Tight-rope walking across the abyss

by Rebecca A. Watson on August 29, 2012

in life, needs, the artist's way

Earlier this week, a post of mine was published over at Think Simple Now: How to Overcome a Bad Day. I was happy to share it, because the tips work really well for me. But it came with a caveat:

I want to stress that what I’m talking about is your one-off, run-of-the-mill bummer times.

If you’ve been struggling with these for weeks or months, the tips may help, but you might also want to chat with a counselor. No shame in that game.

bad-day1

When I first wrote it, I thought it was just something I needed to put in, like how exercise videos always say “Ask your doctor before starting any fitness program.” But lately, I’ve been reading a lot about depression, and more specifically bloggers dealing with depression, and my brain wouldn’t let me keep it to myself anymore.

I know I’ve got a (self-imposed) reputation around these parts for being an optimistic, happy camper, but it ain’t all roses and puppy dogs. So if you were reading this post with that expectation, you don’t have to continue. You should! But you don’t have to.

At the age of 17 I, along with a few others, were the victims of severe bullying at school. It was so bad it made it into the high school yearbook. This was before words like “cyber-bullying” were in our vernacular, but between school and my home computer, I felt constantly attacked.

I quit every activity except band (mostly because we had a trip to Hawaii coming up that I’d already paid for). I stopped playing the piano after 12 years of lessons. I gave away the lead in our musical to my understudy. I skipped classes daily. I stayed home at night instead of camping with friends.

trees love

And we all know how much I love camping.

My parents and I didn’t have the best relationship, but they weren’t blind either. They sent to my first psychiatrist where I was promptly diagnosed with depression and put on Paxil. I didn’t like how I felt, so I quit taking them. After a few months, things started to get better and I went on with my life.

Then, years later, my marriage started falling apart. I’d lay in my bed and cry and cry, until I thought it was finally done. Then my eyes would well up again. I was a waitress at the time and there were no sick days. I’d go to work and break down while talking to guests about beer. It was a real downer.

I went to another psychiatrist. And then things got better a few months later. But this cycle continued. Again and again and again. And each time, it got worse. Where I once dismissed passing thoughts of suicide, I now entertained them. Wouldn’t it be so much easier? When is this going to stop?

I called friends but, with the exception of one, felt like I was quickly becoming a burden. People can’t drop their mid-day meeting to counsel me through my latest bout of sobbing. And I was seriously abusing my privilege to work at home. My boss understood, but when you’re out of the office more than you’re in, things get tense.

Something had to change. If this kept up, I was headed for unemployment at best and an early grave at worst. I had to change my attitude that this depression I was dealing with was just going to go away. I couldn’t just “snap out of it” as an insensitive person once said. I needed to manage this.

And so I headed to counseling again. But this time I made several promises to myself. If I didn’t like my counselor, I would find another one. I wasn’t going to lie to my counselor, no matter what. (Why I’d lie to someone who’s supposed to keep everything you say confidential, I don’t know. But I did.)

And finally, I was going to go for as long as it took. No more six-month stints. If  I needed years of counseling, so be it. I worked out most days. I ate well. It was time to dedicate my energy to the health of my mental self. Who cares if I ate five servings of vegetables when I was a curled-up, crying mess on the bed?

Teary Eye

That was 2.5 years ago. I’d like to say that I’m depression free, but seriously folks, depression is like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. You manage it. It never goes away. Most days I am A-OK. I’m the happy, optimistic good witch you read on this blog. But some days I’m in a hole that’s so deep I’m almost sure I’ll never get out.

Thankfully, those days are few and far between. Everyone’s case is different, but I remember desperately searching online for any solutions, so here’s a list of things that really help me manage my depression.

A good counselor. I know. Counseling is scary. There are stigmas involved with seeing one. It’s not cheap. It takes time. But if you can afford it, if your health insurance covers it (which, in my opinion, it should), DO IT! Go.

A lot of employers have EAP programs that offer a few sessions free. Use this to find someone you like. Some counselors offer sliding scales for people who qualify. And keep going. When you feel better, keep going.

I spent two years going to therapy every week. That’s a lot of time. But totally worth it. Since then, I’ve slowly scaled back to once a month. But I don’t intend to stop. It’s part of my life. It’s saved my life.

Pop music. When I was young I hung out with punk rockers who made fun of my love for Bon Jovi, but I held on. I didn’t care then (which makes me a little more punk, doesn’t it?) and I sure as hell don’t care now.

If it’s Top 40, I probably love it. Yes, even Justin Beiber. And this never fails to make me bounce around like a idiot. A happy idiot.

Someone else with depression. It might seem weird that I’d manage my depression partially by having a close friend with depression, but somehow two negatives equal a positive.

One of my best friends struggles with anxiety and depression on a similar level to me. She gets it when I say I feel like I’m underwater and vice-versa. I have wonderful people in my life who have supported me with this battle and I owe them so much, but nothing compares to a person who’s been in the trenches too.

St. John’s Wort. I’ve never been a big fan of synthetic drugs, especially ones that have side effects like sexual dysfunction and suicide. But after months of therapy and still feeling like I’m walking over an abyss on a tight-rope, my friend told me to open my mind to drug therapy.

I sighed. “Fine. I’ll open my mind up a little bit,” I said, mocking her. But when I got home, my housemate’s girlfriend said she brought me a present and gave me St. John’s Wort. I love the Universe. I did a little research and decided to give it a shot.

St John's Wort flower in the rain

This stuff? Awesome.

With Paxil, I felt like someone had taken over the controls. I wasn’t myself. But St. John’s Wort has just taken that abyss I was balancing above on my tight-rope and made it more like a small canyon.

I can see the bottom. It’s got a river and a few rocks. It’ll hurt if I fall in, but it’s not the chasm the Nazi lady falls into in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Exercise. This is an exceptionally tough one to do once I’ve already hit the bottom, but it is one of the best preventative measures to be sure. It releases serotonin and gives me more energy. There’s also the side effect of a more toned body and the ability to eat way more cookies.

I’m pretty sure Tony Horton would not be stoked that I use his P90X program as an excuse to eat dessert, but hey! Whatdya gonna do? I would totally recommend that program for anyone with depression. Every day is scripted out so you don’t have to make any decision except to hit the Play button.

Comedy. 
This movie never gets old.

This guy is hilarious.

Lay off the booze. Anyone that knows me knows I love beer (which has made gluten-free living so much more painful). When I was waiting tables, you could say I had a bit of a drinking problem as I could count the number of sober nights I’d had in seven years on two hands. Self-medicating much?

booze party cat

So less of this then?

While that’s changed quite a bit, I still notice that if I have a few glasses of wine a few nights in a row, I start to feel a little down. Not always, but sometimes. Alcohol is a depressant, and I clearly do not need any help in that department.

While I’m not going to swear off drinking entirely, I do enjoy the months hiatuses my husband and I take for his bike race training. And when I drink now, I try to keep it to a more reasonable amount and usually not day after day.

Art. I’ve spent a lot of time working through The Artist’s Way, which really helped me feel in touch with myself and my feelings and all that other gooey stuff that makes life awesome.  And when I’m feeling bummed, art really brings me back to life.

Sidewalk chalk drawings, paint-by-numbers, pencil art, knitting, crocheting, singing, dancing, gardening and baking (yes those are art to me), reading, writing, and staring at the ocean while stacking rocks on the beach. All of these soothe my soul and ease my depression.

crochet hat

Plus, sometimes you get cute stuff to wear as a bonus.

Just accept it. A few weeks ago I was laying in bed trying to get my ass in gear. I had deadlines. There was food to be cooked and laundry to be done. But my body/mind decided it was a good time to cry. So I let it.

I didn’t have a real reason. I could probably link it back to a movie that triggered some crazy emotional memory, but who cares? Tears fell. You know that scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton’s character cries into Meatloaf’s shirt? Yeah. Like that.

I let myself do very little that day and I just accepted that it was how it was and that tomorrow would probably get better. And if it wasn’t, well the day after was a new one too. So, just take it easy man.

Looking for a cure for depression leads to more depression, in my opinion. You’ve got to accept it, manage it and live life. If you’re looking for more help, check these out: National Suicide Prevention LifelineNational Alliance on Mental IllnessDepression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

And if you’re reading this and you have other ideas or resources, please let me know in the comments!

P.S. I was inspired to write this post in part by a book out right now called Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo. She’s giving away a few copies right now (entry via blog post) and I hope to win one.

Honestly, between that and my sister-in-law telling me to, I don’t know that I would’ve ever written this otherwise. It takes weird things to give you courage.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Leanne August 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Courage is powerful medicine. Thanks for being courageously vulnerable in writing this. :)

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Ms. Becca August 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks Leanne :) Isn’t it true? Courage is an amazing thing!

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Jande August 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Becca, just got around to reading this and as usual you hit straight into the heart! Your honesty and courage and your willingness to get up again and get on with what needs to be done is what draws me to you like you’re the sister I never had.

I had noticed (as only one who’s been there could notice) that your happiness sometimes had a brittle edge, and I’m so happy to know that you’ve found ways to manage that engulfing pain that can sweep one up in a drowning tsunami of emptiness and despair. Like you said, managing it is all we can do sometimes. But I have good news: the longer you stay in counselling with someone you can trust, the longer the time stretches happilly between those episodes and less painful they are when they do manage to sneak up on you. After twenty years, I only talk to my old counsellor once a year or so,on the phone, and it’s now like we’re old friends having a good chat to catch up on things. :`) He’s still the wisest person I know.

I do wish the stigma around couselling would go away. I believe that everyone could benefit from having a relationship with a counsellor. And the rest of us would benefit from it too. The world would be a happier place.

Once again, thanks for your delightful honesty, courage and persistence, Becca, not to mention your willingness to share. I really appreciate it! <3

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Ms. Becca August 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Jande,

Thank you so much for your comment. Your words of encouragement about counseling makes me feel like I’m on the right track. I look forward to the day I can chat with my counselor once a year like an old friend. Not that I don’t like seeing her, but you know ;)

I totally agree with you that everyone could benefit from counseling. It’s a gift, not only to yourself but everyone around you. Thanks again for your love and kindness, Universe Sister!

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Molly August 31, 2012 at 8:41 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! It’s absolutely what I needed to hear on this Blue Moon day. I’ve been contempleting getting back into therapy myself, and this blog entry came at a great time for me. I think you’re right in that depression never really goes away 100%, and I’d been trying to force it to be gone for a long time. But taking a depression “management” attitude is a lot more liberating and just feels right. Thanks for being so open and putting this out there!

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Arwa August 31, 2012 at 9:06 am

Nice article and very helpful tips.. thank you!

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Ms. Becca August 31, 2012 at 9:33 am

Thanks Arwa!

Molly, I’m so glad I could help you out. It’s not easy to think about depression as never going away, but it’s a more realistic outlook. I think management can really help you avoid the heartbreak that occurs when you get depressed after trying to make it go away 100%. Best wishes to you and I’ll be sending you light and love!

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