Small Commentary on World Mental Health Day

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Mental_Health_Day

Today marks world mental health day and I’m glad it’s something being recognized but I hope that glib humor aside people realize what this day should be about, bringing awareness about mental health and being open to seeking help. The theme of this years Mental Health Day is actually mental health in the workplace which for me hits home pretty hard.

Clinical depression and the workplace is a touchy subject, every boss wants a happy team but you don’t always get that. Some industries are more prone to giving rise to depression. The symptoms aren’t always visible and sometimes it impacts the bottom line more than most folks may be aware. So today take a look at your work environment. See if there’s things you can do to foster morale, to help someone seek treatment, or if you feel you may be experiencing issues seek help yourself. Don’t be affraid to investigate your companies policies on things like FMLA, mental health days. Take those breaks, reset but most of all, seek help if you need it.

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-workplace

 

 

 

How to Speak to a Depressed Person — And the Dichotomy of Advice

YouTuber, author Anna Akana had an interesting video post regarding speaking to someone with depression.

The video itself tries to espouse the idea of listening with compassion which at face value seems easy enough to do, but from personal experience I can tell you that it’s a rare thing indeed. There’s a fine line between being able to listen to your friend and relate/connect (especially for those who have never gone through clinical depression) versus just feeling like an enabler or getting inundated with the other persons pain points.

The difficulty that I have with being open about depression, even to folks who were friends got me thinking just what is it that makes the process so much of a painful slog. One of the things I realized is that there are often two competing flows of advice out there which in some ways do a disservice to everyone.

Motivational advice and suggestions for ‘leading a good life’ often talk about ‘dumping the negative people’ in your life. Again, at first blush that makes total sense right? You want to keep a positive attitude, so you surround yourself with positive people… Except what happens when you ARE that negative person? You sort of find yourself an emotional leper on No-Frown island where all the shiny-happy people suddenly can’t connect, can’t engage you and your isolation becomes worse.

People always seem to have the same flip-in-script however when someone suffers from depression and takes things all the way to the most painful recourse of ending their lives. They always ask “I wish they would have talked to me.” I’ve found that sudden “Oh gosh I want the negative people to reach out to me” thing to be the big paradoxical twist to the advice. If you want to live your life by pushing away people who are negative, that’s one thing, but don’t suddenly be surprised when some of those people turn out to not be negative but suffering from depression.

Here’s where that middle ground is just so difficult to come by. You can certainly try to be selective about the people whom you choose to include in your life. Some may indeed be negative in nature, they may have beliefs that conflict, but in the end you have to decide are there enough redeeming things about your friendship/relationship with them that they still have a place.  For those people in your life who face the challenge of depression, being that compassionate listener for them isn’t easy, the process is a slippery slope that I don’t really feel anyone has a good answer for. For what it’s worth here’s my take, I have circles of friends that I can, to varying degrees unload onto when my depression gets too high. Some are better than others at being able to process that, objectively say something and refocus the conversation to other things in a tactful way. Others fall into what I call the mono-trap. Which is the one word response to anything I say the ‘hmm’, ‘yeah’, ‘uh huh’ type of situation. It’s mean to think it but I do place my friends into categorical buckets of how much raw unfiltered me I sense they can take. Some I trust enough to tell all the painful parts of what’s swirling around in my head, while others will only get a minimal of who am I before I feel my own toxicity requires me to get some distance.

When you are faced with battling depression, the hardest thing in the world is combating that feeling like nobody wants to talk to you. I prefer to think that depression makes you reassess how you communicate to friends/loved ones and puts a bit more onus on you to decide how to reach out. No one is magically going to know all the right things to say but you can let people in to try and ease the burden. While for some people therapists aren’t helpful, my own experiences have been positive. They offer a sounding board and nudge you in a more productive direction. No therapist is perfect but if you find a good rapport with one keep at it. So many problems are created by imperfect communication but learning to navigate your social circles and knowing when to create space versus when to let folks in is a powerful coping tool that I hope everyone tries to work on.

 

News — Google Adds Depression Survey Tool to Search

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/08/24/google-quiz-help-diagnose-users-depression/

The news article itself is several days old but I thought it would be good to comment on it. Mental health awareness and access are definitely hot topics as of late. We’ve seen a significant amount of news relating to celebrity suicides, bullying and a general uptick in issues relating to mental health. While I’m glad that Google is trying to do something to raise awareness it’s just sort of the first step in a long process and I worry that some of that message is lost.

The survey itself is not new but it’s been crafted to provide a starting off point to seeking help. Personally I usually approach these types of online surveys with a grain of salt.  It’s possible to be very much on the borderline and sometimes the range of answers doesn’t quite capture the experiences for everyone. As daunting as the process is though I do think it’s a good idea to seek out a therapist or psychologist if you suspect you may be on the bubble. I can only hope that the stigma continues to be removed from seeking mental health services and that something is done to make help more accessible.

 

Workaholic Behavior and Depression

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-excess/201612/workaholism-and-psychiatric-disorders

I came across the above article and it was interesting read, especially given my own perspective that I have been at many varying points a workaholic. Several of the patterns discussed were interesting to me as I’ve often wondered what correlations may existing between people who are driven to push at work or have a tendency to bulldog problems.

The uptick in symptoms in various areas including ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression were eye opening. I typically split my time working remotely and working onsite with clients and one of the main aspects for me has been an ability to focus without being distracted. My background was initially as a programmer and later as a systems admin/analyst. As a result I’m used to having my head down to solve a problem. It’s possible the same characteristics that make me good at deep dive analysis unfortunately make me susceptible to other conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The mind works in so many different ways that I’d hardly call these findings conclusive but the pattern and potential implications may lead to better ways to head-off dangerous mental illness before it becomes too severe. I know my chosen profession is full of stress, turn over and requires a very distinct mindset to survive. Hopefully as HR and psychological processes improve resources will be available to help folks who may be on the bubble as I was in getting help.

Divorce and the Public Eye — Celebrity Divorce

Brad and Angelina, Pratt and Faris, celebrity marriages and divorces seem to happen so often I think people forget that there’s still human emotions involved.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/16/entertainment/anna-faris-podcast/index.html

I always get a twinge of sadness when I hear about a celebrity couple that is getting divorced. The process sucks and I’ve never understood the public’s fascination with wanting to know “why”. When my marriage ended I pulled away from everything and I do mean everything with even a remote connection to my ex-wife. Having anyone ask me “why didn’t it work” would likely have sent me reeling. I can’t begin to fathom the constant onslaught that celebrities have to endure from the press, paparazzi and social media these days. We look for the salacious, the scandal, the tragic in the divorce process. Why, I have no idea. My usual worry when I hear about a celebrity going through divorce is are their kids ok, are they getting the help they need and is it a messy divorce. How do they frame their ex-spouse.

While I appreciate Anna Faris’ messages I think people need to remember that marriages fail for a myriad of reasons and that everyone’s circumstances are different. The only constant I’ve ever seen is that somewhere, somehow the communication broke down or the differences outweighed the common bonds and it was time to end the marriage. If you or someone you know is going through a divorce I hope that you are able to be there for them. You don’t need to bash the other spouse, you don’t even need to say much of anything. Keep them focused on the things that need to be done and the priorities legal, familial and emotional.

Depression — Weathering the Storm

I live in a hurricane zone and that got me thinking about the parallels between depressive episodes and storms. In the case of hurricanes you can see the storm forming sometimes thousands of miles away. It’s a gradual thing that inches closer to you. You can’t stop the hurricane from happening, you can’t get out of the way, you can only brace, prepare and weather the storm.

The one major thing I’ve gradually gained through therapy has been an awareness of my mental and emotional state so that I can feel the onset of an episode. In past blogs I’ve talked about sort of side-stepping, though really it’s more about fortifying and minimize how long the episode keeps you pinned under.

The tools vary by person but my own typical approach has been to blend these main behaviors and elements.

  • Optimize my diet
    • When an episode is brewing I try to cut way down on sugars and carbs and focus on vegetables and light, easy to process proteins
    • Yogurt, overnight oats and ready to go meals so that I don’t start skipping meals and binge eating later
  • Try to keep even a low-level exercise routine
    • I’m terrible at this to be honest but I try to keep a little under-desk peddle unit so I have some exercise
  • Switch off from the news and negative media
    • Unplugging has often been one of the hardest things to do given my job in IT but less information is sometimes better.
  • Brace my friends and support structure
    • This one is weird and hard. I often struggle with telling friends that I feel an episode coming on so my mood, mannerisms and conversation may become more difficult. Most people expect it when something tragic happens, but for clinical depression it doesn’t have to be one specific major event that triggers your episode, getting that across isn’t always easy.
  • Mind my medications and supplements
    • This will vary greatly by person, especially if you’re on prescriptions medications for depression or anxiety but falling out of sync with meds or supplements to keep your health up is always rough so better to try to remain consistent.

I wish there were an easy answer out there.  I wish that living with depression wasn’t simply about surviving and managing it like some terminal condition. The fact there’s no cookie cutter solution to depression is a constant reminder to me that people are unique and we each have to chart a course through the problems our life has. I don’t have answers for everyone I just know what’s been working for me and hope that in writing it down may help someone else who may have overlooked something or could add to their box of coping tools.

 

 

A Flip Side to “Fake it till you make it” — Berkeley Study

Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse

I happened upon this and thought it was pretty timely. One of the difficult aspects of depression is trying to maintain a positive mental attitude and a lot of times there a view of sort of ‘faking it’ until you get better.

I’ve often wondered what kinds of negative implications this may have and one of my views has been that as I started to understand my depression more I stopped trying to put on a smile and accepted my darker emotions and tried to focus on processing through them rather than burying them away. I stopped telling folks “I’m good” when I knew I was having a hard go of things.

The idea really isn’t new, the concept that bottling up your emotions usually only leads to more explosive outbursts later. My father had a temper, and growing up I always worked to keep mine under wraps. Often wonder if that was a disservice to myself. We all manifest emotional stress differently and I think in my case it was a downward spiral into depression which caused me to hurt those close to me.

The important take away I had from the article was the idea that I need to make sure I am finding safe, constructive outlets for the stress and negative emotions I feel. Some of my choices, admittedly, are a bit less safe than others but for myself I’ve always found a degree of danger and adrenaline has seemed to be the only way around my depressive episodes. Be it racing cars, hunting or just shooting at a gun range. Whatever your particular outlet try to make sure it’s a something positive and work your way through the down times. You don’t have to necessarily smile, but you do have to move forward.

 

Of Mornings and Social Norms

For me the gradual build up of anxiety and depression was so subtle I hardly noticed it. I often chocked it up to getting older and being a bit of a curmudgeon. These days I realize that one of the things I always felt was odd were social norms and a great deal of expectation.  There’s an almost Pavlovian response that we expect when we say things like “Hope your day goes well” or “How’s things?” It’s a conditioned response to say just positives so when someone actually says how they feel it can be a case of mental discord.

These days I don’t really smile. I’m used to it, going about my day with minimal contact and little to no expectation. When I do interact it’s a weird blend of automatic responses and trying to be honest. I don’t tell people I’m fine anymore. That word has been out of my emotional vocabulary for a while. When you stop caring about the mask and just say what’s actually going on it’s off putting to most. Those who can still tolerate me in this state, with the overhang of depression are the friends I still try to keep close.

I’ve had to make a lot of difficult choices about my social circle post-divorce, some of them likely interpreted as me abandoning former friends. In my eyes however it’s been as sink/swim choice. Keeping friends who’s presence reminded me of my ex was too much of a trigger. Trying to feign happiness or normality among them was draining and I felt like I was just constantly lying.  I don’t lie anymore as I have no need and I don’t expect anything of the circles I have retained (even if their closeness is no longer what it once was). The paradoxical part of depression is that as much as you long for contact, it also makes you push away people. For me I know it’s been a self-awareness of that push/pull. I can see myself doing so, I understand it, there’s a rationale behind it but sometimes it does feel surreal. I’ve built up a tolerance for the pain of self-imposed isolation, of the emotional toll depression takes on a daily basis. I find ways to reach out to the resources I need to (therapist, friends, coworkers) as needed but sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do to maintain balance and prevent myself from sinking into a major depressive episode.

I’ll never sugar coat the difficulties of living with depression. It’s a daily juggling act between meeting social expectations while doing what you can to not send yourself over the edge. Every little bit helps in the fight and knowing when to pull the ripcord and reach out to friends is critical. If you find yourself having a rough time don’t be afraid to let folks know you’re in a bad place. Not everyone will understand that if you suffer from clinical depression that place isn’t something you just “get out of in a day or so” but the ones that do will be an anchor point.

Birthdays, Suicides and Navigating Difficult Times

The recent news of Chester Bennington’s suicide hit me pretty hard. I enjoyed his work with Linkin Park and even his turn as the lead vocal for Stone Temple Pilots.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/7873783/linkin-park-chester-bennington-suicide

Like many in the music industry he had his share of demons. Abuse in his youth, substance issues later in life.  He hanged himself on the birthday of his friend Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) who also committed suicide in May. Their music spoke to me; even if only peripherally; when I felt down I could listen to their lyrics and feel like I wasn’t isolated. Pain comes in many forms and often it seems those who touch so many with their expressions of pain, challenges and sometimes redemption are the ones suffering the most inside.

The timing of it all is particularly painful for me.  Today is my own birthday and I am reminded of two greats who share the same day as myself,  Robin Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Giants in their fields, remember even today, but also struggling for much of their lives.

In my own life, I’ve often used humor as a defense mechanism. Preferring to see others laugh and be amused even when inside I felt isolated and empty. Slowly I’ve taken off my clown make up as it were and I try to present just the me that’s there. Sour attitude, sardonic to a fault and bare. Probably lost a few friends along the way but I feel like at least now I’m being more honest with myself and those around me.

A friend commented that I should reach out if I feel the pull of suicide ever creep back. I somewhat deflected, saying that I have a contingency plan in place for my firearms when that happens. I am far more mindful of my mental and emotional state when things like this happen though. I shift my diet to brace, I try to get a bit more exercise and movement into my daily routine. I avoid negative news where I can. It probably seems weird to someone who’s never dealt with a clinical diagnosis to see the myriad of small things needed to help cope. I often think that in itself is half the reason depressive disorders are so stigmatized. Do what you have to do however and do not let yourself sink. For me, it’s far easier to maintain a flat emotional state than to try to recover once I’ve sunken. If you’re going through a difficult time, or on the cusp of an episode, start the prepping now. Try to give your mind and body as much ammo as needed to deal with the downturn and the stressor responses you’re going through. It isn’t easy, depression never is, but we all have small things we can do to make it through.

 

Cutting Off the Past/Divorce and Property

I’ve been pretty quiet the last few days. Between work and wrapping up real estate matters for my divorce it hasn’t been the best few days. Selling off a timeshare that my ex-wife and I had purchased when we were engaged has been a painful trip down memory lane.

I still have a few scant happy memories relating to our stay-cations there, but I also have painful memories just prior to us filing for divorce. It’s always a little weird having memories creep up from the last eight years. They don’t feel real for me anymore to be honest. More like that hazy feeling you get right after waking up and trying to remember a dream. I can’t picture the face of my ex-wife anymore, it’s always just a silhouette that I see, and there’s no voice, just murmur. I remember the sounds of water and kids playing, the smell of grilled steaks. That’s about it.

I shouldn’t really complain, the sale of our timeshare thus far has been fairly pain free but knowing that at one time we viewed it as an investment and something we would want to take our kids to makes everything very bittersweet.

While it sounds harsh, I admit, I do understand the logic in having a prenuptial agreement these days. Divorce can become a tangle of contention and he-said/she-said. To me nobody really wins in a divorce you just sort of go into the middle of the ring, throw punches at each other and retire to your corners until someone calls time.

I’ll be happy when the process is over, it will be on less thing tying us together. There’s still one large piece of real estate to be addressed but I don’t know how long that will take. The depression has been particularly strong in the last three weeks. To try and cope I’ve taken to upping my supplements, increasing my exercise (which I’ll be honest I was doing terrible at to begin with). Knowing the feeling of a depressive episode starting has been the principle gain from my time in therapy. “Solving” the issue isn’t quite there, I feel more like I’m muddling through. In truth, coping with clinical depression for me feels like a matter of survival. The rational side of me understands there’s underlying chemical reactions, behavioral patterns and learned responses all at work, but none of that knowledge makes dealing w/the weight, the anhedonia or the sadness any easier.

If you’re going through a similar in challenge in life find the small things with quickly attainable results, even if that thing is simple like “I want to take out the trash” as a goal. Achieving any degree of movement sometimes feels like enough victory to get you going to the next thing. I hope that as this timeshare sale closes, that will be another goal I’ll have achieved and one more step forward.