Four Impossible Steps

Hi there. My name is Phil and I suffer from depression.

I have noticed something in my struggles with depression: there are four steps that one must undertake before anything gets done.

1. Acknowledge that the thing can be done.

2. Agree that you should do the thing.

3. Decide to do the thing.

4. Do the thing.

For instance, today I vacuumed my apartment for the first time in a long time. I had to acknowledge that, yes, vacuuming was possible. Then I had to agree that I should, in fact, vacuum. I then decided to vacuum. Lastly, I actually dragged the vacuum from the closet and vacuumed the floor. Go me!

This really was a monumental task, and I really am proud of myself for completing it. Number one rule when living with depression: celebrate all victories, no matter how small.

Normal people just do things and don’t really think about the mental process. I think long and hard about the mental process because each step is nearly impossible to surpass. I spend a lot of time around step one. That one I do well. I am very aware of everything I need to do and can do and want to do. Step two is also fairly easy to get to, with time anyway. I agree that many things I can do. But there are also many things that I struggle to agree that I can do. Sit on the couch? Got that one down. Read? Tricky. Best left alone. Create? You must be joking, who am I, Picasso? Watch TV? Sigh. I guess I can manage it. Wash dishes? Holy mackerel, not today. Just…nope.

Deciding to do something can take days or minutes, sometimes hours. This particular thing that I am writing right now has taken me a week to decide to actually do. I’ve had it in my mind for quite a while. I woke up from my second nap of the day and decided to do it. I passed steps one and two a few days ago, but finally passed step three about an hour ago. It still took me another 15 minutes to get the computer open, get to my blog, and start typing. Yay! Step four! Now I just have to grit my teeth and keep hammering the keyboard. Go. Go. Go!!

I apologize for the heavy meta-ness of this post, but this is my reality. These four impossible steps govern whether or not I do anything at all. They are rigorous and exhausting. Exerting the needed mental energy to jump from step to step takes a lot out of me. This is, in fact, what “struggle with depression” means for me on a daily basis.

Do I eat? Do I cook? What do I cook? Do I actually finish cooking? All of those questions each requires four steps to complete and that answers why I often do not eat and seldom cook. During a stretch of good days I will cook maybe three times in a week. Actually that would be a fantastic week. Today I have cooked for myself once, which worked out to two meals as I made a pizza that lasted longer than I anticipated. Two other nights were frozen food. Tonight I am thinking I will make something mexican-ish, but I’m still lingering between step two and three on that one. I might end up with dry ramen noodles and Oreos, but today has been a good day, what with the vacuuming and writing. So who knows?

Think about these four steps next time you go to do anything, no matter how small or mundane. You go through the steps yourself, but I guarantee that usually you don’t even notice that you do. Maybe your steps sound a little different, maybe you have one more or one less, but everyone has them. It takes energy and will to advance through them to accomplish anything. I, as a depressed person, must exert most of my energy to get through them for even one thing. To do more than one is difficult. To do a whole day’s worth of things is nearly impossible.

But that is why I will celebrate, even if my dinner tonight is dry ramen and oreos, because I will have accomplished two things today, and that is more than a normal day. I nailed those four impossible steps twice! Booyah!

To read what else I have written about depression, search for “depression” on this blog.

Shoutings and Silences

My name is Phil and I am depressed.

One of the hardest things about depression is living inside your own head. Sometimes it can be very loud, other times it can be quieter than a graveyard. Both times are very hard to get through. When my head is loud is it like a hundred voices all talking at once. Every thought moves at a thousand miles an hour and shouts for attention. But that is actually easier to take than when my head is silent. Usually it comes at a time when my surroundings are quiet. Ever since my wife left, I’ve been living alone. That makes for a lot of quiet.

Most people live in the happy middle ground between shoutings and silences with a normal amount of noise both within and without, and if circumstances arise that unduly quiet or amplify things, normal coping mechanisms help even things out.

My normal coping mechanisms are broken, and my shoutings and silences are way more intense than other people’s, at least from what I have observed and felt.

I can only tune out the cacophony by playing very loud music and focusing as hard as possible on what I am actually hearing rather than what is mental. Alternatively, there is no way to fill the quiet with enough noise to make it less than empty. Again I try loud music or a movie or something, but there is usually too much space to fill and not enough noise to fill it. I just feel empty.

I hate being alone and I get so very lonely, and this only accentuates the silences and the shoutings. For a long time I have felt that if only my wife were to come back and I were to have another person in my life, the shoutings and silences would disappear. But recently I have begun to understand: my wife has nothing at all to do with life inside my head. She can’t help, nor can she make it worse. It is my own particular problem to solve, or failing a solution, since there often isn’t one, my own particular path to tread. To be sure, another person can help fill the silence or quiet the shouting, but that makes them just another coping mechanism when they do. At that particular moment, any person would really do.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying there isn’t anything special about my wife, or that a special person can’t make a special difference. What I am trying to say is this: another person can’t abate my depression. It is inside me. The shouting and the silence are my ailments.

I wish my wife would come back into my life. Having her around made things easier to deal with. But maybe that is why she has left me, in part. I tried too hard to make her my fix, tried too hard to make her responsible for how I felt. I was a fool and I was selfish and I was too stupid to know what I was doing. For that I am so very ashamed and so very sorry. But I can’t change the past. All I can do is work on my today, on my future. Only I can find ways to quiet the shoutings and fill the silences. If and when my wife or another person comes back into my life, I hope to be able to quiet the noise or fill the space on my own, and not make it that person’s burden because depression is hard enough for me to bear, and I have a pretty good idea how it works, at least for me. I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who doesn’t know it as intimately as I do.

Hannah, if you read this: I’m sorry. My silences, my shoutings were not and are not yours to bear. I’ll ask you to bear them no longer. I am sorry I ever did. It was cruel and abusive of me. I can only say I didn’t know what I was doing, but that is a feeble excuse. Thank you for all the years you tried to help me anyway. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. You are an incredible person.

To my friends and family: thanks for being there for me. Sometimes I call on you during my silences, sometimes during my shoutings. Sometimes I just need a friend. I hope I don’t make things too hard for you, or ask more than you are willing to give. Depression just needs and takes; it isn’t very considerate. My depression isn’t your burden, it is mine. Please let me know if I ever abuse our relationship. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I’ve been making with my wife. Depression is a poor excuse for abuse.

Depression fools me into thinking I am helpless and hopeless. But I am not. I am only mentally ill, and any illness can be managed, even if it can’t be cured. Easy to say; hard to do; but knowing is half the battle. Now that I know, I can work towards effective management.

Now I can start to fill the silence and quiet the shoutings.

To read what else I have written on depression, search my blog for “depression”.

Can’t Stop the Sadness

My name is Phil, and I am depressed.

My therapist wanted me to write a sentence, and now I’ve written three. I haven’t written in a while because I am depressed. It is so very hard to find the motivation, the will, and the desire to do even the most basic of things when battling depression. She, my therapist, said it well: “sometimes your brain is amazing and you can trust it; sometimes it’s fucked.” Sometimes I am very logical, I can work through almost anything, I have strength and I amaze myself by enduring what I thought was unendurable. But then, my mind flips on me, and even getting through a day without staring at walls is an insurmountable task.

I often compare being depressed to being an alcoholic. Neither is a choice, neither is banished simply through a force of will, both are medical conditions that can be treated, but alcoholics have it one up on depressed individuals: they have an external symptom that while difficult to deal with, is external and is avoidable. An alcoholic can avoid taking a drink. They don’t need a reason to drink, or to be drunk, but in order to be sober all they have to do is not drink. An outside factor is their tormentor, and as such, it can be avoided. Avoiding it is the really tough part.

But no matter how many meetings of Depressed Anonymous I attend, I cannot ever choose to avoid that which torments me: my brain. I live with imbalances, deficiencies, shorts and faulty wires in my head. Short of a lobotomy, the death of who I am, I am unable to be free. I am an alcoholic that cannot choose to stop drinking. I cannot chose to be happy, to not be sad, to change what I feel. All I can do is depend on some medication that makes the swings of emotion less monumental, less forceful, and continue to rely on my therapist to talk through the rest, to keep things in perspective, in focus.

I can’t stop the sadness, but I can keep it at bay, at arm’s length, at a distance.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it this way: “the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Living life, for me, is the hardest thing I do on a daily basis. Most people get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, enjoy some television, and go to bed and that is their every day routine. I have to force myself to watch television and I barely enjoy the process. Some of that is an effect of the medications I am on, some of that is my depression, it is hard to know which at any given time. All I want out of life is the normal routine of normal people, but today, that is out of my reach. Most days it is out of my reach. But I’m never going to stop reaching, and that is what I can do as a depressaholic: I can keep reaching for normality. I don’t have a convenient external tormenter, but in the midst of my unending torment I can reach towards the light, no matter how dim or distant.

My challenge was one sentence. Here are many. Here is me reaching towards the light, today. If this is all I do today, it is a win for me.

To read what else I have written on the topic of depression, simply search for the word “depression” on my blog.