Sunday, March 07, 2010

Living with Depression

While I don't feel qualified to make conclusions about happiness, I have spent most my life dealing with depression and anxiety. Over a year ago I wrote the following poem to my depression.

Hello Depression
by Amanda D. Barncord Doerr

Hello there.
I know, we've already met.
In fact, we've been together most of my life.
But I decided it was time for a formal introduction.

You see, I've been operating under a pretext,
The idea that I would one day be free of you.
All I had to do is find the right things to think,
And get the right type of help and support.

But you would just wait until I let my defenses down.
Ambushing me like a tiger in wait.
Giving me a double blow. Sending me into a spiral.
Causing me to doubt my abilities to deal with you.

I've finally accepted that you are a part of me.
That when I fail, it isn't because I am a loser.
It's because you are hard-wired into me.
Through genetics, trauma and happenstance.

Even though you are part of me--you are not me.
I just wanted to make that clear.
Those thoughts or doom and despair are not mine.
They are you speaking to me.

And that's all right.
You can speak to me.
Because when you speak,
I have forgotten something.

However, I have the final word.
Things are never as bad as you say they are.
I want to make sure you know that.
It is time I give you credit for your ideas.

So, here's the head up.
I'm not going to play your games.
We will have to work together instead.
Trust me. It's better this way.

People tell you that admitting the problem is half the battle. They're wrong. It's more like a quarter of the problem, assuming that you're admitting the right problem in the first place. After you've admitted there is a problem and determined what the problem is, you still have to learning how to deal with the problem for the long haul and know the quick fixes for the emergency relapses.

It's like living in neighborhood with a gunman around. Now, admitting you have a gunman around is going to keep you safer than pretending he's not there. You can keep a vigilent eye out for him and take evasive measures, but it still doesn't change the fact that there is a homicidal creep with a deadly weapon around. There's always the chance that you will be caught by surprise. If that happens, there's still the chance that you might survive if you can get first aid and medical attention. But the only sure way to get rid of the gunman is to bring in authorities and change the dynamics of the neighborhood. And if the job is only partially done with no thought and effort beyond the immediate situation, there's no guarantee that the gunman won't return or another gunman won't show up. The solution must have awareness, emergency aid, policing, AND a change of the dynamics of the neighborhood itself through long term planning, which increases the social networking and bonding within the community itself.

Depression is a biological part of me that can only be managed like diabetes. That doesn't mean I am doomed to be depressed and anxious--only that I have to be aware that I am susceptible to it when I don't take care of myself. Realizing that part after attending a NAMI presentation made a very big difference for me, because it was then I realized that I was not a failure, but working under the false notion that I could cure myself from depression permanently.

Of the previous stated needs for a solution, I have the first two down pretty well. I have an amazing toolbox for stress emergency aid. What I don't have is a good social and economic network for myself. I'm not completely without a network, and many a time it has stood between me and total despair, but I am not firmly enmeshed in it, nor is it enough for my needs. What I have is an emergency network, something that is essential, but is more for saving my neck than keeping me from getting that bad in the first place. What I need is a preventative network - or more of one.

Building a preventative social network isn't easy for those of us who never really had one to begin with. The longest I've ever lived in one place is six years. Social networks take time to build. You need to be comfortable with the people around you and they need to feel comfortable with you - or at least not be uneasy around each other. You also have to know your neighborhood and be a part of your community. It's the little strings within the network that can often give us the strongest sense of belonging. Nothing says "you belong here" like being able to recognize local merchants and city workers, and running into church/association members in the checkout line. Being an introvert definitely impedes this process, but even an introvert over a period of time can still develop a strong social network.

A strange thing I've noticed over the past few years of being aware of my interaction with the social networks around me, you don't actually have to have everyone know your problems for it to have a positive affect on your sense of security. The restaurant owners near me have no idea of my daily struggle to keep depression at bay, yet that doesn't stop me from feeling valued as I visit their places and chitchat with them. Granted, I still need people I can talk to and confide in when things get bad and I have to deal honestly with people. Promoting a lie never helps mental health. But somehow when I make an effort to just be more visible within my community, things seem just a little less horrible.

Rereading this post, I realized that in my pride, I have neglected to mention/admit that I do need some policing in regards to my mental health. I spend a lot of time self-policing my thoughts, but it probably wouldn't hurt if I got some extra help as I had in the past. Nothing like having your words public to insure you re-evaluated yourself. In my defense, I am in the midst of improving the policing of my depressive behaviors. One thing I am doing is taking advantage of some of the online resources available for monitoring my moods. Another thing I am doing is being aware of all my moods and selectively talking to different friends when I am very disturbed by something in order to gain an understanding of the situation in positive ways.

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