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.

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.

Emotional Language

I’ve noticed that my nine year old son often gets negative and frustrated. He regularly comes home from school irritated and saying things like “I hate school, I have no friends, the teacher is unfair” and other broad sweeping generalizations. Some days he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school, and once he told me he’d like to die. He can also get quite angry with his little brother and sister at times too. Sometimes he seems to have so much pent-up emotion that it’s obvious, he really has no idea what to do with it. He’s feeling it, but it’s overwhelming him.

There are two scary things about his moods and mindset when things don’t go the way he expects. The first is that he seems to be very much like me when he’s frustrated. I guess that’s understandable. We inevitably reproduce who we are in our kids – good and bad. When he’s looking like mini-me, you’ve no idea how much that presses the buttons of his mother. The second, is that I think he, being the eldest has been exposed to the conflict in our marriage the most in terms of his awareness of what’s going on. The venom, the arguments, the freeze-outs and stonewalling, the simmering tension, I think, has taken its toll on him.

It’s obvious that he, like me, doesn’t seem to know how to handle his emotions. It’s really only in the last few years, I’ve been coming to grips with my emotions, so I’m trying to pass this on to him, so he doesn’t end up like me.

An emotional language, is the ability to identify and describe your feelings. Women are naturally good at this. Their ability to describe how they’re feeling is much more nuanced than men, because they’ve had more practice for a lot longer. Ask a man how he feels about something, he might say “I feel good about it” or “I don’t feel too good about that”. Hardly specific or useful.

Last night, I helped my son journal his emotions. He’d had a bad day at school. I asked, how did you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated, sad, annoyed, disappointed? I’m trying to give him an ability to accurately name his emotions. Then I asked what he was thinking when he had those feelings. “It’s not fair, we weren’t told about the changes, I wanted to do something different”. I’m trying to help him see the connection between thoughts and feelings, so that eventually he’ll learn to challenge his thoughts, to try and lift negative emotions. I asked him what were some alternative thoughts and we brainstormed together.

I asked him how long those negative feelings lasted and what changed them. I’m hoping to teach him mindfulness, where he’s aware of his feelings in the moment, and he’s grounded and is aware when negative emotions are fading. I want him to get to know the things that lift his emotions so he can be more strategic about using those things.

Finally I want him to understand that emotions rise and fall over the course of a day, or a week. We have low emotions and high emotions all the time. I helped him to see that his mood was good around tea time and afterward – so he doesn’t globalise and say “the whole day was bad because of what the teacher did this morning”.

Emotions go up and down depending on how we view the events of the day as they unfold. Being grounded and aware of them and being able to name them is the art of mindfulness. Challenging our views and thoughts about certain events can help manage our emotions. Knowing those things that can boost or lift our emotions is important, and you can only discover them by being mindful. Also realizing that emotions come and go and that experiencing a full range of emotions is part of the richness of the human experience keeps what we’re experiencing in the moment in perspective. Our current mood won’t last.

I hope that by teaching him a nuanced emotional language, that it will become part of a toolbox that strengthens his resilience and well being. The alternative to having a good emotional language, is denial and suppression and those tricks failed me miserably. I hope he can avoid the mental illness that I’ve experienced.

Stalled Recovery

Ooops. I think I stalled a bit. In general I’ve been flat, unmotivated and a bit sad. Thursday and Friday were pretty good though, probably because I wasn’t working. Maybe the work I’m doing isn’t good for me. Currently I’m picking tomatoes on Monday’s, then I work for a not-for-profit delivering beyondblue’s high school curriculum to year 9 students. I am passionate about destigmatizing mental illness and I am committed to helping others in this area, but I think teaching year 9 students doesn’t energise me. I’m not sure if I’m being fussy and choosy about work….

The other problem is that the things I do to assist my recovery have ceased temporarily. Exercise, solitude, time-out, and pleasurable activities all help my recovery, but the problem with that, is for me, that means fly fishing. Now that the trout season has closed, and it’s snowing in the highlands, I just don’t get out anymore. There are a couple of waters still open, but I can’t get motivated to get out and get on the water. It looks like there’s a downside to having one’s recovery wrapped up in a singular pursuit.

I did however manage to get the energy to call a buddy who’s helping me build a rod. I received some rod blanks for Christmas and I’m going to build my own 9 footer with his help. It’s taken me all of six months to get the motivation to do it, but I guess that’s what the off season is for. Anyway, I went up to his place on Thursday and came away from that a little more re-energised, so maybe I just need to plan a few more things to do during the off season.

I’m a bit concerned about my fitness too. During the fishing season, I pedal kilometers in my Hobie kayak and do a lot of wading and walking which keeps me fairly fit. Now that the winter has set in, I can feel my belly fattening. That don’t impress me much (as Shania Twain used to sing).

Anyway, I think I’ve stalled a bit. Hopefully it’s just a holding pattern til I can get permission from the tower to continue my landing!

Feeling Crap

I have been trying to journal lately. My psych gave me eight sub headings to journal on. I use an online journal (one that allows me to download my entries for backup – would hate for the site to go down and lose all my entries).

The areas to journal on are:

    Body (how is my body feeling?)
    Senses (centering exercise – see, touch, feel, hear etc.)
    Intentions (what I am going to do today/tomorrow)

The idea of this is that you can see trends and commonly recurring themes.

Probably the most recurring them is that I feel crap pretty much all the time. More specifically, I feel a combination of dull sadness and hurt. It’s there when I wake up, it’s there all day, and it’s there when I go to bed.

I’m having trouble getting motivated to do anything. I can do the bare minimum, but have trouble doing certain things and have to “wait” for the motivation to come. For example, I’ve been working but haven’t invoiced any customers this year. They must think it’s odd, but I just can’t get around to it…. I need to chop wood for the fire this winter, but can’t get around to it.

The psych thinks I’m grieving. But what the hell is wrong with me? It’s not like I’ve lost a limb, or my eyesight, or a loved one. I’ve just lost meaning is all! I feel sad about feeling sad.
Anyway I’m hoping that this crap feeling will go away one day. I really hope it does go away. I hope I don’t have to stay like this a day longer that I need to. I fear it will never go away.

On the upside, i’ve applied for a two-day a week job bringing a depression awareness program into high schools in my area. It goes until the end of june. I probably won’t get the job, but thought I might apply anyway. It’s the first job I’ve actually applied for since quitting ministry.

I went to church today for the first time in months

My wife is off traveling OS with the eldest… so I’ve got the 4 and 7 yr old, so I decided to take them to church today…. for something to do…. And I decided I’d journal through the service… so here are my thoughts, hot off the press.

First up I notice the whole stage is done up… looks like they’ve spent maybe 10-15K on curtains, sound proofing and paint. Something I wanted to do for years but couldn’t scrape the money together. They’ve been saving lots on wages since over the last 12 months five staff have left. The worship doesn’t seem better or any more vibrant, despite people telling me that there’s a “move of God” because of the new pastor. It’s basically the same – although there was less people. But then I guess why would it be the same? Unless things fundamentally change the outward expression can’t.

Worship has started. The new guy is still busy shaking hands. He comes over and shakes mine, which I’m reluctant to do… then he said sorry for starting on the wrong foot. I said, it doesn’t matter (I mean “whatever”).

The fact that he froze me out and refused to meet me gave me heaps of grief and I’m slowly coming to terms with that. But then again looking on the positive side, maybe it just helped me face reality that I am useless and really don’t have anything to offer.

I am not needed and have nothing to contribute that someone else isn’t already contributing and anything I could do that isn’t being done is simply not important.

We’re up to the third song now. I’m singing and worshiping God because I love him, but at the same time I’m thinking it’s great to not have to make this service happen. There are times if its dead I would feel stress and feel like I’d have to do something to make something happen. There was always the worry that people will leave saying its dead and when word gets out that its dead it’s like poison.

I don’t know this last song… so I’m just kinda hanging with God. I don’t feel like I need to be singing. I’m not sure what people think I’m doing on my PDA… they probably think I’m texting someone! Who cares!

It’s just dawned on me…. I just figured out what part of the body of Christ i am – the appendix. No-one knows what it’s good for… and if it causes a problem or breaks, you don’t fix it… you surgically remove it and toss it on the scrapheap.

The next thing that dawns on me as the music is playing is the amazing thing is, God even loves stuff that isn’t useful… Like thunder, sunsets, the stars and planets, art, and poetry. I guess if we only view things through the lens of modernity, effectiveness, and usefulness then we are going to misunderstand a lot about God and His kingdom.

I always knew God didn’t need me… I’ve even preached it. But why did he have to use this church – my church, to teach me such a painful lesson?

I really enjoyed worship although for some reason, the kids don’t go to kids church until afterward, so my two were restless and a bit hyperactive. Not sure how parents are really supposed to engage with God if their kids are running around… but I guess pastors who have teenage kids don’t think about that….

It is tough experiencing a modern church through post-modern eyes… For example, the pastor just jumped up and said something to the effect of “we are people of the book, etc… Believe the truth… The inspired Word of God… your emotions won’t set you free, the truth will….blah blah blah.” But once we realise that the truth is in fact a person, not cold hard facts, but Jesus, and the word is Jesus and that it becomes law when the two are separated, it’s a bit hard to swallow.

I think i will one day find a way to serve God outside of the conventional church, but inside his kingdom.

I reckon that because we value mastery over mystery we elevate principles and in doing so we become legalistic and religious and don’t need the holy spirit. The enemy gets us with a double whammy.
My former senior pastor and coach has flown in, and is preaching now, which is one of the reasons I decided to go to church today. He says the purpose of covenant is to bring us into union with God and into union with each other. He’s talking about something I believe deeply. That church is first and foremost relationship vertically, then relationship horizontally. I just wish there wasn’t so much baggage hanging off all that and it was much simpler. His son (a close friend of mine) who burned out a few years ago didn’t come… another victim in ministry.

It wasn’t bad but i was done by 90 minutes though with another half hour to go. What I listened to most was when my former coach talked about himself and when he gave an example of how he would pray the lord’s prayer, in fact I had goosebumps. The information side of things though (the hebrew definitions) I could do without.

Final thoughts… I guess i just love the church as it is, warts and all and to not be part of something one loves is really sad. I think that’s why its been so hard and painful. Yes, I know things need to change radically in the church, but that doesn’t stop me from loving what it is today.

Maybe i needed the pain to become disillusioned enough to look for something new and to truly see how crippled the church of today is.

On the upside, one good thing is that I don’t feel sick… just sad and useless… which is much better than sick!

Emo Vocab

I can’t speak authoritatively about women (I try to because I’m a smarty pants) but I reckon women have a better emotional vocabulary than men. The describe nuances of emotion better than men and that vocab gives them the ability to understand and express their emotions which is much healthier than us men.

Emotional authenticity is vital to emotional health. Men see the red oil light on the dashboard but not the red light on the emotional dashboard because we aren’t “in touch” with our emotions in general. If you ask a man what’s wrong he’ll probably say in an agitated voice “NOTHING’S WRONG!”, meaning something’s wrong but he just doesn’t know how he feels about it. When pressed he’ll say “I’M JUST ANGRY” and it’s the situation that’s making him angry. Try and talk about the anger e.g. where it comes from and he won’t know. He’s just angry. But the reality is he’s either afraid of something (he’ll never admit to that of course) or he’s hurt, threatened, disappointed, sad, worried or all of the above.

Somehow we need to help men develop their emo vocab. I’m starting with myself and my boys. Why do the gals have to have all the fun debriefing with their girlfriends leaving us to grunt at each other?