Depression is Analogous to Treading Water

Depression is hard to explain to those who haven’t experienced it firsthand. People who are lucky enough to not understand it often brush it off, and expect the depressed to just, “snap out of it”.  There’s no limp, no rash, no wheezy cough.  It’s an invisible ailment.  The disease is misunderstood and has a negative stigma and it can be embarrassing to admit you have mental health condition.  It is also biologically based and indubitably real.

When I think about my own depression, I liken the experience to being out in the middle of an ocean, treading water.

Satellite image of Tropical Depression One-C i...
Satellite image of Tropical Depression One-C in the Central Pacific Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are just trying to keep your head above water.  You are using all of your energy to stay afloat.  You do not have energy to attend events, enjoy your hobbies or cheer on your friends.  You might be focusing so hard on surviving that you forget dates or meetings or to pick up bread from the store, or even to take your own meds. Compared to sinking and drowning in the salty sea, those other items are quite trivial.  It’s Maslow’s hierarchy in action.

You feel alone.  Stranded, stuck. There’s no one to talk to, no one to listen, no one to understand.  In a crowded room, at a family holiday, you’re still staring out at an open ocean, feeling utterly isolated.

It’s physically exhausting.  Treading water takes energy.  Your legs hurt, your neck hurts, your head hurts.  Your eyes hurt, your stomach hurts.  You’re tired.  All the time.  Tired.  You are so tired, you could fall asleep at your desk, at the grocery stores, driving your car.  You’re so tired you’re not sure how long you can keep this jig up.

You think you might not make it. Sometimes not knowing which direction leads to shore, means you remain immobile.  People who do not understand depression might think you don’t WANT to help yourself, that’s you’re being lazy – when in reality you just don’t know where to go.  You don’t know how to fix it.  You don’t know if you CAN fix it.  Sometimes something that used to help, doesn’t help anymore. You feel hopeless.

You think it might be easier to just let go and be swallowed up by the sea.  You’re just so tired and you don’t think it’ll ever get better.  You sit in the garage with the car running, thinking about shutting the door, much more often than you would ever outwardly admit.  Usually you just go inside and say hi to your spouse and start making dinner.  Some people eventually decide to stop pumping their legs and shut the garage door.

You might not be able to get out of this situation by yourself. Remember when Rose, from the movie, Titanic, was stranded at open sea, half-frozen on the trunk?  If you recall, the rescuers came to help, but at first she just blends in with the rest of the dead.  Most people can’t see how depressed you really are.  Even when the help was right there, Rose barely had the energy to reach out to them to save her own life.  The only thing that saved her was the whistle.  If you don’t have a whistle, of sorts, a way to get the help that’s needed in terms of medicine, therapists or other supports, it’s very difficult to get yourself out of the blackness.  Sometimes you have a whistle and just can’t see the rescuers.

You’re not very cordial.  You might notice that saying hello and turning the corners of your mouth upwards takes significantly more energy than you have stored within your cells.  Can you imagine a rescue team approaching someone who is stranded in the ocean, and them berating the person they are plucking from the tide because he or she isn’t affable?  Is too unsociable?  That’s the message we receive when our friends and family get upset at us for looking or acting like we feel. Sometimes we push away the lifesavers around us with our poor dispositions.  Sometimes the people we need help from the most unknowingly hold our heads under water.

Some days are okay while others are a nightmare. Sometimes treading water is okay.  Like, if it’s sunny and there’s a nice breeze and you’ve only been treading water for 20 minutes.  But, it is a whole different story if you’ve been stranded for days, without food, and it’s thunderstorming.  People with depression have good days and bad days (or months or years) depending on what’s going on and how long they’ve been feeling this way.  Seeing someone smile does not mean they are not struggling with depression.

You have irrational fantasies of being saved.  Mirages appear, making you feel like you are saved.  You think the depression will never recur.  Perhaps you’re picked up by a boat, and you think, “Hooray!  I’ll never be in this situation again!”, But inevitably, the boat gets a hole and sinks and whoever rescued you drowns and you’re back in the same blackness you fantasized about never again having to experience.  And you think, “How did I get stuck out here, AGAIN?!”  As much as you feel like it won’t, it always comes back.  It always, always does.  Hint:  That’s how you know it’s a disease.

No one is ever really cured of depression.  If you struggle with depression, you’re always treading water.  Sometimes your legs are like lead and your head keeps going under.  Other times you’ve got your floaties on, bobbing in the Sun, with a clear view of land just over your shoulder.  You’re still always treading. It’s just a matter of how far offshore you are.

For those of you who have experienced depression, how do you explain it to other people?

If you liked this post you may also like:  A Bit of Gray Peeking Out

On Gratitude and Compassion.

This is the week where we are reminded to reflect on what we are thankful for.  This year my biggest gratitude and thanks go to Baby Grouch.

She makes me happy simply because she is she.  I am grateful for her smiles, her snores, her little grasp on my finger, her cuddles and coos.  I’m grateful for her cries and her tears and for the exhaustion that comes from her waking me up at all hours of the night.  I’m grateful for every tiny bit of her being.

She is a really good baby, very content and calm most of the time.  There was one night when she screamed bloody murder – and nothing could be done to console her.  She continued to shriek and shriek for what felt like an eternity, but in reality was about 40 minutes.  Unlike the annoyance that I imagined I might someday feel when my child didn’t stop screaming, I surprised myself by feeling compassion.  I knew she wouldn’t be crying without a reason and I just wanted her to be happy again.  I wasn’t angry, and I just calmly did what I could to try to help.

Within my years teaching high school students, I’ve worked with upwards of a thousand high school students.  For all of those years, at least some of my students have been considered “at risk” and there is a substantial number of them have been said to have behavior problems in other people’s rooms.  From what I’ve heard, some of them have really been little fuckers, I must admit.  In my classroom, however, there are very few students I would have classified in that way.  That’s not to say they didn’t sometimes do things they weren’t supposed to, but by punishing the action and not the child – by approaching each outburst with compassion and empathy – I haven’t had to deal with too much – and I’d say that all of my students have been, and are, really great people.

Well, all except two.  Two of them I thought were pretty evil and beyond help.  During my second year of teaching there was Steve, and my 5th year of teaching there was Michael.  It’s okay to be honest here, right?

Okay, okay, in all reality, those two probably just needed help beyond what I was capable of giving. But, see how easy it was for me to put the blame on them? To say that there must be something wrong with THEM, when really it was ME who couldn’t help?

Unlike babies, teenagers (and adults) don’t always cry at the exact moment when something is wrong.  More often than not, this unhappiness manifests in some other form, and is often redirected at sources other than the real problem.  When someone lashes out angrily, or cruelly or even violently, we can condemn the behavior, but we need to look at that person with compassion and do what we can to help.  Maybe they have sensory issues, maybe they have a cognitive impairment, have poor coping skills, are dealing with depression or mental illness, have anger issues due to neglect or abuse, or were just never taught how to use good judgement.  We need to remember that good people can do stupid things.  Even horrible things.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions or that poor choices shouldn’t have consequences.  Not at all.  But, we sometimes need a reminder that it is incredibly easy for those of us who are so lucky to have support, love, guidance, strong role models, financial means and good health, to judge the actions of others who do not have the benefit of these gifts.  But just because it is easy doesn’t make it okay.

It’s so easy to sit back in our cushy lives, look down our noses and arrogantly scoff, “What is wrong with these people?”  Well, guess what,  there is probably a LOT wrong. And the reason we don’t act that way is because we are LUCKY, not just because we are so much better than everyone else.  Instead of judging, we need to all have a little more compassion.

This is why despite the incessant bashing of teachers – calling us lazy, calling us greedy,  politicians taking away health care, and pensions and our funding, and increasing class size – despite all of this, I still love my job, because, like so many of my colleagues, I choose my “core curriculum” to include empathy and compassion.

I’m so grateful for Baby Grouch, and the happiness she has given me, and for her reminding me what I already know, but what is so easy to forget.

Oh, and I’m also thankful for wine.  Very, very thankful for wine.

This post is a part of Yeah Write #84.  If you like what you read, vote for me on Thursday 🙂

Dream #14 : To Burn Or Not To Burn

DREAM:

My parents, sisters and husband are running through the city.  There are “bad guys” dressed in military style garb scattered all about – on street corners, in buildings, driving tanks.  It is noisy and chaotic, people are yelling and screaming.  We get captured and are taken to sit around an outdoor fire pit.  There is an enclosure around the benches we are sitting on and the fire keeps swelling, getting larger and larger.  We have been instructed to sit there and not move, but if we don’t move, we will all burn.  (Apparently this is what the bad guys want – for us to burn).  My gut instinct tells me to RUN! ESCAPE!

Somehow I know that if we stay put, we will not all burn at the same time, one of us would go first, then the next, etc… and the idea of being the only one burning while the rest watched or being the last one to burn and watching the rest burn before me are equally revolting.  If I went first, would I try to suppress a scream, to make it less torturous to the rest of my family?  Would that even be possible?  How could one just sit there, watching your own skin bubble up and blacken?  I think we should run.  My mom thinks we need to just stay and burn, because what awaits us if we escape, and are caught, is much worse than being scorched alive.

ANALYSIS:

FIRE:  Dream Forth tells me that to dream of being burned by fire suggests that I need to reign in my emotions. They tell me, and I quote, “Your temper is volatile”.  HA!  This is the most dead-on dream interpretation I’ve found yet.  Um, hello?  I’m Irish AND Italian.  Which basically means my innards are comprised primarily of volatile emotions. Volatile emotions sprinkled with a boatload of garlic and a healthy dollop of whiskey, and that’s about it.

Dream Moods counters with the argument that dreaming that I, or someone else, is being burned alive suggests that I am being consumed by my own ambition. I’m not even sure if being consumed by one’s own ambitions is a good or a bad thing.  On one hand, I have days where I am ambitiously (and sometimes manically) working on one of my several projects that I have going on, while at other times my greatest ambition is sitting my ass on the couch with my feet up,  consuming entire half-gallons of Chocolate Moose Tracks entirely independently.  Per usual, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal.  No real gray area with me.

ALTERNATIVE ANALYSIS:  Preggo me has turned into a raging inferno that is emitting absurd amounts of body heat – so much, in fact, that my own body-generated temperature may cause me to have a dream about being burnt to death.

FUN FACTS:

1)  My husband is a human furnace.  I occasionally call him “Furnaki” an English-Greek hybrid of a word that I made up in college, which means “cute little furnace”.   Since his internal thermostat is so high, and  his manly-Greek-pelt is so thick, he cranks up the air conditioning to blast-o-matic levels in order to cool himself down to a temperature that will not allow his brain to cook.

2)  The old me used to sleep in long pants, tank top and hooded sweatshirt, snuggled underneath two blankets or comforters.  Yes, even in the summer (see air-conditioning above).  I’ve always been a “cold hands, warm heart” kind of person.  But now?  Now, I sleep with my shirt pulled up to my boobs, a cold-pack resting on my side, with no blankets touching me whatsoever.  Since I am usually awake between the hours of 2.30a.m. – 4.30a.m. anyway, I swap out the warmed cold pack with a fresh one.  The cold hands are a thing of the past, and some would say maybe I didn’t really have a warm heart to begin with…so there probably hasn’t been much of a shift there.

3)  I guess we can add this to the ever-growing list of how pregnancy is turning me into my husband.  But no, in case you are wondering, he does NOT sleep with his shirt pushed up to his boobs.

My friend Rob tells me my blog is really “girly”. I imagine this post is no different.  Sorry, Rob!  Maybe there will be more bloodshed and porn in the next one.

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