Talking about Depression: You aren’t “Broken”

I’ve wanted to write this one for a while now. It’s a common theme in books, songs, and movies that if you have depression or PTSD that you’re a broken person. A shell of who you used to be. Yes, you’re different than you were before the trauma or the start of your depression. You aren’t broken though. I think about this every time I hear lovelytheband’s song broken. Which talks about how a couple gets together because they were both depressed in a similar way. This is the basis of starting a relationship together.

I find this problematic, because it implies that a very natural reaction to stressful situations leads us to be broken that everything is our fault and that there’s no systemic problem at play here. For example, calling a solider with PTSD, broken may make it harder for them to get help because it puts the burden on them. The fact that they have PTSD is solely their fault when it certainly wasn’t their fault. There were a whole slew of reasons that lead them to enlisting in the first place. They were not the person making the decision to go to war. They weren’t the one making the decision to lead them into the battle that caused them to experience the traumatic event. Even if they were in charge, it’s impossible to know a priori what sort of event would trigger PTSD for a given person or themselves.

When it comes to more general depression due to the general factors controlling your life, think of that friend you know that never seems to have luck and ends up working at some shitty gas station. The one that was super smart that everyone thought would do really well for themselves. But then one thing went sideways, maybe they got sick, then their future collapsed into a single point where there’s no way out. Their going to be depressed. They aren’t broken, even though they have been beat up. They are reacting in an emotional way and a natural way. That person isn’t in that position because they wanted to be there. Their life isn’t what they wanted it to be. That doesn’t mean they are a broken failure of a person. Lucky always plays a role in anything that happens in our lives. For some people, it’s a case of bad luck that leads you to where you are. Other people they get a lucky break a different way and end up with a very different life.

I bring up the job example, because I watched a really interested video on YouTube, by a channel I enjoy watching, WiseCrack. They looked at the psychology and physiology of being depressed and what can cause a person to feel depressed. They typically explore themes in pop culture using philosophy and they’ve explored the Philosophy of One Punchman before. This time they use the same character to investigate depression related to not being properly challenged in your life. In this context “properly” can mean the amount of stress you’ve experienced across your life, it could be too much or too little. Each resulting in differing negative consequence when you’re stressed in the future. The other context for properly challenged means that even if you had been stressed in a healthy manner growing up, that in your current job you could be insufficiently challenged leaving you without a meaningful life.

Neither case means that you’re broken. You are reacting to what your body has been trained to respond to its entire life. Which isn’t being broken. Society is broken though. There are so many things that don’t align with our intrinsic values or needs, that we can’t help but look broken if we’re doing something that runs counter to that societal norm.

Anyway, I plan to revisit this topic again in the future. In the interim, check out some of the science of depression due to missing meaning in life.

Talking about Depression: Explaining to a pair of Friends

Last night, while having a few drinks, I followed my own advice and talked about my depression with two good friends visiting from Austin. The conversation started because my wife is considering starting a business around helping people deal with their depression. Which naturally result in a conversation about my depression, since she, ultimately, wants to help me and people like me. Which is just about the sweetest reason to start a business.

Anyway, I started the conversation with points from Lost Connections. Which helped them understand that there are multiple types of depression and that most of these are very natural reactions to problems that we face in every day life. I explained how I would feel and how that sensation wouldn’t go away. There were definitely points where I was on a bit of a diatribe, but they asked some good questions. Specifically about how I felt and if it was easy for me to identify the root cause of my depression. At that point I explained how meditation had helped me figure out some of that. Because it allowed me to sit with my emotions and sift through them. To hold a thought, feeling, or memory then to let it go through returning to focusing on my breathing. It allows me, as my therapist puts it, to chew on those things, digest them, and then shit them out. Which is a lot better than just “burying” the emotions and things that had happened to me.

All in all, the experience was a really positive one for me. I’ve unconsciously (and in some cases intentionally) pushed people away my whole life. Much of that is related to my depression and the pain and hurt I experienced while growing up with a household where fighting was the norm. So, this was a big step really letting two of my friends understand what I’ve gone through and how I’ve been working through addressing it. Explaining that it’s a long journey and I’m a year into it and I know I have more things to work through and more time to take to fully heal.

Having this conversation was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. First, it was certainly easier because I’ve been writing this blog for a while now and because I had been drinking for a bit at that point. Second, it was harder because, even though I’ve been writing this blog, it’s still hard to talk about some topics. So I ended up glossing over them or skirting past them. Similarly to what I do about some harder topics with this blog. However, I felt good this morning for having talked with them. I wasn’t judged (I didn’t expect them to judge me) and my friends cared about my wellbeing and want to see me be healthy. They really didn’t know what was happening or understand it. They attributed some of my behavior before to being drunk or something immediate going on. So, I think they appreciated a deeper understanding of me.

I hope that you take the time to talk with a friend or loved one about your depression. If you think that’s too big of a step, writing about what you would say, even if you delete it immediately afterwards, can help a lot. Write it by hand as well, so that way you don’t have to worry about the internet machine gobbling it up and saving it somewhere. According to “The Body Keeps the Score” writing can really help processing trauma. So, give that a try. Write it down, throw it out, do it again tomorrow.

Talking about Depression: Starting Somewhere

I was tweeting earlier with @WoytekNives about my blogs. First, I really appreciate the feedback, second, he mentioned that he was feeling better about starting somewhere because he’d seen so many other people talking about depression. This is great. It’s fantastic that people are talking about it. That’s why I started writing about this topic. I knew I needed an outlet for it and I had hoped to help other people.

I want to talk about the steps that I’ve taken again. I started with Therapy. I know I’m really fortunate to be in a position where I can afford it. However, I didn’t take advantage of it for a really long time and that was a mistake. It had some negative consequences with my marriage because of how depressed I had gotten.

So it’s important to start somewhere. You won’t be perfect when you first start. I recommend starting with meditation. It’s tough, so I don’t recommend doing it alone. I suggest using an app like Headspace, because it’s a simple guided meditation. There are these little animated videos to help you understand the point of the exercises you’re doing. I’ll be honest, at first I just wanted to skip them. I know I’m not alone in that. They can feel a bit off putting, because you’re there waiting to get started to meditate and THEN this damn animation starts. However, it can help provide an image to help you center your meditation on. Especially when you start doing the Blue Sky meditation, the animation provides great context and images to help you imagine the blue sky more clearly.

You won’t be perfect, you’ll miss days. I still miss days fairly often. However, the important thing is that you start. Because as Jake the Dog says “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” Going in knowing that it’s there for you when you need it and won’t judge you if you miss it, is great too.

If you’re feeling down, start with something simple. Then move on to the harder stuff. Because the simple stuff is hard. Doing something is hard. It’s hard because while you’re depressed, your time horizons collapse around you. Planning more than a few days out is tough. Thinking about a trip is overwhelming. Even when that trip is to something like, PAX, where you hope to meet up with some of your friends. It can both be the life preserver you’re wearing as you’re muddling through the days and weeks up to it. Otherwise, you’re so overwhelmed by life that you can’t see beyond getting enough food for today or tomorrow. Thinking about yesterday is hard too. You don’t want to.

So starting with something that doesn’t require you to think about tomorrow or yesterday. Just to think about how your body is moving while you’re breathing. It can be liberating. If you give something a try today, let me know. I’d love to hear what you did to start you on your journey to feeling better.

Talking about Depression: Otherness

Talking about Otherness is an odd topic when it comes to depression. At least for people that don’t really suffer from chronic form of depression. However, this is something that I think a lot of people can relate to that suffer on a regular basis. Otherness in this context means that there are time where you feel like you’re watching someone go through the motions of your life for you. Where you look at things you’ve written in the past and don’t even recognize who that person was. That when you read that, you can’t even imagine that person could possibly have the depression that you have. That person is capable and competent. That they certainly couldn’t be the same person as you.

There are times where you feel like you’re watching someone put on your face and getting in front of a crowd of people doing something with such conviction and confidence that you’re floored. That person is supposed to be you, but you don’t feel like it. This has certainly happened to me. I look back at my blog posts from years ago or even within the same year and I hardly remember writing them. I’m impressed that I was able to put together that coherent of an argument. That I had that sort of passion for a topic, even if it was only while I was writing.

When I was a regular instructor for Lean Six Sigma in my various roles in my career I’ve often felt as someone riding and watching myself give those presentations. Where I would be able, without much or any preparation, to give a full week of training courses (granted there were some slide decks where this showed more than others). I would be asked questions and I’d feel like I was watching someone else answer. That I was just along for the ride while this other “Ryan” was giving the presentation. This person didn’t feel like me.

At the end of the day, I’d be completely exhausted and so worn out. In a lot of ways I was also energized, because I had a community. I was with a group of like minded people. I wasn’t alone, which felt great. But, I also often felt like a fraud and was depressed because I felt like I was selling something that my bosses didn’t really support. That enough though we offered to our students a great remedy for what was ailing these organizations, the leadership didn’t support it. This caused a great deal of internal turmoil because the values of the organization didn’t fully align with what I was teaching.

Recognizing this otherness is important to do though. We need to be able to sit and look at this otherness and try to identify the source of it. In the case of teaching Lean, the root of the otherness was a misalignment of values. This exasperated my existing depression, I had already felt alone. I then struggled to find new meaningful work, when I didn’t trust other companies to have a value that really aligned with what I wanted to teach.

It’s also important to recognize the otherness because we don’t like it in ourselves. This means we’re less tolerant of otherness in other people, because it reminds us of our own otherness. However, sitting with our otherness can allow us to see why we’re feeling that way. This otherness, hiding from ourselves, putting a mask on, or burying our true feelings, is a coping mechanism and is completely natural. Everyone does it. So, meditating after you feel like an Other will allow you, as you scan down your body, to experience a wholeness. It’ll make you aware of the anxiety or fear you’d been hiding from yourself. It removes the otherness and centers you back in your body. It makes you feel again.

I strongly recommend meditation when you feel like this. Your thoughts will drift, you’ll feel lighter, eventually, but you’ll feel. Which is important for your and my recovery.

Talking about Depression: Your Depression

As I stated in my last blog post, one of the most difficult things to do is understand your depression. This is because you have to actually sit and try to understand why you’re feeling the way you are. Which means you must be still in a manner of speaking. To sit with your emotions, means you cannot turn on a show, be it TV, Twitch, YouTube, Netflix or whatever else. It means  you cannot just idly scroll through a social media account. This is a double no, because when you look at a site like Facebook or Instagram, you’re likely increasing your feelings of depression even though you’re probably, even if you’re not aware of it, trying to run away from your emotions.

I’d do this by looking, first, at articles on Reddit, then pictures, and then anything else that I could look at to avoid how I was feeling. What I’ve been doing instead is stopping. When I notice that I’m feeling down, I’ll stop. I’ll take a moment to look at how I’m feeling. This isn’t easy. I’ll look at the moments leading up how I’m feeling and try to understand what happened. I acknowledge that I’m feeling however I’m feeling. This means that I try to describe how I’m feeling.

Putting into words some of these sensations isn’t easy at all. One way to help with this is to pull up an emotion sheet like this, below. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s a way to stop and investigate how you’re feeling rather than just trying to move away from your emotions. It’s further complicated by the fact that you’re probably feeling a number of emotions at once. Or in my case, I often felt completely flat, or a feeling of emptiness. For me, this happened a lot. It didn’t matter how good of a day I was having, I’d eventually end up feeling flat or empty as the day wore on. It was crushing over time.

It’s something that’s difficult to explain to a loved one. If you can’t really explain why you feel that way to yourself, what hope do you have to explain it to someone that cares about you? For me, this was made even more difficult since my family didn’t really talk much about feelings, so I had a stunted vocabulary when it came to how I felt, but I could, through reading and other media, articulate how and why I thought other people were feeling. I “simply” had to start using that same sort of analysis to look internally.

As I reflected, I would certainly feel anxious. It was very uncomfortable for me to investigate my emotions. Furthermore, I knew that just being able to explain what was happening to me to myself wasn’t enough. I had to start explaining how the actions of people around me started to impact how I was feeling. This primarily revolved around my relationship with my wife, where I haven’t been able to explain why I react to things the way that I do. I still don’t always understand why I react the way that I do.

If you decide to give this a try, feel free to leave a comment or ask me how I’ve been doing it. I’d love to offer some tips.

Emotion sheet

 

Talking about Depression

Writing and talking about depression isn’t easy. It’s not easy because we have a stigma around depression. Add a general lack of understanding of what depression is, you have a mix that means people end up talking past each other. Depression is hard to talk about because it is the opposite side of the anxiety coin. Even if you don’t realize you have depression, if you have anxiety, you have depression. Conversely, if you have depression you have anxiety. Being anxious about things makes dealing with your depression even harder because you want to talk with people about it. You want to get help from friends and family, but because you’re anxious about it you are afraid of being a burden on that person. You aren’t going to be a burden. Most of your friends probably know that you have your moods or get defensive about things or whatever else. They don’t understand why you always behave the way that you do, but they are concerned about you and would want to help you.They may not know the best way to do so and may, in their ignorance, say unhelpful things like “Cheerup” or “this will pass you’ll feel better.”

The first step to helping the people around you understand depression is to get a better understanding of what it means to you. You’ll need to develop the right language so you are able to articulate exactly what’s going on. This isn’t easy. I’ve been going to therapy for over a year now and I now feel like I’m developing the correct language to discuss it. In many cases it’s actually been the joint therapy sessions with my wife where I’ve developed the interpersonal language to describe what’s going on between her and me.

So to develop the right language, I strongly recommend reading Lost Connections. Once you’ve made your way through that, you’ll have a better understanding of what is the major driver of your depression. That will really help you articulate what’s happening. If you get through it and feel that all of them are contributing to your depression, don’t feel overwhelmed. Focus on one of them that you think might be easiest to address through the help of your friends. Friends will be a key part in helping you recover from your depression. Being open with them about this will help them understand what you really need.

If trauma is the root cause of your depression or could be, then I recommend reading a much more emotionally difficult book called The Body Keeps The Score. This book will help you understand why you might be having the reactions you’re having when you have an event that triggers a memory of that trauma. Yes, being triggered is a real thing. It causes you have to a similar physiological response that you had during the actual trauma. However, keep in mind that lashing out at your loved ones will not really help you resolve the trauma.

Next you should begin meditating. This will be hard and scary. It’s terrifying and you’ll feel like you’re doing it wrong because you cannot sit with your emotions. You cannot be still with your self, because it means you’re still with your depression. No, it is not easy to do. It’s difficult to stick with it as well. You aren’t alone in feeling scared of being with your emotions alone.

It’s important to do because this is a way to cognitively digest some of your daily anxiety. It’s a way to allow you to look at those feelings. Turn them over and then pass them. The pause of meditation can help immensely when you’re having an anxiety attack. Even if you only do it for 3 minutes. This is because you begin to focus on your body, calming your body, which allows your reptilian/emotional mind to calm and to allow your mammalian/rational mind to hug and hold your emotions.

Black Mirror: Nosedive, Authenticity, and Lost Connections

I just finished watching Black Mirror’s episode called Nosedive, which is an interesting episode about the impact of continually rating people for every social interaction. It explores what happens when someone who was previously a very high rated person has a very bad day. It was, implied that it would happen throughout episode, that everyone was just a series of misfortunate events away from dropping from their current social hierarchy to a lower strata where they’d be unable to function in current society. Ratings indicate which jobs a person can have or not. Dropping too low indicates you’re not worthy of that job and in many cases, network effects and game theory type logic comes into play. Where you have to judge if a low ranking person or a person that’s currently out of favor would negatively impact your image.If that would drop you from a person of respect to a person of disrepute.

This episode made me uncomfortable to watch, because in a lot of ways it feels like it hits close to home as it deals with a major reason why I don’t like social media. I don’t like the constant need for validation through pictures, likes, and comments. I’ve tried to, in general avoid, Facebook lately, because it feels inauthentic, and creepy. Between Facebook, itself, tracking what you do online and partners with companies to track your shopping habits offline. Combing that with the desire to display the best of your life on platforms like Instagram, this can lead to depression.

In many articles it’s because of the fact that you’re comparing your messy every day life to what people are willing to post, which typically represents the best parts of their life. Their happy dogs, walking in a vineyard, going surfing, or some new thing that they bought. Even if you know that you are doing this, doesn’t really help. However, I think there’s a few reasons beyond that. For one, it forces you to live an inauthentic life, which is one of the major themes in the show Nosedive. The character knows she’s putting on a show and clearly has some serious anxiety around behaving that way. Her brother, who lives a more authentic life, doesn’t care as much about his social media score and directly asks for Lacie (the main character) to return to her authentic self (“remember when we had real conversations?”)

Being an inauthentic version of yourself is a type of acting as well pushing down the values you actually believe in. This is something referenced in Lost Connections as a root cause of depression. Where our intrinsic values do not align with society’s values and we must adopt society’s values over our own we become depressed. In the episode it Lacie only became aware that it was a possible to reject those norms when she was picked up by a trucker with a rate of 1.4/5. This woman allowed her to reflect on her experience as her rating declined and bottomed out.

However, it wasn’t until she’d been rejected by the society and put into a prison of sorts that she was able to find a truly authentic interaction. It was rage filled, but eventually became filled with joy as the two people in prison were able to be an authentic version of themselves.

In our society, while we don’t have the intensity portrayed in the episode with social media, it is possible we could move into that direction over time. For us to really have authentic interactions, we need to find people that support us being our authentic selves even when there are people in our lives that might not fully support our decisions. Or people in our lives that make it more difficult to be authentic.