Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression sucks

Hello again!  It has been many weeks since my last post.  Where to begin?

I must acknowledge that I am deeply saddened -- as is the entire world -- by Robin Williams's suicide.  It's heartbreaking.  What more can I add to the conversation that hasn't already been stated, and probably better than I could say it?  If you haven't already read comedian Russell Brand's tribute/analysis.   Allow me to direct you THERE.  Also, Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) has written a POST that she's directing readers to regarding her struggles with anxiety and depression.  And, of course, Allie Brosh has THIS amazing post on her crippling anxiety.

Frankly, I used to think I battled depression (I do still have anxiety issues, but feel that I manage them adequately).  I had some very deep lows, especially as a teenager.  I realize that I just described 3/4 of teenagers around the globe.  My issues included body image and self-esteem just like every girl that ever breathed oxygen, but I also was frustrated with limitations that my parents set on me.  I wasn't unusual.  My problems were ordinary.  I just happened to be sensitive and not rebellious or confident enough to stand up for what was important to me.  It took me a long-ass time to find my voice, my rebellious spirit.  I spent most of my 20s mired in moodiness, feeling trapped.

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This is the only image I want to focus on this week
What kicked me out of this era of sadness and helplessness?  No, it wasn't medication.  Nor was it therapy, although that helped me repair my relationship with my parents.  Strangely (or not), what got me through to the other side of feeling like crap all of the time -- and by my late 20s, I had solid reasons to feel like crap, including my mother's death and a newly diagnosed chronic illness -- was parenthood.  I can't say this will work for everyone struggling with depression or anxiety or both.  Jennifer Lawson is a mom and regularly battles her demons.  Robin Williams had kids.  But for me, becoming a mom put my life in perspective.  I could prioritize what mattered, and for the first time in my life it wasn't me, or my dysfuntions.  It was my daughter, then my son.  It was staying home with them when they were sick and rushing to them when they fell down.  It was being available every morning to comb their hair and brush their teeth and at bedtime to give baths and read stories (and not just in a monotone voice, mind you!  I'm talking take on the character's voice and accents.).  My friend Ilan said to me when I married my husband (who is a trained psychologist): Oh, Amy, this will be really good for you.  My friend Jane said to me when I told her I was pregnant with my first child: Oh, Amy, this will be really good for you; you can't be neurotic when you're a parent.  Both of them were right, of course.

I hate hearing about so many people -- famous and not famous -- who struggle with depression.  I only know a fraction of what it feels like and I can tell you it feels like a heavy, itchy, wet wool blanket on the heart.  During one of my darkest moments, right after I graduated from college, a time when I felt alone and unachored, I actually called a hotline.  I don't think it was a suicide hotline, because it hadn't gotten that bad, but it was an emergency hotline.  The woman who answered kept calling me Pumpkin while I sobbed into the reciever.  I was grateful that this unnamed, faceless woman on the other end listened.  I was grateful that she called me a term of endearment that irritated me (I was 22 and had never before been a "Pumpkin").  The fact that she called me Pumpkin made me laugh, at myself and the situation.  And that bumped me out of the sadness enough to take a step forward.

Many folks who have attention problems also struggle with depression.  We know what we want to achieve, but feel overwhelmed or uncertain of the steps towards success.  This disconnect leads to feelings of failure.  I've been there.  I lived through a decade of feeling like a failure.  All I can say is, in the words of Dan Savage on the completely different subject of coming out of the closet, "it gets better."  Well, it got better for me.  I believe it has to get better.  For me, I had my attention drastically shifted from my own worries to my children's health and happiness.  In turn, that made me consider how to be the best role model for my kids that I could possibly be.  And that, my friends, meant consciously choosing happy.  Yes, I get grumpy.  Just ask my husband.  But I try to focus on what I CAN do to make a situation better.  And sometimes, when I feel defeated, I just let go of feeling angry or sad.

Whether you have kids or not ultimately doesn't matter.  Being a parent helped me.  Maybe painting or volunteer work with the elderly or quittting your job and going back to school is what will help those of you who struggle daily with depression and feelings of inadequacy.  I think there is wisdom in focusing on happiness rather than what hurts.  There are so many good books on happiness or positive psychology.  An easily accessible one that has a companion website is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 

Please take care of yourself.  Please be kind to others, especially those who need extra hugs.  And find a puppy to nuzzle.