The Face of Depression

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I asked you to pick the photo that shows me in a depressive state, you’d probably pick the second photo. Right?

Well, you’d be both right and wrong.

Those of us who carry this darkness around with us, are very good at showing the world what they want to see. Or better yet, shielding them from what they don’t want to see.

These photos were taken on the same day. One was posted to Facebook. One wasn’t.

Why is it that mental illness is so hard to talk about? In my experience, it’s just easier not to talk about it. In order to avoid questions that I either won’t be able to answer, or choose not to answer because the person asking won’t like or understand the answer.

Sadness is an emotion. Emotions can be easily understood, or accepted because we all feel them.

Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder is a state of being. It doesn’t run it’s course and then leave. It isn’t a reaction to something that happened or didn’t happen.

It lives inside of me all the time. Most of the time it stays hidden. But it’s not something I have control of. I can’t just choose to get over it.

So I’ve learned to smile for everyone who needs it.

Is there someone in your life who might be smiling on the outside, while struggling on the inside? Are you?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you aren’t comfortable talking face to face, you can text the Crisis Text Line (741-741). The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. You have never been alone.

 

Crisis Text Line: 741-741 to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. The service is free, confidential and available 24/7.

An Open Letter to Friends and Family Who Have Never Suffered From Depression:

Today I’m depressed. I’m not just sad. I’m stay in bed, there’s no hope sad. Otherwise known as depression.

Sometimes you will say to me, “yeah, I know how it is to be sad”. I know you mean well. Of course you know sadness. We all do. But depression is so much more than just sadness. And I hope you never understand this completely.

Depression is like being in a beautiful yard with a big hole in the middle. You walk around the hole and are sad because your yard is temporarily ruined. It’s an inconvenience, an eyesore. But you will fill the hole and your yard will be beautiful again.

I, on the other hand, walk around the same hole, but I fall in. The hole is much deeper than it appears. And then it starts to rain and the hole fills quickly. I am barely able to hold my head above the muddy water.

When you are sad, you sometimes say you feel blue. When I’m depressed the world is void of all color. No rainbows exist for me. There is no gold.

But you have a two healthy boys who love you, a husband who would do anything for you, and a beautiful house, you say. What have you got to be depressed about?

Nothing and everything. Yes, my life is full of wonderful people, and I am blessed to have the comforts that I do. I know that. But my depression couldn’t care less.

Depression, while often triggered by life’s hardships, can just as easily be triggered by nothing. And, let me tell you, that is the worst kind. Because when people ask me what’s wrong and I answer, I don’t know. The look I get says it all. They just don’t get it.

You might want to fix it – help me. And that would be incredible if it was that easy. But it isn’t. Depression runs its course, no matter how much I am loved. It doesn’t care.

Then why are you smiling and going about your day? Good question. Those of us who are depressed, often have to learn how to exist in two worlds simultaneously – the world of normalcy and the world of darkness that we have learned to mask when necessary.

Believe me when I tell you, we can smile with the best of them. We can crack jokes, show up when needed and act the part of happy camper most of the time. What you don’t know is that inside, we are not there. We are on auto-pilot. Inside we are counting the minutes until we can be alone, until we can give in to the darkness, because we know that the only way out is through.

But aren’t you on anti-depressants? Yes, I am. I’m so good at being depressed that I’m on two different ones.

Then why are you still depressed? The medicine is not a cure. It’s a damper. It tends to make the episodes shorter. If I wasn’t on medication we’d be on season 49 of this show. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be here. Yes, it’s gotten that bad before.

When I’m depressed, I feel lost. I drift aimlessly through the days without purpose or motivation.

When I’m depressed I am Atlas, the weight of the world making every movement a monumental effort.

When I’m depressed I just want it to be over. It’s exhausting. Depression sucks all of the life out of any given moment.

And it happens in a blink moment. This morning I was fine. Tonight as I write this the light is dimming and my dreams are too.

So next time I tell you I’m depressed, just know that all I need from you is compassion and understanding. I need to know that you know I’m not being dramatic or looking for attention. I need you to know that I have a mental illness, and I’m trying not to let it define me.

Mostly what I need you to know that I’m in here. Don’t forget that. I’m still me. And I will be back.

Sincerely,
Ginger

Scars

Memories.

We all have them. Some are good. Some are bad. Some we wish we could forget. Others we’d give just about anything to remember.

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Daddy, me, Momma and Davey

In my case, the memories that seem to have been cemented in my mind, are those that I wouldn’t necessarily want to forget, because they have formed parts of me. But I’d trade them in a heartbeat if I could get my childhood ones back. My memories begin the night my dad had a massive heart attack when I was 10 years old.

The only thing I can figure is that because that was such a traumatic night – followed by 10 years of daddy being sick – I have somehow developed reverse post-traumatic stress disorder, and blocked the good stuff. I always have been one to do things my own way.

Is it that when something ends badly, that negates, in our minds, all the good that happened prior to the bad event?

Bad memories are like scar tissue in the mind. If you leave them alone long enough, they will heal. Given the right medicine – patience, time, forgiveness – they will, not go away, but will sink down. The perfect storm might cause a small flare up, a dull ache. But, for the most part, they remain buried.

But if you pick at them, fuss over them, the healing process never happens. And you’re left with a nasty scar, that is subject to infection. Every time you pick at it, the resulting scar is thicker and thicker – layer after layer of scar tissue building up until the memory is almost unrecognizable from how it began.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know my mother’s childhood through stories. And because we are so close, those stories are burned into my heart. Feelings of abandonment and anger. Broken trust and broken hearts. I’ve heard these stories time and time again, and they have never gotten easier to accept. This beautiful soul opening up to me over a cup of instant coffee, pouring out all that has brewed inside of her for so long. Releasing the stories to me was never cathartic for her, and watching her talk was just like watching that little girl inside of her fighting to be heard by someone. So I listen. And listen again.

I’ve always told her – and it’s easy for me to say because they aren’t my memories – to let it go. To move forward. But her scars are way too deep, and thickened by a lifetime of picking.

Many of these memories have removed her from her family for years. Not wanting to face her past, she pushed it away time and time again. Her stories settled into me and removed me her family as well. I have an entire family on her side that I have never really known. I never gave that much thought, until today.

My mom’s sister, my Aunt Colleen, came into town for a visit today. It’s been ten years since my mother has seen her, and thirty years since I have seen her. Recently, they rekindled their bond as sisters. Stories were shared, memories revisited, truths revealed.

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Momma and her sister

Some of the memories, thickened by time, were not a perfect representation of actual events. Many memories were simply those based on the perspective of a little girl lost in the shuffle – moved from one family member to another, for reasons that, in her mind, always came from a place of rejection and lack of love.

It’s hard to imagine that there are several perspectives on a story, when that story happened to you. What you saw, what you felt, what you heard, oftentimes isn’t what the other person saw, felt and heard. Sometimes motives become misunderstood, and, often skewed based on past feelings and experiences.

All memories deserve a place in our minds because they are the glue that holds us together and connects us to our tribes – those we love and those we have issues with. But we have to know when to file them away and lock the drawer. Otherwise we become estranged from our tribe – even the ones that we love. And when that happens, although we think it’s helping us to feel in control and put together, it does nothing but tear us apart inside and out.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Published!!

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Yesterday I had an article of mine published on The Mighty’s website. If you aren’t familiar with the site read this for  a full explanation of who they are and who they represent. If you are familiar with them, then you already know how amazing their content is and why I feel so honored to be a contributor for them now.

I would absolutely love it, and you, if you would take the time to go over and read the article if you haven’t already. As a writer with a book on the horizon, it is imperative that I build a platform for my work. The more readers I have, the more likes and follows, all of these add to my platform and will help me out in the long run.

The edits on my book are nearly finished and I will be submitting them to an agent. If all goes well, the changes will be accepted and she will take me on as a client. The story on The Mighty is just one of the many parts of my bigger story, my book, He’s Not Broken.

Stick with me guys. I have a lot to say. If I play my cards right, then maybe one day I’ll be able to meet my supporters in person on book tours. It’s a dream of mine.

If you have a moment, please head on over to The Mighty and check out my piece on Tourette Syndrome.

Acting Out

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As I was knee-deep in edits today, my flow came to a screeching halt when I was faced with a particularly difficult passage. It was difficult on two accounts. First, it recounted a very emotional day in my life during a time when I was beginning to realize that something was different about Jake.  And secondly, a beta-reader made a note that said the writing didn’t necessarily convey what I had hoped it did.

After reading the passage again, I realized what she meant. The behaviors that I highlighted weren’t strictly those of a child who was exhibiting signs of a deeper issue other than being frustrated. She asked me to consider rewriting so that the reader gets a clear picture that something more is going on.

Determined to write a stronger passage, I settled in and readied my hands at the keyboard. And I sat. And I revisited that day in my head. And I sat some more. That’s when it dawned on me that it was time to bust out my jazz hands – that is, to act out the passage as if it was a scene from a movie with me being Jake.

So I stood up and imagined a wall of choices in front of me. I am five years old. I have to make a decision. There are too many choices. I have to pick one. But what if I pick the wrong one? What if there’s a better one? Out of character, I noticed that I was pacing the floor. Okay, that’s a visual to add. I knew I was onto something.

I just needed to act it out – to feel physically what Jake was feeling emotionally so that I could help the reader visualize Jake’s mental state.

I went back under. So many kits to choose from. So many choices. What if I choose the wrong one? I let that phrase loop in my head until I felt my body tighten and my arms pull close to my sides. I imagined my eyes darting nervously from one kit to another. I feel pressure. I feel an internal tension that causes me to start breathing heavily. It’s too much. I feel like I might explode. I have to decide. My mom is waiting. I have to pick. She tells me to just pick a fun one. But which one is the most fun? Is it that one? Or this one?

It’s just a science kit she says thinking that will make it easier. But what she doesn’t understand is that my mind is stuck. And I am stuck in my mind.

I feel tears start to come and I know that I have it. By allowing myself to act it out, feel the emotions and notice how my body reacted, I am closer to knowing how Jake must have felt at that time. By moving and paying attention to how I’m moving, I can now write it down.

I want my book to read like a movie. I want the visual cues to be so spot-on that the reader can create the scenes in her mind. So I sit down and paint the scene word by word. And cut. Act 2, Scene 1 done.

Tomorrow I will tackle another scene and just like Mr. Sondheim wrote bit by bit I will complete my book.

Art isn’t easy
Even when you’re hot
Advancing art is easy
Financing it is not
A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head
If no one gets to hear it, it’s as good as dead
It has to come to life
Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that’s what counts

-From Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George

The Invisibles

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I took my mom to a doctor’s appointment a couple of weeks ago. Due to her chronic illness, she tends to forget things easily so I go in the room with her. As the doctor asked his routine questions, I noticed that he was directing many of them to me. Understand that, although my mom can be forgetful at times, she has all of her faculties intact. And while I am blessed with many of my mom’s attributes, that does not make me my mom.

At one point, on the verge of tears, she slammed her fist down and said, “Listen to me, I’m trying to tell you something!”

That’s when I realized that what my mom had been telling me for years was true – when people get older, they become invisible.

At first I was angry. Angry that this respected doctor would be so dismissive with her. I wondered if he would have been the same with a younger patient. And then I was  profoundly sad. My mother deserves better. As does every other senior citizen.

I’ve since been paying more attention to the way I see the elderly treated, and I am embarrassed by the lack of respect and the patronizing tone I’ve seen many people take with a senior citizen. They are often treated like second-class citizens with no opinion, and nothing to add to society. It’s as if, once a person reaches a certain age, she is no longer needed.

Let’s work on recognizing the contributions these seniors have made, and those they have yet to make. Allow their voices to still be heard. As long as they are still on this Earth, they are a viable part of our society.

When we were children we were taught to respect our elders. Today’s culture is a disgrace to those very same elders. The elder-care “system” is rife with neglect and abuse. Nursing homes are nothing more than understaffed holding places for those seniors who are dependent on others for care. There is very little home happening there. I have heard stories of seniors who are malnourished because they need help eating and there is no one to help them. This is shocking, or at least it should be.

In a culture that seems to care so little for its aging population, it might do us all some good to remember that we are cultivating a system that will be the very one we wind up in when we are seniors. I, for one, am not okay with that.

Take a moment today, and every day to show the seniors in your life that they matter.

 

**My post in no way condemns all nursing homes. I am aware that there are some that are actually well-equipped, and staffed with nurses who care.

 

My Boys

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You have been mine from the moment I held my Baby Tender Love in the back of  Mrs. Womble’s kindergarten room.

You were alive before you were born, a little wish from the whispers of a five-year-old who had no idea what she was asking for, but knew you were exactly what she wanted one day.

Mine

You have always been mine.

I sang your song before I knew you.

I loved your voice before it was formed.

I held your hand in mine every single time I dreamed.

I waited for you.

Now you are mine and I have to let you go one day.

You are my always, my forever, my breath, the clock by which I start each day and end each night.

You are the reason nothing else and everything matters.

I never knew that someone else’s tears could drown me.

With you I  feel the edges of existence.

With you I walk on tightropes of hope.

With you I hear the world turn.

I have thunder in my veins when you need me.

My feet are winged when you call.

I am your thread from place to place.

I am because you made me.

I saw you and nothing else remained.

It was always you.

 

Brain Spill

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* I am writing this so that others can see one of the many faces of depression. I am not seeking pity or attention.

One thing I have always been in my writing is honest. So this is me being honest, unfiltered and raw.  I am not editing this at all, so please forgive the James Joycian run-ons and stream of consciousness, it’s the most accurate representation of how my mind is working (or not working) right now.

Tonight, I feel broken. I feel like I can’t move. I can’t breathe. There is something inside of me that won’t work no matter how much I tinker with it. And, believe me, there is much tinkering going on.

I don’t like this. I don’t want this. But this is me. I have clinical depression. At any given moment it visits me. It doesn’t care if I have everything I need, everything I want. It comes without warning and stays for as long as it wants. The sun may be shining. The clouds cleared, but inside of me the storm rages despite the current forecast. I try to fight it, but it’s like fighting the undertow. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.

But think of all the good things you have. You have so much to be thankful for. No shit. I know that. But my depression doesn’t care. Those of you who say this, I don’t fault you. I don’t hate you for thinking it’s as simple as that. In fact, I think you know it isn’t, you just don’t really know what else to say. It’s okay. I don’t know what to say either.

It’s like someone asking you how you are. They are being polite. It’s what you do. It’s not like I’m going to answer by saying, you know what, I’m not good. In fact, I feel like I’m disintegrating. You just don’t say that. It makes people uncomfortable. I get it. It makes me uncomfortable too. 24 hour kind of uncomfortable. Unless there is wine. And then it’s only mildly annoying. Until there’s a sad song. And there’s always a sad song, isn’t there?

But I’m a mom. I can’t “self-medicate” like my mind tells me I want to. I can’t keep a travel mug full of “peace” with me at all times. And, honestly, I don’t want to. It scares me that the wine helps as much as it does. I don’t want to be that person. But a part of me is that person whether I like it or not.

Then there’s the most awesome part of all. My oldest son also has anxiety and depression. And every time I look at my youngest I wonder if I have passed the curse on to him as well. Do I think I shouldn’t have had kids? Absolutely not! This world needs my kids because they are incredible. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty, which fuels my depression…vicious circle.

Did I mention I’m tired, but I can’t sleep?  I feel like I’m losing it most nights as I try to drift off with all of the what ifs shooting off like firecrackers in my mind. Problems that aren’t even my problems. Sadness that doesn’t even belong to me. I am too connected. So connected that I disconnect in order to survive.

I just want to rest. I just want to feel like everything will be okay. I want to trust the words I feed my children every day. It will get better. You just have to believe.  There are plenty of days where I feel like I’m just setting them up for the firing squad.

I’ll find my way out. I always have. But every time I surface, I can’t help but wonder when the next wave will hit.

 

 

 

I Am

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Original mixed media artwork

I am a notebook lined with intimate inkings that are not my own.

I am an untrained runner in a marathon with legs that quiver and quit on  me.

I am a brittle-backed leaf on bare limbs, desperately hanging on.

I am the earthworm tirelessly trekking the sun-soaked concrete path in search of the cool dirt, my skin shrinking around me.

I am a discarded bag forced by the wind to kite dance, dipping and diving, an empty carcass of plastic skin.

I am bone-tired, and every breath breaks me.

I am all these things on any given day. But I am here, and I am trying.

 

Got Compassion?

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An original piece of my artwork inspired by two beautiful compassionate children – Pippa and Sunna

 

“Oh I don’t know, Tourette’s can be kind of fun. I knew someone with TS and he would throw the “F” word around all the time,” the stranger said with a laugh.

Silence. Suddenly I was bombarded by the image pain of Jake sticking his finger down his throat hundreds of times a day. I was reminded of the time I stood in the kitchen doorway, unknown to him, as he repeatedly punched himself in the stomach, tears running down his face. He was six. I recalled the angry stares of strangers who judged him every time we were out. And I felt my words stick in my throat as they so often do.

Sadly, this is a scenario that has played out in many forms over the years. I have since learned to speak out for Jake and other people like him who live with the suffering that accompanies Tourette’s and OCD. I can assure you none of them are having fun.

When Jake was diagnosed I was under the impression that his biggest problem would be peer bullying. Kids can be cruel. What I have learned instead, is that adults tend to be the worst bullies of all.

Over the years I’ve wondered about this. Why, when adults have so much more life experience, are so many lacking in compassion? How do they justify such insensitive remarks?

As adults we tend to inhabit our own space, both physically and mentally. The longer we remain earthbound, the easier it is for us to grow cynical and care less and less about the “big” world, concentrating instead on our personal lives. Unless a person’s life has been touched in some way by disability, and special needs, I think they just don’t get it. Instead, they are driven by the media’s skewed stereotypes.

All people with Tourette’s curse. False. Less than 10% are afflicted with coprolalia – a tic that causes them to use obscene language. I once met a twelve year old boy who was deaf because one of his tics was to box himself in the ears. I’ve seen a fifteen year old girl in a wheelchair because one of her tics was squatting while she walked. Hilarious,right?

All people with OCD are neat and are germaphobes. Just give them some hand sanitizer and all is well. False. Jake’s OCD immobilizes him at times, making him unable to leave the house. He struggles every day with repetitive thoughts and fears, causing him severe social anxiety. Good times, yeah?

Clearly, there is no humor in these conditions or any others.

So what’s different about how children process these differences. I think that children are simply more connected to the world than we are. They are newer beings on this Earth and are naturally curious. They haven’t been media-trained in the ways of callousness. We have so much to learn from them, and such a responsibility to protect them from becoming hard-edged.

But I think it’s important to note that compassion is more than just caring. As connected Beings we all need to practice empathy more than sympathy. And if we allow ourselves to reconnect with our spiritual side (not religious – that’s completely different and man-made), we will realize that it’s our natural state because we are all connected.

So how about you? Got Compassion?