Tag Archives: Psychology & Moods

Depression isn’t a CHOICE, People.

This post was in response to something that has now been removed from the web. The author of the original post, Mary Rose, in comments below has asked that this similarly get removed. While I understand why she thinks post is “hateful,” I respectfully disagree — this is an angry post, and anger was an understandable reaction to what was originally written, from my perspective.

I’m also of the belief that we NEED discussion about these things, and Mary Rose isn’t the first person to maybe be a little quick-worded in writing about something daunting like depression, and therefore I will not be removing this post.

This post should be seen as a snapshot of what someone’s mental process is after reacting to something they take the wrong way.

Anger isn’t hate. It’s a justifiable emotion, and, yeah, I was angry when I wrote this. It doesn’t mean I wish Mary Rose harm, or that I disrespect HER. I took issue with her words, and that’s clear here, I felt. The comments are where to disagree with me, of course.

Times like this are when we learn what kind of reach our language choices have — and LOTS of people are guilty of telling people to cheer up when depressed, whether they mean it as flippantly as it sounds, or not, and it’s to ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE this posting is directed. Thanks for reading.

***

So, I started my Saturday wanting to drop-kick someone for a post they wrote in which they asserted depression was a choice and one could just happily choose to move on.

Know how I know someone’s never experienced REAL depression?

When they tell you to move on, to “choose” a better attitude, to buck up and deal. C’mon, everybody! GET HAPPY! Let’s watch the Partridge Family and have a love-in!

Here’s an image for you. Tortured guy goes through life dealing with endless depression, finally decides being unhappy to his very core is literally too painful to endure anymore, and kills himself. Let’s say there is a St. Peter and some Pearly Gates. Suicided Dude shows up there, and St. Pete goes, “What the hell are you doing? You coulda just CHOSEN to stop being depressed. Wow. Waste of life there, selfish dick.”

And Suicided Dude’s jaw drops, and he goes, “WHAT? I coulda JUST STOPPED being depressed? Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me it was like putting on pants? JUST DON’T DO IT? Who knew? Aw, man. Don’t I feel like a dumbass. The next 40 years mighta ROCKED.”

Right. Sounds pretty fucking dumb, doesn’t it?

That’s never gonna happen. Why?

BECAUSE DEPRESSION ISN’T A CHOICE.

Here’s what Hippy Guru Writer says about “leaving depression behind” in this blog post:

Depression is manifested anger and fear. An extension of the above. Take Usana multivitamins, Univera cell renewal, and exercise for fun. Do it alone if you feel like everyone thinks you’re a loser. Get out of your stale mindset. Enjoy the space inside of yourself and tell the demons inside that they are not welcome there anymore. Tell the part of you that doesn’t believe in you that while you appreciate its special, non verbal brand of tough love, you’re renting all the space inside of you out to new tenants. These new tenants are all the magnificent, hidden, scared, doubtful parts of you that have been beaten down by the giant called depression. Tell it to leave you now. You do not need it to sit on your face anymore.

MULTI-VITAMINS? Really? 30 push-ups? Insta-glee? “Yo, demons! Get outta my space! Hasta la sayonara, BADDY!” What the fuck?

I’d just tell her to fuck off but she’d tell me I’m manifesting my anger and fear. Which, actually, I kind of am.

Namaste. Hakuna matata. Awimbaway!

Image 'Depression' by David Baldinger. Source: http://www.dbaldinger.com/drawings/depression.html. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Generic

Here’s the deal. I’ve been down the depression road and back again. In my descents into darkness, there are a few things I’ve gleaned to be true.

(Reminder: I’m some chick sitting cross-legged on the floor in boxers as I write this, and not a trained professional who bled money for a degree to learn about psychotherapy. Mm-kay?)

Anyhoo. I’ve learned there seems to be both SITUATIONAL and BIOLOGICAL depressions. Now, situational is when it kinda makes sense that you’re down over a long period of time.

Maybe you’ve lost a job, got dumped, shattered your leg when skiing, have creditors chasing you down and no prospects, or maybe you had your mother die. Whatever. Being depressed then not only makes sense, it’s part of being human, and it’s a necessary journey for our growth. It’s not a DEFECT to be ignored and leap-frogged over, it’s a natural situational depression that means our soul’s hurting a little. It may be treated with chemicals, diet, and/or exercise, and that can take the edge off and make fighting one’s way back easier. It still takes a long time to do right.

Biological depressional, however, is a total beast and the reason why it can lead to suicide is because your chemistry overtakes logic, emotion, and everything else. It’s being under a black cloth and not knowing how to find your way out. At its darkest, it is a living hell that isolates you from your dreams, family, friends, and every aspect of your life. Your anger and hopelessness catastrophically cut you off from everything and everyone.

The most insidious part of depression is how it can take over and you’re so incredibly in the dark you don’t even realize it’s an illness. It’s been nearly 6 years since a chemical depression brought me to the brink of suicide, thanks to bad-ass birth control pills I was on that caused an imbalance in me.

The idea of that EVER happening again is terrifying because I had absolutely no control over this darkness that was consuming me for the first 4 months. It was a horrifying descent to the brink of madness for me, and I thank my lucky stars I got past it.

But then assholes like this Hippy Guru Writer come along, who think they’re being helpful for depressed people by going, “Come on, Skippy! You can do it! Just a little hill, and we’ll have climbed right on outta Unhappyville, boys and girls! YAY, HAPPY-CHOICE TIME!”

And do you know what that does to someone who’s actually clinically, biologically depressed? It increases the self-loathing, hopelessness, and frustration, because they remember the 287 times they have gone to bed at night telling themselves it would be better in the morning, promising that they would get up, “do everything right” and have a great day. Then, they get up, a trigger happens, and they’re fighting tears and hyperventilating, just because work beckons in 45 minutes and they need to “pretend” again.

So, on behalf of everyone who’s currently being crushed by depression, I’d like to tell you to fuck right off if you think you’re a part of the solution by telling someone to “get a grip” and move on. They don’t have the objectivity to do it for themselves, thanks to people like you and whatever chemistry’s at fault.

Luckily, I’ve fought depression on both the chemical and situational fronts, and I can tell you it’s as different as summer and winter. In my situational depressions, occasionally things transpire that I find fun and enjoyable, I might even have a whole day or week that’s good, and those are the natural highs/lows of a system that’s functioning properly despite suffering a recent blow the mind needs to heal from.

In my one chemical-based depression based in imbalance, it got darker and darker so that no light entered my life at all. I tried to think my way out of it, do things to cheer myself up, but it often backfired and became worse because it meant I really TRIED, only to FAIL AGAIN, so it perpetuated the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness that define true depression.

Of course, being unable to “cheer” myself up then had nothing to do with failure at all — that was the nature of the illness. It took two years to undo, but I did it — with the help of medication, exercise, diet, and great friends around me. There was no one cure. There usually isn’t.

The last year and a bit, I’ve been in a mild situational depression because I knew I was unhappy, and I couldn’t figure out what part of my life was the problem. But that’s not actually a situational depression — it’s just being plain old unhappy, indicating change is needed.

I can’t tell you how many times I tried to “think” myself out of my situational grumpiness, either. There are times when thinking one’s self out of a mood works, but when there are actual causes and those causes haven’t been mitigated, choosing “happy” isn’t usually enough. Sometimes, you actually need to change a lot in your life, and that’s not always an option — especially not in this economy, which has given a lot of people reason to be depressed and scared.

You may think you’re giving depressed people a pep talk, but in actuality, you’re likely part of the problem.

Here’s an idea. Be quiet. Listen. Ask them if they need to talk, and just listen. Sometimes, there are no solutions. Sometimes, it just takes a while of hangin’ on, holdin’ out, and hoping. And most of us do those things in different ways, whether you approve or not.

But if all it took was a decision, they would’ve fucking solved life a while ago. Mm-kay?

Don’t just get off your high horse, shoot it. Please.

Alone Together: Urban Life In Vancouver

There’s been a lot of fuss of late in the Vancouver media about dating, meeting people, and the perceived isolation that seems so typical of Vancouverites.

I don’t know how we have a reputation for friendly people, but I’m betting those folk who think so are judging us from sunny days. This is Jeckyll/Hydeville, and it’s a rainforest. When weather rolls in, so does a whole new grumpified citizen.

But I read a reader’s response in VanMag this week and the writer later suggested on Twitter that perhaps our anti-social bad-flirting ways is because of our dearth of truly public gathering places, like European plazas and public courts, where people can really mingle together.

Unbelievably, it’s been nearly two years since the Olympics landed in Vancouver. Those halcyon days were truly amazing for us because we’ve never been that gathering kinda community in this town. It was a new world.

Cynics would say every time we get together it ends in a riot, but that’s bullshit. Riots happen in civilized cities too because asshats are omnipresent. Welcome to life.

It’s true, though. Vancouver doesn’t “gather” a lot. We’re not into community like some other places. We like to think we are, but we’re not.

We’re the city Arthur Erickson helped build, for all its pluses and minuses.

Instead of grand sweeping public places where you’re all in it together, we’ve got spaces filled with hideouts, different levels, and either manmade or natural divides.

Look at Arthur Erickson’s legacy project, the heart of Downtown Vancouver, Robson Square.* Littered with little spaces where you can shun others and be alone, it’s almost as if to suggest being in public is good, so long as you don’t have to actually mingle. Three people here, five people there… it’s still a gathering spot, just filled with micropockets of people. Alone together, the Vancouver way.

Ducking into alcoves for privacy and hiding seems like a great option, a wondrous thing for readers and lovers, but it encourages us to have distance from one another too.

With all our forests and twisty long miles of beaches for us to get lost in, and the pockets of ethnic neighbourhoods and the growing economic/class divides, it kind of makes sense that we’re this disconnected community here in Vancouver. We don’t chat or talk on streets. There are endless commutes between communities, which means picking a neighbourhood means likely committing to a neighbourhood, unless you’re driving a car.

Add it all up, and we’ve stopped talking to strangers, and have become insular. It’s frustrating for anyone who doesn’t want to be in that mode. Deep down inside, I’ve got New York-meets-small-island sensitivities, and this town confuses me.

Plus, this insular world is a game-changer if you’re single but don’t want to join a club or do the online-hookup thing.

So, this fuss about “Vancouver men suck” for dating, well, it goes both ways, sugar. I know I’m guilty of not flirting, smiling, or starting enough conversations.

That’s oversimplifying things, though.

I think it’s bigger than that. I think the cost of living here affects how much we want to date, I think the changing economy and how so many of us in the city have ditched cars doesn’t help the dating life either. Every added inconvenience or wrinkle makes dating, et al, a bigger social chasm to cross. This thing, that thing, those things — oh, lord, can’t it just be simple?

For me, personally, I’m in that “life is complicated” stage and dating’s inconvenient. Hell, life’s inconvenient. 168 hours a week, and I don’t know where they go.

I know a lot of folks who think the same as I do, “Well, sex would be nice but I don’t want to feel obligated to anyone right now” or however you want to define the resistance. Relationships are made for compromise, that’s what it’s all about. Give, take. When you feel like you’ve got little left to give at the end of the week or the pay period, well, why try at all?

Does money, commute, weather, geography, and everything else all conspire to make Vancouverites more insular and sucky for dating? Probably all of the above, yes.

I’m leaving town at just the right stage, I think. I’m ready to have a more insular work life that encourages more after-hours socializing, rather than vice versa, but I’m happy I’ll be in a smaller city where it might be easier to do all of the above, and on a more friendly budget.

I’m sure I seem like the non-dating type these days, but I wasn’t always this way, and I’m excited to change gears on that front, and many others. I’m open to blind dates once I move, and plan to dial up my Flirt Number too.

After I cross the pond, gaining an outsider-looking-in perspective on my hometown will be interesting, because much of Vancouver’s allure baffles me in my jaded hamster-on-a-wheel present lifestyle.

I don’t know what’s broken in this town, but it’d be nice if the locals would learn to smile more, talk more, and celebrate that we’re all in this life together. Being civil to people on the streets actually feels good. Engaging with humans, it’s a positive thing. Feeling like we’re all a little more connected makes the big expanse a little less scary.

Live a little. Get out of your head. Say hi to people. Smile. Character is who you are when no one’s looking, but it’s also who you are in passing, too.

And if they don’t say hi or smile, do it again until someone else does. Don’t stoop to their level of isolation. Be in the world, not just of the world, as the old Biblical quote goes.

And what do you think? Why are we so… Vancouverish?

*Arthur Erickson’s “alone together” style of design also makes Simon Fraser University what it is. The campus is bleak but beautiful in the dark season, filled with isolated spots and, ironically, convenient places to jump from.

Nightvisions: Of Dreams and Wakings

Dreams. I don’t remember them often. I wake to a hazy shade of blank in the morning, most days.

Not this morning. Somehow aware I was sleeping and dreaming, I couldn’t shake my disturbing visions — splicings of abuse and trauma all swirling in my head.

The Characters

Coffee shop, old-style American ’70s joint with tattered vinyl booths, a stainless steel coatrack by a jukebox, long counter filled with blue collar workers, lotsa beards. Felt like a truck stop. Waitress straight out of Alice — dark roots, blonde, overtight calves from too many long days, older looking than her years. Blue diner uniform, white apron, frequent smoke breaks.

Scene two: Junkie, rat-trap apartment with cracked plaster, taped fractured windows, bugs skittering across worn floorboards. Old furniture once-loved in better places than this — ’80s brown floral couch, round sidetables covered with threadbare cloths, wobbly coffee table, old console TV with rabbit ears. Thin woman with scarred arms from years of lesions and self-harm. Natty mousy hair, dry and dull, messy and barely tied back. Sunken complexion, decaying teeth, sad hollow eyes. Needle and pipes at couch’s end table.

There was also an old rancher in the country. Broken swingset, overgrown lawn. Guy with a penchant for jean shirts, in his 40s. Isolated. Likes working on his truck.

Dreams being dreams, mine was a swirl of childhood moments with these three. Incestuous, abuse-filled snippets, albeit somewhat stereotypical.

They flooded at me, images of things some of us should never imagine but others have tragically lived.

Remembering

And that was horrifying but it was more who and what these people grew into that ate at me. How you can never undo that loss of innocence. How we get imprinted at such visceral levels as to what we feel about the world, thanks to our encounters in our youth. How cynicism and hopelessness find us through experience.

This is a "joke" picture people post to Facebook, etc, but imagine growing up with this guy as Dad. It's a little disturbing for me. Should we unsee this?

We joke about embarrassing photos of others, calling them “things you can’t unsee,” but what if an entire childhood is formed that way? With the things that can’t be unseen?

I had a nice comfortable upbringing, aside from an asshole child molesting teacher at my Catholic high school (with whom I had no contact). The rest is par for the course — adversities and challanges aplenty, just not the soul-destroying kinds.

Even still, moments with certain beggars on the street, brushes with homelessness, imprinted me deeply at a young age. And it was in passing, at best. Yet.

But this morning’s dream haunted me on waking. I realized I’m often guilty of judging people for who they are now, with little consideration of what the may have moved past in becoming who they are. What abuses, adversity, horrors may have helped shape them.

I have a neighbour, a burn-out former junkie who seems to be a pathological liar, and I’m suddenly wondering what it was that got her to where she is now. What kind of childhood did she have? Where did the wrong turns come? What could she have expected otherwise?

A cynic would say soul-crushing is a compounding experience. Every hurt adds to the last. Every layer of dejection lands atop another, slowing wrapping us up from the world, walling us off. Like the outcome is unavoidably dire, and one can’t unravel that damage.

For some, I’m sure that’s true. Adversity has the same way of affecting us. When everything keeps being hard, it’s sometimes easier to fall into survival mode than to remember that thriving can be a choice, a series of actions.

But when it comes to people like those I dreamed about, the damage is often long done. If they don’t overcome that hardship as a child, they often pay the price through lacking education, all but determining the lives they’ll live largely marginalized, paycheque-to-paycheque, unprepared for a complicated adult world.

From Whence We Came

I don’t know what it is that makes some able to fight past all that, but I’m so glad that resilience can be found in the world. I’m glad not all souls get crushed and stay that way.

I grew up in a white low/middle-class neighbourhood, a mix of kids. My days seemed fun like anyone else’s. We kept our doors unlocked, had some neighbour parties, all knew each other like you’re supposed to, way out there in white suburbia.

Now, though, I know two families had incest happening, another had violent abuse beyond the screaming fights we all heard.

Another had drug-addicted kids by the age of 15. One family had parents who were addicts. I found needle works in their sofa when I was 14 and had no idea it was for heroin then.

Sure didn’t feel like it when we were all out there on the street doing neighbourhood snowball fights. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, it sort of taints the memories on some days and makes them more awesome moments on others. For a brief time, we were all kids and having fun. For a little while, some snowballs whizzing through the air put us all on equal ground. Life could be good, even just for 30 minutes.

It’s safe to say I feel like I’m living the end of the movie Stand By Me this morning, as I remember the life we all had but tempered with the knowledge of an adult who one day learned the deep dark secrets each of us had back then.

I lived so close to darkness in some of those homes. It never touched me personally. I don’t think it ever dampened my light. I wish I could have helped them.

But deep down inside, I’m glad I was able to be ignorant of those worlds until much later. I’m sure it helped me have a wider worldview.

I’m sure the years of looking-but-not-seeing have affected greatly the way I see the world today. Knowing how “normal” people seemed, yet how they were anything but, seems to have shaped my very skeptical view of what others being what they project at us.

I guess, in a way, being raised so close to some of the things I dreamed about last night yet so insulated from all the happenings, has defined a lot of my empathy and perceptiveness in life and in writing.

It’s funny. We’re shaped as much by what we didn’t know, it seems, as what we did. What a weird world we live in.

***

And that’s where my headspace is this Monday morning. I wish I could better wrap it up and put a bow on it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how this one ends. Much like my dream.

When Winter Looms, Wet Coast-Style

Rain’s slamming Vancouver sideways, as heavy winds batter windows and fill me with dread about the day’s errands to be run.

Days like this, the so-called simple life of living without a car feels like punishment.

Photo by me, November in Vancouver, 2009.

It’s true Wet Coast glory on a stormy morn like this.

You cannot run, you cannot hide.

Living on the Pacific coast becomes a chore this time of year. It cuts into me. The endless oppressive grey is the bitterest tonic to swallow for the seasonally-affected, like myself.

Endless rain’s like inertial dampeners for the soul. Slows the pulse to a dull echoing thud.

Today’s sky is deep grey, lacking of any definition. Just a mass of smooth charcoal oppression stretching between horizons.

It’s part of who we are, here, though.

There’s something about the rain that, when you’ve been in Vancouver or on this coast long enough, becomes a part of what you exude emotionally and how you absorb the world around you.

All the Sufi mystics will tell you the height of joy we feel for life can only be measured by how much we have suffered.

If the same is true meteorologically, my Vancouver brethren know a sunny day’s glory better than any one, any where.

I’ve long thought the climate in Vancouver to be almost a psychological aspect of who this city is. We’re bipolar. Full of life and passionate in sun, bitchy and isolate in rain.

It’s not like we’re the most populated region in North America, but look at the prolific serial killers we’ve had between Seattle and Vancouver — the Pig Farmer Willie Pickton, Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer, and child-killer Clifford Olsen.

The darkness affects some people a lot. It can fuck with the sturdiest of minds when it’s going on three-plus months of 65% darkness, oft-filled with cloudy skies the other 35%.

The rain, the wet, the isolation, the wind, the chill.

It’s a gruelling place to be come the doldrums of winter.

Early explorers up the coast called it a special dreary kind of hell when the rains began.

I’ve lived in the Yukon, and even with less daylight and Arctic-like temperatures, it was a far cheerier winter — sunlight came nearly daily, and the snow blasted light everywhere.

Days like today in Vancouver, I feel like I’m living in an Edgar Allen Poe tale, with bleakness around every corner.

Fortunately, I’m literary, so that kind of works for me.

Until I step outside.

I sometimes wonder how much where we are is who we are. Much of this town makes me ponder who that makes us. Takes a strange breed to suffer through most of nine months of being a battered duck just to enjoy a brief summer.

Yet, I stay. Like so many others.

It’s hard not to love this part of the world, despite the bleak and endless grey that finds us so easily.

I might’ve found the Yukon a cheerier place in the winter, but my heart dropped through the floor when I saw a sunny day picture of Vancouver’s summer in passing on television that spring, and weeks later my soul felt a blanketed peace when I got caught in the first rain I’d felt in 11 months, since arriving in the Yukon.

I may bemoan the cold, wind, rain, and endless oppressive air, but this is who I am, too.

A Vancouver chime-rattling windstorm, the endless drizzle or pelting rain, and the mottled variations of grey will always, always evoke home and comfort to me. It’s visions of blankets and warm beverages, soft crackling lights, heaters groaning in the night.

It’s Canada, Vancouver-style.

And as much as I hate the idea of leaving and plodding through this for the better part of my day, I’m already enjoying the idea of getting back home again.

Because that’s winter, Vancouver-style.

And that’s why we have warm beverages, fluffy slippers, and breathable waterproof raingear.

Whatever it takes, Wet Coast-style.

One pill makes you smaller: Birth Control

A couple weeks ago, I started back on the birth control pill after five or six years off of it. There’ve been times when I’ve been on the pill, but I’ve never taken it for extended periods. That’s just because I’m the kind of person who’s hesitant to get into chemicals of any kind. (Herbs, though, I’m down with.)

It’s been about two weeks since I started, and it went all over the place at the beginning, since I’m shitty at following a regimen. But in the last week I began to notice some mood swings happening. Stress hitting me harder than it should, and things bothering me more than they should.

I think I should be over the moon. I had an incredible let’s-stay-in-and-fuck-all-day kind of weekend last week, and at the end, felt pretty damned smug about it. Then he walked out the door, I received a depressing email, and for the rest of this week, I’ve been riddled with fears and paranoia. For several days now, I’ve been mired in a depression I can’t shake, that’s causing me to move towards some pretty intense agoraphobia.

There was a time in my past when I dealt with depression… for a long fucking time. With it comes that total lack of desire to live, the lack of energy, the lack of passion. Depression is lack. That’s all it is. Overwhelming lack. It’s when nothing brings a sense of value to you, and it is one fucking horrible thing to dwell under.

And it’s coming back. The only thing I can point my finger at are those pills. I have lost weight in the last month, since my jeans fit me snugger in all the right places, so that’s something to be pleased about. My dire financial cloud is lifting, again, a thing to be pleased about. And I’ve been laid time and time again in the most divinely delicious ways in a long time, so, yeah, that’s a good thing, too. But here I am, short of breath, panicking, and freaking right out. Over what? A phone call? A missed client appointment? A little rain? What the fuck’s under my skin? Some questions don’t have answers. Others have pills. But my pills are bringing the questions on, and that just ain’t so cool.

I had an email, coincidentally, from a male reader concerned about whether his girlfriend should go on the pill since they have a history of condoms coming off. Honestly? That’s not something I’m qualified to answer. So, I won’t.

I will, however, say that educating yourself by reading up on the internet is a must-do before you make such a change in your lifestyle. Know all the negatives, all the potential mishaps that may arise, before you move in that direction.

Personally, these kinds of things have never really affected me a lot — pills, drugs, et al — so I’m somewhat surprised to have fallen prey to this so damned thoroughly and quickly.The pill can come with any number of side effects, from serious health issues like blood clots all the way through depression and lack of sexual appetite and headaches. This is a great thread on a discussion forum about women’s health, and it really illustrates one pill-user’s experiences on the birth control pill.

Me, I think it increased an already-active sex drive, but has caused very serious depression. Fortunately, I know the signs of depression and it’s only taken a few days to realize that Something Isn’t Right. I have booked an appointment with my MD for Monday, and intend to discuss the issue in detail. I’m confident that getting off the pill will lead this Steff back to the land of sunshine and bliss. Or I’m as confident as feeling depressed will allow me to be, at least.

If you already suffer from depression, you may want to rethink the pill. If you’re susceptible to chemicals of any kind, you also may want to rethink the pill.

HOWEVER, if you’re aware of what might happen, you know the signs to look for, and you monitor any changes that arise, and you discuss all those changes with your lover, so they’re watching out for you as well, then why not try it? If it doesn’t affect you, being on the pill can really contribute added security and enjoyment to your life. Just don’t go into it blindfolded, is all I ask.

Allegedly, the side effects tend to quiet down in two to three months. The question is, can you live with them that long? Depending on the severity, it’s entirely possible it’ll be but a blip on your life. Not so for me. Personally, I spent too much of my life in the dark to go back in it again. I’ll be looking at other options or trying other brands.