The Life Saving, Soul Crushing Power of a Job

(This is a first of a series of posts that will concentrate on the topic of depression and mental illness. I am not a mental health expert or a doctor. This is not meant as advice. These are observations I have made during my life as a lifelong survivor of depression. I cannot be called an expert because I don’t have a degree on the topic. I consider myself an expert on my own depression since I’ve been living with it for almost 40 years. I hope if nothing else, reading these every Monday will remind you that you are not alone and there is no reason why you can’t start your own blog, write a book, get a great job or start your own company while dealing with any type of mental illness).

This message is for you, beautiful, creative and tortured soul. It is important that we talk about work and how it helps us stay alive, even on days when we don’t want to get out of bed.

J.O.B. or Just Over Broke is what you do in the hopes of paying the bills so that you can spend your spare time doing the things that you truly love. If you are an artist or enjoy any type of creative activity, the job often pays for your “hobby”. I write hobby that way because you and I both know it is much more than that.

People who live with depression and have to get a job face an interesting challenge that those around us don’t understand. You need a job to pay your bills. Your craft, whichever form it takes, keeps you alive. The dilemma with having a job is that while it is a soul crushing endeavor that makes you regret getting out of bed in the morning, it is the one normal thing in your life that you can count on. For people like you and me, a job is a little bit of certainty and structure in an uncertain world. We can go to work and fake contentment for the 8 to 10 hours we are there. We are often tired when we get off work because of all the energy we spent pretending to be “normal”. In fact, more often than not, our friends and family don’t even know that we live with depression and/or anxiety, because we make it look like everything is alright.

The energy we spend and then need to recoup, causes us another dilemma. When do we do what we love when we are always so tired? If you are like me, sometimes it takes months. Take this blog. It is a labor of love for me. On this blog I talk about living your dreams, your next chapter, your goals, all those things that make me happy. Writing makes me happy. Look at the date on the last post. It has been two months since I wrote a post. I had a project I was working on and I had no energy for anything else. So how do we deal with that?

If you are one of those lucky people who can handle your depression with the perfect dose of medicine, diet and exercise, congratulations. If you are like me and medications make you even more anxious or depressed or your doctor has not found the perfect combination of medications, or you just don’t like medications, I will share what works for me most of the time. Now keep in mind, I am not consistent. Sometimes I do the right things and sometimes it defeats me for a moment. This is a reality of life that we must understand. Even with medications, depressions and anxiety are sometimes hard to avoid. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall. It is OK. Just make sure that you get back up.

1) Exercise – even when you are tired. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. I admit that when I do it, it might not end depression, it does take the edge off. Experts believe it is because of the endorphins. I honestly don’t care why it works. When I go for a walk, most of the time reluctantly, I feel more energy after. It might not make me happy in and off itself. It does give me the energy to tackle other tasks during the day and maybe even indulge in doing the things I love.

2) Eating – whether you are a vegan, a carnivore or anything in between. There are certain foods that give you energy and there are some foods that give you a temporary high. Stay away from the temporary high because the lows are much deeper when you yo-yo like that. In my case, I love fruits. Some people think that is too much sugar. I personally believe there is a difference between sugar that already exists in the food and sugar that we make for candy and other goodies. My downfall? Ice cream and chocolate. Some chocolate is good, especially if it is dark. Too much of a good thing and we go back to that yo-yo thing. Find those foods that keep you even-tempered, those that give you energy and stick to more of those. Take the foods that make you feel bloated and tired an avoid those.

3) Sleep – not too much, avoid not enough. I do have this bad habit of taking naps that last too long and then I feel like the day is wasted. I discovered a while back that a 20 minute nap is ideal for me. It lets my eyes rest and recover and I don’t wake up groggy and in a bad mood. Find what works for you.

4) Study your patterns. I have spent too many years living with this condition. One of the good things about not been able to depend on medication is that I can figure out the patterns of behavior. What I mean by this is that I can sense when depression is beginning. Now, if you are on medication, this might be a little harder. Then again, if you are on medication, you should not have severe depression and if you do, you might want to let your doctor know. Knowing when depression is starting does not make me immune to it. It does help me deal with it more effectively and I have noticed that they don’t last as long.

5) Have a group that has your back. This group does not have to be big. Two or more people is a group. The important thing is that one or more of your friends are the kind of people who you can vent to. This is the whole point of support groups. If you don’t trust any of your friends, join a support group in your area or online. In my case, I have learned recently that everyone around me needs to know what I am going through. I spent too many years been called lazy or unfocused. My personal favorite is unmotivated. Interestingly enough, the worst insults come from people who live with depression themselves. It’s what I call the bully mentality. You are feeling crappy so your recourse is to make someone around you feel as bad as you. Pay attention on social media to the trolls and you will see it. Rarely does a happy person call someone else fat, ugly or anything else. They might debate points of view but they never get personal. This does not happen with bullies and trolls. The first thing they will resort to is name calling. Don’t take it personally. This is a function of their own self-esteem. Always look for people who will lift you up.

6) Volunteer – I know you are tired after spending 20 to 40 hours surrounded by people. That was necessary. What I am telling you is to find a non-profit that works in something you believe in, like rescuing animals, or an abuse shelter or feeding the poor. Spend a couple of hours helping somebody else. It will not cure you. It will help you feel how important you truly are and how much we need you here on this Earth right now.

These are just some suggestions of what you can do to improve your symptoms. Common sense dictates that you should go to your doctor and not follow any suggestions without consulting the experts. If you do something that makes you feel better, leave it in the comments below so that we can help someone else.

I found this cartoon on Facebook this weekend and it is a great visual. Unfortunately, I have no idea who did it so that I can give them credit. If you know, leave it in the comments below so that I can correct this last statement.

Panic

Beautiful Sunny Day

It’s a beautiful, sunny day here in Florida.  It is my second day alone and I am looking forward to running some errands, reading a book and maybe sneaking a walk in the park.  My first errand involves going to the local Publix supermarket to get some solid food (food poisoning during the weekend, today is my first normal day in a while).  I sit back in my car, play some 80s music and turn the corner to leave my complex.

That is when I notice it.  For some reason, my heart is pounding so loud I feel I can hear it outside of my chest.  It is, without a doubt, the scariest moment since I recovered from my ailment this weekend.  I don’t understand! Two minutes ago I was happy to be going out and now, I don’t think I am going to make it to the store less than a mile away.

I have learned to stop myself and start breathing.  I actually count how many seconds I breath in (5) and how many I breathe out (10).  Breath in – breath out.  Again.  Slow that heart rate down a little.  Make it to the parking lot.  Take another deep breath.

Ten minutes later, as I load on no good for me cereal, a water bottle, some granola bars and other pertinent snacks, I almost forgot the horrible sensation I had minutes before that the world was coming to an end, well, at least, my world.

What you just read is my description of my panic attack.  You don’t know when they are coming, how long they will last, and it always ends the same way.  I, for one, cannot understand why minutes before I thought I was going to die when I am almost skipping down the aisles of the supermarket.

Business people rarely speak about panic attacks, or any other mental health issues.  There is such a ridiculous stigma associated with the disease.  Recent studies put the number of sufferers of panic disorders at 6 million.  When you consider that the US has a population of 224 million, it is easy to see why we don’t talk about them.  It is less than 3% of the population.  It is my suspicion that the number is severely incorrect.  I, for one, usually don’t make it a habit to tell people I have them.  I also don’t take medications for depression or anxiety, because I think they are crap.  That does not mean you might not be helped by them.  I have discovered through years of experience, that I tend to develop secondary effects that are usually the realm of 5% of the population (which is why sometimes even doctors have a hard time believing me).  To give you an example, I am the rare bird that only develops the flu when given the flu shot.  Since I tend to have such horrible reactions to normal medications, I have to look at other methods to heal myself.

The reason why I want to talk about panic attacks is because to me this is important.  This is not a sexy topic and people might think you are weird.  If you suffer a panic attack, I want you to know that you are not alone, there is nothing wrong with you, and if you are female, you happen to be more likely to get a panic attack.

Even more surprising, middle age seems to be a magnet for it.  I remember a mental health expert once telling us in a chat that there is a long-standing theory that when we get to our late 40s and 50s, we look back and realize the best years of our lives are over and we did not do what we set out to do.  That is when the panic sets in.

If you look at the information from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), the evidence is clear.  Almost 60% of the people who suffer panic attacks are between the ages of 35 and 60, with the highest numbers pertaining to those of us between 45 and 59. They also cite being female as a risk factor.  I have my own theories of why that is but I don’t want to get into a debate about feminism on this particular post.  According to Psychology Today the female to male ratio is 72% female.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Women are three times more likely to get panic attacks than men.

So what can we do about this?  How can we help a friend experiencing this?  Is there any hope?  The first thing I want to repeat is that if you are suffering from panic attacks, you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you.  It is time we stop talking about mental health issues as if we were broken in some way.  You can be the strongest person or the weakest one and still have a panic attack.  If you notice a friend or yourself experiencing this particular issue, counseling can help.  Most insurance cover these expenses and if you work for a corporation, many of them have excellent services.

The last thing I want to talk about is the issue of hope.  Many people think that they might be crazy, on their way to a facility without any hope of recovering.  It is interesting to note that most people experiencing panic disorders can see relief in 12 months.  There are many treatment options available.  If you are like me and don’t like medications, tell your doctor.  There are other ways to deal with it and she should be well-informed and capable of providing you other options available.

As for me, breathing exercises always work.  I happen to recognize the symptoms and lucky for me, they don’t happen very often.  In fact, the last panic attack I had, happened about 3 or 4 years ago.  I have a routine I follow to recover and I take very good care of my mind.  I want to repeat again, do what works for you and don’t be ashamed to ask for help.  You will get better.

If you have any other suggestions or tips on how you deal with panic attacks constructively, leave your comment below and share this article with others who might experience this.  I am not a doctor.  I am an expert on me.  I know what works for me.  Make sure you get the help you need and get ready to thrive once more.

Metamorphosis – 6th Day

On this, the sixth day of Metamorphosis, I want to talk about something that I noticed yesterday.  More than ever, I saw a lot of people posting certain messages on social media.  The message on these posts were about how sad this time of the year is for some people and to please have a heart and be supportive of them.

It is very hard to go through the holidays once a loved one passes away.  We all know this.  The first year is usually the hardest.  There are some people who stay there and don’t move on and for those people, I want to ask a question.

What do you think your loved one would tell you if they saw you getting sad for them?  Would they be angry?  Would they feel sorry for you?  Would they tell you to go on living?  This is a tough question to answer because I am sure that you don’t want to hear the answer.

I believe that our loved ones want us to live life to the fullest.  In my opinion, you honor your loved ones by enjoying life and the holidays.  I am not saying that you should forget your loved ones or ignore your own pain.  What I am saying is that you need to smile through your tears and figure out what you have to do to keep living.  Do you have to see a therapist to treat your depression?  Do you think that you need to work out to wake up those endorphins?  Is it time to let go?

Don’t you think that people who die would do anything to be here with you?  Do you really think they want to be the source of your unhappiness?

Honor your loved ones by living fully.  Here is a short reminder.

If you have any suggestions for others on what worked for you, leave those in the comments below.  Thanks.