5.24.2010

Some Clarity On The Depression Post Thing Whatever

(Note: if you're bored with the whole "depression" thing, skip ahead to the other blog post for today.)

I've gotten a ton of email (well, not really a ton - email doesn't actually weigh anything... But I bet if I printed it all out and weighed it, it still wouldn't be a ton. At least a pound, but that doesn't sound great, does it? A pound of email? Whatever) about the depression post from last week. And to my surprise, not a single one of them was negative. In fact, I'm overwhelmed by the kind words and support you guys expressed.

But I'm also dismayed by just how many of you wrote to say something on the order of "Thank you for putting into words what I've been feeling." I'm dismayed because of how many of you are actually feeling that way. It's a horrible, sick feeling. Literally a disease. And it hurts to know that so many people in my proximity are experiencing it.

I was also inundated with curiosity from people who couldn't quite relate to how things were, or why I never asked for help, or how I could let things get that way. So I've decided to do a little bit of a follow-up on that post, explaining a bit of how I felt, why it went the way it did, and how I got the hell out of it. Those of you who wrote to tell me how your experience was will be able to relate to some of this. Those who wrote who are experiencing it now, hopefully this helps. And those who've never felt it and were genuinely curious about it all... Well, here you go.

For those of you uninterested in this crap, I've also posted another post today, about my new book project (which by the way is pretty much step one toward overcoming depression. Depression LOVES inertia, and the longer you stay unmoving, the worse it gets. So step one to solving it - get busy. Very, very busy).

How I felt:

Sad. Not "death of a relative" sad... Worse, actually. The death of someone meaningful to you has a clear and concrete cause. They died. This lacked such a luxury. In fact, I found myself wishing for a reason. If there's one thing that can send sadness into a perpetual spin, it's a clear lack of reason for it. Because now you're feeling unjustified feelings, which if you're not menstruating at the time, means you're probably crazy. Real crazy, not the insane wacky Wile E. Coyote crazy. Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys crazy.

There were days where I lamented the fact that my body couldn't sleep 24 hours at a stretch. I cursed the sun. I cursed the alarm clock. But in truth, I needed neither. I didn't sleep. Not restfully, anyway. My mind never stopped grinding on what I perceived was the problem.

The problem was a variable, susceptible to change at any moment. It was like taking on a nest of hornets with a fly swatter. You kill one, another is right there waiting to sting you. I drove myself mad day after day isolating on each and every feeling, trying to figure out what caused it. I was looking for answers to riddles written in dead languages. Every time I'd address what I thought the problem was, I'd argue it out with whomever I felt was able to fix it... Usually Andrea. We'd talk for hours about it, and at the end, the problem that was being discussed was solved. But my feelings were still there.

The metaphors are infinite. An itch I couldn't scratch. A splinter in my soul. I could bore you for months with the crap I wrote in my journals about how I was feeling. But looking back on it, I know that the worst part of the worst moment in my life was that I had no idea why I was feeling what I was feeling. I only knew that it was sad and it was real and I was absolutely unable to handle it.

It never left me. At the movies, on a run, during workouts, while writing and working. Airplane rides were awful, because you aren't allowed distraction before takeoff or landing. The moments between when I decided to turn off the TV or Xbox or computer and actually attempt sleep, and the moments just after I awoke began to terrorize me every single day. I'd dread either of those times, like dreading recess due to the bullies.

Pulling out of it was hard. When you hit rock bottom, you don't just go "splat" - you bounce a few times. I hit rock bottom on December 19, 2009 on an 18 degree night in Indianapolis, IN. I remember the night clearly, even now. Every single second of it. I found myself crying on the shoulder of a parking attendant while sitting on a curbside at a garage in the Indianapolis "square." The reasons why are many. As I explained in my first post, this was The Perfect Storm of events in my life that triggered every irrational fear I have. Every single time one problem would look like it could be solved, two more showed up which dragged me away from the first. And that night, everything peaked.


How it got so bad (or, the difference between feeling depressed and Depression):

First, a lot of "like I said's" and a bunch of metaphors:

Like I said, I had no idea why I was REALLY feeling this feeling. I saw every symptom as the cause, like seeing a runny nose as the cause of your flu. I lacked adequate understanding to actually discover the virus, and even once I found it, I lacked the ability to kill it.

Like I said, I tried addressing every single issue that happened, as it happened... But everyone has a point of exhaustion. In boxing, they teach you to find that point and exploit it - it doesn't matter how strong or big or powerful your opponent is, if you can outlast his need to breathe, you're going to beat him. This outlasted my ability to fight it. I ran out of steam - and that's when the piling on began.

Like I said, you don't just hit bottom and then boom, decide to start climbing again. You bounce. It hit me in waves for days afterward. You get a gulp of air, and then brace yourself for the next one. You can finally see the shore off in the distance and you want nothing more than to swim toward it... But these damn waves, they keep coming.

Eventually they stop. Eventually, you float in the middle of your ocean and you realize you're either going to have to start swimming back to shore or just sink into oblivion. So I swam. And this is where the REALLY weird stuff starts - the echoes. Every time I began to think about other things, I remembered suddenly "Hey, I just took my mind off of feeling bad." And just like telling you you're not thinking of a pink elephant covered in peanut butter right now, you can't help but suddenly do so.

How I got out of it:

Friends and therapy.  Period.

I talked things out as often as my friends would let me. Eventually, they got to the point where they realized that what I was saying was making me sad or angry or nervous wasn't actually what was affecting me, because unlike every other time in my past, I didn't immediately perk up when I found the "solution" - I just kept finding more problems.

So I finally went to a therapist. I talked with him about everything that was hurting me. He listened over multiple sessions, until he also realized I was just flinging things at the wall without figuring out why. Eventually, he seized on my irrational fears and helped me to deal with them.

Now, its not magic - I knew about both of my irrational fears. I've known about them since I was first lead to Jung and Focault and Nietzsche as a teenager. It's not hard to understand that a boy who was abandoned by his father and bullied his entire young life because he drew and wrote has issues with abandonment and creative anxiety. Duh. But dealing with that stuff? That's an entirely different matter. And I never did. And just like any callous, the layers get deeper and harder the longer it's allowed to form. And when it's finally scraped off or peeled back, the skin underneath is VERY tender.

Therapy is vital. While I won't ever pretend that my therapist "really knows me" - he doesn't, and we both admit that directly (how can he? He's not me) - I will state with impunity that he helped guide me to and through the forest of my emotions to figure out what was really at the core. From there, he gave me tools to help deal with it.

It's very important to realize that NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR PAIN AWAY. If you feel like they do, you're simply masking what's wrong. Only you can fix you, period, end of story. It's every bit the same as losing weight or running a marathon or writing a book. No one can do it for you. You must do it yourself, or else you haven't done it.

But what they can do in all of those instances is support you, coach you, and give you the understanding and knowledge to deal with the problem. Anyone who's had a successful encounter with a personal trainer will tell you that they probably started thinking a trainer would fix them, but they ended realizing that the trainers themselves aren't responsible for the success. They were simply coaches.

It's the same here. And I fixed myself by realizing a few things: 1) I wanted to get better, honest and genuinely, 2) I had no idea how to do that myself, 3) I sought help and found it, and 4) I rewrote every single piece of programming I'd recently put in place that caused certain stimuluses to cause certain responses.

Every time a negative thought came into my head, I smiled. Seriously. It helps. Every time I'd start remembering that I felt bad a few minutes/hours/days ago, I'd simply say "STOP." I'd actually say it aloud. I'd backtrack to the beginning of whatever train of thought led me there, rethink it very deliberately, and where I veered into self-loathing and sadness before, I'd steer off in another much more productive direction. I looked at myself in the mirror, right in my own eyes, and remind myself that I love myself, and regardless of who else loved me - as nice as it was - loving myself is all I really need in life. Everything else is ultimately just luxury.

Eventually, you stop being sad every single second. You go entire minutes thinking other thoughts. The minutes turn into days, and now you're remembering you were sad instead of feeling sad right then and there. Then it's weeks between feelings or remeberances, and then at some point, you're looking back and saying "Jesus, I'm so glad I'm done with that."

To broaden the time periods between "flutters" of depression, I got very, very busy. I worked my ass off, in fact. I started doing a column for AOLNews. I finally launched The Art of Akira Exhibit. I started pounding away at new ideas for books and projects. I designed a whole bunch of stuff. I read a lot of books.

And it wasn't easy, either. I had to force myself to stay focused nearly every minute I was doing something besides feeling sorry for myself. Every. Single. Minute. But I couldn't blog or write stories about myself during that time, because every single thing I wrote, no matter what it was, began devolving into some sort of breakdown of feeling sad or why this thing sucks or that thing blows or why everyone hates me or why do I even have a career, I should just give this up and go back to software development. So that's why the very inconsistent posting on the blog. But here I am again, writing things that aren't so mopey -- and actually loving it.

That's not to say I haven't been sad or down since I pulled out of the Depression. I have. But those moments have actual reasons, and I can deal with them and move on immediately. And I'm not "Good Ol' Joe" - I'll never be the man I was before last October, when all this started. And I'm glad for that. I've dealt with some pretty severe emotions, events and issues, and I'm forever changed for that. For one thing, a very real truth was revealed - that a lot of people in my life did a lot of damage when it came to my self-image and my confidence in my ability to create. They still do. So I've taken steps to either distance myself from them or remove them from my life outright. Life's too short to spend it wishing the people you love loved you back, and anyone who tells you you can't be who you are doesn't actually love you.

I only have one regret in the entire experience: that my wife felt helpless for a brief period. I don't regret sharing any of this with her. She now knows me more completely than before, and our love is stronger than ever. We conquered another mountain together. There's something incredible in that. I just wish that I didn't have to put her in a position where, for the first time since we met, she had to wonder what was wrong with me because what I was saying was wrong wasn't actually the problem.

Anyway, there it is, all the questions you guys have been asking, piled into one big followup post. Thanks for reading this.