Another cross-post from my newsletter. I felt like it was a super important one, and wanted to share for all who need it.
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“One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.”
—Ziad K. Abdelnour
It’s been a bit since I’ve answered a question from the newsletter. This one came through from M, and as I was responding, I realized it might be something that could help some of you out there who are suffering with Depression but haven’t yet found the answers on how to manage it. I share it with the hope that it helps. It’s LONG. You’ve been warned.
I’ve read your post about depression and I want to ask if you are on any medication? The reason I ask is that I too am dealing with a bout of depression that has been going on for about six months. I am not as self-aware as you are so it’s taken me about five and a half months to recognize why I start crying several times a day. There are other more worrisome symptoms I won’t bother you with. You mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy, which I don’t think I’ve tried yet. I have tentatively decided to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist because I need help badly but I don’t know what help I need. If that makes any sense. I’ve tried the talking kind of therapy several times in the past, but it usually makes me sadder because it just brings up old stuff and then I get stuck in that stuff and never get out of it. I think I want to try medication now and I’m interested in your thoughts on/history with medication.
(The rest is deleted because it’s not relevant — Joe)
First, thank you, M, for reading my newsletter, and also thank you for opening up and replying. It means a lot that you’d trust me with this question, and I want you to know that I admire the bravery (even if it comes from a place of desperation, it takes a LOT for anyone to trust someone with this kind of question, and that’s not lost on me).
I’m going to answer your question about drugs right up front, so if that’s enough you can skip the essay below: The drugs are good, but they don’t fix you. When used properly, they’re tools you use in the construction of your new way of thinking. I was on medication for a little over four years. I don’t take medications now, but that wasn’t always the case (as I will explain below). I used the drugs to slow my brain down and balance my moods during the worst of it so I could combine it with Cognitive Behavorial Therapy and learn how to think a new way, so I wouldn’t need them the rest of my life. In some cases, they might be a requirement for keeping balance, but with work and lots of hope, they can be minimized or even eliminated. But there’s far, far more to it than just that.
So, if you want to know the rest, I must warn you: this is going to be long. I am typing that out at the very beginning of my response, not going back after writing everything and putting it in. I say this because it’s VERY important to me that you know, from the outset, that I know exactly how long this email is going to be, because I know exactly how long it took me to walk my path to now. I want you to read every single word. No skimming. No jumping ahead. You don’t have to, of course. It’s your email, you can skim or delete if you like. But I want you to read every word. So, now that you know what I want, you can choose to do it or don’t.
And that’s literally the point of everything I’m about to write. YOU get to choose. Do it or don’t. There’s no universally right path. There’s only the right path for you. I’m going to share with you my path, and you can choose to do what I suggest, or find your own way. Both are 100% valid. Both are 100% healthy. There’s no wrong answers on finding how to balance your mental health, there’s only consequences. And no matter what you choose to do, there WILL BE CONCEQUENCES.
Unfortunately for us, we aren’t born with the innate benefits of having a “normal” life. I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as a “normal” life, but for the purposes of this email, I define “normal” as a life without the issues that come from depression, bipolar, or other such mental health hangups. That means one of four possible outcomes, all of which I consider consequences:
1) suffering the rest of your life.
Pros: It requires no effort, aside from the energy it takes to cry. Not really much of a pro, now that I think about it.
Cons: it sucks.
2) Self medicating and living a life of excess and distraction to avoid pain, and then eventually suffering even worse.
Pros: It’s fun in the short term. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Concerts. Travel. Distraction, distraction, distraction.
Cons: Like every addiction, tolerances get built, and it takes more and more and more to do the job of keeping you from realizing how much pain you are in. You will formulate either chemical or emotional addictions. You will destroy people in the process. You will suffer each time you hurt someone, and you will suffer worse each time someone wises up before you can wreck them and they wreck you first. And then ultimately, no matter how hard you try, you’re still left with the other three consequences, at which time, Number 3 gets WAY harder than if you start it now, making either number 1 or number 4 far more likely. (Hint; I did this. It lead me to number 3, which is why i know the work is SO MUCH HARDER after doing this. If I could possibly beg you to do anything ever, it would be to skip this step if you choose number 3. Please for the love of god… Don’t do this. You may anyway. You may have to to get to the point where you’re convinced number 3 is the right choice. I know I did. And if so, no judgement. Like I said, I did. But much like a parent watching a kid make the same mistakes, I want in my heart more than anything in the world for you to skip this part if you possibly can).
3) doing the work.
Pros: You get to live a life that has a far greater chance of fulfillment. You also will learn who you really are. You will learn how to shed what hurts you, bleed out toxins, deal with pain from your past, cut off toxic relationships, and find your own way.
Cons: You’re going to suffer more than you do now, in the short term. But you burn through it much much faster than if you choose number 1, which is ultimately a PRO. You also have to spend a lot more time doing the work than if you didn’t, which means spending time on your own mental health instead of “fun” things that other, “normal” people get to do with their days. But again, there’s a PRO at the end: You get to be a whole person, where the rest of “normal” people get to live a life of delusion where they think life is just a roller coaster ride. You will be empowered in a way no one else in your life gets to be. You will own yourself. I cannot possibly overstate how important that is. NO ONE will control you, but you. And to me, that’s worth every single second I could spend playing video games or hitting bars or dating the wrong person or any number of other things.
Pros: literally none.
Cons: You have zero opportunity to even explore the chance to see what life would be like if (and when) you get this under control. In the meantime, everyone you ever loved will be a shambling emotional wreck for a while. There’s no upside. Don’t do it. Not that I think you will — you’ve written me asking for help [and you reading this now have subscribed to this newsletter] which tells me this probably isn’t an option, at least right now. But it’s somethingI must address. People in our situation have no choice but to be realistic about the possibility that we may, in the throwes of severe pain and despair, decide none of this is worth it and decide to hurt or kill ourselves. To pretend this isn’t a possibility is folly.
So, clearly I advocate number 3. It’s where I ultimately settled. But I didn’t get there until I tried Number 1, then Number 2, then number 4 (I even revisited number 2 after the divorce, but I think everyone does to some extent. It’s part of the divorce playbook. It’s just how it goes).
Which brings me to the drugs part.
In 2011, I tried to kill myself. I’d spent many years undiagnosed with bipolar disorder. I saw a psychologist for many years. He never diagnosed me as bipolar, because the type of bipolar I was ultimately diagnosed with is “Type 4” which is simply super, super manic, with pits of depression here and there. If you know anything about my past, you saw this in action. There’d be literally a year of constant output of work — writing, web development, design, advertising, touring on art shows, all that — and then a few weeks where I was super, super down. That’s not necessarily normal bipolar, it’s simply mania that I presumably had under control. But ultimately, it wore me down to a point where i had a few weeks of reflection where I realized, I’d built a life where I’d made every one I love dependent on me so they wouldn’t leave (codependency). This was borne of a deep psychological scar from childhood, where I suffered abuse and developed a litany of dependency and “mommy and daddy” issues.
So, I tried to kill myself. I was stopped by my ex-wife and spent a few days in a psychiatric institution. Those days were ultimately the most powerful and impactful of my life. I learned so much about so many things. I won’t bore you with the clinical stuff. I’ll only share with you the moment I decided things needed to change:
In one group session (of which there were 6 each day, and they were mandatory), we were all asked “Do you think you’ll be back here?” The question was designed to be a thinker of a question: do you think you’ll ATTEMPT suicide again, or do you think you’ll do the work and get healthy, or do you think you’ll be successful the next time?
One of the councilors, who was a former patient, was a pretty blunt lady. When she asked me that question, I said “I don’t want to be here ever again.”
She asked me directly: “Does that mean living or dying?”
I said “Oh, living definitely.”
She then asked, “So what are you going to do differently to make sure you never end up here again?”
I didn’t have an answer. She waited nearly a full minute for me to reply, and I didn’t. And I’m not sure if you realize how long a minute can be. Do this right now: Look in a mirror and ask yourself any question on earth, and then start a timer and wait for 60 seconds to go by before you answer. It’s a LOT longer and far more uncomfortable than you think it’d be when you simply read “It took me a full minute to answer.”
She finally broke the silence and said “If you’re truly committed to never coming back here again, and you plan to live, you need to decide if you intend to try re-living the life that got you here in the first place, or do what’s necessary to make good on your promise never to come back.”
I want those words tattooed on my arm. But there’s already tattoos there, and I don’t want to ruin them. So, I just keep them in the back of my mind 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
When I left, they prescribed Lamictal and Zoloft. I was told specifically how each drug worked. Lamictal was originally an anti-epileptic drug. They found that it had mild mood-enhancing effects, but more importantly, they learned that it slowed the synapses down in the brain so that it literally thought slower. It helps keep spiraling thoughts at bay. It forces you to concider your thoughts before you say or do anything, because your brain is literally running at a slower pace. Zoloft is an MAOI that you’ve heard about. It’s an anti-depressant. It was prescribed to me for the short term, to lift my mood out of the depths of being suicidal and allow me the space to be able to think without hurting.
Both of these drugs had the intent of allowing my mind, as it was, to not circumvent the work of therapy and fixing what generated my dips into depression. I was told that I could stay on them the rest of my life, or I could do the work and eventually come off of one, if not both, of them.
I chose the latter. I think probably at the time it’s because I had independence and control issues. But whatever my reasoning, it worked out to be the harder, but much better, choice. Because it forced me into the second part:
Therapy, and specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I had to spend a few years digging into my past to dissect and face all of the things that happened to me that caused my condition. Everything from abandonment issues, to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, to codependency issues, to bullying… I had to relive all that shit. It was not fun, to say the very least. But what it ultimately allowed me to do is face down those who had tormented me as a child and young teenager and realize, these people are NOT RIGHT. They weren’t correct about what they told me. They weren’t right in what they did to me. They had no power of me. They simply convinced me to keep myself down, because they convinced a child to think a certain way during those years when the brain and emotions and personality were developing.
I learned a fact that changed my life forever. If you’ve ever been to a circus with elephants, you see that those elephants are easily controlled and kept at bay with a simple rope tied to their foot, anchored with a stake in the ground. Now, an adult elephant can easily rip a stake from the ground with one tug. But it doesn’t, because as a baby, they chain the elephant’s foot to an anchor of metal and concrete. THe baby elephant struggles mightily at first, but eventually learns it is futile to struggle, so they GIVE UP. And that persists their entire lives. They are broken as children, so they don’t know as adults how powerful and strong they really are.
That’s us. And it didn’t sit well with me. I imagine it probably doesn’t sit well with you, either.
The second part of digging into my past was learning new ways to think to eliminate (or at least stem) the old ways of thinking. I did many exercises in retraining my brain’s neural pathways to go a different route. To that end, I HIGHLY recommend a book called The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
This book explains “the habit loop” and fundamentally how our brain builds neural pathways to eliminate the chore of active thinking. Ever have a friend move or start a new job, and accidentally drive to the old job or house out of habit? You just sorta “wake up” and realize holy crap, I went to the old place! That’s habit. And far more powerful… You didn’t even think about how to turn on the car, shift gears, apply the gas or breaks or turn signals, what any of the signs or lights meant on the road…. That’s how powerful habit is. That you can forget the individual patterns and behaviors of how to drive a freaking car.
Your emotions, self confidence, behaviors and other aspects of your life are the exact same. And if you want to change what’s happening now, you have to work your way backward to the root causes.
So, to that end, I do recommend medication. But much like having a broken foot, it’s a crutch until it heals, and then you MUST learn to walk on that foot and build strength and balance, or you’ll be on crutches your whole life. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may need a brace or some support for the rest of your days, so being on meds isn’t a bad thing if they’re required. Anything that gets you to a point where you’re not slogging through, day to day, draped in the horror of Depression is a good thing.
Long answer, but there you have it. I hope it helps.
Very sincerely and with much love,
• • •
There was a followup conversation, and in it, some points were made that I wanted to share. They’re not quoted, but summarized for anyone who needs them:
1) YOU ARE WORTH THE WORK. You may not believe it right now. I may not be able to change your mind simply saying that. What will change your mind is the actual work. You start it, and at first, you feel it’s a waste of time. Resistance sets in and tells you to stop. It might even convince you. Do it anyway. A week goes by, a month goes by, three months go by… And you’ll see improvement. You will be shocked by it. Maybe it’s saying “no” to something not good for you, that you would have said “yes” to before. Maybe it’s fitness. Maybe it’s not saying negative things in your head about yourself. Something will happen and you’ll go “wow, that’s different.” AND THAT IS WHEN THINGS CHANGE. Much like a classic car with rust and carburetor problems and broken tail lights, but TONS of potential; As you begin improving, you will want to keep improving, until one day you look at the car and go “holy shit, this thing is BEAUTIFUL.” and you’ll take care of it and love it. That’s you. You’re that car.
2) You may be afraid of seeking treatment for fear of a diagnosis you don’t want to hear. The diagnosis is just putting words around what’s already going on with you. It’s happening. It’s better to know what it is than to wonder and suffer from an unknown enemy. I’ve always been a proponent of naming your fears, because once you know their names, they aren’t as scary. They say “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” It’s true. Shining light on dark things lets you see what they are, so you know how to deal with them. The way I figure it, if there’s a beast in a dark room that’s threatening to eat me, I’d rather see what it is, because then there’s at least a chance I can figure out how to kill it. If it’s going to eat me anyway, at least I’ll go down punching, and cause it some indigestion 🙂
To everyone reading this right now: I sincerely hope this helps you. And if you ever need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to email me. You are not alone. You’ve been here for me, I am here for you.
The following is from my newsletter about surviving difficult times and managing depression. I had an experience today that I catalogued as it was happening, and shared with the subscribers of the newsletter. I’m sharing it here as well, in case you need it.
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I’ve written several articles about Depression (this one and this one are still on HuffPo, the others have been deleted in last week’s purge). In most of them, I’m standing on the outside of it, looking at it as an object, and I try to discuss it for others so that they can cope with it.
This time, I’m actively experiencing it. Right now, as I write this. I catalogued my experiences throughout the day as I went to work and tried to exist normally, amidst this black tar of Depression dripping from my skin. I do so in the hopes that you might benefit from knowing how it happens with me. If you suffer from Depression, I hope that you’ll find comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone. If you do not, I hope that you’ll read this and gain understanding about those of us who do.
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I’m sitting in my truck in the parking lot outside of my workplace and tears are streaming down my face. It’s early. I woke up from a dead sleep feeling… Sad is the only word for it. Depressed is another word. Somehow neither of those words really convey what I’m experiencing right now. I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I decided to try to go into work.
I didn’t have a bad dream. I didn’t receive any bad news. My girlfriend and I are great. The animals are healthy. My job is awesome. The rent is paid. I got a little ill last night from some Cajun food, but nothing that would shut me down or make me regret waking up this morning, or even daring to be alive.
There’s no reason for me to feel this dreadful, painful sadness. I mean, the state of the world being what it is and all, there’s a general malaise that encompasses us all. But nothing that would cause this level of hurt inside me, on this morning in particular. I went to bed feeling okay. I woke up this morning and wanted to disappear from this Earth.
I want to say I have no idea why, but I can’t. I know exactly what it is, because it’s happened before. It’s something I have had to manage most of my adult life. It’s Depression. It’s been a few years since I’ve experienced this. I almost forgot that it could happen. But here it is.
I feel so terribly vulnerable right now. I feel like every emotion I have is on display, like sayings on a t-shirt, telling the world every dreadful feeling passing through my mind and my body.
One moment I’m remembering old friends from an old life, and I’m not sad about them or the passage of time, I’m just sad that things turned out how they did. They don’t make me sad, but they are sad things and my mind just drifts to them. The next moment I’m about to lose my shit because I have a part of a sound of a song I like stuck in my head, and can’t remember the artist or album name and scrolling through my music list isn’t helping, and it’s somehow a metaphor for my entire life and I am literally crying because of it.
I can’t find the will to get out of my truck and go into the building. I want to turn around and go home. I could. My higher ups are super understanding, and they wouldn’t bat an eye. I wouldn’t have to even explain anything. But I know from past experience many moons ago that that will make it worse. It gives Depression a dormant body to thrive in.
It’s almost an hour since I got to the parking lot, and I’m about to finally build up the courage to go inside. I know that the second I do, I’m going to find a secluded room and work from there, because the very last thing I want to do is explain to everyone why my face is flushed and my eyes are red and swollen.
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It’s lunchtime. I’m eating a salad from the cafeteria downstairs and listening to some Vaporwave music in a small room away from everyone. I’m blinking out a tear or two every few minutes. I’m not choking them back, or fighting them, or trying to hide anything. They just show up, fall, and then stop for a bit. It’s how this thing goes.
Each one streams down my cheek with no real destination, and with no one or nothing’s name attached. There’s no reason for these tears, aside from the fact that Depression showed up and took over. My body hurts in a way that I can’t quite explain. It’s not sore. It’s not wracked with pain. It’s not burning or itching or tight or achy. It just has a dull undercurrent of discomfort. I stretch and move when the mood strikes. I am drinking plenty of water. I have cut back on the coffee. None of these things help in the moment, but for the future, they’ll help immensely. It’s something I learned a long time ago: there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop Depression at any given moment. All your work is done to eliminate reasons for it to stay.
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1 PM. I’m sitting on a conference call, wanting to crawl under the table and cry until I pass out.
It’s not been a bad day in particular. Work is steady but nothing is crazy. That’s a huge blessing. If this hit during a crunch, I’d be a hinderance to my team. I am the energy of the team. I am the guy who keeps things going when they’re tough. I solve problems and keep things moving.
People notice when I’m anything besides happy. As it stands, I’ve had to dodge or deflect at least a dozen inquiries as to what’s going on with me. I’m not super at hiding my emotions when there aren’t playing cards or Monoploy pieces involved.
It’s such a strange feeling to be around these people I see five out of seven days a week, week after week, and know that, if only for today, right now, our relationship is completely different than it’s ever been. They are the same as they’ve been since I met them. I, however, feel like a naked and scared alien dressed in human clothes, hoping like hell none of them look too hard at the “normal” uniform I’ve put on for the day.
With every word exchanged, I fight to maintain a balance between opening up completely and telling them the depths of my pain, and running away without saying goodbye and never seeing them again. The first is impossible, because I couldn’t explain it if I tried. Even after all these years, and all the learning I’ve done, and all the education I’ve shared… I don’t understand what’s going on with me, or why it’s happening at all. And I can’t run away without saying bye, because I’d probably run out of steam after ten paces. I barely have the energy to say hi back when they tell me hello.
My relationship with some of these folks goes back nearly four years, and at least a year with the rest. The bond we share is healthily, energetic and fun. We talk about any number of things each day. Work related stuff, politics, dinner ideas, who went on dates and how they went. We are all friendly, and for the most part, not in the fake plastic way that people pretend to be at work. We all genuinely get along. Some I consider genuine friends.
And when they’re near me today, I fight the urge to break down and tell them how sorry I am for not being well. They’re not blind or stupid. I’ve been asked a dozen times if I’m okay. I fight the urge to say “No, I’m not okay at all, and there’s no real reason for it aside from the fact that sometimes my brain fucks with me because it doesn’t know how to manage itself.”
I want to tell them “It used to be so much worse, but over the course of years I’ve learned how to pre-empt the worst attacks and mitigate the medium sized ones by recognizing the signs. I manage my mental health with cognitive behavioral therapy and for the most part, I’ve been able to turn the tide of bipolar disorder into a very minor occurrence. But every so often — in this case, several years since the last one — I get surprise attacks where I wake up and everything is just wrong, and I don’t hate you or anyone else but right now I really wish either all of you, or I, would disappear.”
Only instead of any of that, I say “Eh, rough morning, I’ll be ok tho, thank you for asking.” When a few of them pry, I tell them I’m a little ill from the Cajun food we had to celebrate Fat Tuesday. It’s not a lie, that shit is heavy, and my body hates me every time I have it. Due to the nature of the other side of my feeling ill, I’m genuinely thankful that I’m a little upset at my stomach. It keeps me from having to lie.
Even in this state, that’s important to me. I don’t want to lie, even if it’s the easier or best thing to do. In this instance, it’s fortunate I have a genuine excuse. If I didn’t, I’d have to make something up, because there’s no way I could burden these people with the truth of all of this.
For someone who has a reputation for always telling the truth, I know that this truth is not a fair one to throw at the people, especially the ones I work with. Our relationship is not one of pure choice. It’s mandated by the fact we all need money to survive, and it’s fortunate that we like each other enough to banter and socialize periodically (and in some cases, become genuine friends outside of work). But to pull open my chest and rip out my heart and show them all the places it feels broken is a messy affair and leaves them with the unfair consequence of having to avoid, from today on, the spot on the carpet surrounding my desk where I bled out in front of them.
I’ve made it through another call, and am hibernating at my desk, counting the minutes until I can leave and not have anyone question if I’m sick or where I’m at. I’m keeping busy with work, pushing pixels around and listening to music that keeps me distracted. It’s a relief. Focusing on how I feel — even though it’s absolutely important for me to catalog for future study — has exhausted me.
Someone comes up to me and waits patiently for me to notice them. I wait just long enough to see if they’re actually waiting for me, or if they just happened to stop near my desk. The timeline for happenstance expires, and I reluctantly take out my earbuds and look up at them. I try to smile, but I don’t think it worked.
“Hey Joe,” my coworker says, “how long are you here for?”
I want to scream at them for bothering me with a pre-question before the one they really want to ask — especially THAT question, since I’d literally been working out the math to determine when I could fucking leave. I want to tell them to go to hell for assuming my time belonged to them. I want to cry right on the spot because I feel, in this moment, that I may not make it through the next minute much less hour. I want to run. I want to fight. I want to apologize, because none of this is their fault. But I’ve not done anything truly wrong yet, besides look up at them without being my normal chipper self. Even that feels like a horrible offense to me.
I answer “I’m not sure, what’s up?” With a tone that I cannot help. Somehow, trying not to sound bitter, or irate, or put out, or smart-assed, I come off sounding like all of them combined.
My coworker tells me that they want to go over something with the user interface. They’ve been working on a feature I designed, and wants to know what I think of it, if I have time.
A thousand thoughts glint through my mind like moths around a lightbulb. Everything screams at me at once. I ask him if it’s okay if we visit it first thing in the morning, I’m pretty plugged in on the thing I’m working on and I’m having a hard time concentrating on anything else.
“Oh, I totally get that!” My coworker says. “No problem — you okay?”
Moths circle the lightbulb once again.
“Yeah, just tired,” I reply.
Another non-lie that isn’t the truth.
Four o’clock hits. I pack my things and begin walking out. My manager comes up and makes a joke. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what it was right now. I smile the best I can and say “Man, you can’t get away with anything these days!” It’s my go-to response anytime anyone says something to me and I didn’t quite catch it, or don’t quite understand, or am not into the conversation. It works 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter what my manager said.
Manager asks “Leaving early?”
“Man, you can’t get away with anything these days!” (Laughter)
At a party, someone asks “Can you believe what Trump said in the speech last night?”
“Man, you can’t get away with anything these days!” (Laughter)
Significant other asks “Whatcha drinking there?”
“Man, you can’t get away with anything these days!” (Laughter)
Judge says “I find you guilty and sentence you to seven years in prison!”
…You get the point. Try it. It works.
I get on the elevator. Another coworker is on it. They ask how I’m doing. I say “It’s quittin’ time, so you know how that goes.” Another careful avoidance of having to either lie or tell the truth. Thankfully, there are other people that we don’t know, and elevator social doctrine takes hold. No one says anything meaningful for the entire 17 floor ride. The doors open, and I leave the building in a haste that is usually reserved for the day a really great video game or awesome hockey match is waiting for me at home.
I get in my truck. I don’t even get the engine started before the tears start falling again. Not out of some sort of relief, or some pent-up sadness, but simply because they could. It’s not like there was a rush of emotions or any grand swell leading up to my need to leave before I break down. I just got in the truck, and that’s when the waterworks decided to flow.
• • •
It’s been, according to my journal, three years, 122 days since I’ve had this level of acute onset depression where I go to bed okay, and wake up and get sucker-punched by it and have to taste the iron swimming in my mouth and swallow the blood and try not to emotionally puke. I’ve had sad days — I’ve had breakups, I’ve had best friends pass away suddenly, I’ve had weird work situations, and any number of downs to go along with my ups. Those are explainable and understandable. They don’t qualify.
The major difference between sadness and depression is reasonability. Depression is not reasonable. It simply doesn’t care. It shows up and takes up residence and you’re stuck with it until it leaves — either because it gets bored, or because you know how to exorcise it. And the latter has absolutely no guarantee of success.
I’m home and writing this now. I’m tearing up as I write, not because anything I’ve written is causing me pain, but because my body simply wants to let whatever this is, out. It feels the need to cry. It feels the need to purge. I don’t really get many opportunities these days to just open the faucet and let the tears rain down. After the events of my life turning upside down in 2013, I feel like I cried every tear I had, and there has been a drought since. I cried for a spell when my friend Jeremy passed. I have had a few misty-eyed moments here and there. But by and large, the huge, heaving emotional upheaval has been nowhere to be found. Not that I want them, or that I have any particular reason to have them. But I do know, a lot of sadness has been stored up in parts and pieces over the past few years.
This past weekend, I had a hard night when I deleted most of my writing from my career. I wrote about it then, and cried a few tears, and I haven’t thought about it since. But I wonder if opening myself up then and experiencing that emotion of loss put me in a place where there were other things I needed to process, but haven’t, and they’re still floating.
Perhaps this is just a residual effect from that? I think deleting everything and having that vulnerable moment opened things up a bit and stirred some emotions that needed to come out. Cleaning the emotional grease trap, so to speak. And this might be that sticky lump of years-old grease that has to be scraped off.
Or perhaps it’s a result of my attempts at working out regularly going haywire left and right. I’ve had no regularity to my regemin. I’ve hit the gym in spurts, worked out as hard as I’m able, and then I’m off for a week or more. The flu a few weeks ago really knocked me for a loop. Maybe this is from that?
But I know the truth. Depression is a part of me, as much as my ego, my id, my superego, my thoughts, my feelings, and my need to shake my leg when I’ve had too much caffeine. And for as long as I’m able to pay attention to any of those things, I’m able to manage them and keep them all in check. But when I’ve lost that attention; when I take a break or rest on the laurels of work well done, is when I run the risk of having it sneak up and sucker punch me.
Managing Depression (and bipolar in general) is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week job. After the active part comes the passive part — doing all the right things to keep balance. Not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine. Working out regularly. Writing and processing emotions. Doing good work. Removing toxic circumstances from my life. Being healthy, both physically and mentally. Practicing self-care.
I can’t say I’ve gotten particularly lax on any of those things besides the physical workouts. But I can say, I haven’t given them the priority I did when things were truly haywire and I had to do the hard work of learning all of this in the first place. So, it’s not a shock or a surprise that this old, very unwelcome guest has come to crash for a while.
The other tricky thing about Depression is that it’s like getting a cat into a carrier. The harder you push, the more it resists. You have to work with it and understand it. You have to manage it into a position where it can be moved. Then, you have to act quickly. You have to make the right moves, at the right speed, in the right way, or you’ll lose it and have to chase it down again. To say it gets easier over time is both true and unfair. It confers the idea that it’s like typing on a keyboard or playing the guitar — as you learn, it just become second nature, and before you know it, you’re doing it without even thinking.
For the management part once balance is restored, yes, that’s true. But for dealing with it when it’s in your face? No. It’s a very active, very direct, very purposeful series of habits, coping mechanisms, applied learning and management.
Writing this is part of that. Sharing it with you all is as well. Not that that’s required, but it does help me feel better to know that I can capture this moment and share it with others who have to deal with the same thing. It helps to know that I’m not alone, and it helps to think that you’ll read this and know you’re not alone as well.
So, that’s where I’ll leave this. Thank you for reading.