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?

Advertisements

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

Surviving Depression

“Let me tell you what I hate,” said the mysterious fedora-wearing woman making a grand entrance into the closed-door business meeting, already 30 minutes in-progress. I happened to be speaking at the time, making a presentation to a potential new client, giving them every reason they should go with my company instead of the competition. Until that moment, all had been going well. Signs of closing this deal were coming together like stars spelling Y-E-S in the sky.

In business, few emotions compare to the exhilaration of closing a new deal. It’s not the financial reward, but the burst of confidence from validation that I’m actually good at something. That is, until a total stranger, whose name I never managed to get, can suck all the energy out of a room. Within seconds she had undermined months of planning this presentation. The meeting ended abruptly — my colleague and I were quickly escorted to the elevator bank, looking at each other in disbelief.

The Fedora Lady story is one that has stuck with me for two decades. It happened early in my career, and although it makes for humorous storytelling, it serves as a stark reminder that there will always be someone or something that can knock the wind of out my sales, er, sails.

That was twenty years ago when depression was kicking my ass, lying to me, telling me that I was bad, stupid, ugly, worthless, and put on this earth for the soul purpose of suffering. It seemed like my profession provided me with daily opportunities for rejection — reinforcing my self-depreciation. Any analyst would have a field day dissecting the reasons why I chose to earn a living that fed my disease, day after day. Maybe the highs of bringing in a new account outweighed the lows of being turned down. Lately I prefer to not look back and question my decisions. What’s done is done.

Depression is a hideous illness that revels in taking down its victims. Despite my success with battling negativity, I have a vulnerability to succumb to toxic people, leaving the window open for despair. Today, after years of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and the help of antidepressants, I have a clear understanding of my disorder and how it affects my brain. That does not mean that I’m immune to suffering from depressive episodes. It just makes the experiences a tad easier to deal with. I now know that they will eventually subside.

For my mental and physical well-being and self-preservation, it’s my responsibility to remain vigilant. I must keep harmful influences far away by setting firm boundaries. If Ms. Fedora barged in on me now, I’d laugh it off; my skin has grown thicker over time. Nevertheless, for my own protection, I need to pick and choose who and what is allowed near me, whenever possible. It means cutting out the crap that can make me sick. The same way someone with high cholesterol must modify their diet, I’m no longer willing to risk my health for the sake of pleasing others, burying my feelings, biting my tongue, and later turning that anger inwards, leaving me with residual pain and long-term collateral damage. If I don’t put myself first, who will?

As I go about life with this strategy for staying sane, there may be people who won’t understand. They might get angry and perhaps even cut ties with me – and as much as that stings, it’s still better than becoming ill from avoidable stress. Why shouldn’t I treat depression the same way I would manage any other chronic illness? I know my road won’t be easy, but it’s up to me to set limits. I don’t want to end up with a tumor because I was too anxious to speak up for myself and do what’s best for me. Those days are over.

All you need to do is watch the news for five minutes to see how little power we have over horrific events happening around the world. These are scary, gruesome, fear-inducing times we live in, keeping even the most chemically balanced people awake at night.

If I can do my part in controlling stress and depression triggers, keeping them at a distance, or out of my life completely, by drawing a solid line between what I deem to be benign and what will definitely jeopardize my health – I’m going to do just that. It’s called survival.

Link to Bring Change 2 Mind

 

Come Talk To Me

I come from a family of talkers. At home, in public, it doesn’t make a difference. My relatives love, love, love to talk and have absolutely no problem striking up conversations with total strangers – any place, any time – waiting on line at the supermarket, or with the couple at the next table at a café. Even at social events where they know no one, they’ll go right up and introduce themselves. As the shy one, I’ve always been envious of their ability to chitchat with others, like it’s no big deal. For most of my life, I’ve had social anxiety combined with self-doubt, imagining myself invisible or wishing to go unnoticed, just so I wouldn’t have to talk.

As I got older, I found that my timid nature was holding me back from making new friends and finding a job. I hid my shyness well, but, because I didn’t talk about my self-doubts and depressive thoughts to anyone, keeping up the façade of a confident person led to intense anxiety. It seemed easier to camouflage myself as a “normal” person, rather than to reveal the scary thoughts of dying that plagued my brain – constantly. The few times I let it slip that I had been putting up with suicidal thoughts since adolescence didn’t go very well. I was immediately accused of making it up for shock value. Other times, depending on the crowd, just saying the word suicide became an instant repellent. I was dumbstruck that with three syllables I could clear a room. For close to 30 years I lived this way, unaware that I had a form of mental illness.

I started speaking openly about depression and anxiety the moment I realized that sharing my experiences would help others in the same boat. It was important to me that they know that they’re not alone. If I had someone that talked to me when I was a youngster about his or her own encounters with despair, suicidal ideation and worthlessness, I believe I wouldn’t have white-knuckled my way through life, anticipating a tragedy every moment. I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself if I’d known I was dealing with a real illness, not something I conjured up.

My depression and anxiety started when I was 12 years old. I talk about my journey with the crippling symptoms of these illnesses in the hopes of reaching the frightened and confused girls and boys who don’t comprehend what’s happening to them. I want to encourage them to get help, now, at this critical stage in development. While there is no shame in asking for help at any age, we can’t continue to let the culture of stigma and cruel judgments from others stand in the way of becoming our best selves and learning to enjoy life.

Once I began public speaking and writing about living with mental illness, people from all pockets of my life began to open up to me about their grapples with similar disorders. It’s incredible to witness the moment when someone who’d been struggling in silence, suddenly not feel so isolated and hopeless.

What I’ve learned is that while most people are secretly getting professional help, there are some who still refuse. Stigma is usually the main reason why they remain silent – the terror of having their family or peers see them as weak or cowardly keep them trapped. However, they’re also terrified of facing their own feelings in therapy.

I talk about living with mental illness and the consequences of not getting help. Yes, it’s scary to peel away the outer shell that the world sees and dig through the layers of buried pain. I get it. I was there, too, and it nearly killed me.

Depression makes life unreliable. What makes it so frightening is the unknown length of time it will last. It has the power to destroy days, weeks, and sometimes decades. I had convinced myself that the ugliness in my brain would stay forever, but now I know that my thought process was flawed. I talk about depression to show that with proper help, profound sadness and emptiness can dissipate. I want people to know that it’s okay to not be okay. Get help, talk to a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker. Devise a plan for yourself so that when you do get hit with depression, you’ve already created a strategy that will save your life.

My team of professionals has taught me how to effectively communicate what I need from my loved ones when I’m dealing with a bout of depression or anxiety. My family has become a critical part of my support network. While they still adore talking, they’ve also become experts at listening.

I talk about mental illness because it paves the road towards mental health.

To Let Other's Know They're Not Alone
To Let Other’s Know They’re Not Alone

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

Spinal con-Fusion

Many thanks to everyone who has reached out to me after I shared the news of my upcoming surgery. I’m still scared and anxious, but just knowing that I have the emotional support from near and far makes this ordeal more manageable. I’m especially grateful to those who have told me about your loved ones who have gone through the same operation. I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, so just knowing that some of you have witnessed this first hand and the results have all been successful takes a lot of my fear away. I was hesitant about even mentioning the spinal fusion at all, but now I’m so glad I listened to my inner voice telling me that if I shared my situation, I’d be helping myself and anyone else who is going through something similar, just as I do when I talk about my struggles with depression and anxiety.

I started making a list yesterday of everything I need to do before the surgery. Since I know that my throat will be very sore for a few days, making it difficult to swallow – I’m now researching to see if my daily medications are available in liquid form. I’d rather drink my meds, than crush up the pills and mix them into yogurt, but if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll make do. Included in my list are questions I have for the surgeon. I’m carrying around a notebook because if I don’t write down my thoughts as they pop up, I will totally forget them. Keeping lists has always been a good method for keeping my anxiety in check. Being anxious about my surgery can lead to confusion and uncertainty. This is one operation where I want to know every tid-bit of info before I step foot into the OR.

Again, I really wanted to express my gratitude for the good wishes, prayers and support you’ve given me these past days. Sending you all one-armed hugs for now.

Image

Hope Blog/Depression – A Real Pain in the Neck

When I focus on how much time I’ve lost to suffering with depression and anxiety throughout my life, I get angry and profoundly sad. From there I switch to feeling grateful that I’m doing better, but no matter what, I always come to the same conclusion: ruminating over the past is detrimental to my wellbeing. It does not help me in any way. Yet, I still do it, especially at times when I’m not feeling well physically, like now.

I’d always planned on making up for all the great adventures, big and small, that I missed out on because I was too depressed to face the world for so long. Therefore, it’s extremely frustrating that now, when I’m feeling pretty good mentally, I’m stuck at home, grappling with close to unbearable pain in my neck and right arm. The discomfort has become so severe lately that I’m unable to sleep – not a good thing for me, since insomnia is one of my main triggers for depression.  

Until now, I’ve been successful at not letting “it” get to me. But after another sleepless night, filled with invisible knives stabbing and twisting inside of me, I’m feeling vulnerably wide open to an uninvited bout of depression. It’s times like these that all of the tools I’ve collected and worked so hard to use properly become useless against the mighty powers of the body and mind.  

I don’t want to look at any time in my past or present as being lost or wasted due to depression or a physical ailment. In addition, the future is not my enemy, negative projections are. 

One lesson I’ve learned is that perspective can turn negative experiences into positive ones, most of the time. From that standpoint, I’ll consider this day as one not lost to pain and anxiety, but as an opportunity to share my struggles with the hopes of helping others to heal. 

Hope Blog/Less Stress? I’ll Take It!

Each of us has our own level of tolerance for stress. Some people thrive under pressure. I’m not one of them. One of my top triggers for anxiety and depression, is feeling overwhelmed by having too much to do. A full but manageable plate is one thing, but when the plate suddenly becomes too small, I know I have to take action before it cracks and everything falls to pieces. Every so often, usually when I’m over-tired, I feel overloaded by my responsibilities. My thoughts turn to doubting my abilities and I’m convinced I can’t handle even ONE MORE THING.

The best way for me to manage the situation, so that I don’t get riddled with pop-up panic attacks or pangs of depression, is to prioritize my to-do list. I start by doing the easiest things first. That way I get an immediate sense of accomplishment and I’m encouraged to move on to the next item. For example, the beginning of March is when I start the dreaded task of tax preparation. If I made that chore my number one priority, I’d avoid my list of obligations entirely, like a carton of sour milk humming in the fridge, wishing it would disappear on its own. Instead of making any progress, even on a tiny scale, nothing would get done. The list would keep growing and my anxiety would skyrocket exponentially each day leading up to April 15th.

So, if I can check off the easier jobs, like paying bills or scheduling business meetings, I obtain that instant gratification needed to keep my confidence strong and build momentum towards organizing my tax info. I’ve learned that it’s critical for me to be aware of my threshold for the daunting responsibilities that come with being an adult. The method I’ve created to maintaining my sanity may not work for others, but it’s kept my anxiety levels in-check. My personal goals in life are not about being perfect, but continuing to make self-improvements – that’s something that will always be at the top of my agenda.