Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mind the Gap

Today is Hallowe'en, the very last day of October, and here I am writing only my fourth blog post of the month. It's not that I have been starved for material: there have been Presidential Debates, horrific stories about bullying, the usual crap from Rob Ford and his ilk. It is National Bullying Prevention Month; I was accepted as a Zoo Volunteer; my beautiful partner had a big birthday; it's the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But no matter how many times I have started to put together a few thoughts for a new piece, I have found myself unable to carry through on it. I could make up excuses, like I have done all my life. I could tell you I've been under the weather (true for part of the month); I could tell you I have been too busy planning Sarah's surprise party (also not a fabrication, entirely); I could say I was having computer troubles, or physical pains, or needed a new prescription for my glasses, or myriad other things and you would probably take it on good faith. But while none of these statements is completely false, they have had very little to do with my absence for weeks at a time from this blog.

The plain and honest truth of the matter is this: I am depressed.

I have been fighting depression for most of my adult life—likely much of my childhood, too—and I think it's reasonable to assume I will be doing so for the rest of my days on Earth. At times I have received counseling for it; medication has also helped in the past and, some times, caused more problems than it has solved. But the simple truth—although there is truly nothing "simple" about it—is that I am at constant risk of a wave of depression coming upon me with very little warning and virtually paralyzing me emotionally.

I say "very little warning" and it's mostly true; however, in recent years I have been able to look back on the events and circumstances immediately proceeding the worst bouts and recognize some rudimentary patterns. For example, the last post I made here was on October 4. (After I post this today I may well back-date some later blog pieces, such as a narrative about Sarah's party, so let me put on record here that, as of this writing, there have been postings on October 2, 3 and 4 and nothing since.) Not coincidentally, as I have discovered through my own self-analysis, this was the same day that we turned off all of our air conditioning units for the year. In particular, the one in our bedroom was still running on a "fan" setting but it had become too cold to continue that practice. Once the white noise of the a/c units was removed from our lives I found it very difficult to get to, and maintain, sleep for a great many nights—more than a couple of weeks, as a matter of fact. Of the numerous triggers I am aware of for my episodes the one that seems to be at the head of the list in terms of greatest overall impact is a lack of sleep. When I am overtired, every molehill becomes a mountain and the molehills themselves seem to multiply exponentially.

Other factors that have led, as far as I can tell, to this latest go-round with crippling depression are equally obvious to me and yet not really avoidable. I spent a great deal of time focusing on Sarah's party—several weeks, in fact—and once the day had passed and that goal was taken away it became easier to "give in" to my foe. It didn't help that I actually did get sick right after the party, a virus I likely had in the days leading up to the event but I simply couldn't allow it to take hold right away. But I'm not sure which is the chicken and which the egg here; at least I was starting to sleep better with the load of the party off of my mind and a new white noise idea Sarah came up with for our bedroom. The spring-back effect, though, caused me to sleep for many, many hours last week and yet never really feel rested.

Then there's the part where my new business venture comes into it. It was a very exciting summer while I, with the help of Sarah and Lisa, was forming the plan for the Grumpy Penguin content writing enterprise, culminating in the launch of my website on August 8th. In the heady days that followed, I received lots of praise for, and interest in, my business and was introduced to some very influential people by Lisa and others. However, in recent weeks the early euphoria has tapered off and I am in a process of trying to exorcize the demons of self-doubt. From past experience I know two things: 1) I will be able to overcome these demons; and 2) it will take a little time, but at the end of it I will be blessed with a huge burst of energy and can then get the show back on the road. (That's the "manic" part; bipolarity certainly runs in my family but I seem to spend more time on one "pole" than the other.)

The thing I have found about depression, as least in how I relate to it (and vice versa), is that, despite what I have written above about logical triggers, there is simply no real rational reason for it to keep happening. I find public awareness has greatly improved over the past few years, which is terrific because I am pretty tired of being asked, "What do you have to be depressed about?" I don't know what I have to be depressed about; if I did know, do people think I would really choose to be depressed instead of conquering it?

Actually, that raises an interesting point in and of itself. There have been times in my life where I think it's possible that I have "chosen" depression simply because it's an emotion I can feel. I have taken medication that has caused me to kind of "flat-line" and I can truly say I don't care for it. Sometimes in order to avoid feeling "nothing" I chose to feel "something" and didn't actively pursue a remedy as hard as I might have otherwise. I've read of this phenomenon from other people, notably Michael J. Fox as he has described how his Parkinson's meds have caused him to be so foggy and numb that he has chosen not to take them.

Wade Belak
I am also thinking now of Wade Belak, the NHL player who was found hanging in his room in a hotel in Toronto in the terrible summer of 2011. So many people said that Belak did not "fit the profile" of someone who was depressed; Michael Landsberg, in several interviews that made me cringe because he purported to speak for the entire population of "depressed people", said that he had no inkling that Belak was suicidal (although, I must add here that there is some—not slim—chance that Belak's death might have been sexual misadventure and not a suicide) and that he would have urged him to seek help had he any idea it might turn out the way it did. But that's the biggest thing that non-depressed people don't seem to understand: there are times that the person who is suffering doesn't want to "seek help". It's not something that I can explain (although it is something that Landsberg should know about if he really wants to be a "spokesperson" for the cause), but I know it to be innately true. This is not specific to suicidal people, either; anyone who is depressed and who has chosen not to seek help can relate to what I am saying, I think. Is it counter-productive? Of course it is, but that's what makes it irrational. It's akin to a phobia, I think, if you really get down to it. Some of us are afraid to feel "even-keeled". Well, I am, in any event. I suspect I am not alone, but I cannot be sure of that. All around me are so many articles urging suicidal people to "get help" that I wonder how rare my situation really is. One of those articles, by the way, is a terrific read from a comedian I really enjoy, Rob Delaney. It flies in the face of the paragraph I have just written, but I still urge you to read it. He wrote a far better piece, too, but it is extremely not safe for work, children or the easily-offended. You have been warned.

The McGovern Family, Teresa at centre
When George McGovern passed away earlier this month (yet another blog piece I didn't write) the Washington Post reprinted a piece that they first ran in 1995, shortly after the death of his daughter, Teresa, in December of 1994. Teresa was an alcoholic that simply could not be "cured" no matter how much she wanted to nor how much everyone around her tried to help. She was by all accounts a wonderful and supremely empathetic and selfless person throughout her life, but she just could not conquer that one demon. Almost in the exact middle of that superb but heart-breaking piece there is a quote offered by one of Teresa's doctors at a detox clinic, a man who is a specialist in treating addiction. When pressed on why Teresa couldn't "beat" alcoholism, Dr. Lochen shrugged and said, "You sometimes wonder if the pains of the world are just too much for some people." I am 100% on board with that assessment. I have a very real sense that the anger, the stupidity, the meanness of the world in which we live can sometimes be too much to overcome. I feel it myself, quite keenly, which is one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place and which is, ironically, also one of the reasons there are days I simply cannot find it in me to write about that same world.

So that's what's been going on. It's like a "perfect storm" of confluences: lack of sleep; new venture excitement wearing off; a huge project coming to completion and having to readjust my priorities. Just the fact that I am able to create this blog post today is a sign to me that things are starting to turn back to the "good"; I expect a flood of activity from my keyboard in the next few days because, let's face it, the Romney-bashing isn't going to write itself. I don't purport to have all the answers—or, indeed, any answers—but I thought that the people who frequent my little corner of teh interwebs deserved an explanation. I don't expect anyone to have a great epiphany due to what I have written here; rather, I feel that open, honest discourse about mental health issues is the only way to beat back the stigma so many people felt for so many years about their "hidden illnesses". And remember: these are my own experiences about which I am writing. I am not a doctor and I don't even play one on television.

Thank you for your patience. Get ready, I hope, for a bit of an onslaught over the next few days. I have a lot of catching up to do.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Steve. It can be very difficult for those of us who don't suffer from hidden illnesses (such as depression and fibromyalgia) to understand what others are going through. As for getting your business off the ground, I hope you'll stick with it. Based on what I've seen on your blog posts, you've got a real talent for writing. Sadly, I don't have any work to send your way, but if I did, I would send it gladly.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia. I will be sticking with my business, not only because I believe in it but others believe in it—and me.

      Thanks for the kind words; I hope it's clear that I wrote this piece not to garner sympathy but to shine a light on an otherwise dark part of the world. The fact that I can write about it puts my far ahead of many other people suffering the same anguish, believe me. :)

  2. Mental illnesses are extremely common, and yet remain highly stigmatized and misunderstood. Bravo for your candor, and I'm glad you are emerging from your latest bout.

    1. Hmm - yeah, this sounds a bit 'stiffer' than I meant it to. Obviously, I see a completely different side of you than most people do. I know how much courage it takes to admit that you're depressed, and I'm super proud of you for talking about it so candidly here. <3 Love you, hon!

    2. Thanks, Sarah. I also wanted people to kind of understand how much you have to put up with. Love you too!


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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