Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Welcome To the Winter Of My Discontent

I haven’t had much to say here in awhile, as I’ve been busy. SO BUSY. If you trust Facebook, you’d be quick to assume I’ve been busy working, writing, doing story shows, and preparing for a writer's conference in Italy next month. These things are indeed happening.  But much of the focus of this blog has revolved around what lurks beneath social media image crafting, so I’m opting for full disclosure upon my return to E's World of Nonsense.

I’ve been busy being depressed.  Not sad, not bummed out over current events. I have been struggling with depression, in the medical condition sense of the word. It’s taken up much of my precious time since mid-September. For every moment like this:

there are have been countless hours of this.

Not a new dilemma.  I’ve written about it here before.  It crept in slowly, as it does.  It started from the bottom up, literally, with my feet.  They started to hurt when I ran, then when I walked, then all the time.  I saw a specialist who diagnosed me with Morton’s Toe and Morton’s neuroma, basically wads of pissed off nerves in the balls of both of my feet.  I stopped running as per the doctor’s directive, which has been my most effective method of keeping my funk at bay.  I substituted bourbon and pasta and sulking, stuff that depression uses for fuel. Then I embarked on a difficult story.  Mixed with the worst winter Chicago has seen in 30 years wreaking serious havoc on my air travel job, it’s been a grind.  I went from being in the best shape of my life to wearing the largest size uniform I’ve ever had the displeasure of owning, the seams currently screaming for mercy.  So the feet, the work, the weight, the story, the deep freeze. But if it hadn’t been these challenges, it would have been different tests, to be sure. That’s life, as they say. (Just who the hell are “they”, anyway?)

Much has been written to attempt to explain depression. I’m sure every depressed soul has their own take on it. For me, it feels like there’s a radio in my head.  One day I notice that it only plays sad songs. Like a classic country jukebox, like Elliott Smith’s worst laments, like Leonard Cohen at his most hopeless. I cannot change the station. It permeates my thinking, this soundtrack. Some days there are irritating songs, reminiscent of the Jonny Greenwood score of the latter half of “There Will Be Blood”, just disturbing atonal screech. This pounding in my head makes it hard to concentrate, to see things clearly.  After awhile the nonstop funeral dirges are punctuated by a message.  The message is I CAN’T.  I can’t get out of bed, I can’t return your phone call, I can’t finish this story, I can’t go to the store.  Thank God I don’t have children or pets or house plants or anything else that depend on me for survival. This particular depressive episode for me as been all about short term, task-oriented thinking.  I cope by convincing myself to do ONE THING AT A TIME. First, I will get up. Okay, now what? I will make coffee. I will put laundry in the washer. I will do triage on my To Do list, anything that is not required can and will wait. If I do something above and beyond, like paying a bill or some other task that other people in their right mind do all day without thinking about it, I throw myself a little party in my mind. YAY ME! I am currently acting like my brother who suffers with severe OCD; I have an ongoing dialogue of everything that I’m doing while I'm doing it, my every move an internal discussion. This has made my day to day operations exhausting, and sometimes I go to work looking like I've already done a 12 hour shift. This nonstop assembly line going on in my mind has zapped my energy. My concentration is compromised. My social anxiety is exacerbated. I leave every encounter sure that the person I’ve talked to, or emailed, or texted hates me. I'm positive that I have said or written the wrong thing, and I know that people can see through my dead eyed stare that I am not right.  Then pretty much everything looks like this.

(photo from the bathroom stall at Seattle's 5 Point, I see somebody gets it)

 I went to my writing group a few weekends back and my short term tasking was so acute that I had to talk myself through crossing Berwyn Avenue at Ashland in steps.  Halfway across the intersection I had to stop and give myself another pep talk. CROSSING A STREET was a TWO STEP ORDEAL, people. Holy crap. Time for a cool change.

The next day I was listening to my iPod, trying to work in some actual music to the melancholy mix in my head. On my iPod is an MP3 of me telling a story at a show in June of 2012, recorded by the show's producers. It is the only such item on my iPod, and the odds of this story getting shuffled up are almost 1 in 2,600 currently. On any other day I would hit “skip” immediately, in search of a good song. But I decided to listen to it. It is a story of moving to Chicago and struggling with depression, about how I spent my first summer here drinking wine in my downtown apartment in a dirty bathrobe, unable to do anything. I took comfort in hearing that I had been in this place before. That even with my task related thinking, I was actually DOING THINGS this time, even if it was all about arduous pep talks along the way. I recognized that I’m much better at being depressed, and I gave myself some snaps for that.  YAY ME!

I reaffirmed my efforts to steer the ship to calmer waters. I’m trying to eat some vegetables with the starchy brown comfort chow. I’m taking it easy on the caffeine. And the booze. Overdoing it on the bourbon creates more problems than it solves in this mindset, and on a recent trip to the doctor I promised her I would discontinue “pulling a Faulkner”, as she calls it. We also revisited the idea of me taking antidepressant medications again. She said she would write me a prescription if that’s how I wanted to handle it, which I really don’t. She agreed, telling me, “You’re a good Irish girl, you’ll always have a bit of the abyss in you. Make it work for you, it’s good for your art.”  Thank God for competent medical advice, with an extra dose of sass.

I will exercise. I'm frustrated that I can’t run 5 miles like I could before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t walk a mile to the store or do a little yoga or dance to Van Halen Pandora for a meaningful chunk of minutes. I will read. I will write. I will rest. I will go to therapy. I will not take 30 BuzzFeed quizzes to figure out who I am. For better or for worse, I KNOW WHO I AM. I will be patient and kind with myself. I will surround myself with people who believe in me. I have faith that I will feel better.

When I finished telling that difficult story this last Sunday night to a wonderfully supportive audience, I felt lighter. The radio not so loud, the soundtrack less morose. I felt some control over the volume knob. I’m taking some time off from work and from storytelling shows while I get out of the fog. I’m eagerly awaiting a package that will have nine stories that I need to read, nine stories from the nine people I will work with in Italy next month. Some funk killing stuff on the horizon.

This is difficult information to put out there. I choose to share this struggle here for a few reasons. If you’ve suffered from depression, perhaps this might make you feel less alone. Mental illness is cloaked in shame and secrecy and denial, and I’d like to use my voice to try to change that. For others, please know that I’m not looking for sympathy or suggestions. I’m doing what I need to do. If you’re out in the world and you run across someone who seems to carrying some weight, be kind. This is not the time for teasing or tough love or “snap out of it.” After a good handful of strangers at work suggested that I should “SMILE!” and the ever popular “You look tired”, I was bolstered by a gentleman who stopped on his way out of the airplane lavatory and said simply, “Thank you so much for all your hard work today.”  I sensed he knew that it took me a lot of pep talks just to get there.

Peace out for now. I intend to write more soon. I'm only putting one space after the period now. YAY ME!

Fun drawings stolen from Allie Brosh's ever brilliant and amazing Hyperbole and a Half.
Guts and Glory show photo credit:  the incomparable Jill Howe

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