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. 

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.

 

No, really. It’s not you.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

This photo belongs to Splityarn.

Haven’t been here in a while and was recently told to write something profound. I don’t really do profound, so I’m going to tell you a story.

The other day, as I was driving home from work, I stopped at a red light (as you do) at an intersection. An elderly lady was crossing the street in front of me, with a walker.  I watched the light in the other lanes for a minute to see if it turned yellow, but this intersection has long lights and I got bored. So I looked at the elderly lady for a few seconds, and then glanced up at the light. Then I yawned.

When I looked back, this woman was angrily WAVING HER WALKER at me and angrily mouthing, “I’m TRYING!” before angrily stomping forth. And I realized:

  1. She thought I was staring at her and yawning to show how bored I was with her crossing the street so slowly
  2. That must have happened to her at some point, right? Because who would just assume that otherwise? But what kind of an asshat would get impatient with a woman who was, approximately, four hundred and twenty years old?
  3. The world is full of asshats.

Really, sometimes a yawn is just a depleted level of oxygen in an overtired body. I actually take great comfort in the generally assumable level of selfishness in the average human body. The odds are pretty crap that the girls who just walked past me, giggling, are laughing at my hair. I mean, my hair is pretty silly right now, but they’re in a world that involves the two of them and they’re probably not reaching outside of that bubble to criticize me.

Most of the time, unless told otherwise…it’s probably not about you.

Was that profound enough?

Guest Post Redux

Since it’s mental illness awareness month, and I have all these great guest posts about said illnesses scattered about the place, I thought I’d put up links to all the guest posts in one place. La voilà:

Fear and Writing – Ann Becker

Learning to Deal – Seamus Bayne

My Pet Depression – Spencer Ellesworth

Serenity through Iron-Fisted Control – Anon.

Shooting the Wild Duck – Bill Blais

Taming the Wild Voices – Chang

The Rules – Anon.

The Wee Hours – Anon.

What is Submitomancy?

Note from Gwen:

Firstly, all things said about me in this post are very, very true. Secondly: This is a post from Sylvia. Sylvia is a brilliant woman, to a degree which I suspect would make her head explode if she knew it. Thirdly: I will do a lot of work for internet/video game badges. It makes no sense, but that’s humans for you.

And now . . .

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Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I’ve designed Submitomancy to help writers submit short stories and poems to publishers. It’s sort of like speed dating, but for imaginary people.

I aim for maximum efficiency: I have this story, there are all these markets, one of them is going to fall in love with my story, it’s just a matter of persistence.

But not everyone works that way. If I want my submission tracker to be useful across the board, I have to consider writers who work differently.

Like Gwen.

Gwen doesn’t like submitting. Gwen writes excellent fiction, fascinating, fast-moving stories of space fun. And then (correct me if I’m wrong, Gwen), she’ll put off sending it out for as long as she possibly can. Like, forever.

So the perfect submissions system shouldn’t just be super-efficient for me, it should also support Gwen and encourage her to submit her stories more often. The question is: What can a piece of software offer to make this happen?

Badges. Shiny badges. Possibly with sparkles.

Submitted something? Have a badge. Submitted your first poem? Have a badge. Submitted a story a week for 52 weeks? Have a HUGE badge and a kitten.

Submitomancy has to be efficient and easy to use, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too. I know that a lot of writers dread putting their work out there and if I can create a system that encourages them, then everyone wins.

Because the system needs a funds and a critical mass of users, I’m asking writers to show their support now. If you think Submitomancy is a website you would use, or even if you just want to see Gwen submit more stories, then please support the Indiegogo campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

If Submitomancy gets off the ground, I’m going to ask Gwen to come and use it and submit her stories like crazy. And I’m going to tell her to do it for the kittens.

She doesn’t stand a chance.

kitten

Withdrawal: The Dumbass Edition

Aaargh.

Right, so, I went cold-turkey off of my meds. I’ve been avoiding writing a blog post because, well, that is just such a stupid thing to do. I felt like my options were either to pretend I hadn’t done it (very tempting) or admit it (urgh, shame, you useless bitch).

Anyway, I’ve come up with a third option: Pretend I did it all in the name of science! Yes! I was testing all things. For you. And so I can now say with absolute certainty: Going cold turkey off of an anti-depressant is one of the dumbest, most harmful things I could have done. It was awful. And you know the worst bit? It wasn’t planned. I didn’t even have the ego to think to myself, ‘Ah, whatever. I’m sure I’ll be fine.’ It just…sort of….happened. I ran out of cipralex. I couldn’t get in to see my doctor. It was Christmas. Shit got busy, and I forgot to take care of my, well, brain. Because I could have gone to a clinic, or, probably, a pharmacist. I honest-to-God just. Didn’t.

Anyway, having done it, I shall now recount the experience. First and foremost, though, I’m fine and generally expect no lasting effects. I am (finally) seeing my doctor tonight, and an hour after that, my therapist.

So!

The first few days were fine. This is like the first few hours or days after a car accident, when your body feels okay, and then you try to pick up a piece of paper and your shoulder is suddenly welded to your ear. For me, the piece-of-paper moment was just outside of a bookstore (this is important, because buying books generally makes me happy). I was suddenly overwhelmed with that punch-to-the-gut grief – you know that one? It’s the morning-after-a-loved-one-dies grief. As internal dialogue, it goes like this:

*wakes up* mmpfs’morning.
psst
coffeeisathinghrmmmph
Psst. Hey.
should get up. mm. pjs are comfy.
Your dad just died.
Oh fucking hell.

– it’s what I shall elegantly describe as the ‘Fucking hell’ moment. Anyway, it’s kind of overwhelming. It’s hard to breathe (due to having just been punched) and, for me, when it’s uncontrollable it means I’m going to cry rightnow and if I’m not somewhere that’s okay, I’d better get there fast.

So there I was, crying in a bathroom and trying to breathe and thinking, nope, this ain’t normal.

Thus began the funtimes game I like to call, “Is This Normal?”. If, while driving home from work, I find myself replaying various conversations from throughout the day, finding places in them where people might have meant something as an insult, and then trying to determine whether or not it was, and if it was? Is it true? Am I really lazy/incompetent/stupid? -And suddenly, I’m home, which means I’ve spent nearly half an hour thinking about a slight inflection in someone’s voice. That’s when it’s time to play Is This Normal?

And no. It’s not. I mean, I’m sure it is for someone, but not for me.

So, for three weeks I’ve been playing Is This Normal and, if it’s not, trying to control it or at least isolate myself from potentially taking out these imaginary feelings on loved ones. (Because depression sometimes = ‘HEY my feelings are HURT and so YOU must have done it!!!’ which is mean.) That’s okay, I can do that.

Christmas was great – having my family around was really nice, and it was low-key, fun and distracting. After that, I started having plenty of time in my head, which isn’t a great place to be when said-head has just gone cold turkey.

OH. And the DIZZY. Jaysus, the spins were/are so weird. It actually took me a long time to realize that it was probably a withdrawal symptom and not low blood sugar/dehydration/lack of sleep. At least I didn’t get ‘brain zaps’ which sound like the worst and weirdest thing ever. Anybody else? Brain zaps? Sounds super.

About five days ago the full-frontal emotional crazy started to recede. And I’m told that on the outside, nothing changed, which is terrifying because I feel like I’ve been living in a weird tunnel of fucked-up, but I guess that’s what coping skills are for. My partner certainly noticed the change, since he got to witness a lot of the random crying jags and was probably the lucky recipient of a few “I feel badly and thus so should you” moments before I figured out what was going on. (Sorry, honey.) Plus, the dizzy means that I occasionally fall over. (Er…it’s possible no one noticed that. I trip a lot.)

The whole problem with depression in the first place is that if you’re like me, and you’re relatively functional as a friend and employee, all of your depression gets stuck in your home. And that affects all of the poor bastards who have to live there. I’m not really sure what my point is here except to maybe say that at least if you’re depressed all over the place, then your home isn’t a haven for it. It shouldn’t be. There shouldn’t be a haven. If it’s all over your life, then probably, eventually, someone who doesn’t have to sleep next to you every night will say “Hey, dude. You’re kind of a mess.”

The night-stuff came back. That free-floating anxiety that pops up just as I’m about to fall asleep and says “Hey! -” (This is an actual example) “- What if your coworkers’ dog died over Christmas? LET’S THINK ABOUT THAT.” My heart would beat a little too fast and I’d find myself staring at the darkness – not a metaphor – with very wide eyes. Eventually, a few nights in a row, I just got up.

Then I was tired. How many people are more emotionally stable when they’re tired?

I feel like I’m starting to ramble a bit, so in summary, going cold turkey for me meant an emotional roller-coaster, nighttime anxiety, dizzy spells and exhaustion. Experiment over. The last little while has been okay, though I’ve had a bad cold so it’s easy to get lots of sleep (yay cough syrup!) and take care of myself.  The dizziness is gone, which must mean something, right? And I haven’t had that punch-to-the-gut in over a week. What I don’t know is, am I meant to have the anxiety back? Is this something I have to learn to manage? I suspect I can, as long as I don’t have to manage all of it.

I have no idea what my doctor will say – whether, at this point, I may as well just keep going along, or if I should go on the half-dose I was meant to be taking in the first place and wean ‘off’ of it properly. I’m happy with my use of the coping skills that I’ve learned (which include the Is This Normal game) but I don’t want to mess with my brain chemistry (any more than I already have). Between my two doctors and myself, I imagine I’ll have a proper plan tonight.

Conclusion: Cold Turkey = bad idea. (Except in a sandwich.) In a completely different context (think more along the lines of cold-turkey-when-it’s-good, like quitting smoking) this is a pretty great little post:  http://thequestforwellness.blogspot.ca/2012/06/why-going-cold-turkey-doesnt-work.html (h/t to Bayne)

In entirely unrelated news, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley will soon be visiting to talk about her awesome new project, Submitomancy! In the interim, you can check it out on Indiegogo. And you should.

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Guest Post Friday: The Rules

 

Guys, I’m not going to lie to you: This is some heavy shit.

I’ve written and deleted about three other lines, so that tells me that I actually have nothing else to say. I’m going to let this post speak for itself.

 

THE RULES

– Anonymous

 

You may not kill yourself when drunk.
You may not kill yourself while listening to the “sad songs” cassette.
You may not kill yourself in direct reaction to anything someone says that is hurtful.

Later amended to add: You may not kill yourself over a guy. Ever.

When I was a teenager, I knew the rules. They were important: a promise to myself. I would *never* promise not to kill myself. That option needed to remain open, an escape from the pain. I knew it would be a selfish act, turning my back on my life and the people in it. I also knew that it would be a relief – for me and also, I believed, for my friends and family. Maybe not immediately but in the long run, certainly. But it wasn’t really about them, it was about me. About the constant effort to just make it through the day and acknowledging that I might not want to keep making that effort. I might choose the peace and quiet of giving up.

I knew other people weren’t like this. I devoured books on crazy women: Sybil, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bell Jar. I wondered if that was who I was.

In my twenties, I changed the rules into one simple one.

You must give twenty-four hours notice before killing yourself.

I remember standing at the top of a sheer drop, on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the waves dashing onto the rocks. It was a long drop, a few stories high. I would probably break my neck in the fall. If not, well, I would be too broken to swim, so I’d drown, eventually. The neck breaking would be better, though. “So fine,” I thought. “tomorrow evening, if I still feel the same, I’ll come back here and I’ll be allowed to do this.” Because that was the rule: 24 hours notice.

I wasn’t so sure, when it came to the next day. The broken drowning option sounded pretty awful. Maybe give it another day. Maybe do it then.

And the day after that, my clouds lifted and I saw the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and the sun setting low across the mountains. And I was glad that I hadn’t jumped and I renewed the promise to myself again: that when I felt that way, I would wait the twenty four hours. I never promised that I wouldn’t kill myself, that was a step to far. But to wait a day, that I could do. I promised myself, again and again and again. And day by day, I made it forward.

This is what life was like for me. Weeks of normality, of happiness even, and then it would start. The first sign would be bruises. I became clumsy. “The ground is uneven under my feet,” I wrote in my diary, code for the depression descending again. Then the overwhelming hopelessness. Everything was futile. I couldn’t cope with the world. I was a waste of oxygen. People stared at me in the street. On the bus, no one would sit next to me, people would stand rather than get too close to the crazy. I felt nothing, I felt everything. I burned my soft skin so I could feel something comprehensible. I regularly took time off work, unable to get out of bed.  When it got bad, if I couldn’t retreat, then I would lose the ability to speak. The words pounded against my throat but I couldn’t get them out. When it was bad, I knew I wouldn’t kill myself because I was too useless even to do that. And I hated myself for it.

That’s what depression was like for me. And now, twenty years later, I still thank fortune every day that I don’t feel like that anymore. Every time, I pray to gods that I don’t believe in that I will never feel that way again.

And still the promises remain. I live on stable ground now, the sidewalk rarely shifts beneath my feet. But if the darkness descends, I can’t promise that I’ll be strong enough to keep fighting forever. But I do promise I’ll make it through one more day, to give the light a chance to break through.

 

Nano, Meds, Cats, and other four-letter words.

Nano is not technically a four-letter word. Neither is ‘meds’. I just need everyone to know that I know that.

It has been suggested that I Add More Cats in the interests of garnering readership for my Guest Post Fridays, thus I give you ‘Kitten With Giant Ears, In a Bowl’:

This is Harry.

He’s made it his mission in life to touch everything I cook with.

This is not going well for me.

I have a date with the doctor to plan my withdrawal from meds. Hope it’s as easy as it was to go on them – fingers crossed. In my ideal world, what happens is I go off of them slowly an properly and all of my little seratonin reuptakers just kind of . . . figure out their jobs. And do them. ForEVAH. I’m not sure about the anxiety…is it part of them? Will it come back, full blast? Regardless, I don’t feel (right now) like there’s anything in the offing that I can’t handle. So that’s good. I’m debating preemptively going back to see my therapist just to have a hand to hold if I need it, but right now I really feel like I don’t. Won’t.

NaNo. Anyone else doing the month of hell this year? I started with an actual – Gasp! – outline this year, and even a plan. In preparation I’ve been brushing up on Michael Moorcock’s How to Write a Book in Three Days (by whose logic I ought to have about 27 days free this month…right?) and the incredible, brilliant, irreplaceable Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Stupid Plot Tricks.

Some other four-letter words are: Skip, dogs, call, gulp and kick.

You’re welcome.

G