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.

Give the gift of words.