Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?

 

Best break for my brain: working out. (“My Morning Routine” – !)

Every once in a while, I go to My Morning Routine to peruse the site and gain some life inspiration. I went there today, and it actually inspired this blog post. I know I’ve shared a daily routine (or two) here before, but I don’t think I’ve filled in a morning routine questionnaire from this site. These questions are pretty much the same across the interviewees, but I’ll see different, additional questions thrown in here and there. I included as many of them as I could find in the few interviews that I read today.

 

1). What is your morning routine?

These days, I wake up anywhere from 5:00 to 6:30am, though most often at 5:30am. I take my morning meds/supplements, pour some coffee, open my laptop, and get into my writing.

 

2). How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I started dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing sometime in the last 12 months. The rest of my routine hasn’t varied in years.

 

3). How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

My “dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing” discipline means focusing on my project before filling my mind with anything else of substance. Before, I would multi-task my brain between writing, email, social media, news, and so on. I’ll still scroll through instagram and twitter on my phone while drinking my first cup of coffee, though. I don’t click to read articles on twitter… early in the morning, I’m only there to check for major news headlines and traffic/weather alerts.

 

4). What time do you go to sleep?

Between 11:00 and midnight, usually.

 

5). Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

No.

 

6). Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I do use an alarm, though my internal clock (aka my bladder) will sometimes wake me up before it goes off. I never use a snooze button.

 

7). How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

If I’m working out that morning, I’ll have breakfast between two and three hours after I wake up. If it’s not a gym morning, I’ll eat four to five hours after waking up. I have the same breakfast every day. Since a month or two ago, it’s been a bowl of plain organic oatmeal (made with water) with light agave syrup and cinnamon. I also have a handful of raw mixed nuts.

 

8). Do you have a morning workout routine?

My morning gym routine is Les Mills Body Pump at the gym. I go three mornings a week.

 

9). Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

Working out is my meditation. The 50 or so minutes of continuous physical activity provide the best break for my brain. For the duration of the class, there are no thoughts in my head. There’s music and there’s someone telling me what to do, and I listen and I do it and that’s it. There’s no room for anything else. I try to stay in the workout, where there’s no thinking involved! If distractions enter my mind, I force them out. This is key to any sort of meditation practice.

 

10). Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I’m bad at checking email. Let’s just leave it at that.

 

11). Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

Other than taking my anti-anxiety med and putting on my Fitbit to track the quality and duration of my sleep, no.

 

12). How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

As I’d mentioned above, I usually check instagram and twitter while drinking my first cup of coffee. That’s about 30 minutes after I wake up.

 

13). What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Cleaning Nenette’s litter box and doing my skin-care routine. I water my plants in the morning once a week.

 

14). What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water, immediately.

 

15). How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

He usually wakes up at the same time as I do, and we have coffee together in the living room. He makes the bed as a part of his getting ready for work routine, and I make his lunch while he’s doing that. We’re a good team.

 

16). Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

Saturday is the day I’ll wake up at 6:30am, as I usually don’t write before going to the gym that morning. Sundays, I’ll try to sleep in until 7:00-7:30am. I write at different times over the weekend. The routine relaxes.

 

17). On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

No. If I’m not in my home, I don’t write first thing in the morning.

 

18). What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

If I fail to follow my routine, there’s a good reason for it, so it doesn’t impact the rest of my day. Whatever changes occur, my daily task list is always there to guide me through. The important thing is that by the end of the day, I’ve checked off as much of that list as possible.

 

Post-gym, seventh of June, two thousand eighteen.

 

Sorry this pic is so dark! Bad lighting and brownish walls aren’t the best for selfies, or anything else, for that matter.

 

The End.

 

May Favorites!

I’m not sure how to sum up the month of May. Mental health real talk: May was the white serial killer van creeping slowly down the street in front of your office window; you’re mesmerized by a combination of horror and morbid fascination as you wonder when it’s going to stop, and what you’ll see when it does. The van doesn’t stop, though. It keeps going, slowly, and when it disappears from view, you’re relieved, but you wish you’d seen more. Then June rolls around in the form of another serial killer van, and now you’re wondering whether you should ask for an adjustment to your depression medication cocktail.

In other words, ugh. This is what “Little Things” are for, right? Here are some of the Little Things that I enjoyed in May:

 

1). Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife (Netflix)

 

 

Some hilarity was in order. We got it by watching this. BEWARE if you have delicate sensibilities. Ali does not hold back!

 

2). A Quiet Place (film)

 

 

We finally made it out to a movie, and we picked a good one. It’s immensely gratifying when a horror film turns out to be good and not cheesy at all, like this one, though I love cheesy horror flicks, too.

 

3). The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, S2)

 

 

I probably noted the first time around that the phenomenal The Handmaid’s Tale is visually stunning, and that you could hit “pause” anywhere and it’s like you’re looking at a Vermeer painting. Season 2 follows suit.

 

4). Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (Netflix)

 

 

Netflix’ real-life crime drama docuseries game is strong.

 

5). Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)

 

 

Cobra Kai is a current day “where are they now” blast that puts you back in the 80’s because the main character is stuck there.

 

6). The Americans (FX) Series Finale (S6)

 

 

The Americans series finale couldn’t have been better, in our opinion. We’re sad that it’s over, but it had to end at some point, I suppose.

 

 

Philip and Elizabeth in the final scene of the very last episode of The Americans.

 

7). Sumo/Natsu Basho (May 2018 Grand Sumo Tournament) and Tochinoshin’s promotion to Ozeki.

 

Tochinoshin (actual name: Levan Gorgadze)

 

We’re big Tochinoshin fans, as you may recall if you’ve been here for a while, so we were thrilled to witness Tochinoshin’s historic promotion to Ozeki (Sumo’s 2nd-highest rank) at the end of his spectacular May tournament.

 

 

The wonderful tribute video above doesn’t include Tochinoshin’s most notable victory of the May Basho (for reasons of respect, I would guess), so I’m posting another video showing that match. This is his win over the formidable Yokozuna Hakuho. Yokozuna is Sumo’s highest rank. A Yokozuna is basically like a god in Japan.

 

 

8). Cherry season.

Cherry season is when Dad drives 1.5 hours to the cherry orchards in Brentwood (CA) and picks pounds and pounds of cherries and sends a big box of them to me, and then I know that we’re on the verge of summer, because I can taste it. Cherries are my favorite fruit. Callaghan doesn’t like them, so these were all for me.

 

Rainier cherries and another type whose name I can’t remember. The deep red-black Bing cherries come later in the season.

 

9). Popcorn with nuts.

 

popcorn and nuts

 

I started dumping roasted, salted mixed nuts on top of my popcorn, and it’s so very satisfying.

 

Alas, I could only come up with nine Things this time. They were outstanding. They were more than enough.

On minimizing “decision-fatigue.” (Mental wellness post!)

One day, in the third week of April 2017, I figured out what I’d wear to the gym each workout day of the following week. I wrote it all down. It was life-changing. I’ve since kept up the practice: once a week, I plan and list my gym outfits in a notebook (to keep track), gather the clothing, put them together in neat little bundles, and place them in the drawer in the order of the workouts. This completely eliminates having to think about what to wear to the gym as I’m getting ready to go.

This might make it sound like I have gym-clothing fashion concerns, but I do not. What I have is limited time and a limited mental/creative energy capacity each day.

No matter how little I care about my gym attire, I still have to decide what to put on. It’s a small, inconsequential decision, but it’s still a decision. Toward the end of the day, small and inconsequential decisions have added up, and then I start to make poor decisions, or I struggle to make decisions at all anymore. It could be that when it’s late-afternoon and I find myself stressed and unable to pinpoint a cause, I’m actually looking at decision-fatigue.

Why do couples sometimes bicker (stereotypically) over what to have for dinner? Maybe because they’re both at the end of a long day of making hundreds of little decisions, and they’re decision-exhausted and hangry. Decision-fatigue is a documented phenomenon; I’ve found web pages devoted to it.

As I said, my habit of putting gym clothes together a week in advance has been life-changing. It helps immensely that getting dressed for the gym involves only opening a drawer and pulling out the bundle on top. Zero decisions, minimal time. Even if I know what I’m going to wear, I’d still have to search for the pieces (t-shirts and pants – told you I didn’t care about gym fashion!) if they weren’t already bundled together.

 

Minimizing decision-fatigue: gym outfit prep, week-in-advance

 

This week-in-advance planning and prep – as opposed to multiple night-befores – allows me to devote my mental/creative energy and time to writing. Early mornings are especially precious to me; my primary focus each day starts with my “morning pages,” which consist of whatever part of my project I have in front of me. (Usually, it’s a single chapter.)

Gym-clothing planning is just an example. I’ve made it a point to try to be aware of other little decisions that feed on my energy levels throughout the day, and to get ahead of these decisions by strategizing accordingly. Because of my new awareness, I’ve returned to the habit of making daily lists of things to do. I might know what I have to do, but having the list in front of me saves me time and mental energy.

This leads me to a tangent: I don’t consider decisions to be distractions. There’s always a time and reason for distractions. Callaghan’s the same way! Perhaps we who work in creative realms need distractions because we’re easily over-saturated with our creations. Distractions carry me into a different head-space… they wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When the text is no longer at the forefront of my mind, I can start the next writing session and see what I couldn’t see before.

With that, I’m going to slam the door shut on this topic, because I can sense other tangents rising up!

Happy Friday Eve, everyone.

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”

 

Birthday post! (On aging.)

Not to sound like a disgruntled middle-aged person, but somehow, I’ve been dropped from AARP’s mailing list since they began their early-harassment campaign a few years ago. They were all over me when I turned – what was it, 46? – and now I’m on the eve of 49, and nothing from them. It’s FOMO more than wanting to actually sign up, I suppose.

Tomorrow is my birthday; I’ll begin my last year in my 40’s. I’ve felt sort of obligated to come up with a birthday reflection post, so I’ve been, well, reflecting.

I’m fine with aging, in general. Having to look at a downside, though, I came up with this: aging’s not fun in a typical way that aging’s not fun.

Common aging-related laments would include health complaints associated with age, “looking old” and gaining weight, failure to achieve life goals, becoming more forgetful, being broke later in life.

My only aging-related lament so far: loss.

We’re not as prepared for aging-related loss. We’re bombarded with advertisements for anti-aging products, money management firms, weight-loss programs, adult re-education programs, retirement homes. There’s a sizable market of services and shit to sell to oldsters. But there are no advertisements to help with the fact that the older we get, the more people we lose, the more beloved furbabies we bury. Maybe we get crankier and more melancholic with age because of this accumulation of loss, the general sadness that comes with watching our loved ones pass away.

Oldsters’ loneliness comes, in part, from death. It’s good to keep this in mind, to be mindful of treating the elderly with respect and compassion. They’ve seen a lot, and they’ve suffered a lot of loss along the way. Aging-related loneliness is a profound loneliness. Give oldsters a break when they’re in a bad mood or just generally negative. They may act like they don’t want us or need us, but they do, in some way or another. Love and compassion are the most invaluable commodities.

All of that being said, I’ve also found definite upsides to aging, and many of these are typical: learning from mistakes, caring less about what others think, getting closer to age-qualification for senior discounts at various places. (I needed a bit of levity there.)

Most of all, the older I get, the more gratitude I feel. I’m thankful to be alive; every birthday is a victory. I’m thankful for the people I do have in my life. I’m grateful to feel good health-wise, despite chronic illness; grateful that my body works. I feel enormous gratitude that I’m able to do what I love, and gratitude that I live in the sunniest place possible – yes, lots of sunshine matters tremendously to me and my mental well-being.

On that note, I took some selfies outside on Friday (December 22). Here’s one:

 

The Friday before my birthday – wearing red for the troops (2017)

 

I have goosebumps because there was a chill in the air, but that sun!!

Honestly, I feel like I can’t begin to stop counting my blessings. I have that many.

Clearing my mind. (Minimalism, post 6.)

In a warm comment the other day, a new subscriber (hello!)  wisely noted that “everybody’s version of minimalism is going to be different.” I loved that she wrote that. Her words inspired me and got me thinking about minimalism in a broader sense, leading me to ask myself:

What am I hanging onto in my mind that might be creating clutter? My answers:

  • The past… those negative parts of my past with nothing left to teach or offer me.
  • People… those who do not share my belief – sometimes long-held – that we’re connected in some meaningful way.

Getting at the heart of it, I’m becoming aware of the difference between decaying memories vs. thriving ones, and true, lasting personal connections vs. insincere or transient ones. Am I hanging onto rotten memories? Am I holding onto the belief that there’s a relationship where there isn’t one, or where there was never one?

Sour memories… I’ve been working to put them at rest.

Relationships that have been chimeras all along… I’ve been realizing and processing the illusory nature of them. It’s painful, somewhat, but it’s time to minimalize.

I write this without bitterness, in the spirit of realism.

 

through the water glass

 

Decluttering my mind has become a part of my minimalism journey. Just as I need to let go of things without personal value, meaning, and purpose, I need to let go of memories without without value, meaning, and purpose. I need to learn to let go of people, too. I need to work on clearing my emotional cache.

To me, minimalism is really about that… letting go. We’ve been hanging onto things, and now we’re striving to free ourselves from those attachments. Making this endeavor in a realm beyond the physical feels just as cleansing. To clear the mind of clutter is to make more space for treasured memories and real connections.