depression

Listen, I have pants on okay?

Sometimes when people ask me hard questions,  I give a pat answer.

Co-worker: Have you seen the stapler?

Me: I have pants on. What more do you want from me?

I put these on today. 

I put these on today. 

Usually I’m making a joke. 

Sometimes though, I’m not joking at all. Sometimes I’m using humor to cover the truth that, on this particular day, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, took a shower, put clothes on and drove to work. 

Hell, I even plucked my chin hair. 

There are days when those basic tasks feel far from basic. 

There are days when everything feels just a bit harder. I don’t know how else to explain it. The difference between snowshoeing on unbroken snow and on a well-worn path, maybe. In both cases, you’re following the same path - but in unbroken snow, those steps take a lot more out of you. You’ve got to work a lot harder to get where you want to go. 

On those days, the self-judgement and guilt that follow is relentless. At least for me. 

Many days, I battle a constant feeling of “why does it feel so hard to write one *&^&^^% email?” 

Why does everything feel so hard? 

Why can I not just buckle down and get things done? 

I just, as of last week, completed a fitness product (Stronger You: The Ultimate Fitness Guide) that I began in January. My goal for completion was March, then April then….well, August. The disappointment I feel in myself for taking so long to finish far outweighs the accomplishment of completing something.  

Sure I finished, but it took me forever. 

I don’t always know how much of those delays are laziness and how much are my weekly, sometimes daily struggle with this thing I’ve spent the past decade plus trying to understand. That thing is dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder. I write about it often on this blog because….well….I believe we need to talk about it more. 

Last week, I wrote a post about fears, and I mentioned that my greatest fear is that I’ll never give to the world all it is that I feel I have in me to give. That I’ll spend so much time spinning my wheels worrying about what I should do, that I’ll never get around to the doing part.  

A friend of mine took a screen shot of that last line and told me to post that sh** somewhere I could see it everyday. 

Some days life is as simple as making a list and checking off the boxes of tasks that you want to get done. 

But some days, life isn’t that simple. 

I’ve said before that sometimes I don’t know where the depression ends and I begin. And that’s the daily frustration. 

Sometimes I lose interest in things like music, books, my guitar, exercise. Many days I lack productivity and on many more days, I’m overwhelmed with an overall feeling of inadequacy. I spend so much time thinking and feeling that I should be more. Dysthymia is sometimes referred to as mild depression, because you still function - until you hit a major depressive episode, as I’ve done in the past. 

The trap is that you feel like you should just snap out of it. Recently, I read in a post on dysthymia which mentioned the prevailing myth that a person can just look on the bright side. 

Stay positive! 

Stop being such a Debbie Downer!

If you’d just look for the good things, you wouldn’t feel this way!

Recently, I heard the expression that there are only good days and great days - no bad days. And that expression really wounded me deeply. Because it made me feel like I just don’t try hard enough to see what’s good. It played into those feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that hit me so hard some days. 

I was relieved to see that concept written as myth, because so often, I feel like a failure for not snapping out of my funks. For not being able to counter a tough situation with straight out gratitude and positive thinking. Mind over matter they say.

And I say, what is wrong with my mind, that I can’t make anything matter?  

It was myths like those above that prevented me from seeking treatment for most of my life. It’s myths like those above that often still give me the greatest heartache at the end of a long day. I don’t always know and understand what I can and cannot control. I don’t always know how much blame is mine. And that is so, so, so, very hard. 

I treat my depression the best I can. I have an amazing therapist, an amazing spouse, I take my medication and I work hard to make the lifestyle changes I know can help. I exercise often, try to meditate, work to let people in to my life and my struggles and try to be open and honest about the struggle. 

That last one is harder than it sounds. 

Sometimes people think that depression is only obvious sadness; that it’s crying in the middle of your living room floor or bursting into tears when your boss looks at you sideways.

Those are often side affects of major depressive disorder, which is it’s own unique monster. I’ve crossed paths with that one before, but it’s the “mild depression” and I beg, beg, beg to differ with the idea that any depression is mild, that clips me at the knees. 

I wrote this post today because I got up and put pants on - but for some reason - perhaps the reason that I can seldom see but always feel - putting pants on felt like an accomplishment. 

So today, and many days, both behind me and probably ahead of me, the best I could do in a day is put pants on. 

But I’m going to do my best to celebrate those pants. And maybe even, if I can find it in myself, bedazzle the shit out of those pants.

 

Yes, this is anxiety and depression

I shared a post this morning from a friend’s facebook page that spoke about anxiety and depression.

It was an accurate, spot on description of the catch 22 that those afflictions present in my life. 

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In many of your lives as well. 

For me, I don’t think it’s the fear of failure, though I have some of that. My fear is that I will waste my life constantly wanting to do more but with no urge to be productive. 

That feeling tortures me. 

It’s wanting to get out of the bottom of a well but not having the strength to grab the rope someone is offering. The teaser is that the rope is often right in front of your face and you stare at it, trying to will yourself to reach out and grab it. 

Just reach out and take the rope, you think. It’s that simple. 

It’s that difficult. 

Then comes the self-judgement. Other people grab the rope. Other people never find themselves in the bottom of a dark and damp well. Other people seek light while I back away from it like a vampire in the desert sun. 

I’m preparing to release my first fitness product in April. I’ve filmed videos, written programming, hired a business coach and a life coach to help me see this product through to completion. I hired a designer to make it look pretty and have solicited the help of friends and clients. 

For the past two months I’ve ignored most social engagements, choosing instead to work - and for the most part that pursuit has felt good and satisfying. 

Finally, I thought. Finally I will see something through to completion. 

Then last weekend, as I began to close in on the final four week push - sending out more emails, advertising on Facebook, doing more Facebook live videos, I hit that familiar, frustrating but ever-present wall of self-doubt. 

And I’ve been paralyzed ever since. 

I don’t write this post asking for sympathy - far from it actually. 

I simply write it as my authentically honest truth right now. This is my journey. This is my world. This is my reality. 

That's ok. 

This is how we get through, you and me. 

We understand one another and hopefully, know that we are not alone no matter how lonely our struggles feel. 

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It doesn't have to be like this - treating depression

Last week I wrote a post about rules

I’ve created some rules for myself, regarding meditation, health and fitness, and writing. Three weeks in, I’m sticking to those rules at least 80% of the time. 

Win.

Don't settle. Unless it's settling your chin on a window sill to watch the ocean waves. 

Don't settle. Unless it's settling your chin on a window sill to watch the ocean waves. 

Last Friday I met with my therapist for only the second time in months, and as I recounted some of my changes, she asked me what was different.

It was a great question. Because the truth is, I’ve often tried to make these kinds of changes in the past, and they haven’t stuck. Then it occurred to me.  

“I think I’m finally on the right dose of medication for depression.” 

Is this as good as it gets?

If you’ve read any of my posts on depression in the past, you know I’ve struggled for most of my life with what used to be called dysthymia, and what is now referred to as chronic low level depression. I have, thankfully, always functioned throughout my depression, and while I realize medication is not for everyone, it was a combination of medication and therapy that finally helped me function at a higher level. 

But I’ve never thrived.

In fact, when I was 29, I had someone tell me that they always thought I’d amount to more. 

It was a devastating comment, but the truth is, I was thinking it too. I still think it sometimes. 

Last spring I was wrapping up my first full year at Spurling, and while I was finally working a job that I loved, I was still struggling. I have taken medication and sought therapy on and off in the past decade. In my mind, I was doing everything that I could to manage myself.

And while I was managing myself just fine, there was a persistent feeling that I wasn’t living my life as fully as I could.   

I wasn’t thriving. 

Last March I sat in my friend’s car in downtown Portland, watching the raindrops slide down the windshield as she spoke. 

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. 

The “this” she was talking about was my overall lethargy and inability to focus. Despite medication and therapy (and it’s very challenging to find the right combination of both) I was in a funk.  

“Trust me,” she said. “I’ve been there.”

“What if this is as good as it gets?” I asked.

“It’s not,” she said. “It’s not.”

As it turns out, she was right. 

I didn't have a doctor I trusted, so I hadn't talked to anyone about medication for years. She recommended a psychiatrist to manage my medication, and I finally went to see him. (And I finally, after months of searching, found a new therapist). For the past nine months, he’s been helping me to find the right combination of medication.

Each time I’ve walked into his office, I’ve asked the same question - what if this is as good as it gets?

But we both persisted in the hopes that it wasn’t. 

So in early December, we made another change to my medication, the third in the past nine months. And if I’m being totally honest with all of you, I believe that last change has as much to do with my ability to create rules for myself as any books on productivity or habits. 

I guess I say that because I don’t want to pretend that any of this is easy. I don’t want to pretend that making big changes to your life is as easy as figuring out what you need to do and doing it. 

Sometimes we paint a picture in the health and fitness industry - that you just have to try harder and get out of your own way.  

The formula is simple, but it’s not easy.

I'm not suggesting that medication is for everyone, or that it fixes everything. We're all different and we each have to figure out what we need to get us where we want to go. 

But I have learned something very important.

Don't settle.

Persist. 

And if you need help persisting don't be afraid to ask.  

One foot in front of the other

One foot in front of the other.

This was my mantra. It’s what popped into my head as I jogged the first two flights of stairs at the Fenway Park Spartan Sprint over the weekend.

By the time I bear crawled the last two flights of stairs at the start of the race, my legs were garbage. 

One foot in front of the other.

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We jogged around the stadium, weaving our way through the seats and up stairs. I didn't feel like I was in my body.

I slowed to a walk as I went down stairs, and heaved my way up the stairs, worrying that if I tried to go faster, my wasted legs would miss a step and I’d face plant into the concrete.

The last few weeks have been a struggle. And my body felt every bit of that struggle on Saturday. 

I’ve talked openly about my journey with depression - and some of you may recall my story from 2005, when it was a failed run that helped open my eyes to my misery. It was as a result of that run that I realized that maybe, just maybe, life could be better than either awful or just ok. 

I slugged my way to the second obstacle  - box jumps - and looked out at the field, at the Green Monster where other runners were racing in front of me. 

For the first time, I considered that this might be the first race in which I participated and never finished. 

I watched women half my age effortlessly jumping up and down onto the concrete box and tried to will myself to do the same. But my legs weren’t having it. I did my step ups and thought, one foot in front of the other. 

Then I went back to my mantra - one that I’ve used in races in the past - I am strong, I am capable. 

But I didn’t believe it. 

I kept going, keeping up with my Spurling teammates as best I could, doing obstacles where I could and burpees where I couldn’t (83 to be exact). And all along, repeating my mantra.

I am strong, I am capable. 

One foot in front of the other.

I didn't believe the first phrase and was struggling mightily with the second. 

I don’t know if I ever believed that I was strong or I was capable last Saturday. But I kept telling myself anyway.

Don't get me wrong - there were plenty of other thoughts going through my mind. The usual negative soundtrack was playing. But I tried to interrupt it as often as possible.  

In talking to many clients over the past few weeks, I know that much of life has felt the same for you. The time change (which is no small thing), being without power for a week, whatever the case may be, many of you have struggled as well.

I'm not sure what you think in times of struggle. Maybe you've also told yourself things that you just couldn't quite believe - trying to interrupt your own negative thoughts. 

I am strong, I am capable.

I can do this.

I will do this.  

It can be really tough to give ourselves a positive message in hard times. It's a practice and one that I'm not great at. But I'm learning, slowly, to deliver the positive messages where I can, even when I don't believe them. Because eventually, we absorb it. We start to live it. And gradually, we feel it. 

By Sunday morning I was feeling a little more myself. And I tried to remind myself that I survived. 

Life can feel really hard. It can feel like a struggle. Those peaks and valleys will always happen. 

But we get through them. And hopefully come out a little stronger on the other side. 

 

I’ve won some battles on depression. But I’m still fighting the war.

Last August I wrote a blog post detailing my early struggles with depression. 

Nine months later, I look back at that post and feel a little deceitful. When I re-read my words, it almost sounds as though I overcame and conquered my depression - like I hammered it into submission and took control of my life.  And while I did take a major step by even acknowledging the struggle and then treating it, I’d be lying if I said that depression doesn’t affect almost every day I have here on this earth. 

Some days are still hard. 

Some days are still hard. 

For most of my life, I haven’t known where depression ends and I begin. Depression and I have been one and the same for so long, that despite seeking treatment with medication 12 years ago, I continue to assume that my life now is as good as it gets.

Anyone who has battled any kind of depression or anxiety knows the truth. You have good days, you have bad days. You stack a few bad days together and call it a funk. You stack a few more together and call it a long funk. But you resist calling it more than that, because hey, I’m taking medication for this. 

What is fatigue from hard work and what is depression? How much apathy is too much? How much of what I feel is just who I am and how much of what I feel is this daily battle with a disorder that I am still trying to understand? 

Off and on for the past few months - I’ve had many moments of wanting to die. That’s hard to write. That’s hard to admit. But it doesn’t make it any less true. 

I get up and go to work at a job that I love and that I believe in. I give everything I have while I’m there. But at the end of the day, and many moments in between, I’ve hoped to just drop dead from an aneurysm. 

It’s called passive suicide ideation. 

And I just learned that it’s a thing. A real thing, with a name. I learned this from a psychiatrist I consulted when a friend convinced me that, despite taking medication for my depression, my life could still be better. I resisted her for a long time, feeling like she was wrong. That I just wasn’t trying hard enough. That, despite knowing better, it was about my effort and willingness to do more, and not related to an illness that punches and kicks me so often that I’m just used to it. 

In recent months, I’ve been reminded that, while I’ve won a number of battles with depression, I continue to fight the war. Years ago, I took the first step in managing my depression. And that was a life-changing, life-saving step.  

But lately, the battles have come daily. 

A month ago, I changed medications - to be specific, I added a new medication. I think it’s working better. It’s working well enough that I’m going to take the plunge to put this out there in public. I’m not sure yet. I won’t likely know for another few weeks.

But I’ve made a decision that I will talk about my depression. And not just when I feel like I’m in a good place. I’ll talk from the hard places too when I can.

Because we don’t talk enough about the suffering. We don't share enough in the heartbreak and in the hard.

But it's time to start.