Posts Tagged 'feelings'

What Are You?

Doodle

What is your main identity? And would it be wise to try and shift or change your identity a little? In order to tackle these questions, first we need to be clear about what we mean with the word “identity”.

    We could complicate this by making a difference between your “self” (how you see yourself, privately) and your “identity” (how you present yourself to others, publicly). But let’s forget that kind of nuances here: for most of us, your private “self” and your public “identity” will largely overlap anyway – unless you’re a kind of actor or a con artist, that is.

Identity

What is my identity?So let us keep this simple. If I surprise you with the question “What are you?” and you give me a honest and spontaneous answer, then your answer will be a brief indication of your main identity.

    For example, suppose you answer “I’m a happily married economist with two children” then I will assume this is your main identity, the core of it. In this example, it is about relationship (happily married), profession (economist), and parenthood (with two children).

    Of course we can have many secondary elements in our identity too, part time identities so to speak, like being secretary of the local hockey club. Together, your main identity and such other elements form your more-or-less complete identity. By and large, this is how you see yourself and how others see you.

Depression and Identity

Any long term illness will have the nasty effect of changing your identity, and usually in a negative way. If the economist from my example gets a chronic heart condition or severe diabetes, he may not be able to work anymore, being forced to concentrate on coping with his illness. His core identity may shift to something like “I’m a former economist with a heart condition.”

What is my identity?Chronic, long-term depression does the same kind of thing to us. Only worse, because depression (like any form of mental illness) has a strong negative stigma. Put bluntly, depression makes you think very negative about yourself, which in turn makes you even more depressed: a downward spiral.

    In the end, depression can overgrow most of your former identity until it is so bad you can only blurt out “I’m a depression patient.” At that point, depression has become your main identity.

And this, in turn, can only worsen the downward spiral.

    This downward spiral is a common effect: it was confirmed by three psychologists (Yanos, Roe and Lysaker) in a 2010 research article The Impact of Illness Identity on Recovery from Severe Mental Illness. In their summary they say:

“We propose that accepting a definition of oneself as mentally ill and assuming that mental illness means incompetence and inadequacy impact hope and self-esteem, which further impact suicide risk, coping, social interaction, vocational functioning, and symptom severity. Evidence supports most of the predictions made by the model.”

What To Do

So if we have been a depression patient for a long time, we should (as part of an overall recovery strategy) clearly recognize that depression may have eaten away parts of our former healthy identity; and we should try to somehow recover a few parts of our former healthy identity.

What is my identity?    Exactly how to do this will depend from many factors such as your situation, your former identity, the type and phase of your depression. This makes it a little difficult to outline one general strategy that will work for everyone. But let me stress three general points.

    1. Once it has become clear to yourself that your present main identity has degenerated into “I’m a depression patient”, try to recall – however painful this may be – exactly what your full positive identity used to be back in happier times.
    Try to chart your former identity as complete as possible: list the main elements (such as relation, occupation or an all-important hobby) and also the secondary elements (things like a club membership, a movie-watching habit, whatever).

    2. Convince yourself of one simple truth: the fact that you have depression does not mean that you are depression. Being a depression patient is just a part of you. It has not completely filled the rest of your identity, but rather it has left the rest of it empty and barren.
    That empty part of your present identity can (and should) be filled with something positive again.

    3. Be realistic. Fully restoring your former identity may be impossible: perhaps main elements such as your former relationship or job simply do not even exist anymore.
    So what you should try to do is single out one or two identity elements, main or secondary, that to some extent might be restorable. Like taking up an old hobby again. Try to think of something you could actually do to gain back just a little of your former identity.

My Own Example

Please allow me to do something I don’t do often here: using my own situation as an example.

    10 years ago, I was hospitalized for severe and long-term depression. In the couple of years that followed, with electroshock treatments and all, much of my former identity was destroyed. Both the marriage I had in happier times, and the university job I had (teaching, writing books, doing historical research) did not survive those years of horror. These main parts of my identity have gone forever.

What is my identity?Being a depression patient has become an undeniable part of my identity. Luckily I’m doing much better now than 10 years ago, though I have periodic lapses and still need medication. In this situation I’ve come to realize that being a depression patient should not become the only part of my identity. I realized that it would be better for myself, and also help to curb downward spirals, to fill in some empty, desolate, long-neglected parts of my identity again.

    May I use a metaphor? See your identity as a house. Once, long ago, you lived in all the rooms of this house, using it all from cellar to attic. Long-term depression makes you live in the narrow space of the kitchen, permanently. You never set foot in any of the other rooms anymore. While you’re trying to survive in your depression kitchen, the rest of the house gets dusty and empty, falls into disrepair. Depression makes you think, wrongly, that the depression-kitchen is all that’s left of your identity-house. But is it?

    In my case, the practical solution was to open a door to one of the other rooms: to see if I could recover a little of the “I’m a historian” element that used to be part of my former main identity. I cannot restore it full-time and not professionally anymore, but will take it more like a hobby. A hobby that (I hope) will prevent me from permanently reducing myself solely to “I’m a depression patient”.

    This, in short, is the reason why last month I’ve been busy with kickstarting a new, second blog that is primarily about history of mental health. Not exclusively focusing on depression anymore, like I will keep doing here. I will now also be trying to regain a little bit of my former “I’m a historian” focus and identity.

And You?

Of course your own situation, background and depression troubles can be completely different from mine. But I am fairly sure that each of us can find a long-neglected identity element, one that can be rebooted in such a way that depression will no longer the single element dominating your identity. I am sure you can find something that will shift your identity from “I’m a depression patient” towards “I’m a depression patient, but I also try to ……………

What is my identity?    First chart your former full identity, as suggested above, and then pick one element from that list that might be restorable, albeit to a limited extent (and of course with some effort).

    Re-extending your identity will not diminish your depression right away, and will certainly not cure it by itself. But that re-opened door can feel like a small kind of liberation: even if it’s only ajar, it can bring you a breath of fresh air.

    At the very least, re-extending your identity (even if only for a little bit) will halt the ever more negative downward spiral into a purely negative self-image.

    What more can I say? First be aware of your present identity as a depression patient, and then think about reclaiming a little of your former identity. Give it a try. It will give you some satisfaction even it doesn’t work out as you hoped: the satisfaction of having tried.


 tip: Instead of just defining yourself as “I’m a depression patient”, begin to define yourself as “I’m a depression patient, but I am also a …………..” (fill in some part of your former identity)

• footnote: Did you guess the identities of the faceless people in this post?

From top to bottom:

1. “I’m a physicist and I like jokes” (Albert Einstein)
2. “I’m a movie star and I love to be loved” (Marilyn Monroe)
3. “I’m a rocker and deep down I’m really sweet” (Elvis Presley)
4. “I’m a charity nun and a good fundraiser” (Mother Teresa)
5. Here I cheated. This is one you just cannot know.


Introducing 2014

Doodle

There are two big mistakes that we (I mean the depressed) tend to make on the threshold of a new year.

The first mistake: looking back and reflecting too much on the miseries, failures, bleak moments and near-suicidal moments of the past unhappy year. Thoughts like “Another Year I Wasted” are not really helpful. Right now, maybe it’s better to not weigh and evaluate what already belongs to the past. New Year’s Eve is just not the best moment to attempt a cruel, shattering self-analysis. It’s better if (for example) you try to step outside and look at the midnight fireworks, even if you don’t really like the bangs. Just concentrate on some thing in the Here and Now.

Fireworks(image by aeroart at abstractatus.com)

The second mistake: looking upon the new year as some huge steep dark mountain that threateningly and insuperably towers in front of us. Thoughts like “Oh my God, how will I ever get through another year of this” may be hard to avoid, but such thoughts really are not helpful either. Try to focus not on the whole massive year in front of you: focusing on what you are going to do the next couple of days will be much more productive.

    Of course there’s also a third New Year mistake: a fairly common one that we share with many healthy not-depressed people. It’s committing ourselves to Too-Good Intentions: resolutions that are too ambitious, too inflated, too difficult to actually keep. In the first weeks of January, there will always be people feeling miserable, even hating themselves, because they failed to live up to their own over-optimistic goals. Don’t be one of them. If you must start the year with some kind of self-improving resolution, great but do pick a modest one that is within reach.

Happy, um…

    Evidently we cannot ignore the fact that the beginning of a new year is some kind of symbolic milestone. Maybe, if people near us are throwing some kind of New Year party, it’s an idea to just for a few moments, you know? All I wanted to say with this post is, don’t make more fuss of the whole thing than you can bear.

    I’m not feeling particularly well at the moment; I fear I’ve already been making mistakes One and Two myself (I often stupidly ignore my own sensible warnings). So, enough of this now. You are entitled to the customary StayOnTop New Year Card. I hope you don’t mind that for once, I could do no better than this:

Let Me Wish You A Somewhat Less Unhappy New Year

You’re welcome. But maybe rather than my lame though I assure you very well-meant wishes, what you really need is a beautiful and at the same time not over-optimistic song. So here is the wonderful New York band Palomar with The Planeiac from their 2004 album Palomar III: The Revenge of Palomar.

Palomar
 

 
Palomar – The Planeiac

For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page


Christmas Giveaway

Christmas is looming up close and personal again. It will be warmer than ever, but I bet thou art shivering nonetheless. Rejoice! I now can bestow a splendid, even splendidious gift onto thee all!

    Maybe you’re ridden by feelings of guilt because your nasty depression will be spoiling both other people’s fun and your own? Well, first listen for a moment to English antifolk singer Uke Stanza (better known as poet Colin Shaddick) expressing his feelings of Guilt! And as if that’s not enough, then hear him asking this very same philosophical question that is bothering us all, in his song The Very Thin Line – the line between sanity and madness.

    A few years ago, Uke (here’s a link to his inclusifolk website) made his hilariously moving double album Pheasants Will Cross The Road / The Very Thin Line. And best of all, he’s giving it to you for freeeeee! You can download the full album (or listen to all 20 songs) from the Free Music Archive!

    To quell your Christmas guilt and insanity, here he is: first with his unforgettable Guilty, and then crossing The Very Thin Line.

Uke Stanza
 

For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page

 

For the rest, isn’t Christmas the same every year? So I can do no better for you now than to repeat the same poetic reflexions I came to write down a few years ago:

The Christmas Rant

    If for you Christmas is the highlight of the year, if this is the event that you have been looking forward to since January, if this is the one uplifting occasion that makes you spontaneously join in singing carolish carnival songs, if this is just the inducement you needed to finally decorate your entire home up to the cat’s litter in a bright, sparkling, highly tasteful manner, if you’ve waited all year for an excuse to put a high-grade ivy-green noninflammable Tannenbaum right in your living quarters and spray it with ingeniously realistic and heat-resistant artificial snow, if this is the one blessed gift-packed childhood re-enactment that never fails to bring tears of priceless pure emotion to your eyes, if you have been in your cuisine for days-on-end in order to prepare for the entire family clan including great great-aunt Gretel your unforgettable once-a-year boeuf-bourguignon on its once-a-year silver platter embellished with just a few carefully-chosen holly-leaves, if this to you is a wonderful heaven-sent opportunity to light your grandiosely set table for once not with harsh and cruel electroglare but with romantically-flickering real flames of almost-real-beeswax candles adorned with almost-real little golddust stars, if you love to crouch-on-couch side by side with your most loved loved ones to indulge for the sixtieth time in the compelling sweet technicolor sound of Sound of Music –  

    In short, if this is the unique shared festivity that by its genuine natural beauty and merriness for a few felicitous days makes you completely forget the nightmare of your life, then let me wish you nothing. You already have all that could ever be wished for. And you deserve it!

    If on the other hand you belong to that small, sad, sorry, depressingly depressed minority of miserable outcasts who by some incomprehensible mental defect are left insanely insanta, who due to some hereditary or infectious illness of the mind are rendered tragically incapable to join or even grasp this heart-felt happiness, if you belong to those who cannot even muster the basic human decency to value and respectfully enjoy this most essential, rich, harmonious and satisfying of mankind’s deeply-rooted edifying social and cultural traditions, if you not only shun this gratifying example of elementary social obligations but even have the chutzpah to claim publicly that the whole brilliant endearingly genial conceptual concept of Father Citschmas does bore or mystify or depress or frighten or repel you, if by openly confessing such near-terrorist views you dare to put yourself beyond the outer fringes of civilized humanity, yes outside the moral confines of our entire festively twinkling globe and galaxy and universe itself –  

    In short, if you are unable or unwilling to indulge in this annual party of peace, goodwill and esthetical satisfaction, then to our regret we can not wish or promise you happy holidays this time of the year. You are doomed, and you know it. As a fitting punishment, your disgustingly sick, distorted, negative, party-spoiling, lonely, asocial mind will be haunted for eternity by the same cruel, nightmarish, awful, garish, horrible, atrocious, tasteless images that already roam your pathetic woeful head anyway:

Christmas Card

Seriously now. If you happen to be one of the people who have a problem with Christmas, you are not the only one. You may feel alone, but in this respect you are not alone. If you find this particular time of the year extra depressing, your feelings are not unique. You really don’t have to feel guilty or inferior for not enjoying the party.


• tip: Don’t blame or pity yourself.


Waves of Confusion

Doodle

Sometimes my mind runs a little out of control. It’s almost the opposite of the numb silent emptiness of deep depression, but it’s not an entirely pleasant experience either.

    It’s like random thoughts and feelings start dancing wildly around in an aimless, unpredictable, confused, associative way. A kind of noisy emotional tangle, where unrelated shreds of thought, memories and feelings keep bumping into each other. For a while, it is hard to focus thoughts and actions again.

Brain Storm

Is This a Problem?

This kind of unbridled mental activity may raise the fear of becoming psychotic or something like that.

    Obviously I cannot judge for you or for others if that fear has some ground. If in your case it has, for example because you have a history of seriously psychotic episodes, then you might do well to consider your confused mental activity a warning signal. In that case, you might need to call for help.

    In my own case, I take a pragmatic approach. In the rare situations where the mess and the noise in my head persist to such an extent that it keeps me from function properly, from sleeping or eating or working, then obviously I do have a problem – a problem requiring action to get it under control. A couple of times I have indeed talked about this with my psychiatrist or used some antipsychotic medication for a brief while.

    But most of the times I don’t feel an urgent need to immediately refocus my wildly wandering mind again. For I know from experience that in my case such confusing mind activity is not really harmful. Usually it will not last very long. It doesn’t prevent me from functioning normally over the rest of the day.

The Real Problem

Luckywolf's FearMaybe the real problem here is the fear of completely loosing one’s mind. For some of us this fear may have some ground, but for many of us such a fear is not really justified.

    Perhaps we get this fear mainly because our depression conditioned us to view ourselves negatively. Meaning that we have too little confidence in ourself: too little confidence in our mind’s ability to restore itself to a little more order again.

    For myself I feel that what also plays a role here, is the continuous pressure of today’s social environment. We live in a culture where everything is supposed to optimized, efficient and under control. We are supposed to keep not just our workplace and our home, but also our free time and even our mind organized efficiently.

    And so the web today is churning out an endless stream of controlling tips. How to brew the best breakfast coffee efficiently in no time? How to best organize your kitchen drawer or your shopping list or your resume or your calendar or your fitness schedule? How to keep your mind clear and productive and in focus? Websites such as Lifehacker offer it all, nonstop, day after day.

LifehackerThe implicit, almost subconscious suggestion from such trendy websites is that indeed nearly everything in Life can be Hacked: that everything, from your kitchen drawer to your own mind, can (and should) be optimized and controlled for best results. But isn’t this a dangerous fallacy?

    On those inevitable occasional moments when your mind is a mess, when you can’t get it under control right away, won’t such an exaggerated cultural norm of controlled efficiency only make you feel worse?

Accept A Little Confusion

The Romantic Google Glass ViewI guess I am a romanticist who doesn’t belong in this Google Glass Century, but I am convinced that total control of your environment and yourself (including your mind) is an undesirable and impossible goal. It would make life dull and predictable; it would reduce ourselves to a kind of self-adjusting efficient feel-good robots.

    Aiming at full self-control overlooks the simple fact that no human mind can ever be 100% orderly, 100% positive, 100% under control. And certainly not all the time.

    I think that these moments when my mind feels like a mess do not necessarily mean there is a problem. Such moments become a problem only when they really keep hampering me, keep messing up all my day.

    By themselves, if such moments come and go, maybe they are just a precious sign of life: something I should simply sit out and accept.

    And perhaps on a less conscious level, such moments of complete confusion can even be valuable, in the same way that our mind actually needs having nonsensical dreams at night.

    And by the way, aren’t many new, creative ideas born from aimless confused mind wanderings? From uncontrolled thoughts bumping into each other within a wildly associating mind? From a mind that, for a while, seems almost running amok?

Cornfield (brought to you by the confused mind of Van Gogh)

In Short:

If once in a while our thoughts and feelings run out of control, maybe we should not immediately panic, not immediately interpret this as a sign of mental illness or as a sign of the worst.

    If it’s just some temporary waves of confusion, then maybe we should simply accept it as something natural.

CocoRosie

I’ve found the perfect music to illustrate my point. A sound that evokes the clash of voices I sometimes do hear in my mind.

    Two voices wandering aimlessly, at times in disharmony and discord and weirdly bumping into each other – it’s like the makers brilliantly knew how to reflect a confused mindset in a song.

    At first, if you don’t know them, their voices may seem Katzenjammer* to you. Ten years ago, these two sisters formed the duo CocoRosie: Coco (Bianca Casady) and Rosie (Sierra Casady).

    They’ve recorded five wonderfully weird albums. Give them some time and soon you’ll either love them or hate them – which always is a sign of something special. Yes, I myself happen to love them.

    Here is the link to their official CocoRosie website. As an example of their unique and freaky sound I’d like you to listen to Good Friday from their 2004 Parisian debut album La maison de mon rêve. Just start the player below the pic:

CocoRosie
    

 
CocoRosie – Good Friday

For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page


• tip for my friends in the NL: this summer, CocoRosie is touring Europe. Saturday evening 16 September 2013 they can be heard and seen live in Paradiso, Amsterdam. You can reserve concert tickets here.

• footnote: the word Katzenjammer originally (literally) meant cats’ wailing. Over the course of time, it came to mean any discordant string of sounds. From there, it also came to mean bewilderment and confusion in a general sense.
    And to some people today, Katzenjammer can also describe a state of depression: one bad enough to make you wail. Or bad enough to make you want to wail, if you could.


A Tale of Two Beavers

Doodle (my 100th doodle here!)

I want you to tell you a tale of two beavers. Two very ordinary wood-gnawing, water-splashing, dam-building beavers. If you need names to tell them apart, let’s call them Beaver Lou and Beaver Pierre.

    Now don’t think I’m so dense I don’t know that beavers use to work together as a family, as a team. But for the sake of this particular story, let’s say that Lou and Pierre were solitary-working beavers, each working all by himself.

Beaver Lou and Beaver Pierre

(The Story)

This was the time of the spring rains. The river banks grew green again. The water level was rising. The stream began to flow faster again. This was the right time for a Great Work!

    So this morning, Beaver Lou and Beaver Pierre wobbled out of the water onto the shore, looking for Wood. They both found themselves a nice wood-promising spot, not very far from each other, and they each began gnawing the chips away.

    They gnawed and gnawed and gnawed and the chips fell and fell, all morning and into the afternoon. They both worked very hard, like beavers need to do. Gnawing and gnawing and gnawing. They were not far apart: if one of them stopped for a moment to take a breath, he could hear the other one’s gnawing nearby.

    But that afternoon, while Beaver Lou still kept gnawing away happily and enthusiastically, Beaver Pierre’s gnawing slowed down. In the end, Pierre stopped completely. He sat still and sighed.

    He asked himself: “Why am I doing this? What’s the point?” He felt sadder and sadder, as if he himself was a totally pointless Beaver. A failure.

    Pierre looked at all those futile chips on the ground, and felt even worse, felt like a total loser. Should he stop and go home? What did it matter? Did anything matter at all?

(The Diagnosis)

Beaver Pierre was suffering from a sudden bout of depression.

    He heard how not far away, just around the corner, his friend Lou was still enthusiastically gnawing and gnawing and gnawing away. Pierre suddenly felt very alone. He closed his eyes because the daylight suddenly was sharp and hurting.

    He felt so tired and defeated. He wished he was not here but somewhere else. He wished he was asleep or something like that. He wished he had not been born as a Beaver. He wished he didn’t exist. Yes, Beaver Pierre now was very, very depressed.

– I don’t know the end of his story. When I myself walked past the traces of Lou and Pierre’s work, near the evening, both beavers had gone home. I hope that the beaver family managed to lift Pierre’s spirits from utter gloom and doom again. I hope there was a happy end.

But what had triggered that sudden bout of depression?

To show you, I took two photos.

(The Analysis)

Here is the spot where Happy Beaver Lou had been gnawing:
A Beaver's Work (1)

And here is the spot where Depressed Beaver Pierre had done his best:
A Beaver's Work (2)

(The Conclusion)

All yours.

(The Music)

Where on earth would I find music about beavers? After thorough and fruitless research, and some less desirable results, the very best I can come up with is this.

Near the town of Shidler, Oklahoma, runs a stream that is called Beaver Creek. In 1938 an abandoned power station near that creek was converted into a dance hall: the Big Beaver Night Club (admission 80 cents a couple). It soon became a success and was popular until in 1946 it burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt.

One of the most popular bands that performed at the Big Beaver Night Club was Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. With Tubby Lewis on trumpet, they recorded a tune that was called Big Beaver after the nightclub. This record actually became a hit.

    So, thanks to those nameless beavers who once built their dams in that nearby creek, here is the Bob Wills band with their 1940 dance hit Big Beaver:

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
       

 
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – Big Beaver (1940)

For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page


 tip: You were supposed to figure out today’s tip for yourself. Hint: it has something to do with scaling your ambitions and activities in such a way that you avoid feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy or failure.

• note: I took these two photos today, when (pfff) shlepping myself through my obligatory daily anti-depression walk.


Waters of Spring

Doodle

As perhaps you already know, things tend to come in bursts here. The good and the bad. You may get several posts one week, none the next.

    If I were talking too much about my own personal ups and downs here, that would limit the value and scope of this blog. Instead I keep trying to share things that I feel might be relevant or interesting to many of us.

    But once in a while I want to tell you something, and am searching for words, only to find that my depression stands like a wall between me and the words that I need. This is such a time.

In short, yes, I just feel terrible at the moment. A bit like this:

Great Depression

And I know that when I feel this hopeless or even cynical, my words are not likely to help you one bit. I am sorry, but right now I cannot help it.

Susannah McCorkle

    Well. Let’s honor someone else who, while tormented by deep depression, still was strong enough to find the words and a voice to leave something of value to us all. Jazz singer Susannah McCorkle, who with her unique ultra-simple, honest, direct, unadorned style never failed to touch some nerve. If we would call most singing something like dressed-up singing, then what she did with her voice was more like naked singing.

    In May 2001, having fought serious depressions for many years, Susannah McCorkle jumped off the balcony of her 16th-floor Manhattan apartment. She had kept the full depth of her depressions so well hidden that for most people, her suicide came as a shock.

    I don’t think we should follow her example, but I do think I can understand. I also think she deserves to be remembered – and remembered with respect.

    Here she is with Waters of March, a kind of spring song that is half in English and half in Brazilian Portuguese, but I guess the English part is clear enough. The song’s last four lines are the same as the first. Translated:

a stick, a stone,
it’s the end of the road,
it’s the rest of a stump,
it’s a little alone.

Susannah McCorkle
       

 
Susannah McCorkle – Waters of March

For a full StayOnTop playlist, see the Music page



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