Friday, May 22, 2015

A little bit of light

 Full of new beginnings, happiness, and cookouts. And maybe a little recovery and
warmth and meaning. If you've ever lived in a Northern region you understand what it's like coming out of stormy, zero degree F weather. Or if you've ever been clinically depressed, you have a good idea of what it's like too.

 Light and darkness, warm and cold. Stark opposites have an interesting relationship, you see, because darkness and cold really don't exist. They're just the absence of light and warmth, just like black is the absence of color, and white is the presence of all color.
 So much so, that living in darkness is kind of like living in... nothing. Sure, there are other things that live in the Land of Nothing. Other people, beings, and sometimes the occasional feeling - usually negative - but that cold, dark world of Nothing is still a lonely place to be, despite its population. Why? Because connection takes energy, and energy requires light. Atoms and cells and plasma all shooting about, bumping into one another, marrying and giving in marriage at such a dizzying rate it hurts to think about.
 But, after a while of wandering about, looking for the magic portal to the Land of Sunlight, energy drains, it this land becomes home, and you settle into a little corner - if one is to be found - and wish that those up-landers would stop taunting you with their endless stores of light and beauty and energy and abundance. They expect you to participate in those sort of things, and they expect you to enjoy it, see, but it all takes so much effort. And it's hard enough just staying warm.

Related Blog Post: {Hyperbole and a Half: Depression, Part II} << lots of insight

 I hope that this isn't too depressing for you, but this post is rather about that very thing: Depression.

 And before we get too far along, I think I must make a disclaimer:

 Yes, I know about depression because I've lived it, on and off, for several years. But no, I am not suicidal. In fact, I have a pretty amazing life that I truly enjoy. Most days are pretty awesome, and I make it a habit to explore all the things I'm thankful for on a daily basis. But that is one of the points I'm trying to make! You can be an energetic, connected, and fullfilled person Monday through Friday, but take off during the weekend to visit that deep, dark Land of Nothing (and oh, I wish it were that easy to predict)! Sometimes I wonder how many people in society - that I know personally - walk lightly in their step but heavy in their heart. How many people do I judge because of their attitude or lack of productivity or means of coping, when they're only a little further down the hole than I am. I know, it's raw and ugly, but it is true. And I think that enough people suffer from Depression that it is something that should be talked about, because there are so many misconceptions about it.

 What Depression is NOT:

  • a mere feeling of sadness following an sad event. Example: "Oh, that movie was so depressing, I'm sad now... let's go get some Starbucks!" Nope.
  • chronic pessimism. How much optimism does it take to get up and go about your day and simply keep living when your brain says there's no point and no hope? How much optimism does it take to appear happy when everything inside hurts? An insane amount that most people cannot even fathom, nor contain.
  • a way to get attention. While it's true that depression is extremely self-centered, us folks in the Land of Nothing really don't want your awww-you-poor-thing sympathy. Sometimes our subconscious will get a little brave and ask for help in embarrassing or annoying ways. It's ok if you don't understand; we're still trying to figure it out ourselves.
  • something we can snap out of. You don't tell someone with cancer to "just stop mutating your own cells. That's sadistic, ya know. Sheesh." Um, yeah, we know. We also can't help it.
  • overcome with positive thinking. Thinking is hard. It takes energy. Thinking is discouraged in the Land of Nothing. I'm sure it's very nice getting up with the sun to meditate and sing about happiness, but there isn't any sun down here.
  • something that's easy to describe. Land of Nothing? Really? Yeah, it's the best analogy I could come up with.
  • something that can be predicted. In my own experience, depression seems to have a pattern of recurrence that is unbeknownst to me. 2008 was a dark year. This past winter was tough, but not consistent. Some days good, some days bad, sometimes for weeks on end. Why? Dunno.
  • self-hatred. I know that many people who are depressed have self-hatred. But that is usually either because of negativity around them or because they think they should be stronger than the depression that's holding them down. Remember, emotions can't grow in the Land of Nothing, they can only visit. Personally, I haven't had any self-hatred for years. Only frustration.
I'm sure I missed a couple things that don't describe depression. Please comment below with more. 
The Brain: action vs non-action; something vs nothing

The Frustration

 Depression has been described as drowning, but being able to see those around you still breathing. There comes a point where you wonder, "what is so wrong with me that I can't seem to do what everyone else thinks is so basic?"  Seriously, even hygiene is hard. 

"can't I just put my hair up today instead of brushing it?  If I brush it half-way then put the rest in a bun will people notice? Oh... tomorrow I should shower. I hate showering! Do I have to shower? Yes, I have to shower. Why don't I want to shower??"

 Depression is very self-centered. I say self-centered instead of selfish because it's not something that I want for myself, or take pleasure in. It's like being locked in your own head, but it's not your own anymore, and you can't find the door going out.

The Problem with "Solutions"

 From supplements to medication, exercise to social involvement, there are a hundred and one solutions that are given by well-meaning friends, family, and "experts." The thing is, "doing" takes effort! I know that exercise, sleep schedule, various therapies, artwork, proper nutrition, probiotics and other supplements, medication, sunlight, affirmations, and positive relationships help. I know the 5 habits of the most successful and happy people. I've read the blog posts. I've written the blog posts. I I know what I could be doing different. The common denominator in all of those solutions is action; it all takes energy. More than that, it takes wanting to be energetic. Motivation and Depression are not synonyms, nor are they friends.
 It takes more energy asking for help than it does to not ask for help.
 It takes more energy explaining what is wrong than pretending everything is fine when it's not.
 It takes more energy to figure out the next step than it does to sit in silence,
 It takes more energy to get out of bed than it does to stay put.

The body aches, the heart flutters, headaches pound, limbs grow cold, and muscles go weak. The path of least resistance becomes the only path. And unless you think that sounds lazy, think about how
much energy you'd have left if every. single. thing. you. did. took massive amounts of exertion, focus, and willpower. When it hurts just to think about doing something.

 Personally, in my years of on-and-off-again depression, I've never been suicidal. There have been times when I wanted to be dead, and even spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I never wanted to kill myself. Because being alive takes more energy (presumably) than not being alive. 
So what kept me going?

 To avoid at all costs a trite answer, I'd have to say... I'm not sure exactly what kept me going. Why did I keep performing at work? Why did I struggle to keep my apartment clean? Why did I enroll in IIN schooling? Why did I try?
 I don't know. But I have some theories:

  • I had some good days in between. I know I would've gone off the deep end had I no chance to revive myself, even for the short days or hours I had of it.
  • I believed in hope. As muddled and hopeless and confused and exhausted as I was, there was something that said "there is a future." Even if I didn't think it was bright. Even if I thought it would be the same as today. Sometimes my future seemed daunting and I didn't want to face it. But I knew there was a future.
  • I knew God. Cliche', right? But just like any other relationship, it runs deep, even when strained or disconnected at times. But I want to stress that my relationship with God differs from any other relationship in that it doesn't depend on me. God is the giver, I am the recipient. It's grace! So in a "do" centered world, when "doing" is hard or impossible, God is a strong rock, even if I'm too weak to stand upon it.
  • Wonderful friends and family. I hate to say it, but I really didn't care at all to connect with anyone, and would even purposefully disconnect from those closest to me. Relationships are hard work! But just knowing that there were a handful of people who would still like me, even if I went stark raving mad - that is priceless. 
  • Healthy food. While a good diet is not always enough to cure illnesses, it can help. I cannot begin to imagine how things would've turned out if I ate the typical American diet of sugar, chemicals, and feedlot-raised meats. Although healthy diet was insufficient, it might have helped keep me afloat. (But I do understand, making healthy choices is very hard sometimes. I just didn't have enough money to buy pre-packaged convenience.)

How do you help someone with Depression?

 Oh, that's tricky! Often one doesn't even know that someone is depressed! Even if they're close. My own mother didn't know, though I suspect she knew something was different than normal.
 I'm not a psychiatrist or a therapist. I don't know what to do, because mental illnesses are not logical. Being an aspiring Wellness Coach, I know what ailments are caused by, and what can potentially help. But the science of the mind can be boggling.

 But here are some things not to do:

  • Push yourself into their personal life. Believe me, if you do this, we will push you out... forever. Being "pushy" includes being emotional concerned about our "mental state" or wanting us to "talk it through." Prying in does not make you look like a caring person, it makes you a dangerous, carnivorous space-invader and energy-sucker.
  • Assume as if you know what it is like. "Oh, I know it's hard, but I know exactly how you feel. When my cat died last year I was so depressed I just watched netflix for a week." You've not only insulted me, you've checked yourself off the list of people I would ever talk to willingly, and that list is already small.
  • Contact help for them. Unless you know that someone is really truly suicidal, DON'T go talking to their parents, teachers, or that friend of your second cousin who's a counselor. EVER.
  • Offer advice. Sometimes, we know what to do. Knowing doesn't help us do. Read above in this post to see why. Also, it tends to be very insulting, even if you were well-meaning, which no doubt you were.

I don't know if this is helpful at all. Maybe if only to help people understand what is is like (from my perspective) to fade away. Maybe it'll show some struggling individuals that there are other people in various corners in that cold, dark Land of Nothingness. Maybe, if you're not ready to utter the word "help," or have fallen too far to want help, you could accept the strong foundation of Jesus. Forget what you've been told about religion, and being good enough, and becoming a typical Christian (whatever that is). Knowing God is about grace; being held instead of holding on. Maybe you're not ready, and that's ok. But I will be praying for you, as are many others.

Hopefully, the light becomes a good thing; energy, hope, warmth, comfort, rest.

The sun simply exists; it doesn't force its rays where they do not naturally go, and it does not cease to shine because it cannot warm all of the solar system. Instead, all planets are drawn to it, and rotate as to expose all parts of themselves to it.

Even a little bit of light can make a big difference.

Be that light for someone!

Ashes Remains sings "Unbroken" 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Free Self-Betterment Hacks

 While it is true that many self-improvement classes, courses, and seminars are well-worth the
investment, there are plenty of ways to bloom where you are planted, using resources that don't cost a penny. It is in those times of not having much expenditure that proves just how creative we are willing to get. Because until you are willing to create your own worth, you may be throwing money out the window trying to pay a coach or course to make you into a savvy, successful person. So... what can you do for free?

1. Connect with People

 You don't have to be calling CEO's or working in the hub of the city to connect with the people around you. And you don't have to be an expert on any matter - or even a particularly interesting person, for that matter - to ask questions. Where do you connect with people? Who do you come into contact in the course of your day or week? Event the Wal-Mart clerk counts as someone. And chances are, if your pickings are slim, there are a plethora of ways you can become involved in your community, and there's no better way to bond than service. Which brings me to the next point...

2. Serve

 Why Service? Other than the fact that it helps your fellow man, it can seriously humbling. Ouch. Nobody likes to be humbled. But in order to become better (the point of self-betterment), we have to realize that we are not "all that," and that sometimes the most unlikely of people will teach us the most profound lessons. Service is also a great way to stretch creativity. Because many organizations are under-staffed or under-supplied, you'll need to find a way to make things work!

3. Write

 Ever have a thought that made so much sense in your head, but then when you tried to explain it, it just wasn't as comprehensive or compelling as you thought it would be? Writing - whether journeling or blogging - is a great way to practice "saying" something until it makes sense, without looking silly
or wasting breath. Go ahead, rearrange the sentence, cross off redundancy, insert a main point, or change a pronoun. Writing un-tangles one's thoughts and organizes their ideas. Even if nobody else sees what you've come up with, you'll go about your day with a clear vision of what you're thinking.

4. Read

 It surprises me how painful a task this can be for some people. But for every boring text book you've had to suffer through, there is a fresh, exciting book just waiting to redeem your opinion of the written word. Find a genre you love! There are so many to choose from. And just think about how many times a day you already read without even thinking about it: facebook posts, magazine titles, road signs, recipes, directions, food package labels, etc. Reading informs us of what we need to know. It can also inform us of what we want to know.
 Once you find an author or genre you enjoy, I suggest slowly branching out.  For every two or three preferred books you read, pick out something new. Like English classics? Try an art book. Like DIY How-to's? Try a short novel. They're all available at your local library.

5. Make Goals

 Anyone can sail a ship, but it takes a captain to steer it in the right direction. Are you in charge of your life, or merely along for the ride? Everyone has dreams, or something they're aiming at, whether they realize it or not. What do you want out of life? What do you want to accomplish? Write it down and then commit. Brainstorm what it will take to accomplish your goal. Make small, time-bound goals that will help you can accomplish right now to bring you closer. If what you want is really worth it to you, you'll make it happen if you have a clear vision of how to get there. And if you've discovered how to be an innovative, creative person on a little, imagine who you'll be with an abundance of resources at your finger tips!