Thursday, June 1, 2017

I wrote a post during a particularly dark day last week, and I've been debating with myself whether or not to post it.  It's not edifying (so maybe don't read it if you're in a bad place yourself); it could be classed as whinging or an attempt to get "You're not like that!" comments, which is the last thing I want.  In the end, though, I've decided to post it, because it might help someone understand what a loved one with clinical depression is going through.

* * *

There are strange times you go through with depression where you care about everything and nothing at the same time.  Today was one of those days.

Having to keep your brain focused long enough to get some work done is draining, but then, when you go to relax, frustration kicks in because you just can't enjoy anything or do what you want to do.

Reading or watching TV or a movie is an impossible chore, and especially difficult if the material is emotionally demanding.  I find myself mindlessly scrolling through my social-media feeds again and again, seeing none of them.  Incoming emails make me cringe, and then I just can't bring myself to reply.

The future looks mind-deadeningly blank to me.  But it's frightening. 

I've somehow put on another kilo, and that is devastating, but at the same time I don't care anymore. I'll eat something else I shouldn't because it's one of the only joys in life right now.

I put on a romantic comedy because they're fairly mindless – you know, one of those bad Hallmark-style, holiday-themed ones on Netflix.  I want so much what the heroine ends up with, but I have to tell myself off because I'll probably never get married now and shouldn't get my hopes up again.  And that physically hurts, even though I thought I'd done my grieving and accepted it.  I feel the pain in my fingers.  I always do.  I don't know why.

My roots need doing, but I don't have the spare energy, and who cares, anyway?  It's not like I have anyone to impress, and even if I did, they'd never notice my middle-aged-librarian-ness over the extra 50 kg I'm carrying around and the dead-fish personality.

It helps to write these thoughts down.  My psychologist tells me I need to challenge them, but they thing is, they're true.

"OK," she'd say, "they may be true, but are they helpful?"

I don't know.

One thing that intrigued me about the movie Inside Out was the acknowledgement that sadness has its place.  If I still lived in a delusion where I thought all my dreams were going to come true because I work hard and try always to think of other people ahead of myself and be generous and dedicated and faithful, I'd be disappointed every day.  If I look ahead and realise that I may never be able to have my own home, or a job I enjoy that pays me enough to meet my budget, or a group of friends who get me and want to make music with me, or a husband, maybe I can deal with that pain and focus on what I can control.

But that only works on the days when everything goes well, my eating doesn't blow out of control, I don't get a migraine and my brain behaves itself.  And that's not today.  On those days, the pain is back, radiating from the centre of my chest to my fingertips.

What do I do on those days?

The only thing I can do:  I live through them.

I carry on.  Keep moving.  Take a bird's-eye view and remember that this bad patch won't last forever. They never do.

To everything there is a season.
Turn, turn, turn. . .

I cling to the hope that one day I'll be useful to someone, not useless; that I'll bring joy to someone instead of sucking the joy out of the room; that people will be pleased to see me and want to hang out with me; that I'll have overcome some of the obstacles in front of me.  Let's start with one:  today.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Chris Cornell, Depression and Prescription Meds

We lost another music legend this week, and so all the people ride out on their high horses, tsk-ing and shaking their heads at "prescription drugs".

You know what?  It wasn't the prescription drugs that killed him.  It was the illness that brought him to the point of taking more than the prescribed dose, affecting his behaviour.

Whenever I look at a Prince, or a Chris Cornell, or even an Amy Winehouse, I can't help but think, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Because I'm one of the lucky ones.  I've never been tempted to take more than my prescribed dose of meds.  I've never been tempted to mix them with alcohol when they're not working well enough.

My temptation, and my addiction, is food.  But, somehow, that's not as frowned upon, is it?

Broke up with your boyfriend?  Eat a whole tub of Ben & Jerry's.  Boss being a bitch?  Here's a packet of Tim Tams.  Enjoy your binge.

But excess food is just as deadly as excess fentanyl.  It just takes a bit longer to kill you.

Until there is complete healing, meds and therapy can help a depression/anxiety sufferer to function.  I can get out of bed and write this because my meds keep the black cloud at arm's length.  My psychologist is helping me deal with my emotional eating.  But these are treatments, not necessarily a cure, and so everyone does their best.  I'm sure Chris Cornell did his best.

I believe I know where my cure will come from, but many people don't share my beliefs, and so they must put their faith in other things.

That's where compassion comes in.  How many times does the Bible say, "Jesus had compassion on them and healed them"?  I can tell you, quite a few.

Instead of shaking our heads and wagging our fingers, we must do the same. We just might save a life.

(This is a post I wrote on ways to practically help people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or similar illnesses, but most of the points are completely relevant to people with depression and anxiety, too.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Repurposing

Wow, it really has been a while.  I think the problem is that my head is so full of stuff these days, none of my thoughts come out more developed than 140 characters.
At the same time, I'm at a place in my life where nothing much new happens, so it's hard to come up with things to be Rant-y about.
So, in lieu of changing the title of this blog to The Bored, I've decided to repurpose it as a sort of accountability/life self-coaching page.  Maybe someone out there is in a place very similar to the one I've found myself in, and needs to know they're not alone.  I'd love it if someone was helped or encouraged in some way by my story.
Let me explain.
I battle with three long-term illnesses:  clinical depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ("CFS") (or ME) and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, which has recently been renamed Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder ("HSD") or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome ("EDS"), depending on how severe you are and certain genetic factors.  All of these cause severe fatigue, pain, and various other problems that I won't go into right now.
The most recent part of my story is that, in February 2016, at the age of 34, I had to leave my home and community (and my beloved rescue cat, Lulu) in Chichester, England, where I'd felt almost settled for the first time in my life, and come back to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, to live with my parents, because I was so sick I could no longer support myself.
I had finished a university degree (which I absolutely loved doing) in May of 2015, and was looking for part-time work.  It had to be part time because, at my best  my "baseline", to use the clinical terminology, which means "my normal"  I can only work four days a week.  For some reason, probably a hangover from the Credit Crunch (or the GFC, as it's called in Australia), there was absolutely nothing around, job wise.  I had been working from home part time throughout university, so I continued to do that, but neither of my jobs paid very well per hour, and so I began working ridiculous hours to pay the bills  14-hour days, often.
Eventually and inevitably, in about December of 2015, I hit the wall, and all my long-term illnesses flared up.  By February of 2016, it had become clear that, despite my utter despair at the thought of it and all the difficulties that were associated with it, I would have to move back to Australia.
I expected that, after a few months of taking it easy (or at least easier) and not having to worry about paying the rent, I'd be back on my feet, back to my baseline, able to get a decent job in Victoria, where I'd prefer to live, and therefore able to move out and move on.  What has happened is that, although my mental health is now relatively stable again, my physical health has not improved.  If anything, it's gotten worse.
To be gut-wrenchingly honest, in the last year, I've put on 40 kg, and that is really adding to my physical problems.  It's one of my priorities at the moment to lose that weight  48 kg in all, to get into my "healthy" range.
Australia is more expensive to live in than the UK, so I'm actually in a worse position here, even though I'm not paying rent; the Sunshine Coast is notorious for its high unemployment rate, which has meant that I've still not been able to find better-paid, part-time work; and my "disabilities employment agent" (I use the term loosely, as she doesn't seem inclined to do much to find me employment) keeps saying I should apply for a Disability Support Pension, but I and everyone else I've spoken to knows damn well I'd never get it.
Exercising here is difficult, hence in part the weight gain.  In Chichester, I used to walk everywhere and do aqua aerobics.  Here, I live in the bush, so I can't just go for a walk out my front door.  It's stinking hot, too, so for a good part of the year you can't walk in the daytime, anyway (or not without giving yourself heatstroke  believe me; I've done it), aqua aerobics is too expensive and, although my parents have a treadmill, I can't use it because the feedback vibrations in my cervical spine give me migraines.  Sometimes the pain in my feet is so bad I can hardly walk.  So it's quite a struggle to exercise four times a week, even when I am feeling well enough.
I'm not telling you all this to get you on my side or garner your sympathy.  I'm not giving you my sob story, because there are people far, far worse off than me.  I'm simply trying to illustrate how, all in all, my life doesn't look how we think the powerful, faith-filled, "Christian" life should.  (Yes, I'm one of those. Deal with it.)  I'm not the superwoman able to balance life and work, the way all the feminists and the women's conferences and the tampon advertisements tell me I can.
There are many people out there who would say, and probably do say, that I'm just not trying hard enough.  I don't have enough faith or there's something I'm doing wrong in my life that's blocking my recovery.  I disagree.
In fact, a lot of my health problems actually come from trying too hard, from working my butt off and getting nowhere in life, from constantly trying to "do the right thing" and live how I'm "supposed" to live, and from the endless, endless rounds of negotiations  with myself, with God, with medical practitioners, with employers, with friends, with family...trying this, and trying that, and trying this but with that, and trying that but this way...
What I'm actually starting to learn is that I CAN'T DO IT AND THAT'S OK.
My amazing pastor has told me that he only really got fixed up from a major problem in his life when he let go, realised he couldn't do it himself, and left it up to the grace of God.  That is so counter-intuitive, and goes against everything we're taught in today's culture of pop-psychology and willpower and self-affirmation, but I think it's right.
The first thing they teach you at Weight Watchers is that willpower will never be enough.  It will fail you.  From a Christian perspective, where in the Bible does it say that we're supposed to strengthen our wills, anyway?  Quite the opposite, in fact.
Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is that WE CAN'T DO IT, so Jesus did it for us  right?  Not that you'd know it when you walk into a Christian bookstore and see "15 Steps To A Great Marriage", "The Pathway To Financial Freedom", "20 Prayers To Pray In Difficult Times", "How To Raise Perfect Children While Working Full Time and Running a Cell Group", How To Win At Everything In Life", "Success, The Christian Way"...I'm making these up, but it really does go on and on and on.
So I've decided to just keep a record here of my experiences as I live the next season of my life, continually reminding myself that I CAN'T DO IT AND THAT'S OK.  I'm going to take the pressure off myself.  Remember that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  
I'm not always going to get heavy; some of it will be downright funny, I'm sure  like the sight of me in my gym gear as I started a personalised programme this last week (paid for by my generous father).  I don't have a photo but, trust me, it's a riot.
I'd love to hear your stories, too.  Maybe we can develop a little community where we can encourage each other as we go through life and discover again and again that it's just not like we imagined it would be when we were growing up – that $%*! happens, because we live in the world we live in, and it's actually impossible for us to do everything right so that our lives look exactly like we think they should look  or like other people say they should look.
For now, I'm going to get on with my day, tackling the physically exhausting task of doing my weekly food shopping and then having to come home and work, all the while leaning heavily on His grace.