Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the "yeah-buts"

Mental Health Awareness Month ended in May, and there’s still a large segment of the population unaware. I call them the yeah-buts.

The yeah-buts as I have encountered them over my decades dealing with mental illness are folks who haven’t ever struggled with the stuff themselves, but feel able to tell you what to do about it.

My favorites are the ones who are compelled somehow to get me to the gym. Yes, yes, exercise can help your mood, though it doesn’t always, no matter what the yeah-buts say.

“Yeah, but you’ll feel so much better,” they insist.

“When I’m blindingly depressed, I don’t even want to get out of bed,” I insist. “I don’t want to shower. I don’t want to get dressed. I don’t want to do anything but lay there and focus on feeling like crap.”

“Yeah, but that’s exactly the time you should be getting up and exercising,” they say, usually adding another favorite – “I know I’ve never been depressed, but…”

Right. So if you have no concept of what it feels like, how can you tell me how to fix it? I got news: It’s not fixable. Meds and therapy only go so far. Once an episode begins, you pretty much just have to ride it out. And as soon as it’s over? Guess what? It’s going to come back. Almost nobody gets a one-and-done deal with a depressive episode. If you’re lucky, you can figure out how to make the time between episodes relatively lengthy. Exercise isn’t it, at least not by itself.

The yeah-buts mean well, I know. It’s just like taking advice from an unmarried marriage counselor. They never seem to realize that they’d be much more credible if they’d experienced that which they’re trying to convince you of.

I have a friend who’s a yeah-but. She does at least preface her remarks with “I know I don’t have depression,” which is something of a sop. But she still doesn’t really understand. She’s an expert in another area I struggle with, though, and there I’m all ears every time she wants to tell me something, because I know both that she’s been there personally and that she has academic knowledge as well. And I know she cares, hence the yeah-but-ism. Most yeah-buts do it out of concern for a friend or family member, I’m sure. I think maybe the afflicted just should reinforce the need to find another way to express it. No matter how well my psychiatrist and therapist and friends know me, I am still the expert on me. No ifs, ands or yeah-buts.

Aimless? Not Quite

I had a friend tell me the other day that he worries about me a lot because I seem “lost.”

Taken aback, I asked another friend what she thought of that, and she agreed.

There’s this old Polish proverb, “If three people tell you you’re drunk, you’d better sit down,” so I’m waiting for one more person to tell me I’m lost before I quite believe it. I think what people are mistaking for aimlessness is something else entirely.

I’ve been on disability for 13 months now. In a nutshell, this means I do not get up and go to work from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, like most other adults over the age of 22. It means the government deemed me incapable of that, thanks to a severe illness, and so I get a check once a month from Uncle Sam and spend my days going to doctor appointments and the like. And I do have a job, just for the record. There are just rules about how much time I can spend on it, and there are days I’m too sick to do it. I have a very understanding boss, luckily, who gets that.

But because I don’t spend my time like “regular” grownups, I get dinged for the lack of structure to my days. Yes, it is troublesome sometimes, trying to figure out what to do next. Sometimes I’m not interested in going to the grocery store, no matter how badly I need to. Sometimes I don’t want to do laundry, no matter how badly I need to. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and wallow in how bad I feel, and that’s part of the disease that nobody really understands. (I get a lot of the “think happy! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” type crap. IT. IS. NOT. THAT. EASY.)

Do I need a schedule? Probably. Is it easy to make and keep to one when you’re in the condition I’m in? Not even close. So do I need to hear that I’m “lost” and people don’t notice me because I’m just standing off to the side, doing nothing? Au contraire. Nothing is the most I can do sometimes.

Next time you see me looking aimless, come say hi and find out what I’m really doing. Betcha it’s something. Even if it looks like nothing to you, it’s probably taking everything out of me I have to get it done.

When I was a kid in Kansas City, there was a commercial for a car dealer named Frank Ancona. His tag line was, “PLEASE be kind to Frank Ancona!” Please be kind to me too. You might find out something you didn’t know.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

the bucket list

My recent birthday made me think I probably needed to start one of these. Here's what I've got so far:

Before I die, I want:

-- to be thin
-- to NOT be alone
-- to travel around Asia
-- to learn how to play an instrument
-- to learn a language (I took French in high school, but it was totally useless)
-- to write a book
-- to not be taken for granted by certain people

That's a start....more to come.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

say what you mean

... mean what you say. Life would be so much less complicated if everybody did that.

I've been thinking a lot lately about definitions, and context, and casual vs. deep meaning. Specifically, I've been thinking a lot about the phrase "I love you."

We say it to our pets (who are just happy for an extra treat). We say it to our family members. We say it to our friends. There are a number of different shades of it. But it gets all mucked up when people substitute "love" for "like."

Someone told me they loved me a few days ago. It's not someone I'm romantically linked with, or who I even know that well, particularly. And while those words are always nice to hear, it gets confusing when the person saying them is trying to communicate deep affection instead.

We either need a definition of terms in this language or a clear distinction. A big hug and an "I like you!" doesn't carry the same weight, but it doesn't make somebody you hardly know wonder where it's coming from.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I never expected to be an adoptive cat mom. Yet today, a year later, that's what I am.

And although the circumstances in which Sweetie came to me were sad and less than ideal, in time we adjusted to each other and – dare I say it? – have learned to love each other.

I get up at 3 a.m. and throw her purple catnip mousie. She flops over the back of my legs when I’m sleeping on my stomach and warms me up. I keep her food and water dishes filled to the brim and her litter box sparkling clean. She lets me pick her up for hugs and smooches and will roll over for belly rubs.

I always wanted a cat, but haven’t ever been allowed to have one. I’ve always rented, and most landlords have a strict no-pets policy. But the ones I have now are reasonable. When they told me they had a prospective tenant for the other part of the house and she had a cat, I immediately said that was OK with me and asked if I could have one too. They couldn’t really say no and be fair about it.

There was one short-lived attempt with a shelter cat who was not particularly well socialized. Sweetie came along because she needed a home after her previous owner died. The woman’s daughter, a good friend of mine, thought Sweetie and I would do well together. She turns out to have been right (of course. R. has always been a good judge of character, either human or feline.)

It’s hard to overstate how much difference it makes to have another living creature in the house. I don’t have a spouse, or a kid, or any other form of family member living here. I don’t have a roommate (of the human variety, anyway). Even if she isn’t the same species as me, Sweetie’s still happy to see me whenever I get home. Even if she can’t talk the way humans think of it, she talks plenty – and chirps, and purrs, and has her whole own language with which to tell me what she wants. Sometimes all she wants is to nuzzle me and ask for a kiss back. I’m always happy to oblige (even if it means I get fur in my mouth).

I’m happy to have my curious, playful little furball around for company. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to the pet store to buy some treats (if not sweets) for my Sweetie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today brought to you by the letter "S"

S, for sizeism.

I wrote about this and managed to get it published in a literary journal. If I can ever figure out how to get a PDF of it done, I'll post it here. But I wanted to talk about it now because, although in the article I talked about having been judged for my size all my life, today I was the guilty party.

I'm down about 30 pounds from where I was this time last year. I need to be down another 50. At least. I look at my reflection in my laptop screen, and in my dresser mirror, and in my rearview, and want to throw up. It's just not possible for me, anyway, to have anything but massive self-loathing and a hideous body image. My guess is that even when I'm 140 that'll still be the case.

Today at the grocery store I kept finding myself behind this guy who must have weighed, I'm not kidding, close to 600 pounds. You would think I would have some compassion for him. But all I could do is stare, and wonder -- and think unkind thoughts -- about how he must have got that way.

Let's say he does weigh 600 pounds. That puts me 400 below him. And yet people still judge me. Hell, I even judge me! I hate my own guts for being a cow! And yes, I have a thyroid problem, but you know what my real problem is? Eating too much crap and rarely getting off the couch. I'd be willing to bet that's pretty much every overweight person's problem. Maybe this guy had a rare metabolic disorder. Maybe he blew out a knee when he was younger and finds it hard to exercise. I don't know. I just know it was incredibly unfair of me to do to him what I hate having done to me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

the perils of depression

So while it was apparently no surprise, country singer Mindy McCready killed herself today.

I am not remotely a country music fan, and I'm certain I've never heard one of her songs. But I am certain I've been depressed. Often. Enough to want to kill myself? Enough to at least give it some serious thought.

I get so tired of people who say "I don't understand how people can do that. They had so much to live for," blah blah blah. You know what? If you're able to say that, you don't understand, and you need to be grateful and then STFU. There is nothing worse than being trapped in the hell of your own mind. If you're just a little down in the dumps on a random Sunday afternoon because you have to go back to work on Monday, you aren't depressed. If you can't go to work for a month because you're too miserable to get out of bed, take a shower and get dressed, then you sort of have a clue.

This poor woman left behind two little boys who no longer have parents. (One of them still has a father who isn't in the picture, and the other's father also killed himself.) They are in for a lifetime of therapy, have already been in foster care once, and may end up there permanently again. One of the Big Lies of depression is that "nobody will miss me if I check out." I admit to thinking that myself. Playing poor, pitiful me is weirdly soothing; it gives you validation for what you're thinking about doing.

I may not have an intimate partner, and I may not have raised my child, but I certainly have a stack of friends who would miss me. It would be unfair of me to traumatize them for my own selfish reasons. But you aren't thinking reasonably when you're thinking about doing it.

I can't say I blame her for taking the road that she chose. I hope that she's found some peace at last. I hope all who are thinking along those lines reach out for help first. But if there comes a time it gets to be too much, one last time -- I understand.

Friday, February 15, 2013

2nd Street Joey

I keep thinking Joey needs his own blog post, so I'm giving him one.

There's a tax service in town called Liberty Tax. Some poor schmo gets recruited to dress up as the Statue of Liberty -- green toga, spiked crown -- and stand out on the sidewalk in front of the place and wave at people driving by. (I should mention this only happens in tax season and I live somewhere winter lasts until May.) I always wave at the poor guy.

I'm not sure who was whose inspiration, but I suspect Joey's been at it a lot longer. Somebody from the local paper stopped and talked to him for a bit once and tried to find out what his deal was.

His deal is that he has a number of disabilities, both psychiatric and physical. To break up his day, he dresses up if it's near a holiday, and stands on the sidewalk outside his apartment -- which is on the main road past a major hospital -- and waves at the passing cars.

I always wave at Joey too.

The reporter asked him why he did it.

"I like to make people happy," he said.

A reporter friend of mine (not the one who did the story) recently tweeted that he saw Joey in a skyway connecting a couple of buildings downtown.

"It was like seeing Santa in the grocery store," he said.

It never occurs to me to think that it might take so little to make people happy. But I know my favorite friends are the ones who can make me laugh my way through anything, no matter how horrible I may think it is at the moment. Joey serves the same purpose -- a quick smile in a busy or stressful day. I have to figure out how to be more like him.

It's Not Like That for Everybody

I do some work on psych-related stuff. Consequently, I read a bunch of "experts" on depression, among other mental health disorders. "Expert" means either they have multiple degrees and special expertise in the area, they have the disorder themselves, or both.

Folks? I ain't no dummy, despite having (usually) one degree fewer than y'all -- but I ain't you.

I get SO frustrated with the "just do this and it'll really help" stuff. Diet? If you mean a case of Coke and a lot of chocolate, OK. I can do that. I don't WANT to eat healthy when I'm depressed. You know why? I don't give enough of a shit about myself to care. But someone suggested omega-3s (those are OK, I can share the salmon with the cat) and dark, leafy greens.

Here is where I am not like you: I can't have them. Spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts -- if it's darker than romaine, I can't have it, because I have a clotting disorder and leafy greens screw with my blood thinner.

Exercise? The only exercise I'm going to get is walking back and forth either to the john or the fridge. I am not going to go for a walk. I live where it's hideously, bone-searingly cold for much of the year, and perilously icy -- also bad for someone on a blood thinner -- and gas is almost $4 a gallon, making me less than eager to drive to the gym.

Sleep? No thank you. I manage with sleeping pills when the insomnia becomes intolerable, but otherwise, I just trust my body to decide when it's ready to crash for a few hours. Most of the time, as soon as I turn off the light my mind starts racing, and in an hour or so I'll be up with a book for company.

Call a friend? If I'm desperate. Most of the time I don't want to bother them. No matter how much they protest they're happy to help, who really wants a 3 a.m. phone call from someone who's blindingly depressed?

Light candles for a soothing aura? There's a clause in my lease that says I can't burn them in the apartment.

My point, and I do have one, is that these "tips" tend often to be unrealistic. From the person with the odd physical disorder that limits her diet to the person who lives in the Frozen Tundra, you can't expect one size fits all. How about a few other options, so that we all can take away something useful?

the post-Valentine's rant

Yep. I'm in one of those moods. Read this at your peril.

I farking hate Valentine's Day. Hate it, hate it, hate it. With a (ahem) passion. I do NOT need my loserishness pointed out to me, even on a Hallmark holiday. (Did you know Hallmark was founded in my hometown? All the more reason to detest Mr. Hall for putting me through this annual hell.)

I have many, many friends. I am grateful for that and I do love them all dearly. One was sweet enough to stop by while I was out and tie a heart balloon and a bag of candy to my door, which actually made me cry. (Rule No. 1 of the Candace Club: At no time are you permitted to admit you possess a heart. But I get sappy every now and then anyway.)

Friends are great, but there are some roles they just can't fill. (Not unlike a cat can't hop in the car at 2 a.m. and run to Walmart for cold medicine. Though I bet a cat would look pretty funny in pajama pants and slippers on that run. :-D) The years pass more quickly all the time. I'm not that far from 50, and I'm alone still, and I just don't want to be 80 and not have anyone with a shared history to hang out in the nursing home with. But I haven't had any luck. Either we're "just friends" or they're batshit (like the idiot on Zoosk who put Rocco DiSpirito up as his profile picture) or they think I'm batshit (which happens to be true, but that's another post) or, or, or. It's fricking endless. Why does it have to be so hard? (See here for a taste of what I mean.)

I should have just bought a boatload of alcohol and toasted myself last night, but I went for chocolate instead. I end up just as mad at myself either way, considering the calorie splurge. I still sit here wondering what's wrong with me. I still don't manage to solve the problem, which, at this point, I assume somehow is me.

And now, I'm going to go curl up with the cat and a book. Which is the best I'm going to do for company. And round and round it goes, and if it stops before I come down with Alzheimer's, nobody knows.... :-\

Duncan Sheik, "That Says It All"