And When October Goes

I’ve ‘borrowed’ the title for this post from a song sung by Barry Manilow. The music and lyrics are both haunting in their own way. It goes like this:

And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smoky roofs
I watch the planes go by

The children running home beneath
A twilight sky
Oh, for the fun of them
When I was one of them

And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years
I turn my head away to hide
The helpless tears
Oh, how I hate to see October go

And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years
I turn my head away to hide
The helpless tears
Oh, how I hate to see October go

I should be over it now, I know
It doesn’t matter much how old I grow
I hate to see October go

I remember clearly the first time that, in hindsight, I experienced the onset of S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). It was not a diagnosis that many years ago when I first experienced it. I was in my first semester at college, and my dorm room’s windows faced out to a beautiful tree-lined scape just off of campus. My desk was in front of those windows, and I can still visualize looking out the windows towards that scape. The first sightings of the leaves changing color was a magnificent kaleidoscope of golds and oranges and reds, but all too soon, those colors disappeared and the trees became tall, gangly big sticks with bare limbs that seemed almost garish compared to the splendor that had just been there. It set me into a state of melancholy that I couldn’t seem to shake. In my eyes, the view was so ugly that, with my roommate’s permission, we moved things around so that my back was to the window instead of facing it. That way, I could still benefit from the natural light without being able to see the scenery.

Finally speaking to my physician, nearly 20 years later, I mentioned how I was beginning to feel at our October appointment, and the diagnosis was made. I was given a mild anti-depressant to see if it would help, and it did seem to. I stayed on that medication until the following March. I also followed her suggestion and would make myself go outside, facing the sun, no matter how cold it got, as long as there was bright sunshine. The next fall, the same prescription was offered, but it didn’t seem to have much benefit. The dosage was doubled, and I learned that this particular medication doesn’t always offer relief being taken ‘seasonally’ like we had done. It’s now part of my daily regimen 365 days a year.

A few years ago, I was working in what was a pretty dark space without fluorescent lighting or much in the way of natural light. I ended up taking quick breaks, whenever I could, to go stand out in the sun with my eyes closed and my face upwards.

Now, I’m pretty able to handle what happens when the change of seasons is in full swing and winter sets in far too early. Older now, I’m not as keen on going outside when it’s cold, but I do have west-facing windows in my home which get full afternoon sun, so I might stand at them for some minutes and capture the brightness of the sun. Last winter, although it was mild in terms of snow/ice, it also seemed more gloomy with many less sunny days. Ironically, I now spend my time worrying about how bad this year’s onset of S.A.D. will be. I’ve been blessed to not have had a serious depression for almost two years – the last one I had was just after the holidays and it was intense and long-lasting. As is my habit, I simply shut myself away and pretended, when necessary, that I was okay. It will always be difficult to talk about that darkness with anyone who has not experienced it, who cannot fathom what it feels like. I’ve only begun opening up about it with people I truly trust, and letting them know that there is nothing they can do to help fix it – that I only need them to not be afraid of the darkness and be willing just to sit with me in it. I’ve said it many times, but perhaps never in this blog, that so many people want to stand above the dark hole and shine light down or reach down with a hand to pull me up. Those things don’t help – in fact, they often make it worse, as I see them as a way of indicating that I should just pull myself up. Don’t you think I would if I could??? The only thing you can do to help me is to sit in the dark with me, as a silent reminder, almost, that the demons inside me aren’t as scary (to you) as I think they are (to me). That’s the kind of reassurance I need.

So, it’s October already, and in the shittiest year in which I’ve ever lived, and as each day passes on the calendar, I can’t help but ponder if and when good ole’ S.A.D. will make its appearance. I’m already mentally preparing for it and using my old stand-by of “expect the worst, that way you’re never disappointed”.

If any of my readers suffer from S.A.D. – diagnosed or not – know that I am the best person to reach out to! Really! I’m too busy fighting my own demons to be afraid of yours!

Mental Health Awareness Event

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month (May), one of the partnered streamers on the Mixer platform, where I’ve been known to hang out, put together a special 7-hour (come and go as you please) event featuring other streamers telling their stories of dealing with sometimes physical but often invisible mental health issues. Its intent was to bring both awareness and compassion about these issues and how people have learned to cope with them.

I went at the very beginning of the event, as the music streamer I adore was ending her streaming session and sending us over there with a host to show our support. It was nice to be there with people who were familiar to me, and I saw a few other familiar people from other streams I also visit.

Several hundred people were there while I was. It was pretty awesome that so many people showed up offering their support. Some of the people in the chat were also sharing a little bit of their own issues, but mostly the chat was full of kind words and a lot of ‘heart’ displays, offering love and encouragement.

But here’s what happened….. After about an hour and several different people sharing their stories, that voice inside my head started rearing its ugly self, and I found myself questioning why I sometimes feel bad for the ways my mental health plagues me, when all of these people had it SO MUCH WORSE than I do! I listened to a man with Tourette’s Syndrome talk about being bullied and the effect it had on his mental health. I listened to a woman who had ignored her mental health so forcefully that it began to affect her physically and she now suffers with tremors in her arm as a result. I watched a couple do an almost comedic skit about anxiety and panic attacks (I’ve had one panic attack, many years ago now). And as I began processing their stories, that voice shouted at me, “Geez, Jody, you’ve got nothing to feel bad about! Pull up your big-girl panties and just get over it already!”

But that’s not really the worst of it. That voice, usually internalized and directed at me, now finds itself wanting to shout those same words to other people. I have a dear friend, whom I love and adore, who has repeatedly mentioned on social media that she “needs a pool!” She is an avid swimmer, and someone who works at keeping her body toned. And I understand on most levels how frustrated she is because an important part of her life has been sidelined for the foreseeable future. Yet, I can’t help but compare that with people who have lost far more and fight not to respond with, “Pull up your big-girl panties and just get over it already!”

I don’t like that person when I look at her in the mirror. It’s not who I am. In my own life, I remind myself daily to be grateful to have the things I need – housing and food and basic necessities, income that provides for my basic needs – and try not to focus on things I want. I mean, in my eyes, I really need a haircut, but getting one is not life-sustaining. I need to get my nails done because they are now so long that they get in my way, but I could do a botched-up job of cutting them myself and manage to survive. I desperately need a hug from my brother, but as long as I keep telling myself that it will come – in time – I’m able to hang on.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important that we vent our frustrations – far better than letting them bottle up inside us. But we all are dealing with frustrations over the pandemic, not to mention the frustration of great political turmoil here in the US. For our own sanity, at some point, don’t we need to face the fact that “it is what it is” and figure out how to deal with it? Or at the very least, how not to let it control us?

I’d be very interested in how my readers are dealing with their frustrations and managing to cope. Please share in the comments. And hey, thanks for listening to me vent mine! <smile>

Shaky but Surviving

I haven’t added a post here for quite a few days. That’s partly because I haven’t really thought I had anything important to share. The other part of it is that I was letting myself take advantage of the almost constant “napping” that my body wanted as part of the physical symptoms of a bout of depression.

Until Monday, I hadn’t been consciously feeling any of the mental stigma of depression, but I found myself quickly becoming defensive with someone, which I later realized was that I was feeling attacked. This morning, for whatever reason, I got ‘attacked’ emotionally from several angles and it broke me. I had a pretty major melt-down and a good cleansing cry.

Sometimes, when I’m struggling for whatever reason, I often think that a good cry would make me feel better. My female readers will probably understand that and have probably felt that way at times. Growing up, as I expressed in a previous post, I was someone who would cry at just the simple saddest thing. I can remember crying over mushy Hallmark card commercials, even though the commercials were full of happiness. For some reason now, I have to almost WORK at making myself cry. I’ve pondered that from time to time, undecided if I just want people to see me be strong or if I’ve conditioned myself in ways to actually BE that strong. Either way, it’s not something that comes easily for me.

But earlier this morning, I broke. I won’t go into details – most of you wouldn’t understand – but I had a meltdown and the tears just came. At the time, I felt defeated but now – now I feel like I needed it to happen! I mean, it’s not a pleasant experience, but it did it’s job of cleansing me and the weight I felt like I was carrying, so I don’t regret it.

I share this because I’m hoping others will realize it has to be okay for you to not always be the one others see as strong and invincible! I share it to help you realize that sometimes just letting it express itself is good medicine! While I’m still a little shaken from everything that caused the meltdown and the experience itself, I have no regrets for it. I’m calling letting it all come out a form of ‘self-care’ and it’s obvious I needed some!

So, my point is – sometimes it’s okay not to be okay! We are all equipped with a myriad of emotions, good and bad, and I’m sure it’s impossible for us to live in 100% good emotions all the time. But hey, if you can do that, please share your tips!

Depression is not contagious

I find myself shaking my head that I even feel the need to write this post. But apparently, though modern society has come to accept depression as a disease, modern man who has not experienced depression really has no concept of how to handle it when it’s present in others.

The word depression itself can be seen in many things. There are economic depressions. There are weather depressions. You depress a plunger into a clogged toilet. But clinically, while depression has many shapes and forms, it is categorized by a sense of melancholy and sadness. But being sad is not the same as being depressed. We all experience times of sadness – for example, the loss of a loved one or beloved pet – but the blues that envelope us at these times of sadness do eventually wane. Even multiple days of gloomy weather can cause sadness in some people.

There are multiple names given to differing depressions. Some are purely chemical in nature, caused by the brain, and can only be treated with medications. Some are more a sense of moodiness and loss of interest and unwillingness to participate in even daily living.

I’m sure I could research and write paragraph after paragraph about all of the forms of depression, all of the symptoms of depression, all of the treatments of depression.

The most common treatment for a person experiencing depression is psychotherapy. A trained professional engages the depressed person in “talk” sessions in order to determine if there exists a root problem that causes the symptoms and feelings. But some are unable – or maybe unwilling – to put those feelings out to another person. Some people have trouble expressing their emotions, fearing judgement or rejection. Others have been taught to believe that anyone with a mental dysfunction is “crazy”.

Even if you’ve never experienced depression, can we all agree that the people who do experience it don’t want to? Who wants to feel lethargic, moody, uninterested in being around their loved ones (just a few of the symptoms)?

Some of us more seasoned depressives (mine dates back to onset in my college days) have been through all of the psychiatry and psychotherapy steps (sometimes more than once!). The best we can hope for is to understand the feelings and symptoms, acknowledge them and let them run their course. In a sense, it’s like having a really bad case of the flu…there is nothing to do except try to ease the symptoms and acknowledge that, with time (and maybe a change in the constant gloomy weather), we’ll pick ourselves up by our boot straps and get back to living life. And while we may not feel the need to get (back) into psychotherapy, we may be seasoned enough to be okay letting others know that we’re feeling depressed.

And this, my readers, is where my title fits in. Depression IS a disease, but it is NOT contagious! You can’t catch it from a depressed person just by being with them. But what you can do, if someone is brave enough to share these vulnerable feelings, is ask what you might be able to do for them. Helping them – whether asking if they’d like to talk about it, or maybe offering to take them out to eat to get them outside of themselves, however temporarily, or a text simply asking them how they’re feeling, maybe a funny joke or meme shared across social media – all of these will give them moments of respite from being inside themselves. But, it’s important that you give this your attention, as much as if it were a physical trauma. Don’t offer ‘advice’ – things you think they should try or do. Don’t simply say something like, “Gee, I hope you feel better soon” or, worse yet, completely ignore the experience. And perhaps worst, don’t tell them to “get over it”! If someone is courageous enough to share with you that they are having “mental problems”, don’t disregard that they are suffering, even if you can’t physically see it. Be present and be honored that they trust you enough to not fear judgement or rejection. And keep being present. You may be the only link they have to normalcy at a time when everything is abnormal.