Growing up it made me numb
And I want to feel something again”
It is interesting how life changes us. I am not going to argue the issue is maturity. Or experience. Or any single factor. Life, collectively, just changes us. And at times that can mean something we once wore as a badge of honor becomes something unattractive to us. In fact, the inverse activity or thought processing of the badge may actually become what we find ourselves striving for.
Rather than talking in circles, let me give you two of my own life examples.
First, multi-tasking. I was raised to believe it was imperative, and even as recently as a 2017 job interview touted my ability to multitask with the best of them. Two. Three. Four or more. I can keep all the plates spinning. I can handle multiple things all at once. I found pride in living life like the moron I saw driving the other day with a cigarette in one hand, a burger in the other, and maneuvering in the driver compartment in a manner which suggested that the car had to be a stick shift! I was appalled, as most people witnessing it would be. Yet somehow it is considered successful, even normal, to live the day-in day-outs of life in the same manner.
Now, it is the opposite that I long for and am striving for. Single focus. The ability to do one thing at a time. In fact, you really want to find a person with some intense mental ability, ask them that at a job interview… “Are you capable of, with distractions coming from all directions, staying focused on a single task?” In this day of social media, cell phone notifications, and multi-screen workstations I can’t help but wonder if the greater skill is not the ability to do one thing at a time. To manage oneself on a one-track path. To be fully present in one place, with one thing or person, at a given time.
Second, with some correlations to the first, “to do” lists. I lived for them. The creation of them. The almost erotic joy of crossing something off of one. The euphoria of completing one and throwing it in the trash. There was great pride in generating items to throw down on the list at a high rate of speed and being able to shrink the overall length of the list at an even higher one. The fulfillment of a day, especially a weekend day, measured by how efficiently a “to do” list had been tackled and how long of one had succumbed to my sovereignty over it.
Now, they are necessary evils. Needed to keep me from forgetting things that my mind will no longer hold in place. But not my purpose. Not my objective. Not the guiding light for my Saturday. I prefer to find myself attempting to just be rather than identifying myself by what I have been able to do. That is not to knock people with a highly productive drive. My wife is one of those people. It just does not work for me any longer. It is a beat down rather than a build up. It takes me away from who I am and focuses me in on what I have accomplished. Which at my point in life, is sadly uninspiring.
None of this happens overnight. It is more of a metamorphosis. What I was. Recognizing what I would rather be. Breaking habits and thought patterns. Settling into a resolve that it is okay to see things differently. Establishing new ways of thinking. Making decisions that reflect a paradigm that has changed through the journey. Becoming someone different.
Badges of honor that have lost their luster. Have been replaced by a longing for a singleness of focus. By a being overdoing. Searching for a longevity of fulfillment rather than the short-term high of happiness.
“…activities that arouse pleasure are short-lived but memorable, such as enjoying a good meal, watching a movie or reading an interesting novel. By contrast, those that offer gratification lead us to expand our identities and enrich our sense of competency, thereby offering more lasting happiness.” (The Bipolar Relationship)
Go ahead. Give that a second read. Maybe meditate on it for a moment or two. I can wait.
Tomorrow starts another year. Well, every day starts another year in a sense. There are birthdays that start another year. Wedding anniversaries. Hospital discharge dates. Almost enough landmarks to fill a calendar and make every day the start of some form of New Year. But this is the one that humankind shares worldwide. The New Year.
On and off throughout my life it has been a significant period of goal setting. You know, resolutions. And on and off throughout my life those have been helpful towards personal growth or accomplishment.
At some level, I have some informal ones lined up for this year: lose 50 pounds, read 18 books, camp 18 nights (I often set my goals to play off the calendar year number), etc.
However, I recently read the above quote and had a new thought regarding the New Year.
I had a Facebook memory today indicating that two years ago I was excited to try and rediscover my creative side. I was anticipating diving into a daily prompt journal and adult coloring book that I had received for Christmas, along with picking back up the piano which I hadn’t played in years. Two years later, none of those took. Which leads me once again back to the quote.
I have throughout my life done things for pleasure. Even today I experience pleasure on a weekly basis. Yet that more “lasting happiness” eludes me as I have battled the depths of depression. And I began to wonder if at some level it wasn’t at least in part due to lack of engagement in activities, or hobbies, or lifestyle habits that bring “gratification”. Not just pleasure. That bring that expanded identity. That enriched sense of competency.
It isn’t for lack of trying. There were the creative efforts I mentioned above. Throughout 2017 there were efforts to engage in learning a foreign language. First Spanish. Then relearning the German I had studied during my high school years. Then the Japanese which would be helpful in my current workplace. All to no avail.
The book quoted offered such examples as “painting, drawing, woodworking, growing plants and photography.” Some of these I know my inner self well enough to know are not cohesive with my personality. Others (i.e. photography) have been given a shot without lasting effect.
That’s the thing, I cannot seem to get a grasp on gratification. On that thing or things that bring me a longer-term sense of fulfillment than the momentary pleasures of daily life. That activity or activities that would provide an emotion that I can only assume would provide a positive counterbalance to the day-in-day-out struggles with depression and darkness.
All of which is to say, that is my big one. My main resolution for 2018. Put succinctly, “To explore the possibilities which might bring my life gratification.” I am open to suggestions and ideas and would love to hear from you if your journey has brought you to a place of such fulfillment. A place beyond the temporary high of a great movie, a good read, or a fabulous meal.
“More lasting happiness.” The kind that can’t be so quickly stolen by the downswing of depression. The kind that allows me to fall asleep with a smile on my face rather than the dread of another day waiting. The kind that allows deep sighs of contentment and peace.
Let the search begin.
‘Tis the season.
No time of year is probably more defining of my plunge into mental illness than the holidays. There was a time in my life when I lived for November 1st. When the day after Halloween launched two months of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and happiness. Don’t get me wrong, there were still the challenges, arguments, and stresses that come with any two month period of life…but they were tempered by decorations, music, and those glorious days off of work.
Now I would describe it as being marked by a huge unknown. The unknown of what emotions will hit me, when they will hit me, and what they will do to my overall psyche.
For example, today was to be decorating day. You know, haul out the holly…deck the halls…stringing up the lights. And it still is. There is a box sitting to my left and three more hours of daylight with which I am to get the outside lights hung. But I simply don’t have it in me. Haven’t all day. Tried Christmas carols playing in the shower. Tried moving around the pieces of a Dickens-like miniature village. Tried looking over wish lists and contemplating Christmas gifts for those I love. None of it works.
Why? I don’t know. I have enjoyed a four-day Thanksgiving break which included quality family time, visits with my out of town children, and lots and lots and lots of rest. The weather is nearly ideal for this time of year. Sunny. 50s. Perfect for walks, taking in fresh air, and avoiding the sedentary indoor trap that can come with the tryptophan coma. Two date nights with my wife in the past week. And the prospects of just four more weeks until a 10 and a half day…yep, 10 and a half day Christmas break!
But still the darkness. The sadness. The loneliness.
I worry about the direction my life is going. The trajectory. On a scale of 1 to 10, the existence of medications has given me a fairly steady and consistent year, but one that I had always described as being about a 4. The last few months, it feels more like a 3.5…maybe a 3. My environment has improved (employment, home life, relationships, etc.), but my emotions seem to continue to slide downhill. Depression has gone from simply the norm, to a deeper and darker daily hole that I have to climb out of each morning simply to manage a shower and climb in my truck in time to arrive at work.
A medication change has been prescribed to attempt to counter this direction, and we will see if it does. Ironically enough, the next 30 days may make it hard to tell. They can be filled with so much happiness while simultaneously serving as such a period of struggle for so many people. Myself included. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while simultaneously being one of the least predictable. Especially with a mind that can do its own thing and turn left right when you are longing for it to turn right.
‘Tis the season. The season of the unknown.
…lack of concentration
followed by stuck in bed…
…and more pounds
…and more reminders.
There is a strange but somewhat consistent and often proven out as true phenomenon surrounding death. I have witnessed it myself. It typically centers around the passing of an elderly person. In this scenario, it is often a grandma or grandpa who has been on their deathbed for some time hanging on by god only knows what power. Everyone, including the medical professionals, anticipate that their last heartbeat would have…should have…already occurred or take place at this very moment. But it doesn’t.
In fact, it is not until a certain visitor arrives. Maybe a loved one from out of town, an estranged child, or just someone with more of a life than the ability to simply stand vigil. It is with their arrival that things begin to change. Yet the arrival is not enough. Typically there is a very specific act, let’s call it “words of release” that are uttered…and death comes. Almost instantly.
“I made it grandma. You don’t have to fight anymore. I love you. Goodbye.”
“It’s okay dad. Be at peace.”
“We promise to take care of everything. Please don’t worry anymore. Just rest.”
And the battle to stay alive ceases. The last breath is drawn. Tranquility comes.
At my worst, this is how I feel. Like I am just waiting to be released. To be freed to quit fighting the demons in my head and find peace. Maybe it is just a survival mechanism or subconscious form of self-preservation, but without that release, I struggle to take those final steps. I envision them. I feel them in the depths of my being. But I am held back by something or someone who will not allow me to “go.”
I think the suicidal urges and ideations of someone with a mental illness are maybe hardest to understand from the outside looking in. The darkness of them is impossible for me to put into words. The tangible “realness” of each impulse.
I have just come through a rather dark period. I mood chart daily and have a level that indicates a particularly bad, desperate kind of day. After having only two of them through a four-month period I had six of them in three weeks. It was rough. And there were days when I just wanted to be released. I just wanted those closest to me to indicate they would be fine without me and that I could finally end the pain. To just hear the words that would allow me to end my torment.
They weren’t spoken and I survived another fall. Is it just me? Does anyone else know how this feels? Has anyone ever longed to know that it’s okay to never again want to feel not okay?
I wonder at times how my life will end. Will I get old? Face cancer? End up in a hospital or hospice care? Whatever the scenario, I think I will be holding on loosely. And when the words come…I will go. Quickly.
“Is it real…or is it in your head?”
I heard a version of this line recently during one of my guilty pleasures, Stranger Things. It reminded me of another question I often like to repeat: “Why is it either/or rather than both/and?”
There seems to be a suggested thought that if things are “in your head” they are not real. It is one or the other. This actually goes contrary to a rather significant pile of historical philosophy that says quite the opposite. Namely, that if something is real it is because it is “in our heads.”
More importantly to me is the fact that what is in our heads is very real to us. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Grandiosity. Voices. These are not just whims or figments of wild imaginations. For someone with a mental illness, maybe even someone without, within our minds, they are very real. And therefore, by natural consequence, outside our minds, and in our daily lives…they are real. As real as the chair I am sitting on or the computer I am blogging on. It is not some either/or declaration, which is really a way to convince us that they are not real and we just need to accept that to be healthy. It is a both/and, which really means we have to develop skills and techniques for coping with our reality of thoughts and existence.
You actually can see this portrayed in Stranger Things. Those who have experienced “the upside down” have had a very real experience which is now haunting their lives AND minds. Those who have not…are not sure what to believe. At least those who choose not to simply scoff away what they are hearing. They ask the question because we all seem at some level to desire a black and white line. Reality…or in our heads. We think they should be separated rather than embracing a merging. A merging of what people experience mentally and within their reality.
It is my belief that this merging is critical to empathizing, understanding and even helping a friend or loved one with mental illness. When someone operates from a paradigm that tries to exclude what is taking place in our minds from our reality it only makes us feel crazier. Maybe even makes us crazier. However, joining in with our paradigm, where what we are experiencing mentally IS our reality…that can remove a sense of isolation and loneliness from our lives. Not to mention providing a greater sense of unity between mind and reality for the individual attempting to administer care. And it is obviously also my belief that at some level we all would benefit from a greater merging of the two in our lives.
Not either/or. Both/and. Not “real…or in your head.” In our heads…and therefore, very real.