Art

Anything But Quiet

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I don’t think I need to say that it’s been anything but quiet around here.  My little corner of here and the greater world of here have been loud and chaotic, demanding attention.

But you knew that.

And I said it anyway.

Because it helps me to process the noise if I first acknowledge that THERE IS NOISE.

The constant noise has been like a game for me, as I keep trying to decide what to focus on and which skills to use in mitigating the impact of that particular noise.

Should I focus on the country’s grand campaign to abolish sexual harassment or on the sad and disruptive remnants of the water that poured from my ceiling just a few weeks ago?

Sorry, Kevin Spacey, but the home front wins every time. I need to get my ceilings, walls and floors put back in place before I can even ponder how many people you had to silence in order to get away with hurting so many young men.

Should I focus on the savory juice of long-awaited indictments or on the light bulb situation that has left eight out of the nine track lighting bulbs lifeless?

I’m figuring you guessed that the life bulbs had to win. You gotta fix your lighting situation so your view of the post-indictment CNN circus is really fine.

Every day I do a basic review of stressors and states. I check the relative environments and how I’m handling things, basically.  I divide everything up so that I can pinpoint the trouble spots and get resources to those trouble spots asap.

For example, this week went like this:

The Big World:
Medium/High Stress given indictments, Halloween, upcoming holidays, nuclear war, weather threats, domestic terrorism

The Local World:
Regular Stress given the status quo

My Part of the World:
Medium/High Stress given the fact that my home got flooded and the damage isn’t fixed yet and I’m having trouble breathing because of the dust.

My Body:
Working pretty well. Whew. Except for not being able to breathe.

My Brain:
Working pretty well. Whew.

My Mentalness:
Pretty good (!!!)  I have a list I use to measure how I’m doing mentally. It focuses mainly on things like sleeping problems, waking up problems, ruminating, obsessing, feeling paranoid, and more fun activities. And all of those are running on a very low speed way in the background. I need to give thanks, I suspect, to the recent addition of NAC, a supplement, which appears to be giving a huge boost to some or one of medications. Thank you to the doctor who suggested that. And I highly recommend you research it. Maybe you can try it too. I love it for its boost and for it’s lack of side effects.

My Mood:
My mood and tolerance have been pretty lousy, somewhere between negative and icky, but not too too bad in either respect. I would say mildly icky. BUT….I’ve been living in a torn apart depressing environment for almost three weeks now.  So it’s probably reasonable for me to feel a bit down. And it’s reasonable that my version of down is slightly more down than other people’s.  I have spent an awful lot of my life being down, after all. I’m used to it. I’m overly practiced, if not perfect.

My Management of My Mentalness and Mood.
This is an especially important category. I mostly can’t control my mentalness and mood, but I can manage them better at times. And this week I managed them very well. I did an especially good job at distinguishing between feeling bad about a depressing situation (my home got flooded) and feeling depressed. I can feel that the situation is depressing, but it’s nowhere close to actually feeling depressed. Apples and oranges. My home getting flooded sucks. But I can still wake up, add 2+2, write sentences, laugh at jokes, and enjoy coffee.

So that’s a very good report, obviously. I’m very lucky this week in that I’ve been able to focus on managing stressors.  I haven’t had to be distracted by a bad brain or volatile emotions. The timing just happened to work out in my favor.  I was able to really focus on distinguishing between living in a depressing situation (the mess at home) and being depressed. As I said earlier, it’s apples and oranges.

Sometimes the timing of events is helpful and sometimes it’s not.

But now, finally, the home front is getting fixed, so that stressor will soon be mitigated, giving me more resources and energy to work on building reserves. As I type this, I hear the lovely sounds of paint being laid upon drywall…..ah, music to my ears.

So now I can build reserves.

Building reserves is important ahead of the holiday season. Whether you like the holiday season or hate the holiday season, there is no escaping the fact that it’s highly stressful. Even if you love it, the people around you at work and at home are more stressed out than usual. One way or another, you have to deal with it.

I happen to love the holiday season. I like the cold, the threat of snow, the music and the tinkly happy Hallmark movies. I especially love when most of DC leaves DC.

But I know that I’ll get blue, since a part of the whole season is the sentimental part …and I have trouble experiencing sentimental feelings. There’s something about feeling sentimental that feels too much like depression and my brain gets confused.

So, I’ll do some practicing of ‘feeling sentimental’ in the weeks leading up to the holidays. I’ll try to get used to having sentimental feelings without being freaked out over the feelings. And I’ll come up with a temporary list of things I can’t really think about. A trigger list, of sorts.

So that’s the deal.

That, and apparently sexual harassment has officially ended.

Woo hoo.

As much as I would love to write on that subject, I won’t for now.

I will just say, everyone must practice being aware. Awareness must be an action, not just a state.

Teach everyone to respect everyone. And teach everyone, female or male or fluid, to respect themselves. Learn about power. Learn about your power. And beware the power of others.

And stop being a silent witness. We’re all silent witnesses at one time or another. Let’s stop doing that.

Okay. Go relax. Live your Saturday. Or whatever day it is when you’re reading this.

xoxo, d

♥ www.livingbroken.org 
Giving power to personal stories of thriving
through wearable, shareable art.

 

Know Thine Enemy

My Facebook feed has recently been adorned with enthusiastic, bold t-shirts for suicide awareness.

The t-shirts shout out loudly that nobody fights suicide alone.

So there.

SO THERE, DAMN IT!

And I’m glad.

Obviously, I’m glad. I encourage any bit of awareness-raising, particularly around the topics of suicide, depression, and pain.  I am pro-awareness generally and, for personal reasons, I am personally pro-awareness.

B-u-u-u-u-u-u-t…

(There’s always a but in these darn essays.)

But what do we do with the raised awareness? Where does the raised awareness go?

If the raised awareness results in donations of money to the cause, then that’s great. The cause needs funds. Funds can help those who need help.  Funds can push forward the critical research that can hopefully someday alleviate or mitigate the problem at the root.

But what else?

What else does raised awareness do? What do the newly aware do with their new awareness, caring, concern and commitment?

I can suggest an answer.

The aware – whether newly aware or renewed in their awareness – can study the enemy closely. Study the enemy in preparation for the next time the enemy rises. Prepare to seriously fight the enemy in an efficient, effective and meaningful way.

Study the enemy.

Study the enemy while things are good.

I know, I know. It’s tempting to just feel good when things are good.  It’s like thinking about rain on a sunny day. Nobody wants to do that.

When I’m in a good space, I definitely don’t want to spend my time revisiting depression and suicidal thoughts. I want to spend time with my family and friends, enjoying the absence of the bad things for a change.

But it’s smart to regroup on a sunny day. Make sure your umbrella and rubber sole shoes get back to wherever it is that you’ll need them on your next rainy day.

There’s no question that I have to keep my eye on the enemy at all times. Because my personal medical history shows that depression and suicidal thoughts come back on a fairly regular schedule.

I have to be ready for the return of depression and suicidal thinking and I have to be in top notch condition to fight them when they appear.

More importantly, I need for those in my support system to be ready to fight.

Why is it more important that they be ready to fight?  Because one of the first things I lose during recurrence is my own will to fight.  Two hallmarks of depression are losing hope that fighting will help and losing the energy it takes to fight.

So I need my support system to be ready to act in my stead, ready to jump in to fight the enemy on my behalf when I become unhelpful.

And there will be a point where I become unhelpful. Because that’s what my enemy does to me. My enemy does not fight fair. My enemy makes me turn on myself and want to destroy myself. It’s hard to imagine and hard to believe, but any family or friends who have witnessed major depression or suicidal thinking will recognize the precarious nature of the condition. The condition feeds on itself, helping destruction to thrive if not fought against mightily.

So be aware, yes, be aware.  But don’t wait to take action. Take action now.

Hunker down and identify both the enemy and target. Find out now what to do when things get rough.

Learn the enemy. Know the signs.

Plan your strategy and understand how your attack will work.

Practice if possible and keep your toolkit with you.

We prepare for all sorts of events that are statistically less likely to happen. We prepare for active shooters, fire alarms, tornadoes and floods. We know that taking steps to prepare could make the difference between life and death if conditions get worse. And generally, we don’t want to play the odds.

So when it comes to depression and suicide, let’s not play the odds. Let’s not play around with the chances of things getting worse. Let’s not play around with statistics.

If someone is hurting, let’s fight the enemy when the enemy rises and then, when the enemy backs down, let’s regroup, re-energize and let’s be prepared to fight even harder next time.

Because it really is true that nobody should have to fight alone.  And we can prevent that from happening a statistically significant portion of the time.

P.S. It’s sunny where I am today. I’ve got one umbrella by the door and one in the car. Just in case. 🙂

xoxo, d

♥ www.livingbroken.org 
Giving power to personal stories of thriving
through wearable, shareable art.

 

What took you so long?

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There’s a great scene in one of my favorite movies that’s been playing in my head.

The movie is Singles and it’s the part of the movie where Campbell Scott‘s character has been holed up in his bachelor apartment due to a broken heart (and some rejection of his big project at work).

Campbell Scott plays a traffic and transportation expert.  Kyra Sedgwick plays his love interest, an environmental something or other – maybe a marine biologist?

When Kyra Sedgwick knocks at his door,  Campbell Scott opens the door and, in an unshaven, exhausted, ‘losing it’ kind of haze, pleads ‘what took you so long?’

Kyra Sedgwick responds ‘I was stuck in traffic.’

It’s a great dialogue.

It’s pretty basic movie irony. He’s a traffic expert; she was stuck in traffic. Blah blah blah.

The scene also harkens back to the beginning of their relationship when he was chasing after her and they acted out the same dialogue with roles reversed.

Here’s the scene if you want to watch: click here for scene

I’ve seen that scene countless times. It’s a movie I’ve watched over and over. It’s one of my ‘helper’ movies – it helps my mood, so it’s good movie choice.

But it’s not just a safe, helper movie. It’s also a really great movie. Not Chariots of Fire great, but Big Chill great. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The backdrop is Seattle coffee shop and grunge.

“What took you so long?”

What took you so long?

The fact of the matter is that things take time. And often, they really seriously take even more time that you would have thought.

And sometimes, they take so much )(*&^% time that it’s a total *&^%$# annoyance.

Sorry for all the (*&^%$-ing.

Yesterday I saw my brother-in-law.

Oops….shifted the focus just there. Sorry if I lost you.

Anyway, I saw my brother-in-law who isn’t really my brother-in-law.  But I have no other good title for him.

He’s the brother of my sister-in-law, the gal who married my brother.

What does that make him?

If you happen to know what I should call him, let me know. Right now the explanation of our connection takes too long to say.

So anyway, I saw him yesterday.

Let’s call him Chris… since that’s actually his name.

I see Chris a few times a year when he visits DC from the far off and exotic places where he lives, works and visits.

It drives me crazy that Chris, in recent years, has had the unfortunate timing of seeing me when I was really just ugh (i.e., really getting the run around from my life partner, depression).

I really don’t like for people to see me when I’m not feeling like myself.  It’s embarrassing to me and makes me feel worse. At those times, I feel like my being down detracts from all of the times I was fabulous.  Even worse, I worry that my being down distracts from everything else that might be going on around me.

Luckily, Chris is just like family to me. He loves me and he likes me no matter what my mental temperature is on any particular day.

So yesterday, after one meaningful hug and a few brother-sister type teases, I was able to tell Chris that I was having a positive experience with a particularly important drug I have more recently tried. I was also able to share that general conditions were contributing to a ‘positive depression management experience.’

Of course I was also able to report on yet another drug that I will never ever ever get close to again. Yet one more drug that I tried only to find that it seriously spoiled a few (i.e., five) weeks of my life.

Chris was happy for me, obviously. News that depression is being managed effectively is always good news.

But he was also upset.

He didn’t understand why it had taken so long to get to a good place. He might have been mad at the depression for taking so long to cooperate.  He might have been mad at the Gods for making me work so hard just to feel normal. I’m not sure what his anger was aimed at, but he was clearly frustrated on my behalf (thanks, Chris!) and he was a bit indignant.

He was bold enough to ask ‘why does it take so long?’

So, you know, there are many questions I really hate in this world.

But this particular question is one of my favorites.

It’s one of my favorites because I really want people to care about this question. I want people to understand the importance of this question. And I want health care providers, scientists, researchers and policy makers to get me better answers than I’ve been given most of my life.

Why does it take so long to recover from a period of depression?

Well, let me explain what I know from my experience and from the experiences of some others I know.

When things go south in depression and life becomes a crisis, all of the focus, energy and resources must initially be directed at relieving the immediate pain and/or stopping the immediate threat to safety or health. In some cases, the focus must be on avoiding harm to self or others.

And it’s hard to get out of a crisis state.

It takes a lot of energy at the exact same time as the person in crisis has the least amount of energy.  It’s the worst timing ever.

It’s difficult, in the depths of a crisis, to keep going to work, managing a household, and maintaining a normal, functioning life. But all energy and resources must go to precisely that.

It may be a relatively short time of a few days or weeks to get out of crisis.  Or it may take closer to months or years to get out of crisis.

The recent flooding in the southeast provides a good range of crises for comparison.  Some individuals who have lost everything will have the benefit of a strong constitution, a variety of tools for managing stress, and quick access to excellent resources. If you think about it, you probably know people who can be described that way.

Then there are people who do not have a strong ability to handle stress. They may have excellent resources for getting out of a fire or flood, but they may not be able to make the most of those resources because of their own weakened state.

Of course there are folks who have little access to resources.  For them, the greater their ability to manage stress, the better the odds of gaining access to limited resources.

The bottom line is that getting out of a crisis is hard for anyone by definition. Crisis is difficult by definition.  Add to that extra stressors such as lack of resources, lack of support, lack of assistance, or a myriad of other factors, and getting out of crisis can get really tricky and take a long time.

After the crisis, there is usually a bit of space to breathe a sigh of relief as the pressure begins to subside.  In the case of depression, efforts to feel better may be starting to take effect as the pain of crisis is decreasing.  Medications may be starting to work, changes in diet, sleep, exercise or routine may be helping. Changes in treatment may be helping.

The recovery experience for most people is not a straight line but a jagged or winding path, filled with constant steps backwards.  It’s the typical one step forward, two steps back.

It is especially this way for anyone being treated with medication. Any change in medication, no matter how slight, may result in an array of effects, most of which cannot be adequately prepared for.

I should note that not everybody uses medication.

And I get that.

But some of us have experienced enough and tried enough to know that we actually need medication.  I am one of those people who cannot live safely without certain medications. No amount of supplements, exercise, being outdoors, meditating or yoga will do for my brain what certain medications do.

Now, I should say that it’s possible a vastly different lifestyle could take the place of medications for me, but the fact is that I’m living my life and I can’t easily change the life I’m living.

I work full time and prefer working to being on disability.

I also live in a very expensive area of the country (Washington, DC).  I could move to a less expensive area, but that would mean losing my primary support system, which would be a really bad decision in terms of health management.

So it’s not an easy formula. Every decision requires analysis.  And analysis is especially difficult during crisis or recovery, when the focus is on getting better, not prevention.

“What took you so long?”

What took you so long?

For me, the average time it takes to tell a medication is NO GOOD is at least a month.

With any new drug, I begin with a very low dose to avoid triggering a worse episode of depression or a new crisis. I stay on a low dose for days or weeks or longer to acclimate. The period has to be long enough to isolate that drug as the cause of any changes.

As the dose goes up, so does my body’s response. And as my body responds, the analysis of benefits versus side effects begins.

Do the benefits outweigh the side effects?

It sounds simple.

It’s not.

The thing is, you want the drug to work. You REALLY want the drug to work.

Every new drug you try is a new possibility that you’ll be feeling better soon and that life will be better.

But the side effects can be awful and can be debilitating.

Some side effects make even basic functioning impossible. Some side effects make going out in public embarrassing.  Some side effects feel worse than the condition that requires them.

One promising drug was amazing for me until the fourth month when I had a dangerous reaction. I had to stop the drug immediately, get treatment for the reaction, and clear the drug from my system. I can never again take that drug, knowing I have a reaction.

I remember being so upset afterwards because the medication had been working so well otherwise.  And a medication that works so well for your unique chemistry is just so hard to find.

But a bad reaction is a bad reaction.

Bye bye drug. Bye bye four months of my life.

The most recent horrible (for me) drug only ruined five weeks of my life.

But it was a really awful five weeks.

So, you might ask, why would you try to change drugs that work? Why not just maintain drugs that work and not rock the boat by making changes?

IKR?

Personally, I would be overjoyed if I found a cocktail that worked and that I could always be on.

But it doesn’t work that way. 😦

Drugs stop working over time for many people. Or new episodes of the condition require different types of drugs.

It’s challenging and frustrating and it takes a ton of time.

And that’s the answer.

And I hope that in my lifetime there are more treatment options that are free from side effects.

In the next few years, I’ll be able to try Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The treatment is available now, but only to those who can afford the high cost (or the high copays if their insurance covers it). TMS has no side effects and has been effective for a lot of folks. I hope TMS or something like it will some day be a replacement for some of the drugs I take so that I can be finished with some side effects that slow me down (and not in the good way).

So that is the short version of why it takes so long.

And I’m hoping to help the cause of getting better access to better treatments with fewer side effects. Because we need them.

A really great place to start reading about some of the work I support is here:

Hope for Depression

Through my non-profit, Living Broken, I make art to help raise money for the important work of Hope for Depression and other organizations with similar missions.

Because if I want to live a meaningful, productive, independent life, I need to be able to take one step forward without having to take two steps back.

Thanks for listening.

xoxo, d

www.livingbroken.org
Giving power to personal stories of thriving
through wearable, shareable art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Me Where It Hurts

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Time flies between suicides.

Or at least that’s how it feels these days.

When I heard today that Chester Bennington had ended his life, I immediately thought of Chris Cornell.  And it feels like Chris Cornell took his life last week.

But it was May.

Chris Cornell has been gone since May.

And then in June, Chester Bennington dedicated Linkin Park’s ‘One More Light’ to Chris Cornell during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

And now it’s July and Chester Bennington has joined Chris Cornell in what I imagine is a great band of pain-free rockers in heaven.

I can tell I’m feeling well because I’m not obsessing over the details of Bennington’s death.  I’m not researching story after story, only to reread the same few quotes from close friends or a family spokesperson.

I can tell I’m feeling well because I don’t wish it had been me instead of Chester Bennington. And I don’t think there’s a message in his death that’s meant for me.  I don’t think I’ve been dared to do something similar or to do something that will add impact and meaning to another artist’s death.

But this is the year that I decided to start sharing more about my own journey living with suicidal thinking.  I decided to start sharing in order to start giving back.

For years, I’ve relied on the experiences of others, finding inspiration and hope in their stories and their words. Maybe now, if I give some of that back, someone else can benefit from my experiences.

So let me tell you about what it’s like when I’m not doing well.

Like when Robin Williams ended his life in August of 2014.

I wasn’t doing well that summer. I was struggling with a particularly rough period of suicidal thinking and major depression at that time and Robin Williams’ death really struck a chord.

If you know me in real life, you might be thinking back to that summer and wondering what was going on then to make me miserable.

Nothing.

The answer is nothing.

The answer is always nothing.

I live my life as a high functioning professional and my brain lives it’s life as a chemically and stress-challenged nut.

That would have been a ‘regular’ summer – nothing out of the ordinary except a worse-than-usual brain.

And Robin Williams’ death hurt deeply.

I related to Robin Williams as an artist. I related to the many dark characters he had played. I related to his contrast of humor and high emotion. And I felt like I could understand what it was like to have a life that appeared to be in full swing and yet be suffering with a condition that others could not see or appreciate.

I remember reading so many tweets and Facebook posts that asked how someone with so much to live for could end his life.

#ihatethat #ihatethat #ihatethat

I hate that.

I hate when people connect the quality of one’s life or success with their propensity for suicide. I get particularly upset at the lack of understanding about suicide when I’m feeling suicidal.

At that time, I went to the few people I trusted on the topic and ranted about suicide having very little, if anything, to do with what a person has.

It’s the inability to continue living with constant pain,” I explained to the few people who had witnessed me living with constant pain.

I yelled at television’s morning personalities who went on and on about all that Robin Williams had and questioned why nobody was able to stop him.

And I got frustrated.

Because it’s really hard to help people who don’t live with suicidal thinking to understand suicidal thinking.

When Robin Williams ended his life, I thought it was a message to me. I thought it was a sign that the time had come for me to do it too.  I thought, as I tend to think, that maybe if I left a really good note, people would understand the pain behind suicide better.

That’s something that happens to me that doesn’t happen to normal people.

Normal people don’t feel dared to die.

Sometimes, I get an overwhelming feeling that it should have been me and not the person who died.

In the summer of 2008, we lost a number of household names whose time was not meant to be – and I then spent the summer trying to figure out how I could take the place of someone who didn’t want to die. First Tim Russert, then George Carlin and then Tony Snow. It was a hard summer for my brain. I was certain I was supposed to be a part of the puzzle unfolding before me.

It’s that type of thinking I’m used to because my brain engages in it so freely.

It’s kind of like my brain has a life of its own – a life that has little to do with the normal functioning life people see me living.

I can feel my brain engaging in all of this nonsense and sometimes it is more intrusive than other times.  Like in that summer of 2008 when I could not get a break from the noise in my head.

But now, in times like these, when I’m doing well, I just watch the show going on in my brain and I do a million little things to make sure that my brain doesn’t get too loud or too inappropriate.

When I first began writing about the suicide stuff, it made some people nervous. I think it made them wonder if writing about suicide was actually *the sign* that things were bad.

But no.

Talking about suicide is a positive way of helping to manage the condition.

Writing about suicide is a positive way of helping to manage the condition.

And no, talking and writing about suicide aren’t triggers.

But silence is a trigger. And hiding is a trigger. And keeping secrets is a trigger.

So if you know someone who lives with pain – any pain – get to know their pain. Get to know what they look like, talk like, act like when they’re in pain.

And make their pain part of your routine.

What?!?

Yes, I said ‘make their pain part of your routine.’

Make it part of your routine to ask them how they are doing so you can tell when they’re not doing well.

Make it part of your routine to ask them the questions that lead to information about their condition.

What music are they listening to? What shows are they watching? What foods are they eating?

Are they sleeping at night? Waking up when they should?

Getting out? Exercising? Seeing friends?

My inner circle folks know what my dangerous behavior looks like. So they know to always ask specifics regarding what I’m up to.

Because one day I can look like I’m doing great, but that can quickly turn.

And one last thing.

If you know someone who lives with pain, don’t pretend they’re not in pain when they are  pain.  Ignoring the pain won’t make it go away, but acknowledging the pain can often help.

Well, this essay doesn’t flow all that well, but neither do my thoughts about how to talk to others about suicidal thinking.

Maybe the flow will get better as I get more comfortable uttering some of these hard-to-say thoughts out loud.

xoxo, d

www.livingbroken.org
Giving power to personal stories of thriving
through wearable, shareable art.