Tag Archives: depression

The Business of Living

I have been reading a book called Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.  It addresses OCD and the behaviors that are “locked” into a repeat mode.  He discusses medication as an aid toward making changes, but primarily his focus is on four steps that a person can use to “unlock” their brain using a cognitive behavioral approach.  I do not have OCD in the classic form of repetitive hand washing or rituals like this.  I do, however, think a bit obsessively.  I might “perseverate” on a particular thing:  should I get the forsythia or arborvitae? should I have hydrangeas or roses? And then when I make a decision (often after many years!): why didn’t I put the hydrangea there???  or The arborvitae was the right choice.

I have realized that not making choices keeps me in paralysis mode.  But if I don’t decide, then I haven’t made a mistake.  Of course, this is folly.  If I don’t decide, I don’t move forward, regardless of whether it is the right or wrong choice, which really you can’t know until afterward if there even is a right or wrong.  The point is to decide something.

My last post was titled “To Depress or Anti-Depress; Is that the Question?”   I’ve been thinking a lot about the question.  I know that depression and behaviors like OCD are genetic.  Yet, I think they are also facilitated by learning.  If I didn’t have a model that perseverated, or obsessed, or was depressed, perhaps I wouldn’t have “learned” that approach.  Let’s forget momentarily that I have siblings who did not develop my tendencies, which would point to nature.  Nature is strong, but nurture is vital.  And if we lost out on some in childhood, might we nurture ourselves in adulthood?

In this book on “brain lock”, the author shows through studies and brain scans that we can change our behaviors through a cognitive behavioral approach and thus change our actual brain function and that which allows obsession.  In simple terms, if you smile you’ll be happier.  There is truth to this.  At any rate, I know that doing and accomplishing …getting things done… makes me happy.  Stagnating and not doing makes me unhappy.  But the trick is forcing myself to do things.  That is, instead of ignoring the pile of laundry or books on the floor, actually doing something about it.  Instead of going to bed as in my favorite “Frog and Toad” story “Tomorrow”, actually doing something today.

I don’t want to simplify depression.  It’s not simple, and it comes in different forms.  By all accounts, I should be happy.  But sometimes, you can’t get up to do stuff.  Just like the flu can hold you back, depression can hold you back.  But you can fight each of these by good nutrition, rest, and being good to yourself.  It can also be fought by changing behaviors that have become poor habits.

To force myself out of my own self-imposed exile, today I did stuff.  Not in the house.  I went out! What a novel idea.  When you are a stay-at-home-mom, it’s easy to get stuck in the stuff you have to do at home.  And there is so much to do!  My two older children go to camp, and then I have the two younger children.  It feels like so much energy to get the first two going, that I tend to hang back with the younger two.  But today I signed no. 3 up for a morning sports camp and took my younger one to a toddler gym class, the library (where I met another mom!), and to the park before going back to get no. 3.  Okay so no. 3 said he didn’t like it (it seems he liked the class but not being dropped off), but still, he tried something new and so did I!  I left my house for the entire morning! This may not sound big, but it is to me.  I know this isn’t a big deal to other people, but I tend to stay home a lot.  Today I made a change.  I did not allow myself to be “trapped” by all the trappings of my house, and let go and went out.  This is big for me.

And yes, I did start a low dose of meds, which is not supposed to have kicked in yet.  I tried it before and abandoned it because I hate the idea of it.  I’m trying it again.  It is not the answer; it is not a “cure”.  I’m hoping that it will help cut down on the obsessive thinking so I can stop being stuck.  But I also know that doing is the main key.  Doing and walking away from what holds us back is what ultimately unlocks our poor habits and the behavioral patterns that we don’t want or need.  Sure it’s easy to say.  And I say it to myself all the time.  But I have to do too.  Many years ago, I also did cognitive behavioral therapy, and it did work.  But just like a diet, you have to keep doing it.  Unless I sit down and write, the writing won’t happen.  Unless I get up and go, the couch is awfully accommodating.

Yes I can anti-depress with medication.  But it levels out.  I really believe that the ultimate anti-depressant is the doing.  It’s breaking old patterns and making new ones.  Lots of bad habits are hard to stop.  Some of mine are obsessing over people or choices, negative thinking and self-criticism.  These may never go away, but I have to fight those tendencies.  Today was one day on a good diet:  I took a step away from my piles and toward my freedom.  The piles are still there, but I didn’t allow them to keep me home.  I have to address the stuff, but I can ‘t allow the stuff to trap me.  That is not living.

How about you?  How do you get stuck?  How do you anti-depress?  How do you get down to the business of living?

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To Depress Or Anti-Depress: Is That the Question?

For as long as I can remember, I have been crabby, generally unhappy, annoyed at everyone, and aimed toward perfection.  Hmm.. I think of myself as generally optimistic, but my grumpiness would suggest otherwise.  Yet I’m not that way to other people.  I was surprised once in a  writing class by a fellow student who described me in a profile assignment as happy and confident.  Me?  Confident.  Didn’t know I projected  confidence. I certainly don’t feel confident.  When I ask my friends if I complain too much or why they’re friends with me since I’m such a pain to put up with as far as I can tell, they suggest otherwise.  Okay that’s good.

But here’s the thing:  I have always had what I call a “tendency toward depression.”  I’m not depressed and mopey.  I’m not a sad sack.  People don’t think of me as a depressed person.  But there is this tendency I have to see the glass as half-empty.  There is a constant undercurrent of unhappiness even though I think of myself as happy!  Whatever decision I make, there was a better one to be made.  If flowers are blooming, I see the ones that need to be dead-headed.  If I have a success in the garden, I see the ten failures.  My husband tells me I can find the cloud in every silver lining.  If only it weren’t true!  But that’s also funny.  I can be funny too; I can make people laugh.  I love that.

I have a friend who wakes up happy, everyday.  Really?  I didn’t know that was possible.  I know people who can let things roll off their backs.  I know people who don’t revisit decisions over and over again.  I think of myself as normal.  But these things are not normal to me.  Normal to me is multiple running commentaries in my head.  Normal to me is fogginess such that I can’t always really focus on what people are saying.  Normal to me is rethinking, redoing, revisiting.  Normal to me is not waking up happy and ready to go.  Normal to me is a cloud over my head even though I see the sun shining and enjoy the birds singing.  Normal to me is also a constant state of thinking up new ideas on anything from how to organize the garden or the house to what to write on this blog.

I know I’m not the only one like this and a lot of this is “normal” to a lot of people.  But when is depression not normal?

The problem with depression and the kind that I think I suffer is that it feels “beatable”:  if only I did yoga, if only I smiled more, if only I exercised, if only I … that’s part of it too. Thinking it’s self-controllable.  The fact is it’s not that easy.  It’s kind of like swimming upstream as a salmon.  If only I lived on the other side!  I am fighting constantly against a current that is going the wrong way, yet I am still chugging along like everyone else.  Yet this is “normal” to me.

What I am finding is maybe the constant cloud doesn’t have to be.  Maybe the convincing myself “I can do it!” is not so true.  If a cut was gushing blood, I wouldn’t say, “oh I’ll just think it away and it will stop!”  I’d at least get a bandaid.  If I had a headache, I wouldn’t say, “oh it will pass”.  I’d take something for it.

Why are we so quick to accept eye color, skin color, brainpower, height as genetic but not depression or any mental suffering?  It is so easy to say, “ah yes, I suffer from heart disease; it’s in my family; I will take medication”.  It is so easy to say, “oh he gets that athletic ability from his father”; or “she gets her creativity from her mother”; or “look at those curls!: just like his father!”  It is not so easy to say: “oh that gloominess? that’s from Aunt Clara!”  unless you don’t like that person.  Who wants to admit depression?  Who wants to admit anything about the mind unless it’s positive, like say a high i.q.?  It seems so murky.  No blood test, no cat scan, no sonogram.  Just a general dis-ease, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction, even amidst an array of blessings!

I would argue that depression is inherited as is eye color.  I’m not talking about situational depression; I’m talking about life-long general depression:  the kind that results in complaining, grumpiness, unhappiness, irritability, and general frustration.  Why is it that one sibling in a family can get up and go and another can not?  It’s the same reason as why one has a love of reading (or talent in that) and one has a great arm and enthusiasm for baseball.  All children are different, individual and unique.  Children grow up to be different, individual, and unique adults as well.  And strengths and weaknesses are carried right along.  We are so willing to accept a talent for baseball, but not a “tendency toward depression”.  It signals something “wrong.”  But what if it was less stigmatized?  What if it was more acceptable to discuss it and to say, “you know you don’t have to be grumpy all the time; you can do something about that” just like, “you know, you can take something for that headache.”

There’s a saying: a happy mom means a happy family.  The converse would be true then.  And that’s no good.  But if the unhappy mom, who wants to be happy because she knows how blessed she is but no matter how she tries is unhappy, could be helped by medication and not have to struggle alone in the same way that a person with heart disease or even a headache does not have to struggle but can take medication, why is that not “normal”?  Why don’t we see that as ok?

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