Tag Archives: depression

Why Taking a Walk in the Woods Won’t Cure Depression

sadmandaI was a weird, weird kid.

I used to sit on the bus and stare at the back of the seat in front of me.  It was dark green and had lines running through it.  I remember the light filtering through the window, passing above my knees in a streak. I was five, and I was newly aware of mindfulness.  “Now is now”, I repeated to myself.  My mind was blown – almost to a dissociative level – time seemed to stand still when I thought that now was truly now, and there would never be another moment like it.

I wasn’t really aware of my uniqueness until I grew older, and realized all of my friends watched shows I never did, and did sports, and were just KIDS.  Most of my teenage years were spent going to stores with my mother and Nana, checking out in my head, living in a fantasy world, perhaps because reality was too hard.  Who knows.  All I knew growing up is that gratitude didn’t help me – it made me feel guilty, because I knew I had privilege and had some nice things but it just didn’t register.

As I got older and went to college and grad school and self-medicated with alcohol and restriction of food, I wasn’t aware that I was wearing a different pair of glasses than everyone else.  I wore dark, shaded sunglasses, while the rest of you wore regular near-sighted glasses.  You could see things as they were, the good and the bad.  But I could only see the bad.  Everything had a dark shade to it.  And the thing is, I thought this was completely normal.  I thought everyone laid in bed for hours on end and cried everyday and had fights with their friends because of it. So when I saw peers moving on and having successful relationships and having confidence I began to be bewildered.  Why couldn’t I get it?  In fact, a friend in grad school once remarked, “Amanda, I will be so happy the day that you say things are just “good”.”

10 years later, with 7 years of sobriety, individual and couples therapy, self-help groups, and medication, things still seem darker than I believe they do for most.  And let it be known I’m not negating “regular” people’s troubles or moods.  Everything everyone feels is valid.  However, I’m a sensitive soul, in all meanings of the word.  If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, my depression is triggered.  If I don’t exercise (which is a natural antidepressant), I run the risk of having a worse day.  This can get tricky when it comes to the eating disorder, because I also can’t get into repetitive, joyless exercise that I only do for my waistline.

When I have normal events in my life happen, I only see the bad.  For example, when my daughter was born, everything seemed tortuous, because I wasn’t sleeping which triggered my depression which also made it impossible to exercise because who can  or should exercise on 2 hours of sleep anyway?  I could see she was beautiful, but couldn’t enjoy it.  When it comes to being married, my dark sunglasses show me only the fights, the unnaturalness of staying with one person the rest of your life.

And when Robin Williams committed suicide?  I got it.  I wouldn’t ever do it, because I have a beautiful daughter to take care of, but I got it.  When life’s stress piles up over those dark sunglasses, it can seem like too much to stay here.

Do you see how it is chronic?  Well-managed but still chronic.  Easily affected by any little change.  And isn’t simply cured by a walk in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong – things are WAY better.  I get to help people with the same problems every day at my job, and I consider myself to be somewhat of an emotions ninja, someone who can, on a good day, utilize my drive to master any shots depression takes at me. And I’m a really good interpreter.  When my daughter asks me questions about emotions, I know what to say.  I know what to say in a current world full of people who call emotional souls “snowflakes”.  Which is sad, because emotions are directly connected to our medical health.  Why do you think married couples die so close together, so often?

Here’s how I try to live my life.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, super poor, or LGBTQ.  So I don’t try to tell those people what their perspective should be.  Because I’m not them, and I simply don’t know.  But I do know something about mental health, and eating disorders, and alcoholism.  So listen up.  This shit can’t be cured by just a walk in the woods.

 

“Mama, Will I Take Pills Too When I Grow Up?”

prozacThe complexities of raising a child when you have a mental illness

Every morning, my daughter and I have breakfast together.  It’s imperative to me that she has it every day; studies have touted the multiple benefits of having breakfast.  Plus, she’s honestly Linda Blair from the Exorcist when she doesn’t have it.  That’s an added incentive.

I either have oatmeal or cereal mixed with yogurt; she often has cereal, fruit, and yogurt.  She drinks milk and I drink my coffee, just with cream.  And beside my coffee lay my two magnesium pills (for my migraines) and my tab and a half of Prozac.

We are not a house who hides things.  We burp loud and have loud emotions and make big mistakes and both the parents and kid say sorry in our house.  We also don’t hide the fact that Mommy takes two different kinds of pills in the morning: one for her muscle health, and one for her brain health.

The learning process started slowly.  My daughter first noticed the black and white pills on the table, and exclaimed as any three-year old would, “Me have!”  I then proceeded to educate her that she cannot just pick up any pill and take it; that these were for adults, and if kids had to take them, adults would inform them what and when.

She then asked, “What dat do?”

“One helps Mama to have less headaches.  The other helps Mama’s brain to work well.”

This was followed by a few days, where on the playground, or after nap time, my daughter would trot up to me and ask, “Where is my brain?”  And I’d point to her head, and she’d remember, and trot off.

I was fully confident in the way I was handling things until a few days ago, when bleary-eyed, I turned to my daughter at breakfast, and she asked quizzically,

“When I’m an adult, I will take pills?”

I wanted to choke on my cereal.

In the sentence she uttered, I felt the judgment of a million anti-medication people yelling at me, thinking I’ve set my kid up for a life of drug addiction.  I felt the despair of a mother who, having her own mental health struggles, was worried she was raising a child who had to be on medication to be happy.  I felt the uncertainty of my daughter, who knew that these “pills” held some importance, and, was it something desirable?  Something to be scared of?

I knew this wasn’t true; that one day, she’d have the cognitive ability to wrap her mind around the fact that I’d made a healthy decision for myself, but for now, it stung.

Even in today’s somewhat-enlightened society, being a mother on medication is not something you yell from the rooftops.  There are the types who believe that everything can be solved through the chiropractor and through organic, gluten-free food, but that is simply not true.  And those types feel free to pass judgment on those who actually have experience with mental illness.  There are cases, cases like me in which the person feels suicidal unless they are on the correct dosage of medication.

More power to the people who can solve their depressive episodes with a change in exercise routine.  I cannot.  More power to the people who can take away their anxiety by practicing mindfulness skills.  I cannot.  People like me are wired differently, perhaps by biological makeup, or perhaps by early trauma.  There is nothing worse about us.  We haven’t tried less or made less of an effort.

I mean, perhaps I wouldn’t experience depression or anxiety if I didn’t work full-time as a therapist and mother, and didn’t owe thousands of dollars in student loans.  My life simply doesn’t afford me time to spend at a Zen Buddhist retreat for weeks on end.

So what do I want my daughter to know?  When she’s grown and ready to handle this information?

I want her to know her Mama spent years trying to self-medicate her depression and anxiety through alcohol and numbing eating behaviors, and that during that period, her cholesterol went up and her blood pressure reached dangerously low levels.  I want her to know she tried exercise as a form of endorphin release, but that it ended up becoming obsessive.  I want her to know that once Mama took those prescribed-by-a-doctor pills, she was able to stop screaming and she was able to be a good Mama.  I want her to know that her Mama finally realized her therapist was right about it being ok to rely on something to feel like she wanted to live on this planet.  I want her to know her Mama chose life, and not being a martyr, and not suffering.  And I want her to know it’s ok to rely on something, if need be, too.  That it wouldn’t be something she did wrong; it would be an act of bravery to admit she needed help.

Most importantly, I want her to know:

Just because Mama takes pills, doesn’t mean you’re going to.

And that’s what I told her uncertain, quizzical face that morning.

“No, your brain works great.  You might not ever need pills honey.  Mama’s brain just works a little different.”

And at that, she grinned and burped loudly.

 

The Tragedy of the Modern Superwoman

I have succumbed to the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  I’m 100 percent, f%$^ing guilty.  And I’m not proud of it.

Who is the modern superwoman, you ask?

Here’s the definition.  I found it on Webster’s.*

Modern Superwoman: 1. The female, who is crammed into a society-created corner filled with relational, career, sexual and physical demands, pigeon-holes herself into a hardened, isolated, prison of one.  She decides she must be a perfect machine if she is to “cut it” as a female in this world, and subsequently, cuts herself off from others.  Because if she exposes herself to others, and say, goes out at night after putting the baby to bed without showering, she will be imperfect and displeased with herself the whole night.  “They’ll think I’ve slipped, I’m just like all the other mothers,” she thinks.  “I’m not pretty anymore.”  So she’ll go to the gym instead.  She’ll do everything she’s “supposed” to do.

The real tragedy of the modern superwoman is that she will emotionally harden herself.  So much so that she expects everyone to function at her inhuman productivity rate.  And when they don’t, she grows impatient with them.  She expects them to react to things she same way as she does – perfectly, without missing a beat, without forgetting to wash the 6 sippy cups her daughter had dirtied that day.  She expects them to be able to pick up the phone whenever she needs, because she’s always available and ready to be compassionate, so why shouldn’t they be too?  She becomes a martyr, simply because she is a victim to others’ expectations of her.  And then she turns that vitriol outward.  Further creating a hard shell around her that can’t be broken.  And that hard shell keeps people out, and prevents them from seeing that she needs more.  NEEDS.  Or that she is having a hard time because her father has a terminal illness.  Or because her mother is an addict.  Or whatever.  Aren’t those things just excuses anyway?  As women, we pick up and we move on.

I am writing this because I lost a friend recently.  And it sucked.  And when I am able to step back from it, I see two women who are beautiful, wonderful, struggling, vulnerable people who may just need some space right now.  But I think we were both suffering from the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  One of us was afraid to reach out because she struggles with depression and was afraid to be vulnerable, and the other was hesitant to speak up and say she wasn’t getting what she needed.

In short, I think it’s f&%^ing really hard when we’re expected to take care of our elderly parents, raise a 2 year old, manage a career, wash the floors enough, maintain a swimsuit-ready figure, and be compassionate, loving friends all at the same time.  It’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I am grateful for most of them.  I know I’m not perfect at it.  I flat-out suck some days.  And I want to be able to flat-out suck sometimes.  I’m sure this point has been written about ad nauseum, but I’ve been feeling the brunt of it lately.

Long story short:  My depression, eating disorder and alcoholism affects my ability to reach out sometimes.  It’s not an excuse.  It’s a chronic illness I deal with every day.  And unfortunately, even though I work on myself as much as possible and try to make healthy choices, my sometimes-not-so-healthy choices affect other people.  Negatively.  And it’s always at that point where I feel I have it licked that something like this reminds me I will always have to be vigilant at not isolating.

I don’t want to lose anyone else.

So I guess I’ll try being imperfect, taking a crack at that shell, and calling people and having a conversation when my two year old is hanging off my hip screaming, “CHOCOLATE!”  I guess I’ll call my therapist and sob into her voicemail like it’s 2005 and try not to feel guilty for it.  And I’ll try to laugh at myself and screw up in front of my boss and not be my parents’ therapist and just have my own, personal, emotional reaction to losing my father slowly.

I hope you can feel free to screw up too.

 

 

*Obviously not true.

The Real Issue At Hand

I’ve been struggling lately.

(UGH, that sucks to say…)

Not like, using full-out behaviors struggling, but having eating disordered thoughts popping back in my head.  And when they do, my wise mind quizzically says, “huh?” and pushes them away, at least for the time being.  That’s the cool thing about working so hard on my recovery – having old thoughts doesn’t  mean they become old behaviors.

Eating disorders are just a distraction from the real issues at hand.  For me, they’re a way of “numbing out” or dissociating from current emotions because they’re simply too hard.  And if you have strong emotions, like me – it’s deceptively helpful, because who wants to live with sky-high and below-ground emotions 24/7?

In an attempt to not slip back into old thoughts, I’m going to tackle one of the issues at hand.

Yesterday, Father’s Day put me in a really bad mood.  And I felt really fucking guilty about it, because I have another Dad to celebrate now – my daughter’s father.  But I couldn’t get out of it and here’s what I’m guessing was the cause:

My Dad’s health.

My Dad is 83.  He was born three months before the Great Depression.  Up until two years or so ago, my father was unstoppable.  He lived 5 lives before he even met my mother, flying airplanes in the Air Force, schmoozing with celebrities as an actor, teaching classes and co-opening his own theatre.

And then old age struck.

But it wasn’t just physical health – in fact, the emotional health fell away first.  He stopped working, started getting depressed, and then his physical health began to fail.  He needed to use a cane.  He needed to use a walker.  And then he needed to use a wheelchair.

Not to mention the fact that the stuttering which he struggled with as a kid mysteriously came back about 8 months or so ago.  So basically, he can’t talk.

Or hear well, or see well.  He has hearing aids in both ears and has macular degeneration.

My mother takes care of him, and also takes care of my daughter two days a week.  One of those days, she brings my father with her, and he lights up at anything my lady does, but it’s a production just getting him in the house.

So, you’re thinking, I must be torn apart.  And I am, on one level.  But let me give you a little history.

My father is from a totally different generation.  The kind that thinks mental illness doesn’t exist, or maybe that it’s a choice.  So he’s had trouble understanding or even acknowledging what I’ve been through at times, and denies any depression on his part.  I jokingly remind him that I’m licensed to diagnose him, but he dismisses it.

And let’s just say he wasn’t given the best upbringing emotionally.  So, he and I were never particularly emotionally close.  Maybe it was because I clung to my mother in the early years and he took it personally.  Or maybe it was because we were too alike and clashed during my teenage years (We are so alike.  Stubborn as anything, intelligent, independent, ambitious, curious.).  Either way, the “Daddy’s girl” thing always eluded me.  I’m not putting him or I or our relationship down – it just wasn’t us.

So, now that his health isn’t great and it’s obvious that he probably doesn’t have 30 years left to spare, I’m left thinking I should feel something different, or do more.  I’m sad – it’s fucking inhumane to watch your parent decompensate like that.  And I feel bad on a daily basis that I can’t do more because I have my own family.  I feel bad for my mother.  But I also have about two minutes to spare on a daily basis, and when I do, I try to take care of myself.

It always comes back to that issue – that I’m not doing enough.

My partner likes to remind me that I have, however.  He likes to remind me that I’ve made my amends to my father for past transgressions, and I’ve set up VA services for them, and  made calls to the Council on Aging to look for any services they could utilize.

I don’t know.

It just sucks, and this is the work I have to do, writing about it and talking about it, instead of  distracting myself with useless thoughts and behaviors.  And I usually don’t do it out of fear of insulting some family member, but I’m sick of living my life for others, and I think everyone would agree with what I’ve written anyway.

Have you ever had to deal with the loss of a parent in one way or another?  How did you healthily cope with it?  Did you ever catch yourself numbing out?

Media Mondays: Does Body Acceptance Mean An Unhealthy Lifestyle?

So my friend sent me this article because she thought I might have something to say about it.  (Me?  Never.)  And I did.  So, here’s the link –

Real Women…?

So this lady’s argument is that there’s this common theme today of saying “real women” are only size 14, with curves, and that thin or healthy women get shit on in regards to being “real”. If you scroll down, she tells you that she was one of the overweight women in the second set of pics, and then she became a bodybuilder.  Can I tell you something?  I agree with ONE of her points.  And that is:

There has been a backlash against slender people since the body-acceptance movement.  It’s true.  I bet most naturally-tiny people have felt discriminated against at times, with the boatloads of body acceptance size 14 memes floating around the internet.  The truth is, all women who don’t have botox and don’t photoshop their pics have “real” bodies.

But I don’t agree with the rest of the article.  And here’s why.

1.  One thing that bothers me is the name-calling.  Lady, how ’bout you don’t shame people by telling them they have “shitty” eating habits.

2.  She’s using her story in the wrong way.  This gal apparently lost like 50 lbs or so.  OK, good for you, I was overweight as a kid too and lost it (albeit through unhealthy ways.)  Just because I am society’s standard of “normal” doesn’t mean you see me taking the “real women” movement personally.  I’m confident enough to know I have a real body, a body that is just as real as those size 14-ers.  It’s like a white person crying because black people have their own equality organizations.

3.  I’m sorry, but if you’re a bodybuilder, I’m guessing you use extreme measures to maintain your appearance.

4.  WHAT ABOUT DEPRESSION?  This lady makes losing weight/getting healthy seem supremely easy.  And you know what?  It is, for some.  But others have to battle co-existing illness like depression and anxiety which compound the ability to lose it.  You don’t have a choice when you have depression; it’s a disease and you have symptoms that prevent you from making choices.

5.  And oh yeah, there’s class status.  Not everyone is white and middle class and is able to shop at Whole Foods!

6.  And lastly, God.  Lady, I am guessing when people say “God gave me this body”, they mean their genetics/biology.  And guess what?  That does have an impact.  I’m never going to be Anna Kendrick-sized, but I’m also not ever going to be Geena Davis sized.  Science does, in fact, happen!

Bottom line:  I just hate that women like this get 47,000 likes on an article of this quality, which is basically a shot to get money and publicity through emotional manipulation.  And my little blog just plods along…albeit happily…

(and if you’re wondering the answer to my title, it’s this…)

grumpycat

Hi, My Name is Amanda, and I’m…Different.

normalIf nothing else, the following is true for me –

“Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.”

– Anonymous

*******

What I’m about to say goes against all advice given in any self-help meeting, but it’s how I feel, damnit.

I have often felt different than most, not a part of, less than.

Not always.  Sometimes, I feel on top of the world, totally present, and I love everything in my life.  And sometimes, I feel just like every other “bozo on the bus”, another nameless face in the crowd, which is honestly ok.  But often, I feel…different.

Why?

Well, let’s pick apart the seventy different kinds of recovery I’m in.  I can’t diet, I can’t drink in safety (in the words of Biggie, if you don’t know, now you know) and my therapist has diagnosed me with depression (that requires medication) and some trauma stuff for a long time now.  Let’s say this:  if you were a clinician, and you saw my rap sheet, you might wince a bit and say, “Jeez.”  You might expect me to be doin’ a lot worse than I am now.

Cause I am doing pretty damn well for the “stuff” I have.  I got my master’s degree, am successful in a field where I can turn my misery into someone else’s avoidance of said misery, and  have a family of my own.  I am fairly high-functioning; I am lucky.  Or resilient.

But there’s something funny about high-functioning anything-ers: they can slip more easily between the cracks.  They, in turn, can feel more different, because they mingle with the “normies” of society.  At work functions, at family parties, at friend’s BBQs.  They can be around people who drink or diet or binge or don’t experience the glory of mood swings, but it doesn’t make it any less hard.  In fact, it can be a particular kind of hard because they’re often the sole “different kid” in a group of “normies”.

So that’s why I feel different.

Self-help groups tell you to identify as just another worker among workers, which helps sometimes.  I’ll often use this example: I have a friend who is allergic to basically any kind of food.  So, I try to remind myself, “Wow.  She must feel the same way – like everyone is staring at her when she orders her food.  Maybe she feels different than, too.”

(And I do realize there is no normal.  And I do realize everybody’s got their thing.)

But I do think it can seem overwhelming to an individual when they realize –

“Hey!  I need an everything-anonymous!”

Fun.

How do YOU feel different?  Is there something that sets you apart from the crowd?