Depression: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Torn pieces of paper with the word "Depression". Concept Image. Black and White. Close-up.

I am prone to depression as I wrote about some time ago.

It’s not the kind of curl-up-in-the-fetal-position, paralytic, soul-crushing kind of depression that I know a lot of people suffer from.  It’s more the garden variety, somedays-I-just-get-the-blues kind of sadness.  It feels like a dark, silently negative squatter invades my heart, mind, and spirit and decides to take up residence.  It’s hard to get rid of him.  He came to town about a month ago, and and just this past week, I managed to evict him–for the time being.

Given the fact that I’ve got a pretty good life, I feel like I don’t deserve to be depressed.  I marvel as I see people who have so much less than I have, so much more to complain about, making their way through the world happily and wonder, what am I doing wrong?

When I sink into this state, I can’t seem to enjoy anything.  I’m sensitive to every slight, every perceived criticism. Every negative perception that I have about myself bubbles to the surface just to make me feel more miserable.  I feel like the people I love the most have withdrawn from me when often I am the one pushing them away at the moment that I absolutely need them the most.  My sense of isolation is palpable.

During this past bout I could actually identify some of the triggers that had opened the door to this sadness.  One was having to watch this horrible election cycle play out where instead of being able to root for an inspirational, dynamic, progressive candidate like Barack Obama, I had to entertain he thought that a buffoon like Donald Trump might conceivably take his place.  Only by unplugging myself from the intense day-to-day  coverage could I begin to feel some peace.

Dealing with chronic pain can wear down my spirits.  My depression coincided with a flare-up of some symptoms that have made my lower back and legs feel as though they are on fire at times, all the way down to my feet.  Since exercise and activity are my best weapons against depression, the pain makes it doubly hard to fight back.

When I start to feel some of my most important relationships begin to shift and drift, I worry that I am beginning to lose something that has been a pillar for everything that means anything to me.  I know our bonds are strong, but fear creeps in and doubts create uncertainty and sometimes resentment in my heart.  What did I do?  What should I do?  Those questions become part of the cycle that squashes my spirit.

So, how did I manage to start feeling better?  It was a web of things, but it started in the midst of my daily practice of yoga.  I’m a firm believer in the mind-body-spirit connection, but at the same time, I think of yoga as a form of low-impact exercise that I enjoy and during which I rarely get injured, not as a spiritual exercise.  However, in the midst of a yoga routine the words “gratitude” and “forgiveness” simply floated into my mind.  I could actually see the words in my mind’s eye.

Afterwards, I thought that by consciously practicing gratitude for all that I have, constantly making myself aware of the goodness in my life, I’d be less prone to the self-pity that goes hand in hand with my depressive periods.  I saw that the practice of forgiveness was something that I have long neglected, knowing that I tend to hold on to past grievances long after their code date has expired, doing nothing but poisoning my own mind and spirit.

Armed with this new insight, I felt I was ready for the breakthrough, but having an intellectual realization didn’t mean I was ready to put it to its best use.  I literally have to practice these values daily. I post the words around the house so I have constant reminders that both my thinking and my behavior must change. It’s going to take time.

I lucked out though, and had a lovely week where I managed to reconnect with family members and important friends, sometimes in just casual and informal ways, just enough to stave off that sense of isolation and feel once again connected to the people who nourish my spirit. I felt, once again, how lucky I really am (practicing some gratitude here!).  It could not have come at a better time.

I didn’t really want to write this piece.  Now that things are going better, I didn’t want to go back, but I know how many of us struggle in this same way.  It seemed that sharing one good moment was the least I could do.

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A Pain In The Neck

ChronicPainMind

At age 63, I’m blessed with pretty good health. I won’t be training for a marathon anytime soon, but I’ve managed to dodge the scariest and most hideous forms of progressive diseases that give me nightmares.

However, I have had the same headache for 10 years now. It began as a dull throb at the base of my skull and now involves all of the muscles of my upper back, particularly extending along my right shoulder and down my right shoulder blade. I initially blamed the headache entirely on my problems with TMJ, but now realize that 50 years of poor posture have probably contributed equally.

On a good day, three ibuprophen will take the edge off and get me through most of the day. Some mornings though, I wake up feeling like someone has jammed a knitting needle down my neck and into my upper back.

The pain has successfully resisted $5000 in TMJ treatments, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, injections, massage, yoga, heating pads, topical creams, and a myriad of stretches and exercises that I’ve been told would help if I would do them daily, hourly, whatever.

All of these things have provided some temporary relief. If I could afford a daily massage, I think I would be pain free. Visits to my chiropractor also are particularly helpful; but then even if she could “fix” me, I’d continue to make up excuses to go in and see her because we’ve become friends and she is amazingly pretty.

So I manage the pain by using all of the above along with as few ibuprophen or Tylenol as I can get away with. I’ve read their warning labels and I know there is an almost inevitable downside to their constant use, but chronic pain is a bitch that I simply can’t tolerate day in and day out.

I recently discovered what seemed to be a lovely cure-all as a result of my adventure with sinus surgery. I was given something called Norco, a pain medication that combines Tylenol with just 5 little milligrams of Hydrocodone, a cousin of Vicodin. Having had little experience with opioids, I thoroughly enjoyed the 4 or 5 days that I felt justified in using this wonderful drug. I found that it didn’t necessarily eliminate pain entirely, but it took care of most of it and made me feel so good that I didn’t care about any pain that was left over. I was ready to try to find a friendly doctor that might keep me on the stuff until I read all the side affects. Just like all good things in life, it’s both highly addictive and likely to kill my liver or kidneys or both. Worst of all, to keep taking it I’d have to give up my affection for craft beer, an unacceptable trade-off. However, I still have 19 pills left—just enough for an occasional vacation from the pain if I feel I need it.

So that’s it. Big surprise! I’m getting older, and I wake up with aches and pains. I know how lucky I am that this is the extent of my physical troubles for now. I sure hope it stays that way.