Poetry

Don’t worry. I’m not going to be writing any*. It would be so awful, you guys. So. Awful.

I’m not a huge poetry gal. Even as an angst-ridden teenager, I tended more towards fan fiction and long dramatic walks in the woods – somewhat anticlimactic because there was no one to see how sad and dramatic I was being – bloody terrible teenager logic. Anyhow, I’m trying to learn more about poetry. I read this one and thought: that’s depression.

A Minor Bird
By Robert Frost

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

 

Isn’t that lovely? You can kind of feel it, hear the bird, see the sadness in the man’s eyes as he turns away from the window, ashamed and worried about himself.  Good poetry is impressive.

And now for fun, I will write my version of this poem:

Dear Stupid Bird
By Gwen Hill

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
You need a mate.
You’re hungry.
I get it.

Please learn another note
And go to someone else’s house
You stupid bird.

 

*I lied! Haha.

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Things not to say to people with depression. Part One.

Part one, because I keep thinking of these things, and then forgetting, so I assume I’ll want to add to it later. 

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1. “But everyone has bad days, right?”
Congratulations! You have displayed a common and fundamental lack of understanding of what depression is. Yes, everyone had bad days. What everyone does NOT have is a series of bad days lasting months and years; a crushing inability to see hope in the future, and a detrimental despair that infects everything they see and hear. (I was going to write ‘see and do’ but let’s face it, people with depression have a hard time with action verbs outside of ‘crying’ and ‘running the self-hate gauntlet’.)

2. “Have you tried St. John’s wort/vitamin D/powdered red mushroom/licking your shoes/what-the-fuck-ever?”
Unless this is preceded by the person in question asking “have you heard about or read about anything you think I could try?” Just. Don’t. For one thing, everyone else is doing the same thing. For another, it’s hard enough to be engaging with the outside world, let alone plastering an expression of polite interest on your face.

3. “What happened to you?”
This is a tough one. Sometimes there is a precipitating event that causes clinical or situational depression and your brain can’t recover, but often there isn’t anything. It’s a stupid, mean, uncompromising disease and being made to feel like there should have been something that caused it – or gods forbid, something that you did – sucks. Don’t do that to people.

An easy solution for this: if someone tells you they are depressed, just take a breath and in your mind, replace ‘depressed’ with ‘diabetes’ or something similarly shitty and uncontrollable, and then don’t say anything that you wouldn’t in that situation.

If that’s too hard, the following phrases are good and has plenty of uses: “That sucks. I’m sorry.” You can add “what can I do to help?” If you’re so inclined. Those things are nice.

YMMV. 

Recognition and Coping

“It is a happy faculty of the mind to slough that which conscience refuses to assimilate.”

 ― William Faulkner, Light in August

A few weeks ago I posted about losing my grandfather and how it feels like a loss piles on top of all the others, every time, so that for a little while it’s overwhelming. The clarity with which I cope directly relates to how long I have to do so – how long I have to be in ‘coping’ mode vs. ‘living’ mode. Being able to take a step back and look at myself and my actions from a detached perspective is the only thing that allows me to be aware of how I’m feeling sometimes. For example: Let’s say I notice that I’m short-tempered at the office one day. That might mean nothing – might be a bad day. But if I step back and notice that, all right, I haven’t been eating well, my sleep is erratic, I’m not getting as much done at night as I usually do, or whatever the signs are, then I can make a concerted effort to take care of myself and be conscientious about how I’m living, rather than just rolling with whatever comes my way. I want that. I want to be as aware and conscious as possible. If I hurt someone’s feelings, it shouldn’t be because I wasn’t paying attention. (It should be because…I’m a dick?)

That’s the core of it, actually: because I don’t give a lot of thought to other people, I assume they’re not giving a lot of thought to me. This is why it throws me off when it turns out that I’m devilishly wrong. When I was in, er, early high school – whatever that is – ? Grade 7-8? I was meandering through school in a state of blissful ignorance, neither having nor missing friends, happy with my books and my school work and my family. And assuming everyone else was kind of doing the same thing. Turns out: Nope! Those years are some kind of social primer, and everyone else was busily forming creepy little pre-teen wolf packs and preying on the weak. Which I didn’t notice, until I did, and I realized that I didn’t have friends because I was the weird kid and everyone hates the weird kid.

That moment, the moment of shift between “I’m just wandering along, nobody’s bothered by me, lalalalaaaaa,” and “I am in a school full of hormonal teen wolves who have decided to pick on me”? That. Moment. Blows.

All of a sudden, you can’t trust yourself. You can’t trust your perceptions. And if you’ve been wrong about so much for so long, what else could you be wrong about? That teacher that seems to like you? She probably makes fun of you every day in the staff lounge. Oh, you have a pen pal? It’s probably someone in prison who makes creepy wallpaper out of your letters.

Well. Anyway. You get the point. Cognitive dissonance, kids: more than just buzzwords.

Obviously, it all worked out. I actually got a couple of lovely Facebook messages from the horrid wolves when I was in my early 20s, apologizing for being horrible crazy children. To which I can only think: But you were children.  That’s the thing. You can’t even be tried as an adult for criminal activities, let alone perfectly normal pre-teen asshattery. It doesn’t mean it didn’t suck. It does mean that I’m largely over it.

Largely.

Every now and then, I have a moment of dissonance. I believe myself to be a certain way, a certain person, and a conversation or (as inspired this post) a self-assessment will point out that I’m wrong. And it happens again: the weird, falling-into-a-tunnel-a-la-Jerry-O’Connell-in-Sliders feeling, the shift of the world around me from a friendly place to an unsure one, the realization that the way I think and the amount of thought I give to others isn’t necessarily the industry standard. And this is the amazing thing: my body remembers. It remembers every other time this has happened. It can call up all the same feelings, and all the same doubts. If I didn’t have the tools that I have and, frankly, self-esteem that you could bounce rocks off of 98% of the time, I don’t know how I’d cope. I think this is a large part of what depression feeds on: doubt. Everyone probably hates you. You think they don’t, but you’ve been wrong before. You’re always wrong.

Sliders

Gaaaaaaahhhhhhhh

Fucking gremlins, is all I have to say to that.

What I’m learning now is that every time an event brings up all of my past grief or moments of dissonance or whatever it may be, that’s kind of a gift. The human brain is designed to make connections; that’s pretty much what it’s good at. A smell reminds you of a day, the day connects to a feeling, the feeling connects to muscles and the muscles make a smile. A moment of dissonance connects to all the others in your past, which gives you options: you can give in to the gremlins – who are ALWAYS wrong, the dicks – or you can take that opportunity to process what you went through, to learn what you can, and to apply it to what’s happening in the here and now.

Everything that sucks in my life gives me a way to be a better person.

How annoying is that?

 

 

 

 

**A note: I think true cognitive dissonance causes a fractured psyche, is a major event, and can land people in serious facilities where they spend many years trying to reconcile real life with their internal lives. I don’t mean that. I mean the pop-psych version of the term, which I am not proud of myself for using in this way, but I don’t know what else to call it. And so I’m doing it anyway. (Being a dick on purpose! Ten points!)

 

On the familiarity of grief

My grandfather died yesterday.

I’m dealing with this lovely wide variety of emotions and, because of the last three years of therapy, trying to process them carefully and feel them all in their entirety so that they don’t come back and bite me in the ass in the future. A largely introverted nature means that I do most of this alone and quietly, which works for me, but is likely a bit hard on others. I don’t know what to do about that. Nothing, I think.

I feel the ache of loss that is a tight fist in my chest, that occasionally tightens and squeezes and lets go again. I am already aware that this loss is less brutal than the loss of my father, will pass faster, will be easier to process, and then I feel a twinge of guilt that I am not as sad as I ought to be. Then I remember that there is no ‘ought to be’ and I try to let it go. This is the process, as it were, of processing.

I am aware of the depths of loss again, as each loss brings back the ghosts of others. Pain is pain and my body and mind want to say, this is familiar, and this is like that time when, and even though my grandfather’s death is nothing like the loss of, say, my first love, I remember them all in fits now because of the familiarity of grief.

I woke up this morning thinking about my grandfather, and his life, and his kindness and strength and all of the things that made him wonderful. Then I thought about the plans I have for today, the board meeting I have to prep for, the writing and work I have to do, and I didn’t want to do any of it. Still have to get shit done, said a little corner of my mind. And of course, that’s not true. I could cancel everything. I could sit in my house and find this little core of grief and cut it open and let it bleed, find all the things that grow there and dig them out until the core is sparkling clean. I could do that, couldn’t I?

I’m not going to, though. I think because just having the option is enough, and at some point I am still a member of western culture and society. And it’s nice that it’s a choice now. That’s maybe the most valuable tool I have these days: recognizing choice. So I’ll get on with things as we do, and take my time to grieve in my own way when I need it, and find moments of peace and reflection. And I’ll process.

In all of that clever, thoughtful processing, it is still very clear to me that this is just very hard, and I wish it didn’t hurt so much. And my goodness, I am so grateful for this blog, that gives me a quiet place to still think ‘out loud’ and is waiting for me even at 3:30 in the morning, when otherwise I would have to talk to the damn cats.

The word that allows yes, the word that makes no possible.
The word that puts the free in freedom and takes the obligation out of love.
The word that throws a window open after the final door is closed.
The word upon which all adventure, all exhilaration, all meaning, all honor depends.
The word that fires evolution’s motor of mud.
The word that the cocoon whispers to the caterpillar.
The word that molecules recite before bonding.
The word that separates that which is dead from that which is living.
The word no mirror can turn around.
In the beginning was the word and that word was

CHOICE

-Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

Wise Words from Jim C. Hines

Over at SFSignal, Jim C. Hines has written a great little post about his upcoming book, Unbound, in which his main character (Isaac) struggles with depression. The post addresses the issue of writing with depression, and applies nicely to doing anything with depression. In particular, these bits stood out to me:

Looking back, I’ve been dealing with depression off and on for much of my life. I just never really labeled it as such until 2012. I still made it to school and to work. I still met my writing deadlines. I was functional.

We tend to associate being clinically depressed with non-functionality. That’s never been true for me–at my very worst, I have always managed to do my job. Something about our society elevates that to the status of ‘functional’, like that’s all there is, like that’s how you pay back the world for all that oxygen you’re using up. But since I’m going to be using up all that oxygen anyway, I figure I might as well aim for something higher than ‘functional’. Like ‘happy’.

For people who believe mental illness helps your creativity, or that medication will ruin you as an artist, I’ll note that the past two years have been the best of my career. 

Yes. This. I worried about this, and I know a lot of other writers and creative folks who believe that you need your demons scratching at the inside of your skull in order to foster creativity. And who knows, maybe I was wildly creative when massively depressed, but the point is that no one would ever have known because I Could. Not. Write. (It wasn’t my job.) Since the slaughter of my own skull-demons, I’ve been writing regularly, I’ve published a few things, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the craft of writing and finding ways to call on creativity when it’s being a pissy little kid who won’t come out of their pillow-fort to work. There may be medications out there that kill creativity, but they don’t comprise the whole shelf of options. Cipralex certainly isn’t one of ’em.

Isaac’s depression is truer to my struggle. I worry that he’ll be too unlikeable…because that’s how I felt at the time. I worry people will say he’s too weak, that this character should just man up and get over it, because that’s how I felt. That’s what I expected to hear if I talked about it. I worry about readers who don’t understand that depression isn’t something you just snap out of.

Honestly, sometimes I still feel like I need to man up and get over it. But that’s just … that’s other people’s voices, in my head. That’s grandparents who didn’t understand, generations of people who thought depression was just a weakness of spirit (or something that could be fixed with leeches). And because I know those things to be untrue, I can turn them away, and remember that I’m dealing with a real issue, and I’m doing it well. And I hope that others can do the same. In that way, we slowly change things for the generations to follow.

 

Variables

The problem with going on meds–this time, because I wasn’t in the life-has-stalled-completely mode–is that there are too many variables for me to feel that I can properly assess the effect the drugs are having. I’m happier, more energetic, it’s easier to focus. I’m working out more, I’m more inclined to be outside, I want to go for walks. I am eating healthier food, I don’t have weird/stupid cravings. I don’t keep wishing that I were asleep.

But.

It’s sunny outside these days in the Pacific Northwest, and the days are longer. Am I working out and going outside more because I’m on meds, or because it’s sunny out and I can? And if so, is that catalyzing the rest of it – the healthier food, the energy, the focus?

The answer, of course, is ‘probably not’ and likely it’s a combination of the two. It’s just that I’m never going to be SURE, which bugs me. Still, it’s nice to be happy. It’s REALLY nice to be able to focus.

The closest I can come to describing what it’s like to go on antidepressants is that it’s like getting over a long, bad cold. You know that first morning when you wake up and you’re not sick? And you’re suddenly full of a ridiculous amount of energy, which is likely your normal amount of energy, except that you’ve been drained of it for a long time? It’s like that. Except that instead of new-found energy, you’re suffused with what previously seemed to be an impossible amount of clarity, happiness, and hope. It’s … well, it’s damned good, is what it is.

 

Hello, Old Friends

I picked up a new prescription for Cipralex a few days ago. I’ve been keeping track of myself for a few months now, watching for red flags – foggy brain, lousy memory for details, irritability, fatigue, random appetite changes, dizzy spells, insomnia, and of course the hopeless/worthless/useless slew of thought patterns. I have ten main red flags; I decided that if I got up to 8 on a consistent basis (more than two months consecutively) I would talk to my doctor about going back on the magic pills.

I did, and so here I am. Sitting with a little bottle of meds beside my computer, looking all innocent and helpful (the pills, not me).

I filled the prescription today. I think I’ve been waiting for some feeling of failure, or guilt, or something to kick in, but all I can think when I look at this bottle of pills is oh thank god. There is no prize for living on the hard setting, far as I can tell.

That’s all, I guess. The funny thing about depression is, it’s hard to talk about it when you’re in it, so I feel doomed to always write this blog in the past tense. Ah, well. C’est la vie.

 

What it looks like

May is mental illness awareness month. My own personal pet depression being somewhat under control (Fight. Fight. Fight.) I have been pretty quiet of late. Sometimes it’ll rear up and I’ll spend a day on the verge of tears, or having to journal the actual behaviour of people versus my perceptions of it lest I become convinced that the world hates my useless ass, and sometimes I have to go to bed at five. Sometimes I can only manage my job, and I suspect I’m not the friendliest gal in the office on those days. But I’d say those days are down to 40%, and my own awareness is what makes that 40% bearable. I know what I’m dealing with. Once I recognize, this isn’t me, this is pet depression, and also fuck you pet depression I can generally hold my own against it.

That’s five years of therapy, nearly two years of medication, countless hours of struggle and pain and just-managing. That’s what depression costs. I don’t think I would have responded oh-so-terribly-well if anyone had told me, back in the days of couches and missed showers, that I was depressed … but I wish I had known more about what it looks like.

So here’s what it looks like:

Depression is an angry, frightened, and above all else confused beast. It is never the same two days in a row.

I lived on the couch, and slept in for far too long. I gained weight and lost weight randomly and through no healthy initiatives in either direction. Some days I could go to the gym, or walk the dog, but mostly I didn’t.

I cried all the time. Anytime I was alone, I was crying. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The books I read, the television shows I liked, all became short and nonsensical. I couldn’t read the books I love because they were so involved, so dense. I was tired from looking at them, and I felt stupid and slow and like I wouldn’t be able to understand them even if I tried to read them.

I wasn’t interested in anything new. I didn’t want to learn. I was overcome by fear at the thought, and trying to make sure no one knew it. And everything was so blurry all the time. My head was stuffed with cotton.

Social occasions were a chore for which I needed at least a week to prepare. When plans inevitably descended, I hoped for some kind of random event to swoop down and save me from it. A massive thunderstorm that would knock a tree through the house. A car crash – nothing fatal, just enough to slow down the evening, and only if I was alone in the car. (These are the rules.)

Once, when making samosas in preparation for a potluck dinner with friends, I accidentally burnt my hands so badly I had to spend the night with them both wrapped in ice, and I was so grateful.

Anxiety was crippling me. 90% of my daily thoughts were directed to how I had failed, who thought what of me, and how I could fix it. I would come up with grand ideas, and fail at them, and start the process all over again. At night my heart would pound uncontrollably and, if I slept, I woke up with crescent-moons in my palms from clenching my fists.

Every word I said for four years about my hopes for the future was a lie. I had no hope. I laid awake at night and thought about each little lie, and how disappointing I was turning out to be.

Depression steals your self-worth, and your hope.

If I had been able to see all of that from the outside – if I had looked in on myself and seen this scared, tearful, isolated person with no future and no dreams – I would have known something was VERY wrong. Now I write it all down, so that I can be the objective observer to my own life; so that I can’t be dragged under when I’m not paying attention.

There is so much help available, and no one ever has to fight alone. It’s easy enough for me to say all of this right now, because of everything else I’ve done, but let me just say that without those little white pills I would still be crying on that couch thisminuterightnow. So whatever that little white pill is for anyone out there – medication, therapy, yoga or Friday night fight club – everyone deserves the chance to find it, and start working with it, and remember that their lives are worth fighting for.

“We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”

-Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

I hate self-help books

It’s the language that they all seem to have adopted; it’s weird and preachy and reminds me vaguely of Sunday School.* “Here! Play with this string and these two pieces of wood! It’s fun for kids! NOW EXAMINE YOUR FAILURES AS A PART OF THE HUMAN RACE.” Everything’s a damned metaphor. Preachy metaphors, even, which are worse.

But I’m going to try this ‘Feeling Good’ book, partly because it was assigned to me by Therapist and she is a level-headed, clever lady; partly so that I can report back; but mostly because it’s a workbook and, oh, man, do I ever love doing little exercises in books.

Plus, look at this dude. Look into his eyes. Doesn’t he just make you want to get better? And then maybe join a bunch of people? Out in the woods? Who wear robes a lot? And drink special cactus tea?

The-Feeling-Good-Handbook-9780452261747

*Actually, I really loved Sunday school until I turned about ten and started getting creeped out by all the crosses. It coincided with when I started sneaking my dad’s Dean Koontz books out of his briefcase and reading them at night, by flashlight, under my covers. I’m not entirely clear on how those two things are connected, but I’m sure they are.

My Hill To Die On

So last night, I saw my therapist. I talked for a while, rambling on about trying to do things and managing a couple and then generally feeling lousy and going to bed; waking up exhausted, doing it over again. I told her I had felt really well, for a week or two, and now seemed to be backsliding. It felt like one of our old sessions, with me fighting back tears and trying to talk through the lump in my throat – and feeling incredibly frustrated with the familiarity. And, okay, horrified at the thought of going back on the meds. No matter what I know, it would feel like a failure to me.

She said, “I think you’re tired. I think everything that you have done in terms of coping with your depression – living with it, starting to see me, the medication, the last few months – has led you to this point. This is the part where you have to fight. This is your hill to die on.”

Holy fuck, I forgot to fight.

I’ve been learning all this gentle self-talk and care and healing and I forgot to fight.

Well fuuuuuck you, depression, I am a good fighter. This is my body and my mind and I have worked goddamn hard for them and you can’t have them.  I am not going through the last five fucking years all over again because you’re a bully and you don’t know when to piss offI’ll tell you who’s hill this is to die on: Yours.

Last night I realized that I almost lost, because I neglected some fundamental parts of to who I am: The tenacious, the aggressive and the determined. Suddenly, I’m feeling better. Fucking depression. Horseshit. Other swear words. I’m mad now.

p.s. First person to make a pun about my last name…will actually be the second person. Muahaha.