the insulin. I wouldn’t need to think twice about it, and it wouldn’t make me feel like I was weak or less of a person. It would mean that I had a disease and thankfully there were drugs out there that could help me function normally. So why would I treat a diabetes diagnosis different than a depression diagnosis? They’re both diseases that have meds to help diminish the effects and symptoms so that your body can function normally, so what’s the difference?

That’s when it occurred to me, that a stigma was keeping me from feeling good. The stigma against mental illness and all that that entails was preventing me from living my life to the fullest. How stupid is that? So I got over myself, said screw what anybody else thinks, I’m going to feel good and be happy. Four tries later my doctor and I landed on the right cocktail of meds and I no longer spend my free time curled up in bed hiding from life. It has made a HUGE difference – both my happiness and my productivity. Being depressed is really time consuming! I’ve come to accept that I will probably be on meds for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that. It’s what is best for me.

So if it’s good enough for me, why did I hesitate with my dogs? The incredulous look that I got from one of my neighbors when I told her about my choice reminded me why. She acted like I was giving up on them and committing them to a looney bin because I didn’t want to deal with them anymore. There it was, the mental illness stigma rearing it’s ugly head, and if she reacted that way about giving prozac to dogs, I can’t imagine what she would have said about me taking meds! Needless to say I ignored her and made the same choice for my dogs as I did for myself, and good lord I wish I would have made that choice a long time ago! My dogs are still their crazy, hyper lovable selves, but the nervous energy is gone. They can actually lay down and fall asleep without waking up and freaking out about every noise they hear. They can meet and say hi to other dogs without getting really anxious. I can leave the house without them acting like the world is coming to an end. It’s amazing, and the best part is that they seem to be happier. So stigma be damned, we’re all a bunch of nuts in my house  and I’ve got the meds to prove it!

Not Your Problem to Fix

I am currently in a funk, have been for a couple of weeks now.  This is nothing new to me.  I have been clinically depressed since I was eleven-years-old.  I know that this is not PC, not “appropriate for polite conversation,” but I don’t believe that people should be ashamed of mental illness.  It doesn’t make me any less of a person, it doesn’t change the way that people look at me after they find out.  The people that matter at any rate.  In fact, I’ve found that talking about it helps.  When the people around me know, I don’t feel the need to put on the act that I do around others.  You see I am a very high functioning depressive.  A common reaction that I get from people when I tell them, is that they had no idea I suffered from depression.

Actually, I don’t like to say that I suffer from depression, because suffer has always implied to me that I am a victim, that I have no control.  I decided long ago that I’m not a victim.  I battle depression. It is a war and one that I will likely fight for the rest of my life.  I take it head on and I take no prisoners . . . most days.  However, like any war I lose battles, and then I’m in a funk.  Sometimes I can identify what caused it, sometimes I can’t.  Some days are simply funkier than others.

And no, that week or two that you felt really low does not give you an adequate frame of reference for what the past 20 years of my life have been like. So please don’t tell me that you know how it feels. You don’t. That would be like me telling a marathoner I know all about it because I ran track in high school.  To a certain extent, it’s insulting.  It belittles my reality.

I know that you want to help, I know that you want to fix the problem and I appreciate that this desire comes out of concern and from a place of love.  But please understand, that this is not your problem to fix.  Suggesting that I get more exercise, or eat healthier, or get daylight lamps, or investigate the different meds on the market is the opposite of help.  I’m doing the best that I know how to do and you giving me all of these suggestions tells me that my best isn’t good enough. It layers funk on top of the funk.  Not to mention, I doubt very seriously that you have come across a study, approach or new theory out there that I haven’t already read about and very probably tried.  I have worked my way through the advice, strategies and gamut of meds available. I know what’s out there.  If there was a med that offered a benefit that was greater than the side-effects, you can bet your sweet ass that I would already be on that sucker!

This does not mean that you can’t help, you can definitely help.  Here’s how.

  1. If we live in the same city, get me out of my house.  Let’s go for a hike, or a movie, or lunch.  Get me out of the house and don’t take no for an answer.  I will have a billion reasons why I can’t; I have to clean the kitchen first, I have no money, I have a bunch of emails I’m behind on, I have to blah, blah, blah, etc.  Come over and keep me company while I clean the kitchen, then suggest we go for a walk because that’s free! Get me out of the house; even if it’s only for 30 minutes.
  2. If we don’t live in the same city, call to say hi, to check in, but don’t make it all about me.  If the entire conversation is fixated on how I’m doing, how I’m feeling, what I’m doing to feel better, I’m going to start to feel like a monkey in a cage.  Ask how I’m doing and if I want to talk about it I will, if I don’t let’s move on with the conversation as normal.  Please don’t tip toe around like you’re walking on egg shells, because then I feel the need to put on an act that all is well and good to make you feel better and to put you at ease.  That is EXHAUSTING, and depression is exhausting enough all by itself.
  3. This one’s counterintuitive, I know, but tell me about an issue you’re having and ask for my advice. It reminds me that there are issues in the world other than my own. The German’s call it schadenfruede, it works. But a word of warning, make it a lighter issue that you don’t need critical advice on, because depending on the level of funk you might get some really crappy advice!
  4. If you do come across an article or study that is interesting and that you think would be of benefit to me, email me the link. That way I can read it when I am in a head space to receive the information and benefit from it. Telling me about it will more than likely feel like you’re forcing the information down my throat.
  5. Understand that sometimes I have to embrace the funk, the silence, wrap myself in the dark clouds and get drenched by the rain before the sun can shine through again. So if I don’t answer your call, please don’t take it personally. I still love and care for you, the clouds have just filled my head so thoroughly that there isn’t room for anything else. Try again tomorrow.  Send me a picture of a monkey hugging a puppy or a sarcastic meme.  All good things that show you care, but give me some space.
  6. Accept, like I have, that this is a part of my reality and I’m going to have down days and down weeks. Don’t be alarmed. However, if I’ve ignored 4+ calls in a row or spent 4+ calls in a row crying and I am cancelling all of my plans except the bare minimum to survive, then some alarm is warranted. I have crossed the threshold into the benefits of the meds now outweigh the side-effects.  Feel free to remind me of this. But if not, if I’m functioning and working through it, let me function.  Support me at my current best so that I can get back to my normal best.