depression

TOUCHED

I walked into my brother’s shop after class.  I was an adult “non-traditional” student in my early 30s at the local university.  I remember riding in the back seat of our family car as a young girl, and while the campus was a fixture in our small town, it seemed a world away.  I wondered what it would be like, to be one of the young women there and yet miraculously for me,  I   became one of them.

My brother asked “how was class,’ and we exchanged small talk when he began discussing the difficulties his son was having in school:

“You know, Dad and I were talking the other day, and we agreed you and Daniel have a touch of the same thing…”

I was shocked. I didn’t respond verbally.  Silence is my usual response.

Now I can see that even then, I had a lot to prove, though education was for my own sake, for my own desire for learning.  But simultaneously there was a tab to pay, a peg to move one step ahead in effort find myself on home base. Obviously, I am not even in the game, or at least, that is how I felt in that moment.  His words hit a nerve- for all my learning, for all I have overcome, his view of me was incredulous.  Not only that, he and my dad seemed to agree on the fact.

I’ve always admired my brother.  If he had self-doubt, he didn’t show it.  He was always of good humor, level-headed, an intelligent, straight A student and when we were kids, engrossed in sports.  I thought he had the better of things  being a boy, and for a short time, I dressed like him, wanted to play on his ball teams- even one summer I practiced catching ball thinking I would join his all-boys team.   I wanted the acceptance, admiration and success he had. I tried to model myself after him, and he never knew.  We had many fun times together.

(Did he really say that?)

“You know, Dad and I were talking the other day, and we agreed you and Daniel have a touch of the same thing…”

A touch.

A little thing resulting in a great divide.

I am sure he was referring not only to our similar learning difficulties, but also our personalities and behaviors to some degree.  When I was around my nephew’s age, I experienced what the family jokingly refers now as “the dark years.”

I can laugh at that most of the time, but they truly were dark, and back then it wasn’t very funny.  I think his ability to classify it in such creative, dramatic terms is the kicker.  Most of the time I laughed, but one time I responded, saying they actually were very dark and I wasn’t in the mood to laugh about it.

Depression 101

What it’s like:

I’m a card-carrying, lifelong member of the club, so here’s a few highlights:

–  Can you guess how I am feeling today?

–  I can’t focus on anything; all I can do is continually talk myself into keeping a calm, clear mind today.  It’s on-going.

– I tell myself, ‘Tomorrow will be better. It just doesn’t feel like it.’

– It’s like walking around with a wet blanket wrapped around your head.

– I feel everything and nothing.

– I don’t want to feel this way.  I can’t get anything accomplished.

I don’t feel it at all today, but I know factually that tomorrow may be better.  When depression is very severe, I am not

capable of even thinking of tomorrow. Fortunately for me, today isn’t so bad.

– Everything requires so much energy.

– I have to MAKE myself do basic cares.  Time can pass by without the thought of it.

– The thought of stepping inside a shower wears me out mentally. I talk myself through it.

– I try not to think of the past, the future, or anything really, but its all demanding my attention.

– If several people circled around you, all demanding your attention, all yelling in

gibberish….that is what depression is like.

When I left..

It was a long time coming.

You should have known, but you didn’t think I had the guts to do it.

How many times did you you say you wanted out?

Maybe the time I didn’t want to go to town at 11 pm, which I quietly expressed, being wrapped up in an art project.  My saying so was a challenge to you;  I think it represented other aspects of our lives that you were unhappy with.  You wouldn’t lay a hand on me, but you gave me your best intimidation:  Your black, unblinking eyes steady as you charged into my personal space- just close enough to mean business.   Then, you threatened to rip my painting- All because I asserted an opinion.

I made sure to do it gently too, so there could be no accusation of “rebellion.”

You yelled,  you clinched your fists,  packed a bag or two, and I watched from a window as you tossed them onto the back seat of the car.  I think you circled around the block a few times while I called my sister at 1 o’clock in the morning, terrified.

I  tried to hold my calm- which you always hated.  You said more than once I should express my feelings differently  because I appeared lackadaisical and uncaring.  But we both know that wasn’t always the case.

I asked myself once again: Why do I continually encounter this episode with men?

Before going to my sister’s house for the night, I have to say I was truly afraid, unsure of what you might do.  I had experienced occasional hurt when you were overcome with a meanness that wouldn’t rest until I had tasted the bitterness of it, and tears…that seemed to be the objective.  Once fulfilled,  you withdrew in shameful repentance after a revelation from God that I hadn’t done anything to deserve such treatment, that you ought to have behaved better.

As years passed, and after many more words and irrational confrontations, I became numb.

When you said “I don’t think I want to be married to you anymore,”  and how I had been a lousy wife, something changed in me that instant.  I never quite got over that.

Later, When I said I wanted a separation, you came up with things like:

“Your credit isn’t good enough..”  (It was excellent, in fact).

“You cant make it on your own..” (I have).

The only sad moment was your shock, when you slowly fumbled your way toward  me with genuine tears and said:

“Don’t leave me…”

Pictures of you as a toddler came to mind, because you looked vulnerable like that little boy.  I saw you as human, not

my husband.

I stayed for a long time…17 years- because I believed in marriage.  I left for the same reason.  I knew your religious belief would never allow you to leave.  After our divorce, you informed me the international headquarters of your church had a file of my behaviors and my leading the divorce, which cleared you of any fault, and free to pursue ministry.  I knew that would be the case.  Make the most of it.  Divorce was the best decision I ever made.

BUT no, it wasn’t easy.

In the back of my mind

As a young girl, shame seemed to overshadow everything: Spilt Drinks, Wallpaper slit in corners, because they weren’t lying perfectly flat; scribbles and smiley faces on bricks and painted walls, piles of papers, coffee-stains missed on washed dishes, the inability to remember…my brother received a stretch Armstrong for Christmas, and after the doll’s newness wore off and it sat dormant, I couldn’t wait to slice it open to see what made him so pliable. I loved deconstructing almost anything to see what it was all about, how it worked, but soon my mind was taking me off to something else, and said items usually sat piled up for another day. I can’t explain it, but there was an overwhelming compulsion to do exasperating, senseless things. On top of that, I rocked most of the time, I couldn’t talk on the phone without pacing and I picked my cuticles incessantly until they bled.

My brother, sister and I enjoyed games together, but the matching game was dreadful. I could not remember where two cards alike were hiding. Meanwhile, my siblings racked up, blasé as they tossed their married cards into piles. I was determined to remember on my next turn- I carefully watched each one turned face-up and quickly flipped, but their memory faded before I had time to store them. For a while I had difficulty telling time, so my father took a flat cardboard box, and on it painted the face of a clock. He made two wooden hands, and secured them with a screw, nut and washer for realistic movement. After supper, he would get the clock out of the utility room, sit in his chair and quiz me each evening. Eventually it became comfortable.

Generally, Numbers have always been a foreign language to me: I would try to absorb them like the match game cards, but I couldn’t grasp them. My dad and I had many showdowns during his attempts to help me with homework. I’m sure many Parents get frustrated when they can’t find the exact words to use when trying to teach something, and after many attempts of explaining the same thing, over and over, exasperation took over. He would end up yelling, I would end up crying. So besides associating numbers with a mysterious dark void, they also seemed to be another means of separation.

My favorite pastime in class was reading the SRAs. They were cards with stories which you later tested yourself on key points. The spoken word was wooden for me, but the written word, was my first love. I relied on the page- while I could not find words to explain things, I found if I could write them down as I spoke, they came alive. The visual was my tool to connect with others, to share common knowledge.

As I ran toward puberty, the learning and social difficulties began to increase.  One day my mom told me my desk would be placed in front of the class, side by side with my teacher’s. “It will help you pay attention,” she said.  This took place casually and nothing was announced or said about it in class.

I never was a girl’s friend, those who immediately connect, share gossip, brush each other’s hair or whatnot.

I had friends, and many laughs, but they weren’t steady. I remember once scanning female classmates, and thinking of them as “otherworldly…” separate. I sensed their experience to be very different from my own. It wasn’t just my weight struggle or my bowl hair cuts, or even my difficulties in school, though I admired their femininity, their long straight hair and their propensity for good grades. It was the right to simply be that I admired, no questions asked.  My proudest moment was winning the class spelling B.

By grace I was passed to the 7th grade,  and my first year at junior high was one of my most difficult of all my school years, just it time for boys, a menstrual cycle, and a changing body.  It probably would have been better had I been held back a year.

I prepared all summer for my upcoming move to a new school. I had blossomed and became more delicate looking in my opinion. I was turning into a young lady as seen in my mom’s old joe weider exercise booklets from the 50s. My brother, sister and I always went for the introductory first volume for a laugh, which featured black and white photographs of the three breast types: Small, large and saggy. The last photograph created laughter like an unexpected punch line, and each time was like the first time. I spent that summer taking Joe’s advice. I practiced walking with a book on my head, doing scissor exercises and used the ornate, powder blue dumbbells included in the exercise kit for my budding breasts. I had learned the popular jingle sang by girls in small groups- with the pumping of elbows it was chanted-

“I must… I must… I must increase my bust-
the bigger the better the tighter the sweater
I must increase my bust!”

I was hopeful about having a social life, making girl friends and doing girl things- meeting boys, and was crazy about clothes. My mom took me clothes shopping on Friday nights, where I bought trendy blouses, slacks, and accessories. She and dad were always generous in buying for us. She took me into her room once to show me all the jewelry she had, including her first pair of gold earrings she bought when she was 17- tiny acorns to wear in her tiny earlobes. I enjoyed the passage into my teen years with enthusiasm, and appreciated all its beauty ritual and accoutrements.

Neck Above Water

Many over the years have speculated about depression, well, specifically MY depression- if only I would do a specific thing, eat certain foods, or say specific prayers ( yes, I have even bound the “spirit” of depression through prayer),  then I would be cured, healed…I would be “normal.”   A well-meaning lady told me if I would eat whole, non-processed food it was cure my depression. That is probably true for certain types of depression. Sadly and ironically she died of cancer.  She taught and believed if she ate all the right things, she would live her life out in optimum health.  It was a wise thing, Its just there are no guarantees.

People mean well.  They want to help.  They want to believe for me and for themselves.

After several years of praying and following a carrot on a stick, I realized that in spite of all my efforts, all of my faith, after all the prayers and verses recited, God for whatever reason chose not to heal me, and it was time to deal with reality.

That moment came in graduate school.  It didn’t really phase me that I was crying almost every day.  In fact, crying spells were for years the norm.  But this time was different:  While I was used to my mind racing, it took off with fantastic speed.

I was walking on campus when I looked over to my right and saw a man looking at me through a window, with a bewildered expression, as if I was crazy or something.  I realized I was crying and arguing with myself.

What am I doing?   I knew what I wasn’t doing-  I wasn’t able to focus on my classes, or my studies.  I decided to visit my doctor who after a lengthy spell of listening to me asked if I had diabetes, or any other form of illness- would I take care of it?  He wasn’t one to throw people towards medication, either,  He believed in medication as a last resort, after exploring all other options.  Giving my history, I was officially a “depressed” person.  He explained brain chemicals, how these affect mood and behaviors, and how there is no shame in taking care of one’s self, in spite of stigma.

I left with a bandaged arm where the nurse had taken blood, and decided a little window shopping might help me sort things out.  I probably looked quite ragged with all of my makeup long lost after an hour of crying.  I was in line at a store register when I noticed a woman’s bracelet and told her how attractive I thought it was.  She told me where she bought it, that it was sterling sliver, then continued through the check out line.  She went to the door, turned back to me, and clamped the bracelet on my wrist.

“Whatever you are going through, remember God knows and cares for you.”

Ah yes, God.  The one who is still here in my moment of truth.  The all-powerful one who could have removed this defect from me but chose not to.  How many times had I been reminded if only I had the faith of the small mustard seed, I could move mountains?  How many times was I told “If I would just have faith?”  How many times did I “Bind” depression so I could live a victorious life?  

I didn’t realize it that day, but accepting the truth of my depression was the most liberating moment of my life.

Get off the Bus

(NPR program aired originally in 2009)

I was listening to NPR radio on the way to an appointment.

The commentator spoke of how individuals in Spain are trying to pass legislation regarding advertising:

Advertisers would have some restrictions regarding how they can portray women’s bodies. More fashion models are extremely thin but there is now a discouragement against this anorexic “Ideal.”  Even the thinnest mannequins in shops are being closeted in order to display an average, “normal” body type.  Maybe they should keep a sampling of all sizes, since there are some very thin women in the world, you know, mix it up a bit.

The potential legislation is due to the increase in eating disorders and other social problems such as depression and suicide.

At least someone understands advertisements aren’t neutral; they are meant to shape thinking and behavior, and this may have a negative or positive result for the one buying in, depending on how they use the information or product.

While I believe the advertiser should have the freedom to work, and ultimately it is our individual responsibility to weigh the worth of it’s message, this freedom does not release an advertiser from responsibility  for what it creates, nor the effect.   No man is an island, and yes, we are our brother’s keeper, at least in civilized society.  Everything matters.

Let’s face it-  The media “machine” have a huge role in creating personal dissatisfaction, because it has a product to sell.  In order for a business to exist, they need you to buy.  For you to buy, you must have a want or a need.  They have marketers to “create” the want and/or need through advertising. Some products are worthy, others are not.

Unfortunately, there is a huge drive to create dissatisfaction with our bodies in order to sale product.

Ever flip through the TV Cable guide?

“Get the hard body you’ve always wanted…”

“Return to your youth…”

“Rid yourself of wrinkles, age-spots, cellulite, freckles, acne..”

“Look years younger…”

One of my favorites:  “If you are not whitening, you are yellowing.”

Now that’s clever.  Kudos to you, whoever thought of that one.

Another favorite: “The Brazilian Butt lift.”

First, the ideal breast should remain 17; Now our butts must become buoyant  And the rest of our bodies, well, it should be as thin and sculpted as possible.  My local gym is selling t shirts with this motto: “Strong is the new Skinny…”

It’s not that we don’t appreciate said breast and butts, either.  its just that unless we want to do the mental equivalent of driving toothpicks under our fingernails, we need to be accepting of who we are, and focus on being the best that we can be.  There’s nothing wrong with working hard and making that rock hard body a reality;  Nothing wrong with anything you want to do to improve your life or your looks;  that’s a personal decision.  But hopefully do so while knowing your personal worth is not at stake should it not be completely possible, or your standard unobtainable.   There ARE a few  people in our world who will reject us because we don’t look a certain way;  The question is, will we participate?   Isn’t acceptance and contentment much more appealing?

There comes a time when we have to decide when we need to “get off the bus.”

That’s an expression I use when I need to change direction in my thinking,  actions or attitudes in general.  Religious circles call it repenting:  when you are going in one direction; simply turn around and walk in the opposite.   It starts with a decision.  Just pull the cord and get off the bus already.

I’ve had to get off the media driven bus many times.  While I have a healthy view of myself, and a sense of humor in tact most of the time regarding my imperfections, the messages of dissatisfaction still work their way in and whisper how maybe, just maybe my life would be a little bit better “if..”  If maybe I would simply throw down 100 bucks every two month and thicken my thinning eyelashes.

Maybe I just want to recognize the woman I used to see in the mirror again.  It’s a powerful motivation.

Maybe Instead I can be content with using one of the body-building mascaras flooding the cosmetic counters.

Maybe I can accept that I am growing older, and my body is changing.

So many choices…

What’s so ironic, and tragically dichotomous, is all the food advertisements sandwiched (pun intended, I couldn’t help myself) in between these beauty enhancing ads:

“Be Skinny” on one channel.  The next demands: “Eat this food!”

“Get rid of Cellulite” but “Upsize your Meal!”

What’s interesting is to study the standards of beauty throughout history and in various cultures. 
We are multifaceted beings-  We each have personal  interests, qualities, talents, and gifts to develop.  If we are lacking in talents, we can choose to do things in life that enrich ourselves and others around us. Life is a gift, and we can choose each day to make the most of the time we’re given.

Have you ever met a person who may not have caught your eye immediately, but the more you got to know them, the more beautiful they became?  Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Not everyone has the same definition of what beauty is, so if someone isn’t “taken” with you, that’s okay too.  Everyone is different.  Hopefully they will not reject you as an individual because of it.  If they do, don’t make it your problem.

As a teen, and this is typical of teenagers, I was always so dissatisfied with my body, and even at my smallest, I was convinced I was fat.  Later on, I realized what I called “Fat” was actually the normal movement of my body.  Once I developed a real problem with weight,  I could see the difference.  I can look back at my younger days, and sad that I spent so much time dissatisfied.  We can’t go back in time- all we can do is make a decision for each day and live  life to the fullest.  It’s so much richer when you are at peace with yourself.

Sickness

I’ll enjoy several “feel good” days, during which she’s just  a long- lost memory.   Sometimes, I’m wound up in her grip like a possessed lover.  After a long absence she creeps up on me- a reminder I’m not alone and shouldn’t be so cocky.

As she closes in, my mind winds down and changes focus, and my body begins to slow- when movement becomes intentional.  My breath is shallow; my heart feels as if it is resting just above my chest, ready to float away and like most things,  just beyond my grasp.    Sometimes I can distance myself from her with laughter, or I’ll occupy my thoughts with busy or creative tasks.  Exercise works wonders.  Other times she slowly expands to fill every crevice of my being and all I am conscious of is her presence. I have only one question:  “How long will she stay this time around?”

I sleep to forget her,  to medicate, or I sleep with the hopes of resetting myself to a time when she didn’t exist.    She is my alter ego, my nemesis, a weighted companion who is aggressive and strong in every way that I am not, and any effort to thrive prompts her challenge.  She digs inside her iron heels and catches every fiery arrow I launch, which she swiftly breaks and tosses to the ground.

On the darkest days, she walks fast on my heels, spewing all sorts of ungodly filth and accusations,  and sin-eater that I am, I take in every bite.
She used to be so angry;   now she sits, reeking of boredom while keeping time with the tap of a finger.

Something about her presence though;  her very being requires my short supply of energy.  But as powerful as she is, I know she’s there, and  knowing is everything.