bearthinking

About recovering from depression and suicide.

ARG!!!

I started this blog with high hopes.  I would recover, I would get better, a year from now (August 2009), I would be in better shape and functioning in society again.  HA!!!

Now, I just feel like a lamp that keeps blowing out the light bulbs.  We try new meds, we try new combos, I get a glimmer of light then pfffffft, burnt out bulb time.  I’ve had 20 watts, 40 watts, 40-60-100 watts, green, natural, black light, Compact fluorescents, you name it.  pffft, burn out.

If I was a lamp, we’d fix the wiring.  But I’m not a lamp, and our neuro-surgery is not that good or precise yet.  And we’re not allowed to just chuck the lamp out for spare parts, we have to keep it plugged in and turned on.  Soooo, I wonder what wattage and colour this time?  Maybe a halogen?

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May 9, 2011 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Note about Suicides

I am so sick and tired of hearing that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness, or ingratitude, or cowardice.  Maybe that is true of some suicides; the ones who blow their brains out because they have suffered one major defeat and think the world is ending.  Maybe; heck, in a case by case examination I would probably grant the assertion’s validity.  But I argue that this is not the case in the majority of suicides and suicide attempts.

The majority of suicides and suicide attempts are carried out by people with a history of on-going severe clinical depression, Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, Bi-Polar Disorder, schizophrenia, and paranoia, as well as other mental disorders.  The initial cause can be genetic, environmental, or both.  Over time, the disorder is a combination as the brain adjusts neurochemically to environmental stress, or the personality adapts to altered perceptions of reality brought on by neurochemical imbalances until the mind is caught between the two and unable to cope any longer.  The altered perceptions and imbalanced neurochemistry that are now the ‘baseline’ state of the mind become less and less effective at shielding the mind from the stresses of everyday life and indeed exacerbate them.

It is a catch-22 bringing on a situation strongly reminiscent of alcoholism.   Behaviours and neurochemistry intended to cope with stress become counter-productive.  To cope with the increased stress, the behaviours and neurochemical imbalance intensify; then the stress gets greater because the coping techniques are no longer as effective, so they are intensified.  A feedback occurs that lock the mind into a ‘tail-chasing’ cycle until it can no  longer take the strain of stresses.

The mind, the person, is cornered, trapped and seeking a way out of this unbearable situation, any way out that can be achieved.  This is where mental illness takes its most terrible form.  The person wants help, but perceptions are so altered that nothing promises a way out, they don’t know how to reach out anymore, nothing will work, shame is felt because they have gotten so far down this road, the situation is too much to solve, but the stress is no longer bearable and there is no way out, but the stress is worse, and there is no solution, nothing, nothing…

except…

death.

I’ve attempted suicide.  I’ve faced the moments just before the act; moments where you try to think of another way out that is not worse than death, moments trying to find another way out of the pain that has become too unbearable.  Moments recounting the course of your life, seeing if there is something that might work, that might offer hope, that might be a way out, a way through.  Then the moment before death.

Then comes another moment, one that should not be: the moment after death.  The moment you realise you failed, for whatever reason.  An sickly amusing failure, you could just die… oh, wait, no, you tried that.

What the suicide lacks is not courage, nor gratitude, nor selflessness.  What the suicide lacks is hope.  We live each day in unbearable pain, grateful for those small moments of oblivion that pain cannot reach, trying to help others like us find a way through the pain.  But hope does not ‘spring eternal’ with us.

We hopelessly hope that somehow, some way, one of us will make it out without dying.  That they can reach back and hold out a hand to help us out, so we can turn and reach out a hand.  That we can help each other out of the desert pit of suicide.

Then someone does make it out…  by dying.  Their meds failed, or therapy no longer could reach them, or worst… both failed.  It is not hope we feel but loss and even more despair, but we fight in our own ways to overcome it still.  Sometimes, though, it overwhelms us and we try to die.  We feel then that life has no options anymore aside from death.  So we face it, knowing we may not succeed even at this.

Try sometime waking up in your own vomit, or with an exploded garbage bag on your head, thinking “great, yet another thing I failed at”, knowing you have to face people again.  It is worse when you leave a note, or are discovered before completion.

Loved ones are hurt that you would try to leave to leave them behind not understanding that you weren’t trying to leave them, but trying to leave the pain you could no longer take.  Not understanding that you did not like what you were being forced to become by staying and enduring unendurable pain.  Not understanding that  you now live with the ultimate failure while still in pain.

But we go through the motions again, try new therapy and new meds, wake up each morning wondering if we will ever make it through, make it out, be able to live without constant pain again.  What many fail to understand is that we endure this for months, years, even decades.  I’m 49 and have dealt (or not) with severe, suicidal depression ever since I can remember, since at least the age of 4.

Tell you what, you try living with our problems for even half the time we do, then tell me we are cowardly, or ungrateful, or selfish.

May 8, 2011 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things not to say…

I got this from a friend on a global support group site. I’ve had these said to me soooooo many freakin’ times. They used to annoy me, now they just make me sad for the ignorant people who think they have actually done something meaningful by saying one or more of them. They don’t realise that they may actually making things worse. Anyway, here they are…

‎Things not to say to someone who has depression:

“Snap out of it!”
Snap out of what? You think I’m sulking or something? I’m just in a rut?

“You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”
Maybe, but if I am, it’s probably the disease making …me feel that way instead of me choosing to indulge in a pity party.

“I know just how you feel.”
Unless you’ve suffered from clinical depression – uh, no you really, really don’t. Maybe you had a glimpse of it if you had a significantly “down” mood at some point, but other than that, you really don’t know how I feel.

“You have so much to be thankful for – why are you depressed?”
Don’t you think that the depressed person has asked themselves that a thousand times?

“Try prayer.
Leaving aside the possibility that the person you’re talking to is not religious, I can assure you that anyone who is spiritual has been asking their deity for help all along, and received what comfort they can from prayer.

“Have you tried just not being depressed?”
Oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that? I’m cured! (Groan) I mean, honestly.

“It’s a beautiful day!”
Not helping. One of the things that is the most upsetting when you’re depressed is that a beautiful sunny day can’t touch the darkness you’re feeling.

“It’s all in your mind.”
Ummm, yeah. And that helps me how?

“Everyone gets depressed sometimes.”
No, what you’re talking about isn’t depression, but a funk or a rut or a blue day. That’s like comparing the flu to pneumonia.

“Come on, just cheer up!”
Um, that’s the problem, I CAN’T. Don’t you think I want to? Do you think I actually enjoy feeling like killing myself?

Sometimes, I’d like to be around when they desperately need help, say when they are hanging on to a 200 foot cliff ledge.

“Come on, just pull yourself up!”

“It’s a nice view from there, isn’t it?”

“You have so much to be thankful for – why are you screaming?”

“Try prayer.”

“Everyone falls over a cliff at sometime.”

“Snap out of it!”

“You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”

“I know just how you feel.”

“It’s all in your mind.”

“Have you ever tried not being pushed off a cliff?”

If depressives, especially suicidal ones, follow these pieces of “advice” it would be like the person hanging on letting go, and with the same end result. Well folks, I think I’ll talk to someone who actually knows about this and can help, thank you very much.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | depression, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And I have problems?

“HELP! I’m currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia xyzrxyz “penis enlargement” xyzrxyz and being forced to post spam comments on blogs and forum! If you don’t approve this they will kill me. xyzrxyz “penis enlargement” xyzrxyz They’re coming back now. xyzrxyz (some drug name) xyzrxyz Please send help! nitip (same drug name)”

That was in my spam comments. I have deleted it, but not before copying it for this post.

One of the contributing factors to my depression is assuming people are honest and trustworthy. I tend to take them as they present themselves. As we all know, this can lead to severe disappointment. Frequent severe disappointment.

Now, couple that with a deep sense of loyalty. (Can you see where this is going?) It takes alot to really shake my loyalty. Even to this day I am loyal to certain people most others would have consigned to the enemies list, even to people who have tossed me aside like old garbage.

My initial reaction on reading this spam comment was guilt. It was posted awhile back. I COULD HAVE SAVED THEM!!!

<smack>

Oh, no, I could not because this was a spam comment – truly a spam comment. I mean, seriously, being forced to post spam about penis enlargement? Not even the most outta whack conspiracy theorists would buy that. Besides, I have not had any complaints about my penis size, so I figure I’m ok in that regard.

The guilt actually lasted only microseconds, the amusement over the gimmick of the note for about three minutes, and the satisfaction about my penis size is just background noise more or less.

But think about this; that bit of spam is a sign of corporate despair, depression if you will. A patently false plea for help crudely masking a clumsy sales pitch. It reminds me of one of our botched suicide attempts.

You know, the ones where we wait until just before someone walks in to stand on a chair with a noose around our necks, or we swallow a bottle of Advil and wash it down with milk, or we stand on a ledge and threaten to jump but let ourselves be talked down. These are usually clumsily effective ways to get help; they can, however, tragically misfire. We lose our balance as the person decides not to come in because they forgot something in the other room, we decide to gain courage and drink alot of alcohol then accidentally grab the bottle of sleeping pills, or we slip and fall to our deaths.

The spam notices are also usually clumsily effective ways to get help – in the form of sales. Well constructed ones do get our attention, if they make it past the filters. But the poor ones, even if they make it past the filters, turn us off and generate spam complaints to our ISPs and mail servers, as well as causing us to update our filter settings and spam blockers. Ultimately, that spam generator ends up rendering itself useless – it completes its suicide.

This is why it is imperative, not just for yourself but for all of us, to get help without attempting suicide. There are approximately 30000 reported suicides per year (see earlier posts), and more unreported. This is a waste. I don’t want you to die. I don’t care if you are Hitler re-born, you can break the cycle, you can redeem yourself, you can be just as happy – and no more miserable – than anyone else. You can live.

I don’t think suicide is cowardly. I just don’t think it works very well. If you complete the act, the suffering stops, but you stop everything else as well and get no benefit from it. Also, you may actually complete the act when you really did not want to. If you don’t complete the act, for whatever reason, you run the risk of not being believed, of being ridiculed, and of not getting help. All of which increase your suffering and depression.

Besides which, think about this. There are people who do love you, even if you don’t know it, and people who will love you, even though it may be hard believe it. You end up hurting them unnecessarily. And, what about the people who contribute to your depression and suicidal thinking? Why give them the satisfaction? What better revenge than to overcome the effect they have on you? The very fact of your getting better is the best revenge ever; you don’t even need to flaunt it, they don’t even have to know!

Anti-depressant meds are a great short- and medium-term way to re-balance your neurochemistry. You may have to stay on them permanently, but they last longer than suicide and are ultimately more satisfying.

Therapy is for the entire course. It can help you find mechanisms to deal with the immediate deep depression (The Pit), find long-term mechanisms to manage depression, help you undo the habits of depressive thinking and perception, and may even help your neurochemistry re-balance on its own. You may need frequent sessions at first, but as you adjust to your meds and the therapy begins its longer term effects, you may reduce the frequency and continue reducing it until you only need ‘spot-checks’ or special sessions to help with a particularly difficult situation.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | depression, recovery, suicide, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Angry Questions, Who’s Insane?

By the standards of our culture, our society, I am mentally ill. Oddly enough, I am comfortable with that. The basis of my illness, depression, was not a matter of choice but genetics. Unfortunately, ignorance on my part allowed it to develop and influence me for far too long. I am getting treatment, both for the chemical imbalance and for the behavioural issues.

But I question society’s capability and competence. Our species is locked into modes of behaviour that would put an individual into an asylum for a long, long time. On the one hand we piously quote books and people who decry murder, theft, envy, and the like; on the other we murder, thieve, are envious, and the like. More often than not, the exact same individuals and groups of individuals are doing both.

From Wikipedia:
“Schizophrenia (pronounced /ˌskɪtsɵˈfrɛniə/ or /ˌskɪtsɵˈfriːniə/) is a severe mental illness characterized by a disintegration of the process of thinking, of contact with reality, and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction.” “Impairment in social cognition is associated with schizophrenia, as are symptoms of paranoia, and social isolation commonly occurs.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia

“Paranoid personality disorder … Those with the condition are hypersensitive, are easily slighted, and habitually relate to the world by vigilant scanning of the environment for clues or suggestions to validate their prejudicial ideas or biases. They tend to be guarded and suspicious and have quite constricted emotional lives. Their incapacity for meaningful emotional involvement and the general pattern of isolated withdrawal often lend a quality of schizoid isolation to their life experience.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoid_personality_disorder

“Borderline personality disorder (BPD) … typically involves unusual levels of instability in mood; black and white thinking, or splitting; chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual’s sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borderline_personality_disorder

I’ve been following the news for years as my depression allows. I am constantly struck at the sheer depth and breadth of schizophrenic, paranoid personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder traits exhibited by people and groups touted as ‘normal’. Actions and statements that would get me institutionalized (and have) are bandied about media pundits, religious leaders, and politicians as a matter of course. Worse, they are accepted, even by their opponents, as being reasonable, mentally fit people. And yet, I am judged mentally ill when I behave in the same manner.

I guess the difference is that, while I do in a fashion flaunt my mental ‘illness’, I haven’t yet made the news, or gotten at least dozens of followers who swear by my every word (although there are those who swear at my every word), or been voted into public office. Or maybe the difference is that I have sought help in managing my mental ‘illness’. Would I be a success if I ignored my treatment, eschewed therapy, and started figuratively yelling at the top of my lungs as well?

Why am I judged sick when the Texas GOP is publicly spewing ignorance, hate, and fear? When Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist leaders, among others, advocate murder for those who do not accept their religion? When a country that is vociferous internationally about civil rights abuses in other countries uses torture and racial profiling on its own citizens and on non-combatants? When my own country, which prides itself on being ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’, has allowed itself to be chained by fear?

Is it any wonder it is so hard to not be depressive? I did not choose this world to live in. I have tried 8 times to leave it. I’m stuck here. And I am pissed off that those who would condemn me conduct themselves so basely.

Can we cure our species? Can we stop the madness? Should we?

July 1, 2010 Posted by | depression, suicide | , , , | Leave a comment

Choice of judgment.

It was a hard night, last night.  The moon was out, the stars shone bright, the heat of day gave way to a not unpleasant muggy coolness.  But I came up against the “very firmly held belief” of one I had counted as a friend.

Very firmly held beliefs are wonderful things.  They allow you to make up your mind without ever needing to deal with facts.  They allow you stop feeling, stop attempting to understand those around you, allow you to blame them when they give up and walk away.  In a sad way, it is their fault; they now have the very firmly held belief that you do not care, and are they wrong?

But there s something else very firmly held beliefs do.  They allow you to not face yourself.  They allow you to live in denial.  They allow you to ignore the consequences of your own behaviour.

I came up against it last night.  My roller-coaster ride of dealing with depression has actually been going fairly well of late.  There have been a few set-backs here and there, but over-all I have been making progress.

As part of this, I have been reaching out to people that have fallen away from my life.  In a few instances, some have reached out to me.  I have been upfront about having depression.  It is a central fact of my psychology, one that influences my perceptions and reactions.  I have said and done self-destructive things without being aware of it; I figure if my friends know this about me, they can help me before I spiral down too far to reach again.

The major part of how they help is simply by being there; knowing that I can get help when I need it.  This actually makes it easier to NOT call them at 3:47 AM because I don’t think I can make it through the night without putting a bullet through my head.

So when a friend reached out, I reached back.  Then she said her husband would like to hear from me as well.  I took me a few days to email him.   I was nervous, dealing with other issues (aftermath of ‘Sailing’ {cf.} among them), and had already sent a message via her.

Now, I’m glad I waited.  If I had read his reply earlier, it would have been much harder to dig myself out of a down-spiral I had hit.  “I think it is stupid and selfish for a person to choose to wallow in a masochistic funk that feeds on itself when all that is necessary is for that person to CHOOSE to not follow that path.”  Seems OK on the face of it.

But what about those of us who are not aware of depression or the effect it has on our thinking and perception? This is especially bad with teens whose symptoms are usually masked or explained away by changing hormones.  There are those of us who spend years not knowing why things are always bad around us.  Or why it is so hard to get out of bed, to have an interest in anything at all.

Even after we are aware of the situation, it is hard to get help – for so many reasons.  Not all of us can hang tough through it, either; hell, not even Ernest Hemingway managed it.  And for some of us, the help has to be fairly radical even after we have committed ourselves to it.

There are two main forms of Depression proper: Situational Depression, a temporary downturn as a result of things such as job loss or ‘holiday blues’; and Clinical Depression, a permanent but treatable condition.  The basis of Clinical Depression is not choice, but hard neuro-chemical fact.  For a varied combination of reasons, there is a flaw in the neuro-chemical cycles that regulate mood.  Sometimes, things go wrong in our lives and overwhelm us; for most people, that can be dealt with as the neuro-chemical cycles kick in to help keep us positive.  For others, that does not happen.

Our perceptions are that things will not get better, that we have no real positive effect on our circumstances, that there is no point in trying even.  The world sucks, and we get to have the shitty end of the stick.  There is no choice, that’s just the way it is and it can never change.  We have a ‘very firmly held belief’ in that.

Then there are those of us who really are beyond help, who are so firmly held by the grip of a vicious neuro-chemical imbalance that we cannot get out of even with radical help.  Well, they are stupid and selfish for choosing to wallow in that, aren’t they?

Given a choice we can actually see, given an opportunity to stop feeling this way – helpless, isolated, and worthless – we try to abandon our very firmly held beliefs and come out of The Pit.  I will not go back into The Pit because of his very firmly held belief, but it seems to me that he has made a choice, built his place of judgment.  As have I.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

remembering to create: day zero

day zero

For years I lied.  Everyday, to everyone, I told a lie.  A deep, pervasive, insidious lie that tainted all my life, my hopes, my plans.  It blighted and consumed every aspect of my life.

I told one lie for seventeen and a half years.  I lived it, in spite of so much evidence that it was false.  I was married for just over 19 years; do you count the time you are separated, if not then it was almost 19 years.

I told myself that in spite of the problems we had, that it was a happy marriage.  People who did not know us well assumed it was too.  Apparently the divorce did not come as much of a surprise to people who knew us.  It seems that what came as a surprise was that I was not the one who initiated it and that we had lasted as long as we did.  This is the power of a lie.

This lie was just one of many I was living.  (I can just hear my ex now… and she is neither wrong nor right, such are people)  Some of the lies, I’m still living.  A list?  Well, here’s a partial of the more socially acceptable ones…
1) I am basically a happy person; 2) I’m a horrible writer; 3) I’m a horrible artist; 4) I have a good opinion of myself; 5) I am solely responsible for the ruin of my marriage; 6) I had a happy childhood.
I know my ex would never believe that I think #5, but it is true.  I do blame myself, completely.  I ‘know’ it to be true, and try to compensate.  I also know it is not true as nothing is ever that simple; we both lied to ourselves and each other.

These lies, these self-delusions are just part of what led to my suiciding.  Several times.  Why?

Why?  Why did, and do, I buy into them?  Part of it is neuro-chemical, part is habit, part is believing what others have told me, and, oh my, how many other factors can I list?  In the end, though, I must bear the ultimate responsibility.

I am fully aware, and have been, of my depression.  I was fully aware, on one level, of the falsity of my marriage after that first year and a half.  I know I am a talented artist and writer.  I know I have low self-esteem (see depression).  I know my childhood was not happy.  But being oblivious is so easy.

I lived in that warm, comfortable oblivion.  I let myself allow depression to take hold of me.  I did not seek help before, during, or after my suicides.  And, actually, after one suicidal ideation episode, it was my ex who encouraged me to get help.  Well, threatened me more than encouraged me, but I did get help, so that is forgivable, I think.

But (it is always there, isn’t it?), nothing like that can last long.  Reality crashed the party, put cigarette butts in the fish tank, smeared cake on the ceiling, and set fire to the couch.

See, when she told me she was divorcing me, I went into an auto-pilot mode.  I agreed to things that are going to end up damaging my life further, I made poor decisions for my future, forgot to trust my instincts, and went into a numbed emotional state.  I don’t think anybody noticed because of the worst decision I made; I isolated from my family and friends.  No-one I was around for the next year actually knew me.

I could not afford either good insurance coverage, a therapist, nor my meds.  That last did not seem to be a real problem, because long before I ran out they stopped working.  And the only therapists I would have been able to go to, well, it would have been public assistance therapists, and they are way overworked.

The house of cards started falling apart.  First the meds stopped working, then a person I thought was a friend turned out not to be with a vengeance.  I hit a creative wall at a million miles per hour and now had no expressive outlet.  I lost my job and could not get another one.  My plans for Father’s Day a year ago got nuked with no warning, no negotiation.  I stayed alone in my apartment for days on end, money was running out, my lease was ending.  I had nothing to live for anymore.

I had no desire to live of my own and it seemed to me that no-one else had any constructive use for me either.  Everything was gone.  I had nothing, not even emptiness.  Not even oblivion.

and the evening and the morning were before…

June 16, 2010 Posted by | autobio, depression, suicide | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sailing

Note: there is a glossary of a few sailing terms if you need it. It is not highly technical, so if you are a sailor, please forgive slight inaccuracies.

When I was a boy, my father, a lawyer, had a client who declared bankruptcy. The man lost most of his assets, and his ability to pay my father. Eventually, they struck a deal whereby he would transfer his sailboat to Dad as the balance of his debt. For this, Dad christened the boat “Slophy”.

Initially, we did not sail often as the nearest place to sail was inconveniently far. Before long though, we moved and there was a lake close enough that we sailed more often. It was often enough to justify paying for a dock. That meant we did not have to keep putting the boat in and pulling it out of the water every-time we went.

I really liked sailing. Feeling the wind, the rush of water along the hull, even when the boat heeled over as we caught as much wind as we could and shot along at the speeds a small craft can attain. It was exhilarating.

I confess that what I enjoyed most were the easy day cruises. There would be time to watch the shore, watch the rippling of the water in the wind, watch the clouds scudding along, the birds flying, fish jumping. We would not be so hurried to make the next tack, the boat would not be heeling over quite so much or often. I could learn the feel of the sheets in my hands as the wind would catch in the sails.

My sister, though. She loved it, loved racing and cruising, and got to be very good. Then she graduated high-school, went off to college, and on to other things. Dad and I went out a few more times, but I was neither the sailor my sister was, nor interested in being. I did not enjoy racing, and was developing different interests. The sailboat languished and was eventually sold. We moved on to other things.

Until recently, the last time I went sailing was about 35 years ago. I have passed much water under the bridge since then. Sailing remained something interesting I had done, and the knowledge I acquired fitted into other pursuits. I remained interested in sailing craft of all types, but as a land-lubber, not a sailor.

Before, during, and after that time, the neuro-chemistry of depression had taken hold in me and was influencing my behaviour and thoughts. My life had taken various twists and turns, ups and downs. Although contiguous through time, experience had changed me from the teen I was.

I had attempted suicide several times, culminating a year after my ex announced she wanted a divorce in my being hospitalized. My sister took charge of me and got me to a safe haven where I can try and put my life, my heart, my mind back into some semblance of functionality in the world at large.

I had lost touch, to a degree, with her during my marriage. We became re-acquainted, renewing and confirming our bond, our trust. It developed that she had taken up sailing again. She has a boat, an Interlake (for those interested), and has become part of a local fleet, sailing as often as she can.

This was exciting to me. She was animated about her sailing and the fact that my niece is a natural sailor; she waxed lyrical about it as the saying goes. I was intrigued, stimulated by this. It struck a chord, memories of good times when she, Dad, and I would sail. I got excited by the idea of going sailing again.

So much so, in fact, that when we went to step the mast, I was almost as upset as her when we found one of the stays had frayed and was no longer safe; no sailing until that could be replaced. Two weeks, she finally got the new stays (they had to be ordered), and we went back to step the mast and sail for the first time in the season.

She, my niece, and I stepped the mast, readied the boat, got it in the water. This was going to be really cool. A nice shakedown sail to refresh my memory and skills. My niece got the rudder and tiller in place and lowered the centerboard.

My sister and I boarded the boat, and we set about raising the sails. We coasted gently from the dock, my sister and niece getting a feel for the wind and the sails. I was a little twitchy, not having been on a sailboat for all those years.

Then, we started sailing. Or rather, they started sailing. Within minutes of picking up speed – not even heeling the boat – nothing was right. I was hit by a very deep and pervasive panic.

Panting, quivering, jumping at the snap of the sails in the wind, I began trying to find ways off the boat. It got so bad, I let it take me. When I did, part of my brainthingy took over and put me into a pre-verbal, pre-rational mode

Instead of being irrational and jumping out of the boat (it would have been physically fine, I was wearing a life-vest), I cowered into the bottom of the boat by the centerboard. I put my weight where it would have the least effect on the boat and the boat’s motion would have the least effect on my perceptions. I kept my head down, my eyes away from the outside of the boat aside from occasional panic-scans of my environment.

My sister and niece were, of course, not oblivious. By the time I reached this state, we were sufficiently far enough down wind of the dock to make it a bit of a trip back. They tacked broadly into the wind, sacrificing the speed they could have gotten in order to keep the boat on as even a keel as possible.

As often as safely possible they would touch my shoulder to pat me and speak soothingly. It kept me from shattering, it allowed me to understand that they were getting me back to the shore as quickly as possible. It helped me to stay still and safe; it kept the irrational from taking over. It kept me from The Pit.

Once ashore, my sister helped me get under a tree; I collapsed there and let my mind go away. It took a while to become verbal again, not until we were well on our way back home in the car.

I have been thinking about this experience; examining it from every angle, in every mode I can. I still want to go sailing. I still want to feel the sheets as they tighten with the wind in the sails; the pull of the rudder on the tiller, the satisfaction of a smart tack into the wind, the agony of ‘being in irons’.

It is like so much in my life right now. I have lost so much in these last two years. Or, rather, I have realized how much I lost in the preceding years. How much I put on hold, or simply discarded, or let myself go blind to; somethings were better, but all too many of them got worse as my repressed depression got worse.

And why? Why? Because I convinced myself that I had to. Please note those words, I used them with care and deliberation. Because I convinced myself that I had to in order to be happy. I gave up what made me me. I felt that in order to keep the love of my ex-wife, I had to change.

I had forgotten that if someone does not love you for who you are, not who you were or could be, but who you are, then they do not love you. At best they love a shadow of you, but usually they are just fooling themselves and condemning the both of you to a dismal time, a misery. There is a corollary to that, as well: if you don’t love yourself for who you are, again, not who you could be or were, then you don’t love yourself, and you won’t truly love someone else.

My sister, her partner, and my niece accept me, love me for who I am. My sister and niece were upset that I was upset, not that they had to cut the sailing short. I accept them, I love them for who they are. The trust I have in them was strengthened, not lessened, by this experience. In deed, part of the reason I was able to cope is because I trust my sister, her partner, my niece; this merely demonstrated the worthiness of that trust. If only I could trust myself to that degree again.

When you sail, you sail in the now. You sail accepting that the wind will do as it will; you cannot change the wind, it will change of itself. You may be able to anticipate – really good sailors can – but must work with the wind in flux. You must accept the wind, just as you must accept people for who they are, not as you wish them to be.

Glossary:

Step, stepping: putting the mast up after storing the boat for the winter with it down.

Heeling: this is when the boat looks like it is about to fall over and drown every one on board. It usually does not. It happens when you are trying to sail in the direction the wind is blowing from. See Tack.

Mast: the big pole sticking up that holds the sails.

Stay: a cable or rope that helps to hold and stabilize the mast so that it does not fall off or over.

Sheet: a rope that is attached to the sail, used to control it.

Tack, Tacking: sometimes you want to go in the direction the wind is blowing from, or ‘into the wind’. You do this by turning from side to side not quite into the wind. This is also when you usually heel. The closer into the wind you are, the faster you go and the farther you heel. Broader means you go slower, and usually don’t heel as much.

Centerboard: a board that sticks down from the center of the boat, a miniature keel. It helps to stablize the boat when you heel, among other things.

Tiller, Rudder: this dynamic duo is how you steer the boat. The rudder sticks down in the water, and the tiller is the handle for moving the rudder.

In irons: term for when the wind is no longer blowing into the sails, which means you aren’t going anywhere. Now that makes sense.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | autobio, depression, love, recovery, sailing, suicide, trust | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ninth Circle

OK, this is more or less stream of consciousness.  I have put the Seven Day project on hold indefinitely.  I have too much to work through before it can come to fruition.

Suicide is still something I live with everyday.  Memories are triggered by the smallest things and I cannot seem to break or re-channel the cycles.  It is worse, because I cannot stop thinking about either of two women; my ex and “Babycat”.

I am torn between the past and the future; my present has been one of limbo and looks to remain that way for awhile.  Ideas form, plans start, then a crush of painful, blighted memory and Sisyphian hope traps me, sapping my will, my strength, my spirit.  Only when I draw, or write, or create my digital works, or paint do I have anything resembling relief.

I think I have given up trying for happiness.  And forget about love.  I can no longer contemplate inflicting my life, my self like that upon another person.  I yearn for it, burn for it, need it so badly.  The unconditional sharing and commitment entwining two souls into one.  But, having felt it once, or at least thinking I had, having fooled myself that I shared that way with another, I no longer trust it, no longer trust myself.

And to my ex, NO!  This is MY fault, not yours.  If you think I am blaming you, well that’s your problem, not mine; so keep it to yourself, please.  I am the one who did not question my relationship to you sufficiently.  If I had then I would divorced you before we had been married two year.  Of course, then our son would not have been born.  *sigh*  It truly is an ill wind that blows no good.

What it comes down to is that while I am precluded from completing suicide, I have no real reason to live.  Desire to?  Yes, inasmuch as I have a fair survival instinct.

As much as I want to, as much as my instincts tell me to trust in Babycat, I can’t permit myself to reach out that way.  I started to, I started to come out of The Pit.
I began to reach out, knowing that the least that would happen would be the gaining of a new friend.  Which did happen; I am profoundly grateful.

There is always a ‘But’, right?  One comment and I cracked.  I had no defense, no sense of self worth sufficient unto the day.  I failed, spiraling down again.  Down into The Pit, into the Ninth Circle.  Frozen in my betrayal of Self, glimpsing past Lucifer to reflections of Heaven’s Gates.

How do I forgive myself?  I cannot get past my subversion of self-preservation, my instincts screaming at me to flee a bad choice in marriage partner, my failure to recognize the worst threat to my Self: myself.

One of my people, the Bear people, was sitting on a rock in the hills after a particularly satisfying round of mating followed by berry-eating.  The sun was warm, the breeze just cool enough, and he slept.

He dreamt of his otherself; the cabin, the family, the days of toil and the nights of rest, the times of joy, anger, contentment, and sorrow.  As he dreamt, a branch snapped loudly by his ear.  He awoke, startled and afraid.  He reacted to protect himself and clawed out at the shape that loomed in his eyes.  He roared his pain and fear, smelt the blood, and felt his Self leak away into nothingness.

His life ended then.  He still ate, slept, shat, toiled and rested, but it was meaningless.  There was no more contentment, anger, sorrow, or joy. His home was empty, his days and nights an endless endurance of pointless activities.

I don’t wish to die, but I have no true hold on this life anymore.  It has leaked away into nothingness.  I fear knowing it will always be so and fear hoping it won’t.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , | Leave a comment

The Pit

In every clincal depressive’s life there are many people who don’t ‘get it’. In fact most people don’t ‘get it’. They don’t get that clinical depression in not something you get over, that is cured. They don’t get that we don’t really like to stay in bed all day, that we don’t want to be uninterested in life, unable to be happy.

It has taken me a long time to understand that the person I adored, that I was constantly sacrificing my own ambitions and needs for, was the person who did not ‘get it’ most. This was my ex-wife, who suffering from anxiety and panic disorder had me on call 24/7/365(6 in leap years) to the point where three employers threatened to write me up for excessive personal phone time. I did it then, and would still do it (well, I would if I knew I would not get abuse), because I know what it is to be afraid.

She was, and still is, the one who denigrated every aspiration I have ever had or have. She is the one who puts me down saying that all I ever do is play the blame game and tell the poor, poor me tale. Even after I had been diagnosed with depression and started treatment for it while we were married, she kept that up. She still does it to this day.

I’m telling this now, for admittedly two reasons. One is that On 12/14/09, she felt the need to denigrate my attempts at healing, and at reaching out to others to heal. The other reason is infinitely more important and salient to this blog.

Her recent denigration has prompted me to write about those who don’t ‘get it’, who refuse to ‘get it’, and those who do but want to keep us down to bolster their own egos, the ones who are afraid of facing the reality of depression or of their own feelings of inferiority and vulnerability.

We have those people, for some of us it seems that is all we have. That those are the only people in our lives. I know of one depressive woman whose husband has cut her off from virtually every source of support she had, and who has told relatives, friends, and neighbors that the reason she does not leave the house is that she is sick, physically. The one person she turned to who ‘got it’ she is forbidden to contact. After her suicide attempt, he forced her into a group program (where I met her) but still keeps her cut off.

My ex does not know, and will probably deny, that I attempted suicide several times during our marriage. Until recently, I had blocked memory of some of those attempts. It was only a remark made in depression derived anger that prompted us to get me to a therapist, and even then, she was not part of therapy except in a negative sense. In truth, I think she was more concerned about me behaving in a manner detrimental to her career more than concerned for me that prompted her meagre support.

And this is all part of The Pit. The worst part, for me at least. To be committed to a person who not only does not ‘get it’, but uses our depression against us or who assigns our depression the role of a burden they have to carry.

And to pile on top of that, our culture places a severe stigma on depressives, especially those who have attempted suicide. This makes it even easier for the oh-so burdened people in our lives to put themselves in a martyr’s position, as my ex-wife has done.

You know what I have to say to that? Bollocks! If this supposed loved one willfully does not ‘get it’, then they are showing a lack of love, compassion, and empathy; they are showing their own weakness and refusal to face that weakness.

Please do not confuse this with an honest non-comprehension of your situation. Some people really just don’t get it, even after they have been given all the information. This is not their fault, and the two of you can find a way for them to be supportive. Having them talk to your psychiatrist or therapist may help. They may still not ‘get it’, but at least they will be able to help you, or at least not do something to hold you back.

The one thing we depressives really need from those we love is patience. Getting to a stable point, getting to the place where no longer need to hide in our beds, where we can have fun and be interested in life, where we no longer want to die takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It is not an overnight recovery, and – I’ll say it again and keep repeating it – there is no cure. We may relapse, or start spiralling down again. Something small, seemingly inconsequential may trigger it. It may just be that that small thing is what breaks the camel’s back and we are actually overwhelmed by a bunch of things that we seemed to be handling well. The camel keeps moving until its back is broken, friends.

Patience is something those who willfully don’t ‘get it’ lack. Because of their denial of the reality of the situation, they want us to be cured right now with a miracle cure. Many think that because we are taking our celexa, sertraline, effexor, or whatever SSRI or MAOI we are taking that we are now cured. They don’t understand why we haven’t just jumped out of bed and are doing their bidding again overnight. Patience. We want to, we really do. We want to want to take walks, to go out and eat, to visit friends, family, museums, to laugh and cry with everyone else.

But we still need time. We still need for the meds to take affect, to make sure they are the right meds. We need to talk to our therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. We need to look at how we think, the downward cyclic habits of thought that our neuro-chemical imbalance have induced and how to break out of those patterns. Sometimes we need to identify the negative influences on us and find ways of turning them positive; failing that we need to know how to neutralize them.
So I end this portion of the blog with some heartfelt gratitude. I want to sincerely thank my ex-wife for divorcing me, finally. I am grateful that one of us was able to own up to our marriage being a grave mistake. I am, in a sense, grateful that she has seen fit to try and keep re-opening old wounds since the divorce. And I would be “forever” grateful for her to stay divorced from me and my life, if only she can find the strength to do so. Goodbye to someone who does not ‘get it’.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , | Leave a comment

thoughts, not a day

Today marks a new phase for me on writing this blog, this test draft. I received feedback from someone who has been touched by the effects of suicide. It was very validating feedback even though the events were mixed. One completed suicide, one mercifully uncompleted.
Please note, there are no successful or unsuccessful suicides, only dead people and survivors. There are the people who kill themselves There are the people who do not, for whatever reason, complete the act of killing themselves and end up having to live with that. There are the people who have to live with loss or near loss of a loved one.
If you read the rest of this blog, this draft, you will find that I consider myself to be in all three categories. I have lost people dear to me to suicide, I have survived a number of suicide attempts, and in some senses I have actually killed myself. At some point, I may talk about that last further.
I am not expecting anything from life anymore except to have opportunities. To have the chance to do what I must, need, and desire to do. As an artist the opportunity that means the most to me is to touch another life, soul, person. I am hoping, as it did with the feedback that prompted this posting, that my efforts will be beneficial in some way. That I will leave the world at least a little better for my efforts.
These posts bare my soul, my thoughts, my vulnerabilities, my strengths. I am a phoenix now, re-birthing my self from the ashes of a dead life. I have clinical depression, and always will. I am always on guard, vigilant that depression does not consume me again. But I am still the phoenix.
My days are not always good. My days are not always bad. I have stretches when things go well emotionally, and I have stretches when just getting out of bed seems not worth the effort. I have a woman I am building a relationship with; she is fully aware of my situation, as I am of hers. Her situation is not for airing here though.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , | Leave a comment

remembering to create: Day Six

DISCLAIMER: The statistics and research quoted here were gleaned from a number of reputable websites dealing with depression and suicide.  These quotes are intended to give an idea, a scientific sense of an emotional dis-ease, not to make concrete assertions about depression and recovery.

A quick survey of websites shows that anywhere from 14 to 19 million people, a range of 6.5 to 9.5% of the adult United States population suffers from major depression, the majority of whom are women.  The 1999 White House Conference on Mental Health found that at least two-thirds of the reported 30000 suicides per year are due to depression, roughly the same ration of sufferers do not seek treatment or help.  It is also reported that for every two homicides, there are three suicides.

When I started writing this, I had some thought of a mainstream success story.  An idea that I could be cured, or would be better.  This, however, is not a story like that.  This is a narrative of dealing with clinical depression.  Clinical depression does not go away, it is not curable, it does not fade into a happy ever after ending.

The basis of clinical depression lies within the serotonin cycle of the brain; it is rooted in the mechanics of neurochemistry.  Cycling serotonin through the system too quickly throws mood regulation, and other brain functions, off balance, triggering a cascade of adverse effects including depression.  The functioning of the cycle is “set” by the interplay of various genes.  We carry these genes, they set our biochemical cycles, and usually, we are more or less fine.

But when the genes interact in certain ways and we are stressed emotionally by our environment, our mood may swing too far into a depressive trend and we do not think about things as optimistically as a situation may warrant.  In most cases, when the environmental stress is relieved, our mood lightens and thinking returns to an optimum.  This is situational depression and may include the holiday blues.

Sometimes, however, our mood does not lighten when the stress is relieved.  We continue to think the worst, and to spiral further and further into depression.  We cannot escape feeling that nothing will get better.  This situation which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and problems mount up.  This is clinical depression, an insidious condition that debilitates millions.  In some, as it did with me, this downward spiral continues until death becomes an attractive option; suicide is attempted and sometimes achieved.

My dreams were a muddle of colors and shapes.  Nothing stayed still, and I could not capture it all.  My roommate had left the day before.  Things were changing, and I had to move with them.  I felt the urge to draw, to paint, to hop on my computer and create a new world.

I was glad to wake up, and was actually looking forward to the day.  Breakfast was good, I talked and ate with a new feeling of life.  In the corner of my mind’s eye, however, I could see the shadow of depression waiting, biding its time; looking for a chance to insidiously insinuate itself into my psyche again.

I had to hold it at bay, to find a way I could experience a day without shadows of depression.

I let myself eat, let myself enjoy my food as much as I could.  I could not hold the conversations to my mind so they drifted about like hyperactive butterflies.  I know I spoke, but of what?  I know I listened, but what did I hear?

All the life, light, and words around me were just so much fuzz.  I was at the helm of the S.S. Minnow, fighting a calm, confusing sea of re-, de-, im-, com-, ex-, and su-  pressions.  A three hour tour and I had no coconuts to make a radio with.  *sigh*

Group sessions were not really more of the same, though an outsider might not have perceived that.  We talked of things we had talked about before, but the players changed, perspectives changed, ideas changed.  Moods swung in different ways as we chased our shadows along less trodden paths.

I don’t know when clarity came.  She came in through the bathroom window and sat next to us as we talked, as we learned about our meds, about safety plans, about what life can be like.  She held my hand as I sat there, the words washing over and through me.

No epiphany, no satori, no ‘aha’.  She just crept in and was there all along like a cat sleeping after the lamp broke.  I was going to be depressive all my life.  I am going to be depressive all my life.  I will never be cured.  I can learn to encompass, to hand, to manage my depression.  There is NO cure.

But, there is life, there is hope, there is a course to hold to, a series of lighthouses to help avoid the rocks and reefs, and there are people.  People who will be a life preserver, people who are a life line, and people who “get it” as no-one else can.  They are everywhere.  Some may be family or friends, some may be but a stranger passed on the street, some we may never meet or ever be aware of.

We may not have any family or friends who “get it”.  But we can have each other.  Many of us have our hands out for each other.  We are the walking wounded who will support you, who know that moment when it all stops.  We know The Pit, the Shadow, the Lord of Despair, the cowering Lord of Self-Loathing, the Lord of Autothanatic Urges, the Lord of Depression.

The meds do not cure us; they allow the chance to live with depression.  It is possible to be sad, angry, even indifferent without it withering our life and drying up beauty.  And when we reach out, we can help each other on our climb out of the pit to breathe fresh air.

And evening and morning were the sixth day.

December 3, 2009 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , | Leave a comment

remembering to create: day four

I was getting tired of waking up. Nothing was right, my brain was not mine. All of this was just too much. Much too much. The walk down the hall, the vitals being taken, breakfast. It all blurred in my head like bad mustard and ketchup, not making any sense but just being dealt with.

I could not stop thinking about what others were talking about. I kept focusing on them so I would not have to deal with the harsh realities of my subjective truths. I talked for them so I would not hear myself. I cracked jokes, made pithy comments, shared my insights, anything to stop hearing the screaming in my own head. The scream of the mother outside of the building where her children are being burned to death. The man in the apartment building across the way who was torturing himself with guilt because he wanted his 23 year old son’s girlfriend. The man who was starving and just wanted anything to eat, so desperate he got his gun out and thought about bread and how no one had to get hurt. The girl with blood running down her thighs, crying, hoping, alone and hurt.

Focus on the moment, they tell me. Be mindful of the present. Hic et nunc. I had no present, I had no place. Home was gone, washed away by the winter winds of a Kansas summer. Brooklyn had come and gone, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Indiana, Virginia; all gone, destroyed with one word, never to be seen or heard or felt again. I could not die, but neither could I live. Stuck, like Muhammad’s coffin, but without the Grace of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate.

The day passed in a random series of events. Nothing meaningful, or not meaningful. I was a pinball in the machine, being flipped and bounced around. Playing pool (boing), outside (flip), another session (ting, ting, ting!), lunch (bounce between three bumpers until suddenly getting flipped back to the springshooter), going outside (ta-ching, bing-boing), just racking up points for some scoreboard until I rocketed between the exit bumpers and found myself sitting with everyone else in two groups of chairs facing each other across a string strung from one side of the room to the other about head height.

After discussing team names, we played balloon volleyball. No butts out of the chairs, if a balloon went under the ‘net’ it was a point unless the team it was travelling towards touched it – then it was still in play. We kept at it, bouncing the balloon, smacking it for ‘spikes’. It seemed to me that the ones who had the most emotional trouble were actually the ones with the best ability. Ophelia made many saves and was very good at getting the balloon to the strongest players on her team.
The team I was on won. But our victory was not a victory against, but for. I did not feel the need to “lord it over” the players on the other team. I think I would have been just as happy… strange, to think of being happy… anyway, just as happy as if they had won.

Then it all came back. The pain, the loneliness, the fear, the loss, despair. Depression reared up within me, claiming my life, my happiness, my achievements. I had to cry, I could not cry. I could not be happy, I had to be depressed. The fog rolled in and covered me in a blanket of nothingness, seeking to cut me off from myself.
Chains enveloped me, strangled my heart, my soul, my toes. Everything shattered into a million, billion, trillion, quadrillion, googleplex shards of whole grain soup and wilted lettuce. People began to run backwards into the futures, seeing what has been, not what will be. The carpet ran up my legs and swallowed air from a thousand days of mad sanity. The voices cried, died, sighed.
Food was on the fork nearing my mouth. Lasagna. It was okay, I was no longer running. I ate, I responded to others’ queries, statements, interjections. I could no longer hold back what I thought. I said things, I do not know what. People smiled though.

Fire and wind, pills and pain. I watched TV with the others and thought of chicken enchiladas. We played chess, my roommate, the non-poseur Christian, the Elvis Costello man, and I.
Why can we not believe in ourselves? We can so easily believe in others, but not ourselves. I won each time, not victories of defeating my opponents, but an exchange of thought, of process, of communicating existence.

And evening and morning were the fourth day…

September 23, 2009 Posted by | autobio, depression, recovery, suicide | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hello world, again…

I have survived, I have been reborn, I have been rescued by my Mother, my sister, and my two best friends.  Ophelia gave me back the seed of my soul.  A Mental Health Hold ward was my womb.  I am learning to walk among humans again, I am remembering what it is to live, laugh, and maybe love without reservation.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | autobio | , , | Leave a comment