Monday, November 19, 2007

Doing the Split

So I decided to go ahead and start a new blog for the daily writing experiment.

In my view blogs stagnate for three reasons:
1) The blogger becomes bored with it.
2) The blogger says what she came to say.
3) The blogger can't figure out how to say what needs to be said.

While number is probably the commonest reason, number three has been my reason. For a long time the next thing to talk about has been suicide. There are lots of reasons that I don't want to get into that. None of them are that it's too upsetting. I think about suicide so much and with such regularity that it's become as much of a companion to me as my depression. Both are so deeply rooted in me that I'm quite sure that I would be a radically different person if they were gone. I wouldn't know how to function.

Writing about suicide is hard because it is so incredibly self indulgent and as I've said many times I desperately want to avoid having that happen with this blog. In a recent post at Trick-cycling For Beginners the blogger really captured my feelings about this way: "Often, what comes across is a person who has allowed themselves to become defined by their illness; obsessed with it, enveloped in the sick role." This isn't how I live my life and it isn't how I want to write this blog. It would be difficult to explore suicide without seeming to wear the sick role too proudly.

Another issue with discussing suicide is that it is so desperately cliche'. I suppose that this complaint is quite similar to the one of the previous paragraph but it originates from a different muscle. Suicide is almost laughably boring as a symptom of depression. Actually all the symptoms are which is one of the reasons that the big D is so frustrating - being trapped in a set of incredibly predictable emotions and reactions and being completely unable to break loose from them. But suicide is so after-school-special.

But one of the biggest reasons that I haven't explored it yet is that there is so little to say about it. As distracting as my continuous contemplation of it is, there's really not much to explore there. I think about ways that I could do it then I think about how scared I am of it and how courageous successful committers are. And that's about it.

Perhaps this broke the log-jam. Probably not. But I'm back to focusing this blog on depression. If you're interested in my one-hour-a-day project then first I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with you and second I will direct you to Caution: Writer At Play.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day Two

A strange turn of events has come upon me. Just a day after I decided on a change in direction for this blog I received this email:


I'm writing to inform you that you've won the Best of the Web - Blog award from Psych Central, the oldest and largest mental health resource online that's been reviewing online resources since 1992.

The top ten list in depression was compiled with input from our readers, one of my associate editors, and myself. It reflects the excellence in regular writing of entries related to this mental health concern that we feel is consistent and worthy of people's time.

That's very flattering, isn't it? Of course the skeptic in me told me that it was all BS. But they published their list today and they seem to be an organization with at least a little cash behind them. This list of worthy, at least in their estimation, depression blogs was published today and I've seen a huge uptick in traffic. Besides their site,, I've received hits from and It appears that they released a press release announcing their list. Presumably it is with a PR company and it probably cost them a little. So, thanks to them and especially to for first taking notice of me.

But this creates a dilemma for me. Do I continue my blog about depression or do I stick with the new journey that I announced yesterday? Or do I combine the two and push forward with my daily one hour rants but keep one eye on my depression during them? That last option seems very tiresome to me.

Here's the option that I'm most likely to settle on, at least at this point. I'm probably going to set up a new blog for my daily one-hour project and return this one to its original depression based content. I'm big about letting other people obligate me!

But I'm going to sleep on it. I try to do that. Even though this is a relatively minor decision in the greater scheme of things it is one that might have an much greater impact in the future so I want to give it time. I've been doing this for a long time - sleeping on it, that is. I'm very slow to make decisions anyway - tip: never go clothing shopping with me - and I find that trying to avoid making a decision on the same day that it was presented creates a lot less buyer's remorse situation in life.

Nevertheless, for now I'm plowing ahead with the one-hour project on this blog for today. So, if you care to take the journey with me I started this at 2:38p; it's now 2:56 so I have a ways to go.

Yesterday became a bit strained after around 40 minutes. I had a few things on my mind that

Wait. Before I forget, I also received this email:

I’ve been looking through your blog and thought that this might be of some interest to you. This week Beliefnet, the largest online community for spirituality and inspiration, is announcing the launch of their new social network, “Beliefnet Community.” The network is geared toward spiritual seekers and faith-based groups, and will offer resources for study, inspiration and entertainment. You might find Beyond Blue blogger, Therese Borchard’s material especially interesting.

Designed to meet the needs of both individuals and groups—including intimate, small groups as well as multi-dimensional, large organizations—Beliefnet Community will offer award-winning content and online tools allowing members to work together virtually or in real-world small groups. Assemblies of all types and sizes—from book clubs and support groups to Bible study and fan clubs—can create and customize their own websites, calendars, discussion forums and content feeds.

Everyone is very excited -- we hope you'll check out

I tend to want to help out whomever wants to take the time to email me. Even on my bigger blogs I entertain whomever wishes to contact me even if it is a blatant plug like the email above appears to be. The reason is that the Internet is a wide and wild place and anyone that wants to make a go of it here has my support. I think that it's a great think that a huge, multi-national corporation has pretty much the same ability to contact and get links from blogs like the ones I run as does a small time entrepreneur.

For instance, there was a controversy in an industry I write for a couple of months ago about a big firm that introduced a new, slick website, full of flash animation and super-sexy graphics. Their publicity guy emailed a bunch of bloggers that write about the industry with an invitation to preview the new site. It gave them a special link and told them when the new site would be made available to the public. Of course the idea was to create some buzz but so what? Some purists complained that this was blatant corporatism and should not be tolerated.

But here's the great thing. A couple of months later a fellow emailed me. His email was clunky and, quite frankly, a little difficult to follow in places. He had created a device designed to help consumers deal with a particular aspect of the industry. He built a website to sell this product. He contacted me because I'm an influential writer in that industry and he a) wanted advice about his site and b) he wanted to send me his product for review on my site. I'm working on that right now.

You get my point, I'm sure. As far as Internet promotions this guy with an idea and the multinational corporation are on more or less equal ground. I know the corporation all of the advantages that come from money and lots of personnel and there's not a lot that I can do about that but within the realms that I control they are equal and I'll treat them as such.

So even though this email - the one I posted above - reads like it could or could not be a form letter it does show some attention to detail and it is somewhat relevant to my blog. Additionally, I don't think that there is a way that the send could have found my email address other than doing a human search for it. Given these things I've relatively comfortable that it's not spam in the traditional sense so I pasted it here and gave the sender the link back to her site which is the most likely intent of the message. And if I decide on returning this blog to its depressing roots then I will likely review the site here.

What was I talking about before I interrupted myself?

Oh, right, how yesterday went. Like I was saying, I had a few things on my mind at the outset of the hour that I wanted to talk about but I ran out of topics at around 40 minutes. Then it really became difficult to press on. I decided that a list would be the best thing to do. I keep a notepad nest to my keyboard - a habit I picked up in the corporate world - where I constantly jot things down. I started a list of things that occurred to me throughout the day. But I don't spend all of my day in my office and my best random ideas seem to occur to me outside of it. As they did I made a mental note which fluttered away well before I got back to my desk.

Here's my list:
Writer's Strike
What does this have to do with depression

The first item is of course about the screen and TV writer's strike that is going on right now. I don't have a lot to contribute to it but when I heard it mentioned on the news I thought that I might be able to come up with something pithy here.

The second item is a mystery to me. I remember writing it and I remember that I had something interesting to say but now I have no idea. I suppose "this" refers to the blog but I just can't remember what I wanted to say.


This is about the time that I crashed yesterday. Maybe this should be the 45 minute project instead of the hour.

The thing that's largest on my mind just now is the decision about whether I should return this blog to depression or not. I strongly inclined to do so. Like I said before I feel obligated by the actions of others - something that's been with me my whole life and may make an interesting topic here sometime - but also there might actually be some value in what I was doing.

Self-congratulations alert!

I was very surprised at how my blog resonated with readers. I never received more than a handful of hits per day but the response rate was really high when considered as a percentage. By response I mean people that left comments or sent me private emails. When compared to my other blogs which receive a lot more traffic, the response rate was much higher.

That plus this recognition makes me think that perhaps I was contributing something to the world and I should continue.

The funny thing about this is that I will likely move my new project to a brand new blog and thus have two blogs - enough that if they were people they could conspire - cultivating "Ray," my anonymous persona. This is funny because I've been working on my real person in much the same way - carefully cultivating my image as an authority in my field.

I may have to start a split-personality blog next.

Times up and none too soon! Things were getting silly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A New Direction

It's been weeks since I posted here but I think about this blog almost daily. For a long time I was planning a post about suicide then I thought I'd post a review of a book on depression that I read. But every time I thought about blogging here I felt a little depressed. So my little project has become exactly the opposite of what it was originally intended to be; it became yet another source of depression for me.

So I'm changing direction. This new course will naturally touch on depression occasionally because it's incredibly narcissistic and depression is a big part of who I am. I'm going to write for one hour everyday. I'm going to write about whatever is on my mind and, in the cases where the well has begun to run dry a little, whatever I can wring out of my mind. I will write directly into the blogger window instead of writing and editing in Word. I will also not edit although I'll pay attention to blogger's. I will write for one hour then hit post and go on. Those are the rules. Simple, straight forward and hopefully I can stick to them.

I was inspired to a degree by NaNoWriMo. It's an interesting idea. I've never taken part; I'm not much of a joiner. But I admire anyone that does. That's some dedication.

Something that I don't think that I've shared heretofore as I've carefully cultivated my anonymity. I'm a writer. I'm not a great writer although I've had my successes. Life bustled me back and forth between corporations for a some years after college until I'd had enough of soulless middle managers lording over me under life-draining fluorescent lights. I quit my job two years ago and decided to give the writing thing a serious shot. I'd written a novel in my spare time over the previous years and wanted to either get it published or start work on a new one.

I wound up with a great gig that allows me to write at home and whenever I want. Between it and some freelance work I manage to pay the bills. But recently I realized that I'd completely lost sight of my original goals. All of the writing that I do now is very utilitarian. There is no art in it whatsoever. And no soul.

So I'm hoping that this daily exercise will reawaken the writer that I once was or at least what I wanted to be.

Let me say it this way. As you can see above I like to set rules for myself. One rule that I set at the beginning of this new career was that I would not write for free. I was keeping a personal blog at the time and I completely stopped posting to it. My three readers were horribly disappointed but I had made the decision that someone somewhere would eventually pay me for every word that I wrote. You see I was a professional writer now. My focus on squeezing dollars from every word and paragraph left me without an option to exercise the writing muscle. And it's beginning to weaken.

The sentiment was right and it's advice that I'd offer anyone trying to cultivate a writing career - never write for free. But this rule should be clarified - never accept writing assignments that don't pay. I doubt that most people would take it to the extreme that I did but since that possibility that there are other freaks out there like me I now add it.

I've been very lucky. The writing gig that I landed simply isn't offered to amateur writers. I've come to understand this more over the last couple of years than I did at the time. I was very happy when I got the job but now after watching better writers than I get turned down by the same organization I realize how the fates were smiling upon me when I applied. I was in the right place at the right time.

It's also a great position from which I can launch an even fuller career. I haven't done so yet partially because of this self-imposed and completely absurd handicap - never write without getting paid for it - but I'm hoping that someday I'll get over that.

I'm still going to remain anonymous. This might seem silly but I want to feel completely free to write whatever I want here. Everything that I write as me is written for on particular reader - my wife. Before I get into that let me say that my wife is a wonderful person. Every stereotype of the "Take my wife...please" image is exploded by her. She doesn't nag. She is totally supportive of me. For the particular construct of my personality there couldn't be a better compliment.

However expecting that everything I write will be read by her is occasionally oppressive to the message of the piece in front of me. It's completely an internal thing. She has never come to me and said, "What the hell is this supposed to mean!?!" then accusing me of attacking me. One reason for this is that she rarely reads what I write. She's not particularly interested in the subject that consumes my professional career and the creative writing that I did before now didn't hold much interest for her, either. I've never really understood that but that's something to explore later. Here I'm just pointing out the irony that I constantly self-edit for her and she rarely reads my stuff.

Anyway by writing anonymously here I know that she won't read it and I don't have that weight in my keyboard. But in writing in a public way I still have some responsibility to write in a comprehensible way. And I think that's what I want.

I've been writing now for 40 minutes. This is going to be hard. I should start jotting down those little thoughts that occur to me throughout the day so I have somewhere to start. I should also probably start new posts for each thought. Endless, run-on blog posts like this one will definitely turn people off. Not that the reader is the goal here. Normally she is but in this case it's all about the writer - told you it was going to be narcissistic - but in case there is someone out there interested in my nonsense I could at least create new posts to compartmentalize the whole mess for her.

Getting back to the NaNoWriMo - I'd love to give that a shot someday. It's all about getting my money in order ahead of time. We don't have a lot of money so I'm constantly chasing bills and therefore thinking about them. I'm an easily distracted writer so I know that money and bills are the mostly likely reason that I'd fail. NaNoWriMo would take some serious discipline and concentration. But the time constraints would also be so very freeing in a way. I often spend/waste a lot, and I mean a lot, of time on the editing process. Not that it's not important. If you've read this far first you deserve a medal or a cookie or something and second you can see want a mess my raw material is. There are probably tense shifts, all kinds of dangling things and, the bane of my writing, comma errors all over the place.

Commas - oh my god! I am terrible with them. I don't know why but I just can't get the rules straight in my head about commas. I have developed some defenses, though. When I'm editing and I come across a comma question I find that I can often flip the sentence or turn it into the two sentences and the problem evaporates. This is a great solution because I tend to write long sentences but short sentences 1) are easier to read and 2) are easier to sell. Go ahead, check it out. Books on the bestsellers rack have short punchy sentences. The books that aren't have longer sentences with lots of unnecessary floral arrangements.

Only five more minutes to go. I've learned a little with this first post. One, as I said above, I should break these monsters up into a bunch of smaller, subject oriented posts - see my sentence thoughts in the previous paragraph. Two, I should make sure that I've used the bathroom before launching into this. (Did I mention that one of my rules is that I won't get up for any reason before the hour's up?) Three, I need to make sure that my wife is occupied before I start. About ten minutes into it she came down and started talking to me. Nothing derails my train like that!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Walked

For anyone that cares to know I managed to walk this morning. It wasn't quite as uplifting as I'd hoped it would be but it was pleasant enough. I need to stick to it and make it a habit to really begin to benefit.

Also, the owner of emailed me this link: I haven't had a chance to look it over yet but I'm the kind of guy who's willing to post links when I can. Link karma and all...

That's all for now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I suppose it’s a human thing to always drift towards routine. Routines are comfortable and reassuring. One can mechanically move through a day without a lot of effort with a routine. But they’re so damned sticky.

My routines have always gravitated to sedentary pursuits and dark interior buildings. Right now I’ve gotten myself into the most exaggerated form of that rut. I literally spend 10-12 hours a day sitting at my computer in a basement. I rarely leave the basement, not to the mention the house. I climb the stairs a couple times a day to eat and maybe to shower but other than that I sit at this computer.

I sit here because it’s my job. I goof off a little, too, but mostly I work. It’s a good environment for work but not that great for thinking happy thoughts. No sunlight, no exercise, no human interaction… It’s a pretty good recipe for downward spiraling depression.

An acquaintance called me on Saturday to confirm plans that we’d made. I had completely forgotten about them and was on the tail end of this cold. (I just can seem to stop coughing!) Anyway, we’d agreed to drive to a nearby city to drink beer and listen to live music at a blues/jazz club he knows. My wife didn’t want me to go because of the cold but I’d bailed on this friend before so I didn’t want to again. I think that she was also a little pleased to get me out of the house both for my sake and hers; she rarely gets the house to herself.

So we went. The time wasn’t really all that extraordinary. We went to the bar, drank beer and listened to the music. But I had a remarkably good time. It was a very refreshing deviation from my routine. Could it be that not acting depressed helps one not be depressed? If I inject things into my routine specifically designed to counter depression, will my depression lift?

I’ve said this before and I’ve silently made this promise to myself hundreds of times but I am going to start walking tomorrow. It will be the first thing that I do tomorrow after waking up. I've tried this before and it really seems to help. It's just hard to do every day. Once it becomes routine it will be easier but until then it will be an effort.

Hold me to it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reprinting a Comment

My last entry (Could I have BEEN more pitiful?) generated a really great comment from Trishwash. Blog comments can sometimes get missed so I wanted to reprint it.

I hear you, brother.

I am currently going back on Wellbutrin after six months off. It's making me a bit manic at the moment. I went off because I didn't want to have to take drugs. I was feeling better and thought I could do without (ha!).

A couple things to keep in mind. 1. When you start a drug, herbal or pharmaceutical, you body will go through an adjustment period. The crazymeds guy some great things to say about this I especially like the paragraph that begins, "These are powerful, alien substances..." While he's referring to prescription drugs, this may apply to SJW. Given that your body and mind need time to adjust, you may need choose a better time to start taking SJW. Sometimes it takes longer than a few days. Maybe getting better will require a good week where you can afford to just be deliriously happy. Or just be. Does your work have an annual slow period or can you create one by working ahead for a while?

2. Maybe next time, start with a lower dose and work your way up to the recommended amount. Maybe half is all you need to get the affect you want.

3. You sound ambivalent about happiness. That might warrant some further reflection. Did it feel good? Maybe too good? Why shouldn't you feel really good? Growing up, did you get the message that good stuff must be experienced in small, stingy amounts? If not, what other beliefs do you hold about good things? That they are limited, rare, untrustworthy, fleeting, bait for the seven deadly sins?

One of the ideas I've been playing with is that everything we do, think and feel is just a habit. It's not always easy, but all habits can be changed. You work best depressed because you are in the habit of working best depressed. is an online book with a good chapter on habits (#9). It's all a bit new agey, but there are some good nuggets in there.

Above all, don't look at this as failure. This experience has given you valuable information that you can use in other attempts to feel better.

Thanks TW. Nobody's alone, right? Cheers!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Off the St. John's Wort For Now

Why is it so hard to keep this blog up? The question is rhetorical; not because I think that it’s going to cause any reader to lapse into deep thought. It’s because I already know the answer.

1) I’m lazy. That isn’t to say that I’m too lazy to update the blog. Blogging is no big deal. I do it all day. Half of my income comes from blogging. No, I’m lazy about my depression. I whine and moan and appear to yearn for relief but it will take work and, dammit, I’m too depressed to want to work at it. That’s a bit of a joke but then it isn’t, really.
2) I’m comfortable with my depression. Weird, right? I’m not comfortable with the deep, deep lows and it is during those that I promise myself and anyone listening that I’m going to do anything to make it go away. But the normal constant hum of self doubt and self loathing is a comfortable thing. It’s been there for as long as I can remember and, quite frankly, I find it hard to function without it.

That last point is something that I learned recently. I’m back off of the SJW. Here’s why: As usual, I’m behind on my work. I started it a few weeks ago with a promise to take the herb until my bottle was empty. For the first few days I didn’t feel much of a difference. I’m not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to work but that’s what happened to me. Then one morning I felt happy; giddy, in fact. I couldn’t account for it - I just felt happy. But I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t work because I couldn’t sit still. At first I followed my wife around just chattering at her about nothing. When she left for work I tried again to work and nothing came. I couldn’t write! If I can’t write I can’t pay my bills.

I hoped I would get over it. I kept taking the stuff for a couple more days. The silly feeling subsided but I remained distracted. After three days I had to give it up because I was getting behind. Then a few days later I got a nasty summer cold. I’m just now getting over it and I am now WAY behind. So, I need to stay off of it until I get caught up. Once I do, I’m going to try again. If it happens again I don’t know what to do.

This is one of the reasons that I’ve never wanted to take medication. I have other concerns such as the fact that this society is overmedicated and it just rubs me wrong to put more money in the deep pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. But being just too damn happy to function has always been a big fear. I need me and this thing, as bad as it can be sometimes, is part of me. I’ve always felt socially isolated. I’ve always been bluer than my peers. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think about suicide. And I can’t imagine me without these things. I hoped that SJW would gently ease me away from depression so I could learn to be me without it. I still hope that it does.

Anyway, that’s where I am. Thanks for posting your thoughts. It means a lot to me that people are regularly reading this blog.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bad Day

Nothing much to say except the SJW arrived yesterday. It's to be taken 3 times per day and I started at noon.

This morning I'm in a terrible funk. Lowest I've seen in a while. I've also not been sleeping well so I hope that its that and not the herb.

I'm also behind on my work (as usual) so I have to fight through the fog or I'm working through the weekend... again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why St. John’s Wort

There are two main reasons that I’m trying SJW. (It hasn’t arrived yet, by the way.) The first is that it is relatively inexpensive compared to more widely accepted therapies. I live in a smaller community, though it’s by no means remote. The options for most specialized needs are usually limited to one or two. For example, the counselor I’m constantly referring to works at a community funded mental health clinic that adjusts its prices based on the user’s ability to pay. It is the only affordable option that is less than a 2 hour drive away. But when I went I felt locked in to the counselor that they assigned me and I did not like her. Plus her first solution was medication; a medicine that my insurance doesn’t cover. So, though the cost of the visits are tempered, the prescription isn’t.

The second reason is that I can order SJW through the mail and I never have to look anyone in the eye during the transaction. I don’t know if its society’s stigma against all types of emotional problems or my own social anxiety, but it’s a helluva lot easier this way and I’m less likely to back out of it.

So, this is what I’m trying. I tell myself that I’m going to start walking each morning. I don’t know if I actually will but that’s what I tell myself. Right now I’ve designed a life that doesn’t require me to leave the house for days at a time and that’s probably not the best thing for my emotional health even if it’s more comfortable. Maybe with a combination of these two things the lows won’t be quite so low.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Giving St. John Another Try

I’ve ordered a month’s worth of St. John’s Wort. I tried taking this once before and it had a strange affect on me. Rather than taking the edge off of any anxiety and giving me a break from my depression, it made my emotions extremely raw. Events that would have typically been just a little disappointing were more likely to send me into a flying rage or sobbing. It was strange and I quickly quit the stuff.

But I was at a job that I HATED and this situation dominated my thoughts at the time. My life is very different now so I’m going to give it another try. The main reason why is that I really want to find a non-prescription solution and St. John’s Wort is universally recognized as one of the best herbal remedies for depression. I’ve also read that it’s good for my social anxiety problem so, despite my past experience, I have high hopes. (Can anyone say “placebo effect?”)

I plan to stick to it for more than just a few days despite how I feel. I wonder, though, if that rage and sadness was an expression of how much I hated that job and my boss at the time – things that I hadn’t really dealt with because the veil of depression goes a long way to numb other sources of pain.

It should arrive any day…

Friday, August 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Derivative Ending

Taking a moment to tear my attention away from depression I’d like to talk about Harry Potter.

I’m not a fan. I’m not an anti-fan, either. I just haven’t been swept up in the Potter mania. I may read the books one day but I’m in no hurry. I think that I’ve seen all the movies that have made it to cable but I’m not sure.

But I do like reading critics’ reviews of these books in the same way that I enjoyed reading reviews of Dan Brown’s runaway Code. I read a particularly interesting one that attacked the final book for being an anemic ending to an otherwise stellar series. There may be something to that but I can’t help but be amused by these critics. Everyone who makes a living from the written word has a novel or dream of a novel in her and wishes more than anything to eventually steer her career in that direction. Some may claim to be content transcribing police reports or compiling prospectuses but don’t believe them. Every writer got into this game to write the great novel. And that includes literary critics.

So when these eventual novelists’ attack the successful work of another it’s hard not to pick up the stink of souring grapes between the lines. They like to say things like the characters have no depth, the plot seems artificial and contrived and the author takes to many liberties with our mother tongue. But the books are selling in the millions so there must be something about the work that works, right?

But my favorite criticism to hate, and one that showed up in that Potter review, is to claim that a book – or any work of art, I suppose – is derivative. When derivative first showed up as a word of criticism it must have been devastating because the word survives today after literarily decades of use as the single worst word that can be leveled at art. It is no longer the polite way to call a book, a painting, a movie shit; to use derivative IS to call a work shit.

But its use always vexes me. What does it mean? The base word is derive and to derive you must derive from something. The critics never explain the source of the derivation. From what did the artist derive his work and why is that necessarily a bad thing? Wicked, the fabulously successful book and now musical that retells The Wizard of Oz from the witch’s perspective, is derivative in every sense of the word. Without Oz Wicked would have never been derived from it. I see nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

So when a critic uses this all too over used word to attack a book, all of their claims that the author might have abused verb usage or created unbelievable characters become baseless. Remove the plank from your own eye, critic! Don’t be so derivative!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Of Interviews and Dating

My interview yesterday went pretty well. I wasn’t really even that nervous although I have to admit that I knocked back a healthy slug of bourbon when my palms started sweating about thirty minutes beforehand. Maybe not the best option but it did help.

My wife gets impatient with my fear of interviewing people. It’s something that I have to do professionally and so far I’ve wound up friends and mutual admirers with the every subject but I still become a basket case before each one. The worst part about all of this silliness is that, though it’s virtually required for my job, these interviews are never assigned. I have to seek them out.

I hated dating. In my life I’ve probably only asked two or three women out. Sometime in my twentieth year I decided that that would be quite enough of that nonsense and I haven’t asked anyone for a date since. I got set up a few times but that always sucked. Eventually I met my wife and that part of my life has been without want since. I’ve been very lucky there.

My point is I hate social situations. I always have. My sister and I used to call ourselves socially awkward. Then a counselor put a formal name to it for me – social anxiety. And it is this social anxiety, she told me, that causes my depression.

So, you see, interviews are tough for me. Setting up interviews is ten times worse; it feels like asking for a date. I am so grateful for email! The funny thing is that once the interviews have started I become very comfortable because I’m fluent in the subject matter and it always becomes a very easy conversation. No matter how much I tell myself that this will happen, I’m still a nervous wreck.

But I survived yesterday and got that out of the way just in time. I’m trying to get another interview for Saturday so now I’ve got plenty of time to get unreasonably worked up about that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tangents Ahead

If I’m going to blog every day then I can’t continuously write about depression. That would just be too depressing. Besides, there are vast stretches of time where nothing particularly interesting happens and I don’t want a series of entries that say nothing more than “Yup, still hate myself.”

Which I do, by the way. Predictably I completely screwed yesterday up. After doing my hour’s worth of running from 9am to 10 I came home and stewed about it then finally got to work around 1pm. And afternoons suck for me so what little I did get done I’ll have to redo this morning.

I have a phone interview this afternoon. I’m not really worked up about it yet (It’s 6am as I write this.) but I’m sure that as the time draws nigh I’ll have a nice lather going. I haven’t conducted too many interviews although I’m trying to do more. I hope I’ll get more comfortable with them as time goes by but that isn’t likely. It still takes me a few days to mentally prepare for a damned haircut and the event ruins my day.

Sometimes those pills the therapist offered me sound pretty good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Of Banking and Haircuts

So my weekend went pretty well. No major peaks or valleys.

Today’s ruined though.

I’ve managed to arrange my life so that I rarely have to leave the house. I can sometimes go up to two weeks before having to stick my nose out the door. I know it’s not healthy and it makes me even weirder when I actually do end up having to deal with people. My wife tries to get me out – she has none of these issues – but it’s just so much easier to stay at home.

But, like I said, today is ruined. I have to go to the bank and sign some papers and I have to go get my hair cut. Since I work best in the mornings I try to schedule mindless stuff like this for afternoons but when I do I spend the whole morning dreading the social intercourse and I don’t get any work done. So the logical conclusion would be to get this out of the way early and have the rest of the day for my work. Well, that doesn’t work too well, either. When I get back I spend the rest of the morning reviewing whatever stupid thing that I might have said and by the time I’ve worked through that it is afternoon and I’ve lost all motivation to work.

Disgusting, isn’t it? Believe me; I’m far more disgusted than you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Am I Depressed or Just Lazy

I know of a number of things that would break the depression spiral that I spend most days slipping down. I could go outside and take a walk. I could read. (There are certain books the invariably lift my spirit – Leaves of Grass, Catch 22, The World of Pooh, Roughing It.) I could go to a local coffee shop that always makes me feel better. I could write another entry in this blog.

But all of those things take effort. It’s so much easier to pour another bourbon and watch Law & Order reruns. It doesn’t make me feel better, necessarily, but at least it makes me feel less.

Well, I’m going to try to blog with greater regularity. Unlike previous blog entries my writing henceforth will be less thought out. I’m making it a personal goal to write SOMETHING for this blog everyday. This may get messy…

Thursday, July 5, 2007


So, I haven’t posted in a while. There are a couple of reasons that, in addition to being true, have the added benefit of being relevant.

The first is that the first wash of entries in which I stood up and said that I am depressed really felt good. It lifted my mood considerably just to write about it in a public way. I have no idea way. I’m a very private person and generally find sharing to be a particularly icky experience. But for whatever reason I wound up being less depressed and, consequently, didn’t have much depression to blog about.

The second reason that I haven’t made any entries in a while is that I almost didn’t get everything done last month that I was supposed to. I work from home and earn my living from a variety of different sources. In some cases I have my own customers and in other cases I have clients for whom I perform services. Those are measured monthly and my depression became so dark and debilitating in early June that I didn’t get much work done. And the work that I did do was so disgraceful that I simply had to redo it later. Luckily the clouds lifted as a result of this blog and the pure adrenaline brought on by the approaching deadlines. So, I didn’t have time to post those last few days of last month.

But here we are at the fifth of July. I managed to wrap up last month without missing any of those deadlines. It took me a few days to clean up the resulting mess but now I’m caught up and things are on track. In fact yesterday I got ahead! I was feeling pretty good about myself for a couple of hours last night until the phone rang.

No, it wasn’t bad news. It was my step-daughter-in-law. (Is that right? She married my step-son.) She was calling to speak to my wife – they’re great friends – but being a very polite and outgoing person she chatted with me for a bit as she always does before asking to be passed on. I find her to be very intimidating because in addition to being outgoing she is also very smart – a combination that translates into cleverness.

I am a very slow talker; partially because I put a lot of thought into choosing my words and partially because I have a very mild speech impediment. Most people probably don’t notice the impediment. It’s kind of like a stutter except that I don’t stutter, I just stop and the words can’t come out. It’s as though some mechanically has gone wrong and I briefly can’t form words.

Anyway, it’s no big deal and I’m comfortable with that part of me; except when I’m speaking to someone like my step-daughter-in-law. Then I feel like a slow witted oaf. I try to respond in kind to what she has to say but I’m never really able to. My social anxiety kicks in and I just want to crawl under a rock. By the time I handed the phone to my wife last night I felt completely humiliated. Even though it was relatively early I went to bed while they chattered on the phone for an hour and a half.

But before that I was happy, content and carefree for a couple of hours and it was wonderful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Putting a Name To It

My depression has always been a dull throb for me. It’s like a headache that you’ve carried around for a few days that ebbs and flows but never entirely goes away. Sometimes you can forget that your head hurts but when someone asks if that headache went away you realize that you’ve just been ignoring it but it’s still there.

I’ve done a good job of mostly ignoring it but recently the throb has gotten louder; thus this blog. When I posted my first couple of entries I went scurrying out into blog land to see what others were saying about depression. I found a reference to Dysthymia. One of the main reasons that I thought it sounded pretty accurate was that it is long lasting and milder although no less destructive over the long haul; specifically Wikipedia says in time it lead to things “such as high rates of suicide, work impairment, and social isolation.” Boy, does that peg me. I’ll get into those later, especially the big S. In passing I mentioned Dysthymia to James over at Finding Optimism, who has been very generous to me and my blog, in an email. He replied that it seems unlikely since I wrote in an earlier entry that I suffer from most of the physical manifestations of depression. He’s got a good point. But if I’ve had Dysthymia for a long time then I’m due for some physical consequences, right?

In that previous post I described how I self diagnosed my depression. This was later confirmed at a mental health clinic where a counselor, who I did not like, told me after less than an hour of talking that I have a mild case of depression primarily caused by social anxiety. She also promptly told me that I should go on Zoloft (I think) which apparently would help with the social anxiety. This after I explicitly told her at the outset I didn’t want medication.

I’ve been reflecting on that diagnosis over the last few days. Whether she was trying to push the meds for some self-serving reason or she genuinely believed this it would have helped me I’ll never know. I do know that I’ve become very comfortable with her diagnosis. It makes sense, really. I have always been awkward with other people. I wouldn’t call it shy; I’ve often been called that but only by people that don’t know me very well. I’m very opinionated and sometimes quick to take offense and I’m never hesitant to express this to whoever dares cross me. But I do it very awkwardly and spend the next week or more dwelling on the event and invariably beating myself up for it.

Oh yes, I was a joy for my co-workers in the corporate world! Even those I still count as friends were probably as glad to see me go as I was to do so.

The best part about all of this is that any one of these incidents may come up at anytime to torture me. Years later and for no particular reason a memory will jump out at me; refined and distilled by this point to yet another self-told tale of what a blathering oaf I was when this and that happened. I will feel my face heat up and turn red. Typically I’m alone when this happens but if I’m with others I excuse myself to take a moment to savor the bitter taste of the memory once again.

Then the talking starts. This is a new thing and the main reason I try to be alone. No one, not even my wife, has yet caught me and of this writing this is the first time that I’ve consciously dealt with it myself. It starts with a grunt as I try to stop the me in my memory from making an ass of us. Then I babble forth some of the dialogue from the event and finally wrapping it with, “I’m so stupid.” It takes me another few moments to recover then I’m able to move on, generally in a darker mood. Eventually, it fades back down to the dull thud.

My wife says that I talk a lot in my sleep though she claims that she can never understand it. For this first time now, I wonder if I’m reliving these memories in my sleep.

Wow, I really sound like a mess, don’t I? Truly, I’m a functioning adult. These incidents only happen three or four times a month although they seem to be gradually increasing in frequency. They are very swift; usually taking less time than it took to describe them.

Depression brought on by social anxiety – I don’t know if it was a spot on diagnosis or a self fulfilling prophecy but it certainly seems to describe me now.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dealing With an Audience

Something unexpected has happened with this little blog. It has a readership. Now of course this was the ultimate intention – it is a blog, after all – I just didn’t expect it to happen so very soon.

Blogging about my depression was really the natural choice for me. I’ve tried writing personal journals about the problem but they invariably turned into ponderous, unreadable and ultimately unwritable examinations of the minutiae of my emotional life; nobody-understands-me manifestos. Blogging and the possibility that others would find and read it, awareness of a potential audience, kept that from happening. The possible pitfall of a blog is to swing too far towards pleasing the reader. The same impulse that drives me to answer “fine” whenever asked how I am has the danger of making this exercise vapidly meaningless.

But back to my small audience. I’ve been submitting my entries to social indexing sites like technorati and digg so my blog wouldn’t be allowed to retreat into comfortable, naval gazing anonymity and I knew that doing so would eventually lead to a readership. I just didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly. And in referring to my readership don’t think that I’m getting swept up in anything here. I maintain quite a few blogs whose readerships range from two or three a day to ten thousand a day. The point about this audience is that it is huge in my mind when I write. Even though I’ve taken steps to remove the safety net, the fact of a real readership that exists now instead of in the hypothetical future substantially changes the way that I think about this project and, more importantly, how and what I write about.

Take this entry, for example.

So, where do I go from here? Initially I’d planned on a mixture of entries that more or less chronicled depressive events from life, sort of A Portrait of the Depressed Blogger as a Young Man, and entries about my current attempts at self help therapies. This would have all been foundation building. Not that my eventual readers would have cared. I really wouldn’t have expected them to find my blog six months in and go back to read all of the previous entries. But I would have had the foundation making blogging about my ongoing Portrait of a Middle Aged Man easier to maintain.

But the fact of the sudden readership makes me reconsider this plan. This isn’t a intellectual decision; it really happens at a gut level. When I sit down to write or even think about writing this current audience as already standing over my shoulder. Who really wants, I ask myself, to read about what would have been a non-event to anyone else in eighth grade algebra but turned into a festering thorn that took me fifteen years to come to terms with? As much as I’d like to be selfish and can theoretically defend selfishness in this case, now that I have readers with personalities everything’s changed.

Plus the huge amount about depression and the wide variety of therapies available (Light therapy? Really?) is staggering. So many seem to hold promise making it difficult to decide where to start. Dwelling on the past seems like a waste of time when there’s so much to deal with in the present.

What this hell is this entry about anyway? Well, I really can’t say except that I intended it to help me work out the new dynamic of the audience. (An audience for which I’m incredibly grateful, in case that wasn’t clear.) I’m really not sure if I’ve done that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What Does This Mean?

I had a dream two nights ago about a medical student who also happened to be a champion barbequer, or whatever the word would be. His ribs were his specialty and had never been bested in competition. People couldn’t figure out what he put in his dry rub but they knew that they liked his ribs.

Somehow, I became privy to his secret. At night he would steal the ribs from cadavers from the gross anatomy class but he was facing two problems. First, he was about to graduate and he was unsure where he could get ribs after he’d moved on from medical school. Second, his ribs were becoming more and more popular and he was having trouble keeping up with demand because removing the embalming fluids was a very delicate and labor intensive process.

So, what does this mean? What mysteries of my soul does this little dream unlock?

I doubt any other than the fact that I REALLY like ribs with dry rub (not too much salt) and if it does I’d rather not know what they are.

My approach to this depression thing is very simple. I don’t want to be depressed any more. I don’t care what started it. I don’t want to delve into my past and I certainly don’t want to participate in any rebirthing therapy sessions. I just want to feel better.

I am willing to do some self examination. It wouldn’t be possible to defeat depression without some reflection. Besides, it’s just a good thing. It’s good to know who I am and what I want. I just don’t want to become a self-absorbed naval-gazer who looks for meaning in everything.

Sometimes a cannibal is just a cannibal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Symptoms of Depression

I really hate the big pharmaceutical companies. I’m a US citizen that it’s generally known here that Big Pharm holds a huge amount of control over politicians. They use this control to squeeze more and more money out of our broken health-care system.

A few years ago Big Pharm managed to make advertising prescription drugs on TV legal. At first it might have seemed silly, advertising to consumers who would have to go supplicate to their doctors in order to get the drugs that they want. Well, Big Pharm was also working the doctor side of the equation and their TV campaigns were wildly successful.

This causes all kinds of problems. Patients taking wrong drugs or way too much for their ailment not only drives up insurance rates for the rest of us, it also creates a population more likely to produce drug resistant bacteria. And it creates a medical community that is more likely to believe in the power of drugs which leads to over prescribing. All drugs have side effects which sometimes require additional drugs if they are severe enough. The whole systems sets in motion a vicious cycle that, whether by design or luck, produces obscene profits for Big Pharm.

I could go on but I won’t. I just want you to get a feel for why I hate Big Pharm and the ads that they have all over TV.

Seven or eight years ago I was watching TV with my wife and one of these Big Pharm ads came on. Sometimes when I see one I delight in picking apart their wording to get to the heart of their deception. In this case the ad was for an antidepressant. The narrator, a silky voiced woman, said with great sympathy, “Do you suffer from…” and she listed around ten different symptoms while images of various sad people flashed on the screen. The deception here was so obvious that I had to laugh aloud.

“Of course we do,” I blurted, “That’s the human condition.”

My wife didn’t say anything. She just kept watching.

“I mean, these are daily things, right?”

Now she looked at me. “You think about suicide?”

“Well, yeah, doesn’t everyone?”

“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

I laughed, “I’m to much of a wuss to actually do it. I just think about it.”

She let it drop then but a few days later she brought up again. She was obviously thinking about it.

I was too. The next time I saw the ad I wrote down the symptoms that they listed. I regularly experienced almost ever one of them to one degree or another. I decided to look them up and found them listed virtual verbatim on the National Institute of Health’s website under Symptoms of Depression. This was the first time that I began to think that I actually had depression.

Those symptoms are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

This is still a strange list for me. Except for those symptoms that become evident as changes from regular behavior, I’ve had all of these since as long as I can remember. There’s never been a catalyst; this is just how I live.

I don’t know if it will ever change. If I ever make enough money for it, I will seek a professional therapist, one with a holistic approach that won’t say “drugs” in our first session.

For now, though, this is all I have.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Herbal Remedies

I really haven’t tried too many herbal remedies for depression. St. John’s Wort seems to be a popular one. I might even have heard once that it’s recognized in Germany as a “proper” drug and covered under whatever sort of health insurance system that they have.

I tried it once a couple of years ago – back when I was still toiling away in the corporate world – and found that all it seems to do was put me on edge. No, that’s not right because it sounds like I had coffee-like jitters. It made my emotions tenderer, like a new wound. And the effect was only on the negative emotions. I didn’t benefit from any super highs, no fits of uncontrollable happiness; only rage, sadness, and self pity. It was like it worsened the depression. I thought that perhaps my body just needed to adjust so I went ahead and stuck with it. But it was always temporary and negative. For the hours after my dosage I was always just on the edge of a meltdown and just about the time that that feeling would wear off it would be time for another dosage. I never experienced and overall lightening of spirit like I hoped I would. I finally stopped taking it after I got in a huge fight with a co-worker. I had indeed been inconvenienced by her but I completely overreacted. Luckily we didn’t work in the same department because I really never could look at her again.

So, what’s it all mean? Don’t take this to mean that I think that St. John’s Wort. With most things I’m a majority opinion kind of guy. If so many people find relief with it then there most be something to it. It just didn’t work for me. There’s another, somewhat conspiratorial possibility: Since the FDA doesn’t see fit to regulate herbal remedies it could be that I had a bad batch. It could be that it wasn’t St. John’s Wort at all. Maybe I was taking lawn clippings and my depression produced a predictably negative placebo effect.

I keep an herbal garden and thought I’d try growing the stuff but friends and family like to come over, point at different plants, and ask What is that? Remember, my diagnosis was depression caused by social anxiety. Think I’m willing to just grow my remedy where everyone can see? My wife knows that I’m depressed; I told her when I went to that clinic. But we never talk about it. She bought me a book once but that’s been it. Other than that I just don’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t even tell her when I tried the St. John’s Wort. There’s not a chance that I’m going to try to grow the stuff.

The only other herbal remedy that I tried was indeed from my garden. I cracked my copy of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia to Herbs and read up on everything that I was already growing. It turned out that quite a few of my culinary herbs were also traditional remedies for depression or melancholy. I went to the local health food store and bought a couple of cups of bulk green tea then harvested large amounts of the alleged happy herbs – I can’t remember all of the herbs that I used but I know that rosemary and lavender were among them. (I know lavender isn’t culinary. It’s my only none culinary herb. I just love the look and smell of it.) I mixed them with the green tea leaves and started drinking the tea.

It tasted absolutely horrible. I’m making a face as I write this at the memory. Nothing I did to it could make it taste better. In the end I drank it with lots of honey. The honey didn’t take the taste away – with enough honey it just made the tea taste like honey and something horrible - though it did manage to make it a bit more drinkable. But here’s the thing: I really made me feel happier - content, really. For a couple of hours after choking down a pot of the stuff I really did feel better. I actually still have quite a lot of the stuff and I’ve almost thrown it out a few times but can’t bring myself to because it really does help. Unfortunately I also can’t bring myself to drinking it, either.

So, I started writing this post with the idea that I would announce a decision to try St. John’s Wort again – the thinking being that now I work at home I’ll give it another try. But why turn my back on the tea? I think that I’ll try to start drinking it again. I’m pretty sure that the green tea is a big part of what I don’t like about it. I will go to the store and find a different base like plain black tea and mix up some more of the stuff. Or maybe I will try it with just the herbs and no tea leaves. Some rose hips, dried apple or cranberries might just give it the lift that it needs. (I will also do a better job this time of cleaning the herbs. Part of the problem is that there is a bit on dirt on some of the leaves where I didn’t clean them very well. There’s nothing worse than getting dirt in your teeth when you drink a cup of tea.)

The only problem with this is that it is a temporary fix. One day of me not feeling like having my tea or being out of town could spin me right down into the depths again. If my problem is a chemical imbalance as Big Pharm would have us all believe then whatever remedy I find needs to be maintained. But if it’s all in my mind, as opposed to the physical brain, then using the temporary fix of a chemical high from herbs on most days could be enough to bring about the right kind of change in my overall disposition.

Tea it is, then. For now I’ll choke down the nasty stuff until I have a chance to go to the store and mix up some more. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

This is the inaugural post of a project that I've been thinking of for a while now.

Here's my story: I'm fighting depression.

*Right, see? I'm already rolling my eyes at myself. I'm embarrassed and a bit disgusted about all of this - the blog, my condition (ugh), that I have to write publicly about it, everything. But let's get back to it.*

I'm fighting depression. I've always known that I wasn't as happy as others or, more importantly, as I should be. Then, in a story that I'll tell later, I got diagnosed with depression brought on by social anxiety. Foolishly I said thank you very much and never again darkened the otherwise sunny doorway of that particular clinic.

Since then I started a home business and had to go out and find insurance for myself. In order to get a package I could afford I had to take one with no mental health benefits. Besides, I suppose when it comes down to it, this is a preexisting condition so it wouldn't have been covered.

Predictably, if I have to take the cheaper insurance package then I can't afford to go looking for professional help to be paid out of my own pocket.

I've been working at home for almost three years. At first it was heaven, given the social anxious aspect of my psyche. The depression was still there but a wonderfully supportive wife and a fulfilling job kept me above water.

But now I'm starting to drown. Circumstances that will be fully explored in later posts are conspiring to to pull me under completely. I really need help. I've been self medicating with bourbon and Comedy Central but these are only temporary fixes and they're starting to have their own detrimental effects on me.

So, I can't afford the professional help that I know I desperately need. What to do? I'm trying an anonymous blog. I'll blather on here about whatever is bothering me, the memories that haunt me, and how successful my self help remedies are. This blog is my therapist.

Its anonymous because I work in a pretty happy industry and I don't want to advertise this depression. Also, I'm terribly embarrassed by this and were I reading an in kind blog written by someone else I would lose all respect for them. Finally, I want to confess without worry and bitch about whomever and whatever I want. I feel restricted from that when I do these things under my own name.

This blog isn't going to be my only therapy. I'm also going to try some herbal remedies. I'll be reviewing these in futures posts.