Father’s day is coming up later in the month and given the events of the last two years, divorce, depression it’s made me a bit introspective. My own relationship with my father is non-existent and I realize a sizable chunk of that stems from my own childhood experiences with divorce.
Seeing my parents drift apart and eventually divorce was a painful experience in my pre-teens. Sometimes I wondered how much of it was my fault, I wondered how my father felt about the whole process. Having gone through it myself, I have an idea for the challenges he must have had. Mercifully my ex-wife and I didn’t have children. I doubt I’d be writing today if kids were a factor in my divorce. Looking back I realize just how often I questioned my own fitness at the prospect of becoming a parent. I honestly don’t know if that will ever really be the case for me or if maybe I’ll just serve as a cool uncle for the remainder of my days.
Never been one for holidays but this time around Father’s day has weird sting for me. Maybe I’m just over thinking something that may never be or dwelling on things I can’t change. The weight of it still sits with me but I try to focus on the things I can change for now and not the ones that have passed.
The process of my last major depressive episode involved me dropping weight at a very unhealthy pace (then conversely gaining it all back at an equally unhealthy pace). The reality was I stopped taking care of myself and the biggest and fastest slide was in my diet. I rarely ate and when I did it was often food that wasn’t particularly good for me. In the end it made an already bad problem that much worse and harder to get out of.
I still battle with depression daily but I try to make a few shortcut choices in cooking to help with the days where motivation is a chore. While it sounds fancy, sous vide cooking is nothing more than a water-bath slow cooking method to keep your food at an exact temperature for as long as needed. This means that you can get very accurately cooked steak or very tender pork as an example. I personally use an Anova 800W sous vide to make steak, chicken and pork dishes. Quickly cooling and freezing some of the meals means you can warm up the item and it will have already been ‘pre cooked’. As an example, below is a basic use for chicken breasts.
Cook Once, Eat Five Times: Five Easy Sous Vide Chicken Breast Recipes
When I’m feeling like rewarding myself, I personally prefer steaks. The upshot to using a sous vide however is that while the steak can be cooked to just the right doneness there’s another benefit, being able to use cheaper cuts of meat. You don’t need to splurge for the full rib eye, a flank steak done right can be almost as tender. Buy a few thick steaks from your local Costcos or Sam Club and the price comes down even further.
Besides protein, I try to find vegetable dishes to cook that can last. One of the easiest dishes to pair with any kind of protein is ratatouille. Sure ok if you watched the Disney animated movie you might think “but that’s too fancy”. You don’t need to be as fancy. Ratatouille is fundamentally a ‘poor mans vegetable stew’.
So why put all that effort up front? Ratatouille goes well with a lot of meats and keeps for several days in the fridge. Make a large batch and you don’t have to worry about thinking “what’s for veggies” at the end of the day.
The weekend’s are always hard but if you’re able to get yourself motivated to cook at least once in the week, it will help you for the remainder of the work week when things may be even harder. It sounds like a massive hurdle and I admit it isn’t easy, but eating fast food constantly or dosing up on canned, instant meals high in sodium and low in other essential vitamins doesn’t help you body. We often think of depression as being strictly ‘mental’ but part of that is still tied to our overall health. Autoimmune system, vitamin and mineral levels all contribute to neuroplasticity. While they aren’t a total cure all, they can help you get out of the low-points a bit easier. It’s the same logic as engaging in exercise to improve your health. Personally I find getting out and working out harder than cooking a healthy meal. Depression takes many tools to deal with it, but finding efficient ways of going about it can help.
One of the most embarrassing things about depression, for me at least, has been that during the worst of an episode your personal health takes a nose dive. All of the personal hygiene tasks become heavy and loathsome. (Full disclosure the Feature photo above is just a stock photo)
I won’t attempt to say I understand how difficult it is for women living with depression in that regard but I can say from the male perspective one of the things that usually made me cringe was shaving in the morning. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not equating clean shaven or bearded with a degree of depression. I look terrible with facial hair so I try to look clean shaven as a matter of taste but that process becomes more and more of a drag the deeper my depression. On good days, I can run through a full routine of a wet shave with an old school safety razor. It takes a bit longer but it helps to get me moving in the morning and the quality of the shave makes the exercise fulfilling in its own way. Bad days on the other hand being close to a razor becomes an unsettling effort. So now and then I try to use an electric razor. Recently tried the Philips Norelco OneBlade and if you find it difficult to start your morning routine you may want to give it a once over.
Rechargeable, under $40 and with blades that last several months they are a nice alternative to disposable razors or more expensive 3-head shavers. While not nearly as close a shave as my safety razor, I think it’s a helpful grooming aid. It’s possible to use the OneBlade as a dry shaver or with your choice of shaving cream for a wet shave.
Irritation wasn’t an issue and I don’t have the best skin to begin with. The unit also includes guides for beard use. Taking care of yourself often seems like the biggest waste of time when depression hits hardest so every little tool which helps lessen the burden of taking care of yourself is useful. The cost is also more reasonable than other options.
One of the challenges I’ve had on a near daily basis is juggling my general desire to still enjoy TV shows, movies and books without it adversely triggering a depressive episode or ramping my anxiety.
It’s a very fine line I have to juggle yet some times, some themes and depictions pique my interest. Released in Japan in 2016, the anime feature film Koe No Katachi deals with some very mature subject matter. The themes include deafness/disability, bullying, anxiety, depression even suicide is discussed. Unfortunately while the film had a limited theater release overseas, it has yet to have a US release date. I’m contemplating reading the manga but run the risk at utterly spoiling the movie. The few clips that I have seen and the trailer and reviews from other fans point to a very powerful story and an interesting depiction of some of the lows that are experienced by people who have suffered bullying or a sense of being ostracized.
Other recent shows have also touched upon similar themes. Manchester by the Sea, Thirteen Reasons Why come to mind. Knowing a bit of my sensitivity to these types of shows makes navigating popular and award winning shows a delicate balance. While I was able to finish Manchester by the Sea, it was a difficult viewing. Thirteen Reasons I had to stop by the second episode as the focus on suicide was becoming too much for me to comfortably sit through. While some folks are intrigued at the exploration of the types of sadness and depression shown in such works, I understand that for folks like myself who are living with it day by day it’s a very fine line between respectful artistic discussion and glamorizing it.
As you pick and choose the shows you view always try to keep a sense of perspective and know when to step away. There are still a number of shows from my past that I can’t watch due to various memories and triggers and shows that I actively avoid going forward due to how they impact me. It’s an extra layer of thinking that goes into things but with practice navigating them becomes easier.
Depression itself is a serious topic but I also realized that my blog is very focused on the clinical side of things so I thought periodically it would be a good idea for me to break from that and just talk about less serious topics.
Food plays a pretty big part of my day and food related routines became one of my coping tools. To that end though I do try to find snacks and things that can be portioned and controlled so that I don’t go crazy. One such snack I’ve enjoyed are Daelman’s Stroopwafels (see link below)
More specifically I should say the Mini-Stroopwafels which to me are far easier to portion control. If you’ve read my blog you may have seen that part of my routine to stave off depression is to make a nice hand pour brewed coffee. Stroopwafels, especially the caramel variety go great with a good Kona or French roast. They are small enough that 2-3 will give you a nice little sugar boost without being too sweet.
Normal sized stroopwafels are around four inches in diameter. There’s even a whole process of warming them over your hot coffee to soften them. As fun as that may be, I find the full sized stroopwafel a bit much. Being in my late 30’s I don’t want to get too crazy with the sugar or impact my weight adversely. Indulging in a little snack isn’t terrible but it is an exercise in self control. As I only buy a bag or so at time and only if I’ve been eating healthy otherwise it hasn’t become habit forming. Besides online you can find them at Walmarts (usually individual packages) or at coffee shops. Give them a try if you’re looking to add a little fun to your morning or evening routine.
One of the phrases I often throw about on my blog is the concept of the depression spectrum. For many people I think that’s a difficult thing to visualize as the types of depression aren’t simply a linear scale of increasing severity but a span going from two different extremes.
This was one of the best examples I could find. I suffer from dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder) seen wedged between major depressive disorder and normal mood. My mood essentially hovers in in that blue zone, very rarely do I feel what most people think of as ‘normal’. I have on at least two occasions suffered a major depressive episode, both stemming from very severe stressors in my life. More wide varying forms such as cyclothymia and bipolar I/II disorder can span the emotional gamut and the up/down cycle can be very difficult to predict and deal with. Major depression meanwhile is often what people think of when hearing phrases like ‘crippling depression’.
The one thing I’d want folks to understand is that depression isn’t a strict scale from 1 to 10 and that varying types of depression present with a wide range of mood levels.
8 Signs You Could Have High Functioning Depression
Depression is a tricky thing to pin down due in no small part to the broad range in diagnosis. Terminology has also shifted over the years (DSM classifications) and even how it’s referred to in casual conversation.
For myself, my diagnosis was classified as dysthymia or more commonly these days persistent depressive disorder. While on the lower side of the spectrum along with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it’s the persistence that can be most difficult to live with from a day to day basis. Other more intense forms of depression such as postpartum, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are often the most stigmatized adding even more difficulty for those who want to seek help.
Another phrase I keep hearing thrown about is high functioning depression as opposed to crippling depression. I almost feel like this is something of a misnomer, as it covers such a wide range of the depression spectrum that it seems silly to me. Do not misunderstand, I’m aware that for people who are battling severe depression it can become crippling and literally prevent you from being employed in a conventional work environment, but I feel like the identifier of ‘high functioning’ gives off the wrong message to people. To me it almost marginalizes depression as something that “is there but doesn’t matter” which in part is one of the reasons why it goes undiagnosed and untreated for many of us. I fell into that trap, I figured I could still do my job well enough despite not feeling much of anything (anhedonia) and my isolation and anxiety I just attributed to getting older and being something of a curmudgeon. Friends I’ve talked to often miss the fact that depression isn’t static, it isn’t that you are diagnosed as bi polar and that’s all you ever are, or that having mild SAD or dysthymia means you’re just sort of “feeling the blues”. It’s hard for folks to fathom that triggering events, stressors can tip the scales from mild depression into a full major depressive episode. Once that happens it can be a very high risk time for someone, this is where people ‘snap’ or find themselves spiral so far that suicide becomes a consideration. The best option is to head off the problem before it becomes that severe where possible.
The warning signs are something to be aware of, especially to employers I think, but if you see anything of yourself in these symptoms, I do urge you to get a diagnosis and see about making changes in your life, your prescriptions or just starting the process by talking to someone.
The above article I would say is far from really scientific but I think anyone who has spent time on social media and then stepped away from it will understand the gist of it. I can’t recall tell if my depression and anxiety tainted my view of social media or if my personality as a whole just doesn’t like the idea of it. I’ve never been one to seek attention and the whole structure of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to me felt like one big rat race for popularity.
The notion that likes don’t have value made a lot of sense to me. When interaction is a “click” is there still meaning in it? It’s one of those things where if it mattered there would be communication, not just a thumbs up/down check box. The need to feel liked drives a lot of folks but I’ve always wondered to what end? When the process of divorce started I terminated my social media accounts. I no longer parade my daily life out, with the exception of this blog. My reasons for The Long Road however aren’t to be liked, it’s just another variation on my therapy. If people have meaningful things to say, I certainly hope they engage me but it isn’t the driving force of my writing. Facebook has some positive uses but I feel like it’s gotten mired in the need to create image and branding. When businesses wanted employees to use their personal Facebook accounts to promote product I realized it was just another tool being used, it wasn’t about being true to yourself or wanting meaningful interaction it was about attention, visibility and optics. That world isn’t for me and deactivating my accounts was one of the best choices I made to keep myself from feeling worse.
If you find that the toxicity of social media is affecting you more and more, think about pairing it down. Don’t rely on FB. It is entirely possible to keep communicating with others in a format that isn’t about a popularity wall. It isn’t easy but personally, I find that when I’m engaged by people who genuinely want to speak to me, it’s a much more fulfilling process. No likes required.
Living in a state that doesn’t really get the same severity of weather change as my mainland counterparts I’ve never really thought of myself as being prone to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but lately my April has been extremely rainy. As I’ve been tracking my mood more I’ve wondered if I may suffer from mild SAD or if it’s just another manifestation of my dysthymic disorder
The idea that the seasonal shift and weather affect mood isn’t new, the idea of winter blahs is pretty old. For me while the weather used to affect me slightly (mostly in terms of lethargy) it wasn’t until my divorce and subsequent depressive episode that I really started to examine the impact the weather had on me. If you notice your mood and depression is heavily influenced by the season changes you may want to give the article above a quick look.
For me the early indicators have been the increase in laziness, a general dislike of going outside and diminished appetite when the weather turns. I’ve tried to counter act those influences by using a warmer light setting on my adjustable LED lamp that I keep near my bedside, reducing red meat and increasing whole grains and fruits. It’s certainly not fool proof but it helps get me out of the ‘I’m dragging’ feeling so that I can at least move about the house and try to get things done. With the cold, decreased sunlight and rain (especially for me) the instinct to curl up in a bed and just let things pass you by is really hard to overcome but small nuanced changes do help. This time last year I doubt I’d be writing as much or even having any interest in seeing what’s going on in the world. The mood outside affected or magnified my already depressive mood. These days I’m more aware of the direction of my mental state and rather than try to dramatically shift it, I’ve found mechanisms to nudge it back into a safer direction.
If you think you might suffer from a form of depressive disorder talk to a physician or a therapist, see about things you can do to help you manage the symptoms.
Before You Forget: A Crash Course About Men’s Depression
One of the difficult things about depression is how it manifests from person to person with a lot of variation, even more so how it does so between genders.
I’m guilty of not being able to see my own depression as it became worse over several years. Personally I tried to deflect and often attributed it to stress, fatigue and sleep issues. The above article was a good review and reminder that there’s a spectrum to depression which isn’t always easy to identify.
From my own experiences it’s also extremely difficult to get someone suffering from depression to spot their own signs. I was very dismissive of it and it cost me greatly. The approach for everyone may be very different from person to person but a lot of times frustrated spouses and friends may come at the issue a bit hard and critical. For me at least that approach made me recoil inward even more and in some ways built my own frustration. If you have a loved one whom you suspect is suffering from a form of depression, let them know you’re worried, let them know you’re concerned and offer to just listen to what’s bothering them. A lot of times it’s just being heard that it’s the first step. Recommend therapy or other activities to help as coping tools, but try to do so constructively and not as a criticism or implication that they are somehow broken. Depression in it’s many variations is difficult to manage and even harder at times to spot but a good support does wonders.