Category Archives: depression

Hello Women Readers (Feedback Request)

According to Facebook and Google Analytics my readership is somewhere between 91%  women (facebook)

and 75% women (GA)

And this data presents me with some interesting questions as I am moving forward with my plans to grow and continue writing about dating, single parenting, and divorce. What I’m hoping to discover is a bit more about you, women, who are reading. I have some ideas about why I think you’re following my journey. And I have some numbers that indicate what your favorite topics are, but I don’t have any primary research, or reader feedback to assist me with my strategy and writing plans moving forward.

Here are a few things I know. In the last year the top three trending posts are about single dads and dating preferences.

So from this information I completed my first book recently, please feel free to check it out on Amazon, or even buy it. (grin)

single dad seeks - john oakley mcelhenney

And I’ve tried to replicate the success of that first post, but it’s never worked out. I’m happy that my What a Single Dad Wants in His *Next* Relationship post has continue to be shared and read far and wide, even when I’m not actively promoting or writing on the blog. This is awesome and flattering. Thank you.

But this post, and this book, do not make up the whole of what I’ve been writing about or working on in my life here on The Whole Parent. And while I will continue to date and write about dating, it’s also important to me that I continue to evolve and grow as a writer, dad, single parent.

The first book I wrote, and have not yet found a publisher for is called The Positive Divorce. How do you take the worst situation and turn it around for good? The agents asked, “Why would we want advice from this guy? He’s just a blogger. He has no credentials.” Hmm. This concerned me, but I moved on and wrote the dating book as my first topic. Strike where the audience was hottest.

I’ve also been writing a lot about the depression that comes along with divorce and the loss of your kids. I imagine this is a hardship that visits both moms and dads equally. And while I’m not qualified in any way as a therapist, I do think there is value in sharing my story, my recovery, and recovery attempts, as hopeful mile markers for any other readers who suffer from depression. And this book is also in the works. So those seem to be the three main topics on this blog.

Dating
Single Parenting/Divorce Recovery
Depression

I’m wondering, if I asked my audience what they were most interested in learning or hearing about from me, would I get a response? Should I do a survey? Would my readers comment on the blog and let me know what they were thinking, liking, disliking about my writing?

That’s the point of this post. Dear readers, mostly women, what else can I tell you? What conversation should we have next? Would you be interested in joining a private community where we could all chat? Is there some topic I haven’t covered?

All I can do is ask and make it easy for you to answer if you’re so inclined. That’s the idea.

Please respond in the comments or take this 3 question survey to give me feedback on The Whole Parent and the future direction of my work. Thank you.

Survey Link: http://bit.ly/wholeparent

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

There’s Something Missing

Moods are a swirl of chemicals in the brain set awash by events and triggers in our lives. The fall is beginning to poke up cooler mornings here in my city and earlier in the week I was energized and excited to be walking around the nearby lake. It was as if the fall signaled to my brain, happy times, burning leaves, football games, and warm blankets. But yesterday, with the same cool weather, my walk around the lake was a struggle. I don’t know exactly what happened, but my chemicals were a bit on the sad/tired side rather than the up/excited side I’ve been grooving on for several months.

I’m not depressed. I am a bit less enthusiastic. I’m wondering why.

It was as if yesterday morning I woke up with less hope. I have to say that projecting confidence and joy in the period of my life, must be tiring. I experience it as joy, but I know somewhere, underneath, in the chemical machine of my body, I am working to maintain my happy attitude in spite of all the downers in my current situation. I know this period is challenging all of my preconceived ideas of who I would be at 54, where I would be at 54, who I would be with at 54, and what I would be doing at 54. And October is the beginning of the fall and that will put me at 55, in November. I’m more than halfway through my lifespan and things haven’t gone so great for me.

I don’t look back with any regrets. (Well, that’s not true, there are several.) Let me try again. I don’t look back with much regret about how I’ve lived my life post-divorce. I have struggled with depression, yes. I have struggled with my work, yes. And I have struggled as a single dad, yes. But I have kept my attitude aimed at higher states even when I was in the lowest states. I have never given up hope of returning to my victorious self, the self I celebrate and praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m still putting up a good fight.

So, yesterday my chemistry was off. Nothing else changed. I got plenty of sleep, exercise, and good food. I’ve been getting some 2nd round interviews. My writing has been going well. So, what’s off? I’d like to think it’s the WOMAN that is missing, but that’s not it either. I do write a lot about dating and wanting a relationship, but I’m pretty clear that it’s too soon for me. I’m okay with being alone until I get a bit more of my equation figured out. What would I tell a date, “I’m living with my mom and working at a grocery store.” How’s that going to work out? Or I could lie. That’s no better. So, I’m alone. That’s not it.

I have to think it’s a combination of all of these things. Of course, it’s tiring to be unhappy with your current environment and employment status. There is no doubt that I’m struggling with my lifeway and the path is not yet clear to me. But it’s also clear to me that my current living situation is not painful. If I don’t thrash against the situation, I can see how my life is very easy right now. I get plenty of sleep. I take naps. I work part-time. I have time to play tennis, bike, and walk around the lake. I mean, my life does not suck.

Still, the moods roll in and out as if on tides. There is no controlling the bio-rhythm of our energy overall, it’s really just how we respond to the varying levels of energy. And over the past several months a low-energy day was just passing through. Yesterday, the low-energy had the feeling of maybe sticking around for a bit. That got me a bit worried.

I’m not worried today. While I’m not 100%, I’m also on the incline headed back up. Yesterday, however, even after my walk, continued to be challenging. And perhaps in response to the low-energy mode I had a hard time staying positive in the face of all that is happening or not happening in my life.

I had a job interview in the afternoon that could not have gone worse. It’s not that I did poorly. It was more that became terrified during the interview that I might actually get this job that the woman was describing and it was awful. Just the kind of work I’m hoping to not return to. And I was going along with the interview as if… “Yes, I am good at that…” But I wanted to say, “But I don’t ever want to do it again.” The interview lasted about 30 minutes. When it was done I was exhausted. I was not feeling positive. In fact, I was feeling scared. I had the sinking feeling, while interviewing, that I get when I’m headed for a fall. I was powerless in that interview, in my mind, and I was heading towards a cliff.

The rest of my day didn’t go all that great. I self-regulated by taking a nap and that helped. But I never did quite shake the feeling of fear that creeped in while I was talking to this young woman on the phone. I learned something: I will not take the kind of job that is going to eat me alive. It’s not worth it, and today, I don’t have to take it. I went to bed after reading for a bit, and woke up today in a more-normal, not-down, state.

Something is missing.

I am ready to have a good job that appreciates me and doesn’t drive me into the ground. I’m ready to afford my own place again, even if that doesn’t mean buying a house. And I’m ready to be constructing a relationship again, I think. It’s this last one that’s unclear for me. I have been super happy in my natural state over the last few months, alone. I’m okay with having nothing to do on a Friday night. I’m learning again to enjoy my own company. What complications would a new relationship bring into the picture? Tons.

What I’m coming to is this: we are where we are for a reason. I am in this place to heal. I am alone to learn to be alone again. I am unemployed because I need to learn to value my work in a way that doesn’t compromise or destroy my personal life. I’m going to do all of these things better as I move forward from this place. But this place, this quiet time, is also a blessed time. A time for reconfiguring. A time for being sensitive to my moods and learning new ways to moderate or understand them.

This month leading up to my 55th birthday is a time of great power for me. I will spend this time alone and seeking my own company and counsel. When the next job, woman, or house come by I will be able to consciously make the better decision. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being still, right where I am, in this uncomfortable ego-less state. I am rebuilding, brighter and better. And until then, I actively wait, pray, and write.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: joy, creative commons usage

The Positive Single Dad: Year Four in Review

It was Sept. 2013 when I got the idea to write a blog about single parenting with the focus being 100% positive. How can I be a better single dad? I’ve had many ups and downs during these last four years, but for the most part, this blog has helped me keep things on the upside. If I can frame a perspective in a positive light even about things that aren’t so positive, I can feel better about them myself. And that was part of my mission: change the way I was thinking about my divorce and my life as a single dad.

This year I had a very tough time struggling with some relationship issues and a serious bout of depression. And I remember looking at the blog several times and seeing this post. It wasn’t so positive, but I simply could not figure out anything to write about to displace this sad post from the front page.

I was wounded. And things were not going well in my own relationship at the moment. And for a long period I was mute. Waiting. Searching for the strength to write again and the courage to write about what was happening, that wasn’t so positive.

Then it broke.

And I found myself back in the dating and seeking game.

And as I felt stronger in my own purpose I began to uncover more of what had gone wrong in my seemingly perfect relationship.

I started looking at some of the deeper issues of dating again. And what I wanted in my *next* relationship.

And I kept returning to my single parent role as something that defines me and defines my future desires.

After four years I am more positive and more prepared for what comes next. I am working to be closer to my teenaged kids. And I am preparing for the next great relationship of my life. I have my eyes a bit more open and my heart a bit more clear on what I’m looking for.

Most of all, I’m happy. Really, core-happy. Alone, yes, but happy and optimistic about the future.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Growing Up in a Warzone: Childhood Trauma and Adult PTSD

It’s no wonder I don’t know how to express anger. The anger in my family of origin was shown to me as a dangerous weapon. My father raged and the entire family cowered. I was four when it started. In these times, the war times, as a four-year old kid, what you need is a comforting adult to pick you up and soothe you. “Everything is going to be all right.” Except, in our family everyone was triggered and afraid. There were no adults in the room. And when my father drank in addition to raging, all hell would break loose inside our house. It was during these times that I escaped to my stick and stone fort up in the hills behind our house.

I was building forts and stocking them with stick guns and rocks. And I would take refuge in the hills whenever things got to hot in the house. And this happened often. And again, what a little kid needs at this point is a parent to come and find him, hold him, reassure him. What I got was relief from the roaring house and isolation. I was a lonely little boy. None of my friends could understand what was happening at my house. Sometimes I was afraid to have them over to play, because I didn’t want them to experience the war zone.

As an adult this coping mechanism is still triggered. And honestly, most adults suffer from isolating behaviors, even if they weren’t born into the anger zone. I think those of us with depression just find deeper and darker silences than most. So as an adult under major stress I head for my fort in the hills. I keep my mouth shut. And I huddle alone waiting for someone to rescue me. The rescue that never comes. The rescue that can’t really come, because I have to rescue myself. No mom or sister is going to come and find me. And even if they did the relief would be temporary.

The fear and isolation are inside me. And in my childhood I learned to be a wonderful performer. I made straight A’s, played all the sports, and even became a profession magician at 12. I was doing magic tricks all the time to keep the family happy. Of course, it didn’t work. I was sad. My family was sad. My dad was rageful.

It is such a familiar feeling when I retreat back into my isolation. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar. My broken and alone self is one I identify with. I have been broken for a large part of my life. I was broken at the age of four and the trauma is still deeply hidden. Of course, the body does not lie, and that trauma comes out at shame and lack of self-love. I’m really horrible to myself. My internal voice often says things so mean I wouldn’t say them to an enemy. I’m working on that one, big time.

Still, growing up in an unsafe and hostile family home trained me to be hyper-vigilant. I guard against anger and disappointment, by trying to be a better person. I’ve learned some of my weaknesses and I’ve learned to compensate for some of them. It’s a long process of growth and recovery. Today, however, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Even ending a 2.5 yo relationship, I find myself in a “sky’s wide open” future mindset. Today I could go anywhere, do anything.

The path for me now is to be still. I often rush into things before I am certain of the answer. Today my higher power is in charge of the next steps. I’m going to live my life with joy and grace and see what opportunities step up to meet me.

image: anger, creative commons usage

Getting High: The Flip Side of Depression

It’s sometimes called bipolar, but that term is overused. In my case I have depression and I have non-depression. And sure, my non-depression (or normal) me is a bit more energetic and creative than most people, I would argue that I have not had a manic phase since I was a teenager. I get high, yes, but its natural energy (maybe some coffee) and it’s what I consider the real me. The undepressed me. Still, you might think I was high if you met me.

And that’s a part of the problem. When I’m “energetic” I can get a little scattered and hyper. But really, that’s me. I’m usually a happy and inspired person. I’ve been this way since I was a little kid. Always engaged, always trying to lead the group into some crazy fun adventure. And as an adult I’ve learned to turn my energy into an asset that’s engaging and successful. And if I can stay on the UPSIDE of my depression, I’m golden. When I fall off my balance, however, it’s quite dramatic. It’s scary for me and the people around me.

So this is the aspect of my condition that I’m working on in therapy. What is the trigger that sends me sliding into the darkness? Is there anything I can do as it’s happening (I can feel it, like some bad intoxication) is there therapy that can help? It’s truly my Achilles heel, this falling depression that overwhelms me and shuts down even some of my basic functions.

I’m working on it. But it still scares the crap out of me. How can a fullly-funtional adult drop off the face of the Earth? And I go low. I get confused and overwhelmed. And I get real quiet. I don’t speak. If I did speak the crap I would talk about is so scary, even to me, I think I would run you off. And the damage this cycle has done in my life is unexplainable. The lost days, weeks, and months I’ve spent in non-functional depression is too many for me to admit. It’s a lot.

What we know about depression these days, is it is a physical disease. After a few major depression your brain and body begin to adapt to the situation and over time the physical properties of your brain begins to change. And this adaption is not a good thing. It’s as if the pathways towards depressive emotions are superconductive. It makes it easier for my brain to flood itself with the panic chemicals. And when that happens all bets are off. It’s as if the lights go out in my eyes and I become some zombie form of myself.

Again, I’m working on it. And I’m confident in my new meds. And I’m getting a new therapist. So I’m as active in my healing and recovery as I can be. I’m still scared. I’m still worried as I’m interviewing for new jobs. How can I be confident that I can do the job if at some point I fall apart? I’m not. I’m scared. But I’m moving forward as best I can, and doing all the things I can think of to get help.

I’ve got a care team. And I’ve got a supportive and understanding family. And it’s not enough. When I drop I drop off the deep end. I can’t see or feel the love that surrounds me. I can’t feel anything but hatred for myself and my condition. And that’s a circular path that leads even further downward.

I hope you don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’m guessing you know someone in your life who has suffered from depression or bipolar illness. And if you can get a glimmer of  empathy from my stories, then I’m happy with my reveal. I’m taking a big risk letting all this “depression” information out. I’m still in the prime earning years, and any employer who Googles me will come upon this blog.

Years from now I’d like to be writing about how my drug cocktail has been successful for 10 years of remission. That’s not likely. The disease raises its head at the most inconvenient times. And I will be depressed again. I’m hoping to mitigate the down. I’m hoping to have more compassion for myself while I’m going through it. And I’m hoping that through some cognitive therapy that I can reduce my cycle time. Heck, I’m hopeful that the down will be a blip and not a deathly yaw.

Either way, I’m on my way towards health. I’m optimistic. And the new job opportunities are here right now. Fear forward. Then keep going.

Take care. If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: depression, creative commons usage

What’s Underneath the Pain?

I’ve been working with my therapist a lot over the last few months, trying to get underneath my major complaint: overwhelming sadness and regret. Sure I am sad and anxious. Those are real feelings. But where is the anger? I have no access to my anger. And this is a problem for me. I avoid anger. I’m scared of anger. But anger is your friend.

I learned at an early age the destructive power of anger. My dad, the alcoholic, had rages that scared the crap out of everyone in my family. I was 5. I learned from then on that anger was not safe. And like my father during his sober times, I learned that anger and disappointment were best kept inside and never exposed to others. I learned dysfunction. I learned to hide my feelings. And most of all I learned to avoid conflict at all cost. I learned to lie to diffuse tense situations. Even if the lie was not in my best interest.

This plays out in my relationships like this. A girlfriend says something really mean to me. A little time later she says, “I hope that didn’t hurt you. I was just telling you how I feel.” “No,” I would lie, “It didn’t hurt me.” But in that lie I was discounting my real feelings, I was not standing up for myself, and I was accepting unacceptable behavior towards me from someone I loved.

It’s no wonder that anger is hard for me to find inside myself. I’d rather avoid anger, conflict, disagreements. But anger is also energizing. And it’s that energy I was missing in my efforts to recover from my lingering depression. And I don’t think my therapist had the tools or experience to handle what I was going through. Sure, he tried to get me to express anger towards him for failing me in my treatment. But he was also my lifeline. He was the only one I was telling most of my fears to. And flipping to anger towards him, no matter how I felt about him, was too hard. So we struggled together. But I’m afraid I could’ve used a less passive engagement. So I’m seeking new counsel.

This pain that is underneath the sadness and loneliness is something we all struggle with to varying degrees. Some people try to deal with it head on, with therapy, 12-step groups, or journaling. Some people choose to avoid or cover it up with alcohol or drugs. The first group is trying to get through the struggle. The second group is trying to mute it, escape it, forget about it. But the second group is doomed to more of the same feelings they are trying to cover up. Alcohol is a depressant. It’s not a sleeping med. It’s not a way to relax. It’s a way to forget.

In conscious healing, an individual uses all the resources available to deal with what’s going on in their lives. In my case, the cognitive therapy was unable to counteract the bad chemistry in my brain. No amount of counseling, no amount of journaling, was going to pull me out of my depression. And as the meds continued to fail, I went through long periods of hopelessness. Even in the midst of a privileged life I was thinking about killing myself. Even with two great kids and several family members who were close and close by, I was cowering in my beautiful house trying to figure out how to painlessly off myself. But it was the bad chemistry speaking. And I knew enough to laugh at my suicidal thoughts. Sure I thought about it, that’s called ideation, but I NEVER made a plan.

If you ever find yourself making a plan, call 911. Your brain is trying to kill you.

I have a lot of pain underneath my current sadness. And I have a long way to go to get more comfortable with conflict and releasing my anger in a healthy way. For now, I’m still stuffing some of my feelings, and I’m still scared about some other things that feel out of control. In fact, most of life is out of control. All we can do, all we can focus on is ourselves and our program of recovery. We cannot wait for the other person to change. We cannot cajole them into recovery. We have to let them go, to find their own way, to seek their own higher power.

Look underneath what’s bugging you. Is there anger there? More sadness? Then get some help. Write about it. Reason things out with someone else. Because until you begin to uncover what’s going on inside your head and heart, you will continuously be driven by things that don’t serve you.

Yes, I have lost everything for the second time in my life. But I still have so much to live for. And, for now, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I’m still digging into and talking about my anger resistance. But everything seems to be moving in the right direction in my life. I’m putting in the work on myself. I’m striving for success rather than just survival. Oh yeah, the meds kicked in a few weeks ago and it was like I was a different person. I came out of some sleepy depressive fog, and I could tell my old jovial, engaged self was back.

Take care. If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad clown, creative commons usage

 

Sitting In Silence with the Grief

I didn’t think I was going to survive the last breakup. Sure I was experiencing a prolonged depression that was kinda scary, but this was darkness multiplied. I was certain I was going to collapse into a depression so deep that I would be unreachable.

I knew even before I moved out that I needed to beef up my support network. I started attending Alanon meetings almost daily. I got a sponsor and about 4 phone numbers of guys I could call just to check in. What a great resource. And what a great lesson the program teaches: you can’t focus on the alcoholic and their recovery, you can only focus on yourself. In fact, you are the only one you can worry about. You are the only one you can change.

Dear God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

The serenity prayer from AA and Alanon got me through this dark period. But prayer and community were not enough. I was still left with hours, days, nights, of aloneness. And the darkness came and tried to swallow me. The hardest part is the loneliness. Sure the heartbreak is a bitch unlike any other bitch, but the loneliness is the killer. Loneliness keeps you up at night when you’re tired and hopeless. loneliness is the killer. And loneliness is only in your mind. Loneliness is a feeling. An idea. Loneliness is changeable. But getting beyond the loneliness takes time and effort. And for me that meant a lot of praying. Getting spiritually connected again was the gift that keeps on giving.

AA and Alanon are spiritual programs. No matter what you believe in, you come to believe in a “higher power” as you begin to visit the meetings and listen to everyone else’s stories. That higher power can be God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, nature, or even the collective love and power of the group. You’re relationship to your higher power is up to you. And here’s the real eye-opener, your significant other has a higher power too. And they must surrender and find that relationship for themselves. There is no fixing the other person. And there is no waiting for them to change. Their path is between them and their own spiritual program.

In the darkness, and the days and nights of silence I began to pray again. Simple prayers like, “Help me God.” Not really asking for anything specific but guidance for God’s will for me. Which is really my will and hope for myself powered by prayer and belief that there is some larger force in the universe that I can put my trust in. And there is a force in the universe that I can release the drinker to. Their path involves this transition too. It may take a year, it may take a lifetime, but I believe we call come back to a god of our choosing.

The silence and loneliness and grief brought me back to a deeper connection to my own soul. A deeper connection with myself. And that ever elusive self-love.

May you find your own path back to a higher power. And may you learn how much you are loved and valued in the world. Even if it’s only the love of the group. Attend meetings. Talk to people. Get phone numbers of people you can call when you’re down. And then sit quietly and listen. Your soul and inner voice will begin to tell you stories. Maybe some lies too, that you can examine over time and release.

You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad child, creative commons usage

Know What Your Problem Is? Mom and Dad.

Family of origin events and habits form a good part of what makes us who we are as adults. For example my dad never expressed his anger until he literally exploded and scared the crap out of all of us. I have that same repressed anger, except I never get to the explosion part. Of course, for my dad it took a drink or two to loosen his vitriolic tongue. And my mom taught me how to suffer in silence and worry, worry, worry about everything. She also showed me my first example of depression, after her divorce when I was 7.

Those several facts have given me a blueprint of my emotional DNA.

  1. I have trouble expressing anger.
  2. I have trouble with people who drink too much.
  3. I’m scared to death of someone raging at me.
  4. I worry a lot about things that never happen, wrecking a good bit of my here-and-now present moment.
  5. I have a depression symptom that looks a lot like simply giving up.

And all of these factors weigh into my adulthood personality and personality disorders. I am conflict adverse. I’d rather lie to you than fight you, about anything. (Kinda wimpy, right?) Well, these parts of me also caused me to lose the three primary relationships in my life in some form or fashion.

In both my marriage and my recent relationship my depression was really the crushing factor that caused the other person to opt-out. And I get it. I don’t blame either of them for their instincts towards their own personal preservation. I was a wreck. And I had no idea when or how I was going to get out of it. I was hopeless and it made them hopeless too. And two hopeless people can only be together so long before something breaks. It’s terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. And both times I was asked to leave. I get it. I honor both of them for taking care of themselves. That’s all we can do in life, take care of ourselves. Even if it means ending a loving relationship.

This same DNA will form the future of my relationships as well. And the clearer I get on the issues and the solutions, the easier it will be to keep a relationship. It’s not 100% up to me. But my actions will determine my own course of action, even if that means getting fired and losing my shit and falling into depression. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I know the depression will rear its ugly head again in the next 50 years. It’s not if, it’s when. And the rest is up to me and my care team. Gross. It’s a disability that is part of loving me. And it’s one I have a hard time loving about myself. But I get over it.

And the drugs, in my case, do work when they work. They also poop out and leaving me a shivering fearful wreck. And really, we know that pharmapsychiatry is a dark art. They have no idea what they’re doing. The simply rotate the same handful of drugs until they find one that seems to make things better. serotonin, Dopamine, norepinephrine, the chemicals in my head, are simply concepts about what’s really going on. But most of the time even my psychiatrist is scratching his head, discussing with me options when things aren’t working. He doesn’t know anything. And all we have is my 10 year history together, and a lot of trust.

Depression aside, the most powerful work we can do on ourselves is to get straight with our family of origin. It may take a lifetime, and you may not be able to fully rid yourself of the unhealthy influence, but you’ve got to keep trying. So ask yourself, “What did mom give me?” and “What did I learn from dad?” And listen to what comes back. You might need someone else to talk to in order to gain some objective feedback.

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  unhappy family, creative commons usage allowed

Facing My Personal Dragon: Depression

It’s a bit risky, all this talk about depression. By writing about my struggles I might, for example, give anyone googling my name access to my personal medical history. I might be limiting the future of my career. I might be scaring away potential employers, lovers, friends. But I can’t stay in my darkness alone. Depression is a disease of isolation and fear. I have courageously embarrassed my illness, though I’m not ready to admit to the actual diagnosis that is now part of most job applications. I have a disability. Hard to swallow sometimes, but real.

In my teens I experienced this major depression for the first time in my life. Sure, I’d been a moody kid, but a lot of that mood had been creatively fueled optimism. But when I moved away from home to attend a prep school, my foundations crumbled under the intellectual rigor of the school and swept me into a hopeless and airless place. I could no longer think straight. I was failing Spanish for the second time. And I was depressed and beginning to self-medicate with marijuana. Not a good period of my life.

Since that first breakdown I have struggled 4 or 5 times with utter and complete darkness. A darkness so dense that is wrecked every project, job, relationship in my life. And I know I will be depressed again. It’s a crippling diagnosis when you hear your therapist or psychiatrist say, “You will probably deal with varying stages of this your entire life.” How would you to share that with a potential girlfriend or employer? Hard to stay positive in most circumstance.

While the discussion about mental illness has come a long way, the real darkness and power of depression is not well depicted in our popular culture. Sure TV shows have “manic” or “depressed” characters, but seeing actual depression is nothing like the worst show’s scenes and conflicts. Quite simply, when a person is depressed, even if they “want” to write about it, purge it, let is come out creatively, it’s as if a power switch has been turned off in your creative brain.

Going into my last depression that was triggered by the loss of a new job, I knew I was headed into a depression, but I was powerless to stop my slide into despair. I could see it was coming. I asked my talky  doctor and my meds doctor for help. I pleaded for help. I committed to writing it out, and staying present with my sad ass self. It simply was not possible. Stringing a few sentences together while in full-blown depression is… well… nearly impossible.

So, headlong I went, tumbling, into despair. I was fulling conscious of what was taking place as my creative and emotional faculties diminished. I was front and center as my 2.5 year relationship crumbled under the weight of my illness. And ultimately I was left to face my dragon alone. Utterly alone, homeless again, and defeated. And yet, not defeated. Somehow, I kept going. I kept walking 5 – 7 miles a day. I kept eating and sleeping well. I kept making and keeping appointments with my care team. I kept going in spite of feeling like ending it.

There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend. — Reshad Feild

Somehow, I have been forced to accepting my fatal flaw. I cannot escape my own demons, I have to live with them. I cannot fight with the dragon when the dragon is a part of my DNA. As crushing as it is, I have to befrind my own depression, learn to accept my limits, and continue to work on forgiving myself for succumbing to the madness that is depressive illness.

Let me describe for a minute the experience I had three weeks ago, as a new medication came on-line and vanquished my depression. From the pits of isolation and self-pity, I kept working my program. I kept taking the meds and demanded of my psychiatrist that we try something new. I was not satisfied with survival. I was going to thrive again. And while I wasn’t confident in my plan, or in my doctor’s ability to offer me a fresh torch inside my deep cavern of shame and sadness, even in the absence of confidence, I had to walk on.

And then an amazing thing happened. It always happens. I always come out of it. But this time it was so dramatic, this switching back on of all my facilities, this return of hope and confidence, that everyone around me noticed the change. My inner power source was lit again. I began blogging immediately, even though I was dealing with a major breakup AND depression. This new drug, somehow, lifted the sleep-like fog that had suffocated me and my loved ones for the last 6 months. Like night and day, I was writing, contemplating new songs for my band to rehearse, I was imagining myself back in a relationship, with a good job and plans for the future. I was reborn.

And that type of swing is scary as shit. It’s horrifying for the people arround you to see the lights go out and their happy friend vanish into some abyss of sadness. In depression my thoughts become so heavy, my very existence becomes so tentative, that I simply STFU (shut the fuck up). I can’t tell you how I’m feeling, so don’t ask. If I told you it would freak both of us out. I can’t express my utter rage and disappointment with my life or my illness that seems to routinely rip all the joy and hope in my life. So I get real quiet. And for someone who writes, and someone who loves to talk and laugh, this transition becomes obvious and dramatic for everyone around me.

Okay, so I have this illness. I have this diagnosis that isn’t ever going to change. I might have long periods of stability and progress, but in the shadows is ALWAYS this prospect of losing it all in a wash of bad chemicals in my brain. It’s no joking matter. My family and a very select group of friends knows or have seen my loss. For everyone else around me, I just seem to disappear. Sure I”m still ON Facebook but I’m not posting anymore, I’m lurking and feeling sorry for myself that so many of you are going on with your normal, amazing, everyday lives. I’m stuck in the asylum of my mind, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to stay out of bed in the afternoon, and struggling with the simple tasks like shaving and dressing in normal clothes every day.

And, once again, I’m hopeful. Once again I have confidence to look for a high-powered marketing job. Once, again, I’m open to looking for a new relationship, even though my last one was crushed under the weight of my sadness.

That’s the part that I’m more in touch with than ever. Okay, doc, so I’m going to go through cycles of this the rest of my life? I’m not sure how to plan for that, or tell prospective mates that they might lose me at any moment, but I’m willing to take the steps to keep moving forward. The dragon, my depression, is with me. He’s not going anywhere. And to fight him is to fight and destroy myself. So instead, I’m going to love and befriend this dragon of mine. And while the beast has the fire power to destroy my life again, I have hope, I have confidence, and I press on with the believe that understanding will make the cycles less potent., the depression less debilitating. Still I’ve got to talk to any prospective mate about this dragon before we begin making future plans. And while I’m not ready to check the box on job applications that says I have a disability, inside I know I do. Inside I know the fall is just a slight tweak of my brain chemistry in the wrong direction.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  my temporary tattoo, creative commons usage allowed

The WholeParent Mission: Positive Single Parenting Year Four

Here’s the starting mission statement written back in Sept. 2013.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

I thought I would give pause and reflect, update, muse, on what’s been going on here and in my single-parenting life.

One way I’ve wavered from the original missions, is the 100% positive part. I realised that not letting any of the anger, conflict, and struggles out was not painting a very accurate picture of being a single dad. So, while I try to keep the focus on myself and not others, I am sure I have let a zinger or two fly here. I think it’s more important to be real.

I do believe that my kids come first. The marriage is over, but my parenting never ends. If I can stay focused on their wellbeing I can get over any frustrations I have with their mom. I am committed to being the best dad I can be, in spite of troubles, depression, anger, flights of fancy.

And the final mission, “honest feelings” is the glue that makes this entire adventure work. I think that’s what keeps this blog going even when I’m not contributing to it. I went on a year or more hiatus from writing here and the blog was still getting 100 – 200 reads per day. That’s pretty exciting. So, it seems like my voice is resonating with some folks. I’ll do my best to continue, even in the hard times, even in the blissful times when I don’t feel like writing. Most of all I will continue to be the best single dad I can be. And if I can give you a glimpse of what my life is like, struggles and all, then I have done my best for you as well.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  recent pic of me, creative commons usage allowed