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

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

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

 

Cyber Time and FOMO-phobia

I’ve got to make this quick. My time online has been reduced to about 30 minutes per day. That doesn’t leave much for a scroll on Facebook, reading and responding to emails, online grocery shopping, and the one thing I miss the most – writing/blogging. If not for my iPhone and iPad mini, I’d be completely out of touch with the cyber world. I was not expecting to suffer so greatly from FOMO – the fear of missing out on who my friends were in past lives (Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde), which city they’re supposed to be living in, which flower they were meant to be. It’s one thing to choose to take a break from the online world, but being forced to choose how to spend half an hour a day (before Percoset kicks in) has forced a new way of prioritizing the best use of 1,800 seconds. Today I decided to post on my Chat Lounge, and I’m not even going to spell check or proofread for grammar fuckups. Yeah, I just cursed, BFD.

I’m really just dropping in to say ‘ello to my pals, let everyone know that I miss them and that I can’t wait to have my surgery and get back to normal (my normal, not society’s definition) and reconnect and catch up on the fun stuff I feel so left out of – like the notes to yourselves about never leaving the house without checking that your socks match, and to always be kind to strangers, as we’re all struggling with our demons and that your cats love you even though they don’t show it. I knew I was going through cyber withdrawal when I nearly had a panic attack on siblings day – luckily I made it just in time to post a profile pic of my sister and me but not without breaking into a sweat, searching for the “right” photo where we both look decent and uploading it (and cropping the thumbnail so we both have even space in the shot) – it was a marathon I tell you.

So while I have at best ten minutes to go on my laptop before my arms start to feel like they’re being pulled off, I still need to sort through about 100 resumes for a job I posted last week, order pet food for Anya, pay bills, and see if anyone’s cousin had a baby, if a friend of a friend I’ve never met in person is able to get WiFi (Yay!) during their holiday on an exotic island in the middle of who-knows/cares-where, and which teams are playing and which of those teams suck ass or don’t deserve to be on the field and who on FB is sitting on field level and must take a photo from every angle and post it like right now, like immediately, to show that they have THE BEST seats and how close they are to the players – so close that they can see the pores in their skin even under their helmets or hats. Personally, I am sad that this is Jeter’s last season with the Yankees. He’s turning 40 – and now I feel old, so I better NOT look at Facebook because I’ll feel even older, fatter and more loserish than I did 20 minutes ago – because EVERYONE on earth is living a healthier, more fun, more interesting, more fulfilled, more cultured and definitely tanner life than I’ll ever have.

Anya told me to bark hello to all of you and seriously hopes that I post a photo of her soon because she’s afraid you’ll all forget how cute she is. What’s that, Anya? You want your pic on Instagram too? I better go then, looks like those resumes will have to wait until tomorrow.

More Jelly Beans, Please

In fourteen days I’ll be having my spinal fusion surgery. I can’t express the catastrophic thoughts I’ve been having about the surgery, because they’re so daunting and unpredictable. Living with non-stop pain in my neck, shoulder, arm has made me cranky and the tug of depression is pulling harder as each day goes by. Yesterday the pain started to creep upwards towards my right ear, and I feel a headache coming on at this very moment. Painkillers are as effective as jelly beans at this point, maybe if I take some more I’ll find a speck of relief.

Last night I slept for 90 minutes total – not good for my depression, anxiety, mood, stamina, concentration or hot flashes. I find comfort in snuggling with Anya – her velvety chocolate fur against my face does wonders for my psyche. I expect to crash later today. Like a car without enough gas to reach the corner, I’m running on fumes. It’s just a matter of time before I conk out. Whatever charm I have will no doubt be gone after lunch.

My fingertips are starting to tingle – I think I’m done writing for the day, except for Scrabble. Today I’m playing to win. 

lifewouldbeperfect

Hope Blog/Detour Ahead

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

From “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns, Scottish Poet

 I’ll be taking a break from posting in this space for the next few weeks. What I thought was a routine problem with my shoulder, turned out to be a much bigger and more serious health risk. Long story short, I need to have surgery relatively soon, and will be using my energy to prepare for what lies ahead. All of the projects and plans I had scheduled over the next six weeks are currently put on hold until further notice. While this is disappointing, the good news is that I’ll be in better health all around once I’m fully recovered. As always, I’m so grateful to be living in a time in which medical advances for treating all sorts of mental and physical illnesses were not available fifty years ago – maybe even twenty years ago.

Thank you to my friends at esperanza magazine for your good wishes and for holding a place for me on the Hope Blog while I’m out.

 

I’m looking to chat or email offline with others who’ve had cervical spinal fusion. Please contact me if you’re willing to do so. I would really appreciate it! Thanks.

 

Adrienne

 

http://hopetocope.com/blog/post/Detour-Ahead.aspx