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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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

Where do I go from here?

Where do I go from here?

I want to tell you everything. Without hesitation. Without judgment. Without conditions. To spill my words all over the table and onto the walls, in big, bold letters, so there’s no confusion. I’m afraid of what you’ll think, or do, or say. But if I’m to be true to myself, and continue to be the voice of many who also know the destructive powers of depression, I know that I’ll be safe no matter the consequences. In spite of what I’ve liberatingly revealed these past years, I remain standing — and with more than just a dash of dignity.

My absence from blogging over the summer was intentional. Raw fear held me back from sharing the nitty-gritty details of my life with depression. The uncertainties, the weirdness, the out-of-nowhere self-deprecating thoughts cause me to continually question my actions and behaviors. I habitually weigh the pros and cons of describing the not-so-pretty details. So while I do want to tell you everything, the first thing you need to know is that I am afraid. Terrified that when I pull back the curtain and reveal the next tier of how depression seeps into the crevices of my brain, it will scare you away, for good. That’s when I know that I’ve crossed that line — the invisible border that divides my literary comfort zone from The Twilight Zone where distorted reality reigns.

Living with Major Depression and Anxiety is menacing. Four years ago, aware of the risks, I publicly disclosed my diagnosis. Past reveals had garnered unexpected and hurtful reactions from life-long friends, colleagues and family members. They’d made me feel ashamed for having depression, “wasting my money on doctors and prescriptions, as it was all in my head and I should just think happy thoughts.” My unrealistic expectations of being understood and receiving compassion were rarely met. Yet, on the flipside, there were some people who I underestimated in their ability to be kind. I’ve accepted that an individual’s reactions are unpredictable whenever and wherever I talk about my depression and anxiety.

While everyone has something going on that they’re struggling with on some level, it’s obvious that some personal battles are met with nodding heads of “approval” and others are immediately judged negatively. I’ve learned that you just don’t know who will surprise you with a hug and an empathetic anecdote, and who will charge away in the opposite direction as if you’ve just sneezed on them during flu season.

I’m a staunch believer that the more you educate others on what it’s like to have a mental illness, the less terrifying it becomes for everyone. But I’m also making the assumption that there’s a genuine desire for more information. Is it enough to know that depression has the ability to trigger a complete lack of motivation, self-confidence, self-love, self-fulfillment, the desire to socialize, the quest for joy and, at its most severe, the loss of hope? Is that general information satisfactory, or is more needed?

I can choose to tread within the safe perimeters of a swimming pool, go on telling you what you’ve heard before, or I can take a leap into unknown waters — letting you peek into the porthole of my brain, with greater intensity and granular depictions. My throat tightens at the thought of going to that place with you. For once I take the plunge, I’m not so sure it’s possible that I can go back to the safe place I’ve created for myself. It’s petrifying to imagine that there won’t be anyone waiting for me if I panic. My concern is that I will I be left stranded, alone, cold and shivering as a punishment for peeling off another layer, and once again putting my dignity on the line.

I want to tell you everything. It would be magical to possess a secret ingredient to wipe away the stigma of mental illness, but some human beings will never get it. They say they do, but they do not. Certainly I can’t blame them. I’m envious of people who have gone through life without knowing deep depression or crippling anxiety. But if I’m to be disparaged and rejected because of my honesty and openness about my illness, it’s time to take further action, because I deserve better. And so do you.

While one circle in my life gets smaller, there’s another that keeps growing wider. As daunting as it is to remain honest and direct, to stop now would be a disservice to thousands of remarkable people I’ve met along the way – including those who currently live with and manage a mental illness and their family and friends who continue on their journey towards knowledge and understanding.

Depression used to keep me down and I hated myself for being a quitter. I believed I was incapable of seeing things through. My MO was to give up on everything I tried to accomplish. Now’s there’s a new opportunity for me to push through another blockade of fear, defy the wicked lies of depression, stand up to the immobilizing impact of anxiety and, at the same time, tell you all about it.

Link to Bring Change 2 Mind

Time

It feels like years and years since I’ve posted here. Going through grueling physical recovery from two surgeries has changed me on a molecular level. It’s been a flurry of progressions with an equal amount of regressions. What I’ve learned is if I don’t take the time I need to fully heal, maybe this would have been all for nothing. My goal is to return to writing by the end of this year, or early next year. My brain is ready to go, yet my body still says no. I keep this photo handy every time I berate myself for not showing up. “They” say that time heals all wounds, but I’ve come to realize that it’s what you do with that time that evokes positive change and enlightenment – genuine growth.

Post-surgical X-ray from my spinal fusion
Post-surgical X-ray from my spinal fusion

Smile for the Camera

I was not born depressed. I have proof. The images of me in old photo albums show a normal, happy child. A wide grin appears on my face as I’m being passed around from my mom, to her mom, to my dad’s mom, to aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends. My smiles were real. I can tell. The yellowed tape that still barely adheres the pictures to the cardboard pages is a stark contrast to my bright, alert eyes and pearly-white smile. “Let’s see some teeth!” my dad, an orthodontist, used to say as he focused his camera lens and clicked away. It’s ironic that so many years later I’d be using these images as concrete evidence that I didn’t come into this world with anything close to the chronic depression I developed in adolescence.

By the time I turned 12, everything around me appeared to be distorted. The ease and fluidity of my childhood seeped out of me like air from a balloon. The daily short walks to and from school with my friends became a hike up Everest. I began having trouble concentrating on my homework and started not caring about my grades. Somewhere between leaving my house in the morning until the time I crawled into bed at night, I faded into the background and became a reluctant observer of life, not a participant. I showed up to wherever I was supposed to be, but I wasn’t there.

An aura of sadness surrounded me at all times. I saw tragedy in strangers’ expressions – the teenage check-out girl in the supermarket, the middle-aged waitress in the diner, the greasy guy at the gas station – normal everyday people suddenly seemed like tragic figures who lived a life of desolation, just like me.

Gradually I felt completely invisible, but I didn’t think anyone around me realized it. That’s when the thoughts of making myself vanish permanently began to permeate my mind. Nothing about disappearing from the physical world seemed abnormal to my young, developing brain, and I kept that notion tucked away as an escape plan if “it” ever got to be too much to handle.

Depression is different for everyone. It can come and go quickly, or it can stay a while. When I’m in a bad way, it’s as if my mind is polluted with thick black fog. I frequently fantasize about drilling a tiny hole in the top of my skull and letting the smog spew out like a geyser, releasing all the toxic chemicals from my brain. When my depression is at a high point, I live most days with a sense of impending doom, a belief that life is going to come crashing down around me at any moment. Not believing that I deserve to be loved for any length of time – being “found out” that I’m really not worth much, and worst of all, becoming a burden to the people I love the most.

When I decided to speak openly about my illness, my disease, my disorder, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. “But you HAVE so much, how can you be depressed?” is one question I’m asked frequently. It’s true – I have my own place to live, a close family and good friends, an interesting career, an education, excellent health care, an affectionate dog, and a touch of creativity. I also happen to have Major Depression. There’s nothing to sugarcoat – it totally sucks. Even with the greatest doctors and highly effective medications, there are days, sometimes weeks, in which I cannot find the speck of hope I so desperately need to see past my dark state of mind.

I made a promise to my family that I would never die by suicide. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. I do. The ugly disease of depression keeps that f-ing idea alive and it scares the hell out of me.

Suicide does not make sense. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When I heard the news a few days ago that Robin Williams died, from the exact same disease I have, I was struck with profound sadness, grief, disbelief, anguish, horror . . . I’m struggling to attach words to the emotions that have only become more acute as the hours go by.

I’m never comfortable writing about other people, especially someone I’ve never met. I did not know Mr. Williams. The closest I ever got to him in person was sitting in the audience at Radio City during one of his famous Comic Relief shows. It’s not my place to publicly speculate on what was happening to Mr. Williams in his final hours. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. All I can do is imagine the immense amount of pain he was in – the unthinkable hopelessness and despair.

Out of fear of ever going to that awful place, that filthy sub-basement without light, where I fail to see any aspect of my existence ever getting any better, I’ve devised a new plan of action with only one possible outcome – LIFE. I would advise anyone who lives with Major Depression and Anxiety to do the same for themselves. Everyone’s course of action will be different, however the result will be the same. We can’t allow stigma or shame to get in the way of staying alive. Make the call.

If you have ever smiled before, there is no reason to believe that you won’t smile again. That’s what Robin Williams did for all of us. He made us smile. That will be his legacy.

Bring Change 2 Mind 

Miracles

Four months is a long time to be away from expressing myself through the written word. I’ve missed sitting at my desk, in front of my computer, using a keyboard to write about living with depression. I enjoy sharing my stories to connect with others who might be struggling and hiding in the shadows with their mental illness. Writing is a form of therapy for me. It helps me to manage my anxiety when I’m overwhelmed and keep my priorities in check when depression has managed to seep through every pore and infect my brain.

I’ve been off the radar because I had surgery on my spine last April. My condition is called Degenerative Disc Disease, something that I inherited from my grandmother. The physical recovery from the operation has put me in the very uncomfortable position of relying on others – technically I am completely dependent on family, friends and neighbors to do chores for me like throwing trash bags down the garbage shoot and going to the store to buy me Gatorade during a few scary bouts of dehydration.

Asking for help has always been difficult. Depression robbed me for so long from having a healthy sense of self-worth. How dare I ask for assistance when I didn’t believe I was worthy enough to receive it? From the outside, I gave the impression that I was strong and didn’t need anyone or anything. But that wasn’t the case at all – my fear of rejection and lack of confidence left me convinced I was not good enough to accept help from others.

All of this changed in an unexpected moment of complete surrender. On the day before I checked into the hospital, among the many good wishes of love and support was the popular advice to “Be Strong.” Since I was going in for a very serious operation, the kind where you’re asked your religion as you’re being wheeled into the OR, I knew I would have to exude a sense of courage right up to the minute I was put under sedation. However, it wasn’t until I was in the recovery room that being strong meant having to place all of the negative beliefs about myself aside and motion to the nurse that I needed a bedpan, immediately.

Being strong was throwing away decades of negative thoughts. I had to believe I’m worthy of help, and to receive it with grace and gratitude. Realizing I had survived the operation, my spine intact, I gained a new appreciation for my own life. I never imagined an epiphany of this scale would take place laying on a gurney, emerging from hours of anesthesia, dressed in a flimsy, untied hospital gown and debating whether to pee or not to pee. Who knew it would take all of that to convince me that I count, too.

Accepting help got me through the most arduous times in my recovery. Some days the agony was so fierce that I had to dig deep down to conjure up the strength I needed to endure. So it was with some trepidation that after being home from the hospital for eight weeks I said yes to have a day in my life documented and recorded for a cause much bigger and greater than any physical pain I’d sustained.

Reading the email on my iPhone from bed, I knew that the company philosophy and their new hope and grace initiative was something I had to participate in. The only way for me to join in was to ask for aid from the production crew. On what was the hottest day of the year, the kind and patient team said yes to everything I’d requested: breaks from shooting to rest and ice my neck; cold orange juice within reach at all times; finding a comfortable interviewing chair; allowing me to wait in their air-conditioned mini-van while they set up outside.

These may seem like small, no-brainer requests, but the old me would not have asked for any of these things. I would have suffered at my own expense – not feeling that I was worthy of being comfortable and hydrated.

It took a long week for me to recover from that grueling day. But when I saw the final product, the incredibly moving and powerful video that launched philosophy’s hope and grace initiative on July 15th, I was bursting with pride. In what is a groundbreaking commitment by any corporation, philosophy will contribute 1% of product sales on philosophy.com to the hope and grace fund, which will award multiple financial grants each year to local organizations working to empower women through the promotions, prevention and treatment of mental health and wellbeing.

The first grant will go to Bring Change 2 Mind. As someone who has been a volunteer, spokesperson and official blogger for this incredible organization for over five years, being part of this new Bring Change 2 Mind venture has been nothing short of amazing. The collaborative effort to eliminate the ugly stigma that surrounds mental illness is one of the many silver linings that have resulted from asking for support and receiving the gift of reward and recognition.

In one month, I’ll be having yet another surgery – this time on my shoulder. Again, I’ll need to rely on others for help while I recover. My friends and family need not worry that I’ll ask them for a bedpan, but coming up to my neighborhood for an iced-cappuccino and a slow walk around the block is always welcome.

hope and grace initiative

 

AMC Wall of Honor – for Maya

http://www.amcny.org/donate-amc/pet-memorial-wall/maya

Maya

07-17-1999 – 08-14-2012

I’m still mourning the loss of my Maya, so it’s emotionally difficult for me to tell her story. All I can say for now is that I was blessed to have her for 13 beautiful years. She changed me by giving me hope that life can be good – she was funny, smart and had a personality that made anyone who met her, fall in love with her within minutes. There will never be a replacement for her, and I would give anything to see her swim again.
This is for Maya, the incredible soul who came into my life at exactly the right time. I love this picture because it shows her smiling and being her funny self.

Image

AMC Wall of Honor – what a touching way to keep the memory of our lost pets alive!