Beating up Facebook and being beaten

Last September I wrote a post about leaving Facebook, but I’d left a while before the post. Not long after I deactivated my account and deleted the app from my iPhone, thinking I wouldn’t be back for a while. I didn’t give anyone a reason because I didn’t want it to be interpreted as a grand statement, but I had one – a personal one.

I was depressed. Big shock, right? I’ve been depressed and writing or talking about being depressed for a couple years. But 2014 was bad. At times it was about as bad as it’s been. If you’ve never experienced clinical/major depression, I can’t make you understand it. It’s beyond my ability as a writer or speaker. It may be beyond anyone’s ability. Part of it was me – the way I’m wired. Another was a combination of events from my recent (moving) and remote past.

I was fighting this battle with my own mind when news broke about Facebook doing research on its members to study emotional response. Or rather – it had done research in the past, and the first we were hearing about it was when they decided to publish.

We could have a long discussion about reasonable (and unreasonable) expectations of privacy, informed consent, terms of service documents, and ethical research practices. We could but I won’t. I was depressed. I recalled my own experience doing psychological research on human subjects in school. Imagine yourself at your most fragile, vulnerable state. Then imagine you found out people were manipulating what you saw to see how it affected how you feel. I got very angry.

End of story.

Well, the end of that story.

I’ve thought a lot about social media. I’ve thought about socialization. I don’t make friends easily, and people don’t stay put, so most of my friends are not local. Depression is not something anyone should suffer in solitude, so cutting off access to my friends (in hindsight) was not a great idea.

Oh, and Lord help me. I bought Facebook stock. I had just enough in my account from Apple dividends to buy one share. So, as is my quirky, market custom – guaranteed to cost me more money than make me (due to transaction fees) – I bought the one share.

I feel dirty, but I couldn’t very well stoop to buying stock and not reactivate my account.

So here I am. You may mock me at any time.

Random statement of fact

Honor Roll or not (though he is), my fifth-grader has the capacity to act much smarter than your pet. Mind you, I have nothing against your pet. I’m sure he/she is adorable and a beloved member of your family – but let’s not get carried away.

I think it’s worth pointing out my fifth-grader is a person – a little human being. I’m not advocating cruel treatment of any animals, but I think we should all aim a little higher when we think about how we’re going to treat another person. 

Yes, I know your bumper sticker was a joke. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor. I just didn’t think it was funny. Not even a little bit. Not when too many of us still treat our pets better than other people. 

I don’t understand

When my mouth is in sync with my mind, I try not to overuse the word “understand” when it comes to life experiences. It suggests a depth of shared knowledge I think is much rarer than use of the word.

I hope this gives you some sense of what I mean when I say… I don’t completely understand the level of intolerance shown by many people on the basis of race, gender, religion, or just about any other way you can distinguish between groups of people.

For better or worse, our perception of the world takes cues from our environment, both past and present. I recognize at least this much, so perhaps I understand a little. I suspect my environment was unlike the intolerance crowd. It was filled with people who encouraged me to think in relative terms rather than absolutes, to see beauty in diversity rather than chaos, and to seek the deeper meaning in things rather than stopping at the outward appearance.

Perhaps it’s ironic that my bias is to see people, at first glance, for what we have in common rather than how we differ: we are all people. Well, I think I do anyway. No one’s perception is perfect. Because of my nature, most of my contact with other people takes place at work, and because of the nature of my work, I probably interact with a greater variety of people than average. I don’t say this to brag, or to offer it as lame proof of a loving/inclusive nature. ”I can’t be a racist. I have black friends.” I only mention it because it’s given me a lot of information to consider when I self-reflect. As an introvert who suffers from low self-esteem, I can say I do A LOT of self-reflection. As someone who also suffers from depression, I can say I’m not easy on myself. Despite this, it was a bit of a shock the first time a coworker said to me: “everyone likes you John.” It was a greater shock when it occurred to me I tend to like most of them too, when I come out of my shell and talk to people. But here’s one of the keys to this post: I take it for granted others don’t (or didn’t) tend to have the same experience.

At an intellectual level, I know everyone can’t, and don’t get along. Still, it almost always comes as a surprise when I learn two coworkers are not getting along – and I’m the last one to know.

I’m well aware people do terrible things to others throughout the world. I become almost numb to it – probably not unlike many of you. But every once in a while a story will pop up, not even a particularly nasty story (relative to others), and it will be like a quasi-epiphany (only I’ll feel despair rather than joy). Taking my experiences in life for granted, I’ll wonder at how others can be so cruel, for such arbitrary reasons.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it? The reasons aren’t arbitrary at all to those people. Gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation – they’re all “reasons.” I know where some of them come from. And yet… there’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why we can’t move past these “reasons,” why we can’t find and tap some inner source of common humanity in each of us, to find some small amount of compassion… empathy… and turn the hate on its head. I know there’s no magic switch we can flip, that biases, attitudes, stereotypes, etc. take time to change. But at this time in history when the world seems to grow smaller at an accelerated pace, and all of us are increasingly exposed to other people, I would hope our differences would come as less of a surprise – that we would become desensitized to them at a similar accelerating pace. Instead, I fear there are some circles were the opposite is true, and our common humanity is failing to shine through.

This random story of cruelty I mentioned before – it hit me and I think of that inner humanity drying up somewhere, and I mourn its loss.

I do what I do for a living because I want to help people. I think it’s why I had several conversations with pastors growing up and in college – not just because I wanted to understand injustice in our world, or even the roll God does/doesn’t play in its existence. I wanted to know what I could do to help change it.

“Well, to some extent you are John,” was a common reply – followed by some bullshit about leading by example. It was never satisfying. Not even a little. Then my pastor would usually ask if I’d ever thought about going to seminary. The experience was probably the biggest reason I never did.

In hindsight, I know it’s not completely bullshit, but it’s still not satisfying. I feel helpless, particularly now.

One small thing came to mind when I became a parent. I could raise my kids as if the world did not have these arbitrary barriers I’ve mentioned, in addition providing a similar environment that I was raised. That meant if my daughter wanted to go out and kick a soccer ball around the back yard, that’s what we did. If my son wanted to take dance and singing lessons, that’s what he did. (To give just a couple, gender related examples.)

But increasingly, as my daughter races towards adulthood, it feels like some of this idealism should be set aside – and it’s a bit heartbreaking. There’s a difference between the world I want her to live in and the world she will. As the story which hit me recently reminds me, we live in a world where men abuse women, in a disturbing variety of ways and frequency. No, I do not want my daughter to live her life in fear, but at the same time it would be irresponsible to pretend we don’t live in this world. If the world doesn’t treat us all the same, doesn’t it follow, to some extent, that all of us can’t treat it the same?

At times I almost wish I could see the world in absolutes. Making decisions would be SO much easier. Instead I’m often caught in the middle somewhere, as I am now. I’m haunted by the question I think haunts many parents: where and when do I reinforce the difference between the world we should live in and the one we do?

As I finish this up and get ready to post (with woefully little editing), it’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Florida. Cool air is blowing in from the north across the lake, and much in the world seems very right. Yet a few troubling questions persist, both about my small world and the larger one outside it. What more could I do? Should I expect more of myself?

I’m not sure seminary would have helped me now either.

Do you know what day it is?

No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the end for the indigenous people of this hemisphere, or the man credited with getting the party started. (Bad sarcasm. BAD!) I’m asking from the perspective of a man who lost track of time last week.

I had a nasty little stomach virus with the power to fiddle with the space-time continuum. There was a great disturbance in the force… as if billions of innocent, intestinal bacteria cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

I was out of touch last week as my body dealt with fever, pain, nausea, dehydration, and a pinch of helplessness. My few coherent thoughts contemplated a world without gastroenteritis.

I still feel a little weak but I rejoined the rest of the world today. It seems there’s a lot of catching up to do.

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I’m shocked!

I’m shocked I tells ya! Shocked! And if iOS 8 auto-corrects my slang one more time I’m gonna give it a heave.

I talk about depression a fair bit, especially here, so you can imagine what my self image is like. Well, today someone called me “happy-go-lucky.” Let me tell you – that doesn’t fit my self image.

I think I mentioned trying to be positive in one of my previous posts, and how tiring it can be when I’m depressed. But I wonder. Maybe I’m so tired because I’m not just trying to but up a brave, positive front – I’m acting out a fully fleshed out role. Maybe I’m putting on another personality for a third of my life, while I’m at work.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad for me personally, but I’m glad someone sees me this way. I don’t want to be the mope – the buzz kill in the office. I’m glad I’m not, for everyone anyway.

This is your punishment

You’ve done it to yourself. I warned you. When I bid my (temporary) farewell to Facebook, I said you could punish yourself by visiting my blog… and here you are!

Well, I’m glad you’re here, no matter what it says about you.

Wow! Insulting the readers right off the bat! Way to draw ‘em in John! You know I kid because I love, right?

Still reading? Here’s a question I’ll ask myself that’ll put a stop to that: What have I been doing the last year or so? You know all of those times you’ve asked how I’m doing and I replied: “Uh… fine,” “ok,” or the ever popular: “so-so?”

Well… here’s the thing. I don’t like to lie. I was going to keep going there but I decided last minute to add a period. I don’t like lying, under any circumstances – not even to a throw-away question like: “how ya doing?” Sometimes I don’t like telling the truth either – like when the answer kinda sucks – but who does? In almost any other circumstance I’ll give you the ugly truth. But here’s my dirty little secret: if we’re just passing in the halls, I might hedge a bit.

Yep. Yessiree Bob. You heard it here first ladies and gents. If you throw out a “how ya doing?” I might hedge. I won’t throw back an: Awesome! Great! Or, life’s a peach AND I’m making cobbler! Don’t ask what that’s supposed to mean. I’m not sure either, though it sounded funny in my head. You know some folks do it – like someone with a verbal tick who overdosed on Xanax. But you won’t hear it from me unless I’m really AWESOME! Because… shouldn’t it always be in all caps with an exclamation point? I might not hedge. Some of you know what that’s like, walking into my emotional minefield. Other times I don’t want to deal with it myself, let alone share it with others, and “so-so” is as low as I’ll go.

Lucky for you, we’re not in the hallway and I’m ready to bring this post in pretty low… because it’s something you’ve gotta do, when you land. My little homage to Airplane! For the better part of the last year, I’ve been dealing with depression and a pain in my neck. No really: a pain in my neck – as in it hurts. Ba-da-bum I haven’t felt ok or even so-so. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist on a regular basis, with mixed results – but on balance it’s been positive.

I’ve hopped through health insurance hoops and hiccups for eight months, but I got something done for my neck last Friday. I had an out-patient procedure that’s supposed to relieve some of the pain pretty quickly. It hurts as much as it ever did right now, but it’s supposed to calm down in a week or so, and I can wait that much longer.

Sidebar: (I need an html tag for that) Some have told me I shouldn’t be telling you I’m seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but that’s partly why I AM telling you. I won’t pretend I can de-stigmatize mental illness by myself, but I can refuse to be ashamed and hope a little bit of my attitude rubs off on someone.

Then there was the move to Orlando. I’ve already written a post about this so I won’t belabor it now. Plus, I’m trying to be positive… so you won’t hear any comments from me like, “Orlando is the armpit of Florida,” or “you can’t cook an egg on these sidewalks, they’ll burn.”

Nope. Nothing like that.

If you’re still reading, I think I know what you might be thinking: didn’t you just cover this ground a few posts back? And if you’re still reading, get ready for the big pay-off: yes I did.

There are a couple reasons for this post. First, I wanted to apologize for misleading any of you, and sort of explain why I did. I know I’ve been missing in action, yet when I have popped up I’ve offered lame “I’m fine” reassurances that probably reassured no one. Turtles don’t curl up in their shell and hide because they’re “fine.” In my experience, the social experience of being depressed is similar to having cancer (if the person I’m speaking to is familiar with depression). Revelations and explanations can be more painful than just suffering in silence. Having good friends who care means that sometimes it feels like I’m counseling everyone else, trying to make them feel better about how I feel – and it’s exhausting and doesn’t THAT sound a bit selfish.

Here’s the other reason and it’s a bit harder to explain. I’ve been struggling with competing therapeutic concepts. On one hand, I’m trying to explore my thoughts and emotions, in part through expression. (I’ll get into this a bit more later) But on another, I’m trying not to let depressive thoughts devolve into self-pity. You might think depressive thoughts are inherently self-pity, letting an emotion express itself and almost self-perpetuate. That can be true if depression seems to have an identifiable cause: like an unpleasant experience (getting fired). But what if you’re not aware of a reason, at a conscious level? For me, this is often when depression is at it’s worst: despair seemingly without a cause, and it’s an incredibly helpless feeling.

The easy part is medical diagnosis and treatment – speaking as a patient. It may not be understood, but it’s generally accepted there’s a biological component to severe depression. The cause – and therefore how it should be medically treated – is increasingly controversial. But I try not to worry about it. I try to leave those concerns to my doctor and trust their judgment as to the appropriate treatment – with a few questions to keep ‘em on their toes. However, many studies show depression is best treated with a combination of medication AND counseling. If I recall, some studies go so far as to show medication and/or counseling, on their own are no better statistically than no treatment at all (for some populations). And as you probably know, some folks don’t respond to any combination of treatment.

As for me, I’ve been playing the odds for years, taking the combination route. My problem has been insurance, and the fact that none of the good therapists tend to take it. In the last ten years, I’ve been through ten times as many therapists as pairs of shoes. Luckily, this trend ended this year. I think I’ve FINALLY found a good one. But it also leads me back to a few problems I haven’t been able to fully resolve, which can make the depression that’s already bad worse. In the search for causes or triggers behind emotions, I occasionally find them. There are some good reasons for finding these causes, if they exist, which make the “Cognitive-Behavioral” approach to therapy (the one that seems to be most effective these days, though I have issues with a few of the theories) more effective. But on top of everything else, they make me feel guilty. Why should X make me feel so bad, when so-and-so is dealing with X, Y AND Z? It’s classic, right? So as weird as it may sound, I’m trying to give myself a certain amount of permission to feel bad. As the Doctor (PhD) says, “we should feel bad about certain things.”

So first I feel depressed. I may not come up with THE reason, because it may not exist outside my head (re: biology), but there may be an additional reason I can identify. So then I feel guilty. But I try to temper these feelings with some of the approaches of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). But then I feel a line being crossed – self pity. Where is this line? Does it matter? What should I do about it?

It’s all crazy, right? This is just one piece of what depression means to me. It’s like a never ending vortex of negative emotions which feed themselves, on themselves, on each other… and on me – swirling down life’s drain.

But I am getting help. I’ve been getting help for a long time, but it’s been more helpful than ever lately – though it may be hard to tell because of the depth I’ve fallen this time around. This is where I’m going to ask you for a favor, for a little help you may be in a unique position to give. If I write something here and it seems like I may be indulging my dark thoughts a little too much, would you be opposed to dropping me a private message? I know most of you are not doctors and I understand if this sort of thing is WAY outside your comfort zone. Frankly, it would be unfair to expect such a thing from many (if not most) of you. It’s just that at the moment, I’m flailing around a bit, trying to distinguish healthy therapy from self-pity. I’m discussing it with the pros, but I can only see them so often.

Wether you have anything to say about this or not, I appreciate you taking the time to listen. Even if you only listen, it means a lot to me. I know from experience, sometimes just listening is a BIG ask.

Christine Eldin

If you’re human, someone’s death touches you differently when it’s someone who’s crossed your path. Chris Eldin and I were not friends, and if asked before her passing, she would probably not recognize my name. But for those of you who do know me, that shouldn’t be a big surprise – I tend to be more of a lurker than contributor. However, I did know of Chris and a friend’s message recalling her passing, received earlier this morning, hit me harder than I would have thought – though a fair bit of time has passed. (She passed away in 2012.)

Please consider visiting the site below, which pursues two worthy goals:

  1. Honor a person who will be missed by many.
  2. Provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction writer whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career.

Christine Eldin Memorial Fellowship

A lot us together doing little things, can do great things. Please consider doing this one small thing.

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To my friends on Facebook

I haven’t been around in a while and I won’t be. I won’t say never but it may be a long time.

You may be familiar with the Facebook scandal a few months back, regarding social research conducted on a large number of accounts (i.e. us). I’m not going to rehash the case for or against Facebook and it’s alleged right to conduct such research. I haven’t re-read the terms of service and have no desire to do so. I’m simply telling those of you who may be listening – I’ve opted out.

This isn’t a protest. I’m not asking, suggesting or hoping any of you do the same. I have my own, personal reasons why I needed to “opt out,” and I’ll leave it at that.

I know, I was barely there before, so what’s the difference? I like to think I had my moments even if they weren’t consistent.

I’m not deleting my account, so I may pop up to wish you a happy birthday, but please don’t take my absence as ambivalence. You all are reasons to stay around – big reasons. You make this decision hard, and ultimately will be the reason I’ll probably be back.

If you really want to punish yourself, you can come back and visit the blog. I hope to start updating it more regularly – if for no other reason than therapy (way to make the hard sell, eh ;-)

Where ever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you are well.

John

You don’t want to read this

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t feel like doing much of anything these days. Some of the time I try to put on a mask of good humor but it’s hard. Some folks are better at masking their depression. Some can keep it up longer or be more convincing. I’m neither.

Depression has been with me almost as long as I can remember. It’s not always active, like a cancer in remission, but sometimes it’s one perceived misfortune away from rising to the surface with its claws bared. It’s also not predictable. I go long stretches feeling emotionally resilient. I say “sometimes it’s one misfortune away” because it’s not… always. Sometimes something as small as a forgetful friend can trigger it, but I’ll weather something relatively big like the death of a relative normally (not conflating sadness or mourning with depression).

Depth and persistence also vary, seemingly without relationship to the severity of the trigger. (Although I talk about the move a lot in this post, it’s only what I think of as the trigger. The depression covers many issues I’m not discussing in the hopes of keeping it simple.)

This time it’s been long and it’s been bad – the worst since I’ve been married.

It’s been about nine months since our decision to move to Orlando. Sure, it’s been a big change, but it hasn’t been the end of the world. Yet the decision haunts me. I think about it every day. It visits me in my dreams. I used to have bad dreams like this and wake up relieved it was a dream. Now I wake up relieved it was just a dream, until I come to realize it wasn’t.

Before the move, my job was almost perfect for me and I knew it.

I know I’m not perfect, but I recognize I have some skills that help me stand out. I’m above average at some things, even quite talented at others. I also recognize my shortcomings. I work at them but I’m not going to bullshit you or anyone else and pass off pseudo-weaknesses as hidden strengths. No matter how much we try, no one can turn a wart into a flower.

My job was almost perfect because it allowed me to use most of my strengths, and with a little bit of work, mask most of my weaknesses. Most important of all, I enjoyed it. At times I loved it. I was in a position to help people – lots of people. My skills put me in a unique position to help my coworkers statewide, who could then help many, many others – directly because of my efforts. (There was a time when Judges hearing domestic issues around the state sought me out for help, though the main office wasn’t overly impressed when they found out, “suggesting” I stop.) I rarely brought problems home with me from the office. Even after 18 years, I could leave at the end of the day feeling a bit of a rush.

How many people these days are lucky enough to be able to say that?

In those dreams I left my job for various reasons, only to find I’d made a big mistake – and I couldn’t go back. Now I can’t help but think those dreams came true.

The move has flipped the equation. Although I work for the same state agency and the same department (just a different location), it’s very different. Those differences tend to hide my strengths while exaggerating my weaknesses. I don’t like to use the word hate, but I’m awfully close.

Cheryl had the same problem before we moved. That’s why I agreed to it. We faced several certainties: she didn’t like her job, we didn’t make enough money to keep up with our expenses, there were no opportunities for Cheryl to move up or grow where we were, and my health did not allow me to help as much as I would have liked. Cheryl was stressed and I was depressed due to my prominent role in our problems.

Our situation before the move was not sustainable. The move would reduce our expenses while increasing our income, and give Cheryl something she’d lacked for a long time: a job she liked.

The move presented fewer uncertainties. Although I’d be giving up my “perfect job,” I’d be transferring to another office within the agency (though taking a voluntary demotion to help the transfer happen faster). I had my fears… worst case scenarios that plagued my mind, but I knew they were unlikely. I couldn’t deny Cheryl a little happiness after carrying me for so long, especially when the move could just as likely turn out well for me too.

I was sitting in my car during a lunch break in December of 2013 when Cheryl got the job offer that moved us to Orlando, and I told her I thought she should take it. My mind has replayed that moment countless times since. It was a great fall day in Florida. I had the windows open and I was lying back, just enjoying the quiet, the cool air, and the gentle breeze. It’s an unlikely setting for my life to seemingly turn upside-down.

There’s a dark corner of my soul where I blame Cheryl for the move and my depression. At night before I go to sleep, waiting for the dreams to take me back to that moment in my car, I get mad. I get mad at her for “making” us move. I get mad at myself for agreeing. I get angry with myself for making the move necessary – if not for my poor health, maybe we could have avoided some of the money problems and stayed. Then I come full circle. I remember depression was with me LONG before WE decided to move. I get mad at myself for blaming Cheryl, who has only tried her very best through it all. I don’t like to use the word hate, but I’m awfully close.

Some nights I’m much more than close.

Among my flaws is a shyness, or social awkwardness, which makes it hard for me to make friends. I left the few I have behind. Here I have none, with no prospects. I go days where depression wins and I trade no words with anyone but immediate family. Not friends, not coworkers, not my boss (a big part of my problem at work, methinks)… no one.

I’m seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist – who I must admit is the best one I’ve ever seen. (He’s the first to offer insight I hadn’t thought of myself first.) I’m living with constant pain in my neck and head, but I’m seeing a doctor I trust who’s trying a procedure I think will help on Friday.

But I scare myself at times. I don’t always discuss my deepest episodes of depression with Cheryl. I don’t want to be an anchor anymore. But when I do have a chance to talk about it, I’m not always completely honest with either my psychiatrist or my psychologist. I know what the consequences could be, and they scare me more.

I feel worthless.

I feel lost.

I feel alone.

When I think everyone is asleep at night and no one is listening, I cry.

But for the love of my wife and family, I feel like I have nothing of value.

But that isn’t nothing, is it?

Most importantly, I do not feel hopeless.

That’s something.

If this post seems like more of a mess than usual, it’s because I typed it all with my thumbs, on my phone, with autocorrect, at work – waiting for our network to come back up.