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Archive for November, 2014

A friend of mine is going through a rough time right now. A friend of hers chose to end her own life a few months back, leaving behind a husband and young children. Just recently, the husband decided that he, too, couldn’t take it any more and also took his own life. The children are left with no parents, the family and friends are devastated, and it’s so difficult to see the point. They were young, so young. They were parents, with babies to think of. At first, the thought that ran through my head was how selfish it was to do that to your kids, to leave them confused and grieving for not only one, but both parents. Studies show that children of a parent, or parents, who commit suicide not only have a significantly higher chance of doing it to themselves at some point, but increased chances of emotional and mental problems, including depression. I didn’t know the couple, but it made me sad and angry all at the same time. It stayed with me, though, and after a while, I started to see things a little differently.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree that they had the right to do that. I still think there was so much else that could they could have done to combat the urge to end it all. There’s therapy of all sorts, medication, even just talking to friends or relatives, which would hopefully encourage a visit to said therapy. There seems to be no logical reason why two people would decide the events in their lives were so overwhelming that they couldn’t function. But the little nagging voice in the back of my mind urged me to not be so self-righteous and to remember that dark thoughts have crept into my own mind as well.

I have depression. A lot of people do. I’ve been properly diagnosed, it’s not debilitating, and I’m in treatment for it, going on three years now. The side effects of medication proved to be too much for me, so I’ve been in talk therapy instead. It helps, it really does. Being able to be completely honest with no fear of judgement is a great relief and it’s accompanied by strategies to combat those dark thoughts. My therapist specializes in treating people with my kind of past and doesn’t make feel that I’m crazy. It’s a good thing.

Let me be clear: Having depression does NOT mean that someone is suicidal. But having depression does make one more susceptible to having suicidal thoughts. Let me try to explain what it feels like when depression is in full swing.

I call it a “hole”. That’s the best way I can describe it. When I have an episode, it’s like I’ve fallen into a black hole. Sometimes there’s a trigger, like a flashback memory or a really upsetting day. It could be bad news, it could be that I didn’t get a job interview, that there was a misunderstanding at home, or just overwhelming feelings of failure. Whatever the case, it results in an onslaught of negative feelings. I fell hopeless, like nothing will ever be okay again. Horrid thoughts run through my head, like I’m worthless, that I’m never going to achieve anything, that I’m ruining my kids, my marriage. Awful, debilitating things that have no base. These kinds of thoughts are common for people with depression. They’re not “poor me, feel sorry for me” thoughts, either. When I get like this, I retreat into myself, really trying to hide it from others. I can function at work if I stay busy, but that usually results in stronger feelings when work is over. When I come out of a hole, I can’t believe that I allowed myself to sink in, which is silly, because it’s something that can’t be controlled, only managed. Eventually, it started to really affect my life and I knew it was time to get help. Since then, I’ve learned to pay better attention to when they’re coming on and different exercises to keep them short or away all together.

Before I started talk therapy, these “holes” could last an entire day or more. Like I said, I still functioned and went to work, but I felt like a zombie; dead inside. Since starting therapy, these holes occur very infrequently and when they do happen, they’re usually gone within an hour or two. In these “holes”, though, it feels like nothing will ever be right again. Even minor crises, like an argument with Marty or with one of the boys, can throw my whole world off, at least for a little while. For people with severe depression, those awful holes can last for days, weeks, or months. Some experience such utter hopelessness that they begin to see themselves as better off dead. I’ve never been in that spot where I’ve seriously considered the unthinkable, but it has gotten pretty scary.

Most people won’t think of suicide. Most people have bad days and can brush it off. With depression, which often mixes with anxiety, seemingly small things can balloon to huge proportions.The difficult part of that, though, and I mean really difficult, is recognizing that one needs help, and then to ask for it. It sucks to admit that you’re weak, that you can’t get over it on your own, that you couldn’t “pray it away’. That last one cracks me up. I’ve seen so many Christians who claim that you can pray depression away, and that if you can’t, it means that you don’t have enough faith. What complete and utter crap. It’s like saying that if you break your arm, God will heal it instantly if you have enough faith. I’m not denying that miracles happen, they do. Cancer suddenly disappears, a junkie no longer craves drugs, a person diagnosed as brain-dead wakes up with normal brain function, all of these things have happened, but not regularly, which fits the definition of “miracle”. Millions of devout people pray for loved ones with all sorts of illnesses every day. Some get better, some don’t. A mental illness is the same as a physical one; it needs help and attention. If you belong to a church that shuns mental health services, it can make asking for help that much more difficult and in the meantime, can create further damage.

We see both ordinary people and successful people, like Ernest Hemingway or, more recently, Robin Williams, take their own lives and we wonder how seemingly happy people, people that “have it all”, could seek out such a permanent end. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, or any answer at all. What I do know is that we need to treat mental issues differently. Rather than making it a taboo subject, shaming those with depression or anxiety, or condemning them for wanting to die, we need to be compassionate and caring. We need to stop threatening them with Hell or other horrors because thoughts of harming themselves creep in uninvited. We need to help them through whatever hard times they’re going through, get them to seek professional help, and just be there for them, without judgement.

Two small children will go to bed tonight without their parents. What can we do to prevent it happening to another child?

If someone you know is suffering from severe depression, or is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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So, the elections are over for the year. Thank God. As always, no one is happy, except maybe the secretary at work, Republicans and Democrats will continue to act like toddlers “sharing” an Elsa doll, and it will be a miracle if something changes. Granted, Americans have it better than many other places in the world, but it’s so frustrating to see things that need to be worked on but won’t be because nobody is willing to compromise, take a needed pay cut, or actually listen to constituents. Anyway, this blog is not about the election results, but what leads up to the election: political advertising. To get a head start on next year and for the 2016 election season, here is my letter to any candidate running for any office anywhere in the country.

Dear Candidate for Whatever Office You Happen to be Running For:

I am a voter. I always have been and as long as I have my wits about me, I will always be a voter. Too many people sacrificed too much for me to throw that right away. That being said, if you want my vote, here are some guidelines for you to follow.

1. STOP CALLING MY HOUSE! 

Seriously. Has anyone ever really reached voters by making robocalls? I have yet to meet anyone whose world was rocked enough by a robocall to either change their vote or way of thinking. They’re annoying, RUDE, and obnoxious. Stop. Really, stop.

2. STOP PUTTING FLYERS IN/KNOCKING ON MY DOOR!

I have a sign on my door that tells people that I don’t want handbills or solicitors of any kind. Although I’ve been told that political advertisements are exempt, (which is really, really stupid) I still don’t want paper crap stuffed in my door. Think of how much money you could save on printing, not to mention postage on the thousands of flyers that are mailed out. Do you know what I do with those flyers? I recycle them. Immediately. Why? Because I don’t trust you. I don’t trust that you represent yourself or your opponent accurately. If I want to know what you stand for, I’ll look up your voting record, what you’ve done in the past, and decide whether or not I agree with your philosophies. And while we’re at at, knocking on my door is creepy and really annoying, especially if I’m busy, which I usually am. My definition of busy includes any and all activities in my home. Notice that my sign says “No Solicitors”. You are a solicitor, not a friend, family member, or person in need of assistance. Go away.

3. STOP MAKING STUPID TV COMMERCIALS!

Please. Take your muck-raking and self-serving somewhere else. I would change the channel, but guess what? You’re there, too! I shouldn’t be penalized for wanting to chill out and watch tv without being hammered by political ads. After a while, they all sound the same. “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.” Over and over again. And again. I want to watch Bones without being told what a jerk your opponent is, which brings me to another point:

4. STOP TELLING ME WHAT A JERK YOUR OPPONENT IS!

I know you don’t like your opponent. You’re competing against that person, for Heaven’s sake. But stop telling me that they’re horrible people or dredging up incidents from their past that are either overblown or gossip. If your opponent is a mass-murderer, has embezzled money, or went hiking on the “Appalachian Trail” (tee hee, see what I did there?) the media will take care of hounding and badgering them. As I tell my students, worry about your own behaviour.

I can hear you protesting now: “But how am I supposed to tell people what I stand for and what I want to do for the world if I don’t advertise?” I’m not saying don’t advertise, there are plenty of opportunities. Give television interviews, visit community events, kiss babies (on second thought, no, that’s creepy, too), give speeches for community and service organizations. Back up your words with deeds so that they won’t ring hollow and empty. Listen to your constituents. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Stop yapping and DO something! Give us a chance to see that you mean what you say. Do these things and you may bring back so much of the disillusioned American public that that been turned off by the whole process. Right now, we don’t believe you.

Sincerely,

A Disgruntled Voter Who Does Not Want to be Disgruntled Anymore

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The first of November always brings the beginning of a great debate: how soon is too soon to start celebrating Christmas? Halloween is over, autumn has definitely moved in, and some stores have been setting up their Christmas aisles for the past couple of weeks or so. Target started sneaking in Yuletide decorations at least two weeks ago, shrinking the costume section into one crowded aisle while the Christmas craft sections at JoAnn’s and Michael’s have been up since late August. Santa arrives next Saturday, November 8th at many area malls while the Hallmark channel is showing non-stop Christmas movies all weekend. JoAnn’s and Michael’s I understand; sewing stockings and making ornaments can take quite a while. My own stocking is still only half-done and I started that three or four years ago. The rest of my family have had their home made stockings for a long time, I just don’t think about mine until, well, December 24 when we put them out. Anyway, loads of people complain about the early arrival of the Christmas season, but remarkably, there seem to be just as many who can’t wait and are even now begging the local radio stations to begin playing their 24-7 playlist of Christmas songs and carols.

I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Grinch, I love Christmas. I always have. The way I love Christmas, however, has evolved over the years. As a child, it was all about Santa and the presents. Of course, the whole Baby Jesus thing was always fun, especially when one got to be an angel in the church play and wear a gold glitter halo (aka tree garland) that she refused to take off, but Santa took center stage. For several years now, though, the spiritual aspect of Christmas is what I look forward to. Before anyone jumps in to set me straight, I know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on Christmas and that the Church chose December 25 in order to replace a pagan holiday. Of course, there’s more to it, but there it is in a nutshell. History geek, remember? But there is something so special and so pure about what that day represents that it gives me the goosebumps every time, sometimes not on Christmas Day itself, but there will always be a moment where it hits home what I’m actually celebrating, apart from the cookies, Santa, and choir rehearsals, and even our wonderful family get-togethers. Jesus, the foundation of Christianity, the Son of God, was born (at some undetermined point during the year) and that’s what it means to me.

From my perspective, when we begin to celebrate on November 1, it diminishes the specialness of the holiday. We start taking it for granted. We get sick of it. With some minor exceptions, the Christmas season for our family starts the day after Thanksgiving. (Although, I have been known to cheat while going through radio stations if one of my favorites is playing.) Even starting at that date, I’m ready to put it all away before New Year’s Eve because I really can’t listen to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one more time and I want the stupid tree out of my living room because it takes up so much space. If I started celebrating now, I’d be almost done with it by Thanksgiving. Just think, that’s two solid months of Christmas, especially if you’re one to leave things up until Epiphany. I try, I really do, but usually the only thing that makes it until January 6 is the Nativity set. But really, that’s one-sixth of the year! What is special about that? It becomes mundane, ordinary. As a kid, the anticipation would have killed me, having to look at that tree every day. If we’d had an elf-on-the-shelf back then, I would have cracked under the pressure of trying to be completely good. Or it would have mysteriously “disappeared”, leaving me in mortal dread of what Santa would do when he found out. I’d much rather enjoy one month of Christmas cheer and think, “At last!” on December 25 rather than, “Thank God it’s over!”

I know that there are people who don’t get sick of it, who start counting down during the summer. Some of them are Facebook friends/relatives who I love dearly, already posting their countdowns to The Big Day, like my adorable sister-in-law, Pam. I don’t begrudge them their enthusiasm, I just don’t share it…yet. Christmas is special, it doesn’t happen all year round. If I drag it out, it loses that magic, that wonder. In life, it’s the special and rare things, things that aren’t the norm, that are treasured the most: true love, true friendship, artwork, centuries-old artifacts. (There’s that history geek coming out again.) I always appreciate something more when I have to wait for it or work for it.

The retail industry begins fueling our enthusiasm for Christmas joy and begins promoting early in order to make more money. I shop for a lot of people, mostly a nephew, nieces, small cousins and honestly, I start in September, little by little so that it doesn’t become an overwhelming chore. I don’t want it to be a chore, it should be fun and normally it is, but with all of the early reminders to buy, buy, buy. it kind of turns my stomach a little. I saw the first Christmas commercial of the season for Best Buy the week of Halloween. Really? I hadn’t even carved a pumpkin yet.

In the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, trees usually weren’t even put up until Christmas Eve. Of course, people made gifts by hand and some planning was involved, but life continued as usual for most folks until then. I’m not saying that we should go back to those times. I love being able to space out events and fun all through December, but maybe there’s something to be said for holding off until the Thanksgiving turkey has had its day.

That being said, people will celebrate how they feel most comfortable and if that’s their thing, then more power to them. Again, I love Christmas, I look forward to it every year, but I also love that I have to wait for it. In the meantime, maybe I’ll dig out that unfinished stocking. It will give me something else to look forward to.

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