Tag Archives: depression

Mother, Wife, Demon-slayer

6df30ac8a387944ff5579c32f2641adb[1]“Life is filled with big questions – Fate or Destiny? Heaven or Hell? Love or Attraction? Reason or Impulse? Beatles or Rolling Stones?” – Stephen King, Bazaar of Bad Dreams

“To be, or not to be –that is the question” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III sc 1.

I LOVE Shakespeare. Love him. As in a total, squealy fangirl crush (and not just because he was played by Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love) I’ve seen pictures. He was…mmmm. What’s the word I’m looking for? Less than attractive (Yes, I know, that’s three  words). Hey, we’ve all seen the pictures of the old dude with the big balding head in the weird old lady collar.

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I took Shakespeare courses in college, tutored other students and read his works “just for fun”. Yeah. I was THAT kid.  My friends and I spent hours pouring over every play, interpreting and debating the meaning of every scene and  soliloquy – but none more so than the infamous passage from Hamlet, Act III Scene 1.

So why am I bringing this up today? Well, first of all, Heath Ledger would have turned 38 this week, and (ICYMI) Spike released a trailer for the new I am Heath Ledger biography.

Secondly, a friend decided “not to be” earlier this week, and it got me thinking (always a dangerous thing to do). I’ve spoken before about my battles with the EIC and depression, but I will continue to talk about it until the stigma surrounding mental illness is a thing of the past.

Robert, like Heath Ledger, was a brightly shining star – a beautiful-from-the-inside-out incredibly talented creative soul who seemed to move effortlessly amongst us mere mortals. I was in awe of his talent and imagination, his quick wit and genuine warmth. He was not only a talented artist and inventor, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He appeared to be comfortable in his own skin, and I assumed that he was free of the destructive voices and demons that torment most artists.

Shows how little I know. What do they say? “Appearances are deceiving”? “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”? (or, as Steve Martin puts it “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”)

They say that stars who burn the brightest burn the fastest. No, I do not know who “they” are, or why this appears to be true. I assume it has something to do with the limited amount of fuel and the speed at which it is burned, but I’m not a science guy (TBH I’m not a guy at all, although I could be. I met a bartender who spelled his name T-R-A-C-E-Y on St. Patrick’s day, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’m not a science guy, I’m a creative.

Creative brains are weird.

Greater minds than mine have debated whether the stereotype of the “tortured artist” is legitimate. It might be a cliché, but, judging by the Facebook comments from his friends and fellow performers (“I’ve battled depression for years” and “depression has been my constant companion” to quote a few), it’s legitimate. I know that all the artists I’ve met have struggled with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I believe it is because we are encouraged, as artists and performers, to break down our walls and express our truest self. Shedding our protective layers leaves us open, raw and more vulnerable to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Please note – I am not a trained professional, nor do I play one on TV.  I have, however, been battling inner demons for decades. Feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila):

First – Depression is an evil, scum-sucking mother F-r. He travels with his BFFs Hopelessness and Despair. This terrible trio will cheat, lie and steal. They will tell you that nobody cares about you and that nobody wants to listen to you whine. They will take turns sitting in the middle of your chest whispering horrible lies into your ear until you’re nothing but a quivering, weepy mass of snot.

Knowing that Depression is a liar doesn’t fix things. Trust me when I say that knowing something intellectually doesn’t stop me from sliding all the way to the bottom of the pit of despair.

Every single time I find myself at the bottom of the pit, I think “What the hell am I doing here/I’ll never get out.”*  I have, however, recently learned to recognize the symptoms of the spiral before depression gains traction. I wish I could tell you what they are, but they’re different for everyone. Hopefully it won’t take you forty-something years to identify yours.

Secondly (or maybe this should be first) fighting the demons only makes them stronger, and is incredibly exhausting. Strangely enough, giving them a chance to voice their opinions renders them powerless. When the voices start whispering, I take pen to paper and write down everything they say (in cursive, so the words can flow). I write without rebuttal until they stop speaking. Believe me when I say that a person (or inner demon) who is allowed to vent without interruption will eventually run out of steam. What you do next depends on what works for you – you can respond to them, verbally or on paper, you can shred the papers, burn them, or use them to line a birdcage. Eventually you might find the strength to do the one thing that banishes them – laugh at them. Demons are like the boggarts in Harry Potter – hiding in the deepest, darkest corners of our mind, filling us with mind numbing fear, and disappearing with the first giggle.

Most importantly, if you (or a loved one) is struggling with depression or have run out of cope, ask for help. Yes, help is a four letter word, but it’s not a foul one. Don’t wait until you’re stuck at the bottom of a cold dark pit. Call a friend, call a family member, call a stranger. You can dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If you don’t want to call, you can even send a text.

I was going to end with the inspirational “Don’t You Quit” poem, but it’s a little pithy for me today. I’ll leave you with Dylan Thomas instead.

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* Well, that’s not exactly true. My first thought is “Wow, it’s dark and cold down here. Next time I should bring a space heater and a booklight”.

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Hello My Name is Eeyore

imageChuck Wendig reminded me that May is Mental Health awareness month. This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is – Life with a Mental Illness (yes, there’s a theme). If just one person benefits from my story,  I’ll be happy. TBH even if nobody reads it, I’ll be happy, because I’m writing again.

I have struggled with depression for most of my life. I have no doubt that my mother used alcohol to self-medicate for depression. It’s possible that her mother did as well – but, seeing that I rarely saw my grandmother express ANY emotion, I can’t be sure.

I consider myself fortunate, in that my personal demon is mostly situational. When life is going well, I sometimes get the blues, but I can cope. Unfortunately, Life is a BITCH and she likes to hammer us with repeated losses and then dump us, battered and bleeding, in the Pit of Despair without Wesley to keep us company.

18 months ago, I hit my low point. I wound up curled in a ball on the floor of my Honda, sobbing uncontrollably. I don’t do that anymore (and not just because I no longer have the Honda).  It’s not that Life has become kind. In the past 6 months, my husband almost died, my coworker did, one girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my other friend ended up in ICU. No, these aren’t my personal problems (although I would have taken my husband’s death personally), but I have a soft heart, and tend to grieve with those I love, and (sometimes) with those I don’t.

My girlfriend is deep in the hole. She asked me how I cope. “You seem so happy, even when you go through a rough patch”.

I was trained from an early age that emotions are something best kept hidden (thanks Grandma!). We need to slap on some lipstick and hide our broken heart.

The bad news is that suppressing our emotions leads to a whole slew of issues, including (but not limited to) eating disorders, cutting, alcohol and drug dependence, increased depression (goody!) and physical illnesses (yes, stress CAN kill you). The good news is that the idea that you should “fake it ‘til you make it” actually carries some weight. When you get up, shower, put on makeup and clean clothes and pretend that you feel good, eventually you do.

I have learned to ask for, and accept, help. It’s the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned. I am very lucky, in that I have an amazing group of friends who let me vent when needed, and who are quick to provide a shoulder, chocolate, or wine when necessary. Even my husband has learned to “listen and nod” instead of trying to fix my “problems”.

I talked to a professional. Yes, I have a wonderful support team. Sometimes you get tired of complaining about the same old stuff to the same old people. Besides, these people are just sitting around waiting for someone to talk to. Keep them off the unemployment line!

I took a pill. No, not the pills that Stevie sells on the corner. I filled the prescription my doctor gave me. I am not a fan of “Better living through chemicals”, but I’m a huge proponent of using whatever tools you have available to dig your way out of the darkness.

I learned to go outside. Some people like to run, some people like to go to the beach. I have found that it doesn’t much matter. Depression wants us to lay in the dark, under a supersoft blanket, eating cookies and surfing through 300+ channels. Going outside is a teeny tiny step in the battle, but it’s an important one. Please note  – do NOT forget to put on pants before you go outside. My neighbors may never forgive me.

Lastly, I listen to music. Music speaks to my soul and makes me feel all the feels. Just this morning Johnny Cash reminded me that when you’ve got the blues, you need to Get Rhythm.

 

So tell me, what coping mechanisms do you use, when Life leaves you feeling overwhelmed?

15 Shades of Grey* **

*Please note, there’s no sex in this post, just mild profanity. If you’re offended by profanity, you’ve come to the wrong blog (I swear like a sailor. In fact, sometimes I swear like a ship full of sailors). If you’re looking for graphic sex, you should look for the other Grey book…or the adult bookshop.

** This post was prompted by Robin’s Williams birthday. He would have been 64.

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 “Well, here we are, halfway through July, more than halfway through the year, and what do you have to show for it? You’re a little older, a little fatter and your house is still a mess…..”

And there you have it, the EIC is in fine form this morning. I’ve talked about him, more than once, but I don’t think I’ve talked about his girlfriend – she’s a soggy, wet, warm, mildew-y wool blanket. She’s heavy and smelly and ruins everything she touches. She’s also a self-centered diva, demanding all your attention, then tsk-tsking sadly and insinuating that your best effort is not quite good enough, but suggesting that closing the blinds might help. I call her BFC, but she’s known by many names, including The Blues and Depression.

The two of them rarely travel alone, preferring the company of their friends Anxiety Disorder and Self-Hatred. These asshats are the founding members of The Sneaky Bastards. I have battled TSB for years, with varying degrees of success. I recently came across some letters from my mother which showed me that she fought the same battle. I had long suspected that she self-medicated for depression. The letters are my proof. The letters made me sad – not because they were depressing (they weren’t. In fact, they were funny, and provided me with a lovely trip down memory lane), but because she thought she was alone. She wasn’t. Our family tree has an entire branch of women who were self-medicators.

My personal battles have been mostly victories. I have the blues, usually powered by hormones, but nothing that some chocolate and a glass of wine couldn’t fix (yay for self-medication!). I suppose I was due for a loss.

A series of losses, including health (my own and others), employment (not my own), and life (again, not my own) knocked me down. I struggled to get up, but a car crash threw me to the bottom of the deepest, darkest well. Figuratively, that is. My car got a dent. The other car got a flat tire. Nobody was hurt. Not physically, at least. We managed to drive away, but I was crushed beyond repair, and found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of my car.

The good news is that hitting bottom (or close to it) gave me the incentive I needed to look for help. More importantly, it gave me the incentive to ASK for help. MOST importantly, I learned to accept help when it was offered, whether or not I’d asked for it. Now I responded to the offer with a “Yes, thank you” instead of a fake smile and a “Gosh, thanks, I’m FINE***, but thanks again for offering.”

I knew that I was not the only one battling the EIC and BFC and all their friends, but I used to think that it was a battle which needed to be fought alone, in silence, with the tools I had on hand. Now I know that I was wr…wr….mistaken (yeah, I have a hard time admitting to being incorrect. I’ll deal with that issue…soon).

This is not a personal battle. 1 in 8 women are affected by depression, and anxiety and depression affects twice as many women as men, but it is not a “Woman’s issue” either. I am tired of seeing The Sneaky Bastards win. They tell us that we are alone, that we deserve to stay in the dark. They lie.

The first step is asking for help. Yes, it’s a four letter word, but it’s a good one. Then again, so is hope.

OnceYouChooseHope[1]***FINE (Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional)

 

Coming out of the dark

I know I haven’t written in a while. After a hellish year, I found myself in a deep, dark hole. It’s hard to write in the dark.

Yesterday a friend challenged me to write a haiku. It felt good to write again.

Voices in my head
telling me I am less than
Need to be silenced