What do you see?
This morning I am in Ocean City, NJ where, right now, there is a warm breeze blowing across the screened porch where I sit.
I’m feeling much better, having washed away the sweat and grime and exhaustion of a night filled with an oppressively hot and still air.
We’re going to the beach early to dodge the height of the blazing sun’s fire.
I’m not complaining, mind you, after such a long and brutally cold winter.
Actually, I was sort of complaining, told Warren that I felt mean and ornery this morning because of my tortured sleep.
After my shower, however, I did close up the house and the windows and the blinds to shield the interior as much as possible.
Proactive is my middle name.
And if that doesn’t work, I think we’ll head to the closet store, purchase an air conditioner and throw a little money at the owner’s electric bill.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking for two days about this post and hadn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t be a near-day-long event.
I don’t know about you readers who are also writers, but assembling my thoughts and ideas onto the page is a slow process for me.
Every once in a while, my genius—Liz Gilbert, mastermind of Eat, Pray, Love says we all have one inside of us—shows up and what makes its way to the page seems to arrive as if on floating wings.
Today doesn’t appear to be one of those days, so I’ve chosen to reprint something from the archives.
I remembered with fondness the experience of writing a post during our time here last year.
As I searched for this piece, I first came across the one I wrote a year prior and almost to the day.
I have wondered in the past few months if I am experiencing another bout of depression.
Having survived the consequences of long term, untreated depression, including a six-week stay in the psych ward, I try to be heedful of any situational depressions that might surface.
If I’m aware, then I can take action.
But the main reason for sharing this writing is for those people I’ve recently encountered who are seeking comfort from this illness.
Those who see only the wave’s dark shadows, the sharp edges of the broken shells, and the scorched, abrasive sand in the photo above.
Depression does this to us, Journeyers, it makes it so we can’t see the whole of life or feel the coolness in the wind and the water and that wish is mere inches beneath the surface sand.
If you are here and you are depressed, if you are looking for answers or help or comfort, please know this: You are not alone.
Yes, it’s cliché.
Yes, it seems like people toss these four words around as if featherweight.
Yes, your darkness is like no one else’s.
But here’s the thing I’ve learned through all of my times of sorrow and suffering, Journeyer, there is a reason that this phrase has survived generations and generations of suffering.
Everywhere we go, everywhere we look, people are grieving.
Some appear happy.
Some appear sad.
Some are closeted in the homes that we walk or drive by on every single work commute.
Each of those beings is on a different path in their journey of loss and healing.
I learned this important lesson many years ago, through my connections with you and with so many others, and it was one of the most rewarding elements in my healing.
It’s such a great message that it has become The Five Facts Motto: “We are neighbors in grief and allies in healing.”
Together, yet apart, we grieve.
Together, and yet individually, through sharing and reading and listening and learning, we can—and we do—conquer grief.
Hugs and healing, Journeyer…
First published July 7, 2011
Depression. It lives all around us. In every walk of life. It often resides in unsuspecting places. In unsuspecting persons. And yet, sometimes it sits undetected, right in front of us, in a Hidden Objects picture, of sorts. We know something is there, inside the image that is Our Self, but we just can’t put our finger on it.
I first learned of my own depression some fifteen years ago. At the time, the therapist I was seeing indicated I’d likely been depressed since my teenage years. The thought infuriated me, especially the part about needing medication. I didn’t like the idea of pumping pills into my body. Not that I’m against modern medicine, but depression didn’t seem like a justifiable reason. When my counselor posed the question, “Would you deprive yourself of chemotherapy, if you had cancer?” I came to see Depression in a new light. Depression is an illness. A bonafide sickness. Depression needs treatment, just like any other disease.
A low dose antidepressant, coupled with continuing therapy, brought about a new clarity. Depressed thinking is always askew. Sometimes the thoughts are merely a little off kilter, and sometimes they are drastically distorted. For those who have lived with depression for an extended period of time, the one consistent is that the skewed thinking is considered normal, it isn’t questioned, it is believed to be how everyone exists. Yesterday, the Oprah Winfrey show featured a young woman named Chelsea, who as a seven-year-old girl was forced to live in a dog crate. Not having any other examples, she believed her experiences to be no different than those of everyone else. One of the most important details to note, however, is that she wished for something different. She recalls finding joy and longing in pictures of her teacher’s daughter, who had her hair all done up in pigtails and pretty bows.
When we suffer depression we, too, long for something different. We don’t like the feelings of frustration and failure, hopelessness and helplessness, sadness and self-loathing. We want to feel better. We yearn for confidence, for positive and uplifting feelings. That longing, especially when the emotions last for an extended period, can be a sign of depression, for depression is often an insidious illness, appearing to us as slowly as the objects in a complicated I Spy game.
I have been planning this post for weeks. I have looked forward to the end of the school year, to the end of June, which I describe as a hamster wheel month. I wanted to wait until I could give the writing the attention it deserves, when I could carve the post out without feeling rushed by one of the many parental or household obligations. Had it not been for a series of figures who recently came into my field of vision, I might have procrastinated my reflection a bit longer.
Two weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend who had been concerned about her own forgetfulness. A doctor’s evaluation determined that it wasn’t a sign of Alzheimer’s or some other form of aging dementia. The doctor diagnosed depression, a common symptom of grief, and one that is certainly unsurprising given the unexpected death of her child a little over a year ago. Yesterday I read an article about Britney Spears and thought about how she has overcome such a troubled past, one so painfully played out in the media. There had to have been some level of depression present during that troubling time. This morning I happened to catch a snippet of an interview with Rick Springfield on The View. The words depression and bookcaught my ear. A quick search on Amazon tells me his book, Late, Late at Night was released last October. Rick’s memoir details his long battle with this disease. Who knew? That is one of the most incongruous, ridiculous features of this illness: A person can appear bubbly and happy and successful and living a fairy tale life, when in essence they are coping with one of life’s most unglamorous, too often closeted facets. Depression.
I uncovered my final clue about a month ago. I noticed, once again, that I wanted to run away, after a difficult family situation. I could just move to some place like France and start my life over. This fantasy, in and of itself, doesn’t depict Depression. We all want to escape our lives from time to time. Why, Calgon’s slogan, “Calgon, take me away!” has lasted for more than four decades. But my depression symptoms have been slowly surfacing since last fall: a perpetual feeling of overwhelm, a perpetual state of forgetfulness, intermittent thoughts of self loathing—those that come from the gut, beyond the typical questions of worthiness. This Escape Plan, however, is a whisper that comes from deep within, revealing itself like the Sixth Sense that we often ignore.
Acknowledging these subtle undertones is the first key. Depression manifests itself differently in different people. Some of us treat our friends and family badly. We recognize we are being snippy and snarky. Sometimes we give credence to this behavior by turning the behavior into sarcastic humor. Some of us turn into ourselves, becoming introverted and less active. We recognize our frustrations and feelings of overwhelm, placing blame on the shoulders of the extraneous.
Our external lives do impact our moods. We all face stressful times. Life is an ebb and flow of demanding, restful, traumatic… This fact makes it difficult for us to decipher if what we are experiencing is indeed Depression or situational discomfort. Death. Loss of home, job, limb, security. Middle Age. The changing or declining health of ourselves, or our parents. The cyclic nature of parenting, our children’s detachment as they discover who they are, as they mature and evolve into adults, themselves… Every event impacts our psyche. The level and length of the impact will help in determining if we are depressed, and the appropriate course of treatment. If you are unsure, talk with your physician or schedule a visit with a therapist.
The realization that Depression had likely reentered my life disheartened me. The knowledge that I could do something about was inspiring. Tracing my behaviors of the past months, the first point I recognized was that I had slowly eliminated my daily vitamin regimen after last year’s family vacation. I had simply gotten out of the habit. The B vitamins are excellent mood stabilizers, and had been a part of my supplemental intake for more than ten years. My first step was to reinstall the intake of vitamins into my daily routine. Now I want to work on breaking the other behaviors that are counterproductive to my good mental health. I want to return to the lifestyle of eating less and exercising more… Chuckle. Chuckle. A saga for so many of us!! And yet, the choices are ours. The power is within us, if we choose it. If we work to create new habits…
We know that comforting occasions affect our state of being as much as the uncomfortable. That is why we long for moments that bring us joy, why we celebrate the approaching rest periods with “Over the Hump Day,” “TGIF!”, and why we count down the days to our vacations. Research has also proven that exercise and light are often key elements in helping prevent or combat depression.
Guess it’s time to begin plucking more of those healthy images from the Hidden Objects of my life. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. Time to shower. Time to walk the dog. Time for some fun in the sun with my kid…