Spinning My Wheels

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A year ago this day I was riding a temporary high from an extended hospital stay culminating in a handful of electroconvulsive treatments. I came home the news that my application for Social Security Disability had been approved. When I look back through my blog and Facebook posts, though, I can see where that “180-degree turnaround” lasted only a month or maybe two at best. Within three months my mood and behavior had become dangerously low and erratic again. Even that “panacea” of ECT was a false one.

Twelve months later I’m a little older, a little slower, a little heavier, a little more jaded, a little wiser, and a little more experienced, but I’m still as depressed as I ever was. I haven’t lost any ground, which is a good thing; I just haven’t gained any. The medications I’ve taken… well, I suppose they may have kept me from stabbing myself in the eye on November 8, but I honestly don’t believe they have any effect on my depression. The weekly therapy sessions — what coping skills have I gained?

As I sit here on this gray, dreary winter day thinking that if it’s going to be miserable outside, it could at least snow to add some contrast to the setting, it occurs to me that maybe — like the movie — this is as good as it gets. Maybe just having my two feet mostly solid and steady beneath me for the time being, with a roof over my head, some food in my refrigerator, some money in my bank account, a car that miraculously starts when I turn the key — these basic needs met — this is really the most I can expect from life. Yes, it’s lonely and boring and meaningless, but no one ever died from those things. At least not overnight. Maybe over time… which means that maybe tomorrow might be a day I spend with a friend or do something creative or find purpose in life. Or not.

I guess I can stick it out for one more day to find out.

Back on the Rails

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“We fall, but we keep gettin’ up, over and over and over and over…” (Pretenders, “Message of Love”)

Bear with me; I’m coming at this from an oblique angle.dad-jfk

I come from a very political family.

My father ran for Congress in 1962 (yeah, that’s him with JFK in the Rose Garden in this photo) and later Common Pleas Court Judge and County Court Judge. He lost the first two elections but was elected to the last, serving his six-year term while I was in high school.

 

In addition to being very politically active, my mother served mom-being-sworn-in-as-county-court-judgeas president of the school board for most of the time I was in school and also ran for County Prosecutor. She was elected to County Court Judge after my father’s term and served her six-year term, after which she ran for Common Pleas Court and lost.

 

My earliest political memories in childhood involve summers at the county fair where “home base” was the County Democratic Party’s tent, and autumns where we often went uptown after school to help stuff envelopes and hang out with mom and her pals at the Democratic Headquarters. mom-at-dem-hq-in-pauldingAt the age of 12, I was the only kid in my class who could explain the difference between general, primary, and special elections. I remember meeting all sorts of politicians, and from a young age I understood a lot about candidates by listening to their “elevator pitches” and the way they spoke with kids like me who were too young to vote but not too young to think for themselves.

Where I grew up was never a blue county, and I learned to accept disappointment early. It was just part and parcel of being what I now understand to be a pretty liberal family living in a pretty conservative community. Our candidates and issues nearly always lost. People respected my parents, and for the most part they weremom-with-unnamed-and-vera-miles-on-the-way-back-from-the-dem-womens-convention-sept-1984 gracious and tolerant of our differences. However, there were a few bits of nastiness: after losing the Prosecutor election, one man “consoled” my mother that it was “no job for a woman”; some kids’ parents didn’t want them playing with us because our family was friendly with the “crispy critters” with the wrong skin color. The differences between our family and most everyone else was something I never appreciated until I was older and distanced from my home town.

In sum, I’m used to being different, and I’m very ussed to being on the losing side.

By my calculations, counting all general, primary, and special elections, I’ve probably voted somewhere between 30 and 60 times in my lifetime so far. I might have missed a special eloser2lection or non-presidential primary from time to time, but I’ve never missed a general election or presidential primary. More often than not, every single candidate and issue I vote on loses. There have been several elections that have broken my heart… several that I worked on very hard and cared deeply about… bond issues and other local issues about which I felt strongly but failed. I’ve been on the losing side over and over again… AND YET I KEEP GOING BACK TO THE POLLS.

WTF? Why is it that I can’t imagine NOT voting — I would never willingly skip an election — and yet I sometimes am so defeated by other situations in life? What is it about voting wherein perseverance is a given that I don’t even have to think twice about?

I’ve been reading about “learned helplessness” and how it contributes to depression. For me, the Black Dog is Learned Helplessness personified. It’s when you feel powerless due to persistent failure or some traumatic event. Like a presidential election, cash_cornerfor example. Last Tuesday evening I went spinning off the rails and spent the next four and a half days curled up in a fetal position in my bed… like the dogs in Seligman’s experiments that huddled whimpering in the corner. What was it that finally made me get up this morning, shower, dress, eat a couple regular meals, and start writing again? WTF indeed?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing. You know that negativity that I fear so much? That’s not me. That’s the Black Dog. And there are ways to counter his negativity. One day at a time. I have no control over yesterday or tomorrow or next week’s weather or the BCS standings or the Paris Accords or  global warming or anyone else’s behavior, but I am the master of my own thoughts and behavior at this moment.

Maybe that’s small consolation, but maybe I can learn to live each day as if life is brand, shiny, spanking new in the same way that I vote in every election regardless of how the last one went, or what the polls predict, or what others say or do. If things don’t go well today, well then tomorrow’s another day.

And there’s another election in no more than two years — I’ll be there at the polls again, no matter what.

okay

Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Black Dog

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I know a lot of you have seen this video about the metaphor of the Black Dog we sometimes use to describe depression, but I’m reposting; you may want to review it one more time and ponder this question: What do we do with the Black Dog? Seek to destroy him, accept him, tame him? Or something else?

Right now, my relationship with the Black Dog is the one you see at 2:15 in this video except maybe inside out. What others see in my place, I suspect, is the Black Dog, which has engulfed me completely. I’m stuffed inside, suffocating, while the Black Dog barks menacingly at anyone who comes near.

While I’m not a psychologist, I really enjoyed studying psychological criticism as an English major many, many moons ago. Whether or not the same principles apply in reality, I know that lots of the characters I analyzed projected onto someone or something else their “shadow self” — that part of themselves they despised or feared so much that they were unable or unwilling to accept as part of themselves. My favorite example of this shadow self in literature is in Ursula LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea, who literally conjured up his shadow, spent years fleeing from it, fearing it and unable to defeat it. Ultimately, this conflict was resolved when he turned and chased it and took it into himself. Yikes.

There has never been any real doubt in my mind that my Black Dog is my shadow self — actually part of me. Intellectually, anyway, I understand this. Emotionally, I’m just too close to the situation to truly grok it. I don’t like the Black Dog, I don’t want the Black Dog, and I would slay the Black Dog if I could. And yet, two paragraphs ago, didn’t I just say that the Black Dog has engulfed me? That he speaks for me? That he is what I see in the mirror?  That he is what other people see? That he IS me?

And so here comes the essential question: Is it possible to escape the Black Dog? Or is he forever inextricably tied to me? Then, if he is, what do I do with him? Is it in fighting him that he gains power over me?

Moreover — and here’s where the questions get really sticky — is there a good reason to intentionally keep him around?

My therapist’s suggestion when I asked these questions was to give me a worksheet for a “Cost-Benefit Analysis.” (Actually, she said I should do two.) I’m struggling with this — again, I think because I’m just too close to it — and asking others to help in the comments. Please feel free to share my blog post with others who might have something to add as well.

Pax, y’all.

 

My Dog is *different*

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I was thinking today about how many people I know suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and how I often forget that. When I’m in the middle of major depression, my world shrinks up, and I become very ego-centric. Not in a megalomaniacal way; it’s just that I’m so constantly overwhelmed with depair that there’s not room enough in my brain for other thoughts. If I can clear my head and look around, I see people in various degrees of pain and distress all around me. Some handle it better than others, and some are really good at hiding it.

It’s weird (and yeah, symptomatic of depression) that I tend to think of my depression as something uniquely tragic and differentiated from my friends’ depression. Medications don’t seem to have much effect on me, my ability not to “sweat the small stuff” is pretty much non-existent, my depression is debilitating, and I’m scarcely functioning. At any given time, I’m uncomfortably close to suicide. (There, I said it.)

Why on earth would I take such a perverse “pride” (for lack of a better term) in the severity of my illness?

This new lifestyle continues to confuse and dismay me. Having surrendered my car, I’m able to relax a bit about financial obligations, but there’s something absolutely crippling about losing that bit of independence that I can’t quite accept yet. What depresses and frightens me more than this loss of independence, my slide from middle- to low-socioeconomic class, my financial instability, and social isolation is this trend of one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back. While the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy seems to have fleshed out for me, the precariousness of it provides all kinds of nightmare fodder. I wonder if I will ever feel stable again? How can I concern myself with and be a good friend to loved ones who need support when I never know from one moment to the next when my own life is so tenuous? And yet that’s exactly what I need to be doing — worrying less about myself and reaching out to others. Getting out of bed and slogging through each day, looking for the silver linings.

Looking for the silver linings. Yup.

Entropy and Isolation: A Lethal Combination

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Dorian Grey couldn’t bear the idea of growing old, and he sacrificed everything to avoid it. It’s not actually aging that disturbs me so; it’s the sense that I’m slowly, gradually coming closer to death with each passing day. It’s not death I fear and dread; it’s the decline, the weakening, the increasing powerlessness in life that I despise. Everything I have ever experienced has prepared me to survive and thrive in life. Nothing ever prepared me for this decline. Filing for disability has changed everything. It was giving up, surrendering to the inevitable, admitting to myself and the world that I can no longer survive and thrive — not without assistance.

My lifestyle is killing me. Not just the lack of purpose, but a lack of any kind of structure whatsoever results in a lifestyle that’s just an empty shell. There doesn’t seem to be a point to anything. I used to be a participant in all the life around me, but now it seems I’m doomed to be alone, as if watching the merry-go-round spinning before me but unable to jump on. I see friends doing things, interacting with each other, going places, doing things while I stand on the sidelines, all but gone and forgotten already.

I know that I need to be around people more often, but I feel I’m becoming a social misfit. Maybe it’s just the Black Dog whispering crap in my ears, but when someone ignores me or I don’t hear from them in a long time, I start to think they don’t want to hear from me… that they’re relieved not to hear from me… that they hope they never hear from me again… and so I don’t reach out… and in the end I lose that friend — why? Because they got tired of me or forgot me? Maybe just because I was afraid to find out.

So um hey, local peeps in particular: I know I’ve had a rough time being social, but please keep inviting me to things even if I can’t go. Please be persistent. Nag me. Invite yourself to my place. Kidnap me even. Whatever it takes.

Unless you really don’t want anything to do with me — because that’s what I’ll assume by your silence.

Bad Dog

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I’m not in a good place. For a couple weeks there, I was starting to think this new medication might actually be working, but I’m not so sure today. I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning, and I still haven’t dressed. Last night I didn’t make dinner; the stuff I have prepared to put together for dinner is all sitting around in the frig, waiting to be cooked. Instead, I binged on pretzels.

In short, I’m out of control. I just can’t seem to do the things I need to do to take care of myself, and it’s getting a lot worse really fast.

Just when I finally started getting used to the CPAP — I’m disappointed that it doesn’t seem to help me feel more rested or less depressed — I don’t feel like using it. The sleep specialist said oh well, it’ll prevent heart issues from apnea… and I thought to myself, “Wait, so using my CPAP will reduce the chances of dying from heart failure in my sleep? Is that a bad thing??”… and I tossed it off and hit the power button.

I want to go back to bed. I don’t want to wash the dishes or take out the trash or get dressed or finish up/work on craft projects I just got materials for. I don’t want to read or watch TV or talk to anyone or even write this.