Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Depression: Two Triggers

 This one is probably going to sound a little uniformed and scattered. Admittedly, I’ve been living with depression for a long time, but I’ve done far less research on it than I should have. At least that’s how it feels. I’ve talked to a number of doctors and I’ve read a lot of research. I still haven’t cracked it so maybe that’s why I feel like I haven’t learned enough.

This blog isn’t about that, happily. It’s just about my journey and that’s comparatively easy to put down in print.

My experience has been that there is usually one of two triggers for a depressive episode – and I’ve had some doozies. The first is that impossible to fathom, internal tide of terrible that just wells up with chronic depressives. Trigger is an inaccurate word in this case. It just happens. I can be watching a tv show that I really enjoy, attending a social event, be at a job, or whatever and all of a sudden there’s overwhelming sadness. This is one of the biggest problems that I struggle with and it’s been getting worse. I don’t know the answer; my wife says it’s just chemicals and I think she probably has a point. Doesn’t make it feel any better, but at least it’s something I can tell myself. 

Second are external triggers. Everyone deals with these. Death of a loved one, financial problems, politics, the evening news – all these things can be depressing however I’d hazard a guess that they hit chronic depressives harder. Bad news can bring a person down for a bit, but they can usually dig down and figure out what they need to do to get past it. Chronics, on the other hand, wallow. It’s actually kind of comfortable. So when there’s an external trigger it provides an excuse to wrap oneself up in a big burrito of sad.

At least that’s been my experience. I certainly would never claim a monopoly on depression. A facebook acquaintance of mine who happens to be one of the most upbeat people I know was recently diagnosed with depression. He’s in his fifties, an avid weight-lifter, great cook, hugger and all around happy dude. He went in for a regular check up a couple weeks ago and his long time doctor recognized some differences in his general demeanor. Doc asked him the standard questions then prescribed what I assume is a common depression treatment – my friend didn’t say what, only that he was comfortable with it. He shared that he’s recently lost some friends and family members. I’m sure he’s going to pull through pretty quickly. His personality and strong support network will see to that. 

Here’s another example of external triggers. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. You might not think so if you’ve been following this blog for a while. I try to write fast and honest here so I’m sure there’s more than a few grammatical errors. Otherwise, though, I’m pretty careful – as much as I can be – in my personal and professional conduct. Consequently, when I do screw up it bothers me. Most people, as far as I’ve observed, seem able to shake that kind of thing off in a few minutes, hours or, at most, a day. Me? It can destroy a week and, worse, if my mistake affects other people else it can destroy the relationship. Not from their perspective but from mine. I read or assign too much into their disappointment and find myself entirely avoiding them. 

I realize that, that can be more of a self esteem thing, but as far as I see it it’s all part of the same problem. More to the point, it can trigger a depressive episode. That’s the point I’m trying to make. If something happens that makes me feel bad about myself it seems to trigger the chronic. Instead of just fixing the mistake and moving on, I crawl inside of myself and spend too much time thereafter hating myself and everyone around me. 

I don’t have any answer or advice in this area. It’s just about where I live. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Some Thoughts About Depression, Autism and Being an Introvert

I think I may have mentioned this before – I’m not going to go back and look – but over the last several years I’ve wondered if I have mild autism. It was once called aspersers, but I think they just say you’re on the spectrum now.

Here's a pretty good digestion of what Asperger's
 is or was, depending on your approach. It doesn't
 fit me exactly. For example, I think I'm a fairly
 sympathetic person, but I do have many of the other
 characteristics listed here; enough, at least to think
 that there's at least a light spritzing of Asperger's
 on my brain.

Semantics aside, I was thinking about that this morning. I definitely have depression. That’s well established. I’m certainly an introvert, again, something that takes no argument if you were to meet me. And I’m a pretty good candidate for autism. If one were to draw a Venn diagram of this mess there would be a big pile of me sitting right in the middle.

What does this mean? Well, if you subscribe to Temple Grande's way of thinking maybe - see below - I’m not damaged. Maybe I’m just on the spectrum of being a human. Depression, obviously, can cause damage in the form of self-harm and suicide. Being an introvert and/or mildly autistic, however, of themselves don’t cause damage. The problem with those two is how our society can make them harmful in the way individuals are treated.

In my head, all three are holding hands. It’s more than a Venn diagram; it could be called a coexistence. If I have low-grade autism it could lead me to be an introvert and that leads to the depression which further feeds the autism and being introverted. And, so, the snake continues to eat its own tail.

This doesn’t really produce any kind of solution, at least not for me, but it’s something to think about. If it’s a global problem – my depression – maybe there’s a global solution. If St. John’s Wort only helped for a while maybe I need to tackle all three problems at once. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t even know if it’s realistic. Still, there might be something there.

All we can do is lie down and give up or keep looking. It's hard not to get tired. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Stand-up Comedians

So, there’s a sudden gear shift, right?

I’ve been ruminating on this post for a while. I have loved stand up comedy for as long as I can remember. As a kid I loved to listen to my father’s LPs of Bill Cosby.

I know. But back then, who knew?…

Anyway, point is I’ve loved stand up comedy for a long time. I’m actually envious of stand up comics, which I know is a cliché. I’m a fairly funny guy in real life and wish I had the courage and mental organization to translate that onstage. I don’t.

If you look back at my posts on this blog you’ll see that I went dark sometime in 2012 and only recently started to blink back to life. That’s not because life got better or my depression regressed. Shit got way worse and in other ways shit got way better. We might talk about that later; probably not.

Comedy helped me survive. It really did. That might sound ridiculous, but it’s true. Without stand up comics…

Here’s the thing. I’m never surprised when a comic kills herself/himself, either actively or via self-destructive behavior: John Pinette, Greg Giraldo, Robin Williams, Richard Jeni, Mitch Hedberg and Maria Bamford’s very public struggle – happily she survived. Stand ups are very often broken people and when you look past the punch lines it becomes glaringly obvious. Once you realize that, it’s hard not to hear the pain in their performance. I sometimes find myself crying in the middle of an hilarious bit.

In that way, comedy helped me survive from 2012 something to 2017 something. I pretty much freebased stand up comedy during that time. The catharsis it provided helped me so much. Here were deeply damaged people suffering through the same disappointments of life. Laughter is the best – well, you’ve heard that one before.

I’m not saying this is any kind of solution to chronic depression. If I knew the solution I’d definitely tell you. But it helps. Comedy, specifically stand up, has been a balm for me my whole life and continues to be.

Find your place of retreat, is my advice. Figure out what fixes you in your moment of crisis and know how to get there when you need to. This works for me.