Do you ever get over depression?

I get asked this a bit. Usually by carers of someone with depression, but sometimes from people who are yet to recover. One went something like this.

One thing I am interested in knowing is you don’t talk about having depression anymore, you speak of it as if it were in the past. Do you ever get over it? Are you on medication? I never really asked you about the medication bit and I am leaning towards it because my girlfriend is on Zoloft and she says that she is a changed person.

It’s a good question – one that I’ve thought about for a while (I think it says a lot that I still think about depression). The answer went like this:

I would say I’ve recovered and no longer have depression but I don’t say I’m cured. Basically what I mean is I am not symptomatic anymore and I’m able to do the things I want in life without being impeded by depression.

I do still have a low level of anxiety quite a bit and have a low resistance to sadness so when I’m too busy or haven’t had much self time I tend to get sad. But other than that I’m happy most of the time.

I have changed though, so things aren’t back to the old “normal”. I do things slower. I do less and pace myself more. I am more intentional about self care. My brain doesn’t work as well. But on the upside I’m more patient, understanding, compassionate than before and value simpler things in life because I’m less ambitious. I’m more satisfied and I know myself and accept myself more.

I’m not on antidepressants anymore but they worked really well in controlling my anxiety. They really calmed me down and gave me the space to face my issues. They were important in my recovery. They have their downside (no sex drive and no feeling of happiness either) but on balance I found them useful. They work best for severe depression and anxiety and are line ball for moderate depression and anxiety. My long suffering wife says within 36 hours of me taking it she could talk to me again. Gold!

Recovery is a journey and depression is episodic so I’m not sure I’ll ever be free of it but can still lead a happy,  satisfying and rich life. I don’t regret having it. I only regret coming so close to dying before diagnosis which is why I do the work I’m doing today.

Everyone Loves Raymond but Producer Hates Business

Phil Rosenthal is the creator, writer and producer of the hit show based on the down-to-earth Ray Romano. The show is epic in its popularity, so much so, that Phil was asked to export it to Russia, using local actors to recreate the series. In the painful process that ensued he discovered that Russians like their comedy over the top and in locking horns with the powers that be, he maintained that the secret to “Everyone Loves Raymond” was that it was a “down to earth – kitchen sink” type of comedy. In this article, he says

”There’s lovely people wherever you go – and then there’s executives. They seem to be the same no matter where you go. I love every aspect of the business except the business. The money part of it, I don’t enjoy. I love writing, acting, directing, producing. I just don’t like the business part of it.”

His words jumped off the touchscreen at me in bed this morning. He could have been me three years ago! My “executives” were super spiritual flaky fundamentalist mafiosa seizing on every word that was out of place that I uttered from the pulpit. One of them criticised me for using the word “fantastic” because the root of the word was fantasy, and there was no fantasy in Christianity. You get the idea.

Over time, I distanced myself from the flakes. I put minders in the way and barriers everywhere to stop them getting through. I opened no mail – my PA did all that. Anything unsigned hit the bin without me knowing. Emails went to her before proceeding to me. Lower level pastors would “vet” people who wanted to see me in an effort to stop the crazies from getting into my head.

But the business, I couldn’t stop.

The business of running church was overwhelming. Managing staff, job descriptions, preparing and running meetings, budget review meetings, board meetings, finance meetings, restructuring, weekly offerings, monthly averages, loan repayments, cost cutting, property valuations, blowouts, and wondering how to make ends meet were simply all consuming. These were the things I lay in bed agonising over.

Just as Rosenthal loved the writing, creating and producing , I actually loved leading – the visionary, creative part. I love to dream. I love to galvanise people toward a cause that is greater than their singular life. I love to build and work in teams. I love thinking outside the box. I love to motivate and encourage. I love to communicate and inspire. I love to experiment and try new things. I love being a catalyst.

But the business killed me. It got me in the end. As interesting as making a sitcom in Russia would be, Rosenthal is not eager to repeat it, claiming ”Poland has called and I’m not going!” Similarly, I can safely say, I’ll never lead in the church again as it currently operates. It’s an insatiable beast that eats pastors alive.

My fragile resilience aka easily cracked

Since I posted about feelings of happiness beginning to emerge late last year, these have continued to be more frequent occurrences. My son and I hiked to the highest peak in our state a few weeks ago and covered some 30km during the 2 night walk and it was exhilarating.

I catch myself feeling happy from time to time and bask in the feeling like the warmth of the sun emerging from clouds. I try and appreciate and savor the feelings, knowing that emotions are just like the sun on a cloudy day. The warmth comes and goes almost unpredictably. And I’m ok with that. If I can practice my mindfulness, I’ll be even better at observing and relishing those emotions when they come.

Happiness aside, my mood is generally one of being fairly neutral-contented. I’d say this is what I experience around 80% of the time. The rest of the time is divided between happy and sad. Who knows, this might be the case for a large portion of the population.

I think the thing that concerns me most at the moment, is my fragile resilience. I crack easily.

Honestly, it doesn’t take much to make me crack. A couple of weeks ago, I’d gone for three weeks without doing any pleasurable activities – fishing and the like. I had to help my father with an emergency on the farm so I flew over there to do that. I’d been cutting wood for winter, and I don’t really have a babysitter that’s easily organised like I did last year (a high schooler living around the corner from us has now gone to live with her boyfriend).

It was doing my head in and I’d started to crack the sads. I was getting irritable and frayed. My head space was narrowing. I finally got sick of it all, threw the kayak on top and left the next morning having asked my wife to come home early to meet the kids off the bus. I put in a big day on the water for only one fish, but still enjoyed it. On arriving home late around 8pm, I came home to chaos. The dishes were lying around, pots and pans and food were left out, and my wife was watching  TV. I was dismayed – I could feel my heart sinking into my socks. And that’s where I lost it.

I accused my wife of taking advantage of me. She knew I had the next day off so basically she’d done the bare minimum – feeding the kids and putting them to bed – and now I was left with the mess. It felt like going fishing for the day was a pointless waste of time, because it meant I’d be paying for it by having to deal with what appeared to me at the time to be an overwhelming mess. Of course it wasn’t, but to me it looked like it. On top of that I felt she wasn’t really pulling her weight.

If my resilience had been better, maybe I would have looked at it differently. I could have thanked her for coming home early and for at least feeding the kids and putting them to bed. I could have rolled up my sleeves and probably got it done in an hour. But I ended up blowing my fuse, giving her both barrels and storming off to bed, thinking how pointless it was to make the effort to do something to improve my wellbeing.

Three nights ago my wife, under the guise of “open communication which is good for our marriage” expressed that she still feels hurt that she’s not a Facebook friend of mine. She went on to say that I should friend her and that it would be a public display of our love which is so important to her. She wonders what other women think when they see that I haven’t friended her. She told me that if I consulted a marriage counselor about friending my wife on Facebook they would be amazed to find I hadn’t. I told her I didn’t give a toss what marriage counselors had to say about Facebook.

I read between the lines (right or wrong) and heard the same old tapes that always play along the lines of “if you really loved me, you would __________” which I’ve been hearing for the last 18 years. I told her to build a bridge and get over it. I told her to deal with her insecurities and to forget what anyone else thought. The language was brightly colored. I explained that I’m sick of her trying to change me, and that she can either accept me for who and what I am today, or not, the choice was hers. Just don’t try and change me.

If I had been more resilient, perhaps I could have acknowledged that she was feeling hurt and been understooding, and let it be. Or maybe that would have been just too professional and clinical. Maybe she should be telling someone else how hurt she is….

Needless to say, we haven’t been talking the last few days. Like my friend said “isn’t it worth going the extra mile to get the silent treatment?”

It’s frustrating that my resilience is so low, that if anything emotionally challenging arises, I just seem to crack so easily. My mood plummets again and stays low, until like a tug of war, I manage to pull it up again, and recover. I hope I get stronger. Self care is challenging.

Help! I feel like a girl!

No doubt you’ve heard the sayings “wait ’til the boot is on the other foot” or “your chickens will always come home to roost”. It’s like saying “what goes around comes around” or “you get what you deserve”. Seems like there are so many ways to say it. But I’m getting mine.

Some nights of the week, my wife will walk in the front door talking to someone from work on the cell. I think she’s talking to me so I start to talk back, only to see the hand go up. I feel miffed. Slighted. Other nights after she’s arrived home, she’ll be sending and receiving text messages and I think “for God’s sake, you’re home now, enough already!”

You see, the kids and I haven’t seen her all day. By the time she gets home, the kids have an hour before bed. They all have stories to tell about their day, but she’s still making calls and firing off texts. I wonder why she couldn’t get it done during work hours. I wonder why it can’t wait until tomorrow. I’m always up to my armpits in the sink, or trying to dish up food, couldn’t she help get the meal on instead? I feel hurt. Snubbed. Aren’t we important too? Doesn’t she want to talk to us? I feel like a desperate housewife longing for some attention when the husband gets home.

Then I remember all too well. When I was pastoring, I did it all the time – and worse. I did it from my bed late at night. I would sit outside in the driveway on the phone. I would get phone calls on weekends dealing with all kinds of problems. I would take calls in the car on family trips. One burned out pastor I spoke to said his wife once called him on his cell while he was in the house. She claimed she wanted to hear him talk to her like he talked to his parishioners. OUCH!

The rationale is hard to escape. I used to figure that if I can fire off a few texts, make a few calls, it will get the monkey off my back. It will ease the pressure – alleviate the workload. After all, if I can just get to these few things, it will only take few minutes and tomorrow won’t be so hectic. If it doesn’t get done today, it will pile up and tomorrow will be hell. There’s a lot of merit to the mentality and it’s so easy to buy into.

But the message it sends to loved ones is that work, and other people are more important. And it’s not the time spent doing it, it’s having your mind in two places. You’re physically present, but your loved one’s don’t have your presence, and that is more hurtful than if you’re not present at all.

I feel for anyone trapped in a job that is so demanding, it overflows into their family life. It’s not a nice place to live in. Now that I’m on the receiving end, I know I’m eating humble pie and getting my just desserts, but I still can’t help feeling like a girl when it happens to me!

“I’m soooo busy” aka “I’m productive”

I’m still on the busyness bandwagon, probably because I can feel the inexorable suction that a busy lifestyle exerts on me. Our culture has been hijacked by a busy, hurried, overloaded, overbooked psyche. It is the way western life is lived!

One of the things we’re saying when we tell people that we’re busy, is that in fact we are productive and useful human beings. The mindset behind this, is that if we are productive, and achieving in life, then we are significant, important and worthy. We’re good people.

There are some problems with this mentality though. The converse is that if we are unproductive non-achievers, then really we are less valuable as a person. An autistic child who never really produces anything, is less valuable, even though they may have wonderful attributes and relationship and bring joy into their families lives.

Another problem is that we are reducing the human experience to one of utilitarianism. To be human is to be productive. But this is a very modern mindset, which has really taken hold since the industrial revolution. It turns humans into machines, thus dehumanizing us. The arts have no place. Relationships suffer. Our health suffers. Contemplation, reflection, meditation, solace are all seen as superfluous, fluffy, useless, and airy fairy. But these are all things that make us feel human.

A recent survey of 6000 British civil servants showed that those who worked three to four hours of overtime per day, had a whopping 60% higher risk of heart disease. Another recent survey of over 1200 mums showed that 70 per cent felt burnt out. Busyness is bad for us because productivity isn’t the ultimate purpose of a human life. If you live in a constant state of busyness, I think you’re a bit of a tool.

In fact, we’ve been busy for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel human.

“I’m soooo busy” aka “I’m special”

“Hi, how are you?”

“I am soooo busy.”

This is a common daily occurence across the world nowadays. I would love to know when it began (and where!). Responses used to be “well thank you”, “fine thank you” and the like, but I think today, the “busy” response (or the “tired” one) is probably the most common.

Have you ever tried the opposite response when someone asks how you’ve been lately? “Not busy at all. Sooo much spare time. Really relaxed.” Sounds terribly lame doesn’t it.

You see “busy” means I’m wanted. I’m useful. People are actually clamoring for my time and attention. I’m solidly booked – in fact I’m overbooked. I’m special. I’m important. I’m popular. So much implied by that little four letter word beginning with “b”.

Busyness is actually becoming a way of life. One that brings hurry, rush, stress, pressure, anxiety, speed and adrenaline into our lives and it permeates in such a way that we even rush when we don’t need to! You’ve got no idea how quickly I eat my tea, so I can get to the washing up, so I can get to the kids bedtime routine, so I can get to….  We just get caught up in it all. After all, our busyness is tied to our importance and significance, so the moment we’re not busy, we are …. well, nothing! Nobody… unimportant, useless, unpopular, and undesirable. Not really something any of us aspire to be.

The problem with busyness is it claws at our humanity. A famous study had one group of college students research the parable of the Good Samaritan – someone who stopped to help an assault victim. Following that, the group was told they immediately had a test on the subject and were already late and had to get to the examination hall.

The other group studied something totally irrelevant to the parable and were told they had plenty of time to get to their test. On the way there, a “victim” was lying on the ground nearby. The students who stopped to offer assistance were the ones who believed they had plenty of time.   Ironically the ones who studied the parable of the Good Samaritan were less likely to stop…..

Worth thinking about. Anyways, I gotta go – I’m soooo busy.

The Slow Movement

I’m not for sure about where I heard about the slow movement but I think it was on the radio (I listen to a lot of radio). A guy was talking about how he had visited a slow restaurant in Italy or somewhere and the discussion evolved into the movement itself being a response to MacDonalds being set up in an ancient part of Rome and the subsequent backlash to the “fast food” movement.

Just stop and think about your life for a bit. Actually bet you can’t. We’re not good at stopping are we? Stopping is uncomfortable. It feels like a waste, somehow evil to stop because stopping has no meaning, and it doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t seem to have any inherent value. We’re certainly not used to it. There’s always something to be done – something important or urgent. We have to get those monkey’s off our back (and saddle up the pigs because they’re about to fly).

Burnout happens partly because we can’t stop. We get addicted to adrenaline, productivity, pseudo-success or we’re simply deceived thinking that the essence of life is in achieving and doing. But it’s not. Isn’t it odd that in rural third-world places where people still have to gather wood and water, there’s no burnout. I saw a great program where middle class white families are sent to third world countries to see how they cope and one guy had to do the traditional role of the man. Sit outside his mud hut…. that’s all. His wife cracked the shits because she had to cook and gather wood while he did nothing.

We seem to have so much to make our lives more efficient and yet somehow the wheels are spinning and we’re really not getting much more done than our ancestors did. And the slow movement is a growing one, that suggests we get back to doing things slowly.

One classic passage in the bible talks about Jesus healing the sick and driving out demons. Shortly afterwards he takes off into the bush to get away from it all. The next morning the villagers come find him and literally beg him to return and do it all again. He refuses saying he needs to be somewhere else. There’s so much in that passage that should blow your mind out, but I’ll let you do the thinking. I will say this; Jesus was never in a hurry and neither should we.