What keeps you going?

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I wanted to do one of those “What are you thankful for?” posts. But, in light of recent world events, I want to pose a different question.

It feels like the state of our world has gone downhill in the last few years. Many factors contributed to our current state, and we are hearing more and more about violent conflict, terrorism, and tragedy. Events like these have been happening throughout history, but with advances in technology, they are presented to us more readily, faster, and in greater detail.

Recently, I have felt an overwhelming heaviness due to the negativity going on in the world. While being aware of what’s going on in the world is a good thing, being obsessed and consumed by it’s negativity is not. Thus, I have decided to focus my attention on my immediate surroundings, family, and friends. I know I cannot shut out the world completely, so I’ve been turning to things that have helped me in the past when I’ve needed to get through tough times.

A night out with friends
I admit it — I’m not a social butterfly by any means, but I have been getting better! I still don’t initiate plans, but thankfully I have friends that are always ready to extend an invitation out for supper or a fun activity so I don’t have to. Having a drink and wisecracking with a group of friends is one of my favourite things to do!

The promise of a good meal
If dinner plans are at one of my favourite restaurants, or it’s Christmas dinner at my folks’ place, I’m instantly put into a good mood. Take for instance this past Saturday. We had family photos scheduled before we were to meet up with my immediate family for dinner at Firestone. About 45 minutes into the photo session, my daughter was getting increasingly moody and uncooperative with being directed this way and that for poses. I got through it because I knew there was a spiced rum and Coke and pumpkin cheesecake waiting for me on the other side!

Vacation plans
There is nothing like getting out of Dodge every now and then. I love this city, but getting out and taking in different scenery is quite liberating. If we’re heading somewhere far, I enjoy researching and planning the sights we’ll visit and places to eat — and sometimes we just wing it when we get there.

Throughout my life, music has been the main thing I would turn to if I was feeling angry, upset, or depressed. It really does soothe my soul. If I find a song that really makes me feel good, I put it on repeat until I can’t stand it anymore. I remember one day hearing Maps by Maroon 5 and enjoying how uplifted it made me feel. I ended up playing it over and over so much that I took my earbuds with me to bed so I could fall asleep listening to it. Currently, the song that is getting me through all the negativity in the world is Everything is Alright by The Glorious Sons, particularly the lyrics, “Everything is alright, if only for the night. I forgot what it feels like.” It reminds me of nights when I’m out with friends just goofing around and having a good time.

What gets you through the tough times?

Depression: My Story

Author’s Note:  I originally wrote and posted this to my Facebook on April 29, 2015. I don’t remember what compelled me to write it, but I felt it was important for me to share it with my 190 Facebook friends. After posting it, I received a lot of support and appreciation for what I shared. I thought that if they appreciated my openness and honesty that I may be able to help a wider audience with my words. I felt that today, Bell Let’s Talk Day, would be the appropriate time to share my story with you in the hope that I can help at least one person get the help they need.

I’d like to be open and honest for a moment.

In October of 2003, I was diagnosed with Major (a.k.a. Clinical) depression. The previous April, I had graduated with honours from the Print Journalism program at Lethbridge (Community) College and had a three-week practicum at the Lethbridge Herald that past May. At the end of my practicum, I found myself not wanting to continue pursuing a career in Journalism, my main reasons being that I did not wish to relocate to find a job and that forcing myself to interview sources for news stories on a regular basis gave me great anxiety since I am incredibly shy when meeting new people. So, I took a full-time job at a nearby corner grocery store as a cashier to give me a source of income and I continued to live at home with my folks.

I felt like a failure.

That summer, I immersed myself into work, making friends with my co-workers and people I started meeting online through a site called LiveJournal. I also immersed myself more into the relationship I had with my boyfriend at the time, who moved back home for the summer in Calgary. So I was dealing with life as an adult, working minimum wage even though I had just obtained an honours Journalism diploma, while trying to make a long-distance relationship work. The summer went on, the August long weekend came, and my boyfriend came to town to end our relationship. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that I was devastated.

In the weeks that followed, I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into a dark hole. I had lost a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to find meaningful employment, I felt that no one would ever love me again, I hated everyone around me, and life just sucked. I went through the motions of day-to-day life, often shutting myself away in my parents’ computer room playing endless games of The Sims while listening to music.

One day, I sat down in front of my mother at the kitchen table, and through tears I choked out the words “I need to go to the psych ward or I am not going to be here much longer.” An appointment with my GP was scheduled where I was diagnosed, given a prescription for antidepressants, told to take a month off of work, and I started seeing a therapist.

My battle was hard and slow at first, but things got better. The month I took off from my cashier job helped me take a step back and re-evaluate my life. For a while, I tried to win back the heart of my ex-boyfriend, and when my affections were not returned, I delegated him to the scum of the earth, which really was not fair of me because of what I was going through. It’s definitely one of the things I am not proud of myself for doing since I clearly was the one having problems. Good call on his part.

Eventually I went back to work, started dating again, had other jobs, moved out of my parents’ house, and experienced life. I stopped taking my medication about a year later and only had to go back on it once since then.

I am currently not on anti-depressants and I don’t see a therapist anymore, but I still have depression. The occasions when my depression affects my life occur less and less. There have been times in the past when my depression has affected my job security, and I have taken jobs that made my depression worse. My job working at the Convergys call centre was one of them.

My choices control my life, and by realizing that for myself is why I have worked very hard in the last five years to get to where I am today. I have meaningful employment that gives me great satisfaction. I have a devoted and loving husband that understands and supports me through my ups and downs. We have a beautiful daughter — the daughter that I have wanted for the past 15 years. We don’t have a huge debt load (my student loans are shrinking!) and we live comfortably and are thankful for what we have. I have a wonderful life!

But I didn’t write all this to just turn into an annoying brag. I wrote this to show that you don’t know who does and does not have depression because of its silence. I’ve felt it necessary to conceal my depression in jobs I’ve had in the past because I was taking yet another sick day, blaming it on a “migraine”. I recently read a story on my Facebook feed about a paramedic in Edmonton who took his life because he was dealing with depression and PTSD. Afterward, actions were taken to give help and support to affected members living in silence because they thought they appeared less “macho” if they talked about having depression. More support needs to be given, more talking needs to happen, and more needs to be done.

I’m one voice. Not many can hear me, but you just did. Please help to keep the conversation going. Please help to end the stigma. I was able to get help because I felt very lost and had family members who had been through the same thing. Some don’t have family members or friends with a history of depression… or maybe they do. If you have depression, be brave and tell a trusted family member or friend. It may help them do the same, and it may help them get the help they need. Being alone and having depression is a horrible feeling. I want lives to be saved. I want those with depression to see that it does get better, but you need to reach out and ask for the help you need, because others may never see the signs showing that you are dealing with depression.

Thank you.

The invisible wall

Sometimes, it is difficult to completely explain what living with depression feels like. I’m going to try anyway because it is important for everyone to get a better understanding of it since the number of people with depression is increasing, but many people who don’t have it still brush it off as it were nothing.

It is far from nothing.

You wake up, but you keep your eyes shut. Your alarm clock is set to wake you up any minute, you just know it. But you dread it. It means having to swim through the the seemingly thick air around you and start  your day. But you can’t. Your muscles work fine, nothing physically hurts. Your mental and emotional state is a whole other issue.

Your alarm goes off. You wince and reach over to shut it off. Your inner monologue repeats “I can’t do it today. I can’t do it today. I can’t do it today” on a never ending loop. It hurts. “Why do I feel this way?” you wonder. “Why can’t I do this?” “Because you can’t”, you reply to yourself. You just can’t.

You get up and prepare yourself to call work. Do you tell them the truth today? Do you tell them your depression is so bad today that you can’t bear to step one foot out of your front door because it will be one step too many? Or do you just go with the old standard? Will your boss understand? Your breathing increases as you dial the number and listen to the line ring. You pray and pray that you reach their voice mail, though many times you do when it’s this early in the morning. The line clicks to voice mail. You breathe a sigh of relief. You hear the tone. You apologize, but you woke up not feeling well today. You ensure your voice sounds a little hoarse and believable. You leave your number in case they need to reach you, and apologize again before hanging up. Hopefully one day you can tell them the truth.

Your shoulders lighten a little. That’s the main obligation for the day out of the way. You look around the room. You see your furniture, your possessions, your walls… they are all too much for you to stand right now. Just having your eyes open almost brings you to tears. It’s too much. You need to escape, but you still can’t set one foot out the front door. You escape to the only place where it is dark and quiet, where the world and your possessions can’t find you.

You go back to bed and sleep.

However many hours later, you’re awake again, thankful for the escape. Most likely it’s after noon and you’re hungry. Are you hungry? The thought of asking yourself this question strikes you as odd. Of course I’m hungry, I skipped breakfast and lunch. You open your fridge and stare at its contents. You have a lot to eat and nothing to eat at the same time. In the end you decide you are not hungry, so you close the door.

You wander over and sit where your body tells you to. Sometimes it’s the couch. Sometimes it’s a kitchen chair. Sometimes it’s the floor. Wherever you are, you sit, and you begin to stare off at nothing in particular. You stare and stare, and minutes pass, but you don’t pay attention to how many. “Why is this happening?” you ask yourself. Then you are suddenly disturbed by everything around you. Your possessions start to haunt you, and you start seeing dollar amounts appear next to everything you own. If you could just sell it all, or just get rid of it. Then would you feel better? Everything is suffocating you. Could you stand to live without them? You curse yourself for having so much stuff. Why do I have all this junk in the first place. You feel disconnected from everything, like a ghost. It’s as if you are not meant to be here and everything is pulling away from you.

You slowly drift to a better state of consciousness, and the dollar amounts fade away. You’re still sitting, so you decide to lay down wherever you can. Minutes pass again. Your significant other comes home. Suddenly, you start to dread their questions, because they always feel the same, and it feels like you are beaten with a baseball bat each time.

“How do you feel?” The first blow takes out both of your knees.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Your gut takes a hit and suddenly feels hollow.

“I don’t know what to say.” The final blow is to your head, and it caves in.

You can’t answer worth a damn. You can’t articulate well enough for them to understand. You don’t know what would help. You feel at a loss, because you know they care and mean well. The best you can do is give them a meek smile and reply that you will be okay.

Until another day like today comes around.

(Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave Your Shoes at the Door)