Showers optional.

I left K’s blanket, that fell from the window by her computer, out in the rain. I sandwiched it between the window frame and windowpane to block the sun as I lay on the couch watching streaming TV in my PJ’s all day. I slept and woke and slept, it rained, I woke and slept. The days have gone. I’m here again. I’d like to blame it on the sudden season change, the jetlag-induced medicinal delay. I’m one day behind. My pill schedule has been erratic.

What is this numbing agent that lives in the Washington air? What is this paralysis that takes me there? To the timeless, lifeless, light-less place?

Tomorrow I walk again, tail between legs, smiling through humiliation and self-induced shame. Welcome, welcome home.

Written Thursday, October 20th, 2011.

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I wrote the above poem after returning from a trip to China. Where it was hot. dry desert hot. and sticky city hot. There was sun.

At the time I was struggling with inconsistent and sporadic ups-and-downs. I was coming out of a major depressive episode. I was home-bound for months. So it was refreshing (and scary) to return to the outside world. To go back to the normal routine: Up. Shower. Drive. Work. Eat. Drive. Eat. Sleep. Depression’s routine? Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Eat. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Showers optional.

It’s been a couple of years and I still experience periodic down-sodes. They’re not as frequent. Or as intense. But they’re there. I’m learning to manage my depression. I’m learning what stressors trigger it. I’ve learned that a huge part of managing depression is accepting what your limitations are because of depression. One of the things to accept is lost time. And losing time. Losing days. Months. Years; the time spent in darkness. Behind closed eyelids. Away. Can lead to more loss: a relationship. enthusiasm. money. trust. respect. a job. It’s not an easy thing to accept. But that’s part of the deal.

“Losses big and small happen to everyone who has depression. The only way to get through them and move on is to accept the reality of what has happened and do all you can to minimize what depression takes away from you in the future.” This is from a book I mentioned in an earlier post. It’s been my depression guidebook, if you will. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Showers optional.

Photo taken Thursday, March 19th, 2009. University Bridge, Seattle.

It hates creativity.

I’ve been talking with friends a lot lately about creativity and how difficult it is to sustain riding the surf once you catch the wave.  The dilemma of the creative process, and this is especially true for artists, is that we impose pressure on ourselves to make impressive, or at least good creations; they must be meaningful and make sense right off the bat, and if they are none of those things, self-doubt, fear, and discouragement seep in like poison to passion.

This unrealistic pursuit in thinking that every painting must be a Sistine Chapel or that every novel should be literary-prize-worthy is toxic to the creative process, and that’s what it is, a process.  Creativity is a process and a practice.  As with chores, you must press on with the creative practice even if you aren’t in the mood, and especially when you’re not in the mood.  In the long run, fighting and forging through the doldrums of uninspired and passionless episodes of ‘forced creation’ inevitably proves that the juice is worth the squeeze.

But there’s a distinct difference between falling into a creative lull due to a natural periodic lack of inspiration versus experiencing the absence of inspiration at the hands of depression.  It’s common knowledge that one of the symptoms of depression is that the depressed person loses interest in activities that were once enjoyed.  But the thing is, you lose interest in everything, which makes the effort a depressed person must put into convincing his or her mind to be creative, in spite of the depression, exponentially more challenging.

Julie A. Fast reminds us that “[d]epression makes you feel that you’re artistically limited, but you’re not,” and she has some really good thoughts to consider in “Create Creativity”, Chapter 49 of her book, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed”:

  • Think of the supplies you use to create your artwork.  Put them on a table and look at them.  They are your friends, not a sign that you can’t create anymore.
  • Don’t think of how it used to be.  Think of what you can do now, and create something that comes from this moment.
  • Create something that shows what it’s like to be depressed, a snapshot of where you are now.  If you cry on the art, that’s just a part of where you are now.
  • Expect resistance from depression.  It hates creativity for some reason.  You need to break the hold depression has on your creativity by making something tangible, so you can see the results of your work.
  • Think of how you feel in the middle of doing something creative instead of how hard it is to start.
  • Remember: Don’t wait until you feel better!  Create something now!  When you’re better and you look at the work, you’ll see that you are just as creative as always.

***

I especially appreciate Julie’s reminder to ‘create now’ because when you look at your work later, you’ll realize that your creative juices flow even when depression fools your mind into thinking that it’s put a dam in place and the depressive levee will break only after the cloud has lifted and you feel better – not true.  If you don’t believe it.  Try it and see.  Even if you’re not depressed and you’re feeling uninspired, create something.  Create it now, and remind your ‘future self’ to look back at what you’ve made so that you can prove your ‘now self’ wrong, later.

And so, I’ve spent some time reading through my old writings, and I must say, I’ve read some great stuff.  The process of reading through my old writings inspires me to continue my writing practice.  Yes, it is entirely possible to be inspired by your own work!  In the spirit of sharing apropos material, I’ve included in this post a couple of my old writings that incorporate observed elements of the process of creativity.

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:: Journal Entry ::

I can’t write every day or just any day.  Even sometimes when I feel like it, when I want to…I start to doodle.  Ideas start and stop.  If my pen ran out of ink, at least I’d have an excuse to put it down and turn my mind off.  It’s just, creativity can be shy or stubborn and that scares me when I think of my future, because I want to write every day, all the time.  I want brilliance to be signed with my name somewhere around it.  Maybe when I figure out exactly what I want it’ll be easier and instead, I’ll be scared that in the midst of creativity and a flow of words, the ink will run out or I will have forgotten my pen.

Written Tuesday, 3.30.99.

***

:: Poem ::

(untitled)

My hurt has been petrified for so long.
The patterns lay fossilized.
Scattered.
I can hold them in my hands now
without attachment.
It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten
or that I don’t take responsibility.
It’s the lack of responsibility
that’s kept them strapped to my skin.
I feel good.  I feel in control.
I feel like there is direction.
The precursor to my future – the one I’ve
been wanting and searching for.
It feels good to be honest.
To be honest with myself.
It’s like I’ve sprouted wings
and there’s nowhere I can’t go.
Nothing I can’t see.
I’m thankful.
Thankful for my weaknesses.
Thankful for my mistakes.
Thankful for my realizations
and my determination to succeed.
Thankful for my ability to forgive
others and myself.
Thankful for my strengths.
Thankful for my beauty – and my ability
to see beauty in everything and everyone
I see.
Thankful for my hardships.
Thankful for my ambitions.
Thankful for my creativity.

Written Saturday, 8.23.03.

Synthetic baby steps.

“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.” – Dr. R.W. Shepherd

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“The mornings themselves were becoming bad now as I wandered about lethargic, following my synthetic step…” – William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness)

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:: Journal entry ::

I find myself questioning whether I truly am depressed.  I seem to care less and less.

I’m exhausted.  I want to find meaning in something but everything appears plastic and hollow.

I don’t feel suicidal but I want to close my eyes and sleep forever.  What is that called?  Is it possible to break free from this?  Do I have the energy to claw my way out of this?

Written Monday, 11.15.10.

***

I was in a different head-space when I wrote the above journal entry than I am now.  I’m farther along on the never-ending road to recovery and I know that I can ‘claw my way out’ when the darkness descends, but experiencing a higher frequency of depressive bouts does not equal each successive bout to be easier.  The undertow of feeling hopeless and defeated can pull you under no matter how many times you surface.

I don’t know which phase of depression is more difficult, when you’re trying to hang on to hope long enough to conquer depression’s suicidal siren, or when you’re working your way through the lightness/darkness state of limbo as you try to pry the barnacles of negativity from your skin fast enough to stay afloat and come ‘back to life’.  I’ve been experiencing waves of the latter phase over the past few months.  For a few days or a couple of weeks I feel energized, awake, focused, social, content; dare I say, ‘happy’.  And then I sink.  I sink, I sink, I sink back under the comforter.  Again, my body and mind want rest and darkness.  This will last a few days, and then I will be back to washing my hair and singing along with ‘Wilson Phillips’ on my way to work in the mornings.  And the see-saw continues to see and to saw.

I know that I can get myself out of bed on the lead-limbed mornings, but I’m not always convinced, and then the morning swallows me whole and the rest of the day is shot.  Each time after I tell myself that I will not allow myself to be fooled into shutting down again, I find that I am making the same exclamation not long after, and again, not long after that.  I want to get off this merry-go-round but I know it takes time.  I try to remember that every mood is temporary, and, as with reaching any goal, it takes patience, persistence, diligence and faith.  It also requires taking, as Styron puts it, ‘synthetic step[s]’.  As daunting, overwhelming, or impossible as a task may seem, it’s best (and possible) to get up and go through the motions.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always practice what I preach, but I’m getting there.  Steps, steps.  Synthetic baby steps.  And in the meantime, I seek out tools that help to widen and strengthen my stride.

One of the most powerful practices I’ve found has been to expose myself to things that help me to feel understood in the context of having a mental illness.  For instance, I refer to William Styron’s memoir about his experience with depression to gain comfort in knowing that what I experience with depression is real, and that other people, including successful people, have known and know the disease as intimately as I have and do.  Once you get to this place, it’s easier to believe that you are not your depression and your depression is not you.  Depression is manageable!  Who knew?  Though, the operative word here is “manage” and this responsibility is up to you.  Managing my depression is up to me.

Part of managing depression is learning about it.  During my quest to check out as many books about depression as I could from the Bothell Library, I came across a book by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, Psy.D., ABPP entitled, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track”.  I admit, I almost grazed right over it because the title and cover appeared uber self-help hokey but I was desperate to seek out anything that might help me to bouy up from depression’s deep end.  I am so glad that I found this book.  I highly recommend it if you or someone you know are/is trying to manage depression.  It’s a practical guide that respects and appreciates the depressive experience.  Julie Fast is a writer who has depression and has found a way to cope with it while leading a functional and successful life, and Dr. Preston is a professor of psychology; together they are able to provide examples of personal and patients’ experiences.

The main thing that I am struggling with right now is to find a way to manage my depression when I’m in a dip during the work week.  I am extremely fortunate to work with a team that has been beyond supportive and understanding over the past year, but I need to find a way to work (literally) through the rough spots.  As I stated earlier, managing my depression is up to me, and so, I flip to chapter 14, “Feel the Depression…and Do It Anyway”, for guidance.  Here are a couple of thoughts to consider from Julie:

“Working when you’re depressed is harder and sadder than working when you’re well, but it’s important that you focus on the outcome and how you want to feel when you get to bed.  When you can acknowledge to yourself, I did what I could today despite feeling so sick, you take control — perhaps more control than you thought possible.”

“Expect to cry, feel terrible, be less productive, and feel like quitting…and then do what you have to anyway.”

Ok, Julie, let’s do this thing.