Life After the Ax

Doodle

Today my anti-depression walk took me past some trees that were trying to recover from some brutal axing in the past. Just like I’m recovering myself from the ax of depression (if you need to know, still not fully recovered yet).

Here are a few photos. Do you see there actually can be a little life left after the ax?

Recovering Tree Stump (1)

I’m not really the kind of guy who talks to trees. But if I were, I would compliment these stumps on their perseverance growing leaves again.

And I guess I would also tell them I understand very well how we all, both humans and trees, sometimes need a lot of time and patience for recovery. It’s the drive to recover that counts, not the time it will take.

Recovering Tree Stump (2)

And perhaps while talking to these tree stumps I would also whisper in their ears… um, in their bark, that we shouldn’t be too sad if we don’t quite regain our full former stature after an ax struck us down.

Height is not that important. What matters is still being alive, in whatever modest way. Right?

Recovering Tree Stump (3)

Well, I assume you’ve got my message here. Or rather, the one that these tree stumps do so clearly tell us.

Music

For a musical divertimento, something very different this time: a song for young children. It’s one of the many educational songs by teacher “Mr. R.”

For his songs and poetry, see his Youtube page Mr. R.’s Songs for Teaching, and his website Mr. R.’s Science Poems and Songs.

Now for a moment, try to be the toddler again that you were long ago. Forget your worries: just listen to Mr. R. with his Tree Song explaining the point of it all.

 
Mr. R. – Tree Song


 tip: Having heard Mr. R. about all the indispensable qualities of trees, remember that you are just as valuable as any tree.


Life Is Like a Boat

Doodle

Here are four photos that (I hope) can tell you something.

    A few weeks ago, on one of my anti-depression walks, I encountered what I intuitively felt was a sad sight. It looked like an abandoned fisherman’s boat:

Boat Abandoned?

In my somewhat depressed mood, this upside-down hulk seemed to symbolize myself, or even symbolize depression: being useless, immobilized, out of one’s element, left to rot away.

But my first association proved wrong.

    Here is the same boat a week later. It now was obvious that its unknown owner had dragged it ashore for an overhaul: to give the rusty old thing a new protective coat of black paint, or tar, or whatever it is that fishermen put on their boats.

Boat Repainted

A few more days, and I saw they had turned it over, and put back the fittings and the tarpaulin cover. It was waiting for relaunch:

Boat Refitted

And when today (after another few days) I passed the same spot, I saw it happily afloat again, ready for use:

Boat Afloat

Still, my initial association had not been entirely wrong. If I in my depression was like that upside-down boat, then right now I may be in the overhauling process: ready to find my back way into the water, to become more functional again.

Getting Better

If we want to cling to this boat story as a metaphor, then maybe we should view depression not just as an illness, not just as a problem (like an immobile hull affected by rust) but also as an opportunity – the opportunity to get ourselves some kind of overhaul (like a new coat of paint).

    Am I too optimistic here now? Maybe. But sometimes an exhausting period of deep depression (nasty and pointless as it feels) can in the end actually leave us a little stronger too, a little newer, a little more experienced, and in exceptional cases maybe even a little wiser.

    We don’t expect this to happen while we’re still in deep depression, but we may recognize it’s true once we’re recovering.

Conclusion

Well, I’m not yet quite afloat again myself, but I guess I’m on my way.

    Meanwhile, should you prefer to read some longer and more informative reflections on how to recover from depression, I think that last year I wrote a few better posts about this subject: see Don’t Crash On The Way Up and Rebuilding Your Life.

The Song

Yes, of course. This had to be, just because of the title. Please listen to Japanese singer-songwriter Rie fu (actual name Funakoshi Rie) with her 2004 manga song Life Is Like a Boat:

Rie fu 
Rie fu – Life Is Like a Boat

Like many of her songs, Rie fu’s own website is a mix of Japanese and English. She’s an intriguing, creative person with intriguing music: go take a look!


A Brief Meditation On Cows

Doodle

So, I’m still recovering – slooowly – from a very depressed winter. It looks like my new medication works a little better than the previous tries. Time for an update.

    For most of last month, at my place spring was announced not by flowers, but by a roaming herd of Galloway cattle: complete with a few newborn calves. They had settled down in the field next to the cabin that is my home (oh yes I know, living in such a place I should be grateful and happy instead of being depressed, don’t you dare to tell me).

    Following the adage that grass is always greener at the other side of the fence, the visiting cows actually tried to eat my garden’s fringe too. Here is another one of my window shots:

Visiting Cows (1)

Looking at them, reflecting on them, at one point I thought it must be be truly depressing to be a cow. You just stand in a field all day long, braving sunshine and rain, munching and munching and munching. Grass, and then more grass, nothing but munching and munching. Wouldn’t it be a totally dull, monotonous existence?

    Then I wondered: can cows suffer from depression? I don’t really know. I’m not sure. Maybe an ailing one can. But my guess is that these visiting cows, doing what nature intends them to do, dull as that grazing did seem, were not depressed at all.

    My second thought was this: maybe to these cows themselves, all this endless grass-munching did not feel like dull and boring at all. This was what they fully focused on, and therefore it was full of details and nuance: no two tufts of grass looking and smelling exactly the same.

    Perhaps in their full concentration on their direct environment such munching cows are not mindless, but mindful!

    Could there be some kind of lesson in this for us? As usual, I leave the final conclusion to you.

Visiting Cows (2)

For myself, I concluded that my initial thoughts about the utter dullness of a cow’s existence had not been provoked by those cows themselves. Rather, this dullness idea may have been a whisper of the depression that still roamed within my own mind.

    I also concluded that I should stop thinking about those cows, and start looking at them. Trying to be a little less thoughtful, and a little more mindful.

Be a cow!

Cattle Call

Now if the utterly over-the-top yodeling kitschiness of the following song can briefly put a smile on your face, I will consider my job done for today.

    Here is Eddy Arnold with his 1955 hit Cattle Call (originally written in 1934 by Tex Owens).

Eddy Arnold – Cattle Call


 

Status Update

February 8, 2015 – Dear friends, dear StayOnTop followers:

First of all, let me thank those of you who contacted me with their best wishes (and questions, and all kinds of advice) about my health situation. As you know, I don’t like writing too much about myself. But after months of silence, I feel you’re entitled to some kind of status update.

    Well, in short: I am recovering very slowly, somewhat, but not yet out of the pit. I still do sleep much more than I should and I walk much less than I should; I still frequently feel paralyzed by somberness. The most important thing that seems to be returning right now is a glimmer of hope.

Winter View

Just now, from my desk chair, I took this picture of the view out of my window. Maybe it can serve to illustrate the situation.

My mental landscape is still left barren by the winter cold. Spring is not yet in sight. However… slowly I’m beginning to recognize that in due time spring may return, and that these dry withered shrubs will be green and blooming again. And even more important, slowly I’m beginning to recognize that I actually want to see that happen again.

Lessons Learned?

In the past horrible months I’ve learned at least two things. Or learned… let’s say I was reminded of them.

Psychiatry is still in the Middle Ages

One: we still understand far too little of the complex processes that make up our brain, feelings, and personality. Psychiatry, with all its testing procedures and patented medication, may pose as an advanced branch of modern medical science but in fact it’s still shockingly primitive. When in the past months my psychiatrist had to find some adequate medication to help me, in fact her only option was by trial and error. Just like in the Middle Ages, when doctors had no choice but to fight the Black Death by trial and error.

    Once again I was close to killing myself: so it was obvious that I did need some heavy medication. But what? The first pills she prescribed gave me physical side effects so intolerable that after a month we decided to switch. I will spare you the details. We tried a second option. These pills not only gave me severe headaches: they also made me so dizzy that right when I needed to drive for the first time again (having not driven for the first ten days) I crashed into a parked car. After six more weeks of headache and dizziness I gave up on this medication, too.

    So now, since a week, I’m on my third medication try. A very recent, state-of-the-art antidepressant: the pharmacy people did not even have it in stock yet – they had never seen it before. These pills promise to come with less severe side effects. Miracle pills? I certainly hope so. Will they help me do the trick of curing myself? We’ll see. Maybe time is just as important here as medication.

Patience must be Carefully Dosed

Which brings me to the second thing I learned in the past months: the importance of patience. More specifically the patience of people around you. For when you’re deeply depressed, you are too indifferent, numb and passive to feel much patience or impatience yourself.

    The people who come to visit and help you will sometimes turn out to be far too impatient or far too patient with you. Too much impatience is not a good thing, as it will have an irritating or even demotivating effect. Too much patience is not a good thing either, as it won’t help you in any way to make a few little steps forward.

    So just like with medication, the all-important thing with other people’s patience and impatience is they should find the exact dosage that fits the momentary depth of your depression. This is not easy. Maybe later I’ll post some more thoughts about this.

    For now, please let me ask you for a little more patience. At least by now I do really want to come back blogging again, even though I will not yet be fully back this week or the next.

See You

Thanks for your understanding. Here is a song to listen to: Broken, by Tift Merritt, from her 2008 album Another Country. If you like it and want to explore more of her songs, here is a link to the official Tift Merritt website.

 
Tift Merritt – Broken


Away For A While

November 20, 2014

Dear followers & readers:

At the moment a bad physical illness, severe depression, and some other problems combined are keeping me from properly maintaining my blogs. I will be away… and silent… for at least several more weeks. I hope that when better times come along, I will meet you here once again.

We never give up, right?

In the meantime, don’t forget that many of my posts from the past few years are still very valid and really worth reading. Go to the Contents (top bar) and give them a try!

My absence also means that probably I won’t be able to daily check your comments before letting them appear. I cannot simply let all comments pass (not even with an automatic filter in place) because this would drown us in a flood of spam.

The consequence is that if in the next weeks you post a comment, it may take a very long time before your comment actually will appear here. Sorry!

Henk
(your StayonTop and
HistoryofMentalHealth blogger)

Brave New Flower

Doodle

Yesterday, my daily anti-depression walk took me through a meadow where I saw a small dandelion. So what’s the deal?

    Well, this field had just been visited by the Grim Reaper Mower and its friends. First the grumbling monster that razed the waving knee-high grass and left it out to dry. Then the sucking, whining monster that dropped a row of neat big bales. And finally the truck that lifted the bales and took them away.

They had left a barren field. Grass had just begun to make a new start:

The Meadow

Traversing this field, I came across one single tiny dot of bright yellow.

One Spot of Yellow

It really was the only one in the entire field. A closeup:

A Brave New Flower

Tiny Splashes of Color

So you are depressed? Then here is the inevitable metaphor, the one you saw coming.

    The barren field is your mind, your life. Your once lushly-waving flowery colorful existence, that now sadly has been razed flat by the Grim Monster of Depression. Ugh.

    But somewhere in that dull monotonous plain of your depression you may find a tiny hesitant spot of color.

    My little flower symbolizes any little moment, however briefly, when you manage to forget how ravaged you are by your depression. Those few seconds when you’re not fretting about yourself: when your feelings of utter hopelessness are pushed to the side, if only for one fleeting instance.

    The little lone flower stands for any of those rare moments when, through the gray self-centered haze of your depression, something from the outside comes through strong enough to be noticed.

    This can be anything. Some really stupid joke on TV that makes you smile for one brief moment, even when you didn’t feel like smiling all day. Or it could be a bite of hot chili pepper from the pizza that you sat munching so thoughtlessly that you didn’t taste anything before.

Pizza Peppers

The dot of color might even come from a sudden little flash of actual feeling – even if it’s deep sadness – that comes piercing through the numb blanket of depression, bringing some unexpected tears to your eyes. Or else it could be simply when for one moment the task of scrubbing a blackened saucepan claims your full attention, leaving no room for other thoughts. Or

    However depressed you are, I’m sure you can fill in something here for yourself.

Concentration

The secret here is concentration. You don’t need to wait for that single rare moment when you encounter such a tiny lost flower in the barren field of your depressed day. You can go looking for such experiences. And this you do by trying to concentrate, by consciously focusing not on yourself but on where you are and what you are doing.

    If necessary, set an hourly alarm on your phone as a reminder to keep trying this: to fully concentrate for a moment on whatever you see, hear, smell and touch right now. Right where you happen to be.

    And when you do this, chances are you will encounter a few more little “flower moments”. For concentration will bring rewards.

    When I spotted that single small yellow dandelion in the razed meadow, it made me a little more aware of my direct surroundings. Was there more to be seen? While walking on I kept looking around more carefully, more concentrated. And sure enough I came across another cluster of modest flowering right at my feet:

More Brave Little Ones

Concentration is like a pocket knife that can pierce small peepholes through the all-covering blanket of depression. It can bring you back brief moments of color and taste and feeling. The surprise of such moments can be like a reward. And the more you concentrate, the more often you encounter such flowers of mindfulness, the more they will spread.

    And anyway, such moments should also be seen as glimmers of hope. Like this one little dandelion proved stronger than the big grumbling monster that had razed everything.

Sorry (Just In Case)

I think my optimism is well-founded. Concentration efforts can really do a lot for us all.

    But if my optimism here offends you in the depths of your own depression, if it comes across like I’m not taking your plight seriously enough, then I am sorry for that. I do understand that when we are very depressed, any kind of optimistic advice can look just futile and stupid. So if all this only makes you more depressed, I’m truly sorry for that.

    Just remember I’ve been locked in the very same pit where you may be now. It was concentration on little things that gave me back a foothold, that helped me climb out. Even though I keep falling back from time to time, all the way into depression again.

    Sometimes, if you try, the mere effort of trying is enough to be helpful – regardless where it will get you.


 tip: I cannot say this often enough. Please try to concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate: concentrate on anything that’s not yourself.



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