T Minus Two Type Two Diabetes and Other Passions

24Mar/141

An Interest in Feeling Good

I've known for a long time that one of the most effective ways to deal with depression is to get interested in something. I believe that an important part of the way out of perhaps the worst episode of my life was the reading i did about rock music history.

I have always been a person that suddenly acquires an interest in something, be deeply involved in it for a few days or weeks or months, and then lose interest just as suddenly. While there are some interests I've come back to several times, most just disappear into the void. (This is part of why I'm not a scholar - I don't have the temperament for it. I wouldn't wager my career in something still interesting me in a week, let alone in thirty years.) Unfortunately, I can't choose to have an interest - enthusiasm is something that happens to me rather than something I do. But having a subject I'm excited about is an important part of feeling good for me.

Although I have been slowly climbing out of my winter trough since I last posted about it, it's been a period without an active enthusiasm. For a couple of years now, my interest in cooking has been fairly constant, but there have been gaps and I'm in one now. I can barely summon an interest in making dinner, let alone take on a kitchen project.

But I've now been bitten. For some time now I've been a little dismayed at how uninspiring my food photographs look, especially in contrast with the beautiful pictures taken by my friend Pearlsa. Then, over the weekend, I was admiring some of the fabulous nature shots taken by my friend Mike. As I did so, it occurred to me that maybe photography is one of those things that learning a little more could make an out-sized difference. Maybe I could learn enough not to be great but to be less cruddy. (You can find Pearlsa's Instagram account at http://www.instagram.com/pearlsa and Mike's new photography blog at www.sparrowtreephotography.com.)

I'm having fun with it. I've been reading about taking photographs with my smartphone, and I've been taking lots of pictures. (There are a lot of 19th and early-20th century commercial buildings in my area, and I'm finding that I love taking pictures of funky little architectural details.)

How long is this particular enthusiasm going to last? I have no idea. But, in the meantime, I'm going to ride it like the fellow in this picture (which I took this weekend) is riding his horse. Because I have an interest is feeling good.

032514_0033_AnInteresti1.jpg

Filed under: Mental Health 1 Comment
5Feb/146

Out of the Dark

(This post is being done in connection with the #DayOfLight initiative on Twitter and Facebook, dedicated to "bringing depression out of the dark". You can learn more about it here. I've only known about this for a few hours, but wanted to make my contribution.)

Although the primary focus of this blog has been diabetes, I've also often written about my struggles with depression and other aspects of mental health. (You can, if you choose, view those posts here.) Most recently, I wrote a post in which I compared my depression to a dragon and about fighting not to lose grip on some healthy changes I'd been making.

That last post turned out to be early on in what has proved to be a lengthy episode of depression. Though this is hardly measurable, it has felt both longer and deeper than I've experienced in several years. Over the last several weeks, I have watched as pieces of my ability to function have fallen away. My never-very-robust attention span is gone with no forwarding address. Making plans seems futile, because I don't know if I'm going to be able to meet my commitment to myself. Though I haven't gone too far in the wrong direction, there has been significant decay in my baby healthy habits. Being sociable (also not ever my strong point) has become difficult as well.

Perhaps telling the dragon about his bad breath was not so smart, huh?

Beyond the persistent sense of disappointment in myself, perhaps the worst aspect of an episode like this is a weird, unfocused sense of dread, that disaster is about to occur and that it will probably be about my fault. This morning, after a fairly successful exercise session, I was continuing to listen to my exercise playlist. As the Led Zeppelin song "When the Levee Breaks" came on, I could not get it turned off fast enough - the song's foreboding meshed so completely with my own, it was almost like a physical wound.

But, I have not lost perspective. I know it will get better. My internal life is pretty unpleasant right now, but I'm hanging in and will continue to do so. There were a couple of hopeful signs today, so maybe the mood is easing a bit. I also know that there have been times in the past that were much, much worse. And, even those episodes eventually eased.

It will get better.

The picture below, which is entitled "But I Repeat Myself", was my contribution to this past Monday's Diabetes Art Day

"But I Repeat Myself"

But I Repeat Myself

 

Filed under: Mental Health 6 Comments
23Nov/133

Rising Against the Dragon

So, as you may know, I've been able to make some healthy changes in the last few months. There's quite a bit of exercise, both walking and things I do in my *ahem* home gym. (The "home gym" is a living room cluttered with dumbbells and exercise bands.) I'm eating right, and recording what I eat. Emotional eating hasn't been a problem. The home gym exercises can be a challenge some evenings, and some days bring other kinds of challenges Still, I've had a lot of initiative, and it hasn't been killer-hard to keep going.

And then, over the last week or so, ever so slowly, I've been slipping. The home gym sessions got skipped or foreshortened. I had a couple of days when I ate over my calorie goals … then a couple of days when I'm pretty darned sure I did, but I can't be absolutely sure because I didn't bother to record it. The eating was starting to feel out-of-control and intended to feed my heart rather than my body.

I came into the weekend feeling the hot breath of failure on the back of my neck, and I had no idea what to do about it. Then, as I was desperately trying to think of how to turn it around, I remembered the dragon.

See, as far back as the eighth grade, I've struggled with episodes of depression. These episodes can come at any time, but the midwinter months are usually hard, and those episodes have sometimes been deep.

You'd think that, since I know all this, I'd start watching for the signs. But, at least for me, depression tends to arrive pretty quietly. This morning, I realized that my healthy changes were being drug down by the challenges of emotional health. As I thought about it, I came to think of the depression as like a dragon. (You can blame a movie ad for the image.)

My initial thoughts for how to make accommodation for the dragon's presence were along the lines of partial surrender. Perhaps I shouldn't even try to do the gym exercises. Maybe I should raise my calorie limits. Maybe I should….

And then I got mad.

"Why," I asked myself, "should I give in to this? Why should I let it make me a failure?" I then talked aloud, perhaps just to myself, perhaps to make dragon, feeling all smaug over there on his gold. (See what I did there?) I would not, I said, give in. I would maintain my standards. I am not (I continued) the same person I used to be, and I will choose what I eat and how I exercise. There were other things I said as well.

Of course, telling a dragon off is not the same thing as defeating him. The dragon is still here, and he will remain here until he decides to go sit on his treasure someplace else for a while. I'm going to have to be careful, for example, to know exactly what my exercise plan is for the day. And, though I will be tempted, this will not be the time to make ambitious additions to my goals. And, I do think it's appropriate to restart the gym work a little slowly. But I will do these things because I CHOOSE to – not because I feel that choice has been taken from me.

And I must never forget that the dragon is there: he is most dangerous when I'm unaware of him.

Take that, you nasty overgrown lizard. And do something about that breath.

This post was edited on 11/25/13 to rearrange a tiny bit and to improve the post's resemblance to English.

19Jul/132

Flashback Friday: I Will Lay Me Down

There's not a lot to say about this post from June 0f 2010 except that I'm glad to have written it.

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"When you're weary, feeling small..."

I don't listen to music very often, actually. When I do, my tastes are somewhat eclectic - cool jazz, some "early" music, symphonies. And, though I quit listening to current pop a long time ago, I continue to love some of the music that was important to me when I was younger.

Yesterday was a terrible day. I'd slept very poorly, and I began the day with a flurry of stupidities on my part that resulted in missing an all-day seminar. (This may wind up costing me $180.) I then had to go back to my job and explain to my less-than-pleased boss what had happened. And, some folks from the DOC that I value seemed to be having tough days as well.

"When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all..."

All of this had me pretty down, depressed almost to the point of being incapacitated. As I sat at my desk, the podcast I was listening to made a reference to the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel. I happen to love that song. It's my opinion that Garfunkel's singing on that is the greatest performance in pop music history: no other nominations will be accepted. (Do I have anywhere near the expertise I need to make such a statement? Absolutely not.)

So, I interrupted the podcast to give "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" a listen. "A listen" is a bit of an understatement - I listened to the song time six or seven times, one after the other. In the song, the singer is offering unconditional support to the person he's singing to: the lyrics feature the line "Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down."

In that moment, I found the song incredibly moving, and struggled to keep from crying. As I listened, I alternated between feeling myself in the role of the singer and feeling myself in the role of the person being sung to. After a time, I could no longer stay seated. I went downstairs and chatted with a coworker for a moment, than I went and got a soda.

"Sail on silver girl, Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way."

By the time I got back to my desk, I was starting to feel better. I listened to the song one more time, then resumed my work. A little later, I had a nice chat with my boss, and even got a small project done. I was still very glad when the work day ended, but my mood had improved considerably.

(Lyrics taken from Simon and Garfunkel, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Bridge Over Troubled Water. New York: Columbia Records, 1970.)

25Jun/135

OK, No Matter What

Last week, I re-ran a post I wrote several years ago about the basis of self-esteem. In it, I concluded that the only reason I could find to feel good about myself is simply that I am. I have the worth that all people have.

For a couple of years, I've been avoiding major efforts in the area of weight loss. That had become such an emotionally complicated for me that I simply couldn't make any progress. But, the last few weeks, I've gotten back on the horse. I bought a bathroom scale, and I've been using it. I've even found a way of getting steady cardio in that has worked for me and feels like it will continue to do so. All of that feels good.

But, I believe it's important to remind myself that this doesn't make me better in a fundamental way.

I am okay. If I lose a bunch of weight, I will still be okay, but I won't be any more okay. My life will be better, but my basic worth will not have changed: it is inalienable. I could become so fit that triathletes will be jealous of my BMI, but I'll still be the same okay.

The reason is this is critical is that things may also go the other way. If my current efforts collapse – as so many such efforts have collapsed – I will be not be any less okay, any less worthwhile as a person, than I would be if I got skinny. Even if I gain a lot of weight, I will still be okay.

Additionally, keeping my essential worth in mind is helpful in this context because (possibly contrary to what one might think), I just find it easier to do if I'm only trying to get a bit healthier rather than trying to fix a flaw in my being. It's just so much less complicated.

I am okay. That is unchanging and unchangeable.

And you're okay too.

19Jun/130

Partly Cloudy

Have you ever not quite caught a cold? Perhaps you know what I mean. You don't feel sick, but you don't feel well either. Maybe you're a little achy, maybe you have a bit of a sniffle, maybe your eyes water a little. This partly sick state can go on for days. Maybe it eventually turns into a real cold and maybe it doesn't.

I've written about my struggles with depression on a number of occasions. Usually, these posts have been about the bad times, the periods when the "black dog" sinks its fangs deep. But a friend said something today that has had me thinking about those times that aren't really bad, but they're not exactly good, either. It's similar to not quite having a cold. As it happens, I have been in such a period myself.

When I am in such a time, it's as if life is a little grayer. I can laugh, and I can have fun, but most of the time I'm just a little bit sad. The self-image is not as warped as it is during a true depressive episode, but it's tougher than usual to take credit for what I've done well, and I tend to assume that things are going to go poorly. Often, I find myself to be very tenderhearted: things that affect me emotionally, either good or bad, affect me more than they normally would. And, it doesn't take much to trigger feeling very unhappy indeed.

Because the effects are subtle, they can be hard to recognize. This is partly why my "partly cloudy" times can go on for several weeks. Since I don't realize they are happening, I can't do those few things that I know often help me.

It's certainly not the worst thing a person can go through, not by any means. But I think I'd rather have a sniffle.

Filed under: Mental Health No Comments
5Jun/132

Depression Management: What I’ve Learned

I've written a number of times about being subject to depression. Here are some things I've learned about managing my own episodes. This does not, of course, mean that this will have any value for anyone else. But it might.

1. There is absolutely nothing I can do to manage a depressive episode until I understand that I'm in one. This is difficult, and I'm not good at it. But slowly, over time, I think I'm recognizing symptoms earlier.

2. I always try to remember that depression lies. I find that there are two lies in particular that I need to be aware of: it lies to me about myself, and it lies by telling me that the depressive episode is what I'll feel like forever. I try to look at a depressive episode as like a bad cold: it's pretty unpleasant right now, but it will be better in a few days.

3. Because depression lies to me about myself, I try to avoid taking stock of myself during an episode. This is very counterintuitive and therefore difficult: I feel that I am in pain because I have screwed up, and it is logical to make plans to do better. But it's a mistake to do so: neither my perceptions nor my reasoning are reliable. If something really needs to be changed, it'll still need to be changed when my brain is working a little better.

4. Similarly, I feel that it's important for me to postpone any decision that can be postponed. In an episode, I don't even make good decisions about the small things. Dusting off the resume or reading the personal ads can wait and should wait. During a deeper episode, it's about getting through the day.

5. It's important to be gentle with myself. The depression ITSELF is not my fault, so it's not my fault if I have to cut myself a break on things that would normally be important. If my leisure time needs to be spent looking for virtual hot dogs and virtual teacups in virtual haunted mansions, that's okay. At work, I'm fortunate to often have the freedom to use low-brain days to catch up on filing and data entry, and that's productive too.

6. The use of medication is a deeply personal decision. I've been on medication for several years - not "happy pills", but medications that help the dips from becoming too deep or to prolonged. Keeping up on those medications is one of the most important things I do for myself - less important than leaving the house dressed, but not by much.

7. I try to use the times of feeling good to make changes that will help my life run better, those things I can't do when times are harder. This is one of the causes of the "whack-a-mole" phenomenon I've written about, and it can be really really frustrating. But until there's a cure for my brain chemistry, that cycle is probably inevitable.

It's my belief that these attitudes help. I've got no "brain A1c" to let me know how I'm doing over time. But I really think that using these principles has reduced the pain that results from the depression, and thus provides some leveling to the episode itself.

This post received light editing on 6/6/13.

Filed under: Mental Health 2 Comments
9May/134

“There, there.”

I often have trouble coming up with a response to a post or tweet from a friend that's having problems. This is because I'm just not comfortable with some of the things we often say to each other on such occasions. I'm not mad when people say these things to me (except for one) - I just don't like saying them. (This may well be yet another case of me overthinking things.)

For example, I don't like telling people that I know how they feel - because I don't. Even if I've had experiences that were very similar to what my friend is experiencing, I saw them through a personality and personal history that's different from my friend - my emotions may well differ (at least somewhat) - from where she is. So, I may try to establish the "you're not alone" connection with something like "I remember when that happened to me" or "I've been in a similar situation".

I am also uncomfortable with telling people that the situation will work out, because sometimes it doesn't work out. Though I believe that things work out ultimately, that doesn't mean that there aren't some nasty punches to the back of the head before we get to 'ultimately'. I try to listen, and I try to sympathize, and I provide comfort if I can, but I'm not going to pretend I have a crystal ball.

One thing that really does bother me, and I really think people should usually avoid saying, is some variation on "it could be worse". Yes, we can often find comfort in reflecting on all the problems we DON'T have. But, when we suggest that to someone else, we run a huge risk of dismissing the validity of our friend's feelings. My friend George wrote an excellent response a number of years ago to the people telling him he should be grateful he doesn't have cancer. To me, we should reserve the "it could be worse" message for only those we're really close to, and only after we've heard them out. Otherwise, in my view, it's a pretty serious put-down.

Overthinking though it may be, I think my thoughts on this are valid, at least for myself. The bad part is sometimes not knowing how to respond at all.

 

28Apr/132

Whack-a-mole

You may be familiar with a game called "Whack-a-Mole", which I believe was mostly a carnival game originally but which also has plenty of computerized versions. The game consists of a horizontal surface with a lot of holes. Mechanical 'moles' randomly pop up through the holes, and the object is to hit as many as you can before they go back into their holes. It can get pretty frantic.

Recently I was thinking about how I need to once again remake some of the changes I've made in the past. I went on to think sadly about how my self-care seems to be cyclical, but I reflected that 'cyclical' suggests a regularity that I don't believe to be present. Then I remembered my sister's observation that life is like a whack-a-mole game. To her, this expresses that you never know just what's going to come up, and situation 89 arises before you're quite finished dealing with situation 88.

Books and articles about personal improvement can leave you with the impression that your trajectory should mostly be a steady climb. You identify something you want to change, you pick a strategy and try it out, make any needed adjustments in your strategy, make your strategy a permanent habit, and go onto the next thing. I don't know how it is for you, but even when I get a change fully implemented, the overall process is  never that smooth for me.

Making changes requires time, focus, and a certain amount of emotional energy. Fewer of these resources are required once the change is a habit, but I find that it's a good long time before that change is as habitual as wearing socks. My changes get undone, again and again and again, by the challenges that come up after my focus has moved to something else. Because my attention is elsewhere, I don't always do what's necessary to keep a small slip from becoming a big one.
And there are ALWAYS other things to focus on. It may be another aspect of self-care, it may be some other change I want to make, it may be my interstate of the moment (currently English slang), it could be a lot of other things. And, from time to time, a depressive episode will absorb all resources and redirect them towards getting though.

The result, for me, is that while I often improve myself, there's likely to be another thing slipping. So I wind up playing self-improvement Whack-a-Mole -- there are lots of victories, but it's hard to see much real progress over time. My score is good, but I never seem to win.

Maybe I need a bigger mallet.

2Mar/132

Writing Down My Stress

Imagine that your stress level at any given moment showed on a dial, like the RPMs on a stick shift automobile. Imagine further that the dial hows three zones. The green zone means you're comfortable - you're not stressed at all or to within an easily manageable level. The yellow zone means you're motivated - you're stressed, but stressed at a healthy level that stirs to action: yellow means you're rolling up your sleeves.  The red zone means you're overstressed - you're incapacitated rather than motivated.

Some folks don't seem to HAVE a red zone, or are able to manage their stress so that it never reaches red. I, on the other hand, spend way too much time in the red zone - and being in the red zone makes it pretty tough to do anything to address the stressful situation.

Lately, I've been doing quite a bit of writing to try to manage my stress level. My writings are a lot like blog pssts, although no one but me will ever see most of this. Writing for myself alone allows me to be as honest as I understand with myself. I don't have to be fair or just, I just have to try to fully understand how I feel about my subject. (I also, on occasion, abandon the rules of English, with passages taking on a stream of consciousness aspect to express myself.) Often, I find that what I write comes as a surprise to me.

So far, there are two kinds of entries. Many of the entries are about things that are bothering me right now, such as a frustrating project at work. These entries not only level the stress my allowing me to understand and express my feelings, but often become problem-solving exercises that end with action plans. In other entries, I'm attempting to dial back my overall stress by addressing subjects that have bothered me for a long time. A week ago, because of how strongly I was reacting to TV commercials about bullying, I wrote a thousand words about my experiences with being bullied - and a couple of occasions when I participated in bullying. (My experiences weren't at all bad as such things go - but that doesn't mean that they aren't pretty bad memories.)

I know that the entries about the daily stuff are helping, because they've allowed me to take action to make things better. I don't know if the personal history entries are really helping: it feels good when I've finished writing, but it's too early to know if there's a lasting benefit.

We'll see.

 

Filed under: Mental Health 2 Comments

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