Considering the topic of my last blog post finding this article was very interesting. I’ve often wondered how much of an impact depression and loneliness has on general health and recovery. While the idea of positive mental attitude when ill has been around for a very long time, it was refreshing to see a recent study.
I don’t necessarily think that the study and its methodology aren’t without fault but I think people who are already experiencing loneliness could perceive illness as another indicator of isolation. For me in some ways I view the solitude and depression when I’m ill as just another layer that affects my ability to interact with others. Either way it’s an additional reminder that I have to be more mindful of my health than perhaps some other folks.
As a hobbyist photographer I’ve always wondered just how much my depression may have influenced my shot style and my perception of my material. I happened upon a few discussions online about this very thing and it proved to be an interesting read.
The approach of the study lent some intriguing findings between the perceptual and emotional parts of the mind. While I’m slightly colorblind (red/green) I’ve often felt that during my lowest depressive episodes I’ve always felt like I see the world in a washed out hue. Sunsets look boring, smiles and people’s faces take on a different sense to me. It’s nice to see that I wasn’t entirely off the mark, but it begs the question just how much of the world around us is really just a matter of our own intention changing the perceived reality.
I’ve sort of taken to adding this to my bag of ‘indicators’ and things I have to watch out for as my mood shifts. Hopefully having additional markers to when depression is starting to increase will give me a bit more runway to try and deal with the episodes before they become too severe.
There was a time not so long ago that my geek flag would fly true. I’m a sci-fi/comics fan primarily but I also enjoyed anime too. I’d volunteered at the local conventions and helped out as a photographer. It was in fact how I met my future ex wife. Flash forward to today and the idea of going to a convention is the last thing on my mind.
The last few years my fandom had waned considerably as I found myself undiagnosed and going through a depressive episode. My heart wasn’t in anything, photography, comics/sci-fi none of it felt like something I was able to get into heavily. At the time; like anyone would; I attributed it to a basic case of the blues or work stress or just getting older. I ignored the growing symptoms of depression and it cost me dearly. Now a year after my divorce I look back and wonder what changes I could have made but realize that I shouldn’t dwell on those things I can’t change.
Today I look at the fandom and I generally don’t feel like I belong there. Beyond the fact my ex and her boyfriend are part of that community, I myself don’t feel like I have my heart in it. I’ve tried to focus on activities where I still feel a challenge and something that keeps me trying to improve. Marksmanship has been one such activity, perhaps because it blends physical and mental sharpness and there’s a very visceral aspect of shooting that appeals to me. While I sometimes try to revisit sci-fi/comics and anime my interest is definitely tempered. I’ve learned when to disconnect more to focus on my real world and not entertainment. Fighting anhedonia has been one of the weirdest things but I continue to try and find methods to deal with the sense that there’s no “fire” in much of what I do. Certainly is not easy but I’m more acutely aware of when those feelings are running rampant and try to get out of the negative thinking and rumination that goes along with it.
You wouldn’t normally think of tax time as being a big trigger but this year for me at least, it is. It’s been almost a year since my divorce was final and having to see the name of my ex-wife on old-tax records hasn’t been an easy thing to get through.
Wish I could say “I’m doing great” but that would be disingenuous. The reality is “I’m surviving”. For now at least that’s the most important thing I can do. I rarely pick up a camera these days, I’m almost certain I won’t be doing portrait photography for the foreseeable future. Anhedonia and art doesn’t aren’t very conducive to one another.
I’ve focused on trying to find activities that I can still sink my teeth into and those have been admittedly few and far between. My only real hope is that come April the last of the legal and financial matters will be done with and I can focus purely on working on myself and my future. It’s a long road but I’m turning the first major corner I hope.
There’s some anniversaries you look forward to, then there are those you dread. Next month will make a full year since my divorce was finalized. To say I was in a low place during the process would be an understatement and while I’m not out of the woods by any stretch I think I’m better prepared to deal with the things that need to happen to get better these days.
The last few days I felt the onset of a depressive episode forming and tried to cut it off at the pass so to speak. I dropped my sugar and red meat intake, I began eating more oatmeal and fruit. In a previous post I likened depression to seeing an oncoming train. The metaphor has a bit of another layer that I thought about recently. While you might be able to side-step the tracks, there’s still the force of the train going past (wind, noise etc) that you still have to deal with. The same can be said (at least for me) to what happens when an episode hits. I may not be able to avoid all the affects but I’m able to keep myself from sinking too far and lessening the symptoms.
During a conversation with a friend we discussed the somewhat rough feeling of the extra burden of knowing when an episode is coming and the cognitive processes and work effort to not let it harm you. While most folks only periodically need to reflect as much, those of us prone to depression/anxiety are on almost constant watch. There’s a mental drain that comes from that vigilance that I’m still trying to reconcile.
Be it S.A.D. or other things that are triggering an episode for you, don’t lose heart, don’t give in. Every bit of fighting it helps.
One of the weirdest things for me is that my anxiety rose along side my depression. It happened very gradually to the point that I really didn’t notice it. Early on I just assumed it was because I never really liked crowds and was always more of a lone wolf. Over the last year or so I’ve tried to reflect and assess my sense of anxiety in more detail.
For some, the physical manifestations are more severe than what I experience. I’ve generally had tension, slight heart rate increase, the occasional knots in my stomach. I can generally tolerate heading out somewhere and being around people but sometimes it just takes one or two trigger stimuli to make me really uncomfortable. Public displays of affection usually have me turning the other way. Really cheerful faces started to make me feel sort of alien. That sense of “why can’t I just be like everybody else around me”. I think for a lot of folks battling anxiety there’s a pervasive fear that everyone around us sees the fear, the sense of not belonging and is judging.
It’s always a bit weird talking about clinical anxiety with someone who hasn’t gone through it. Most folks associate anxiety with nervousness but there’s that subtle difference of severity which makes anxiety so debilitating for some folks.
I happened upon this interesting photo series while looking for inspiration.
Photos Reveal What It’s Like to Have Anxiety Issues
The creator did an excellent job in creating some very powerful metaphors about the struggle of those suffering from severe anxiety. The door full of deliveries eerily strikes a chord with me, as did the sink and the floss picks. The smallest social norms become seemingly colossal hurdles. I think to many, they’ll look at that statement and think “It’s all in your head”. The thing is, what isn’t in your head? Your perception of your reality is by definition there in your mind. Some of us are just perceiving things in ways that are harder to address than others.
In one of my last posts I mentioned feeling the physical onset of a depressive episode and how I’ve tried to stem the tide when that happens. Diet has helped considerably (less sugars, more vegetables and yogurt/oatmeal). Exercise has been a bit harder to come by as it’s been stormy these last few days.
The most difficult part of trying to counteract the early onset of an episode is that you literally want to do exactly the opposite of what your body is telling you. Fighting insomnia for days on end, having nightmares every night, I feel the urge to sleep longer and longer to make up for lost sleep. That doesn’t really fix the problem though, and has it’s own host of side effects.
Several stress factors have weighed on me heavily. April will mark one year since my divorce and while some things have improved for me through therapy the road ahead is still a long one. There are still a few legal matters to tend to which I am worried about, most of which I can’t change at all. Work stress is always there, that’s perhaps the one constant. Fighting to keep my health level from back-sliding and feeling unhappy with my stalling progress. Rationally I understand that I have to find ways to work through each of them in my own way but emotionally the pressures and strain take their toll on a daily basis.
I’ve taken to target shooting more as the focus allows me to step out of my own mind for a bit and focus on the task at hand. Some of it is muscle memory and regimented discipline as safety while at the range is paramount to me. There’s still also a sense of fun that helps me unwind. It isn’t a hobby I’d recommend for everyone struggling with depression or other forms of mental health, but find that thing which let’s you step away from the negative things affecting you when you can.
One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced since my diagnosis has been the need to be very emotionally aware of myself. The idea of mindfulness isn’t new for me, I had gone through a few meditation courses in college to help with stress and focus. Some folks will reference therapy approaches that are labelled as MBCT (Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy) which to me is just an application of mindful observation paired with traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The best metaphor I could come up with is thinking of depression as an approaching train on the tracks. There’s the subtle clues that we sometimes miss that a depressive episode is starting to form. The negative thinking, the physical manifestations (insomnia, focus issue), all the usual symptoms associated with persistent or major depressive disorder. Rather than be overwhelmed when it hits at full strength, you can find way to side step and take actions to reduce the impact.
A few of the tools I’ve taken to using. Journals and tracking tools such as Pacifica (thinkpacifica.com) help to monitor general mood trends, sleep patterns, healthy activity. Paired with things like a FitBit fitness tracker I’ve found that when a major depressive episode seems like it’s approaching I can try to focus on improving my sleep patterns (reducing caffeine, using melatonin), exercising more and making adjustments to my diet. Increasing the amount I walk/hike has helped and often when I feel an episode I’ll work to reduce my intake of red meat and try to go for vegetables and fruit as well as yogurt and healthier grains (Overnight Oats is a handy option). These tools aren’t meant to replace your usual mental health provider or base meds if you are on them, but they do help to make the emotional shift more bearable.