Tag Archives: mental illness

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

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