Colorful cognitive dioramas.

Looking for a job while experiencing depression illuminates how thick a slice of self-confidence gets hacked off. Just like that. I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill insecurity, the “normal” kind that reminds us we’re human. The kind that well-meaning friends, family, lovers point to in an effort to bring you some calm, to help you feel not so alone because, “Everyone feels insecure at some point. You’re not the only one who feels this way.” But you feel so desperately alone.

  • Items on bullet-pointed lists of job postings that interest you sum up requirements that seem improbable for you to fulfill.
  • Colleagues you imagine you would work with already dislike you and wonder why you were offered the position.
  • You’ve fallen behind on your task list for a project that you’ve not yet been hired to manage.
  • Your resume is a sheet of neatly organized words spelling out accomplishments and trainings you somehow completed.

Depression is a creative jerk. It creates colorful cognitive dioramas, falsely foreboding failures and fissures. It’s fucked up fantasy. Paralyzing bullshit serum. It’s a snake with three heads. A tiger with tentacled talons. A shade of black too dark for the human eye to see.

***

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Besides feeling that way sometimes — fearful, hesitant, twittered, jittery — I also do the things I enjoy (like record silly raps for potential employers and Vanilla Ice covers) and have meaningful interactions with people. I’m not always depressed or anxious but sometimes I am. Sometimes my mind feels like a cognitive stew with a side salad. Sometimes my mood rides out pretty smooth an entire day; sometimes my body and mind course through multiple moods by noon.

Do you have days when you wake up feeling irritated? Does your mind go blank and your limbs buzz with adrenaline when you hear a loud noise? Do you remember how your stomach felt in the moments just before your first kiss when your lips met hers/theirs/his lips?

We all are affected by our environment. Some peoples’ responses are standard, expected, predictable. Behaviors are conditioned, but for people with mood disorders (e.g. Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder/rapid cycling, Schizophrenia), their internal and external experiences can be 10x as intense as yours (persons who don’t experience a mood disorder first-hand.) Can you imagine that? I know some people are more “sensitive” or empathic than I am, and their experiences can be 50x as intense. I can only imagine.

 

A salvo of magic into the world.

I’ve been sleeping terribly the last few days.
(or do I feel that way every day?)

I just realized why.
(and it’s a good reason why)

🙂

There are so many creative project ideas in my head.
(thatIwanttothrust a salvo of magic into the world!)

I want to do it all.  (I feel good)
and that makes me happy.

{that’s not a hyperlink, #beeteedubz.
#bluetext
#iwonderhowmanypeopleclickedon”good?”}         anyway

That’s why
I’ve been getting
terrible
sleep.

[HASHTAG]nightynight

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Cartwheels across the room.

When I was little, I spent my weekday evenings in my parent’s room while my Dad lay on the bed reading. Usually his face was hiding behind a newspaper or magazine held up between his clutching hands. I tumbled around as he read, doing handstands at the foot of the bed and cartwheels across the room. I said silly things and asked questions every now and then to get his attention. This was how I spent most of my childhood with my Dad, desperately trying to get him to notice me and make a connection with him.

This yearning for his attention continued and has haunted me throughout my adulthood. As a child, I was able to playfully insert myself into his space, and I wasn’t developmentally aware enough to think to myself, “Hey, my dad’s not paying attention to me. That sucks. He’s my dad, he should be doing what parents are suppose to do!” As I grew into my teen years, my playfulness turned into an anger and frustration that my dad was neglectful and non-responsive. My mom was too, in a different way. Neither of my parents reflected back my feelings or asked what I thought or felt about something. Anything. It’s no wonder that, as a young adult, it was difficult to identify my emotions, much less describe or communicate them aloud.

Through years of therapy and learning Buddhist teachings, including mindfulness, I have explored my inner landscape. I have learned the language of emotion and learned to connect emotion to physical sensation and thought. I wonder how different my growth would have been if I had received therapy as a child. What if I had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treatment? I would have started drawing my thoughts/emotions/physical sensations map at a much earlier age. In this way, I have been grieving my childhood. I developed a rage around what my life could have been.

I could have dealt with my depression and anxiety earlier in my life. I could have avoided the starts and stops in my life. It probably wouldn’t have taken me 10 years to earn my Bachelor’s degree. I would have applied to graduate school in my twenties instead of my thirties. I could have avoided all of those messy and painful relationships.

These are some thoughts that circled in my head for years. I held on to them, as I held on to my anger toward my parents for not connecting with me in the human way that every child needs from a parent or caregiver. Allowing these thoughts is fine, it’s good to let them flow, but, as Epstein (1998) wrote, “Isolated in our heads, we yearn for the kind of connection that our own thinking guards against” (p. 59). It’s the clinging to the thoughts and not working through the associated emotional and physical sensations bit that keeps us stuck in the mud. “This is…the heart of the Buddha’s teaching: that it is possible to cultivate a mind that neither clings nor rejects, and that in so doing we can alter the way in which we experience both time and our selves” (p. 62). This is also true of therapeutic work. By assisting clients with exploring, identifying, and describing their emotional experience, we guide them in literally changing their brain chemistry. We hold a space in which they can unfurl into themselves and feel more grounded in who they are.

This has been my experience. Through the combination of therapy and meditation and mindfulness practice, I have observed and felt my perspectives change. I have witnessed the growth I have made from emotional reactivity to an emotional regulation based on awareness. I have experienced the shift in relationships and how I view, understand, and connect with people, especially my parents.

I don’t talk with my parents very often and when I do, there is a specific purpose behind it, a question that needs to be answered. Also, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone but a couple of weeks ago I had the urge to call them just to say, “hi.” It was perhaps one of the best conversations I have had with them. I felt as though I talked to my parents for the first time as an adult and as myself. I didn’t trudge through the conversation distracted by the disappointment that my dad didn’t ask about me. I listened to him talk about his fishing and tennis playing. I really listened and I responded with curiosity and playfulness. And I interjected to tell him about my internship not because I was looking for a particular response from him or as a passive-aggressive way to tell him that he was a shitty dad for not asking about his daughter’s life. I told him because I was proud of myself. I am proud of myself. I know that I would not have gotten to this point if I had not tapped into and worked through the unpleasantness of my childhood. Getting in touch with that pain was difficult, torturous at times, but it also motivated me to work through it so that I could let it go. My pain was “an invitation to change” (C. Matsu-Pissot, personal communication, August 1, 2015). It’s an open invitation that I will continue to accept, as I know that this work is never done.

This is not a woe is me.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mood disorder. If an inpatient stay has been scribbled in your record. If your suicide attempts have been clinically documented. It doesn’t matter how long ago these things happened. It doesn’t matter that you’re in a different space now. That you’ve been treated. That you’re in treatment. That those records don’t resemble your life now. That they are historical medical notes and a part of your history. They are your past.

The most stellar of stellar letters of recommendation or opinions are weightless. Professional decrees of support don’t matter. A formulaic combination of notes in your record add up to shoving you in a box. A box of “you’re not capable”.

I’ve been denied opportunities because of my medical history. I’ve been denied the option of volunteering in a particular program as a result of my medical history.  I’ve been mistreated because of my medical history. I’ve been forced in to following a punitive system intended to address behavioral and performance issues. A system that runs under the guise of counsel and support. News flash: depression is not a voluntary behavior. The impact of depression on ‘performance’ is symptomatic. And temporary. They are not performance issues as defined by the system. Punishment is not support. Allowing no room for medical context in the conversation is not counsel. Corrective action is detrimental and does not foster improvement or compassion.

As PC as we strive to be, bureaucracy dictates who passes, who’s allowed, and who doesn’t fit in to the mold.   {one of these things is not like the other}   The majority of our public systems is rife with rules and policies fortified by judgement and discrimination. You’re not aware of this until you or someone you know has run up against it. You can’t understand the impact unless you’ve been cornered into deciding whether to retaliate and muscle through the consequences or jump in to the box and just get through it. To steer these injustices toward a system that truly supports, these conditions must be made visible. By fists with pens. By a phalanx of words. To snuff out the stigma suffocating our basic human rights.

 

Sticky messy dirty thing.

It’s tricky attempting to talk about depression in a matter-of-fact way. One’s own depression that is. Especially with people who don’t understand it. Phrases like, “I feel depressed” or, “it was so depressing” get thrown around willy-nilly. The experience of true depression is lost in colloquialisms. The reality of it drowns in the notion that depression is feeling sad and, you know, everyone feels that way sometimes. Not true.

But how do you express the way depression dances you into the ground? You’re grapes between heavy toes of its stomping feet. How do you demonstrate the obsessive and stubborn self-deprecating thoughts that swirl and swirl and swirl and tie you down from idiosyncrasies, from the basic regularities of living?

I don’t think about my depression or how it’s affected me as much these days but the thoughts and memories inevitably surface. Except now, instead of wallowing, I recall the experience of depression as something I’ve worked at shedding. I think of it and smile to myself because of how I live now. That I live in the world present tense. But I’m a realist. I know it won’t completely go away. It comes and it goes. Depression visits regularly. But I don’t let it swallow me and spit me out into the world. I’ve learned to stand my ground. Shut it down. Tell it to fuck off. Let it run its mouth. It tries to convince me that I can’t accomplish my aspirations. That overcoming my fears is hopeless and foolish. I let it sit on my shoulder and scream in my ear. I can hear it. But I don’t listen. It lies and lies. It isn’t looking out for me.

Depression doesn’t take care of you. It isn’t comforting. Or honest. Depression isn’t part of who you are. It isn’t you. It’s a thing. A sticky messy dirty thing.