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My blog entries have been a little heavy lately, I know.  I do have some very good news to share next time, I promise.  I have most of it already written in my head.  But, I want to post this one first, while the thoughts are still fresh in my mind.

If you missed the first 3 parts, they are here:  part 1, part 2, part 3

This time, I decided to discuss social withdrawal since it is so common with depression, and so often misunderstood.  If you’re dealing with someone who is depressed and they are seeming more and more distant, yes, you should probably be concerned, but no, they probably don’t hate you.  In fact, it is possible that they like you so much that they don’t want to subject you to whatever they are going through.

While I cannot and do not speak for every person who has ever suffered from depression, I can say from my own personal experiences and observations that, yes, social withdrawal is a defense mechanism.  The world can be a harsh, unforgiving place, and it might be necessary to avoid it as much as possible when one is feeling especially vulnerable.  But it isn’t just about protecting one’s self.  It’s also about preserving the sanity of others.  I know moods can be contagious, good or bad, and I don’t want anyone catching mine when it is a rotten one.  Countless times, friends have expressed frustration at being unable to lift my spirits when I am depressed.  And, believe me, I know it is frustrating.  Sometimes I even frustrate myself.  So, when I am depressed, I hide.  Is it a healthy, beneficial response?  Maybe not, but it is “normal” with depression.

It has often been argued that, since moods are contagious, if one surrounds one’s self with happy people, it will help relieve depression.  Sometimes it does help, briefly.  Other times, it is only frustrating and depressing.  And, for someone who also has PTSD, socializing can be very stressful.

So, on the bleakest days with the lowest moods, when neither social withdrawal nor socializing will do, what does help?  Is there some way to be alone without really being alone?  I suspect this is part of the reason chat forums have been so popular for so many years.  Sure, there is the stereotype of the “creepy internet chatter”, but very few chatters actually fit that stereotype.

Studies have also shown that having a pet helps relieve depression.  For myself, having a dog helped quite a bit.  I always knew it helped, but never realized how much it helped until he died at nearly 13 years old.  I don’t care what anyone says about it being just a dog.  I lost a best pal that day, and that bit of it still depresses me.  I know some people prefer cats or birds or any number of other kinds of critters.  Pick a favorite; mine doesn’t have to be yours.   As long as it takes your mind off whatever is bothering you and puts you in the moment when none of that other stuff matters, it could even be a pet rock.  I hear those are very easy to care for, and you can teach them tricks, like “sit”, “stay”, “lie down”, and “play dead”.

Hobbies help, too.  Whether it’s art, or metalwork, or whittling, or basket weaving, or stacking dominoes, by focusing on some task, symptoms of depression are sometimes alleviated– at least for a while.

And, always, always challenge the self-sabotaging negative thoughts.  Many will not stand up to solid logic.

 

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As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, I decided to write some articles in the hope of building understanding and dispelling a few misconceptions about depression.  If you missed the first 2 parts, you can find them here and here.

This time, I’ve decided to address some of those “positive thinking” clichés which might help some people, but since most depressed people will overthink them and they will probably not stand up to scrutiny, they’re not so helpful to us, and make a lot of us wonder if a lot of people are boneheads.

Positive thinking has it’s place, and it feels better than doom and gloom, but perhaps what would benefit more people is realistic thinking.  The glass isn’t half full or half empty.  It’s 4 ounces of whatever was put in there.

One of the clichés making the internet rounds recently is “If you think positive, positive things will happen”. Sure they will.  Also, negative things will happen.  And, if you think negative, negative things will happen.  Also, positive things will happen.  Because, to counter one cliché with another, “the rain falls on the good and wicked alike”.

One of the reasons these things bother me is that many of the clichés are a bit condescending and imply that people are depressed or have unpleasant things happening because they are doing something wrong.  Some of these clichés incorrectly imply that we have total control of our situations, whatever they may be.

Most people do have some control over their circumstances.  Some have more control than others, for a variety of reasons.  If someone was born and raised in poverty in an inner city ghetto, and subsequently became mired in all the problems that go with it, and you tell them “If you don’t like where you are, move! You’re not a tree”, without offering any real, viable solutions or giving them any of the resources they need to move.. you might only piss them off, because what you have just unwittingly told them is “I don’t really fully understand your circumstances, and am blaming you for sticking around, so am not really going to help you. So, I’ll just stand here looking smug and wagging my finger at you.”

When my mother was ill, some of the so-called positive thinkers I knew actually suggested abandoning her, in order to protect my own interests.  Naturally, I did not.  I dropped out of college, which also meant giving up my position as a student employee at the university.  I gave up a lot of other things, too.  It was depressing, to say the least.  And, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  What happened to all those positive thinkers?  They mostly moved on to “happier” things, because my very real circumstances didn’t make them feel good enough. Thanks, positive thinkers.

It’s another issue with all these positive thinking clichés.  In our culture of instant gratification, some of these clichés encourage even more magical thinking and the idea that if we are unhappy, we should immediately abandon ship.  It causes people to fail each other, and that’s pretty darned depressing.

Here is one more: “Grateful people are happy people.”  While I cannot speak for all depressed people everywhere, I can tell you that my issue is not a lack of gratitude, and it’s not the issue of any depressed person I have encountered.  In fact, the depressed people I have encountered have often been some of the most grateful, because we have to be.

If we didn’t count our blessings regularly, we’d lose our fricking minds.  In fact, I think I will go count mine again right now.

 


Since someone pointed out in a private note that I neglected to mention at least one other misconception about depression, and since I also neglected to mention a few other things that help, I’ve decided to do a “part 2”, and maybe even a “part 3” later.

“They’re just lazy, and they don’t care.”  While there probably is such a thing as laziness, it’s not the same thing as depression.   Due to the physical symptoms of depression, such as the sleep disruptions, pain, and fatigue, it’s not uncommon to find a depressed person napping at odd hours.  Sometimes they might even seem to enjoy it, because.. well.. what else should they do?  If I have lemons and make lemonade, don’t judge me for it;  all I’ve done is make the best of something sour.  Some people might say “I have those problems too, get over it!”.  If it’s true, good for them!  I commend them for setting a good example, but I also wonder how they have managed to measure the other person’s suffering in order to compare it with their own.  If it is some technique they can patent, emergency rooms all over the world will pay them big bucks for that time saver.

Most of the tools and techniques on which I have focused are centered on how a depressed person can help themselves.  This is because that is where the change has to be.  I realized some time ago that my own depression is not caused entirely by external things.  *This does not mean that it is never caused or triggered by external things.*  But what I noticed was that even when things were relatively good, I would be depressed and sometimes without even being sure why.  Nobody’s life is perfect, but in spite of even the worst of my traumas, I am probably one of the luckiest people in the world.  And, it is frustrating to have so much distress without being able to pinpoint a cause or cure for so many years.

The biggest difference between grief and depression is that grief typically has a specific cause, then subsides.  Depression lingers.  Among things regularly listed as causes of depression are loss, trauma, and even head injuries.  Mine could have started in early childhood with any of those things, and was probably compounded by various other things over the years.  Luckily, I have known some strong, stubborn people who refuse to give up, and they set some pretty good examples.

Depression tends to make one into a fatalist, wondering “why bother?” and thinking “none of it matters, anyway”.  Frankly, a lot of it actually doesn’t really matter– which celebrity is sleeping with whom to further which career, for example.  Seriously.  Who cares?  Frankly, it is a little depressing that so many people give so much attention to shallow, superficial things when we could all be devoting that time and energy to more constructive things.  Of course, for me, the realization of how numerous and widespread are the world’s problems can often make everything seem more daunting.  The thinking can become “no matter what I do for me or even for others, there will always be so many more who are suffering”.  Of course, the reverse of that is also true, though you might never hear a depressed person utter the sentence, “No matter how I suffer, it will never prevent the suffering of everyone else.”

But no matter how hopeless or daunting things might seem, most people are not entirely helpless.  No matter how hopeless one’s own situation might seem, everyone can do something to help someone else.  And, believe it or not, doing something for others can help fight one’s own depression.  It is one of the reasons I use a portion of sales to help local nonprofit groups, even though a certain friend keeps trying to point out that I can’t really afford it.  So far, I have not starved, although I do without a lot of things.  Life has seen fit to put me in a position where my own resources are currently very limited, but it does not mean I can not do anything for anyone else.  Nor does it mean you can not do anything for anyone else, even if your own resources are limited.


Having muddled through bouts of depression for so much of my life, I think I am qualified to talk about what has and has not helped me and others I have known, though I am *not* a medical professional.  This is an attempt to help myself and others to understand depression, and perhaps to help manage it.  The aim is mostly to build understanding, because there are so many misconceptions about depression and how to help someone who has it.  It is *not* an attempt to garner any kind of sympathy or pity.  It is also *not* intended to replace professional medical advice in any way.  It is a firsthand view of depression, from a long term survivor of it.

Contrary to what some believe, grief, “self-pity”, and depression are not the same things.  And, although I have at times referred to my own depression as “self-pity”, it’s not an accurate presentation, so I will try to avoid using the terms interchangeably.  I suppose referring to it as “self-pity” is a way of making it seem smaller and more easily managed.  But, it gives the wrong idea to those who already think depression is just that.  While it might include elements that seem like self-pity, depression is more complex and with a wider range of symptoms.  Being sad doesn’t automatically mean a person is depressed, and being able to crack a joke does not mean a person is *not* depressed.

Depression symptoms can range from mild to severe, and a percentage of sufferers can even have symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations.  Thankfully, my symptoms are not as severe as that.  I do have the fatigue/exhaustion, sleep disruption, anxiety, and pain accompanying the bouts of depression.  So, it does go beyond simply “being blue”.  I used to hide or mask the symptoms better, but it is just too exhausting.  Plus, it doesn’t help anyone, including and especially me.

From talking with others with depression, it seems the first instinct of a lot of doctors is to medicate.  This was my experience, as well.  I tried several different antidepressants over the years, some worked briefly, but none worked long term, and all had side effects that were as detrimental as the original ailment.  Another problem with medicating is that, with several of those medications, the patient is not supposed to suddenly stop taking it.  So, any lengthy interruption in health care results in withdrawal.  Yes, withdrawal.  “It’s non habit forming and non addictive, but if you stop taking it suddenly, there’s a slim chance you’ll drop dead…”  That’s not word for word, but…. Read the fine print.

It’s not that I’m against medications.  I’m not against them.  I’ve known many people who say medication worked for them, and with minimal side effects.  Antidepressants just did not work for me, which is probably for the best since I am currently one of the x thousands of uninsured, and would probably only have to suddenly stop taking them (again).

Alcohol also does not work.  Sure, it seems like fun at the time–at least, more fun than moping–but it actually worsens symptoms over time.  (Plus, it might wreck your liver, and then you’d be doubly depressed!)

Platitudes and clichés also do not help. “Get over it,” “Snap out of it”, “Count your blessings”, etc.. all sound like “Blah blah blah” to someone who is depressed.  Depressed people don’t want to be depressed.  It’s not a fun place.  Also, we already know there are other people somewhere with even worse problems than our own.  Reminding depressed people that there are even more depressed people out there.. is not especially helpful. Nor is it helpful to remind us that there are people who are managing even worse problems way more effectively than we are.  It’s not really just about the immediate problem itself, you see.

The emotional part of it would be enough, but depression comes with physical symptoms, too.  Headaches, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, sleep disorders, chest pain, digestive problems… and that’s just a partial list!  It can be utterly debilitating and interfere with every aspect of a person’s life. I think I can safely say that most who live with it would do almost anything to find relief.  Some resort to suicide.

“Suicide is not an option” is one of the platitudes often given by well-meaning friends of the depressed.  And, it’s not entirely true for anyone with the physical ability.  It’s just a really *bad* option, and is the one choice that removes all chance of ever making any other choice.  So, it’s not a viable option, and maybe it’s time to replace that cliché with something like… “I hope you’re not considering that. There are always better alternatives.” And, this one is true! There really are always better options, even if they’re not always clearly visible across a bleak horizon.

Of the things I have found to relieve the symptoms, nothing works 100%.  However, every little bit adds up.  The main trouble is that in the midst of depression, many of these things can seem impossible.  Also, it is undeniable that the source of depression for many is some life circumstance, which can be entirely beyond the person’s control.

Having a support system helps.  On the darkest days, perhaps it seems I only remember the disappointments.  However, I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family members who understand (or at least try to), and love me even on the days I mistakenly think I could hate the whole world.  And maybe I could hate it some days.  Sometimes when I look at the news, the world isn’t making a very strong case for itself.  But it doesn’t really have to.

The world isn’t bad.  Some people and situations are toxic, though.  More than once, I traced the trigger of an episode back to specific people or situations in my life.  Once I got away from the person/situation, the symptoms improved.  Of course, it’s not always possible to remove a trigger.  For these situations, I work to change my view of it.  Like advertising, sometimes it’s all about the spin.  Some things can’t be twisted into a positive, no matter how one tries.  Try not to dwell on it.  Push it to the side, say a prayer for it if you like, move on to the next problem, and come back to it later if you must.

Diet makes a difference.  Meat and potatoes might be yummy, but get off those for a while, and try something more colorful.  No, not the orange sherbet, nor the rainbow sprinkles.  Fruits and veggies.  *Real* fruits and veggies.  Not from a can, and not just for a day.  Long term.  I’m not entirely sure why this seems to help so much.  It could be the vitamins and so on, or a subconscious reaction to all the bright pretty colors, or both.  It’s probably both.  Of course, it could also be the time of year, and all the warm weather and sun I associate with fruits and veggies.  But if you are what you eat, and you’re always eating some sad critter….  Just sayin’.

Exercise helps too.  But all of these remedies can be much harder to apply than they might seem to someone who isn’t depressed.  Nobody is eager to go to an aerobics class when exhausted and everything aches.  Frankly, the idea of going to a gym and sharing equipment a bunch of other people were sweating all over… just freaks me out.  I’m sorry.  I’m sure everyone there is healthy and free of “cooties”, and I don’t have any kind of princess syndrome.  But there just aren’t enough of those sanitizing cloths in the world.  Oh, plus there are all those people.  It’s a strange thing.  I used to like socializing more.  Now, I tend to avoid crowds.  I’m not sure if that is part of the depression, or if it is from the PTSD.  Maybe both.  The point is.. when I exercise, I exercise at home.

Some swear by meditation and yoga, so much that when I say meditation did not work, they insist I must be doing it wrong.  Perhaps I will give it another try one day.

I found some of Daniel Amen’s teachings helpful, in particular the method of challenging “automatic negative thoughts”, based on cognitive therapy.  Basically, since “all thoughts are automatic”, and “not everything you think is true” (no kidding!), there are some automatic negative thoughts.  Depressed people tend to have more of these.  By challenging those thoughts, it is possible to re-train one’s brain to have fewer of those, and have more positive automatic thoughts.  This takes a bit of practice.  I could be working on it for a long while.

Another exercise is to list daily 5 things for which you are grateful.  I admit, the first couple of tries, I was not sure I quite had the hang of it…. “I am grateful for not being that person.. or that person.. or that person.. or…”.  I know, I know.  I went entirely the wrong direction with that exercise.  I’m only human.  And, depression doesn’t mean I’ve entirely lost my edge.  Plus, being grateful for being me and not someone else is a good thing, right?

If you’re curious about Daniel Amen, he has books, “webinars” on youtube, and his “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” video is below.  Although I am not sure all of the suggestions he gives are practical for everyone (there is no one size cure), there is a lot of helpful info:

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