Friday, August 29, 2014


This is just a short thing to let those few readers I have know that this blog is going on a semi-hiatus. I've started school, and it's proving a little more difficult than I anticipated to get into the swing of things with it. So, I'm giving myself permission not to write for non-school related things, like this blog. I might still write some things, if I have the time and inclination, but no promises (of course, I haven't been very productive on here of late anyway, so it's not that much of a change). Once school is over, I'll consider being more productive on the blog again.

Thanks for reading, past, present, and maybe in the future.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Choosing life in the face of depression

In the wake of Robin Williams's recent death to apparent suicide, Dan Fincke of Camels With Hammers wrote a beautiful piece about how he viewed Robin Williams's life and death. Let me highlight a few parts that called out to me:
Reading the various lamentations of the suicide of Robin Williams, I’m troubled by the tendency for people to take a single deed to define a man’s entire disposition towards life. There is a tendency to frame what happened as Williams losing his battle with depression. Or to take his act of suicide as his ultimate verdict on the value of his life, or of life itself. 
But it’s neither of these things. 
Monday he had a bad day with depression. A lethally bad day. 
But had he been lucky enough to survive it, he would have likely regretted it. Most survivors of suicide attempts are glad to be alive. And his judgment day after day prior, over the course of decades of struggles, was that life was worth enduring even through the blackest nights of addiction and mental illness. He transmuted his pain into enduring art. It took the form of manic, exuberant, genius, edge-of-the-seat improvisational stage comedy that exuded life more than any other comedian’s. And it took the form of painfully self-revealing dramatic performances. He played so many characters who brimmed with combustible desperation and vulnerability.
And then later in the piece he wrote:
And those are the twin things to remember about life. Nobody gets out alive. We all die. Whatever the cause. But in most places on most days, everybody gets out alive. No matter how bleak things are for us, most of us live to fight another day. And it’s the same for those struggling with depression. Most days, they win. Most days, they endure. Most days, they choose life. 
On their darkest days the simple act of breathing is an act of hope. Even when the mind and heart feel like they’re in despair, they manage to breathe. They manage to take themselves to the next moment and see what it has to offer. 
My point is that people who struggle with suicide win their lives over and over again. They choose life more often than those who never make living into a question. They survive numerous ledges that their minds push them out onto, managing over and over again not to fall. And we should appreciate what their high wire skills tell us about them and what matters to them. Each time they choose their family, their friends, their life’s cause, or even just the next day, it’s a choice. It’s a choice to continue valuing and to continue giving.
If you've read this blog, or you know me personally, you know I've battled, and still battle, against depression. In my worst periods I've been suicidal. One night when I was 19 I got off work, and realized that if I went home, I might not --probably wouldn't-- survive the night (actually, I didn't even consider it in question). I made the choice to self-admit myself into the psych ward at a local hospital. I had to choose to think that life could be worth it -- or at least, that it was worth finding out. I didn't really think of it in those terms at the time, but that's what it was. To me, it seemed like I was battling twin desires: the desire to live, and the desire to end the pain. I made the choice to live.

Some years later, in my third year at college, I made two attempts at suicide, two attempts to choose an end to the pain. In one (I don't remember which was first), I started to cut my wrist before stopping myself. In the other, I started swallowing sleeping pills and chasing them with alcohol. In both cases, as I was doing it, I thought about what my suicide would do to my friends and family, my loved ones. I thought of the pain it would cause them. In the case of the sleeping pill attempt, I remembered the clear and obvious concern on a friend's face who ran into me as I was buying the alcohol I was planning to drink with the pills. I didn't tell him what I was planning, but I still noted that concern. And that concern was instrumental in making the choice to stop swallowing pills. In the wrist cutting attempt, I actually wrote a note, addressed to my roommate, and the process of that writing reminded me of her caring. And so, I could not finish the cut once I started. 

I made the choice then to stop, but though this may sound bad, it wasn't an easy choice. This was one of the worst periods of my life, probably my worst bout of depression, and every day was a battle. The sense of despair and hopelessness was at times overwhelming, and I can say that without hyperbole. 

But now I'm glad. I'm glad that I chose to live, even with all the pain I was in. I'm glad that I'm alive now to face yet another bout of depression, one that saps my ability to concentrate on things I'd normally enjoy, like reading or playing video games. I'm not suicidal this time (another thing I'm glad for), and I'm not giving up. I'm choosing to face this, and live. 

Thank you, Dan Fincke, for your beautiful words.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

More depression is depressing

Lately, I've been more depressed. It started, I think, at the end of May. It was subtle at first, and I didn't notice right away. I shouldn't be surprised that I didn't notice. Depression symptoms generally come in patterns over time. It doesn't always immediately manifest itself as some overwhelming feeling of "depressed." Sometimes there are feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair, but not always. And even when they do appear, they can be subtle, and creep up on you until suddenly they're there, and they've been there all along, like the Silence from Doctor Who.

But feelings aren't at the crux of my current symptoms. Not those feelings anyway, though I can sometimes sense them creeping up on me. I've been managing to hold them off for now. No, instead there are patterns of behavior and difficulty.

Let's just start with the pattern that I spotted first, probably because it seems to be the most important. I haven't been thinking "deep thoughts." I haven't been reading those posts on feminism and atheism that I usually enjoy reading, or reading posts on philosophy and ethics, or reading news stories that I would generally follow (the Hobby Lobby decision, for example). I haven't been taking the time to think through many issues or questions of importance.

When I try to read up on things, to examine complex posts online, I can't concentrate. It's exhausting just trying to get through a few paragraphs, and I find myself struggling to understand what I've read. This is complete and utter bullshit, because that's just not me, and yet it's happening.

So, I've caught myself avoiding such things. I didn't even notice I was doing that at first. I've been using video games in an attempt to avoid doing any mental heavy lifting. But then, I find myself not enjoying the game I'm playing, and quit after a relatively short period of time. Again, that's not like me. And since I don't want to watch anything on Netflix, because that's another thing I struggle to enjoy lately (at least I still enjoy sex), I find myself pacing, restlessly, not knowing what to do with myself.

Before this depressive stage hit, I'd been working on a project to better myself, to become a better version of me. About all I've managed to keep from that is attempts at exercise (though even that had fallen by the side for a bit). I've been exercising a little bit every day, but it's a struggle to keep going. My wife's been wonderful in helping to hold me accountable for the exercising, and without her, I think I would have given up already. Which would have made me feel worse. Unfortunately, I don't really enjoy the exercise I've been doing. It's a 30 day challenge (part of an app I'm using) though, so I don't want to quit to do something different until I've completed the 30 days. If I did, I think I'd feel worse, like a loser. However, once that 30 days is done, I'm switching to weight training at the gym. I actually enjoy lifting weights (and I hope I still do).

There's outside factors as well, things that cause stress. Worry about how we're going to manage financially with our first child on the way, worry about how this depression is going to affect my school work, some relationship issues with a friend (which have been resolved), and the like. But much of that started after these other symptoms started, so while they feed into the depression, they are not causing it.

No, the cause is once again just my brain breaking on me. As such, at my last psych appointment a few days ago, we upped the dosage on my Abilify to see if it helps alleviate symptoms. Maybe it's helping. I'm writing this after all, and this was something that I'd been avoiding as well. So this could be a good sign.

One way or another, I'll get through this. I have to keep believing that, even though it can be a struggle to maintain hope and optimism at times like these. I'll get through this.