I’ll admit, while I may not suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with my dysthymia and anxiety I feel like I’m almost the inverse of the norm on SAD. I actually dread summer more than winter or fall.
This summer in particular has been a little rough. Legal and financial matters to tie up relating to the divorce have weighed on me, the weather here is humid and muggy making my usual days just that much more uncomfortable. I’ve tried to focus on short-goal projects as of late. A new VMware lab to tinker with, study material, the occasional game now and then.
When most folks are enjoying the outdoors and celebrating, I recoil and look inward. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls in the middle of summer and this year in particular I have no desire to celebrating getting older. Slowly managing to drag myself outside more as needed, but rarely for ‘pleasure’. I take no joy in going out to see what’s out there. As a close friend described it, life is grey. Sometimes I feel like summer turns me into more of a vampire as I’d rather venture out at night or in the early hours of the morning both to avoid the summer crowds and to avoid the heat. I can barely look back upon my memories and imagine that I ever looked forward to the summers off.
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.
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.
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.
Subject Matter Warning: This photo blog post contains images that may not be suitable for everyone. Themes are sensitive and I don’t want anyone who may be in a difficult time or suffering from suicidal ideation to be affected by this. This post is purely an interpretation of depression as I’ve experienced it. If you do not feel comfortable with these darker themes please close this tab and move on to one of my other posts.
The face of depression is lying alone at night with a small lamp, waiting and wishing for sleep to come. Trying to push aside the constant flood of memories that hit when your mind is idle.
Sometimes fearing you’ll never rest.
The face of depression is wanting that way out and seeing the things that could make that happen.
But realizing that you should do something more constructive like maintenance for your next day at the range.
Sometimes it’s seeing how a sliver of metal could make you focus on a different pain.
But remembering that it might just be better to give yourself a nice shave and brave the outside.
The face of depression isn’t a face. It’s the nondescript things that we suffer every day. The small tasks that seem insurmountable, the triggers and risks we navigate like a minefield that most take for granted.
The face of the depression is that mirror we wake up to every morning and reminding ourselves that we have to keep moving forward, regardless of the pain behind us and the challenges ahead of us.
I will preface this post by saying if you are sensitive to humor that is self deprecating at times or that tries to make light of mental health then these may not be good sites for you to click on. I know that mental health issues are very serious and using humor to defuse some of the pain isn’t for everyone, so please consider your stance before you read further.
Humor was often my defense mechanism when depression or social anxiety would rear its ugly head. After my divorce and formal diagnosis I tried to really understand my actions and my responses to things on a more conscious level. Web comics, especially those that deal with mental health topics, were a way to sort of relate to the pain and challenges in a more light hearted way.
James F Regan pulls no punches when he tries to bring to light the difficulty in battling depression, adulthood and disappointment. His brutal honesty and character style immediately struck a chord with me. His web comic is still relatively new but I find it very topical and relatable.
Sarah Andersen’s web comic has been going on for several years and her approachable art style and depictions are a great way to connect to topics relating to anxiety.
These are just two of the web comics I’ve started to follow but if you’re the type who finds humor very cathartic, even in the face of adverse circumstances, consider adding these two authors to your list.
I’m an IT person by trade, originally a programmer then later a focus in system administration. I’ve read several articles that IT as a profession (probably due in part to high stress levels) is known to have a severe issue with mental health and depression in particular.
At my best typically when solving problems so one of the coping mechanisms I’ve tried to adopt has been forcing myself to run through projects and self-paced training. I’ve often worked on things called Intel NUCs, little compact mini-PCs that have allowed me to train on the newest versions of Windows and test/practice installations of applications and things I need for work. It can be costly, but then again so are classes and training courses. (Example of what I work on: https://lab-rat.com.au/2017/04/01/supermicro-vs-intel-nuc/)
The most difficult thing I’ve found with anhedonia and depression has been lack of motivation. Knowing I have a problem to solve and that the training benefits me work-wise has helped to keep me on track. Finding things that allow you to sink your teeth into them and not allowing yourself to fall further into depression is probably one of the biggest challenges that I’ve come to understand. There’s certainly mornings where I don’t want to get moving at all, where the bed feels like it’s where I should be all day. One day at a time I try to force myself not to give in to those instincts, I seek a problem and learning how to work through it gives me that small bit of reward I need to move onto the next day. If you’re finding yourself dragging, work both in and out of your comfort zone until you find something that has that perfect degree of reward that you can turn it into a habit.