Thursday, July 31, 2014

Therapy today

So it's hard to believe that it was exactly a week ago today that I posted on Facebook the link to this blog.  I continue to be excited about being out there to the world and not being ashamed to say I have depression and anxiety.  I have had many kind messages and comments, several good conversations in real life, and some have confided in me that they, too, have similar struggles.  It has taken me about 25 years to get to this point, and I'm grateful to be out in the open.

However, when I walked into therapy today thinking I was going to be so excited to tell my therapist that I had taken this step it didn't quite work out that way.  As I often do, I walked in and kind of just froze up.  This happens often... I wasn't excited, I felt tense and nervous and so we talked about that for a bit.  Even after over a year with her, I still get nervous about opening up.  I actually have found that I'm more nervous and likely to freeze up when I have something positive to share.

So eventually we got around to talking about this whole being out in the open thing.  She asked me how I felt about it, I said excited but still wasn't really feeling it at that moment.  It's pretty amazing how quickly I forget the details of what happened in therapy... So it will get a bit blurry from here for a bit.  I know I spent some time talking about all that has happened as a result from putting that post out there, mostly the things I mentioned above about people's responses.

Let me take a step back for a second and share some background.  I am one of those people who feels like I need to resolve everything.  If I have an issue with someone I don't feel comfortable around that person until we've talked it through.  At least in most of my relationships that's true.  I see people who are able to let things go and function fine around people they have unresolved conflict with.  I have never understood that.   I've always wanted to do that, but it just hasn't seemed to be something I could have any control over.  Things that had happened several years ago could still be triggered at a moments notice.

So back to therapy.  I was telling my therapist that I walked into one of those situations one day this week where I am often triggered and nothing really happened.  There was someone there who I feel I have these unresolved issues with.  I mean, I actually felt fine being in this environment and enjoyed myself for the short time I was there.  She wondered what had changed.  I couldn't really say.  I had talked with a separate friend about it this week so maybe that was it?  But I've talked about this issue with people before and nothing had changed.  So my therapist wondered about the possible connection between "coming out" this week and my not being triggered.  It's possible I suppose.

Whatever it is, there was clearly a shift there.  For the first time I had a real feeling sense that I may be able to resolve issues within myself without needing the other person's participation.  It's still very new to me, but it feels like this is a big deal.  How nice it would be to not take things so personally all the time, to have another tool in my belt for dealing with people who I struggle with.  This felt like a big breakthrough to me.  At that point I talked about how for several months I have felt like I'm just coasting along through therapy and not much is happening.  But I think the reality is that sometimes changes are taking root that I don't really see coming.  Lulls are normal, and I guess I never know when what I've been working on is going to result in some kind of breakthrough. 

I had another breakthrough towards the end of the session.  I was feeling very open now and was expressing myself much more easily.  I told her about how hard it is for me to tell her good things about myself.  I think that was why the anxiety at the beginning.  I have trouble thinking of myself in a positive light.  This week I had done this amazing thing of coming out to the world about my depression, a huge step, and I still am not giving myself credit and letting myself feel all the good that is coming out of this.  So she told me that this week she wants me to work on acknowledging how great I am, and how what I'm doing is really helping me and others as well.  I'll be working on it...

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Hope

In 2012 and then again this year I participated in something called the out of the darkness overnight walk.  It's a 16-18 mile walk put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that begins shortly before sunset and ends with a closing ceremony as the sun rises.  Each time it has been an empowering and healing experience for me.  All that I'm doing now; starting the page on facebook, starting this blog, coming out in the open about my depression, would not be happening if I had not done each of these walks.

We walk to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention.  The money goes to research and programs aimed at raising awareness and opportunities to seek help.  Most of the people who walk do so because they have lost someone they love to suicide.  Some, like me, walk because they have suffered from mental illness and we want to raise awareness and be a part of the healing that happens there.  It's a place where talking about mental illness and suicide is completely acceptable.  Despite all the sadness and pain that is very present, the event is filled with a sense of hope and love that is beyond what I can put into words.

When you arrive at the walk you get to choose different colors of bead necklaces to wear based on why you walk.  When I see people wearing a white bead necklace, I knew that they had lost a child to suicide.  When people saw me wearing my green bead necklace, they knew that I have struggled personally with mental illness.  There are 8 different colors of beads that represent different reasons for walking.  It's a brilliant idea and so empowering for me to be able to wear those beads.  It's very comforting to be in that space surrounded by people who understand..

So now I've done that walk twice, and what I'm trying to do is bring that same sense of acceptance and love that I feel there into my daily life.  How amazing would it be if people could speak freely, without shame, about their emotional struggles?  How many lives would be saved if people were educated about the warning signs and were able to seek treatment?  That is my hope, and I will work to live my life in this way.  I read a statistic today that only 1 in 5 people with mental health issues are currently receiving treatment for it.  That makes me so sad, but I understand some of the reasons why.  Many people don't even realize they have a problem that could be treated and many don't have access to help.  But I think a lot of it has to do with the stigma.

I have been working on myself through therapy and support groups since around 1990, and I've made a great deal of progress.  There has definitely been a major shift in my work over the last three years since my last major episode of depression..  Most of this recent work has been about dealing with my own stigma of my depression.  I was ashamed of it, I'm not feeling that as much anymore.  For years I felt it was a weakness, and I felt that it was my fault that I couldn't just overcome it.  I know better now.  I work now to embrace and accept my illness.  Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments where the darkness takes over and the negative thoughts and feelings dominate me. These times are very difficult and hard to endure.  Thankfully there haven't been many of them lately.  However, even in those moments now I have the sense that they will pass and I have a lot more tools for riding it out and getting back to a better space.

I have been reading a number of other blogs about people's experience with mental illness and I found a quote I really liked on one.  His motto was, "enjoy the good and ride out the bad".  It definitely has meaning for my experiences with depression.  To me that means when things aren't good I don't need to try and force my way out of it or fight it.  I just need to accept it and ride it out,  It will pass, it always does... As for now, I'm in one of those good phases and I'm going to enjoy it.  Well, both my sons are up now so I think I'll talk to them and figure out what we will do with our day....


Friday, July 25, 2014


I decided tonight to post a link to this blog on Facebook for all to see.  I was terrified to take this step.  It felt like a really big one. Each time I have taken a step like this over the last couple of years it has felt like stepping off of a cliff.  Tonight was no different, and I needed a bit of encouragement from Amy (my wife) to hit that post button.  As the "likes" and kind comments poured in the fear turned quickly to peace and excitement.  I have gotten so many kind and supportive comments.  I really appreciate you all for your generous words and thoughts, it means so much to me.

It's hard for me to put into words what it means to be completely out in the open about my depression.  For years and years I have felt like I need to keep my depression a secret.  I know now I did that because I thought of it as a character flaw, that there was something wrong with me and it was shameful.  I have been seeing the same therapist now for a little over a year.  At the beginning of my time with her she was constantly telling me, "there's nothing wrong with you".  She still does sometimes.  That negative message is very deeply ingrained in me.  I know that there is nothing wrong with me now in my head, and more and more I'm beginning to feel that as well.  It's a slow process for sure....

It's the next morning now and I'm still feeling excited about all the positive feedback.  Just like in 2011 when I began this "coming out" process the weight on my shoulders is even lighter.  One thing about my depression is that it tells me all kinds of lies.  It has told me, and continues at times to tell me, that people don't like me, nobody would understand, I'm a burden to those in my life, etc...  It's that whole secret thing.  Sure, people are always nice to me and like me and such... But if they really knew the truth that would all change.  Well, here I've told anyone willing to read this the truth and yet you are still here.  You don't think less of me.  In fact, it seems to be just the opposite!  Wow indeed!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why am I doing this???

I've been asking myself this question.  Why would I want to write about my personal experiences with depression and anxiety and then put it out there for anyone to see?  It scares the hell out of me to be honest.  And yet, it just feels like the next logical step at this point in life..

I have dealt with depression and anxiety for nearly as long as I can remember.  For years I would not fully acknowledge that simple fact.  I was on and off medication, I went to therapy, and yet I still didn't really consider myself as someone who had depression and anxiety until fairly recently.  I never attempted suicide.  I have never been hospitalized.  This line of thinking was a way to separate myself from people who were really messed up.  I just wasn't ready to accept it, or maybe I just couldn't see it clearly.  I would go off my medication once I started to feel better with the assumption that everything was better now and I didn't need the medication anymore.  I wanted to be "normal".  Who doesn't?

About three years ago I had one of my worst episodes of depression that once again pushed me back onto medication and into therapy.  It was different this time.  I had always managed to push my way through my episodes before.  I mean I was miserable, but I still managed to function.  I did get through this episode, but I felt more out of control than I had ever felt before.  It scared me.  A LOT!!!  I didn't feel safe.  I thought I would have to be hospitalized.  I would make it through work somehow (those close to me noticed something wasn't right) and then just come home and cry.  I would often cry in the car on my way to and from work.  After a while, maybe 2 months, the medication started to kick in and slowly I began to stabilize...

I started taking it a bit more seriously.  Instead of just letting my general doctor take care of prescribing me medication I asked for a referral to a psychiatrist.  He questioned me for about an hour about my history and then told me I have episodic major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  I hadn't noticed it really before he pointed it out, but over the years my episodes would come more quickly each time after going off of meds and the severity of the episodes began increasing.  I made a choice at that point that my goal was no longer to go off of medication.   I'm still on it 3 years later and am not sure I'll ever go off.  I'm open, but at this point I see no reason to.

Now comes the part that begins to explain why I am writing.  As I was coming out of my depression and working on some things in therapy it became clear to me how difficult it was for me emotionally to keep my depression from people.  It takes soooooo much energy to pretend like everything is okay when I'm falling apart inside.  Not only that, but it was like I was living a lie.  Because... I was.  I didn't want to do it anymore.  So I started telling people.  Not random strangers on the street or anything, but people who were close to me.  My wife already knew, but my parents did not.  Many of my friends didn't know either.  So when the opportunity arose, I started telling people.  I told my parents, my brother and his wife, many of my co-workers, and a lot of friends.  I also had a conversation with each of my sons about it, who were then 9 and 12.  The conversations were really good and each of them asked me questions and tried to understand.  They were a little concerned and didn't understand, but they each seemed glad that I told them about it. 

Through that process an amazing thing happened.  Pretty much everyone I told responded sympathetically.  Some would tell me about their struggles, or those of a family member or close friend. I realized in those instances that my talking about it gave them permission to share their own experiences. Obviously many people don't understand it entirely and didn't necessarily know how to respond.  But that's not the important part.  The important part was the weight that was lifted off of my shoulders.  I didn't have to pretend anymore.  Even though not everyone knew, there were multiple people in all parts of my life who knew about it.  I still had the same issues, except now I didn't feel so alone with them or like I had to work so hard to put up a false front.

A lot has happened in the last several years, but I'll save that for next time.  At this point in my life I feel very strongly about the fact that a mental illness is just like any other illness and there should be no shame or stigma attached to it.  I still struggle at times and I've been in therapy with the same therapist for just over a year now.  I have a long ways to go, but I'm getting there.

I've learned over the last several years how common suicide is, and how it would be so much easier to prevent if people were able to get help and not feel the stigma attached to their illness.  I want mental illness to be seen in the same light as diabetes or any other illness.  I want people to be able to talk about it.  So part of my process in trying to bring this about is to live in the light with my illness.   I know it will be helpful to me to share my struggles, my successes, my fears, and my hopes.  I am also hopeful that my writing will give others hope and let them know they are not alone.