Monday, August 29, 2016

Nothing You Say Can Fix Your Depressed Friend

"You know how you can be having a good day, everything is fine, nothing about life hurts too much, people annoy you but not in an unbearable way. And then suddenly, in a single instant that comes from and out of nothing and nowhere in particular, just while you bend over to pick up someone's lunch order from behind the desk, it's all gone. You're just left feeling hollow and your mind is separate from your body so while maybe you go through the motions, joke with a coworker, smile and greet people, issue badges but you're just watching yourself do those things. And it's more of a feeling than a thought but if it was a thought it would something like: life is incomprehensible and so fucking long. I do so many things to keep living and I enjoy so few of them and I enjoy living even less."

This is the beginning of an email from a friend of mine. I asked if I could share it because this particular email described depression better than most clinical articles. The hardest part about depression is that there is this idea you can conquer it, or at the very least control it. The truth is, you can only try. But at any moment it can sneak up on you and swallow you whole before you've even glimpsed a warning sign. There are good periods when it seems to be in a safe, distant coma. And there are periods where you feel some semblance of control, you are doing all the things you know how in order to keep the monster at bay, and it feels like it's working. It's tempting to feel in control and maybe even feel accomplished. People who don't understand the disease are proud of you, they think you've gotten your demon in the bag, and they are glad for you to be able to move on with your life. These people get terribly disappointed when the good times don't last. They start to wonder if you really want healing and they start to take it personally when you don't get better on the timeline they deem healthy. People who know depression, on the other hand, are happy for you, not because they think you've found a solution, but because they know those breaks are what save your life. 

"There is no point. Even if God and heaven and religion were real to me, there would be no point even on a conceptual level."

The above sentence could be the beginning of an entire book. When you want to give up on life, people want you to pray, trust in God, read the Bible, go to Church and prayer meetings. They want you to do these things because they want you to experience hope. The unofficial definition of depression is the inability to have hope. You don't just "not feel it." Hope ceases to exist. The word is meaningless. Life is meaningless.

"Sometimes I watch people around me and try to study them. How and why do they keep going? Who else is a hollow puppet just acting of memory that's drawn from rote memorization of how it should look to be a human in the world?
Sometimes the fact that tomorrow will be here and I'll have to go through another day with no mysteriously provided purpose showing up in the night is so overwhelming that I don't even have to think beyond it to next week or month or year to stop my breath and make my heart beat erratically.
I fake everything. I have no future in any of the meager skills and experience I have. I can't even find a reason to continue in my writing. What's the point? What's the difference between someone else reading what I've written and no one ever reading it?"

We who know depression, know how to fake life when we can't summon the desire to live it. It's how we survive. It's easy to think that a person is depressed because of their life. The way they describe it to you might make you think, "Well do something about it! Just change this and that and then your outlook will change!" I could have told my friend to put her efforts into learning useful skills, find a job that will lead her in the direction she wants to go. I could have told her to use her dissatisfaction to change her life for the better. But guess what? You would never have guessed it from her description of her life, but she is actually highly educated, one of the smartest people I know. She is extremely skilled and hard working. She is disciplined and self-controlled. When she is healthy. Discipline and self-control are hard to hold on to when you lose the desire to live. That's the thing about depression and why it can lead to death. Even if you don't want to end your life, the desire to live is sucked out of you. 
 
"It's slightly better, being at home. But still that nagging question of why? why anything at all? the desire to burn bridges spectacularly. (I'd be the type to set fire to my former place of employment and everyone would say, but she seemed so quiet and sweet and innocent. that's what you get for calling me sweet mother fuckers! ha! okay not really something I would do or even really contemplate because empathy. fuuuuuuck it.)"

There are periods in depression when all you can really feel is anger. This anger makes you pull away from people, turn inward, and fight all the nonexistent battles that rumble through your brain. You feel like people are judging you, so you judge them harder. For me, this anger often turns into self-hatred. Because I'm the real monster. I am everything that is wrong in the world. Me, me, me. We can think about people only in the way it relates to ourselves, because  depression turns you inward until you can't see anything else but this twisted reality that is nothing but a big ugly picture of yourself. People often think they can save you from this by trying to get you to think about others. Think about the people who have it so much worse than you! Think about the people you are hurting! Think about all the people! Needless to say, this doesn't work. Because depression is not a choice. Depression is not an act of selfishness. Depression is a disease that destroys all that is good. It takes everything away.

"I'm going out to meet a friend at a full moon thing at an art gallery. I don't really want to. I want to just take a long shower and drink a lot and curl up in bed and pretend I don't exist. But honestly leaving is better for me today, as much as I don't want to and even if I don't enjoy it when I'm there. Staying here won't lead to good things. My logical thinking abilities are short-circuited. My patience is nonexistence (and my dog has a new hot spot on his tail but won't let me do anything for him and keeps trying to lick it and I seriously want to be so violent with him in a way that almost frightens me). I can't logic my way out of cutting or distract my way out or find any way out besides actually going out, to a place with other humans. Because you can't just take a razor to your arms in the middle of an art gallery. Unless you are the artist, then you totally could."

We want help. Even if it doesn't seem like it (because if we really wanted help, wouldn't we be better by now?). If you have a depressed friend who is no fun, invite them to things anyway. Even insist they come. Maybe you know they don't really want to be there. Maybe they will say no 9 times out of 10. But also, maybe they will come. And being there may be keeping them from being unsafe. They might still self-harm when you aren't around, you can't save them from all the horrors of depression, but it still helps. The most important thing to remember about depression is that just because you can't fix it, doesn't mean you can't help. 

"I realize this email might be the kind that causes concern. No need for that! I'm fine. I'll be okay. I mean, in the way that I think you understand. I'll still be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Fine in that kind of way. (If I wasn't I wouldn't actually be writing this email.)
thanks, as always. typing this out on my phone hiding in corners at work was a life saver. actually I was mostly sitting on the roof deck. #thestruggleisreal"

If your depressed friend or family member is communicating, that is a good sign. Even if what they say is scary or worrisome. Try your best to listen without shutting them down. Things like, "Don't say that!" and "That's not true!" and "You're just thinking too much." Not helpful. In fact, probably nothing you say will help. Let them know you hear them anyway. Because more than any words in the world, knowing someone is there is what's most helpful. It's perfectly fine to let them know you are worried, but try not to make it about you. (If your friend had cancer you wouldn't tell them how hard their illness was on you, or that you can relate because your cat had cancer.) Offer to look up numbers of mental health professionals in their area (and follow through). If you live near them offer to drive them to appointments. (Also, being uninsured is a huge problem when looking for help, but every city has at least one place that accepts uninsured clients. They aren't always great, but they are better than nothing.) And try not to be surprised if counseling and medication don't fix everything. 

Last, but not least, thank you. Thank you for being a friend to someone who is hurting. It's not easy and it often feels futile when your efforts don't make some visible improvement in their lives. But more than likely you are unknowingly playing a role in saving a life. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hello again.

It's been awhile since I've blogged. Or written at all. I'm going to start again with no explanation for the gap or any attempt to tie things together. Just, Hello again.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

New Beginning

I lost myself.

I lost me.

I lost myself, only to find I was never "me" to begin with.

I searched the world with my eyes closed. I knew I could find me if I tried, tried, tried.

Instead I found darkness.

I said, "I will do anything..."

I ran straight for the end, determined to win.

I gave up everything. All of it. Everything.

I opened my eyes to see the destruction.

Only to see I'd been given

                                                                      A new beginning.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Together" and what it looks like not to have it.

As I near age 29, I've begun to freak out about turning 30. I never (ever, ever, ever!) thought I'd care about turning 30. Ever. Because obviously I'd have it together by 30. That was the idea anyway. Now that I am nearing that sacred year, I've realized togetherness doesn't just happen with age. And if it does, I have a helluva lot to get done in a year and a half.

Don't get me wrong, I know it's not a requirement to have things together by a certain age, and that "together" is a very loose term that may or may not actually exist in the real world. But it doesn't change the fact that I want it. And that I want it at a reasonable age (any time now would be great). So I've been doing a lot of thinking. Thinking about why I long for this idea of togetherness so desperately. I started thinking about my existence, my choices, all the little and big things that have brought me to this big mess of a life. Then I started thinking about this messy life of mine. It's splattered and seeping with colors. I've spent a lot of time worrying about coloring inside the lines, freaking out when colors run over each other, fighting desperately to keep them separate and in their proper places. I've given up a few times, throwing my paint brush, knocking paint over and letting it spill onto everything. I get extremely overwhelmed when I look at the mess because I have no idea how to clean it up. Can I please just start over?! I scream at the skies, making promises of doing better if I just had a clean start. But then I started thinking about what I'd do if I actually was given a do over. I did a lot of thinking about this, but no matter how I tried to imagine different outcomes, I realized I wouldn't change anything. I couldn't change anything. Because when I took a step back and looked at my life, I saw this amazing, messy, chaotic, beautiful, and surprising picture. I realized my life is not paint-by-numbers but a canvas in the process of being filled. I see the places where I spilled, and where my colors ran together, I see the pain I felt then, and it still hurts, but I also see how those colors make my life what it is. My colors make me who I am. And for once, I kinda like me.

So I'm ok not being together. It still sucks when I get to thinking how much easier it would all be if I had a paint-by-numbers guide. But then I remember that world is a prison. Being free might be messy, but it's my mess. It will all still freak me out, and I might cry about it at times, but then I'll remember my canvas still has space to fill, and I'll pick up my paint brush again. Or maybe I'll get really adventurous and do some finger painting as well.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Joy

I don't know a whole lot about joy, but I've caught glimpses of it and it looks lovely. I do know a lot about happy, excited, even laughter and twinkly-eyed smiles. Those may sounds like the same or similar things, but the biggest difference is that while you can pretend all those things, you can't pretend joy. I know all about pretending, it often comes natural to me. In fact it's almost an art form, like acting or interpretive dance. It can be quite tiring after awhile, and so sometimes you just have to put up your phone and only be around people you can be real with. I'm sure you know this yourself, but that number can get real low, real fast.

Everyone wants to think they are real and that they want others to be real. Being "real" is a real compliment (although rarely accurate). "I'm SO tired of all the bullshit and drama, why can't people just be real?" I'll tell you why. Because real can get real frightening, real quick. And real can be really uncomfortable, even when you think you're ready for it.

I can be a whole lot of real and honest here in internet-land. No one is looking at me, trying to finish my thoughts, trying to match my feelings with some they've felt before (but have now masterfully overcome, of course). Trying to appear like they are listening, when really they are frantically trying to come up with something helpful to say. You know, to fix it. To fix this ugly, dark realness. No one wants to leave you there. I sound like a sarcastic douche, but I really do commend the effort. It's just, it feels more like people are trying to convince you to be ok. And a lot of the time, people won't be satisfied until they are convinced you are ok. And most of the time, it's just a whole lot easier to skip all the bullshit and drama and pretend to be real. Or avoid people. It all depends on the level of energy required.

Back to joy. My new quest in life is to find joy. Real joy. The kind that doesn't go away on a bad day, or when the bad days keep coming. The kind that doesn't need a smile or peppy words to prove it's real. It just is. Because real isn't always ugly, cold, and painful. Real can be quite beautiful, warm, and healing. I am really starting to believe that joy is more than just a back drop to a happy life. I think it may be an epic journey. That's right, epic. One full of adventure, surprise, and even uncomfortable beauty. If my theory is right, I've found breadcrumbs and road signs, but I've gotten distracted more than a few times by the alluring and misleading scenic route--also known as, people-pleasing. Go down that path too long and you'll start to believe joy is just another fairytale, as easy to lose as a stupid (and terribly impractical) glass slipper. I don't think joy is something you find all at once, nor do I think it's something you lose. What I do think is that as you gather the bits and pieces, they add up to something worth living for.

Just thoughts.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lemons

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

Am I the only one who hates that stupid phrase?

First of all, lemonade is definitely not my drink of choice (especially not in the middle of winter). Second of all, what if you're out of sugar? What if you are so exhausted, you don't even have the energy to go to the store to buy sugar, much less to squeeze the juice out of life's endless supply of lemons? Even if you own an industrial sized lemon squeezer, making lemonade is quite the work out. Trust me, I worked at McAlister's. So I guess my question is, if you are fresh out of energy and sugar, what are you supposed to do with all these damn lemons? Am I the only one who thinks of these things?

Here is my current theory--although, mind you, I am no expert (even if I did work at McAlister's). When life gives you lemons: stop taking them. Seriously. Slam the door in life's face if you have to. Don't answer the phone. Stop following life on facebook. Just say no. Despite what you may have  been taught as a kid and young adult, you don't have to accept life's freaking lemons. You can say 'no thank you', or give life the finger. Whatever fits. Just make sure you aren't about to back down at some persistence, because life's a bitch, and rarely backs off without a fight. My theory is that, eventually, life's got to figure out that lemons just aren't cutting it and start supplying something else, right? Maybe chocolate? Or coffee? (A girl can dream.)

Life and I are currently in a standoff. I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Warning: Pity Party Commenced

Do you ever feel like you are just not cut out for real life? It's too hard. You look at those who you may have once accused of being coddled and think, Man, they have it made! And your friends who have it even tougher than you and think, How do they do it?? You may dream of beaches, warm sand, the sound of a never ending tide that washes back and forth, tuning out the struggles that weigh so heavily on your frail heart. And then wake up and realize you are still here. In the real world. And boy does it suck.

Too often in life I am caught between the act of dreaming and doing in this awkward and rather claustrophobic spot of surviving. Survival sounds like such a tough word, one used to describe the strong and determined. But if you've ever been there, you know how terribly weak and small it feels. Survival is not on the warm sand by the rhythmic tide, survival is in the midst of the waves. Crashing down on you. Your only job is to keep your head above water, and most of the time that feels like much too much.

Let me clarify... I am in the midst of packing up my house. Again. And to make matters worse, it's the first day of fall. So naturally I am procrastinating by writing a sappy post about how hard life is. It's kind of my thing. I'm sipping my second cup of coffee, complaining about the freezing "fall" weather (it's 61 degrees! It might as well be winter!), grumbling about all the idiots romantics oohing and ahhing about this pumpkin-flavor-filled season, and feeling extra depressed about the fact that my pregnancy/stress-eating weight is still safely attached to my body--meaning I won't be fitting any of my cool weathered clothes any time soon.

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty to be thankful for. It's just, it's the first day of fall. And I'm moving again. So I'm going to pout for a bit.