Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Depression Is...

Depression varies from person to person. It varies in severity and how the symptoms manifest. It varies in frequency and length. It varies from one bout to the next, even within the same person. So I can't tell you what depression is to everyone, all the time. But I can tell you what it is to me.

Depression is not seeing a reason to get out of bed.

Depression is crying all the time, even when you don't know "why".

Depression is feeling worthless and hopeless.

Depression is feeling like you are never enough.

Depression is feeling unable to enjoy even the most joy-filled ocassions.

Depression is feeling like you are going to be emotionally torn apart.

Depression is feeling constantly overwhelmed.

Depression is not being able to feel anything at all.

Depression is feeling hollow and empty.

Depression is feeling isolated and alone.

Depression is feeling like nobody understands you.

Depression is physically, mentally, and emotionally painful.

Depression is complete exhaustion all of the time.

Depression is putting on the mask and hiding behind a smile.

Depression is wanting to disappear.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why I'm Making A Concerted Effort For More Off-Screen Time

I realize the irony, writing a blog about how I'm going to be on my computer less. But I promise this is during my scheduled "screen time" (explained below).

First, let me say that I do value the convenience of the screen and the internet and the connectivity it gives us. I have friends half a world away, and it allows us to communicate without phone bills that ranges in the hundreds (also it allows me to not have to talk on the phone). So I'm not one of those "these kids these days and their Facebook" people. Not by a long stretch. But I have been noticing something. The more time I spend on the screen, the more I see the following effects:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Inability to focus
  • Neck/shoulder pain (from being hunched over some sort of electronic device, I presume)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety/anger/frustration numerous other emotions that are triggered by posts/emails/etc
  • Exhaustion
  • Missing what's going on around me
  • Lack of connectivity with people (ironically)
  • Weight gain (yeah, not kidding, I'll attempt to explain this one)
  • The inability to not be on the screen in some form

    Now, many of these are part and parcel to my illnesses in some form. I have suffered from migraines as long as I can remember. I have MECFS so am often exhausted. I suffer from anxiety and a mood cycling disorder, so feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, and anxious is basically a daily occurrence. But I do feel that these are being enhanced by screen time - and to clarify, by screen time I mean anything that involves a screen, which includes social media, emails as two of the big "offenders", so to speak. I'm going to address these one by one, to try to explain as well as possible. 
    • Headaches/Migraines: First off, it's pretty common knowledge that staring at a screen for hours can cause headaches. To be honest staring at anything nonstop for hours probably would cause a headache. If a migraine is coming on, the light and the fine-tune focus of staring at words on a screen don't help alleviate it. 
    • Inability to focus: my senses are super sensitive to stimulation, so with numerous email accounts and social media accounts, jumping back and forth trying to give the right amount of time to everything is too much. It's like standing in the middle of Times Square on a Saturday night with every sound and light surrounding you, and having to focus on one particular thing. Eventually my brain gets overloaded and I can't focus on anything. 
    • Neck/shoulder pain: sitting in a chair all day is tough enough. So hunching over a computer at work all day, then going home to sit on the couch or in the car or wherever and hunch over my phone exacerbates it. This also doesn't help the headaches, by the way. 
    • Feeling overwhelmed: as I mentioned in "in-ability to focus" sometimes it all gets too much. It builds up, and I feel like I have to not only be continually checking everything that could possibly come through my screen, but understanding and responding to it. After a while, it becomes a blur and builds up and I break down. 
    • Anxiety/Anger/Frustration/emotion: You can only read so many emails and posts about everything that needed to be done yesterday and every disaster and everyone's differing opinions and everyone arguing about those differing opinions and everyone being angry at some person or group before you implode. Or at least that's the case for me. For someone who feels these emotions in such a raw, truly empathetic way, even when they aren't directed at me, it's too much. I start to break down. 
    • Exhaustion: All of the above - the overwhelmed, the inability to focus the emotion is draining. So is sitting staring a screen instead of moving. The whole inertia thing. Now sometimes, when I'm really battling illness, I need to sit back and relax an watch mindless tv. But I still don't need to be checking email every five minutes. In fact, then I especially don't need to be checking email every five minutes. 
    • Missing what's going on around me. This is pretty obvious. Looking intently at screen = not looking intently at surroundings. My brain tends to focus so fully on something to block out all of the other stimuli, which will otherwise distract me, that there are times where people have come up and been talking to me for five minutes before I actually hear them. Not because I'm intentionally not listening. But because in order for me to focus I need to block out everything else. That means you too. 
    • Lack of connectivity with people. See above. Missing real life conversations to read emails. Also, thinking 'I'll just message this person on Facebook to see how they are" instead of saying, "hey want to grab a coffee and catch up?" when they live two blocks away. It's way easier to type "we need to get together soon" than actually make the effort to do so. Times when I'm flaring up, it's helpful to have different ways of communicating. But for people nearby, I hate when I feel online replacing actually seeing them, when we're both up to it. 
    • Weight gain: While I'm sitting on email (not at work)/social media/whatever other screen, I could be doing something, anything, that didn't involve me sitting not moving for an hour or more. The ease of "experiencing" everything from my screen means I move less. Thus, weight gain. Again, when I'm especially ill, sometimes I just need to appreciate the connectivity and deal with the weight gain. But when I'm not, there's no need to be just looking at a friend's pictures of a hike or a visit to the local market or whatever it is, when I could actually be doing it myself. 
    • Inability to not be on the screen. To me, this may be the worst. It's become my go-to instinct to check my phone when there's literally any spare moment. No need to soak in my surroundings, or talk to someone near me or do something creative or just enjoy being silent for a moment. My phone is always there and waiting for me, even if I've just looked at it five minutes before. 
    To be clear, I'm not bashing email or social media or any other screen-related activity. There are a lot of areas in which it makes life easier, especially with a chronic illness where face to face isn't always a possibility, or when anxiety makes it too difficult to be around people. Plus, in theory, you can think about an email or post, and reply when you've formulated a good, clear response, instead of being caught off-guard as you might be on the phone or in-person. But that's if you can wait to reply, and I'm finding it more expected, by others and myself, that we get instant replies. There are days when I miss the old rotary phone on the wall (besides the talking on the phone part), where if you weren't home, someone just had to reach you at another time. You didn't have to feel guilty not being available 24/7. It was assumed you didn't sit by the phone all day every day waiting in case someone happened to call. And I think that is the key. It's nice to have the option to be on the screen, to connect with people electronically. But it shouldn't be compulsory, all the time, nonstop. We shouldn't have to feel guilty about spending time with friends and family, or even by ourselves, instead of being online, especially the evenings, weekends, holidays. It's funny, how so many people in my age group talk wistfully about the days when kids played outside instead of on their phones and ipads, and yet we ourselves often feel the urge to be connected nonstop. Quite frankly, I probably could benefit from playing outside more myself! 

    So I'm working on changing this for myself. I'll be checking emails and social media in chunks of time (especially when I'm not actually at the office, checking office email). I will have specific times devoted to each area that requires my electronic attention. And people understand that in any truly urgent/emergent situation, they can text me, or call me if absolutely necessary. Aside from these instances, the world will not stop if I don't check email for a couple of hours, or longer on the weekends/evenings, an that's reassuring. I'd never want to be in such a position that it did.  

    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    It's Not That I Don't Want to See You (On Being an Introvert)

    I'm an introvert. An INFJ, to be specific. One percent of the population, or something like that. We often get mistaken for extroverts, but we absolutely aren't. We're considered the "counselors" of the world because we're good at helping others - which I suppose appears to the outside world as liking to be around others frequently. But the two can be, and often are, mutually exclusive.  We're generally good with one on one interactions, as long as we have the chance to replenish our introvert stores. But the world tends to work on the motto of "If 1 is good, 2 is better, and 10 is great." This is the bane of the introvert's existence, unless you're referring to books. If you're not of the introvert personality type and ever feel put off or ignored or simply totally confused by those of us that are, here are some important points.
    • It's not that I don't want to spend time with you. It's that I don't want to spend time with the other three people you chose to invite who I barely know, when I needed a one on one get together. 
    • It's not that I don't want to talk to you. It's that I don't want to talk about the weather, or other pleasantries. I abhor small talk. It seems so....meaningless. Conversation, yes. Joking and banter, yes. Small talk, no. 
    • It's not that I don't want to see you. It's that I don't want to see anyone. I need to replenish my stores so that I can interact with people again. Social interaction is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. I need to hibernate after a while. 
    • It's not that I don't like people. It's that I truly value my alone time, my solitary time, my inward time. I crave it. I like people in a one on one setting when we can talk about real topics.  I have some incredibly close friends. I just don't have a wide circle, and I'm 100 percent fine with that.
    • To you it's an awkward silence. To me it's time to reflect, or to comfortably hang out without having to talk. It's simply enjoying our mutual presence. Also, I may well be writing a short story in my head. That happens to. My apologies on that one - my brain works in odd ways at times. I don't think that's really an introvert thing. That's more of a Maya thing. 
    • It's not that I can't be around people. You may see me in crowds at a concert or festival and wonder why I can do that, but not hang out with you and your three friends. The answer is simple - one is a crowd, the other is a group. A crowd doesn't require interaction. A group does. In a crowd I can be off in my own little world. In a group I'm expected to participate. And trust me, crowds drain me too. But since I'm able to put a social bubble around myself there and just do me, I can last a little longer. 
    • It's not that I'd rather spend time with dogs than most people. Well, actually, it is. 

    Friday, August 25, 2017

    Antsy Pantsy

    I'm antsy today. Terribly antsy. I'm "working from home", and so far all I've gotten done is a couple of organizational emails, getting my tire plugged at the auto shop, and starting some laundry. I have an appointment with my florist later today, so there's that. It's not that I don't have things to do. I really want to be able to work on these new ideas I have. But I'm at a standstill. Ironic, being antsy in a standstill. I can't focus, can't sit here and concentrate. I feel the need to be outside, moving, not sitting inside at a computer - even if it is at home, with the blinds up and a nice amount of sun streaming in.

    I am on my fourth dose of caffeine - three cups of coffee and Diet Dr. Pepper (my current dose). Naturally, you're probably thinking "It's not even noon. If you're so antsy, stop with the frickin' caffeine." But honestly, it helps me. Part is my need for morning caffeine. I usually have at least two cups of coffee. Then I waited in a nearby coffee shop while I got my car worked on, hence cup 3. Now, I got a Diet Dr. Pepper because for some reason, it often helps me work - a hold over from college and grad school, in which I always had one by my side while working on papers and the like. It's like a prop that must be on a set for the scene to occur. In fact, it got me writing this, which is progress - writing feels like the only thing I'm capable of doing today that's even remotely close to work.

    I think it's in part due to sitting at a desk much of the week. I'm a restless spirit by nature, and I tend to be mobile when I can be, despite my chronic fatigue. Moving feeds my creativity, my emotions, my heart, my soul, and my brain. There's also the fact that my condition causes about 200 thoughts going through my brain at the same time, which means that I have trouble actually focusing on one or a few.  This can make one antsy.  Not to mention I'm in the mood in which I feel I need to take action. I've spent a good number hours/days/weeks/even months pooling together ideas - some of which are more pooled together than others - and trying to organize them in some fashion. After a while, my brain gets done, more or less, with that... organization can only go so far without action, and after a point it feels a bit, well, pointless. Like you're going around in circles with all of these ideas that so far have not come close to coming to fruition because really, you haven't even started. Not to say that brainstorming and planning isn't an important step, because it absolutely is. But unless where you're stuck is what you want to do in the first place, it only gets you so far.  So now I have all of this restless energy, needing to take action at... something. Anything. Not even towards these goals per se, though obviously that would be nice. Just not to feel like I'm sitting here physically doing nothing.

    But now, I'm stuck. I have the ideas, but nothing seems to be working in moving them forward. Not trying to do the research and get the information for starting by myself. Not reaching out to ask others for suggestions. Nothing. It feels like an eternal waiting game. And it's downright uninspiring and to be honest, tends to start dropping me towards depression. When you have all these great ideas and you get started and you try to get the info and you reach out and you get nothing, crickets, it feels like you'll never succeed.

    So that's where I am today. Antsy, frustrated yet energized, needing do anything but sit behind a computer, ironically. And yet knowing that if I just do something to get rid of the energy, I'll feel like I wasted a good day off of work not putting my ideas into actions. It's a mental tug of war, really. And there's not too much of a point to this post, to be honest, except to get it out of my system, try to explain how I am feeling, and let others know that if they feel this way ever, they're in good company... or at least company. Maybe that's at least a start. 

    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Dear Friends, I'm Sorry For Disappearing

    Dear Friends,
    I'm sorry for disappearing on you. I know I haven't seen you in ages. Too long. And I miss you. A lot. Please don't think otherwise. I know I've probably missed your girl's night out, or your child's birthday party. I know you've invited me, and it probably looks like I'm blowing it off.  I'm not, I promise. It pains me to miss them. It hurts my heart. Not because I love going to these specific activities per se, but because I feel like a terrible friend. And because I miss you, and I was really hoping that this time, I could manage it. You are a valuable part of my life - I don't keep a large number of people close, so you must be.

    But I have an illness. Several, actually. And lately they've been rearing their ugly heads, so to speak. If you're close to me, which you are, you know I battle a mood cycling disorder, complete with hypomania, depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. There are times that getting out of bed is physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. There are times, many, most in fact, that being in a group of people - not a crowd, where I can disappear, but a group where I'm supposed to interact - is terrifying. I'm not exaggerating. It's not that I don't prefer it, but that it's terrifying. I've been crying constantly, and I've learned the hard way that the anxiety that will occur if I force myself to go will have a disastrous impact on my mental health. And the few times I've almost managed to convince myself that it will be OK, depression convinces me that nobody really wants me there, that I'll be an outsider, that I'll embarrass myself by breaking down and crying or tells me some other lie, I realize too late, that makes me crawl back in my little corner and hide.

    Lately, it hasn't been only group interactions, either. It's felt like all I want to do is hide and cry, or turn into myself and think quietly, read or write. And because I don't want us to get together, even one on one, and me to turn into a blubbering mess, I avoid seeing you. And besides I know that most of the time people try to make me feel better, it only makes me feel worse, for not being able to. Most recently, I've been experiencing terrible depression about being depressed. I barely recognize myself many times. Me, who used to be full of optimism and positivity, with an easy smile. And I feel like I'm mourning the self that I feel that I've lost. So I promise, it truly isn't you, it's me.

    So I'm sorry that I've disappeared. And I know it's a big ask, but please, don't stop trying. Keep inviting me. But also, maybe we can start by taking things at my speed? Would you be able to come to me, for coffee perhaps? If I'm nearby, one on one, and I start to falter, it's easier for me to get home, into my safe zone. Or maybe we can FaceTime to catch up. I know it's not the same, but it's something right? More personalized a bit, and I get to actually see you. It's a start.

    I also ask you, please, do not assume anything, especially from my social media. Yes, you may see me check in somewhere, or a picture of me out somewhere. I have a cycling disorder. Which means that by nature, I have ups and downs. Perhaps I was having a good hour, or day, or even weekend. I could have even been having a good week. It doesn't mean I'm "better". It means I was have a good hour or day or weekend or week. And if the next hour or day or weekend or week, I am not well and cannot see you, I'm not being dishonest. That hour or day or weekend could have been all I had in me. I could have given it a try, and become so mentally and emotionally exhausted that all I can do is lie in bed. Maybe I could only go because I was with my ever-understanding fiance, and I knew that if I had to suddenly clutch his arm and say "we need to go" because it got too much, if I was about to break down, I could. I was only able to go with that safety net. So please, don't assume.

    I miss you all. And I'm hoping that with the right combination of therapy, meds, life adjustments, and time, I may get back to at least having the ability to be my happy, less anxious, less fearful self. I'll never be cured - my illness doesn't work that way. But I'll take at least a little movement in the happier direction. 

    Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    When Did Being Busy Become an Excuse?

    There are some unspoken norms in our society. When someone (that you aren't super close with), asks how you are, you say something like "Fine, OK, good." You don't usually tell your coworker or the barista at the coffee shop, "Well this bought of depression is really rough and man, my IBD these last few weeks, whew!" Because we probably figure that "How are you" from this person is more or less obligatory, and that they don't actually want to know the details on how you're doing.  This frustrates me, INFJ and small-talk-avoider that I am, but I have come to learn that it's how society operates.

    But there is this societal trend, expectation really, that I just cringe at, and cannot seem to get behind: Busy. Everyone's busy. I don't think people even know what they're busy with some days. But that's what they are. "How are you?" "Fine. Busy." I've even found myself doing it at times, and it makes me angry with myself. But I'm an awkward small talker so I usually just put on the mask and throw out things people expect to hear - I'm fine and I'm busy.

    But the problem with everyone being so busy is that we don't seem to examine it closely.  We don't sit down and think "What am I so busy with, and is that really what matters most to me?".  As long as we're busy, we are covered. Can't make that important event? It's OK, you were busy. Forget a friend's birthday? Well, you've been so busy. Have to change plans on someone when they were really counting on them? They'll understand, you're busy.  Not get to do something you promised someone. They'll understand for the 1st or 100th time, because you were busy. And rarely will someone question it. Rarely, it seems, do we ask captain busy-pants exactly why these things that they're busy with are more important than that family event, the birthday, plans that we were counting on, their word or promise that they gave you.

    But when you battle illness every day, you sometimes have to ask yourself that. Is xyz more important than my health? Can I physically or mentally or emotionally manage to get through this relatively unscathed, or is it going to really put me out of commission? If I do x, will have the energy/strength/health to do y, which means more to me? I often have to prioritize the things that are the most important to me, and I have to live by that. What things matter most to me?

    • Family and loved ones (this includes four-pawed loved ones)
    • My health and sanity, because if I don't have these I can't be there for family and loved ones. 
    • Friends
    • Helping others, through my advocacy efforts and just in general
    • Work to a lesser extent, in the "I need my job because I am not independently wealthy" kind of way. 
    Notice a few things here: there's not a 'thing' on this list. Nor is money on this list. Work is on this list, but it's the bottom of the list - not because I don't value my job but because my work won't be holding my hand on my deathbed, and because if I don't have my health and sanity, I cannot work. Yes, there are things we need money for:  food, a roof over our heads, paying our bills, clothing. And wanting some money for livelihood, I understand. But why are we so busy working to make money for things we can't enjoy because we're so busy working?  Wouldn't your family rather see you and have a less expensive TV or car ,than have a top of the line TV or car and never see you? If not, well, time to examine why that's the case. 

    Being busy is understandable. But it isn't  some omnipotent reason that doesn't need to be further specified. If you're using it this way, it's become an excuse. You have to be busy with something, and the way you spend your time, what you're so busy with, shows your priorities, plain and simple. This is where that old adage "actions speak louder than words" comes into play. Time is the one thing we use that we can never get back - our most precious resource. So next time you're tempted to say "I was too busy" and end the sentence there, don't. Finish it out the way you actually mean it: I'mwas too busy with x, that I didn't have time for y like I promised you, because x is more important to me right now. If you don't like a sound of that, time to reexamine how you're using your time. 

    Tuesday, July 11, 2017

    Learning From My Past, As I Head Into My Future

    Yesterday, July 10th, was my former wedding anniversary. Thirteen years ago I walked down the aisle in a ballgown dress with six bridesmaids, seven groomsman, and approximately 200 guests. The wedding was fabulous. Basically my entire family on both sides flew in from out of town, some for whom I know it was a stretch time wise and financially. It meant the world to me, truly. The room was filled with people we'd each known over the past 24 years, many that we hadn't seen in years. It was a grand scale event that I became so wrapped up in planning that, in hindsight, I realized I was more focused on the wedding itself than the next 50 or so years of married life ahead.  But at 24 years old and one of the first of my friends to get married, that's what I did.

    I think I knew, or at least had a nagging feeling, walking down the aisle that I was making a mistake. But I'm a dreamer, with my head often in the stars, and I thought I was being unrealistic wanting more than I had - a good-hearted, steady, reliable man who loved me and wanted to spend his life with me. I thought it should be enough. As it turns out, it was not. We were not, as a couple. Had it, no doubt my life would be drastically different than it is today. There are moments when I think about how my life changed course on January 24, 2007, the day we decided to split. But I have no regrets. It was the best decision for us both. I believed it then, and I haven't doubted it a day since.

    In part, I think I simply wasn't ready for any of it. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want at 24 years old. I was not one of those people. I didn't realize that at the time, of course - I took the route I always expected I would. College, full time job, grad school, marriage, house, plan for a family. It wasn't until the "plan for a family" part began that I realized how unready for this life I was. It's funny how one day you can wake up and discover "this is really going to be the rest of my life if I do nothing about it right now." You'd think vows such as "for as long as we both shall live" said in front of 200 people including a priest would do that. But for whatever reasons, it didn't. It was the startling realization that I could be someone's mother, that if we had a child he would always be their father, and that we'd be inextricably tied forever in that way, no matter what else happened in our lives, individually and as a couple.  It occurred to me then how little we'd talked about the details, the actual realities instead of the "one day"s. It felt almost like a reverse Truman Show  - like a story that I played a part in, and suddenly it became clear that it was my life. We had moved along the path in front of us. We had never questioned if it was the path we should be following.

    Today, I'm just under two months from my wedding (it's two months from this past Sunday, but who's counting). I am almost 38 years old and have lived a lot of life since my last wedding. I know it's given me experience. I believe, or at least hope, it's given me wisdom. Now, my fiance and I talk about the little details, plan for the actualities of the future. Things as minor as interrupting our (very food motivated) dog while she's eating, playfully tugging at her ears and tail to make sure she doesn't mind, in case a future child did the same. We discuss the larger aspects of life and the minutia, having a plan, yet being able to go with the flow (OK the go with the flow is just him, I practically plan out my underwear a week in advance). We thing of the what ifs, even the unlikely ones. We have the difficult discussions now, so that we don't have to confront startling differences we never realized were there when a situation arises. We may not always agree, but we have learned where each other stands, and how to compromise where we must. We dream together, but also confront the facts. I certainly am no expert in relationships. Less so in marriage. But I'd like to think I've learned a bit along the long and especially topsy turvy road to where I am now.

    If I could give advice to anyone getting married, or thinking about it, it would be this:

    1. Don't ever, ever, ever assume. I don't care if you have to ask 10 different times in 10 different ways to make sure you understand each other - not that you always agree, but that you know where each other stands.

    2. Every answer to the above doesn't have to be a yes or no. If you don't know, say it. There are some questions I can answer with much more certainty at 37 than I could have at 27.  It's better for someone to know you haven't made up your mind than to be surprised when you change it - especially about something major.

    3. Compromise is incredibly important and it's not always 50/50 in every individual situation. In the end, it should about even out, but don't keep exact score.

    4. Sometimes, a topic may be so crucial that you don't feel you can compromise. Pick your battles, but stand your ground when it matters most. Otherwise, there's a high chance of bitterness and resentment down the road.

    5. Don't count on anything outside of the two of you to make your marriage happy. If your marriage will only be happy if your life together goes exactly as planned - ideal home, family exactly as you imagined, jobs on the current course, etc - you need to reconsider. Your partner should be enough for the marriage in and of themselves - not as part of a larger plan that comes along with them. Because we know what happens to the best laid plans.

    6. Don't count on either of you changing, but understand that everyone does in some ways. Meaning this: love and marry the person for who they are in this moment, not for who you think they could be or who they used to be. At the same time, everyone evolves and grows, or so you hope. Shifts in each of you, with age and experience, are almost inevitable. Allow each other some leeway, especially as the years progress. I personally wouldn't want my spouse at 64 to be acting like they did at 24.

    7. Sh*t is going to happen. This basically an absolute given. To you as a person, to you as a couple. The things you never expected to bother you will. Things you expected to worry about for years to come, you'll get used to.  When these things happen, know that you're in good company, and try not to let it discourage you.

    As I start dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the details for my next wedding, I can feel a glaring difference between my first wedding and this one. We have a total of two people in our bridal party, one on each side. We're having a 15-ish minute ceremony at the same site as our reception. There will be about 65 guests instead of 200, a good number of whom are between the ages of 1 and 14. We're not doing a shower (bridal, I am showering) or a registry. I personally don't care if everyone - that's not in the actual wedding - shows up in their PJs. What I do care about is that half of the time our discussions about wedding plans dissolve into laughter. that we enjoy cooking dinner together as we discuss our plans, that what we can't wait for most is the opportunity to spend our lives together, whatever that may bring.