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.
One of the difficult things I’ve struggled with amid my divorce has been a sort of looping self-hate. It isn’t easy when you look at the failure of marriage and one of the immediate things you factor is yourself.
These days I look back and I feel very toxic, as though I was simply something that a spouse would want to get away from. The rational side of me understands that’s only part of the equation. There were many factors at work. Some that I contributed, some that she did. Knowing that however doesn’t make waking up and looking in the mirror any easier. It’s a weird feeling, wanting to avert your eyes from yourself.
Little by little I’ve tried to find ways to be comfortable in my own skin but that has been the longest road of all in this journey of recovery. There’s days I drift off the road and into the bramble, days I’d rather punch the mirror than go through my morning shave. Every day, a small step away from the things that happened, the things I can’t change to something I can try to change.
For anyone else staring down that insufferably long road, I know how you feel. Sometimes you just want to stop moving forward, stopping on the side and letting everything else pass you by. It’s the easiest route, but it doesn’t change anything to get stuck there. Every step, every day is a little progress to something different, even if you don’t see it now. Sounds like an over idealistic bit of drivel doesn’t it? I know, that sarcastic snap back is almost reflexive for me too but the idea isn’t wrong. If you’re having a hard time on the road right now, give it time. I’m not looking for fast changes any time soon myself but I’m going to keep trying to take those steps forward, because the alternatives don’t appeal much to me either.
It might just be my personal opinion but I’ve always felt like depression is in some ways like a perpetual April Fools. Every morning you wake and depression has something lined up to trick your mind into perceiving things in the worst possible ways.
I have to remind myself frequently that being more likely to suffer from depression isn’t a choice. Fighting against depression however is and it’s a choice I make every day. At times it’s exhausting but I know in the long run it’s what I need to do.
So today if you’re feeling like depression is playing another one of its cruel jokes, keep moving forward, focus on your treatment courses, medication, CBT whatever it may be and don’t let depression get one over on you.
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.
Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to adjust to in my depression has been the sensation of a loss of identity. There’s several articles that you can browse online on the subject but the core of it is that as depression affects you your sense of self disappears.
It was something that my ex-wife vocalized; painfully so; that she was shocked at how I could be in my 30’s and not know who I was. It’s difficult for folks who haven’t experienced a serious degree of depression or felt their identity become dependent upon someone else. For me I used to define myself by my interests, my skills, my own sense of right/wrong. Over time through my marriage as depression weighed on me more, I lost a lot of the fire I had in the things that made me, me.
Recovering has been a slow process, not an easy one by any stretch. Waking every morning and looking in the mirror trying to understand the person looking back at you can be unsettling. In some ways I’ve felt like I’ve regressed to the person I was in my college days. A man alone, vulnerable, angry and full of negative emotions. I’ve taken to activities that I can still sink my teeth into but I’ve had to give up those things which remind me of my married life. Instead of art, I’ve gone from shooting things with a camera to shooting at a gun range. The focus and discipline of shooting (an activity I enjoyed in my youth) has helped me block out negativity and since I’m able to see gradual improvement gives me something to strive for.
Everyone’s path to finding themselves is different, there’s no one-size-fits all answer. I wish there were, it would make the process so much more linear but it isn’t. Each day all I can hope is that I find a little bit more of myself and maybe then I can look back on these less happy moments as stepping stones.
A lot changed for me from 2015 to 2016. My marriage was over, my ex-wife and I filed for divorce and any drive I had to pick up my camera died off. In part because I met my ex through art and because in some ways I lost her to it too.
Most of my footage was to help others, rarely for myself in the last few years of my marriage. I went from capturing anywhere from 500GBs of data through 2015 to less than 8GB for all of 2016.
I don’t photograph people anymore, it’s a little hard to get people to smile when you don’t. This isn’t the first time I’ve sunken this far and I doubt it will be the last time. Though my photography has been a source of decompression and therapy, it is done with a laser focus and purpose. Gone are the days of photographing for happiness’ sake. There are small projects in my head, darker ones that I want to express but haven’t found the full extent of what I want to say. In some ways the death of one art can be the birth of another. The journey to get there however isn’t always a pleasant one.
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.
To any of my friends who might be reading this, I hope this gives you a little insight into my expression of my depression.
I think for someone in her position, especially something as competitive as Olympic caliber swimming, her willingness to publicly discuss her diagnoses and struggle is a big deal. The first statistic mentioned in the article is that 6.7% of adults have had at least one depressive episode. Figures on how many people suffer from chronic depression or major depressive disorder are more difficult to come by. One of the sobering thoughts is that there’s no such thing as an immunity to depression. It can strike just about anyone. While physical activity is often suggested as one of the first ways to combat depression if it can befall an Olympian you realize it’s a multi-layer problem.
Comedians, business icons, every day people. We all face struggles, we all face the possibility that we may be suffering from clinical depression. If there is some solace it is that now people are coming forward and trying to get folks to seek help. I know I was probably on a very bad road leading up to my divorce and while it is painful and difficult taking those first steps to get therapy, to look at treatment options has made a significant difference.
I woke up on Labor day with no sense of wanting to do anything. I had next to no motivation, no desire to get out there and experience a ‘holiday’. People smiling, the muggy weather, none of it made me feel particularly like going out. So I found myself doing something I haven’t done in a while, making a breakfast for one. Usually my breakfast is pretty plain, some yogurt, maybe warming a left over or two. I rarely have motivation for much else.
I used to enjoy cooking for my ex-wife and her father. It made me feel like I had a place in their home. These days home seems like a weird thing for me to say. I don’t really feel like I’m home here either in my condo. There was a time I would cook to relieve stress, to eat with a purpose, now though it’s just for the sake of not eating badly. I hope that in the future I can find that fire again and want to cook for the joy of cooking but until then, it’s just pancakes for one.