all or nothing

Depression and Ambition

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, UK

         Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, England

I used to be an ambitious person. I was innately motivated to make the world a better place and I enjoyed that motivation. I wanted to accomplish big things and sometimes I got close – anyway I showed some real potential.

The thing about clinical depression and ambition is that depression is such an enormous obstacle that it overshadows all of the other challenges that you might choose to take on. It’s that ass hole at a dinner party who presides over the whole group with inane, infuriating monologues, refusing to be interrupted.

It’s not that I no longer hope to overcome great challenges – it’s just that the great challenge is depression, and it’s taking everything I have.

The truth is I really miss it. I miss the sense of purpose. I miss the drive, the striving for something bigger than myself. I miss believing that I could contribute.

On good days I think – well, all that stuff I accomplished before my diagnosis I accomplished as an undiagnosed major depressive – WHO KNOWS what I can accomplish once I’m recovered.

Most days I just hope to recover.


Asking for Help #3


A Helping Hand

A Helping Hand

The calendar that my friends and family set up to help me also highlighted that it is really, really, really hard to get what you need, even from people who love you, even when you put it all out there and ask. In words. To their faces.

Which made me wonder – is this real? Is my vision skewed? Am I seeing negative in the positive? Another unending question.

In the end I think the disappointment came from unrealistic expectations – not a failure of love or concern.

You feel shame yourself – they should be concerned with your privacy, with your pride (stigma). You don’t know what to do for yourself most of the time – how are they supposed to? (bafflement).

Like everything else in recovery, asking for help is a process. It’s not a one-off. It’s not all-or-nothing. You ask, you learn, they learn, you ask again, you learn, they learn. You love and you forgive. You hope they forgive you. You learn. You love.

Overall, the idea that my friends and family organized to help me struggle with something they can’t see – it brings me to joyful tears.

It’s not easy, but I’ll keep asking.

(Read the rest of the story here and here.)

Photo by Gusjer on  Flickr

Asking for Help #2

Rrrg. Asking or help is almost impossible. It can be embarrassing, scary, hopeful – overwhelmingly emotional. I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my time during depressive episodes trying not to be emotionally overwhelmed.

To make matters worse – in my experience you have to ask over and over again. I think this is mostly due to stigma and well-intentioned bafflement. Your friends and family don’t want to embarrass you (stigma) and they also have no idea what would help (bafflement).

Only one solid thing came out of my weird, awkward Asking for Help Event, and that was a shared google calendar. Five or so people signed up for a day each week. On that day, they were supposed to call me, text me, somehow check in. That’s it.

The result was extremely helpful, and a little disappointing.

Knowing that there was someone who expected to hear from me, or who was going to reach out, almost every day of the week was incredibly helpful. It felt like a safety net. It quieted the worry, the deep conviction that I was alone and that no one would or could help.

I no longer had to do math in my head if I felt a downward spiral coming on. “Should I call A? No. I called him last week. I should call  B? No, she wouldn’t understand this one. What time is it? Will C be awake? Oh! she’s got the kids today – I’m already too much of a burden on her…” And on and on in circles until I felt more desperate than when I began the deliberations. The calendar often allowed me to avoid that conversation altogether – which was priceless.

For the rest of the story – check out Asking for Help #3.

Asking for Help

Flower art asking for helpA few months after my diagnosis I realized that I was desperate for help. I had moved to my home town, a city full of friends and family with whom I had great relationships, but I felt like no one could hear me scream.

Enter: that shitty, mean voice. When I thought about getting help, I couldn’t stop focusing on how it wouldn’t actually fix anything. Even if all my friends and family acted exactly as I wanted them to, I would still be terribly depressed. It wouldn’t fix the traumas I’d suffered in the past, it wouldn’t fix the disillusionment I had good reason to suffer from in the present, and it wouldn’t fix my racing thoughts or terrible nightmares. So why bother? Especially if it’s so hard. Why bother.

Eventually I recognized something in that line of reasoning. It reminded me of that voice that wouldn’t let me enjoy a run years earlier. That, “I’m still in control. Your efforts are useless,”  voice.

But the thing is, the voice brought up a good point. Asking for help wouldn’t fix everything. It probably wouldn’t even fix anything. For me, that’s the hardest part. The voice always seems to have some grain of truth to it, twisted around to make me feel helpless.

I went back and forth about this for weeks. Racing thoughts, rumination. Should I ask for help? How? Why can’t they tell I need it? What good would it do? What do I want from them, anyway? I had no idea.

So I did a weird and awkward thing. I invited eight people – my parents and some close friends – and I had a fucking Asking For Help, like, straight up Event. There were chips, there were peanuts, there were two people skyped in from other cities, and there was me, explaining what I now understood to be my history with depression, and saying I didn’t know what I needed from them but that I needed them desperately.

I realize in hindsight that I was putting my foot down against the voice, against the back-and-forth about whether anyone could ever help at all. I was asking for help in such a public and shared way that I wouldn’t be able to go back on it. No one could pretend it hadn’t happened.

It didn’t fix anything.

But it helped.


Read the rest of the story here and here.

Measuring Our Symptoms Instead of Our Suffering

Functional is not OkOne of the most common things I hear from my friends and family who are struggling with very low moods is that they don’t need to do anything deliberate about it because they are able to manage.

It usually hurts to hear this because I want so much more for them than “being able to function.”

One friend explained that he didn’t see his struggles as a disability because sometimes they gave him insight, and anyway he was able to keep a job and manage his personal affairs.

Is it a disability? Sometimes? I don’t know, and honestly, in most circumstances I don’t really care. I object to the idea that your suffering should be measured by how well you hide it, how well you manage it, how much effect it has on others. I object to the idea that hiding it is a positive skill at all.

I’ve been an extremely functional clinically depressed person, travelling internationally for work and earning advanced degrees. I’ve also had periods when I could not function, when I had to get help to eat and pay my bills (right now comes to mind).

You know what? For me, as far as plain old suffering is concerned, they were (are) each about as bad as the other.

I do not mean to imply that there are not degrees to feeling low. There definitely are, and some cases are much more serious than others. Most people have responsibilities to others that make it difficult for them to care for themselves – I don’t mean to underestimate that either.

What I mean to say is that you don’t have to be debilitated to benefit from some care from yourself and some help from others. What I mean to say is that you deserve better than just getting through the day.

We’re behind you.