Sunday, August 14, 2016

Why Depression isn't really a battle

At this point in my life, I am not currently and have not been depressed for a long time. I spent a significant and lengthy time in my twenties falling into it again and again. Much of it was undiagnosed postpartum depression that lingered far longer than it should have. Especially when I had multiple babies one after another. Depression convinced and re-confirmed for me over and over that I was a terrible and worthless mother. The cycle was evil. Unfortunately, I had friends and former boyfriends who were so abusive that they more or less confirmed these fears for me. I don't hate them. They had their own demons to deal with. It just did not help.
Eventually when I was not depressed, I found ways to be the mother I was supposed to be, that shockingly, I found that I could be, that finally I had the energy to be.
Depression was always cyclical for me. I could feel it coming on, I could feel it chasing me, I would always try to fight it off but like the coming storm, it usually came anyway.
Recently a friend posted a status that said, he never felt he had battled depression but yelled at its back after it stole his emotional lunch money. This was painfully accurate.
I live in quiet, silent terror of depression coming back all the time. I have not been functionally depressed in over ten years. But I have always felt I have no control over it. It could just ride in at any time and completely trainwreck my life. This knowledge, this fear-- It's not going to stop me from living my life. I'm just aware that demon is hanging around and to feel safe from it is crazy. She can just show up whenever she feels like it and kick my chair out from under me and sit down right in the middle of my chest.
It's kind of like how I am going to walk at night, even though sometimes it scares me. I refuse to live my life afraid of what might happen. Especially when I recognize it is irrational. Sure, I could get mugged. But is that a reason not to go somewhere? I could get mugged right at home. Nope, I'm going out.
So, yes, depression could come after me but my life is too important to me to be held hostage by that.
Oddly, one thing that worked for me was permanently changing my diet and getting rid of all fast food. Quitting smoking. Quitting soda. Adding in healthy veggies and exercise. Is this why? I don't know. Maybe it just went away. But that is when it went away and has not come back significantly since that time.
I don't think in any way this is the answer. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. But food and exercise have an effect on the chemistry in your brain. Maybe it balanced mine. Maybe something else did. I'm never going to know. Perhaps there was something in what I was eating or what I was doing that was poisoning me. No idea. I mean, depression runs in my family, so there is that. And there is not one person I'm closely related to that doesn't deal with it, some worse than others, some are more functional than others.
The other thing that helped me was following my life path and pushing everything else out of the way to pursue the creative work that feeds my soul. It keeps my healthy, happy endorphins flowing. But I don't even begin to have the answers.
Therapy also helped a lot. I had some really good cognitive therapy with a really great therapist (and I went through a few to find the right match) Do two things. Try to do the things that your therapist asks, even if it is hard and get rid of the ones that make you feel bad about yourself. Find a good match.
Honestly, I just wanted to be happy. I know that most of us just want to be happy and no one should expect to be happy all the time, but being happy is worth fighting for. And try to get out of your own way to be happy. Sabotage is a killer.
Here is the deal, though-- this is what depression was like for me.
For all the battles in my life, and there have been many, I have stored up my energy and gone in sword and shield in hand. I have stood my ground and struck blow after blow until I emerged, bloody sword in hand, standing on the dragon.
Depression isn't like that. The first thing it steals is your energy, so you try to pick up the shield and you lack the strength to hold it. The first wave of attack comes after you and you hold up your arms feebly as it pelts you, and the raindrops fall all over you. Now, you are soaking wet and vulnerable. You start to shiver. The next thing it steals is your confidence. You're never going to be dry again, you can't find the sun behind the clouds. What if it isn't there? All you can do is run around and try to find shelter but your strength is gone, and your fears are raw and in between the waves of fresh assaults, all you can do is duck and cover and beg for a break in the weather. Finally, things calm down and it's just kind of gray all around. So, you try to get up, but it has stolen your strength, your confidence and now it attacks your hope. It's pointless to get up when all you are going to find is more of the same malaise. You start to believe that it is always going to be gray. It's best to just stay still, if you try to get out, you will just end up in a storm again. Just stay here and do nothing. It's the safest thing to do and you have to survive. Just keep breathing, that is the best you can do. Yep. And sometimes it steals the will to do that.
So, for me, I always kept this tiny box of hope stored somewhere in my rational mind. Because while the assaults came for my rational mind, I was at least able to save a tiny corner. Not everyone has this luxury. But I always told myself-- this is the sickness talking, this is the disease lying to me-- and I was somehow able to just get through the physical malaise and steal tiny bits of energy enough to keep going.
I always believed the sun was behind those clouds even though I would often not see it for months and months and I always felt damp and weighed down. I had a strong box in my head that refused to give up and give in. Somehow, I was lucky enough to have built something sturdy enough to withstand the attacks. You build it when you're strong, when you feel good about the world. You build it when you don't think you'll need it. And I always needed it.
So, for those people that think depression is just being sad. It's really and truly not. The truth is, my brain has just been through a storm or the stomach flu and my reserves are depleted and it is everything my body can do to just get up and take a shower. The lie is that I had no energy. I have no reserves. I have no fight. It is just a lie that depression tells me. My hope is hiding behind that cloud, I just couldn't feel it or see it right then.
This is just what I went through. I cannot and will not speak for anyone else. If you want to argue with me about depression, I literally do not want to talk to you about it. Your struggle is your own. I'm not going to pretend to know. I know that mine is similar to some and completely different from others. I have never been medicated for depression and hopefully will not need to be. I think some people really benefit from medication. Everyone has to do what personally is needed to try to get better.
This is only my story. And it is only a little piece. I hope it helps in some way.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Being poor. I can tell when people don't get it. I didn't get it when I was a kid. I grew up with a pretty decent life. My parents both worked professionally and once we moved to U City, things were pretty good. I went from a public school to a private school and we lived in a nice house. My mom was always talking about not having money for this and that and she was frugal about everything but there was always milk in the fridge and always food on the table.
So, I guess I just took it for granted that it wasn't that hard.
I was smart and I knew how to work hard so I wouldn't be poor.
I think a lot of people think that.
My boyfriend convinced me to drop out of high school and move in with him the day I turned seventeen. Neither one of us had jobs and we moved in with another couple in this tiny three room apartment in South St. Louis. There wasn't a door to separate the rooms and we hung a curtain for privacy. We slept on half a mattress on the floor and dragged a couch out of the alley. Our dresser was made of milk crates turned sideways that we stole from the local grocery store. That was where we put our clothes. In the beginning, I loved the freedom from parents all the time. Even though we had no air conditioning in the height of summer, we turned on a box fan and sweated it out.
I did not understand what I was in for.
When we moved in, each couple had about $165 dollars of starter money that came to us unethically but not illegally and we were just going to find jobs. I remember the first day we went grocery shopping and we spent about $20. That was when I figured out milk was kind of expensive, so I got some kool aid and I thought it was no big deal. it was one of the first things I missed on a regular basis.
The thing is, when you have no skills and no value, no one really wants to hire you. Especially when you're seventeen. So, you think you will get a job and it will be no big deal until no one will hire you. I went to place after place after place and could not find anything. Finally I got an interview at Jack in the Box. This was the place I thought I would work. It was close by. They hired teenagers. It looked like something I could do. They did not hire me. After that happened I was kind of devastated and desperate.
We were out of money, we were out of cigarettes. My idiot boyfriend insisted we buy pot with some of that money. It did not make sense but he didn't care.
When we ran out of money, I stood outside the grocery store with a charity can and asked people for donations and we lived on that. Eventually, I was able to get a job working at a little diner cooking and waiting on customers at the counter. The tips were nothing. I made about five dollars a day if I was lucky and the Korean man who owned the place gave me $2.75 an hour. He was really nice but he only wanted me three days a week for about nine hours total. My boyfriend got a job running a hot dog stand downtown. At heart, my boyfriend was just a lazy, unpleasant person. He found the job hot and difficult and he just quit. Or he got fired, I was never clear on what happened.
My guess is that he had a shitty attitude and he probably stole some hot dogs, left the stand unattended and showed up baked. He told me he quit because "Fuck that job" but it is more likely he got fired.
At the end of the first month, we didn't have the $75 we needed for rent because we barely had enough for groceries.
Meanwhile I was working pretty hard at the diner. And I liked my boss and he seemed to like me pretty well. At the end of the shift, he always let me sit down and have a hamburger and fries and he used to give me a pack of cigarettes. One day his wife showed up instead of him and I could tell by the way she was eyeing me up suspiciously that she didn't like me very much. In my imagination, he had hired me without consulting her.
The way I got hired was this. I walked in to this diner and asked if they were hiring and he said to me "Come back at 6 tomorrow and I will talk to you."
So, I left and went home, figuring I had an interview. But when I got home, I thought to myself, did he mean six am or six pm? Because the diner opened at 6 am! I fretted about this for an hour and finally decided this was not something I wanted to be wrong about. So, I got up at five am and made sure I was there at six on the dot. I wanted that damn job. I needed that damn job. You don't know humiliation until you have stood outside the grocery store and begged for money.
No one was there at six am. The place was empty. Even though the sign on the diner said they opened at six, apparently those hours were just a suggestion. He finally showed up about 7:30 am. I sprang up and told him "I got here at six like you asked!" He shook his head at me and spoke gently to me in broken English.
"You come back at six tonight."
I hung my head. Sorry, I said and walked away. He smiled at me, though and when I showed up at six that evening he negotiated my hours and salary with me. He might have pity hired me. he might have hired me because I showed up at six am and he felt bad but I didn't care.
I knew his wife had just had a baby when I started working there, and I knew the way she was looking at me I had to be extra respectful and extra diligent. So, I was. There was no extra pack of cigarettes that day and she grudgingly made me lunch at the end of my shift. There are lots of things you can tell without words and I could tell she didn't want me around. Too nice was not good. Too stand offish was not good. I had no idea what would make her like me, so I just behaved as normally as possible while being respectful and working hard.
The next day it was back to normal and he came in again. I was relieved. Everything went back to normal for about a week or so. Then, one day I showed up for work and they were both there. I was confused. He took me aside and explained to me that his wife was back and he didn't need me any more. He gave me a pack of Marlboro 100s and said he was going to open up another diner next year and that I should come and work for him there but he didn't need me right now. He tried to tell me that I was a good worker and he was sorry to let me go. I didn't drag it out. I let him let me go so I could get around the corner and burst into tears.
The business of living is expensive. The business of keeping your head above water is serious. I had no car, no job, no bus pass and my parents had explained to me in no uncertain terms that if I left that house and dropped out of school, there would be no money. So, I didn't even bother asking or telling them what happened. In many ways, my parents standing their ground on that line was the biggest favor they ever did me.
I got it. I understood poverty in a way I never understood it before. In that moment, the pure and utter desperation I felt was beyond description here. I left that place and went home to gather my wits and figure out how I was going to live. I cried for about twenty seconds, wiped off those tears and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I was going to think a way out of this. I was going to survive. I was going to make things better.
I think this was largely because I knew things could be better and that I could get there. My parents had both grown up in poverty, in very austere conditions. They had tried to explain it to me, tried to explain what it means to drag yourself up and work hard and get your education, do your homework when you're hungry, but though I had lots of sensitive feeling, I didn't really get it until right there. Getting fired for no particular reason from a crappy job that meant the difference between eating and not eating. I didn't even have money to do laundry. I was washing my clothes in the bathtub with shampoo and hanging them up to try. The week before we had shoplifted tampons.
The grind of this every day is something that wears on you. And yet it pulls from you the most creative ways to get by. Because you have to. And when it does, it changes your priorities about everything in your life.
This was more than just a social experiment. You can't just hear about this and understand it, you have to allow yourself to feel it. This was an important part of my development as a human being. Whatever dreams I had went on hold because- survival. I had put myself in this situation with my arrogance and my blind faith in my own ability to work hard and get by. And I realized I couldn't count on my roommates, my boyfriend or my parents to get me out of this mess. It was going to be me. At that point in my life, I was not struggling with depression and hopelessness because I think on top of the harsh realities of what I was facing, that would have been too much. That might have dragged me down to a place I would not have been able to come back from.
There are many ways in which I literally figured it out, but those stories are for another day. For now it is enough to say that I did. I'm writing this down because it's important to put stories in writing.
When I was eleven, there is no way I could understand what it was like to be a black boy growing up during Jim Crow until I read Black Boy by Richard Wright and came out of my little white world for a minute and felt things through those aching words, that every piece of what he was going through and I never looked at the face of things the same again. No, it will never be my experience but the first time I saw Roots, my eyes were opened to slavery in a way my textbooks were never going to get. The human experience is important to share. This is why I want to write books and movies and real stories and yes, comedies.
And we need to understand one another ever if we never mirror the experience. Because I want to be inspired and touched and grateful. History is not a series of dates. It should be alive in us through story. This is a piece of my past. It is a piece of my story. It is why I understand poverty in a way that is very intimate and painful. Because I really wanted a gallon of milk but when you have to walk three blocks home from the grocery store, you make choices. When you have three dollars and you have to choose what you are going to eat for the next couple of days, those choices are going to look different.
Once I was sitting outside Cicero's, back when I was the manager there and a homeless guy came around asking for money. After he left, one of the guys I was talking to said "How does someone get like that? I mean, it's just so pathetic to let yourself get that low."
I remember looking at him and saying "you are about three steps from where that guy is."
He argued with me for a good long time about it. But I know that we are all teetering there on the edge of where things can happen. Maybe not the one percent. Maybe those guys are safer. But those who knew poverty were not the ones jumping out of windows during the stock market crash of 1929. Those who knew poverty, they didn't give up so easy. They already knew how to survive. This is why I am grateful for that time in my life and grateful that it was just a time and not my every day any more. It's beyond fucking hard to live like that. And it could happen to me in a heartbeat of bad luck.