What is meaningful in my life today?

What is meaningful in my life today? Literally today, not figuratively “today” as in “at present” or “lately.”

I haven’t posted a blog in several months. That’s okay, of course. But as I’m sitting at my laptop, it’s my day off, and I have actually signed in to my WordPress dashboard, well, it seems like a good time for a check-in.

What is meaningful in my life today?

It’s probably an easy and not so easy question to answer. My knee-jerk, easy response would be, “nothing, probably.” Because so far today, I’ve answered some work e-mails (yeah, on my day off), I’ve unpacked a couple more boxes, I’ve had breakfast, I’ve washed my face, I’ve brushed and flossed my teeth, I’ve taken my medication, I’ve played silly games on my phone, I’ve read a few Facebook status updates and a blog post.

Those things don’t seem meaningful on the surface or at first thought (or glance).

But the easy answer is also a cheap answer. I deserve better than that from myself.

The not so easy answer is that all those mundane things have contextual significance. It isn’t easy to do those things when I’m struggling with Depression and disordered eating. It’s no small task to get out of bed and be productive. Eating breakfast is an accomplishment. Taking my meds and taking them at the scheduled time is an accomplishment. What some might consider basic hygiene (which is a privileged viewpoint) is an accomplishment. It’s meaningful that I choose to get out of bed and take action to live life today, however life looks today. It’s meaningful that washing my face always reminds me of my sister, Myshelle, because that’s one of the last things we did together. Washing my face today also reminds me of Mama Mary, because I have some of her things, including still-packaged face-washing sponges, in my bathroom.Face Mask

It’s meaningful to eat breakfast because I’m hungry, when ED might tell me otherwise. It’s meaningful to do simple things that I enjoy and in moderate doses, like play silly games on my phone; giving myself permission to do them, to enjoy them, and to keep them to a fairly small portion of the morning — these are ways that I take care of myself. It’s meaningful to check Facebook, again in moderation, to have some social connection to friends and family and to read blogs and articles that encourage and challenge me. It’s meaningful to unpack a few more boxes and tidy up so that this time in Madera starts to feel less surreal and bizarre and more like home for now. It’s meaningful that I haven’t put myself into an existential crisis today just by checking in and asking what’s meaningful, honestly.

There’s meaning today among the mundane, and I’m thankful for this time spent checking in with myself in a meaningful way.

What’s meaningful in your day? What are your easy and not so easy answers?

Depression — How Can I Help? Hint: Educate yourself.

Disclaimers: This is coming from a person who has experienced depression for more than half her life and still encounters it regularly. I’m not a therapist, though some have said perhaps I should be. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have enough money to go to school to become one.

That being said, I’m stunned sometimes that, even with the Internet in our pockets, some people seem at a loss to know how to help a loved one, acquaintance, or even a stranger who is experiencing depression. So, a few simple tips.

Step 1: Actually care. Don’t just pay lip service to caring. Show up. Communicate. Be available. Listen. Reach out. Build a support system for the person experiencing depression. Find resources that can help. How do you do that? I suggest the…Internet. *GASP* I know, right?

Step 2: Educate yourself. Admit what you don’t know, then do something about it. There’s no legitimate excuse for failing to educate yourself. There’s a wealth of useful, informative, worthwhile information on depression, what it is and isn’t, how it feels to some people, how it varies from person to person, and “HOW NOT TO TALK TO SOMEONE WHO IS DEPRESSED.” I swear if you Google that exact phrase, you’ll find some helpful articles.

Step 3: Pay attention to how you use language.

  • Use person-centered language. Don’t refer to a person as their diagnosis. There’s a difference between “depressed friend” and “friend who experiences depression.”
  • Try to avoid adversarial language. Use “experiences” rather than “battles.” Use “encounters” rather than “fights.” Use “will overcome,” “will triumph,” “is surviving,” “is living with.” It matters how we speak of and relate to depression and people who are in the midst of depression.

Step 4: Keep well-meaning, empty platitudes to yourself. Do not, I repeat do not offer platitudes. Under no circumstance should you say “I’ll pray for you” UNLESS THE PERSON HAS ASKED YOU TO PRAY FOR THEM. Do not imply that depression is a mood that someone can “snap out of.” It is not. Confused? Go back to step 2 and educate yourself some more.

Step 5: Don’t say that you understand. It will sound fake or insincere, 99.9% of the time. You don’t and you can’t, because no two experiences of depression are the same. The same person experiencing depression at different times in life doesn’t have the same experience each time. Say “I don’t understand.” Say, “I’m working to understand,” or “I want to listen.”

Step 6: Figure out ways to help, keeping in mind what you know of the person experiencing depression. Don’t ask the person experiencing depression how you can help them UNLESS THEY SAY “DO YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU COULD HELP ME?” Maybe they need help doing chores, help getting to appointments, help with accountability, a regular phone call, a meal…figure it out. For help figuring out ways to help, yes, I said it, see steps 2 and 9.

Step 7: Follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you want to help, help. If you say you want to listen, listen.

Step 8: Don’t say you’re going to be there unless you mean it. Don’t offer help that you can’t give. If you can’t help and can’t be there, then be honest about it. Don’t pretend otherwise just to make yourself more comfortable.

Step 9: Did I mention educate yourself? You’re not a therapist, no. But are you a human being? Because we’re in this human condition together, and we need each other.

Step 10: Take care of yourself. Sacrificing yourself on the altar of “helping” is not helpful.

This isn’t meant to be exhaustive. I think educating yourself covers a lot of ground, really.

What would you add to the list? What are things that have helped you when you’ve experienced depression? What are things that were hurtful or harmful while you were in the midst of it?

A Reflection on Silence

Silence is a friend and an enemy. I find comfort and camaraderie in silence, yet I also find chaos and void in silence. Silence is like a carnival fun house filled with crazy mirrors. It can show you what you most or least want to see, distort or refine you, shrink or enlarge you, warp or clarify you.

My brain never seems to be silent, which, I suppose, is a good thing since it’s a pretty solid indicator that I’m alive. I wish I could turn off the thinking sometimes. I’m a very analytical person. I prefer thought over emotion. I will sooner think about thinking about emotions than I will engage in feeling emotions. I’ve done myself a disservice in working so hard to silence my emotions, and I find it difficult to reengage with them.

My noisy brain is happy to circumvent my feeble attempts to reconnect with feelings. My nosy brain will mind other people’s business, solve any number of problems, dive into anyone’s story other than my own, rather than answering that question that therapists must have coded in their DNA, “And how do you feel about that?”

Give me the guillotine or solitary confinement or hard labor, but don’t make me talk about my feelings. Let’s talk facts or figures or feminism or fantasy or family or anything but the other F word. I’ll take silence for $1000, Alex.

Sounds thicken the air around us — the sound of the air conditioner, the laptop cooling fan, my fingers clicking away at the keyboard. The cacophony of the crowd at the restaurant, the din of silverware against dishes, the background “music,” the traffic outdoors. The sounds of the weather, the ticking clock, the birds tweeting, the carbonation bubbles in a can of soda (or can of pop, if you prefer).

I wonder what it would be like to sit in the anechoic chamber, in 99.99% silence, with only the sounds of my own body. The articles read as though it is a when, not if, you will begin hallucinating in the chamber. Supposedly, the person who has made it the longest was in for 45 minutes. Nearly pure silence is such an unnatural concept that our minds can’t sustain the reality of it for long, I suppose.

“And how do you feel about that?”

Silence is the space between the notes, a time to count the rests.

Silence feels like a room that I ought to be able to enter, a temple, a place of reverence and peace and stillness. Perhaps I need more meditation or a peace labyrinth or something to help unlock the room.

Silence is absence, the voices that are long gone, the hands and hearts and hugs that are missing.

Silence is an opportunity to listen.

Silence is a cage, a prison, a library.

Silence is freedom.

Silence is expectation, sorrow, hope, regret.

Silence is quiet.

Silence is loud.

Silence is possibility.

Silence is uncomfortable.

Silence is a child’s blanket.

Silence is terrifying.

Silence is beautiful.

Silence is all this and more, and less.

Though I’m not prone to talking a great deal very often, (other than at work where it’s a job requirement) I’ve though about going on silent retreats or having periods of silence scheduled into my life. I’m enchanted by the vow of silence that some religious orders take up. Would being prohibited from speaking calm the inner voice, soothe the inner chaos? Would I better hear the voices of those speaking to me? Would I find greater faith, a more solid foundation, a stronger sense of things unseen? If I were silent, could I avoid more feelings? Ah, that’s probably the truth of it. This idealization of silence is just one more attempt to escape feeling.

“And how do you feel about that?”

I feel like feelings are the worst. Feelings are unmanageable. Feelings don’t respond to logic. Feelings are threatening, unsafe, frightening.

I have this mistaken concept of stoicism as absence of emotion, and it’s a false ideal that I long for. I trap myself in this pattern of denial, of working to avoid feelings altogether. It’s a Sisyphean task. It’s self-defeating.

I don’t think silence is the solution. Words. I guess words are probably the answer. Words to express feelings…ugh. To put words to the things I’d rather keep silent, to give voice to the feelings I try so hard to lock away. To speak of the things that I’d rather keep hidden, to reveal instead of conceal. To acknowledge rather than ignore.

“And how do you feel about that?”

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Depression is…

I’m writing this just for me, but if you’re reading it, well, I hope you get something out of it. I’m writing to process and to persevere. It might not be pretty, it might not be profound, it might not be pleasant. It is what it is.

Sometimes, it feels like Depression is winning. But I remind myself that I’m working not to think, write, or speak about Depression in adversarial terms, winning, losing, battling, fighting, affliction, oppression, suffering. Depression can be and maybe just is all those things. I’m not denying that.

In pursuing a life of wellness, it’s important for me to accept Depression as part of my reality. Maybe that sentence causes some sort of reaction in you, some belligerence or denial. For me, it’s about accepting that it’s a brain disorder; it’s chemistry or neurons or something biological that fires differently in my brain than it would in someone without the same disorder. It’s about accepting that I need to learn to manage Depression and making the choice to manage Depression.

How well do I manage Depression?
Sometimes better than others. It’s shitty, sometimes really, really shitty.

How do I manage Depression?
Therapy, mindfulness, writing, meditation, distraction, affirmation, art, prayer, friendship, silence, weeping, talking to myself, surviving…to name a few. I finally called around to a few psychiatrists that my therapist says have some kind of training with disordered eating to explore some options for medication. Medication didn’t go well for me last time I tried it many years ago, but I am not the same person I was then, and I hope to find a psychiatrist that I can stand to work with. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for a year now, and I plan to keep on going back because it’s helpful. Sometimes it’s annoying and challenging and painful and terrible, but it’s still helpful.

In general, and especially while I’m having this craptastic week, I’m trying to re-frame my Depression, to encounter it, to experience it, to let it be. I’m trying to live and breathe through it, and so far I’m still here. It still feels pretty shitty, but it’s okay. And the way I feel today is not the way I felt yesterday or the day before that or the beginning of the week. Even though it’s been a shitty week and there was definitely a drastic swing or two into the deeper Depression, I also know that just my ability to recognize it means that I’m making progress in managing it. I’m able to remain conscious to Depression rather than being blindly engulfed.

Depression is just my dance partner, and, yeah, I hate dancing, but on we go, dancing through life however we can. So, that’s something.