Hello Depression, My Old Friend

I’ve come to feel it once again.

I’ve been here before, then again later, and again after that.

I am speaking, as the title indicated, of Depression. Do you know it? Do you know its seeping, creeping darkling tendrils? Its suffocating mass? Its overwhelming prevalence in your life?

The funny thing is that I want to feel it. I draw Depression over myself like a comforting blanket, speak through its muffling effects, and even run my thoughts through its percolating filter.

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I’m afraid. And as much as I fear the mental state I can get to with Depression, I fear the unknowns of real life much more -especially the variables known as people. Actually, that’s not fair. A lot of my negative thoughts result from a constant need to numb any feeling at all.

When my mind is awake and aware, the reality of my pointless life rises up in walls around me. It doesn’t stop there. Depression curdles my thoughts, reminding me of how much I have in life and how I should feel bad for feeling bad. I should also stop thinking selfishly at all. Sure; I don’t ever address my own happiness, but I’m more functional that way.

When around people, every little gesture or tone or blink sends my anxiety off the charts. I talk too much, or too little. I don’t smile enough. Maybe I smiled too much? I know they hated me because they did that little side-smile and nervous laugh. Why oh why did I talk about social injustice when they just wanted to talk about Joanna Gaines?

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Reeling at the stimuli I quickly opt for substance abuse, staying up late, stopping my mind, and squashing my innermost desires.

I forget all the good advice and hide beneath my cloud of encroaching gloom known as Depression.

And only when I am at the bottom of the pit do I notice things might not be ideal. When my mind shouts, “NO YOU’RE NOT” over the top of a compliment. When I yearn to not exist. When, in short, the thoughts altered by Depression go beyond what I think is ‘real’ and definitely enter ‘lying.’

That’s when I begin to fidget a bit. Perhaps, I consider, this Depression thing isn’t such a great comforter after all.

And yet, I don’t fully shake it. Instead, I feel I go round and round the cycle again.

I told my counselor once that I don’t know why I keep at it. I said that maybe I was waiting for ‘rock bottom;’ for a major event to shake me out of this. “You don’t want rock bottom,” she reminded me. She’s right, of course. I don’t.

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I feel I need to take my own advice and stop pretending I don’t need to. I need to keep at it and not assume all’s well enough to get lazy. I need to actually do what I just said.

What do you do to push away the blues, and remember that they need to stay away? How do you stick with it?

Photo Credit:
Megan te Boekhorst
Alexandra Gorn
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José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski

Why Do We Do What We Always Do?

I’ve been a little down lately.

For anyone who ever feels the effects of depression, that’s code for: crying sporadically, feeling worthless, and avoiding people in general.

On the plus side, I’ve been doing some thinking. How? A detached, more logical human often steps aside from the involved, emotional creature on the floor and studies her like an anthropologist.

Here are some of my observations:

  1. When feeling bad, I try to feel worse.
  2. I really just want someone to love me, so I hurt anyone who gets close enough to even talk.
  3. Although self-care and routine would help, I intentionally do not sleep and avoid cognitive behavioral therapy-like activities.
  4. I often think nothing will get better, though a hormone shift completely alters my perspective.
  5. Despite knowing to avoid vices, I dive right in.
  6. I tell myself mean, cutting, disparaging, rude, abusive, sarcastic, reproachful, cruel phrases that I also say are all true. They’re not.

In short, mein patient, I haf observed that I not only shoot myself in the foot; I also get the arm, gut, and a hopeful shot near something vital. Why?

Fear. Self-protection. Habit.

Fear? I fear change and the unknown so much that I sink back into habits and negative feelings because they are more familiar. I do not know the outside.

Self-protection? What I do know of the outside is painful. People are rude and hurt me, even by not paying attention –especially by not paying attention. Things I hope for will not come true, I will feel sad, and the world is full of disparity.

Habit? Besides those reasons, I do not have enough motivation to believe that the small steps others (including myself) recommend will make a positive change. I inch a toe out just a teensy bit toward a better habit, see little or no difference, and crawl back to my mud.

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So what’s a person to do?

In actual practice, I repeat my ingrained cycle over and over. I avoid self-motivation by constantly blocking ways that might help. I deny outside help, even shutting the door on physical interventions as simple as a hug. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for in doing this.

Yet, occasionally, the outside observer and the person on the floor become one. I blink, look around, and realize this isn’t such a great place to be. Others may have this happen the morning after a night of drinking or doping, the moment sedatives wear off, or at that terrible time of early morning when you still can’t sleep and know any effort to try will not be enough.

No wonder we’re depressed.

I believe what I’m waiting for is an outside intervention. I’m hoping that a knight in shining armor will show he cares enough for me always, perfectly, consistently. Motivation is his noble steed. His blade is The Real Truth, and his shield The Defender of All Who Might Hurt Me. He never gives up, never takes, “No,” for an answer, and is never distanced by the rude things my inner voice says.

And, until he charges up to little, fat, depressed, muddy me; I am determined to keep up the bad habits.

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This expectation is not reasonable.

So, what’s a person really to do?

*Sigh* I think I need to cut out the crap. In some cases, literally; like not giving into unhealthy vices. I also think I need to really commit to the cognitive behavioral therapy stuff. I talk about it, endorse it, and encourage others to do it. Then, I …don’t.

As a New Year’s resolution this November day, I am going to check out some free resources and get on it. If you might possibly relate to fear, self-protection, and habit-driven behaviors, I recommend coming along, too.

I am worth better than this, and so are you.

Let’s keep fighting.

The Long Road to Betterment

As human beings, regardless of our backgrounds, we’ve become conditioned to evaluate our success in life based on the monetary value of our material possessions. The impact of this trending train of thought has become detrimental to our society, and is especially toxic for those of us who already struggle to find our sense of selves, our true value.

This shift in humanity, in my opinion, grew exponentially with the rise of the technological era. While it’s existed within us for several generations, it’s much more prominent in the last few. And while recently there has been a small faction bringing minimalist living to light, currently more than ever we have become obsessed with the idea of owning the best and newest things.

This has been a difficult post to write because of my own current struggles on the topic. Where is the line between valuing possessions over what really matters, and yearning for a sense of security you’ve never known? There’s obviously financial security in the way of assets, and then there’s having a stable life. Who’s to say when we’ve taken it too far, and how do we separate the wants from the true needs?

I was raised as a welfare baby, my mom on social security, section 8, food stamps, and I’ve had government provided health insurance for my entire life. My mom still survives on the programs, and now I’m raising my daughter on food stamps and free health care as well. It’s not a choice, because while my husband works, it’s not enough, and I can’t bring in enough money with my disabilities to make the pain they’d cause worth the while.

I’m sure my mother wasn’t proud to need all that assistance to raise me, and I’m certainly not proud either. We recently began trying to apply for home loans, as we’ve both lived under mostly slum lords for our entire lives and we want better for our daughter. Long and painfully disappointing story short, we got denied this week and it broke me.

This switch has gone off inside of me, making me feel guilt, inferiority, and judgment towards myself. I swore I’d never raise my child on welfare, but this was before I knew of my physical restraints. Despite my lack on control in the matter, there’s a certain self resentment that comes with that, a sense of worthlessness. I thought I’d found the perfect home for us, actually allowed myself to get excited for once, and now someone else’s family will fill the home.

It’s been an incredibly trying week, with tensions always escalating and tensions always rising due to our current crappy living situation, and I haven’t felt this defeated in a really long time. Especially for those of us with mental illness, stability is incredibly imperative to our success, and it’s my firm belief that if I can finally achieve stability, maybe I can finally begin my journey to betterment.

What I thought was one step closer turned out to be two steps back, but I must still press on. I have to believe that there’s more left in life for me than just the current chapter, that the book will have at least a relatively halpy ending. Here’s to everyone else who’s had a disappointing week or felt broken by something outside of your control. Life gave us lemons, so I guess we’re making lemonade, no matter how sweet or sour it tastes.

The Night Run

The Night Run

A short story based on actual events by Chelsea Walker

She sits down on the brown couch in the living room to tie her shoes and then she’ll be ready to go.

“Are you running, Mom?” Stella asks.

“Yep.”  Chelsea finishes her runner’s knot and stands to adjust the lighted vest she’s wearing tonight.  It is already dark out.  “Ryan, I’m ready to go!”

“Ok,” he replies emerging from the hallway with young August in his arms.  “Have fun.”  He kisses her and smiles his goodbye before turning back to the children.  “Chloe, get in the shower, please.”

Chelsea makes her way to the front door, taking a moment to look at her phone.  She starts her walk-to-run app and puts her headphones in.  “Begin with a 5 minute warm up walk.”  The woman’s voice instructs.

Chelsea opens the door and heads out into the cool air of this Arizona winter evening.  Taking a moment to enjoy the wide open space of the outdoors, she takes a cleansing breath.  It soon becomes a sigh of relief.  A few minutes alone.

She crosses the lawn and makes a left at the sidewalk, stopping briefly to start her music.  Heaven by One Republic begins.  She quickens her pace to a brisk walk and focuses on the sound in her headphones, reveling in this time to recharge.

Chelsea and Ryan and their 4 children live in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.  Right now it’s winter, the best time to be in this part of the world.  People from all over north America travel here to get away from the snow that’s prevalent further north.  It’s the ideal winter residence.  The summer’s are tough, but winter in Arizona is a paradise.

Chelsea walks the tree lined streets, cool air filling her lungs as her heart rate starts to accelerate just slightly.  She’s almost to the main road.  Heaven ends.  She’s feeling like something different would suit her mood tonight.

Feeling like Owl City, she starts Embers and starts jogging as the voice in her headphones says “Start running.”

She relishes in the feel of her feet pounding the pavement and her lungs breathing in and out.  It’s felt so good to be running again, just like she always used to.  She hopes this time she can stick to it.

It’s been a long couple years.  Debilitating depression made life a living nightmare for so long, but things have gotten better.  She notes with gratitude that this run is a symbol of how far she has come.  The lyrics to her soundtrack match her mood and thoughts.

There were days, when each hour, was a war I fought to survive

There were nights, full of nightmares and I dreaded closing my eyes

Tears fill her eyes as the lyrics bring the pain of those dark times back to the forefront of her mind.  Cool air rushes against her, a balm on her warming skin.  She remembers the constant pain and distress, the hopelessness…

There were skies that burst open with a downpour to drown me alive

But the world took a spark like a match in the dark and the fire brought me to life

So I’m fanning the flames to climb so high ’cause there’s no other way we can stay alive

Chelsea’s pain turns to a fierce determination.  She focuses on how much better things are now, even though they are still difficult.  But I’ve come this far.  I can keep going.  She increases her pace, causing her lungs and legs to burn.  She ignores the discomfort and pushes through.

And you’ll find, there’ll be mornings when the ashes and embers are cold

But you’ll fight with a passion and you’ll never stop cause you know

Yeah you know it gets better and your story is yet to be told

Every push, every shove, every war, every love

Yeah the coals are beginning to glow

The lyrics are just what she needs right now, to give her courage to go back home.  Home to a family she loves more than anything, but feels more than inadequate to care for most days.  Tears forms in her eyes once more, but she wills them away, and instead focuses on the passing palo verde trees and lantana shrubs that dot the edges of the sidewalk.

She turns down her music for a moment and offers a prayer in her mind.  She prays in gratitude for how far she has come.  She expresses thanks that she can run tonight and thanks for her family.  She tearfully pours out her heart, sharing with her Father in Heaven how difficult this is and how much she needs His help.  Closing her prayer, she feels a sense of calm and peace, knowing that she is not alone in this struggle.

Chelsea reaches the intersection and turns back around the way she came.  “Slow and down and walk,” come the instructions from her running app.  She gratefully slows her pace, breathing heavily.

25 minutes passes quickly, but it’s just the recharge she needed tonight.  When she hears the final voice command to cool down with a 5 minute walk, her heart and mood feel lighter.  She feels refreshed emotionally and ready return to the responsibilities at home.

As Chelsea approaches the house, she can see all the lights on and hear the sounds of children talking loudly.  Ryan is still getting them all to bed, she notes.  She almost loses her courage, as the weight of her responsibilities settles back onto her shoulders.

Taking a deep breath, and sending another prayer heavenward, she crosses the front lawn and takes the sidewalk up to the door.  She opens it and is greeted by the happy voices of her children.

“Mommy!”

Chelsea smiles and hugs them in return.

Owl city lyrics provided by Google.com
Songwriters: Adam R. Young / Nate Campany / Emily Meredith Wright
Embers lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

My advice for the Mom with Postpartum Mental Illness

Because both of my depressive episodes occurred during the postpartum period, I have learned a little bit with regard to how to handle this situation.  Most of it, I learned in hindsight–realizing things my husband and I would have done differently after the fact.  I’m no expert, but I have a few things I’d like to share that I hope will help someone else.

First, get help immediately.  Speaking from my own experience as well as from friends that I know who have gone through similar experiences–it pays to talk to a professional right away.  If you aren’t sure about medications yet, try a therapist first.  If you are having difficulty with intense anger, feeling “wrong” mentally, having mood swings, intense fears and anxiety and especially if you are experiencing suicidal ideation or thoughts–I personally recommend seeing a psychiatrist as soon as possible.  This is just my personal recommendation as a fellow sufferer–if I can’t function then I can’t take care of anyone else.  With a new baby depending on me for all of their basic needs and more, I need to get better.  For me, medication was essential.  Don’t delay your care!  In my experience, these things tend to get worse when they aren’t addressed.  Get help immediately.

Second, get as much good sleep as possible.  Did you just shake your fist at the computer?  Or maybe you threw your phone across the room.  Did I forget you have a newborn that wakes at all hours of the night?  Trust me, I know this all too well.  After my last baby I got to the point where I could not even fall asleep at night because I was already in a panic about having to wake up in just a few short hours.  My symptoms were compounding and getting worse due to sleep deprivation.  The worse I felt, the harder it was to sleep–it was a vicious cycle.  This brings me to sub-point 2a: Consider bottle feeding.  This was a hard decision for my very over-extended mind.  I wanted to do what was best for my baby.  Of course breastmilk is the ideal food for a human infant, but you know what is an even more ideal situation for an infant?  A mother who is emotionally and mentally able to care for her child and herself.  Formula is a modern day miracle, in my opinion.  It allows women, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, to feed their own babies–and allows others to help.  Make the choice that allows you to be the best mom you can be, and don’t let anybody else guilt you into choosing otherwise.  Bottle-feeding will allow others the ability to help with night (and day) feedings which will give you more sleep.

Third, let others help!  Don’t try to be a hero.  The first thing you need help with is the night feedings.  Enlist the help of your partner or other family member or friend.  The best situation here is probably to alternate nights.  You do one night, your helper does the next night.  Then you each get a night of full sleep every other day.  If I were to ever have more children, my husband and I would hire a person in to do the night feedings.  I have no idea how expensive this is, but wouldn’t that be a dream?  That’s not realistic for most, so really tap into your support system here.  Sleep is a non-negotiable part of your recovery.

My husband, was my hero during this time.  Knowing that I couldn’t function without sleep, after we switched to bottle feeding, he handled all of the night feedings for me, every single night, while still working full time–and this baby did not sleep through the night for many months.  As you can imagine, this was detrimental to my husband’s health.  He was in a constant state of burnout for months and this took it’s toll on him.  I wish we would have brought in outside help.  No person is invincible.  I was in no position to help with making important decisions, as incapacitated as I was, and Ryan (my husband) was just trying to make it through each day.

Ask for outside help.  When a parent is struggling with mental illness it affects the whole family.

Let others help in any way they might offer.  Maybe you have a friend who offers to bring you dinner–don’t turn her down!  Let your friend bring dinner.  Maybe someone offers to watch your baby/children so that you can get away for a break, or take a nap.  Let them.  Don’t turn down any offers for help.  This is not the time for you to act like you’ve got things together.  This is a time for others to help you as much as possible so that you can take care of yourself.

Fourth, share what you are going through with others.  This goes along with number 3.  If others don’t know what is going one, they won’t reach out to help.

When I was pregnant with my 4th baby, I was on bedrest for about 9 weeks due to some complications.  Our church community knew what was going on and arranged to bring dinner in for our family, 3 days a week for that full 9 weeks.  Many people also came and helped with cleaning, took my older children on outings, and visited me because I was home-bound and needed company.  This was a sweet experience to be the recipient of so many acts of service.  It made me want to do the same for others as soon as I got back on my feet.

I never got back on my feet.  With the onset of my mood swings and extreme depression, I was really struggling to get through minute by minute, day by day.  Although people knew I was having a hard time, they didn’t really know the extent, and if they did know–they did not know how to support and help us in this situation.  I was only open with a few people about what was actually going on.  Having just received so much help while on bed rest, and being so mixed up mentally, I didn’t even think to ask for help from our friends and family.  My husband and I  just struggled through this extremely difficult time on our own.

If I could do it again, I would have opened my mouth more–or had my husband open his mouth, to those we knew.  I know people would have rallied around us and helped in any way they could, but we never gave them the opportunity.  We could have used dinners on occasion, help with cleaning, help with our children, from time to time–this would have lightened our load considerably.  Don’t follow our bad example.  Reach out to your support system–let them know what is going on and tell them you need help.

Fifth, make time for yourself.  With the help of family and friends, schedule time for yourself, every single day.  If you have one child, this might be done while your baby sleeps.  If you have multiple children, call in help for child care so that you can get away from the house and do something you enjoy, or just relax, away from the cares of mothering.  You are important!  You are the glue that keeps everything together at home.  You will be a better mother to your children and a happier person if you will figured out how to make this for yourself, every single day.  This needs to be a non-negotiable part of your self-care.

Sixth, go into survival mode.  You can read more about this here.

You will get through this time and things will get better.  Enjoy your new baby as much as you can.  I spent lots of time just holding my last baby.  Partly because I knew he would be our last child and partly because that physical connection to another human was good for me emotionally.  It’s good for your baby, as well.

If you need more suggestions for navigating depression, check out my other posts.

Have you lived through postpartum mental illness in the past?  Share how you got through it.  Are you in the middle of it right now?  Share your story.

Overstimulated

The clinking of dishes;

The lights;

The “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “He’s hitting me.”  “Can you play with me?”  “What’s for dinner?”

The piles of laundry;

The overflowing dirty dishes;

The homework;

The crying infant;

The endless varieties of ketchup;

The music;

The shoulder tapping;

The blaring of the television;

If you are a parent, you might be laughing (or crying) right now, because this sounds like typical things encounter all day long.  If you aren’t a parent, though, I am sure you can still relate to the concept that we are constantly barraged by stimulus of every kind all day long.  Everywhere we go, we are we are seeing, hearing and touching things.  In good health, all of this stimuli is just part of the daily routine and we may not even take note of it.  When dealing with severe emotional pain from depression, however, this constant assault on our senses can take our symptoms from bad to worse.

As a mother, I have 4 built-in sources of almost constant auditory, visual and tactile stimuli which originate from each of my 4 children.  I also have the visual stimuli of my environment, which often is in one of the varying stages of getting messy or getting clean.  All of this input was too much for my ill mind but I didn’t really have much choice–I had to live with it.  I learned, therefore, that it was essential for me to be very selective in what additional stimuli I was allowing into my life in order to survive the worst of this mental pain.  I also found ways of doing what had to be done, in the easiest way possible to limit the load on my delicate mind.

If you are in a similar situation with your mental health, I hope some of what I share here will be helpful to you.  Remember, the key here is to lighten the load on our minds by limiting the stimuli our brains have to process.

Here are some things I stopped doing in my life to give my brain a break:

  • I didn’t initiate many interactions with my children, I would let them come to me for the most part. (They did come to me, often–trust me).
    • Along with this, I learned to listen and interact without emotionally extending myself, or in other words, not getting emotionally involved.  I learned to be more emotionally passive in my interactions.  This was essential due the high volume of interactions I had to participate in everyday.
  • Situations where I had to be physically present (such as going to church meetings) I would do my best to tune out whatever I didn’t absolutely have to listen to.
  • I limited my social interactions because these would always increase my pain.
  • I limited time spent listening to loud music as the added noise would often increase my pain.
  • I stopped multi tasking. This was much too taxing for my brain.
  • I eliminated any media that was really action-packed, intense, or loud as this would increase my distress.  In fact, I reduced my media consumption in general.
  • I limited time in “busy” environments, such as the grocery store.

Here are some things I started doing to help give my brain rest:

  • I set aside about an hour each day for quiet alone time. When the kids were home from school for the summer, this meant all of my children had to participate in quiet time when I did. When my older children were in school, I did this while my baby napped. I cannot stress enough how essential this was! It still is, in fact.
  • I had my children do a large share of the family chores. They were all old enough to help. This improved the stimuli from my environment without me having to do it all myself.  (We still do this in our family).
  • I would remove myself from a situation when I started to feel an increase in pain. For example, this meant that sometimes I didn’t eat dinner with my family, because I needed a break in the quiet.
  • I got rid of a lot of possessions, with my husband’s help. I found it difficult to tune out my environment when it was a mess or when excess “things” were constantly assaulting my eyes. I actually went so far as to take most of the pictures and decor down in my house. I just really needed to see blank, empty space. This helped me a lot.

These are not exhaustive lists by any means and many of these of individualized to my circumstances, but hopefully this gives you a starting point from which you can form your own plan to decrease the load on your mind by limiting the stimuli in your life.

Does this make sense?  How have you coped with mental pain from depression?  I’d love to hear your suggestions.