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.

This Blog is Full of Liverwurst

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I hate when people seem to think that they can fix, off the top of their heads(!), problems that have taken me years to even define. It’s rude and almost never helpful, almost always hurtful. I strive in this blog to never give flippant advice, and to never assume that I know how something will affect any given reader.

And toward that end: The Menu Approach.

I'll start with some Exercise and have the You Do You! as an entre please.

I’ll start with some Exercise and have the You Do You! as an entre please.
(Getting fancy with the multimedia, people!)


When I was feeling better, I would use The Menu Approach when there were too many cool things to do. To avoid becoming overwhelmed at picking the right one, I would pretend all my options were on a menu.

I might want to order everything, but if I tried to eat it all I’d have a terrible night. Also, I don’t expect myself to always pick the absolute best thing on a menu. I just pick something and it’s almost always perfectly good. (I know plenty of people who do stress out about menu choices. If you’re one of them – this post might be liverwurst.)

I try now to use The Menu Approach when people give me advice, even if they don’t present the advice as optional. Oh, you think I should wake up earlier because it might help me avoid nightmares? Thanks. I’ll put that on the menu, but I feel NO sense of urgency in trying it out.

I use The Menu Approach to rob the advice of its sting. The “wise adviser” may not realize that mornings are the hardest part of the day for many depressed people, and that making your morning longer might be a special kind of torture.

So instead of getting mad at them for thinking they know what’s good for me when they do NOT understand what’s going on with me, I put it on The Menu. And sometimes I just let it sit there. Like liverwurst.

P.S. This blog is full of liverwurst! Please treat it as such

The Benefits of Treading Water

I’ve written a little before about depression metaphors. Once I hear one that feels right, I tend to stick to a metaphor as if it were true. They’re not true, and I think it’s really important to shop around.

The cliff metaphor seemed appropriate when I was first diagnosed. It captures that idea that you can face a lot of difficulty and still be ok, you can still be on top of the mountain, plodding along. And then something terrible happens in your life or in your brain and suddenly it feels like you’ve fallen. You can no longer even struggle, or you can but it won’t do any good. You’re over the cliff and it feels impossible to help yourself.

Nowadays my favorite metaphor for what I’m dealing with is treading water. It’s constant, it’s difficult, it’s exhausting. Continuing to tread doesn’t feel like it’s making me stronger. It’s just wearing me down.

In those rare moments when I realize that I’m more comfortable than usual, I imagine that the floor has risen, that I’m standing for a bit. I can rest.

The metaphor helps me to recognize those moments and to try to stay in them, to take note of them and try to make them happen again. If I were at the bottom of a cliff I’d be telling myself, Yeah, you might be a little better now, but you are still categorically at the bottom of a fucking cliff!

For me, treading water is less all-or-nothing, and it encourages me to rest whenever I find that I can.

What metaphors do you love or hate? Click the title of this post to comment below, or email me at Thanks!

Can I Just Say? #3

Like other people, especially clinically depressed people, I tend to isolate myself when I’m feeling down, which of course makes things worse. But what I really hate is when my depression manages to isolate me while I’m out with friends.

Like when people talk about their dreams (“I dreamed I gave birth to my boyfriend!”), I don’t feel like I can chime in (“I dreamed I drowned in my own blood, vomit, and teeth! Crazy, right?!”).

You might as well tell people that you killed a guy with a trident.

I Changed Your Diapers So…

This post is a modification of an email I sent to younger family members a few weeks after I was diagnosed. Unlike most posts, it’s full of advice. I took the liberty because we face similar family histories of depression and because I changed their diapers so I get to boss them around.

The first good thought I had after the shock of diagnosis was that I would write this email.

This email is meant to help you guys deal with depression (which is way more common than we think) or avoid it completely (which is totally possible).

I’m currently suffering my fourth or fifth major episode. I’m not the smartest person on this email chain but I’m no dope either. It’s shocking to me how bad I had to get before I started to think something was wrong, that I had to be totally incapacitated, unable to work or look for work, before I realized that I needed help.

This email is to encourage you to be nice to yourself. There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself – like we should wear sunscreen because skin cancer in our family is even more common than red hair.

First and foremost, I want you each to believe that your happiness is important. Prioritize it. Cultivate habits that you enjoy. Practice your hobbies. Don’t let them fade with age.

Wherever you go in life, keep in touch with friends and family. Build or join communities within every new city. 

If you find yourself reaching for the bottle to handle stress, to get to sleep, or to relax at the end of most days, talk to someone. Alcohol is a depressant.

I strongly recommend a regular meditation practice. Ten minutes a day of focusing on Love, or your breath, or a positive image is an incredibly powerful tool. It makes us kinder, happier, and more resilient to life’s challenges.

This email is to encourage you to seek help. Getting treatment during or after your first or second episode drastically improves your chances of recovering fully, and never having to put up with this shit again. Asking for help (and then asking again) is not a weakness, it’s fucking rad.

Whatever you’re worried about, whether it’s grades or work or drinking too much or personal relationships or anything – don’t beat yourself up about it. Try to treat yourself like you would a younger sibling. Ask what’s wrong and strive to have the courage to face it.

Don’t expect to be able to fix your problems by yourself.

Let’s be the first generation that isn’t ashamed of this stuff. The first one to be proactive and not hide from each other when we’re feeling our worst.

And always remember: your family, we don’t love you because of what you do. We just love you.