Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, October 02
My challenges to you last week were to:
- Make time for a friend. Have a coffee, a phone call, or a walk.
- Take a little time to really see nature – each day for the next week.
- Practice patience.
How did you do?
I took time, made time, to spend time with a good friend. It didn’t matter what we would talk about, or how the visit would go – I just spent a little time being connected to my friend. Even though the visit was relatively short – 30 minutes or so – I felt more connected to my friend and that felt wonderful.
I took the time to look at the paling of the trees, their turning leaves. I noted a flock of geese as they honked across the sky – headed to wherever they were going. I spent time just soaking in the sun – enjoying the warmth of it on my face and skin. I don’t do this enough. I know it. I really do tend to just bounce around and I don’t really see the forest for the trees… and they are right there – right outside my window. There’s a lesson here for me… I tend to take a bunch of things for granted in my life. There are lots and lots of blessings just – RIGHT THERE – I just need to take just a moment of time to see them. Slow down a little and enjoy life.
Practicing patience – sometimes I can be a pretty patient person – sometimes, no – not at all… The past week has been one of those patches where my patience is lacking. I don’t really know why – it just is. I’ve been struggling harder than normal the past while… maybe its fatigue… I don’t know. I just know that I have had to be really watchful on the patience piece. That said – I did a pretty good job of being aware that I’ve been short and have taken a breath and a step when I have needed to.
This week I’d like to share a little about “Things in my life that tell me I need to be more mindful or aware that I might be headed into the forest…” or – clues I recognize as indicative of depression in my life.
As I share these – I think its important to say that the stuff I share is my stuff. I know I am headed for the forest when I experience many or all these things at the same time for significant periods of time. Everyone will have their own experiences and I want to be clear that this is my experience. If anyone suspects that they themselves or maybe a loved one or friend might be struggling – they should seek the help of a qualified person – be that their doctor, psychologist, clergy, etc.
I share these in no specific order. These are just pieces of my experience that I know I see a change when I am “in trouble” with depression.
So – one of the first things – more easily noticed things – that I see when I am getting depressed is that I begin to socially isolate. I start to withdraw from my “community”… This will maybe sound odd – or weird – but I find it hard to take calls. I tend to not want to go out of the house much… I hermit up – I suppose would be one way of describing it. I start to feel anxious when there’s a knock at the door or the phone rings… like I say – I know it sounds weird – irrational and that’s just it. It is. This piece is a social isolation piece. I just don’t want to see anyone.
Another withdrawing piece is pulling back or away from things that I do for fun. I start to find excuses to not go to this event or that. I think this is part of the social piece too – but there is a piece where I just don’t find any interest in the things that I usually enjoy doing.
Sleep is a big clue. I don’t usually have an issue falling asleep. Even when I am in a significant depression – I can usually fall asleep. My problem is that I awake at 2:30 or 3:00 and just can’t get back to sleep. My mind races and my thoughts spin and I just can not get back to sleep. This means that I am fatigued in the morning, the fatigue makes me feel cranky and jittery – sleep sick… (If you have ever worked shift work, you’ll know what midnight guts are… ya – sleep sick) and then I have to be mindful of not going off on someone who doesn’t deserve being growled at… When my sleep is all messed up or getting all messed up, it’s a clue for me that I really need to be paying more attention to my mental wellness.
Being bone deep sad. Not unhappy – bone deep sad. Its difficult to describe the exact feeling – it’s a sadness that is still there even after a belly jiggle laughing session. It’s a feeling of loss that won’t abate with anything. When I get to the point where I start seeing this stuff – I know I need help… This deep deep melancholy will NOT go away without help and it is usually accompanied by my next piece.
Anger – self loathing – disgust. This stuff just grows wild when I am in a depression. Once the anger and self loathing show up – I know I am in trouble for sure. I run into an issue with this though… you see – I have a really, really bad habit of self-deprecation in the first place. It is really, common for me to put myself down – even to others… never mind to myself. I do work very hard to be aware of when I do this. It’s a terrible thing I do to myself. I call myself “Stupid”, “Idiot”, “Useless”, “Moron”, “Loser” and on and on… and that’s been a matter of course for as long and as far back as I can remember. I know a little about where this negative talk comes from – and at this point in my life – it doesn’t really matter where it came from – it just needs to NOT HAPPEN. So – there’s where my problem comes in. When I am depressed – my internal roommate starts telling me how dumb etc I am – and I just soak it up. Is it the depression and self loathing or is it my usual negative self view? All this negativity turns out, shows up as anger.
The problem with anger is the people around me just see it as me being an angry person – and rightfully so – they don’t know that the lions share of the anger is focused inward – they can simply sense the anger. This further exacerbates my isolation.
My energy hits the pooper when I am depressed. 100% GONE. I only know that the deeper into a depression I am, the less energy I have. Perhaps my physical energy is sucked up by the emotional void. When I am depressed – even the most simple of tasks can seem impossible. Throwing in a load of laundry, cutting the lawn, any little chore – to the point of taking a bath or having a shower can be exceedingly tiring. From where I am right now – I see this as being a tough thing to believe – but I can also attest to the fact that I have been in that space where a shave and scrub of the teeth are all I seem to be able to muster.
Interest in intimacy suffers too. Not just sex – although that is certainly a piece of it. When I am depressed I simply do not want to let anyone in. PERIOD. Its almost like I don’t have enough space for myself – let alone allowing another person in. Being vulnerable when I am feeling deeply broken doesn’t work. I then tend to push the folks I care about away from me. I’m not certain I understand all of this – in fact – I suppose I don’t understand it at all – I just know that when I am in a depression – I put up walls… walls keep what’s in, in and what’s out, out.
Concentration is another piece of my depression puzzle. When my depression grows, by ability to concentrate shrinks. I struggle with memory (I usually have a decent memory) and I can’t think. This is one of the biggest clues that I catch early on. When I find that I am struggling with being able to concentrate – it’s a clue for me that I need help – that I need to do a better job of watching my mental health. A piece that goes along with concentration is my ability to retain anything that I read. When I find myself reading and re-reading and just not picking up the materials that I trying to get through… it’s a clue for me too.
EARTH TO KEVIN – EARTH TO KEVIN… This is a tough one for me too… I have inattentive ADHD. My mind pings and pongs all over the place most of the time… keeping my mind on task is like – well herding cats or rats or flies or something like that. Well, when I am struggling against the deepness of depression – this inattention is worse – so bad in fact that its distracting to the people that are around me. My wife has said its like trying to have three conversations at the same time with the same person.. impossible to follow… and its incredibly stressful on the inside of that too… because its impossible to find anyone who can keep up with where I’m going.
I don’t use alcohol anymore. – One of the pieces in my experience that should have been a clue but wasn’t until it was abused – was my use of alcohol to self-medicate. One stiff drink to take the edge off turned into two, turned into too many. Alcohol wasn’t the answer for my depression. I don’t believe that inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs of any sort is an answer for my depression. Alcohol just about cost me my family – I know it cost me too much in so many other ways. I am very, very careful about the medications I take for everything… I research the meds that I am prescribed and I am careful with anything OTC that I might take. I can remember the day in my experience – in my life – when alcohol changed from something I did socially to something I did to take away pain. I don’t ever want to let it or any other substance do that in my life again.
Emotional blah – an emotional void. When I am depressed – I really don’t feel much of anything other than the anger I had talked about a little earlier. Zero. No real happy, no real excitement for anything – nothing. I’d still laugh at a good joke, but I wouldn’t likely feel sorry for something I had done wrong. Empathy I suppose was in the pooper too. Just don’t give a shit. Don’t really care about anything really. This is a really tough and dangerous place for me. When I am like this – I need help – big help.
I “stuff”. I try to fill the emptiness that I feel with things. I buy stuff on impulse. Sometimes its “stuff” that I don’t really understand the why I bought it… I recognize that there’s an ADHD impulse control piece at work here too – but when I am feeling that emotional void – I have a need to fill it – and since I am pushing people away – I end up filling that void with stuff. I am getting way better at this – but this is certainly a barometer that I try to watch for. When I catch myself “stuffing”, I have to take time to do a check-in with myself.
OBSESSION! If there a reason to obsess – when I am depressed – I will. This is a bit “chicken and egg” for me. Sometimes I wonder if the event that I obsess about pushes me further into my woods or whether its that I am partly in the woods that I obsess. This pandemic and the worlds reaction to it are one of my obsessions. I have a rant that I could go on about here – but that’s for another time… I had a very similar experience with 9/11, the wars in Iraq, the death of my parents, and the like. I really try to limit my exposure to social media and television. I have to.
When I am in a depression – I tend to lose control of my temper. I have been called moody, touchy, un-predictable and the like. Rightfully so. There’s no excuse for rude behavior. The fact of the matter is – I’m a cranky guy when I am in a depression. This is a space where I tend to wear a mask – a lot!
Being ashamed of being broken. Not wanting to ask for help – not wanting to be seen as being weak. This is an incredibly difficult piece to get past. I know – from where I am right now – that asking for help is actually a sign of strength – however I also know the denial that exists when I am in a depression.
When I am experiencing a bunch of these at the same time for an extended period – I know I am in trouble. Hopefully – with the awareness, vigilance, acceptance, understanding, persistence and commitment that I have developed in my life I can stay out of the woods and out of the depression. The one big difference between the Kevin of today and the Kevin of say 7 years ago – is that I have accepted that “Nothing out there changes.” From this I mean that no one else, nothing outside of me, is going to be able to repair, fix, protect me. Medications are only one piece of the wellness model for me…. And I think that is a big piece of my new understanding and appreciation. I have accepted that I am responsible for taking a more active roll in my mental wellness and health. I used to go to the doctor and say – I’m not feeling well doctor, and they would give me a prescription and I would go home and take the pills and yes – have an expectation that the pills were going to do the job. The truth of my experience is that the pills don’t do the job. They are only one of a bunch of supports that take part in a multifaceted plan to keep me out of the woods.
Purpose – Acceptance/Understanding – Supports – Persistence/commitment –
Values – Connections – Action – Awareness/Vigilance
This week I’d like to challenge you to:
- Be intentionally tolerant.
- Use “please” and “thank you”.
- Find a reason – every day – to smile.
That’s it – I challenge you.