Are You Depressed? Stop Punishing Yourself!

Published originally in 2013:  Esperanza – Hope to Cope

Depression-Punishing-Self

I’ve been overwhelmed with life in general lately, and the bombardment of social media is starting to have a negative effect on me. Some days I feel like everyone has something really awesome and exciting going on, while I’m a useless, unproductive slug. Obviously this is a huge thinking blunder on my part, yet it’s been an ongoing problem that I would have thought I’d have overcome by now. It’s a fact that one of the worst things people can do to diminish their self-esteem is to constantly compare themselves to others. I have friends who refuse to join any social media sites because it brings out feelings of jealousy and unworthiness. While I can totally relate, I feel they’re doing themselves a disservice, because while they’re blocking out the perceived bad stuff, they’re also denying themselves the fun and often-hilarious benefits of being part of an online community.

When depression is getting the best of me, I’m already experiencing self-imposed punishments for not putting away the laundry or sorting the mail. While I’m cognizant that what others are doing with their lives says nothing about mine, the unrealistic pressure I place on myself to do more is based on an absurd notion that whatever it is I’m doing is not enough. Those thinking errors open the door to a pathway that leads towards destructively false beliefs about myself.

My goal is to find a way to be content and satisfied with all that I do – and not put myself up against the accomplishments and enviable experiences of others that I see online. 

Depression has a way of knocking me down, doing its best to steal any pleasure derived from my triumphs as well as the impediments I’ve conquered despite the illness. Rational thinking versus the irrational sounds so easy to keep apart; yet it’s still something that defies me. Right now logic tells me I’ve done enough writing for the day, while the ridiculous thoughts are shouting at me to do more, more, more!

Question: Do you find that you punish yourself for being depressed? How do you stop the negative self-talk?

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World Series 1986

#TBT Baseball Edition:

If you were a Mets fan in 1986

If you were a Red Sox fan in 1986

Basically, if you were alive in 1986

You will appreciate this letter I received from a friend in Boston a few days after the World Series in 1986

#baseball #worldseries #1986 #Mets #redsox #nyc #boston #miracle

From Stigma to Spotlight – Stage Directions

This Is My Brave gives voice to living with mental illness.

As theatergoers take their seats for This Is My Brave, it is unlikely they’re prepared for the emotionally-charged performances they are about to witness. For the next two hours, real people, not actors, appear on stage and present a mix of poetry, music and essay, to tell heroic tales of living with a mental illness. This Is My Brave, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end the stigma of mental illness through live theater. Every story places an emphasis on living a full life despite psychological disorders. Through sharing stories of pain and recovery, each show provides a sense of community and hope and encourages others to share their own personal narrative.

From Stigma to Spotlight

Link to story online:

Source: From Stigma to Spotlight – Stage Directions

Respect Your Illness

Original post from Hope to Cope in 2014

I find it remarkable that although I’ve come to accept the fact that I have depression and all that comes with it, I still become frightened by how powerful this hardcore illness can be. Last week, I was forced to succumb to the violent strain of flu that’s been making its way across the country. The virus completely took over my physical being, the symptoms robbing me of sufficient sleep, nutrition and essential daily medications. After a painful four days, when the bug was finally out of my system, the shock of my ghostly reflection in the mirror paled in comparison to the invisible heaviness and despair weighing me down on the inside.

This has happened to me several times in the past – getting hit with a depression after a bad cold, for example. So much of managing my mental health is based on routine, and when that gets shifted for whatever reason, in addition to the inability to digest food (and meds) and not sleep eight hours per night, it really messes me up. While it helps knowing why I currently feel so blah, I can’t simply snap my fingers and make it disappear. As much as I hate having depression, I can’t pretend it’s not there. I have to acknowledge it and respect it, just like the flu.

Time and experience has taught me to never underestimate how quickly depression can take control of my life. Sure, it would be easy to surrender. I won’t deny the temptation to withdraw, hide away, unplug and disappear. But I’ve done that before and it only makes it worse. While my eyes burn with familiar tears of sadness, I can feel my bodily strength returning slowly. It’s a bizarre dichotomy – mental and physical powers pulling me in opposite directions. Yet, if history has taught me anything, there’s no reason for me to think that I won’t get through this rough time. I’ve done it before and I shall do it again!

Link to Hope to Cope Blog

Memorial Day Weekend

For most of my life, Memorial Day Weekend represented the beginning of a brand new summer spent with my family at our house in Sag Harbor, NY. My dad named the house The Great Escape back in the early 70’s when he and my mom purchased the property on which it now stands and built the summer home for us to get away from the city for the summer. Our house was always full of close friends and family, late-night parties, loud music, happy times for my younger sister and me. When my parents divorced in the late 70’s my dad kept the house out east, my mom kept the house in the city. So much has changed over the years, but the one constant through it all was The Great Escape. It was the one place that still said home, where I spent my formative childhood and teenage years and into adulthood, where I watched my dog Maya (RIP) swim in the bay across the road, season after season, giving me the most joyful feeling imaginable.

When the house was sold two years ago, well, I was sad, torn actually, but I understood that it was time for another family to take over and build memories of their own. Today, as I sit  in my living room, taking small sips from my second cup of coffee, with Anya, my 4-year old chocolate lab soaking up the sun’s rays as she takes her morning nap on the hardwood floor, I’m feeling a mix of melancholy and gratitude. Sad that I don’t have Sag Harbor to take Anya swimming, no more bbq’s or happy hours on the deck, no more breathtaking sunsets, but thankful that I have my dad and his wife, who I will be visiting at their home on Long Island in a few hours. It will be nice to get away for the day and spend quality time with my family. I realize that what made The Great Escape such a special place, was my dad and my sister and Maya and my extended family and old friends and new friends ~ without them, the house would be simply that – a house. Although it’s no longer physically part of my life, the soul, the very essence of that house, hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s alive inside of me and everyone and everything it ever embraced.

 

Know Your Own Strength

It’s been three years since this article was published in Esperanza Magazine for Anxiety and Depression. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share it again to give hope to those who are struggling for any reason at all. 966941_159343487568827_1020258947_o

High Time We Made a Stand

Originally posted in honor of  Mental Health Awareness Month on May 9, 2013 for Bring Change 2 Mind

In case you haven’t heard, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While I’m a believer that we should be doing something all year long to raise awareness of mental health, illness, and treatment options, now is a great opportunity to use this month-long occasion to start a dialogue of your own. Even the briefest conversation can make a difference in someone’s perception of what mental health is all about.

I clearly remember the days when I did all I could to keep my depression and anxiety a secret. It was exhausting and only added to the heaviness to my painful symptoms instead of alleviating the stress of appearing to be “normal.” Normal, in my case, was lying about going to my primary care physician for a sore throat, when, in reality, I was going to my psychiatrist for a medication management session. Normal was taking an anti-anxiety pill before getting on a flight while telling my travel companion that it was a decongestant. Sadly, normal also meant trying to come up with a valid reason for my public crying outbursts, when inside, I didn’t know where on earth these spells were coming from.

We, as a society, have come a long way, in terms of eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness – but we still have a very long way to go before it becomes an acceptable topic, just like a physical illness with visible symptoms is discussed openly and without prejudice. I speak from personal experience, as several times in my past whenever I even broached the subject of my depression and anxiety, I was told by others that it was all in my head and I should be thankful for what I have, (“because millions of people all over the world were suffering with real-life matters like starvation and homelessness).

Exactly one decade ago, I took a six-week leave of absence from my job. I had planned on resigning because the stress of constant traveling and absurd corporate pressure caught up with me. During my meeting with the head of Human Resources, I learned that since I had been at the company for several years, I didn’t need to resign, that with authentic documentation from my doctor I could take a paid leave for medical reasons – physical OR mental. This didn’t sit well with any of the higher-ups who counted on me to bring in revenue. They couldn’t SEE that I was falling to pieces on the inside and accused me of taking a vacation. Upon my return, a friend confided in me that while on leave, one of my colleagues, someone I mistakenly thought would have compassion for my situation, had berated me in front of my fellow co-workers, some of whom were not aware of why I was out of the office for so long. Shaking off the shame and hurt, I wondered that if I had taken the same six weeks off for maternity leave if I would have received the same type of reactions. I knew the answer.

It’s extremely liberating to be writing about mental illness, no longer having to make up excuses for who and what I am. Anyone who doesn’t want to be part of my life because I have an invisible illness which scares them, well, that’s their loss, not mine. There’s always going to be someone who thinks psychiatry is a made-up illness by the drug companies; or that depression is simply self-pity for those who seek attention and anxiety is a fear that’s easily overcome “if I just stopped worrying so much.”

We are the ones who are going to change the face of mental illness by talking about it. It takes courage, and not everyone is ready to speak up, and that’s understandable, it takes time and support from others.

What I’ve done is surround myself with people who bring out the best in me. We all have them, they are anyone who can make you smile and feel good inside. You never know when and where you will meet these people, so the key is to live your life and you’ll accumulate your own list of those with whom you connect – and they’re usually from places you’d least expect.

So, let May be the month you begin to talk, talk and talk some more, about mental health. It will get easier over time and I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out how many others are sailing in the same boat.

Link to Bring Change 2 Mind

Food – It’s All About Sharing

Random thoughts on a Saturday morning . . .

I’m trying to figure out why users of social media, myself included, feel the need to post photos of their food. Whether it’s something we’re about to eat in a restaurant or at home, why this sudden urge to photograph it and share it with our friends and followers? Pictures of family, friends, dogs, cats, rats riding the subway – I get it. But food? We all know what a salad looks like. So why the compulsion to snap a photo and post it on Instagram before digging in?  I have more images on my phone of pre-eaten meals, than of Anya, my dog. It’s become an exercise in self-control to not hit share now and I can’t stop wondering, how did this happen? It’s not as if I even cooked anything. The most I do with food is assemble. I have zero culinary skills, unless you include using the microwave, so it’s not like I’m showing off what I just nuked.

Perhaps, because eating is universal, we feel by posting pics of our food that it’s a safe way to reveal some personal details of ourselves. Hence the term, you are what you eat.

Or, maybe I just think too much. That’s probably it.

Life Lessons from the Couch

This blog is two months overdue. Missing deadlines and breaking commitments, even if due to events beyond my control, still make me feel oh so guilty and badly about myself. The rational part of my brain tells the irrational side to STFU, as I visualize two lobes going at it in a boxing ring. It’s only a blog, words on a page – life will go on with or without the world knowing what I have to contribute. But still, I hate disappointing my readers and I doubt that’s a trait that will ever go away.

It’s kind of funny, depending how you look at it, that I finally have a few minutes to unplug from work. Today makes two sick days in a row. Yesterday I had a needle biopsy in my left armpit for a lump I discovered five weeks ago. Today I’m home because my arm is sore; I’m tired as hell and I need to guard the incision against infection. The results will come over the next day or so. The doc says, “Based on your family history and what the ultra-sound and mammogram show, you don’t have to worry. It’s 99.999999999% likely to be benign.”

By the time you read this, I’ll have my answer. For now, I’ll write as if the news is good and I’ll be back at work soon. “This was just a scare,” I tell myself. It’s a reminder to be thankful for every day, even when I don’t have the threat of the C-word to bolt me into gratitude.

Living with chronic depression and anxiety has prepared me to be ready for the other combat boot to drop at any moment. There will always be the next catastrophe—real or imagined—to catapult me to the brink of despair. Depression has the power to not only brace myself for the worst, but to expect it. I’ve come a long way since the days I thought each phone call would bring tragic news. I used to joke that instead of answering with Hello, I’d ask Who Died? even if it wasn’t 3 o’clock in the morning.

Sitting here on my living room couch, despite sounds of horns honking and sirens 16 floors below, it feels almost peaceful to have a guilt-free day off from work. Admittedly, I’m eager to hear from the doctor, “It’s nothing. You’re fine. Come back in six months for a check-up.” But, for now, it feels right to use this time to clear my head and practice self-reflection. The past months have been weird. My depression started to get worse somewhere around Thanksgiving. No specific event sparked it, but that’s the nature of this mental illness. I’m used to it by now. I used to think I was a failure at life for becoming depressed for no cause-and-effect to easily explain it. It’s still frustrating, but to a lesser degree.

My doctors and I decided to increase my SSRI during this latest bout and I’m working closely with my psychologist to see if there was anything deep down that would trigger an episode. For a millisecond, I felt defeated. Another trip to the pharmacy—where the Cheers theme song plays in my head each time I enter.

I’ve learned to accept that there’s always going to be something to be depressed about but, on the flip side, there’s an equal amount of joy to be found. Seeing bright red tulips standing tall at the entrance to my apartment building is an instant mood-lifter.

Living like this for 30 years, I can go for months at a time feeling okay and then BAM! It’s back like termites I paid a fortune to exterminate. Learning how to successfully manage and cope with depression and anxiety (it only took a decade) has primed me to deal with unwelcome lumps under my arm and unforeseen bumps in the road. The stigma of having a chemical imbalance or faulty wiring doesn’t have the same upsetting impact on me as it once did. But that in no way means that if someone says something ignorant, or acts holier than thou, that I’m immune to it. It stings for a moment, sometimes two, then in a flash I remember that their actions reveal more about who they are – and say nothing about me.

Whatever news today or tomorrow brings, I can count on the loyal people who cheer me on, stick with me through every low and celebrated my triumphs. Despite life’s lumps, they always have my back—or in this case, my front.

Now, if the doctor would just call already.

*this post originally appeared on the Bring Change 2 Mind website

click here to go to Bring Change 2 Mind