The One Word Reply

Depression is difficult enough to deal with when you’re the one suffering from it, but it’s equally difficult for friends and family. Something I’ve observed be it good or bad is that for a lot of folks, there’s one of three ways to react to interaction with someone suffering.

The act like nothing happened approach.  This is a weird situation where to me it feels like no one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Conversations continue more or less ‘as they had been’ and any mention of down feelings is sort of ignored. For some I think maybe this works but a lot of folks also get the feeling that this presents as disinterest the emotions of the person in question. This is how the sense of isolation often gets worse in my view. While perhaps well meaning I think it this type of communication that often feeds into the fears most people suffering from depression already have.

The “One Word Reply”, or two words often. In some ways this extends from the ‘nothing happened’ approach but with a throttling back in communication. I get it, what do you say to someone who is in the depths of depression? You can’t say anything that miraculously makes things better, you may fear their anger. The end result is that you limit what you say to simple one word responses like “nice”, “OK”, “hug” or the most common “I’m sorry”. Those of us on the receiving end though share some responsibility for this. It’s hard to tell someone “I could really use more communication”. It’s still a challenge but gradually I try to bring up my concerns etc with more force.

The last approach is the most helpful, the listener. This might be the hardest thing to understand since at it’s core it isn’t about speaking it’s about letting the person say what they need to and not making a snap or abrupt judgement. I know for me this has been difficult. My grasp of my own anger and fears and my desire not to snap at friends created a self-imposed communication exile as it were. It’s more about trying to get the person to engage and let it out. For some it’ll be a torrent of things they can verbalize for others it’s a slow drip. It isn’t easy, it’s difficult and it gets repetitive unfortunately and I think what some folks don’t always understand is that clinical depression and most mental illness is a lot about repetition. You don’t go through therapy and miraculously never talk about the problems again. You loop, you repeat, you explore other ways of identifying, coping and processing.  It’s boring to be the listener, I get that, but in a lot of cases I feel like this is the most useful thing to someone suffering from depression can feel. Pick your moments, for me I try to catch myself when I’ve been rambling and try to re-engage whomever I’m speaking with and refocusing back on them for a bit.

I won’t go into the fourth type, which is the dismissive or the tough love. These types of communicators are usually just making the problem worse by either contending that the person isn’t depressed or they feel that raw confrontation is the best way to ‘fix it’. I know that works for some people, and with situational depression it can serve a purpose but if we’re talking about diagnosed depression this is actually the worst type of communication.

So if you are suffering from depression and having difficulty with communicating know that you have to try where possible to let the other side know what’s working for you, what’s not. It’s hard to sometimes say these things and not come off as being self centered or concerned but the reality is silence on our part is often the reason it’s so hard to find help. People on the other end, I know it’s scary, I know empathizing with someone suffering from mental illness isn’t easy and you yourself can get lost in the fatigue it generates but trust me, a few lifeline people in someone’s life can make all the difference.

How Depression and Anxiety is Like a Black Hole

Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been watching tons of Star Trek (50th Anniversary this month) or because I’m a sci-fi fan in general but one of the things I’ve observed about depression and anxiety is that it changes our perception of time, not unlike a black hole.

It sounds silly, I grant you that but the idea of time dilation is still held as being valid, that the closer you are to a black hole the slower the passage of time. The thing is human perception is a bit like that as well. Depression and the changes in your mind make time move slowly.  For me days drag on, I lose my semblance of where I am relative to everything else. After a while when someone indicates “let’s meet up next week” I feel if I don’t set a dozen reminders for it, I’ll miss it entirely.

Compounded by my insomnia, I found that in order to be less annoying and seemingly “more normal” in my online patterns I had to adjust things I did. Instant messaging became a calculated game of time/availability since rarely were folks active when I was. I began using a GMail extension called Boomerang so that I could ‘schedule’ emails to be sent as not to bother people at 3AM with notifications because I ‘happened to find something’.

Keeping busy seems to be the main way I get around the difficulties in perception. Reading, trying to absorb myself into an activity that is either mindless or has a routine to it. I think this coping mechanism is why so many people who suffer from depression are viewed as ‘lazy’. It’s a daily battle but one that I’m slowly finding my path through.

Depression, Holidays and Anniversaries

Today would have marked five years of marriage. This year however it just marks the 25th of September for me. I woke up at around 430AM to nightmares, tried to force myself asleep to no avail. Insomnia is a painful reminder of the road to recovery still ahead of me.

My ex-wife usually made holidays and key dates feel special. Without her they are just days. Halloween, one of her favorite holidays is coming up. This year though; for me at least; it’s very empty and something I’m trying to avoid. This isn’t an uncommon thing for me this year. Just about every holiday has had a sensation of not being ‘right’ but a lot of that is just in my head and an adjustment I’ll have to get used to. It’s harder to organize friends, what few I have left. Then again a whole part of me feels averse to socializing with even my limited group of friends.

My biggest hope is that the years that follow become easier. That the memories of holidays past don’t trap me in a painful loop.  It gets easier, so my friends tell me.  Painful is the path however and after a while you have to just work your way through it. I’ve tried to read and keep myself stimulated with things to keep myself occupied.

Depression and Hygiene the Painful Downward Spiral

This post is not for the squeamish and it’s not a pleasant topic to say the least. Something that might be difficult for people to grasp is that in the throws of a major depressive episode people start to lose sight of the sense of hygiene.  It’s not pleasant to think about and even worse to experience it.

While I was in the shower, I thought about what it was that made the process so averse. It dawned on me that part of the disconnect is a fear of touch. It’s hard to describe it, but the closest I found was haphephobia, a general fear of physical contact. Sometimes associated with unwanted touch or contact with the opposite sex. When the shower head first hits you there’s that moment of contact with the water be it warm or cold. For me it takes a second to not react, to not suddenly recoil at the increase in sensation. It isn’t the temperature or anything, it’s the presence of something making contact with skin. The emotional numbness of depression sometimes feels like nothing touches you, literally and figuratively. Emotions, personal contact feels alien. A shower becomes something like a massive sensory overload. The water on your face reminds you of night spent crying, the warmth reminds you of a person whose body heat isn’t there anymore. What most people find relaxing and soothing becomes a storm for people suffering from depression.

The painful part about this is that the entire process starts to compound upon itself. You experience depression, you feel your self image deteriorate, your hygiene fades, your exterior then becomes worse, pushing your self image even further down. Depression, anxiety, over time it in its own subtle way, makes your outside look as bad as you envision your insides to be. For most folks this is simply “you aren’t focused enough, you’re being self absorbed”.  “You’re letting yourself go” is probably the phrase I’ve heard from many. People who haven’t experienced clinical depression won’t really ever fully understand it.

My road to recovery was not a quick one. I gradually let myself go as I saw no point in taking care of myself. Eventually though I crawled my way out of it. I started with routine, specifically my morning shaving routine. It sounds mundane and boring but being clean shaved was the first step and gradually I got myself back into taking care of myself. It is still at times a major effort to focus on keeping myself into a normal routine. I’d be lying if I said that the start of my shower doesn’t trigger some pretty rough emotions. To anyone suffering from this shift, I get it, I understand it. Take it slow, start with something as simple as washing your face or even using a sponge bath to get used to ‘being clean’ again. It sounds gross and trust me that stigma is not lost on those of us battling mental illness. It adds to the difficulty in seeking help.


Aging Out of Happiness

The title to this a bit more dour than I really want but it was something I had thought about. The last three years for me have been a weird time of aging out in a sense. I guess turning 35 I started to really feel the weight of being disconnected from the younger crowd. It’s dragged on, just about inline with my depression.

It wasn’t a bad thing per say, but little by little a blend of my age and anhedonia crept up. My love of photography, all things geek (comics, sci-fi, anime) started to fade away to the point where none of the activities I once found fulfilling had any sense of joy. I’d shoot photos and watch things and smile and feign interest but inside, there was nothing.

Sometimes when I sit and think about it I can’t tell which came first.  The sense of aging out of the things I enjoyed because my inner child had to grow up, or if it’s because my depression symptoms began to eat away at what made those things special to me. Gradually I’ve tried to take a new slant on the things I once enjoyed. I’ve picked up my camera again, but I’m not shooting as I once did. Gone are portraits, cosplays and things with light hearted nature. Photographs of thinking are the only thing I seem to be able to do now. It’s been a painful, uncomfortable road to be sure. The person I was feels a bit like an after image in a shot and I’m on the 2nd shutter now.

Mental Health Podcast — Straight Talk About the Struggle

Paul Gilbartin has been operating his blog since 2011 and it’s a very frank and honest discussion about the challenges of mental health as told directly by people in the health care profession, celebrities who have struggled with it and other noteworthy personalities.

Got a chance to listen to a few of the back-archive podcast and it was very sobering. Speaking about mental health is slowly becoming something that people are getting used to. The tops are wide and varied but I appreciate the degree of openness from Paul and his guests. It’s a reminder that mental illness hits folks from all walks of life, from all strata.

There’s still a lot of stigma, there’s tons of different view points and certainly it can be gut wrenching. Any time I bring up divorce I’ll admit I worry about repercussions or judgement. I’ve tried to keep my tone civil and never attributed blame to any one person or thing. Despite that though, every post, every word is sometimes a labor.

If you are not quite there in terms of a diagnosis or haven’t engaged your physician or a therapist I urge you to try. A consult and assessment doesn’t mean you’ll be locked into something forever, it doesn’t have to mean being on meds. It’s just a starting point. There’s a lot of resources out there, some free, some not but you have to start on a path in order to make progress. It sounds like a trite platitude, I get that but I do hope folks process it at least a little.


In the Cards — Work In Progress

One of the hardest things that I have struggled with during therapy is being to shift away from the negative thinking and focusing on the right path towards recover. I had this idea knocking around in my head for while.

Depression changes your view of yourself. You see the most negative things. In a camera I can just change the focus point and see the background. It isn’t as easy to do with the rest of your life.

In the Cards photo by Vraxx
In the Cards photo by Vraxx

To any of my friends who might be reading this, I hope this gives you a little insight into my expression of my depression.



Insignificant Other — When There’s No Better Half

There’s a painful shift that I experienced as depression settled in and my marriage began to fail. The honeymoon phase was there, where I felt needed and wanted, but over time I felt like it didn’t matter what I said or did, nothing was viewed as important by my spouse. Gestures, compliments helping around the home or with her projects, didn’t matter. The only time it mattered was when my ex-wife felt I was infringing upon her freedoms.

A lot of it I should have headed off early on, told her how I felt. Back then I was married and while I viewed her as my significant other, I felt in the relationship I was just viewed as the insignificant other. Depression started to make me averse to any interaction.  I became withdrawn and isolated even in my own home. It’s difficult to explain it to others because it seems almost silly if you look at it from the outside.  You feel alone despite being there with your spouse. You share a bed but you don’t feel like there’s any you there. To me there’s plenty of blame to go around. I kept silent about my unhappiness as did she and eventually any bond we had had soured and faded until what we wanted meant not being together. I don’t view my ex as a bad person, I just feel we both made bad choices.

Light in the Darkness

Been trying to shoot more and was reminded that sometimes a single point of light can make all the difference. One of the difficult things to come to grips with is the reality that getting better when it comes to mental health isn’t a flip of a switch, it isn’t miracle pills; it’s a blend of treatments.

Sept hasn’t been a kind month for me but I’m trying not to get sullen or mopey, I’m trying to remind myself that each day is another opportunity to fight, to find out things myself. I’ll be honest that sometimes the things I do find out aren’t always good, but each new bit of information in its own way is a light in the dark.

Reading and Other Distractions — When SciFi Hits You in the Feels

I’ve been trying to find better distractions besides the usual media/TV thing, though I admit every now and then an innocuous episode hits you when you least expect it.  If you haven’t watched DS9 and don’t want spoilers just stop here.

Besides trying to make use of my Kindle Cloud Reader I started going back and watching episodes of Star Trek and it’s respective spin offs. Maybe because of the 50th anniversary. An episode hit close to home, and it will sound silly but I saw a lot of interesting themes in it, themes that as a teen I obviously was oblivious to. Deep Space 9, Season 2 Episode 9, Second Sight. Questions about recovering from the loss of a spouse (Sisko) and finding love again as a widower.  A husband whose wife is a species that ‘mates for life’ and is so miserable she starts to project a telepathic version of herself that falls in love outside of the marriage. In my youth I just thought it was a romance episode, seeing it through the eyes of a divorcee gave it new life. In the end the husband, realizing his wife’s unhappiness chooses the only option he has left, he fulfills a crowning achievement and in the process dies. The only way to set his unhappy wife free.

Anyone who has gone through a divorce or a break up can probably relate. It’s a difficult thing to feel that in a marriage you have gone from a source of happiness to one of unhappiness. Thankfully humans don’t mate for life, and there is no need to die to set one’s unhappy spouse free. Social commentary has always been a hallmark of scifi but every now and then it blindsides you. The tone and theme of the episode raised some very important things I have to think about.