No ‒ not divorce, not death. Not dementia (not yet). My demon is depression. It’s a real downer. So much has already been said about depression, but still, no one really likes to talk about it. So, I will give it a go. The rant to follow is I guess my version of Depression for Dummies. D-101.
Obviously, there is no chronic illness or condition that is welcome, and the same is true of depression. Nobody wants to be depressed; depression sucks. Like many other mental health conditions, depression is complex, multifactorial and often illusive. Not to mention the lingering stigma. The varied symptoms are painful, distressing and destructive. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news; depression may most often be well-managed.
Over the years, I have learned what lifts me up and what drags me down. (Steering in the right direction is sometimes tricky.) I have tried to distinguish between triggers and repercussions, at times confusing. Thoughts and feelings are tightly intertwined and both are necessarily part of the problem and the solution. By design, I keep a fairly well-packed arsenal in my tool-kit including medication, professional and personal support, gratitude, exercise, music, fresh air, sunshine and sleep. I have been known to take a few brisk walks on some days. A really good laugh is always a great diversion too. Whatever it takes. But let’s be perfectly clear, depression cannot simply be wished away. I have learned to close my eyes, take a deep breath and impatiently wait for the despair to pass; and it usually does, eventually. At times, the anxious waiting seems like an eternity.
Mental health permeates the body, the mind and the soul; therefore an integrative wellness approach is most effective. Beware: there is no magic potion fix or one-size-fits-all miracle formula. Depression is not contagious but it is definitely toxic. Please proceed with caution: honest and unnerving information ahead. Depression is pervasive, it should always be taken seriously; and nobody is immune. Nobody. Denial is a dangerous accomplice. Caution: stigma and pride are abettors to denial.
Based on my upswing from depression I have a tangible sense of what good mental health feels like: fun-loving, optimistic, self-assured, authentic, sanguine, sensible, creative, productive, resourceful, capable, lucid, courageous, hopeful, connected, grounded, spirited and energetic. Not manic. Not hypomanic. Not hyperactive. Not euphoric. Assertive not aggressive. Stable not agitated. It seems there is no generic and ubiquitous term for good mental health and well-being.
On the other hand, here are some archetypal images and classic metaphors; yes, they are all clichés and also accurate. Depression is like…being stuck in a funk; falling down a dark pit; sinking in subterranean quicksand; paddling against a rough current; suffocating under an avalanche; caught in a wicked storm; lost in a maze without an exit; drowning in a deep and murky sea; consumed with melancholy, disappointment, internal conflict, regret or guilt; feeling immobilized, powerless, helpless, apathetic, or lethargic; smothered in negative thoughts, persistent ruminating, worrying or self-deprecating; fighting against yourself; crushed by the enemy. What is the enemy? Our fears, anxieties, challenges, flaws and insecurities. When we look in the mirror our shame and faults stare back at us.
Also, it’s true what they say: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. And we all need a reminder regarding this debunked myth: depression is not the result of weakness; strength however, is a by-product of depression. If only we really believed that platitude. Unfortunately, society is littered with pernicious myths about mental health. Let’s all do our part to clean up the mess created by pervasive fallacies.
Warning: depression and anxiety are like sinister Siamese twins. Optimally, they function as co-dependents, however with great effort and precision they can be separated. Their shared host is their common foe. Either on its own is nasty but as a troublesome duo they are intolerable.
Depression is a very tricky landscape that demands refined navigational skills including deep insight, keen foresight and considerable hindsight; as well as a delicate balance of sensitivity and reason. BTW ‒ I believe there is a positive correlation between the analytic mind, the compassionate and hypersensitive personality, and predisposition to depression. (Please note: not researched, just a personal theory.) As it happens, I am blessed with that particular hat-trick.
Note to my future self: indeed, depressions hurts, but remember to always search for the potential light at the end of the tunnel. Hold on, have faith, keep your cool, and the dark storm clouds will eventually pass. Look for sunny skies, silver linings and the bright colours of the rainbow. Remember the blessing of beauty and wonder of the world we inhabit. It’s ok to laugh and cry concurrently. Indeed, life is bittersweet. I wonder; can tears cleanse the soul?
When I go for a walk in the forest there is no Wi-Fi and yet I definitely feel more grounded and connected. The simple and pure splendor of the natural elements provides inspiration, peace of mind, perspective, and renewed energy. Solar power. Wind power. Mountain power. Ocean power. (Insert yoga poses here.) Not to be confused with Earth Wind & Fire R & B circa 1970s.
In response to all those who have ever asked or speculated: no, I am not ever planning to produce a collection of narratives written by people living with depression, it’s definitely too depressing, a daunting project. This memoir entry likely marks the beginning and the end of my writing on this particular topic. Sometimes I wonder about the enduring myth that creative genius and depression go together; however I can’t possibly compete with the multitude of inspired (depressed) bloggers out there. Undeniably, there is no shortage of innovative social media including tumblr blogs galore. Not to mention tear-jerker song lyrics. Who doesn’t love to blast and holler their favourite cry-along tunes? Definitely a liberating activity. There is no doubt that creativity and depression are somehow intricately linked. Unquestionably there is thesis material there, albeit way out of my personal narrative zone and current research scope.
In case you are wondering what to say to a depressed person: no comedy show, circus act, or song and dance routine is required. Here’s the simple and safe script: “It’s not your fault; everything will be ok; you can lean on me; that’s what friends are for.” Obviously more detailed or personalized scripts are available as per on-demand.
It’s ok to have a “pity party” once in a while. I mean, I don’t think a perpetual “woe is me” routine is recommended; but sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to be miserable. The operative word is sometimes, as opposed to always. In other words, being down in the dumps is a reasonable place to visit occasionally but certainly not a sustainable place to reside.
Here’s another angle. Life is a roller-coaster ride and depression is like the terrifying Drop Zone plunge. Just thinking about it, I get a whopping headache and a pit in my stomach. And I guess bi-polar is most like the jolting jaw-dropping Leviathan (extreme hyper-coaster); fortunately I haven’t had that out-of-control experience. (In fact, just the names Leviathan and Behemoth denote terrifying monstrous creatures of biblical proportions). To extend the Canada’s Wonderland mental health analogy, a great ride would be the electrifying Time Warp ‒ a flying roller-coaster or the spinning Riptide or the thrilling Cliffhanger or the whirling Psychlone ‒ a Frisbee pendulum, depending upon your particular need for adventure, and an adrenalin rush. (According to Urban Dictionary a Psychlone is psycho + cyclone i.e. chaotic, reckless and fearless). Personally, I’m done with 5 star black diamond rated rides. For conservative middle-agers like me, I think soaring through the air on the magnificent high-flying Swing of the Century is best. (And even that old-fashioned ride now requires an empty stomach and a prophylactic Gravol). Ideally, I like to keep my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds.
Of course there are many other significant factors and likely correlations to consider with respect to unscrambling the depression perplexity, including: hormones, IQ, EQ, personality, anxiety, stress, alcohol, medications, trauma, to name just a few. Apparently, all of these dynamics have been researched extensively, yielding a plethora of ambiguous data. Hence the desperate foray into endless hours of eclectic and expensive therapy for all willing candidates. Plus alternative therapies for the zealous. The accessibility of vast informative resources on the topic of depression can be consuming and confusing; definitely Google can be deemed either a nightmare or a blessing, a tidal wave of data to sift through.
Concluding thought: I’m sorry for whatever collateral damage my precarious mental health may have inadvertently imposed on anyone else. (Obviously I have no intension of leaving a crushing wake of negative karma behind me.) I genuinely hope that I have given my kids the proper tools to successfully navigate through whatever unanticipated choppy waters they may face, and of course that includes health and mental health issues. That’s life ‒ shit happens.
Public service announcement: psychological defenses and idiosyncrasies are commonly at the root of most families’ dysfunctional dynamics. I guess that cynical caveat serves as a universal disclaimer for all of us. The truth is, we really don’t know what exactly is at the root of our personal or collective neuroses; but everyone likes disclaimers. There is no doubt that although I may not be a perfect parent; I will always do my best to guide and support my kids through whatever turbulent winds cause them to drift. I hope my best is good enough.
Liz Pearl © 2014
In 2014 I turned 50. To help ease into the overwhelming milestone birthday I selected for myself a few personal challenges. (No marathon run or major diet.) For years I had been facilitating personal narrative writing for others and yet I had never truly taken the plunge myself. Throughout the year approaching my 50th I wrote many personal narratives culminating in a retrospective 50 page mini-memoir project that I subsequently shared with my family and friends. The D Word was included in that private collection. Honestly, stigma ‒ although a looming reality, has never been my greatest challenge. I have shared my personal experiences with regard to mental health with select individuals when I have felt the context was either relevant or appropriate. Perhaps working in mental health has helped somewhat to broaden my perspective. I have been an active member of OACCPP – an Association of Mental Health Professionals for many years. In any case; we are all works in progress. If this story resonates with others and in some small way helps to make the world a kinder and more compassionate place than I am delighted to be included in The Dialogue Projects. Let’s all join together to make the world a better place ‒ one story at a time. The tagline for PK Press is: Everyone Has a Story. What’s Yours? Share Your Story—Leave a Legacy.
BIO: Liz Pearl, M.Ed., is an educator and facilitator with an interest in psychogeriatrics and expressive arts therapy. She is the founder of PK Press and the editor of several collections of personal narratives including the recently released revised edition of Mourning Has Broken (KOPE Associates, 2005, 2015) and the Living Legacies series featuring Canadian Jewish women including, Volumes I - V (PK Press, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 ). Liz is a featured blogger at www.hermagazineca and www.wisewomenmontreal.com. Her immediate goals include streamlining her Pearls of Wisdom and social networking nonsense into a succinct blog and adjusting to the looming empty-nest stage.