Dealing with Depression

Heads up, y’all!  Today, I’ll be discussing my own dealings with depression and how this affects me as a writer and a human.  If you’re not feeling up to reading about depression, including references to self mutilation and suicidal ideation, maybe go check out this cool video about biodiversity instead.  Or, you know, do both! Cheers!

It’s very tempting to start a post like this with statistics and definitions.  I want to talk prevalence and symptoms and stuff like that, because it’s so clinical, so quantifiable.  It’s concrete and factual, about a thing that can so often feel hidden and only quasi-real.

But in the interest of keeping things brief, I’ll skip all that.  I’m not a psychologist, I’m a patient, and I can only write what I know.  Here’s what I know about depression.

I get down sometimes.  I can’t always predict when it’s going to happen, or how bad it’s going to be.  Sometimes it’s just several days of being glum and unfocused and listless.  Sometimes it’s weeks and weeks of hopelessly wishing there was some graceful and acceptable and not-sucky-for-the-people-who-love-me way to just not be alive anymore.  And then eventually I slog my way back out of the tarry hole I’m in and things are better.  Often, things are great, and stay that way for weeks at a time.  But then I peak somewhere and start my decline again.  I go through this cycle maybe four times a year, although I’ve never really counted, but it’s always hardest in winter and easiest in summer.  I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember, well before I moved to Alaska with its pronounced seasonal shifts.  The first time I specifically remember thinking about suicide, I was somewhere around eight years old, and I’ve been fantasizing about it off and on ever since.

Depression reminds me of the time I was still figuring out my intestinal disorder, became severely malnourished, and lost the ability to properly taste food; everything took on a strange metallic taste that just made it that much harder to force myself to eat.  Likewise, depression affects everything, tinting the taste of my every thought, my every reaction, my every emotion.  It takes the bad things and places the blame on me, no matter what.  It takes the good things and tells me I don’t deserve them.  It makes it harder and harder for me to engage healthfully and happily with those around me, because I don’t deserve them and they would be better off without me.

This is especially devastating pertaining to my children.  A parent constantly works hard to do right by their kids; depression strangles the joy and amplifies the pain.

For me, there is a terrible guilt to depression.  How can somehow who is so blessed be so sad?  It’s not my darling husband making me sad, who works so hard and loves so completely.  It’s not my sweet sons making me sad, those cheerful boys who always get good grades and never ever get in trouble at school or at church.  So what’s wrong with me?

The answer is probably a bit chemical, probably a bit learned.  I don’t know the exact nature of it, and I don’t think knowing would make one lick of difference.

It’s hard for me to tell exactly how far it extends, too.  I know that it changes my perception, but I don’t know if it changes others’ perceptions of me.  Can they tell?  I know they can sometimes, when it’s really bad, and those are the times when it’s hardest to make myself keep going out.  But those are the very times when I need to keep working at the school, keep going to church, keep talking with my friends.  When I drift away from those things because I don’t want people to know, I sink deeper and deeper and deeper.  That’s when things start to get out of control and I begin hurting myself.  Sometimes the pain helps me to feel a little more control.  Sometimes it stands in as a small punishment in place of the larger one I think I deserve.  Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing it, or even that I am until I see the damage.

How does it affect me as a writer? As a volunteer at my kids’ school?  As a teacher at church?  As a wife and parent?  In every aspect of my life, depression settles first like a shroud, just a gray veil that I see the world through.  But as it gets thicker around me, it’s hard to stay connected.  I forget things: birthdays, appointments, walking the dog, eating.  I find it harder and harder to connect with the people around me, whether they’re family or strangers, on the internet or in real life.  It’s difficult to write because anything that feels genuine sounds melodramatic and whiney, but anything else feels incredibly false.  It’s difficult to work and volunteer because I feel so useless.  It’s difficult to love because I feel so unlovable.

Not everything about depression is terrible, at least not for me.  There are a few things that this struggle has granted me that I don’t know if I would have been able to learn otherwise.  Greater depth of emotion.  Stronger sympathy for any kind of suffering.   The desire to comfort people going through struggles.  An incredible love and loyalty for those who help me through.  I don’t know if I would have these qualities any other way.  These are deeply personal things and vary person to person, but this holds true for me.  Besides this, I worry that if I were to blunt my ability to feel the very deepest of my depression, I would similarly be shaving off my ability to feel the pure joy and true elation I so often do between those bouts of sadness.  I’ve never been any other way, so I don’t know.

This in no way means that I don’t fully support the use of medication under the advice of a doctor.  My illness is such that I respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, but requiring medicine is a reality for many people struggling with mental illness.  This does not make them weak or a failure any more than a cancer patient requiring chemotherapy is weak or a failure.

I’m not sure why I’m posting this here.  This is, after all, a writing blog, and depression is certainly not just for writers.  Besides that, I feel least like a writer in my deepest bouts of depression.  But I felt like it should be said.  There is an awful loneliness to depression, in that it feels like nobody understands how deeply it aches.  Maybe one of you readers feels that ache right now.  If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone, even when it feels that way.  I wish I had heard that message more when I was younger and at my most fragile.

 

Things that help me:

Give someone close a heads up when things are getting bad. I always tell my husband at the start of a bad spell, and he helps me get through. A relative, a friend, a spiritual leader, a trusted teacher: anyone who loves you would be honored to stand with you.

I keep the national suicide hotline programmed into my phone, and those wonderful folks are glad to chat for as long as they are needed.  They are so kind.  If you feel like things are starting to get out of control, look up your region’s hotline and give yourself easy access.

When I begin to sink, it’s so so important that I stay busy.  The distraction is nice, but more important are the connections to other humans.  Staying busy, whether with work or with volunteerism or just playing cards with my family, makes me feel more valued.

Exercise.  This one is so hard to hold on to when I’m in the pits, but it makes a huge difference. Whether I’m exercising by myself or with a sports team, it helps me to feel more alive at a time when I otherwise feel numb and exhausted all the time.

Bumps and Bruises: My Twin Careers in Rugby and Writing

Nick Kennedy, Gonzalo GarciaThe day my new husband and I moved into our first apartment, he viciously provoked a water fight over the meager boxes of our possessions.  In the interest of saving the defenseless computer, I fled out the door and across the field at the back of the building, snarling about an annulment.  The school’s women’s rugby team happened to be practicing in that same field and, impressed by my rage and my sprints, invited me to join them.  Robert went back to the apartment.  I hared off to play rugby.

Thus began my love affair with the greatest sport on earth.

Rugby hasn’t always been kind to me.  I’ve broken fingers and ruptured a bursa.  I’ve torn my quad and sprained just about every joint in my body.  I’ve dislocated my shoulder repeatedly and been so bruised and battered that coworkers started gently offering me safe havens.  I love, love, love ruby, but I can’t even say I’m all that good at it.  I’m not particularly fast and I have a hard time memorizing plays and my kicks always seem to go awry.  I’m skinny and fragile and can’t seem to reliably throw and run at the same time, which is kind of an important skill in a game that involves a lot of running and throwing.

But still I love it.  I play whenever I can and I watch hours of tourneys online and I delight in teaching my boys how to take me out at the ankles while I run in slow motion.  Rugby pleases me in a way that is both deeply satisfying and wildly thrilling in the same instant.

I feel much the same way about writing.  Writing intoxicates me.  I write whenever I can and I read and research a lot about writing and the specifics of my stories and I always squee for joy when my children tell wonderful stories about rock climbing adventures and zombie attacks and magical foxes at wishing wells.

There is, however, one large difference between the way I think about rugby and the way I think about writing.  With rugby, I’ll never be anything close to pro, and I am totally okay with that.  I want to play my best game and I have a great time doing it.  I get some bumps and bruises and I go home happy.  Knowing I’ll never be pro does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the game.  With writing, however, I have a hard time letting myself be so carefree.

Maybe it’s a matter of focus.  When playing rugby, I have a laser focus on the ball.  I know where it is and I itch to get my hands on it and nothing outside the boundary lines matters.  When drafting, I can often find that nothing-matters-but-this focus, but the minute I start editing, something changes.  The story becomes not just what pleases me, but something that could potentially please others as well.  And just as surely as it could please others, it could displease them too.  What if nobody likes it?

What if nobody likes me?

I was thinking about this after practice last week, during which I let some sneaky Samoan guy blitz right past me to score the winning try of the scrimmage.  It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder if my teammates were mad at me, whether they liked me or not.  I’m sure some of them were disappointed, maybe even annoyed, but I’m just as sure that they knew I was doing my best with some serious disadvantages.

Maybe I should give myself the same accolades while writing.  Nobody can deny that I’m giving it my best.  Thing go awry and I mess things up, but any time you put your heart into something, there will be injuries along the way.  If I don’t get a few bruises, I’m probably not trying hard enough.

In this vein, though, I’m doing a lot better with the rejections goal than I thought I would be at this point- I’m only slightly behind.  But more importantly, I’m learning to take them better.  I think choosing to look at rejections as the goals themselves has made them a lot easier to swallow.  (Because you all know how I am with check boxes.)  Maybe this is a good first step in growing that thick skin professional writers are always talking about!

I’m getting better at this game.  (Not at rugby.  At that one, I’m just getting older, haha.)  I can usually spot my weak points.  Self-editing, although not exactly what I’d call fun, is less excruciating than it used to be.  I’m getting better and better at using feedback.  These are all signs of improvement.

I want to be the best writer I can be, but I always want to enjoy the process.  After all, the thrill of telling a good story is what got me into this addiction hobby in the first place.  Even if I never go pro (although I hope I do some day!), I will always love to tell stories.

And I will always love rugby, too, even when it beats me up.

Happy writing!

PS- Watch some rugby! Go, Eagles!

April Recap

*whimpers*

So April was… rough.  Last month was the kind of perfect storm that I’ve not seen since Sept 2015, when I ran out of blog buffer at the start of NaNo right after pooping out a new human.  Thank goodness that, in my infinite mercy, I scheduled myself a recap for this week, because boy howdy, that buffer is long gone.

In addition to some personal issues, I had Camp NaNo, with its super low word count goal that I still just barely squeaked out-

NaNo Graph

-as well as the near doubling of my hours at the library I work at (soooo much shelving)-

Books to Shelve

-and the seven hundred mile round trip with all babies in tow-

Screaming Mom

-and all the normal requirements of a household trying to appease the relentless gods of entropy.

Messy House

It was rough.  And so I’m happy to give myself a pass on a thoughtful blog post this week.  Instead, go learn about crazy math!

*passes out*

Where Two Loves Meet: the Joy of Cookbooks

Howdy, folks! ‘What gives?’ you’re thinking. ‘Last Monday of the month means comic day! What are these word things doing here??’ But uh oh, boy do I suck at technology!  So while I struggle to exorcise the demons from my drawing tablet, I’m gonna have to swap in next week’s post for now. Hopefully I’ll have a shiny new comic to puke onto the internet next week. Thanks for your patience!

LucidI am a creative person.  This shows up in my life in a lot of different ways.  I like to sketch and paint.  I like making up languages.  I enjoy building things, like my chicken house and ever more bookshelves.  But my two main creative outlets are writing and cooking.

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love writing.  And anyone who has set foot in my home for more than ten minutes knows how much I love making food.  If I hold any affection for you at all, I will have spent time daydreaming about the foods I could make especially for you.  (I’m looking at you, internet friends.  Pie-Pal Madison can vouch for this.)

That said, it should come as no surprise at all that I am just as addicted to cookbooks as I am to any other book.  Every time I get a new one, I read it like a novel.  I sit down and go through it page by page, ingesting it from introduction to index.  I stare at the pictures- for it must have pictures- and I tally up ingredients and I start crafting menus and planning dinner parties and imagining tweaks and adjustments right then and there.  I stay up late reading them, desperate for just one more recipe before I collapse.bowl

One of the many (many, many, augh, so many) books that I picked up while traveling this summer was Lukas Volger’s Bowl.  While books like 1000 Vegetarian and our 1974 edition of Joy of Cooking are regular workhorses in my kitchen, I really love a glossy, photo-packed cookbook with an itsy-bitsy, super narrow theme.  Bowl is filled with vegetarian recipes for ramen, pho, and their soupy one-dish kin.  Likewise, the other darlings of my kitchen are all very specific.  Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Foods is about crafting seasonally appropriate eco-conscious menus.  Wynnie Chan’s Fresh Chinese is about healthier alterations to traditional Chinese dishes.

Another kind of cookbook that sings to my soul is the narrative cookbook.  Like Herreid and Petersen’s Recipes from the Bun, which tells about how each recipe came to land on the menu of this iconic little food truck in Fairbanks.  Or Arevalo and Wade’s The Mac + Cheese Cookbook, which talks about the inspirations for every recipe, and the experimentation that went into their creations.  Or David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, which probably has more stories in it than actual recipes.

PlentyWhen I get a tightly themed, visually gorgeous, narratively transporting book all in one package… *swoons*  So you can imagine, I’m always on the hunt for a good cookbook.  I’ve got a dedicated wishlist (Plenty, Charcuterie, 100 Days of Real Food, etc), but nothing in the world can stop me when I spy a cookbook that just has to come home with me.

This probably goes without saying, but all of this ogling over beautiful recipes in my shiny new copy of Bowl got me thinking: what kind of cookbook would I produce?

I cook a lot, and I joyfully muddled around through quite a few ideas over the span of days.  (I pestered my husband about it for like an hour before he firmly asked me to please stop, and then I festered on in gleeful silence.)  Burgers!  I could do a whole cookbook about burgers.  Ooo, or breads, I love baking bread.  Or maybe I could make like an Around the World in Eighty Recipes sort of cookbook, and feature something from everywhere.  Or dairy-free desserts, I can always do with more dairy-free desserts.

And then it came to me, and one word stole my every thought:

Crêpe.

A whole cookbook of crepe stuffings, all healthy, all flexible in their ingredients, and all with fifteen minutes or less active prep time.  I can already picture it! *squeals* Maybe the table of contents would look something like this:

 

Sarriette (Savory)

Quick Cassoulet- Tomato, Canelli Bean, Sausage, and Herbs

Garbanzo Tajine- Garbanzo Bean, Winter Squash, Raisin, and Spices

Chowderhouse- Clam, Potato, Carrot, and Cream

Chicken Caprese- Chicken, Mozzarella, Tomato, and Fresh Basil

Indian Dal- Lentils, Onion, Paneer, and Chutney

Ratatouille- Tomato, Eggplant, Winter Squash, and Herbs

Spanakopita- Spinach, Feta, Egg, and Garlic

 

Sucré (Sweet)

Chocolate Mousse- Chocolate, Whipped Cream, and Crushed Chocolate Wafer

Honeyed Stone Fruit- Nectarine, Peach, Cherry and Honey-Cinnamon Glaze

Dita degli Apostoli- Ricotta, Dark Chocolate, and Orange Liqueur

Lemonbars- Lemon curd, Shortbread cookie, and Whipped Cream

 

Of course, I’d need five to ten times this many recipes to fill out any self-respecting cookbook.  But still.  I think it’s a good start.  Anybody wanna be a recipe tester? 🙂

Super Romantic Stuff!

We’ve had an exciting week and a half down here in Colorado/Kansas!  My youngest brother Charlie got married!

Charles

And the next weekend, my oldest brother Carlos got married!

Carlos

Geez, guys! I can only eat so much wedding cake!

And so in their honor, and in honor of the fact that I’ve been eating waaaaay too much buffet food and am too exhausted to do anything cooler, I give you a lovely seasonal haiku I wrote for my exceedingly beloved husband.

Robert, you are my world.

 

Love starts new as seeds

Bursting, springing to the sun

Graced with green and gold

 

And then becomes strong

Fearless of the storm and cold

Growing in plenty

 

Still love despite change

The heart prepared, unafraid

To face anything

 

A love unbroken

Despite the storm and the ice

Tall and unbending

 

Beautiful and still

Full of the peace and comfort

Of safety assured

 

(PS- I know this isn’t a true haiku.  Don’t stress.)

Go! Speed Racer!

Running

I did NOT look this happy at the end.

Here in Fairbanks Alaska, summer solstice is a big deal. I mean like eat-too-much, party-all-night, don’t-go-down-‘til-the-sun-does big deal. (I’ll let you figure out what time that would be.) And part of my solstice celebration this year included the Midnight Sun Run.

The Midnight Sun Run is a 10k race kicked off at 10pm. Depending on your cuppa, there can be costumes, alcohol, various pets, roller skis- you name it, it’s there. I even saw someone do the whole thing juggling on a unicycle one year. Another involved some really valiant attempts with a pogo stick. (A pogo stick! Who does that for over six miles? Heck, who does that for over six feet?) It usually draws something more than three thousand participants, although there’s no accounting for all the unregistered runners. This thing is big and goofy and weird.

To up the fun factor even more, Hubby and I decided on a little wager. The loser gets three hours of community service of the winner’s choosing- and does it while wearing an outfit of the winner’s choosing. Now, my husband gets pretty creative with this kind of thing. And I was yet to beat him at… well, pretty much anything. So I was absolutely determined to WIN.

And so I began the grueling, months long process of training.

This, like most of my life, has a correlation to writing. Sometimes, we get out of good habits. I was once in pretty decent shape. But <insert million excuses here> happened and I not-so-suddenly wasn’t. I similarly find myself out of the writing habit (as you may have noticed with this spate of late blog posts).

But giving up and accepting the new state as the always-and-forever is a huge disservice, to yourself and to the world! So, here’s my training schedule for the next several weeks.

Week 1: Write at least three hours

Week 2: Write something daily

Week 3-7: (Camp NaNo starts) Write 1k daily

Week 8-∞: Keep at it

Easy, right?

I suppose you want to know whether this training paid off. I suppose you want to know that I kicked my husband’s rear and made him work in a soup kitchen wearing a wrestling singlet and a tutu.

Except that I didn’t. 😦

This is the other point I took away from all this. Comparing myself to my incredibly athletic husband (or to the nine-year-old boy or the seventy-five-year-old woman who also kicked my butt) is pointless.

Did I improve? Yes. Do I feel fantastic? Yes. Did I beat my time goal? Yes.

I am me and no one else. I run as only I can run. I write as only I can write. And I am completely and utterly happy to be me, the best me I can be. (And I hope that’s true for you, too!)

So work hard to be your best, and don’t worry about how that stacks up with everyone else! Run without registering. Walk the entire way, or run so hard you pee your pants. Do the race while juggling on a unicycle. Forget comparisons and be your own best.

Happy writing!