The chicken or the egg question often perplexes me still. Did I fall out of the womb depressed? Did I turn depressed over time? How do I cure my depression? Clearly chocolate is not helping and neither is Dairy Queen. Are all addicts depressed? Are we depressed because we are addicted? OR were we depressed and then became addicted? Then the medication question comes in? Who is the real me? Ultimately, these permeate my addict brain bouncing off the edges like an out of control ping-pong ball. The good news, however, is that “why?” is the one question, I often ask myself, that I have come to realize I do not really have to answer. The more I search around the dark corners of my mind to figure out why, the more that I waste time not being mindful and present. The more I start to wallow in the dark corners of my psyche seem to directly correlate to me forgetting to be grateful and becoming morbidly, mentally obese.
I believe that I suffer from both physiological and psychological depression. That is not the point. The point here is that I have battled with it for years and continue to battle it everyday in some way. The good news is that it has not caused me the same suffering with such longevity as it has in the past. I have contemplated the ultimate departure and written suicide notes, thought long and hard if I was ready to end it all, and tried to decide if there was anything in my life worth living for. The thoughts sometimes still creep in just like urges to use, as part of this horrid disease of addiction. Today, however, I now have healthy ways to cope. I have people on my side of the ring and the hope part of my brain is often more active than the hopeless lobe!
As I write this, I recall vividly, the salty taste of tears streaming down my face, inhaling my dirty pillow case and sneaking glimpses of my kitten, at the time, wondering how the hell I could take care of her. I wondered if adopting her became my way to save myself, but it was clear that I was unable to save myself, with a cat or with my own tools. I had none. I recall feeling guilty that I now had to take care of another living being, one that I brought home to fix myself and help provide me with a sense of purpose. How could I be so naive and selfish to think that Lucy, my new addition to my family of one at the time, would save me? I was certain that this was the beginning of my life as the proverbial cat lady, alone with 47 cats, who clearly resented me…because why wouldn’t they? They were plotting my death and pissed off that I tried to save them in the first place..nevermind in a manipulative way to save myself.
Lucy is still thriving, although slightly big-boned, and still a single fur-daughter of two mommies. Tracing my thoughts to my tear-stained pillow, I can only attribute my survival success on hope and faith and others not giving up on me. However, these two tiny, yet powerful words, hope and faith, have provided me with additional tools to keep me from being that person I was so sure I was destined to become. Hopeless, worthless, and a waste of air.
Below I have outlined a few little tips that have become my go-to coping mechanisms. These have assisted me in getting help for myself in times of dire need. They have not always worked at all times. I find that having an arsenal, a non-lethal one, of choices has helped me to tailor my own course of action dependent upon what was happening at the time. Not all crises are created equally. I needed to, over time, find a quality recipe for each time I faced the ultimate wall of hopeless despair.
- FIND A HOMICIDE-PREVENTION COACH For lack of a better way to succinctly describe the kind of coach I found, I have dubbed it this. I guess I could call it a life coach but there are already so many connotations with life-coaching. My main goal was not to kill myself or others or look like a complete psychopath in life situations where I was meant to keep it together. My homicide-prevention coach sought me out. She kind of took me under her wing and decided that she would show up at my house every morning, at 7:00 AM or earlier, for over a month to get me out and active. Not being a morning person at all, I often showed up quite disheveled and only managed to brush my teeth. I suppose that’s actually a step in the right direction! I often had lines on my face from sleep and my eyes were barely open with sleep crusted in the corners. I relinquished all control and allowed her to lead me through our busy morning neighborhood by school buses and business peeps and just literally did what she said. She said “Hi!” cheerfully to every person who walked by and I grumbled hoping they didn’t recognize me or my despair. She was not a sponsor as in the recovery variety. She sort of sponsored me as a person, I suppose. With drool lines on my face, rain or shine, I showed up to my front porch and she was always there when she said she would be. It was actually a great lesson in accountability and the best part was that I made a friend who really seemed to care about me. I did find it funny, however, that our walks in the morning were only warm ups to her runs! Maybe I was really helping her?
- SHOWER–UNLESS SMELLING LIKE AN ONION IS YOUR GOAL For the love of God, showering was the hardest thing for me when I was depressed. I found it more normal to try to not smell when having to actually leave the house than to just take a 5-10 minute much-needed shower. As each day led to the next, the more days I did not shower, the more deep my despair became. I’m pretty sure roommates cursed me and my cat was having dreams of which part to feast on when I was gone as I probably looked like death. My wife grew concerned when depression crept up and all she wanted was a Dove-scented happy wife beside her. I often struggled with getting out of my own way. Luckily, I pushed myself with the help of friends, family, and my own germ-phobic psyche. As I showered more, my depression lessened. It did not cure my pain, fix anything (except maybe my marriage?!), nor did it catapult me into the best self-care practices. It just did what a shower is supposed to which eventually helped me with all of those things. It allowed me to feel clean and “normal.” That was enough to keep me from falling deeper into my feelings. It helped me to navigate life better.
- READ A BOOK When I tell you that my library at home looked I should have a PhD on the end of my name, it is the absolute truth. I equated my number of self-help books carefully organized in my bookcase to my sanity (or maybe my insanity!) I felt that if I had every book imaginable on recovery, depression, mental illness, theories, historians, workbooks, meditation books, daily reflections, philosophers, psychotherapists, etc., I would be better. I began to believe that I could fix myself and save money on prescriptions and doctors. I would make sense of it all, my own personal literary AHA moment and save the world with my self-help books. In fact, reality was that I was more confused. With most of my workbooks and texts half scribbled in, with random, mood-related doodles and faded highlights creating strange patterns of afflictions that I was trying to cure, I still felt empty. Read a good fiction or non-fiction, memoir, about someone else. Get outside of you. This method of distraction helped me in two ways. First, it prevented me from wallowing any further in my own pain. Second, it allowed me hope, especially if it was a memoir that demonstrated someone else healing and overcoming great challenges.
These are only three of the many tools and tricks I have filed away in my brain for depressive symptoms. There are many more and they will be part of future posts. These are the few that I find to be in the forefront of my mind as they are the few that I have used more consistently.
I recently turned 41 years old. When I was even just 15 years younger, I often thought I was so hopeless that I would literally be found in a hopeless state of feline confusion with cats sitting on my head, begging for food, and a comatose me staring at a blank wall. Luckily for me, I was able to hold onto tiny bits of hope during all of my depressive episodes. The best thing I have learned is that I am a much more active part of my own life than I ever thought. By doing these three simple things almost every day, I find it that much easier to steer clear of negative thoughts. Now the only time my house smells like onions is when my wife is cooking something yummy!