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New Blog Entry: Depression Edition

The past two months have been super rough on me. It took me until about two weeks ago to admit to myself and, eventually, my circle of humans, that I have been depressed.

Depression is a weird animal. It creeps up on you like a fog. The world gets hazier and hazier until you realize you can’t see the landscape around you anymore. Everything happens through a thick mask of atmosphere and it’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going.

When I started being unable to do basic things like laundry and couldn’t articulate my needs at all when anyone asked me about anything, that’s when I knew I was deep in the depression fog. Well, that and when I found myself crying in the bathroom when I was brushing my teeth. And all the napping. Let’s face it, there were lots of signs. But still, the realization was slow.

Crawling out has been hard. It’s still hard. The monologue going on inside my head is gross and abusive when I’m depressed. Think Hyperbole and a Half. Every time I have to do something, I wind up not doing it because I don’t have the energy. But every time I don’t do something, my inner voice gets more and more aggressively negative and hateful.

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html
Accurate.

Going to therapy helps. My therapist has made this bout of depression my quickest turn around that I can remember. I’m so grateful that I’m in a place in my life where I have insurance and can afford to take the time for myself to treat my mental health with the care that it deserves.

I’m still not 100% there. I feel run down and not super excited about what’s going on. But the hateful voice in my head is a lot quieter. And I have enough energy to contemplate getting back to doing crafty things that make me happy, which will go a long way to helping me feel myself again.

As it is, opening up this blog again is a good sign and makes me feel good about where things are going. You will hear more from me in the coming weeks and months, now that the fog is lifting.

 

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Seasonal Exhaustion

The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.

But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”

It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.

Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.

I think the weight of everything that has happened this year has just hit me all at once. The deaths of black women, the burning of black churches, the police brutality, the trans lives that have been lost, rape culture, the everyday harassment that comes along with being femme on the internet or on a street or wherever. Shit, some asshole even killed a lion.

I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.

It wears. It takes a toll.

I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.

We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.

That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.

 

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Body Ownership: On shame, humiliation, growth, and acceptance.

I started going to the gym again this week. It’s been a while. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror at work yesterday and did not like what I saw.

As much as I talk about how I want to lose weight to be healthy, I don’t know how true that really is. I am already healthy. I carry a little more weight around, but every time I go to the doctor, it’s all good news.

The fact is that I want to be thinner. I’m tired of my thighs rubbing together until they burn. I’m tired of the way I hate having my belly touched. I’m tired of my arms being thick and dangling. I’m really tired of not being able to wear button down shirts that fit me nicely around the middle because of my belly.

I want to wear clothes that make me feel good and sexy without feeling like a sausage in a casing.

And I want to be able to say that to people. But I feel like, in saying that, they will see me as saying that bigness is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s just not something that I am happy with. I love all my gorgeous, fabulous, loud and large friends. They’re great. And I’m glad that they are happy living in their bodies and admire the work that they have done to get there despite the bill of goods they are sold all the time.

Losing weight is a weird topic nowadays. I feel like I can’t be as excited or expressive about it as I want to be because I will be seen as fat shaming myself. I take great care when talking about this stuff to not say how badly I want to be thinner, because I’m aware that it’s a touchy topic for a lot of people.

If I’m being really honest with myself, what I want is to be thinner. To be able to see my back  muscles in a mirror. I am all about back muscles and I really want to see mine in ripples move across my back when I lift a heavy thing in the gym. I want to have legs and arms that are defined and strong, where you can see the muscles move as I run or climb a rope. I want to see my abs for the first time ever. I know they’re under there. I can feel them when I flex my stomach as I lift heavy things. But I want to see them.

I want to be more confident in my body. And the more time I spend at the gym, the more I feel myself become aware of what I can do. The less afraid I am of headstands and running with my dog and hiking and riding a bike. Because without physical activity, I withdraw from my body. I try not to notice it. It becomes an elephant in the room that I do not talk about and do not want anyone to acknowledge.

When I think about myself I don’t see myself the way that I look in the mirror. I see myself as powerful. And I want to look powerful. I want my muscles to show.

When I walk into the gym as I am now, I feel this powerful sense of humiliation. I feel like the unfit among the glorious. Even though not everyone around me is necessarily thin. I know that the people around me are somehow better than me. And I feel them looking at and judging me. It makes me flustered. Makes me wish I hadn’t come.

The hard part for me isn’t just getting the nerve up to go to the gym. The hard part is staying. The hard part is not fleeing the field in tears because I know that I don’t fit in with these other people who are so much more deserving and hard working than I am.

Afterwards, when I am at home and showering and enjoying the blooming ache of muscles, I feel awake and alert as my body chemically responds to my workout. Those moments are amazing. And the moments when, at the gym, I stop thinking about anyone but myself, about anything but the task at hand. About anything but my goals. Those moments are amazing too.

I live in those moments. I nurture them afterward. I dwell on them as I fantasize about what my body will look like down the line. And I try to feel pride in each little victory on the way.

I have to remind myself: This is something I can do. I am capable. I am enough. And let everything else fall away.

Pretty young woman with sketched strong and muscled arms

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

This week marks me getting back on the horse of working out, which is bringing up all kinds of awkward and icky feelings with regard to my body that I thought I should just go ahead and tackle out loud rather than internalizing.

I’ve always been bigger. I was smaller for a little while, when I did martial arts back before high school. I remember distinctly and adult telling me that I would “balloon” if I quit fighting. I laughed it off at the time. I was 13.

By the time I was 14 I was bigger than a lot of the other girls I knew. And I was super self-conscious about it. I ate too much and didn’t really move around a lot and I hated my body with all the vehemence of a teenager hating a thing. So that wasn’t super healthy.

Over the years I have gone through health binges in fits and starts. Nothing really worked too well for me. My biggest success was with Weight Watchers. I started doing that when I crested over the 200 pound mark. I dropped down to 168, which is the lowest I have been in my adult life. But I didn’t feel good. I was hungry all the time. And I didn’t get into the habit of adding workouts to my routine so I could eat more.

Eventually, I quit. And my body put all the weight back on in record time, with an extra ten pounds for good measure. Because insult and injury are good friends.

When Frankie and I got together, our first date was actually her helping me work out. We did all kinds of fun workouts in the park and I sweated and ached and it felt really good. As our relationship developed, I started eating healthier and craving healthier meals that she would make. I would work out in fits and starts, but I felt like I was making progress, albeit slowly, on feeling healthier and stronger.

When we moved in together, I joined the PSC gym near our apartment and started going 4 times a week. I found that, if I was going to a class, I could make myself go. Working out alone was a misery. But the classes at the gym were good and scheduled at a convenient time so that I could get off work and hit the gym on my way home to avoid procrastinating. I felt good. I felt like I was getting stronger and healthier with every passing week.

Then one day I went into the gym and picked up the class schedule for the next month and felt my heart sink. All of the 5:30 classes had been moved to 6:30 or 7. The only classes left at 5:30 were yoga (which is great, but not the kind of cardio and weight training I was after) and a class with an insane guy that made me feel like I was going to throw up and die on his floor. I was crushed. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I was not capable of the type of motivation it would take to get me to the gym on time and put in a workout that would actually challenge me at that point.

I tried to stick with it. I went to the gym alone and tried to work out. I never felt as good or successful (or sore!) as I did when I was in a class. I tried waiting for the classes that were later in the day, but I would inevitably fail to get out of the house again once I was home with the dogs and in my comfy clothes.

So I fell off the wagon. As so many of us do.

Then I joined Sweat. And their classes have been great. And well scheduled. And for a while I was going every day. I felt better. I slept better. My skin cleared up. I even felt like less of a grumpy bear in the mornings. I swear, working out is like magic.

Of course, I fell off the wagon again. And now I’m getting back on.

It’s hard to keep doing this stuff. Even when it makes me feel really good. And I’ve tried talking to groups of people doing the same things, but I always find myself getting super defensive and upset when people try to have any type of dialogue with me about my weight or my health.

So I’m going to maybe write about this once a week here. Chronicle the things. Talk about what happens when I stop working out for whatever reason. Talk about when I’m successful. And just kind of feed this whole process into the ether of the internet in the hopes that it helps me and maybe some of you in our respective health journeys.

Mental Health, Stigma, and Therapy

One of the most damaging taboos that I have ever run across is the taboo against speaking out and articulating issues having to do with mental health.

My first experience with this phenomenon happened before I was born. My mother was the oldest of 6 children. When my mother was 18 years old, her family home burned down. Her two youngest sisters died in the fire. My uncle, the child closest in age to the girls, spent several weeks underneath the stairs, refusing to come out. Nowadays we would send him to grief counselling or therapy of some kind. But in 1968, they simply let him do what he was doing. He grew up, developed a heroin addiction, and died of an overdose when I was 20 or so.

When it comes to dealing with our problems, we as a species are really not great at being our own counselors. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about your behavior, or even the behavior of others. Everything you do is filtered through your brain, which is suuuuuper biased for all kinds of reasons.

But, while we are super flawed when it comes to judging ourselves (and sometimes others) when it comes to emotional and mental health, we also aren’t super great about seeking help when we need it. Nor are we good at being honest when we start to get it, or about our needs and boundaries while we are working on ourselves.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Having serious emotional or mental problems in your life is a highly stigmatized thing. It also, for me, feels like a really personal thing. It’s one thing if the people around me find out that I broke my leg. It’s quite another if they find out that I’m being medicated to deal with my anxiety or depression or what have you.

And I mean, when you consider the history of mental health in this country alone, the stigma against disclosing mental health issues becomes pretty easy to understand. Who wants to be institutionalized or shunned because their behavior doesn’t fit into the norm?

There’s also the issue of people simply not believing you when you say that you are feeling upset or depressed. Or not understanding the depth to which a person can be hurting at any given moment, or the work that they are doing and will continue to do in order to make themselves feel OK. There’s a lot of “well you don’t seem depressed” or “just go hang out with friends, you’ll feel better” and that kind of thing that gets floated around when someone says they’re dealing with anxiety or depression or any number of illnesses that happen to be invisible to the naked eye. Robot hugs makes a really good point about this whole phenomenon and how little sense it makes.

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I personally think that more work needs to be done in order to make these things OK and safe to talk about. And to that end, I’m going to be honest about some of the things that have been happening on my end.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been depressed. With help, I’ve been looking for a therapist, which has at least given me the feeling that I am on the right track. But it’s been super hard to deal with. I’ve gone through this before once or twice in my life. I get depressed, I go to therapy for a while, then I quit when I feel better. I feel like there are some underlying issues that I’ve never really fully addressed that actually need scrutiny for more than a month or two. It’s easy for me to get just enough help so that I feel better and quit. I do the same thing with the gym. I hit it hard for like a month, lose a few pounds, then get all scattered about it over the next couple of weeks until I feel uncomfortable enough and guilty enough to go again. Later, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, so I’ve been dealing with this. And it’s been rough. But I think it’s going to get better. I also think it’s important that we be open about what we are going through as people. Not only does it makes it easier to be honest with and accountable to ourselves, but letting the people that we care about see what is going on within helps them to be more honest with us and with other people who are close to them. Which I think can be a really powerful thing.