Three years ago, I had a bad fall down a flight of stairs. One minute there I was, at the top of the stairs, calling goodbye to my husband, yoga mat jauntily slung over my shoulder, mood sparkling, in the best shape of my life – with the muscular curves that four years of belly dance and yoga and hiking on the Yorkshire Moors granted me.
The next moment, I lay crumbled at the bottom of the stairs, my right arm stretched behind me at an odd angle, confused, broken, and unable to agree with my husband that I should go to a hospital (we were in the UK at the time, so it would not have cost us anything).
And I’ve never been the same, ever since.
My yoga practice lessened, and then stopped entirely when my right shoulder developed into complete adhesive capsulitis. I had about 5% range of motion for 18 months and couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time due to pain for the first 8 of those months. I had to cancel what would’ve been my first paid belly dance gig and mini-class, thus extinguishing a newly-formed dance duet team before it even had time to properly develop.
My spinal alignment was terrible, and I developed vertebrae problems. I put on weight at an alarming rate, and, to this day, have yet to work it all off. I was terrified walking down the street, for every time I accidentally bumped into an object or a person the jolt of pain starting at my shoulder was so intense that I yelped and nearly passed out on the street. Eventually, I went to the doctor and got some strong painkillers, which increased my appetite and played havock with my complexion. And the doctor told me if I had come in right away after the fall it was possible that something could have been done so that the injury didn’t develop into adhesive capsulitis, and would probably have healed well in 3-4 weeks.
Loads and loads of overwhelming, self-perpetuating, pain-driven guilt.
I still feel this guilt.
I still morn the dancing I should have been doing, the deepening of my yoga practice, the beautiful walks in the Dales I missed, the carefree spirit I had felt from just being healthy and strong.
After my shoulder could move again, I begin the long process of rebuilding, and attempting to counteract the extra damage caused by two many hours sitting in bed when I couldn’t do anything else. It was slow. My yoga now feels like it’s at the level it was during my first six months of practice. I never did re-start belly dancing (partly because I moved to an area with NO Tribal Style bd classes).
Then, last September, a car coming the opposite way from me down a busy street decided to plow right into the front of my car. Now I’m rehabilitating a painful back injury and I feel like just when I was starting to re-build another debilitating injury set me back again.
Perhaps it is too obvious to say that none of this pain made it easier to deal with my Depression. And the isolating aspect of Depression is only amplified when people cannot _see_ an injury…. no cast and crutches to make my pain obvious. No big surgery to get flowers at; no end to the pain in sight; no time when I know I’ll be able to work out. Hard. Every day. Because that’s what it’d take to get my body back.
I’m not sure I have any answers here. Chronic pain is exhausting, omnipresent, and quite frankly, depressing. It is apt to make you feel alone in a world of pain, having to push through every day while the rest of the world bounces around able to do things that you cannot. Personally, I have guilt every time I reach out and tell people I hurt, and guilt for not accomplishing more in my free time.
The HOPE here has to be just that. Because you don’t know when you’ll have a pain free day again. Because you don’t know if you’ll ever feel healthy and whole and strong again. And so I say, cling to the hope wherever you find it. If you meditate, build a place inside where the pain is gone and dwell there for a while every day. Listen to the people who say they love you and you can vent to them, and believe that if you do they will not abandon you. Push through and give yourself the patience and grace you need to heal. Because you don’t know when you’ll feel better.
But you also don’t know that you won’t.
Because you don’t know that others are suffering as well.
And maybe they need you to be their light.
Because you know you need a hug and a kind ear.
And someone else you will see today does also.
Because neither Depression, nor Pain
are who you are.
Compliments are odd things.
A friend of mine was recently awarded the high compliment of her son saying, “Whoa! How did you do that?!?” in reaction to her Lego creation.
Among the odd compliments I’ve received, a few stand out. Once, a friend of mine told me what she liked about me most was that I was “competent.” Considering this was likely one of two compliments she voiced that year, I was honoured. A next-door neighbor of Hispanic roots nicknamed me “trabajadora,” or “hard-worker,” thus creating a ringing contrast to years of being screamed at for being “lazy” when I was a child. A former roommate said that I was one of the few “awake” people he’d ever met. And a friend and former bellydancing colleague once said, “Kat is the most passionate person I’ve ever known.” Another friend, who had been practicing yoga for 19 years, expressed once that I was one of those rare few who actually get yoga.
Friends, and sometimes even loved ones, enter and depart our lives. And whether we know them for a short while or a lifetime, every one of them leaves behind something in our hearts and minds.
I think it’s important when battling Depression to not only focus on the hurt and pain others have left behind. It’s vital to recall the compliments as well, from the little ones that make you look sideways at her, wondering if she’s being sarcastic, to the ones that fill you with a sort of awe and gratitude towards Life and Love. We cannot choose how another person will behave towards us; we can, however, choose to focus our memories. For there is much to treasure in what they leave behind.
This morning I woke up with a song in my head.
Rather than listening to our usual dose of Morning Edition, which recently has been making me cynical and sad with its coverage of the plethora of current events choking the life and spirit out of humanity, I played the song I had woken to. And for the first time in quite a while, I felt something. Singing along, I was on the verge of tears. Passion stirred as I belted out the lyrics. And I realized that even this, a feeling of pain near tears, was better than the dull nothingness I’d been experiencing for quite a while.
Which means I’m not doing as well as I’d like to in dealing with my Depression.
What do we do, my dear readers, when we come to the realization that we’ve been unwell to the point of numbness for quite a while, and yet were too numb to even realize it? When we’re not so much Depression Warriors as fighters sitting on the sideline drinking the electrolytes of apathy?
Writing quickly before work, so I’m not promising perfect editing….
When Depression opens its slavering jaws, it can make me want to withdraw from society, friends, gatherings…. everything, really.
Though a typical aspect of Depression, curling up in bed alone can cause the spiral to whirl even faster.
This week and last, I was struggling massively with situational Depression, caused by a sense of helplessness in the face of gigantic medical bills and upcoming gigantic dental bills. These things have not gone away, and I’m still not sure how long it’s going to take me to pay off the bills, but one thing that’s helped me progress towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has been fighting isolationist tendencies and stepping outside of my problems.
The weather is finally approaching Spring brilliance here in Memphis, and one particularly bad day after work this week I managed to talk myself out of my work clothes, into workout clothes, filled a water bottle, donned my helmet, and went out on a bike ride in the park. Do not get me wrong – this was hard. What I really felt like doing was binge eating toast….or yoghurt….or noodles….and then burying myself in the blankets until unconsciousness claimed me. But being out in public, smiling at other cyclists and joggers, enjoying the warm air and the rush of trees and streams and bridges as I whizzed by them lifted my mood enough so that I made it through the evening without binge eating and also without taking it all out on my ever-patient, non-Depression-stricken husband. I also sought outside perspective from a dear one back in the U.K., whose input made me realize that all was not lost. Finally, I attended a Social Justice meeting and got fired up about helping to defeat TN Amendment 1, a deliberately-misleading little amendment that would cripple the state constitution, obliterating privacy rights that at the moment make the TN constitution stronger than the US constitution. How lovely to see such a strong constitution in a state in the South! That’s another essay for another time, but the point of all this is that isolation can be destructive – and hiding away from the world can exacerbate meditation upon my problems until they are all that I can see.
The people in our lives who care for us are there to help us, and sometimes to give us perspective when we are unable to see outside of our problems. The communities in which we live offer up opportunities for service, and I challenge anyone to find a community that doesn’t need help in some way. Isolation during Depression is not the same as finding time for yourself. It can be a tool that ye olde Black Dog (thanks, Winston Churchill) uses to keep you down, to keep you unable to enjoy life, to keep you feeling it’s impossible to do anything besides just. barely. make it through each day.
So, the next time Depression casts a lustful eye upon your spirit, try combating it with focus outside of yourself. Have a conversation; talk to someone on the phone who you haven’t spoken to in a while; help your community. All these things will serve to remind you that others are also struggling in this mad, mad world. And part of our remit here is to be with each other. Let’s hold hands honestly, even when we are feeling down, and together we’ll live life. To the fullest.
Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
Excepting those with outside jobs, we live in a largely indoor world.
It can be very easy to get up before the sun, drive in to work, spend all day in an office, drive home, and spend the evening inside before going to sleep.
I’ve found that this type of lifestyle is not conducive to fighting Depression on a daily basis.
But it’s a busy life; I know. Here are a few ways to get back to the basics, per se. I’ve found that when I take the time to reconnect with Nature, wherever I’m living, my mood is uplifted.
1) Invest in good outdoor clothing. With a bit of budgeting, even someone on a low budget (and yes, I’ve been there, too, more often than not) can save up and invest in a decent outdoor jacket or coat. Shop around for a ‘weatherproof’ coat. Knowing that it’s raining outside, or cold, but all you have to do is throw on your trusty all-weather coat / jacket in order to enjoy going outdoors makes it easier to work a few minutes of outdoor time into your daily schedule.
2) I’m fortunate in that my work is directly on the Mississippi River. It is simply a gorgeous environment. Here’s how I fit in a bit of River time every work day: 1) I plan to arrive at work 15 minutes early. As I have a 45 minute drive in, leaving 15 minutes earlier is not such a big deal. Upon arriving in the neighborhood, I park in Martyr’s Park http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g55197-d3165514-Reviews-Martyrs_Park-Memphis_Tennessee.html and spend a few minutes walking along the riverbank. Almost always I see a mockingbird flitting about, I observe the tempo of the River, which changes every day, and I enjoy the view of the wild banks of Arkansas across the River. I should state here that I am in.no.way a morning person. But it is definitely worth it.
3) Lunch break – I only have 30 minutes for lunch, and I love to lunch with my work colleague, as she and I are more often than not the only ones at the office and she’s a fabulously cool person. However, I take about 15 minutes with her, which has necessitated me eating rather light lunches (a health benefit!) and then 10 minutes to visit the river again. Bliss.
But what if I work downtown / in an ugly looking neighborhood with no green spaces? Let’s not forget the sky,
…and the sun,
…and the Earth
There is beauty all around us. Beauty that we’ve been connected to for far longer than we’ve been stuck in fluorescent lighting for 7-9 hours a day. Sometimes it takes a little bit of searching. But reminding myself of my connections to the water, and the sky and the sun and the Earth is one of my favourite Depression Warrior tactics, and the ability to appreciate these elements wherever on the planet I am is one of my favourite parts of being human.
How do you get in touch with your environment?
There is a chain around your heart.
You may know who cast it, in metal stronger than iron,
and you may have even cast it yourself,
but it doesn’t matter who put it there.
The chain around your heart
Strangles your heart
Robbing you of vital oxygen
Choking off your essence
Until you are short of breath,
Panicked at the slightest mishap,
Unable to draw full breath
Imagine it, see it, feel it.
Materialize the metaphor.
And the next time you’re hurting,
See it, feel that chain around your heart.
And then go inside…
Use that amazing mind you have,
And go inside until you can put your hands
Around that chain around your heart….
Take a deep breath, and lift it off.
The first time I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression I was also diagnosed with Clinical Paranoia.
And it seemed like my psychiatrist was holding his breath, waiting, nervously anticipating further development in my diagnosis. Never before or since have I seen such utter relief plastered across another human being’s face as when he announced, about a week later, that he did not think I had schizophrenia.
Now armed with the knowledge that I don’t have what I consider one of the most complicated and terrifying mental illnesses there is…… really, schizophrenia scares me more than Alzheimer’s… I still find myself flummoxed by the combination of paranoia and depression within the glorious chemical soup that is my mind. The former causes hyper-alertness and anxiety and a sort of nightmare-quality uber-awareness of my surroundings, like being mindful but in a very dark and frightening way. The later causes feelings of listlessness, anti-motivation, exhaustion, and a general mental fuzziness that feels antithetical to the paranoid feelings.
And yet they co-exist and even feed each other, bless their bits. Recent research has suggested that paranoid thoughts may be as common as anxiety and depression.
So, here are a few typical paranoid thoughts and how I’ve learned to deal with them:
Thought: They are all out to get me.
Reality: Some people are out to get me. Fighting paranoia doesn’t mean that I stop realizing that, yes, there are people who act like utter assholes in the world, including those who feel no hesitation in beating someone else down if it benefits them, including criminals out for your wallet or worse. But when paranoia strikes, and I feel that everyone around me is out to get me, secretly plotting how to hurt me, I remind myself to look around, and try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. That father attempting to wrangle three children into the car, while loading groceries and talking on his cell phone, holding it between his shoulder and ear? Probably not out to get me. The two young store clerks on a break, leaning against the wall and talking animatedly to each other? Probably not out to get me. And sometimes, that’s enough. Clearly, not _everyone_ is out to get me. And the perspective this grants me is usually enough to get me safely to my next destination.
2) Thought: They all hate me.
Reality: Some people dislike me. But this is actually pretty normal. I’m a fairly socially capable person, but not everyone is going to like me every day, everywhere I go. And really, hate is a strong emotion that requires daily maintenance. It’s hard to continually fan the fires of hatred, especially if they’re lit by one specific person; that’s hard work. The thought that _all_ people in any given situation hate one person is highly unlikely. Unless I’m faced with an angry mob, it’s not likely that they all hate me.
All these things seem very logical as I sit here in my comfy pyjamas, in a safe, warm environment, not in any way surrounded by a crowd of strangers. But this is what I’ve learned of paranoia – I’ve learned to tell myself these logical things before I get out in a crowd and become nervous, fearful and paranoid. Perhaps that’s the key – when you find yourself about to venture into a situation where you think you are likely to have paranoid thoughts, try reminding yourself…. They are not all out to get you. They don’t all hate you. In fact, there really is no ‘They.’ ‘They’ are just individual people, most a bit nervous in new situations and/or crowds of strangers, some of whom may also be reminding themselves to watch out for paranoid thoughts, just like you are. And the criminals in the crowd? Well, they are there. But they’re not going to avoid you because you’re having paranoid thoughts. So do what you can to guard your pockets and purses and bags, but be alert without fear.
Of course, you could also try some psychotherapy……
Deny it if you will….we all talk to ourselves. Most of the time it’s not out loud, though purrsonally (sic) I have a tendency to organize myself out loud….to the occasional comment and chagrin of colleagues. But the internal monologue or dialogue is, as far as I can tell, one of the things that makes us human.
But what does this have to do with Depression Warrior? Well, not just talking to myself, but paying attention to what I’m saying, has been one of my favorite settings on my personal, cerebral sonic screwdriver (Yes, Happy 50th anniversary to the show that shares its initials with this blog.). Because what we say to ourselves matters at least as much as what others say to us. Listening to what we are saying to ourselves in our heads is like being able to see straight into our subconscious ….. like really listening to others, the practice of listening to ourselves can be revelationary.
So, the next time you find you may be sinking emotionally, listen to those inner voices.
Mine usually start having arguments with people I have conflict with, and, specifically, unresolved conflict that’s not likely to be resolved any time soon. And, rather than being cathartic, these arguments just hammer home the point that some things cannot be repaired, which is a very depressing thought in itself. Additionally, they can be as mentally exhausting as real arguments, and can bounce about in my head at inconvenient times, like when I’m trying to sleep or focus at work. My antagonist(s) in these arguments invariably call me the most creatively cruel things I can imagine. Ick. Enter exhaustion and decreased productivity, and it’s not a long road until this is one of those side effects of Depression that just perpetuates a deeper state of Depression.
Well, that’s all very bleak, eh? Potentially, yes. But we humans have the ability to change bleakness to joy. Recently I’ve been working to change my inner monologue entirely. I’ve been increasing my use of mantras, but not so much by memorizing loads of Sanskrit as making up my own. As as exercise, let’s look at this:
1) What would you like to hear said about you personally?
2) What are your favorite parts of who you are?
3) What makes you feel great about yourself?
4) What are the best compliments you’ve ever been given?
5) What strengths do you feel make you…. well, you?
When you’re feeling off-kilter, what does your inner voice say?
Useless? Stupid? Ugly? Worthless? Not good enough? Lazy? Fat? Waste of space?
I asked myself this question, too. If there’s nothing unusual about self-doubting, self-abusive, self-defeating thoughts, why should there be anything unusual about their opposites?
Should we really feel okay thinking horrible thoughts about ourselves, but then foolish thinking that we’re loving, intelligent, funny, clever, beautiful people who make great friends, lovers, spouses, parents, children, etc? Why is it culturally acceptable for us to trash talk ourselves, but frowned upon when we give ourselves any credit?
My conclusion, as with most things, was to make an informed decision through experience. I’ve decades of experience with internally thinking what a useless waste of space I am, so I’ve begun changing that dialogue. And I feel very different after I come out of a ten minute loop of complimenting something I did well compared to a ten minute loop of cataloging my weaknesses and faults.
I’m still talking to myself, yes. I’ve just started to realize what a brilliant conversationalist I can be.
I am a firm believer in mind over __________. Matter, genetics, heart, spirit, …. mind over anything and everything, really. I’ve
even used my several decades of studies into esoteric topics like magick, meditation, yoga to strengthen my mind so that, by the
less-than-tender age of 39, I can pretty much use my mind to change any given situation. A lot of it’s working with perspective, as in changing mine, and some of it’s about broadening my scope so that I can see the sheer awesome all around me more often than I can see the piles of shit that humanity has created upon the Earth. So, yay me with my mad mental skillz!
But let’s not bust out the port and celebrate my mind quite yet. I also have a tendency to be over-analytical. And this tendency to be very in my head, and to have to pick everything apart until I know exactly how it works and until I understand all ten sides of any given story can wreak havoc with me if I am facing an episode of Depression. Here are a few things I’ve noticed:
1) Being overly analytical whilst under the influence of Depression causes me to perceive dark, negative, self-defeating thoughts as the ‘facts’ I am so stridently trying to find in order to fight my Depression in an informed and educated fashion.
2) One of the best ‘medicines’ for me when I’m facing a particularly bad episode of Depression is when someone else takes me outside of myself for a moment – someone tells me a funny joke, takes me to a play or film or concert, discusses something philosophical that does not relate to my current mindset, goes with me to a beautiful outdoor place, plays a game with me, etc. And, though it pains my independent little spirit to admit it, being an analytical thinker renders me incapable of getting out of my own head if I’m mentally unwell.
3) Analytical folk with depression can get a little bit lonely. I love being alone. Ofttimes me and a beach, park, forest, or lake, or a snuggly kitty cat and a book is the ideal amount of company for me. As an analytical thinker, I sometimes get simultaneously overwhelmed by the need to keep up with groups of people in casual chit-chat, wherein I feel like a faker because I’m not really excited about celebrity gossip or football or the latest hairstyle, and underwhelmed by groups of people who don’t seem to want to discuss the history of psychoanalytical theory or the manifestations of Promethea in history and pop culture, and who seem a bit…shallow. Actually, one of my personal warning signs that Depression may be barking at my door is social withdrawal. For me, it’s a balancing act between getting the alone time I need and enjoy whilst continuing to go out and have fun with friends, some of whom gleefully jump on board with the aforementioned conversations.
4) Fun is valid. Gleeful, joyous, silly fun is an important part of life. Life doesn’t have to be deep and thought-provoking all the time to have meaning. This is such a difficult issue for my overly-analytical self that I feel as if I should write it a hundred times: Fun is valid. Fun is valid. Fun is valid…
In summary, we analytical thinkers live in our heads. This can be a positive and useful state of being. I think the key for analytical thinkers with Depression is remembering that, though it may not be the most natural-feeling course of action, sometimes it’s okay to reach outside of our own heads for help, for companionship, and for the perspective of someone who’s not having a bad spell of Depression. We’re all alternately crawling about in and flying joyfully above this crazy muck called Life, and no one is alone.
Coda / post script:
I love this chart from the excellent article
“10 curses of the analytical thinker” by Alan Norton
I highly recommend the entire article, especially if you’re an over-analytical type yourself, or, like my husband, you’re living with one.