Living with Demon Days

Last night a friend who’s dealing with long term clinical depression came over to hang out. It’s a rare thing when someone who is deeply depressed can do that, I know it was hard for them and I am grateful for the time with my friend.

For those of you that don’t know my fiance Derrick lives with clinical depression, yesterday he wrote a blog about his depression called “Demon Days“. I invite you to read it. A few years ago I also wrote about demons in a blog post called I Am Not Jesus which may give you some other context about the demons reference. We call the voices that arise in our heads “demons” some people call them the saboteur. We all have them, but depression amplifies them a thousand fold.

My friend is single, and during the discussion there was some reflection on how it is that we, as a couple, navigate my fiance’s depression. More specifically there was a bit of worry, “will someone really love me if I have clinical depression, is that really possible?”

Because Derrick talks so openly about his depression others often find it helpful to talk to him, as I do other partners. I’ve been thinking for a while, about starting a Facebook support group around spouses of people with clinical depression. It’s important to talk about depression, but not just from the people who are experiencing it. There is another side, there are the people who live with the people, who love the people, experiencing it. And just like depression itself, there are healthy ways to navigate our relationship and unhealthy ways.

I have experienced depression, but mine is situational. Only a few times in my life have I been very depressed, it is not the same as clinical or chronic depression. However, those periods of my life have given me enough understanding to not only have sympathy but understand that this is not the same and I can never “completely” understand.

If you are a person who experiences clinical depression or partnered with someone make sure you educate yourself. Set aside the stigma, depression is part of the deal, it’s not going away. Medication helps, there’s nothing wrong with medication, but finding the right one is most important. Also, therapy! Derrick and I have individual therapists and a couples therapist. Remember what you’ve learned about co-dependency, you can’t fix this.

There’s nothing you can do to “make it all better” but there are certainly things that can make it worse or hurt the relationship. I will say too, that I have a partner who is active in managing his depression and it is a different conversation if your partner is not. Our relationship is built on trust that both of us will continue to manage our mental health and that means we sometimes have to say hard things to each other.  How do I do that? Here are some thoughts.

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Take Care of Yourself. I am a natural caregiver, I can go down into the pit of depression with him if I’m not careful. I often describe living with someone living with depression is like a dark grey cloud over my house. But the thing is, the cloud doesn’t just follow him around, if I have any compassion or empathy with my partner at all, when he’s depressed I am affected too. There are lots of articles out there about caregivers for people with physical illness, the rules apply here too.

I used to focus all of my care-giving on him, after all, he needed it more. Depression is a selfish beast, it wants it all and it will only take from you. If it does give, it gives in half-truths and hurtful projections. Depression demands isolation, that’s how it can control the person best. So as his partner I reach out to others who will listen and understand, whom we trust. I ask them to reach out to him. I cannot do this alone, I have to love him after all (says the demon). Friends want to help, they’re there to help, but sometimes they just don’t know they can until you let them know. I also reach out to friends for myself, and ask them to meet me for a drink, and get me out of my cloud.

You Have Needs Too. So, can someone really love someone with clinical depression and get their needs met? Absolutely. However, it takes a lot of self-confidence and a lot of confidence in the relationship. If you’ve entered your relationship knowing about your partner’s depression or it was undiagnosed (or they simply stopped hiding it) things will change when they have an episode.

I get a lot of my emotional needs met through Derrick. When I was new to the whole living with someone who lived with depression thing I put my needs on the shelf and thought I would wait it out. I thought this was the most helpful thing for both of us. Which is fine if it’s a bad day, is another thing if the episode goes on for a week/month or two or more.

This is where the trust in the relationship comes in. Be confident in yourself. By putting my needs completely aside for long periods of time resentment would build, because Derrick didn’t notice my needs weren’t being met or all the extra responsibility I had taken on and then I would break down too. (Guess what’s not helpful?) Depression sometimes looks like the person is being really selfish, when in reality it’s not selfishness, but there is a real inward focus. The demon demands constant attention and the rest of their energy is spent just trying to function.

So I trust that we have a good relationship, I trust that my needs are important, but I triage. I’ve learned to name my needs and ask for them when I really need him. Usually he can muster up enough energy to listen and love me, after all he wants to do that deep down, even if it’s hard. I also modify my needs. What is it that I really am missing?

The other day I was missing connecting with him, I wanted to talk about how sad he was and how I wanted to help, and how are you really doing? Yet, that wasn’t actually productive for either of us because he couldn’t tell me the thing he really wanted to say and I really wanted to hear: I feel all better. So I started to talk about something completely non-related, for us it might be football, a new Star Wars theory, something funny the kids did, his garden. We talked, smiled, even a laugh. Distraction is a wonderful thing. I got the one on one attention I needed, and he got to get out of his head for a minute.  Sometimes it’s just putting on a movie or binging a show we love and snuggling.

Timing is Everything. Do I really need to talk about the complicated intricate issue RIGHT NOW? (If you know me, you’ll know that yes, yes I do…) but do I?

If the depressive episode is lasting a long time or an issue can’t wait, simply mention it. We have a shared journal. Just a composition notebook, that slows down our collective processing. For the one not depressed some things can’t wait, or some things are hurtful. Write them down, tell them how you feel and what happened. They can write back after they’ve had time to process. It just makes things less urgent.

Not all things are written down, sometimes we do talk. The other day we were talking about an issue and it was triggering a demon. I stopped talking and asked if we could talk about it in therapy this week. I could settle my feeling of urgency to have resolution by knowing the time and place it would be resolved and he knew he could think about it at a time that he had the energy to.

Love Through the Pain. This is the most complicated one. Look for triggers. I often know Derrick is depressed before he can recognize it. I know because he’ll respond differently to a “normal” interaction or he’ll get quieter than usual, and sometimes it’s just a look in his eyes. I try not to project my sadness about it onto him (hello, therapist…). I also refuse to believe his demons when they get voiced. The demons create such a complicated web of self-loathing.

I refuse to give them power. I keep loving him as deeply as I would on his best day. I tell him twice as much how much he is loved, how grateful I am for him, and acknowledge even the slightest way he helped. I can do this because I am confident in his love for me and our relationship even if he can’t voice that in that moment. We have spent time talking about how Derrick really feels about me and how I really feel about him we’re both clear and I hold tightly to that truth.

When the demon rears its ugly head I can say to myself and to him, “I know that’s what you think right now but it’s not true.” When he’s not depressed he can unpack if I was helpful or not during the depression, each episode we can learn from each others needs how to love each other better.

This is neurological. If he could “be normal” (yes, I use in quotes, because depression just is part of their life) or “snap out of it” then he would (again, I’m assuming they’re taking care of themselves). They are not doing this on purpose and you certainly didn’t do anything wrong. There are certainly things that can make depression more manageable, like therapy, medication, and exercise. There are things they can do to make it less manageable like alcohol, drugs, and continued isolation. Most of the time something triggers it but it simply is a biological issue. If Derrick isn’t taking care of himself (like drinking too much) I say something. This is also love. At first I would recommend doing this in the context of therapy until you’ve established trust. Remember the demon will rile at the idea of being expelled so sometimes you have to learn to trust each other in a new way while they’re depressed.

And Be Thankful. Love and gratitude gets us through. Each day, depression or not, we talk about the things we are grateful for. I love Derrick. Derrick is both who he is depressed and who he is not depressed. I do not have to love the demons nor be grateful for them, but I do accept that they are part of him. Living in a posture of gratitude has changed my life for the better in every way.

I have demons too, but they look different. They’re a little more manageable and I know it takes time to tame them. I also know they appear at the most inconvenient times. Those who suffer from depression you are not alone. Those who love those who suffer from depression, you are not alone either. Soon I will set up a Facebook support group. Let me know if you want to be part of it.

Edit: the FB group has been started, DM me on FB if you would like to join.

Pulling the Trigger

I’m not the first to say it, this election has been triggering. For immigrants, for People of Color, for women, for men of conscience. For, well, almost everyone.

Today was the latest scandal about Trump’s “locker room talk” in 2005. I won’t even bother linking to an article about it. It’s not worth it, if you haven’t read about it then don’t bother, it comes down to this, rape culture is real.

Several weeks ago something happened in my life that made all the triggers go off. Just about all of them. I was telling my therapist that I was already on high alert because every time I turn on the news I get triggered by something.

I was raw and exposed, again…

Being “triggered” basically means you have an emotional reaction to something that is from your past. It’s like PTSD only hopefully on a less severe level. It could be anything. Smelling old spice aftershave that my grandfather used to wear. Spelling the cologne your rapist was wearing.

The thing about being triggered is even the most self-aware people can be triggered and not know it for minutes, hours, days. Over time I have developed internal “check-ins”. “What’s bothering me?” Oh… that explains it.

Think… anything that comes out of Trumps mouth for the people he is talking about.

Anyway, I was talking to my therapist, “I’m tired of being raw, I’m tired of being exposed, I’m tired of being triggered by everything every time I turn around!”

In other words, I needed to have a little more control.

He asked me a very therapist-y question. “Is there any time in the past where you have had this happen and how did you handle it?”

Okay, fair enough, well played therapist man.

I told him a story of when I was in seminary and I had several issues of “serendipity” or “coincidence” and I decided to make a spiritual discipline out of it. It had happened so many times in a row that I felt like I was out of control.

I felt that these were messages from God that I was not paying attention to. So I chose a number, the trinity would guide me (remember, I was in seminary). If someone came to my mind 3 times in a short period of time I would call them. If I came across a book, movie, someone mentioned “you should do something… go somewhere… think about” if it came up 3 times, I would no longer put it off.

This is a spiritual practice I still do today and has become highly effective.

“So”, my therapist said, “Let’s try it.”

For the last few weeks every time I’ve been triggered by something I used it as an opportunity to release it and extend forgiveness for the thing triggered.

When I was 19 I read the book “Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz. He said something about forgiveness that I have never forgotten.

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“When you can touch a wound and it doesn’t hurt,
then you know you have truly forgiven.”

It was damning to me. In fact, it was one of those things where I said, “That’s impossible.”

Years later, I know it’s not. It can happen. But like a wound a doctor heals, it has to be checked, and sometimes hurts more to look under the bandage. Sometimes the wound reopens.

When we are triggered we reopen a wound that has yet to be healed. And they’re everywhere. Elsewhere in the book he speaks of having a skin condition covered in wounds that have become “normal” and people without the skin condition are considered the freaks.

If I use his analogy to contemporary issues I could say that the people without the skin conditions are “woke”.

So for the last few weeks I have been trying to see triggering as a spiritual practice. It is time to change the dressing on that wound. Changing the dressing is the healthy way of addressing the wound.

I realized I had a choice, I could ignore it (and the past tells me it will reopen the wound and the pattern will continue) or I could address it. By addressing it, I could use the opportunity to heal to extend forgiveness.

This is what I know. (and yes, I am closely reaching my self-help cliche mark for one post). Withholding forgiveness hurts me more than it hurts you. Throughout the weeks as my therapist and I have talked about how my spiritual practice is going, I have noticed it wasn’t just about needing to be in control of my emotions, it was also about living into who I am.

I am not a person who withholds forgiveness easily, especially people I love and have ongoing relationships with. Triggers are an opportunity to live more fully into my scarred, but healed self.

Funny how God works sometimes…

 

Fertility Windows & the Existential Crises

I went to the doctor yesterday for my annual checkup. My doctor has a 5 month old baby, her first. Last time I saw her she was very pregnant. She’s doing well, looked tired, has half the workload she did before baby. The woman I saw a year ago had perfect clothes and makeup, put together in “all the ways”. Today her hair was in a pony tail, no makeup and her shirt looked laundered but that’s about it.

I did not fully understand her before, but this woman, I know.

In the course of many, many questions she asks, “Are you going to have any more children?” “NO!” I snapped back with a look of horror and disgust, as if that was the most unnatural thing in the world to ask. (Getting to this “no” was never easy and yes, does have a tiny hint of sadness there, “in theory” but in reality- NO!)

She was completely taken aback, especially after I had just nodded my head through her telling me about her birth and a quick synopsis of feeding and sleeping schedules. Why would I want to do that again? Pssht.

Rewind a half hour earlier when I had been opening the door to her office. It’s an office with many kinds of doctors. Specialty medicine, general practitioners, OBGYN and psychiatrist/therapists. I was looking at one of the psychiatrist’s names and had a two sentence conversation in my head, it went like this:

“I think I’m having an existential crisis…”

“What else is new?”

As the day went on I was completely worn down, tired, thirsty, moody. I came home and laid in bed. I realized that I had an emotionally exhausting dream the night before that left me pondering the questions, “To whom do I belong? Who really am I, if it’s just me?”

I took my daughter to softball practice. I brought my camping chair and went a reasonable distance away from the other parents that said, yeah, I’m good over here all alone, but not too far away so as to say, I’m a bad parent. Anyway, one mother (imagine a petite WASP with brown hair) “Did you hear Prince Died today? So sad.”

Roots.jpgI looked up at her from my phone in which I had been posting Prince articles onto Facebook. “Yeah…” I said in the please don’t talk to me kind of way. Then I realized I was wearing my “The Roots” t-shirt. And I’m not talking about some subtle obscure concert T where you don’t know if it’s for a band or coffee or what. I mean it says “THE ROOTS” in 5″ letters across the top. I wanted to yell at her, “Umm… excuse me, in what world does a woman wear a Roots t-shirt and NOT know Prince died!”

Yeah, it was dusk and I was in full on bitch mode, then I came home and accused my boyfriend of being annoyingly literal when he corrected something I said (which he was being). I was waiting to eat dinner and getting more and more annoyed. Then I looked…

I use an app on my phone called “Clue” to keep tract of my “womanly days”. Like most woman I’m not as predictable as the phases of the moon. Originally I turned off all the other functions except for when I would start my period. I mean, I don’t want to have any more kids (did you read the beginning of this post?) And therefore don’t need to know when my “fertility window” is, but I have since turned it back on because I found myself “hormonal” (a way overused word) on those days.

Until I had a thought, my whole day started to come together (sometimes I’m a little slow)… The dream and question “To whom do I belong?”, “Are you having more kids?”, The death of one of my all time favorite musicians, not fitting in to the normal parent “mold” and just overall fitfulness of the day, I opened the app.

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It’s the first full day of my “Fertility Window”. F*ing hormones… 

And yet… It would all make sense wouldn’t it? That Every month I have an existential crisis at the very same time my body is reacting hormonally by releasing an egg to to be fertilized and playing a real life Russian Roulette.

Once a month I have restless leg syndrome for the soul. It’s an illease that sits in my chest and whispers “do more, be more, go deeper, make smarter decisions” and do all of this while meditating like Don Draper during the final scene of Mad Men. 

Huh… More to ponder, I shall experiment with this over the next few months. Thoughts?

Sedentary

How often do you work out 60-90 minutes a week? Are you: Vigorous (5-7 days a week), Active (3-5 days a week), Moderate (1-3 days), Inactive (sporadic to never)

Every time I answer this question I feel bad about myself. I click “Moderate” but in my life right now that is wishful thinking. Honestly for the majority of my life it’s been wishful thinking.

I was never a sports girl, and my summer babysitters could encourage us staying inside and watching tv. I swam, but after swim team practice most of my time was spent laying around the pool and drinking sugary drinks and waiting for my next snack.

No really.

A few years ago I made some life changes, and thanks to medical advancements, helped to subside some genetic disorders that kept some weight on. After I had lost some weight I found it easier to exercise. I found it easier to do a lot of things, like walk up and down stairs. It’s amazing what 10 pounds can even do!

Losing weight is great, but I needed to be healthy, which means, active. For me, calories in and calories out did not equal a steady weight, it still doesn’t, my body works against me. Yet, I admit that as the scale has crept up in the last year, I use this as an excuse. It is easy to get caught in a  victim mentality when you have a disorder that keeps you fat.

Here’s what doctors, trainers, and well… anyone says, “Find some exercise you love, then it won’t feel like work.”

You know what I love? Sitting on the couch and eating cookies. Drinking beer and wine on my porch with friends. Laying by the pool with a good book. You know what else I like? Butter and warm rolls. Laying in a  hammock on a sunny day. Sure, I like walks too, but slow ones on a beach.

You know what I don’t like? exercise. So when “everyone” tells me to find a workout I love so it won’t feel like work I smile and nod and think, riiiiiight. I mean sometimes I sit on the patio because I’m too lazy to walk across the yard and climb into the hammock (which is a good core workout for those 3 seconds, by the way).

No seriously, it’s not in my blood. Working out, exercise, being active is a chore for me. And that’s okay.

One of the things I need to get through my thick scull is that exercise is not just for losing weight, it’s for always. Always and forever. We were meant to be active people. It’s fine that I want to relax, I do deserve a glass of wine with friends on my patio, that’s good for my soul, but so is exercise.

Over the last year as I have slowly become more sedentary (again) I realized I am also more agitated, more anxious, moody, and so on. I am impatient with my kids and more reactive, I don’t process and I am mindless with a lot of my life.

And here’s the thing I hate most about all of this. I did find a thing that I loved. 3 years ago I bought a groupon on a whim for Bikram Yoga Baltimore. I liked the idea of yoga, but monkey mind made the meditative and quiet aspect a problem. OMMMMMM, nope.

In Bikram Yoga the room is heated to about 100 degrees and I stand, sit, or bend in a pose and can’t do anything but breathe. Talk about getting into my body. I feel strong, I feel alive, I feel powerful. I also feel like I’m going to die. It’s great.

“Stretch, BREATHE, bend, BREATHE, come up, BREATHE (don’t pass out, don’t pass out). Bend forward (oh, God, tell my kids I love them) BREATHE!!!!” For 90minutes sweat drips from every pore of my body. In the winter I walk out of the studio, sit in my car, and I am literally steaming hot. What’s not to love?

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So why did I stop? Because habits die hard. And why do something that feels amazing and makes me feel confident when I can sit on the couch with potato chips and Netflix?

But here I am (smuhumhum) pounds later and I feel terrible about myself. Lazy, fat, insecure, no good…. I could go on and on. (PS- why does not exercising bring up my “you’re a terrible person” demons?) Anyway…

Next week is Holy Week, and I will go into the abyss with Jesus and down into the depth of hell of my body issues. Self care is on the way. Healthier, happier, less sedentary me is on the way. Oh, and if I happen to be able to fit into my clothes again by summer, that’d be great.

Who’s with me?!?