I suffer from a mental illness. We like to talk about mental health these days, saying “illness” is sort of shaming. I’m over it, however, so I can call my own malady whatever I want. Let us begin a new story, today.
The Max Powers Recovery Story
- Max is not a real person
- Max is my hypo-manic persona
- Max can run circles around most of his peers both creatively, energetically, and emotionally (not always in the positive direction)
- Max has learned, over time, to manage his raging joy, his flights of fantasy, his ambitions to become the next Brene Brown or Tony Robbins.
- Max can be self-aware and managing beautifully
- Max can lose all hope, even from this “high” place
- When Max loses hope terrible things begin to happen in his chemical body, in his thoughts, and in his relationship to everyone around him
Have you got some Max in you?
Of course, it’s no mystery, that I am Max. The second tab on this blog is Dark Days. Hello. If you’ve just arrived here from the “dating a single dad” section of my blog, welcome, we’re glad you joined us. Have a seat and listen. Feel free to ask questions at any time. This is a safe place and I am going to tell you a few stories about how I’ve gotten my Depression (capital “d’) in check as an adult. Let me clarify: I have not cured myself of depression. And, I am sad to say, depression is going to be a part of my range of emotions for the rest of my life. And…
Here’s the Good News About Your Brain and Depression
A lot of my suffering comes directly from my poor thinking. The stories I tell myself cause me more pain, and deeper depressions. And while I’m not powerless, there are parts of this disease (bi-polar, depression, manic depression, mental illness) that I can control. I am 100% in control of my own actions and my own reactions to my current mood.
- Moods and feelings are only part of my emotional body
- I can feel the feeling (sadness, for example) and still do the work that needs to be done
- By practicing gratitude and mindfulness I an affect the course and duration of my depression
- I am not in charge (I believe in a power greater than myself – call it what/who you like) at the highest level, but I am responsible for my actions or lack of effort
Your Brain Is Healing Itself this Very Moment
For me, depression is the harder side of my illness. When I’m ON, as I am right now writing this, I use my energy and management skills to make sure I don’t act out in a manner that is not in my best interest, or the best interest of my family and friends. When I’m in a LOW (as I was from November 18, 2018 to mid-March 2019) it is harder to remain optimistic. It is harder to imagine how things will get better. How will my prayers, my 12-step meetings, and my efforts to be with other people help me reemerge from my dark cloud. My body and mind are telling me to huddle in my under the covers of my bed like a wounded fox.
Your brain has learned some pretty sophisticated defense mechanisms over time. When you are accelerating into a high, your brain becomes superconductive at firing off the feel-good synapses. When you are freefalling into a dark period of sadness, your brain is pretty good at shutting parts of itself down so you won’t injure yourself. These hyper-fluid chemical pathways in the brain become well-grooved over time. Feel good? Your brain has fast-reacting circuits to support your renewed energy. Feel sad? Your brain might trigger sleepiness in order to begin a self-correcting process. For me, depression is harder to ferret out. But, depression is the part of the bi-polar spectrum that most requires my attention and self-awareness.
Max Powers – The Blue Period Surrounding Christmas 2018
In the real world, Max suffered some serious emotional blows in 2018. His older brother died of cancer. His young and vibrant girlfriend flipped out at left a few days before the death. She was afraid of the closeness of our relationship and the tension of the dying family member. When discussing the break up a few months later, she said, “It was the six-month milestone. That’s usually when I jump.”
For a few months, Max was able to keep busy with the new dog, the new freelance marketing projects, and getting to the tennis courts as often as possible. But on one November weekend, Max, also a single dad, took his two children to New York City to see a play and hang out. And the trip was filled with love, togetherness, fun, and closeness, that when returning home, and back to the fractional dad role, Max slipped into a moment of despair. He rallied. (SEE: Death Ponies) He rebooted his recovery and health regimens with a vengeance. And yet, Max slipped into a sadness.
As Christmas approached, Max knew that things were going to be hard. His two kids were leaving with their mom and would not be around for the holidays. His sister and her two kids were also traveling over Christmas. So Max and his mom would be weathering the dreary Christmas celebrations together.
Max is Alone But Not Out
Here’s what Max did knowing the coming winter months were going to be challenging both emotionally and mentally.
- He met with this therapist each week
- He went to al-anon meetings as a way to not isolate in his sadness
- He called his al-anon sponsor for support
- He played as much tennis as he could arrange – even when he didn’t feel like it
- He walked around the lake (4-miles) when he couldn’t find a tennis partner
- He wrote a gratitude list and three positive action items every morning – then he did the actions
- He stayed close to his mom, who was suffering from her own sad moods
- He kept praying and meditating
The Holidays Were Hard & New Year’s Eve Wasn’t a Celebration
Going through the motions when you are depressed is very hard. It’s easier to collapse, declare yourself depressed, and resolve to wait for better days, better moods. But the reality is, your actions directly affect your moods. Yes, exercise is more potent and effective at raising your mood than any antidepressant. The trick is to acknowledge the depressed state you are in and take the actions you can to make yourself feel better. (See list above.) It won’t happen immediately. Just like the depression doesn’t hit you one day like the flu, your recovery won’t miraculously lift you back to cloud nine. It is a process.
The part of the mix that Max was struggling with the most was his attitude and anger at being depressed. Max likes to live his life a bit hotter than most people. (That’s how bi-polar works.) And when Max is in his “above average” state, also called hypo-mania, he feels most alive, most creative, and most happy. But when that exhilaration is not present, Max will often beat himself up for not “being on his game.”
During the holidays last year, Max had a ton of heavy emotions weighing down on his spirit and his mood. He missed his kids. He missed his older brother. He missed having a romantic partner to bounce things off of. Max had a lot of existential depression. (Existential depression: related to the reality of your existence and completely out of your control.) And for Max, sometimes, the existential stress caused his mood to drop out of his happy place and into something more depressed. But, here was the big AH-HA moment for Max, as he looked back on the sadness of the 2018 Holidays: Max was sad, disappointed, and lonely, but Max was NOT DEPRESSED.
How Max Learned to Love All of His Moods
During that dark period, last year, Max was definitely unhappy. But Max continued to fight against the depressive tendencies in his past, and Max worked hard to keep doing the things he knew would make him feel better. He didn’t want to play tennis, but he knew playing tennis would make his body and brain more happy. He didn’t want to get out of bed, shower and shave and go to a 10 am al-anon meeting, but he did it anyway. He didn’t ever feel like walking around the lake, especially when the weather turned cold, but Max called up some good music, bundled up, and walked anyway.
Max learned a powerful lesson as he reflected back on his “depression” of 2018. What made Max feel even worse than the sad things that had happened in his life, was how Max was getting down on himself for being sad. On Max’s mood scale he had fallen from his 6’s and 7’s to a 3. And while a 3 is fully-functional and within normal, Max hated it. He hated not having the inspirations associated with more creative/active states. He was disappointed in himself for letting the “depression” overwhelm him again. All around him he was getting praise for his attitude and optimism, but inside Max was furious that he was not “kicking ass and taking names.”
Max Reframes His Depression
Here’s Max’s mood scale.
What Max learned over the course of this past DOWN state, was that being at a 3 sucks, in his mind. But it sucks mostly because of his own self-criticism and anger. Max actually did quite well through the hardships of the holidays. Yes, his mood and energy were not where he wanted them to be, but his spirit and his resolve to keep working his recovery program were strong and admirable. What Max learned was to celebrate even the 3’s. Love himself even when he’s not feeling like a rockstar. And he learned, to keep at the program, keep going to al-anon meetings, keep reaching out for help, keep getting exercise-good food-sleep. And if things get out of hand, Max has a meds doctor on-call who can help if a chemical depression begins to emerge.
Max Powers, today, is walking into the 2019 Holiday season with a much better plan. Take care of all the things you can take care of. Work your program. Let go of the things you cannot control. And be aware that a 3 is a good day. It may not be the best day or the day you wanted. but no one can stay at 6’s and 7’s forever. And “Meh” is okay. “Meh” is a natural part of living. If we can appreciate and celebrate even the “Meh” zone, we can learn to be happier about our lives in all of our marvelous mood states.
Take care of Max, take care of yourself and your loved ones. Let me know how I can help.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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More articles from The Whole Parent:
- Important Read: Fighting Back Against Depression: How to be a Friend
- Am I a Suicide Statistic?
- When Contemplating Suicide (In the Final Seconds of Life)
- Voyeurism, Sadness, and Traveling Alone: a Tincture of Depression
- Asking for Support is Hard for Most of Us, Especially Men
Here are my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End