For much of the past two weeks, I've been wrestling with my mental health. I could sense a crisis coming, so I scheduled some time away. I didn't want to have to be worrying about blog posts while I was worrying about everything else. Thus, my “summer vacation”.
Long-time readers are aware that I've struggled with depression for most of my life.
In sixth grade, I missed five weeks of school with what my father called “parrot fever”. (We had parrots, and he attributed my issues to a parrot allergy.) After our family physician could find nothing wrong with me, Dad took me to his therapist. Hushed conversations followed the appointment. The verdict: I was dealing with depression.
In junior high, I was briefly suicidal but made a deliberate decision to turn things around. In high school and college, the depression was always there, looming in the shadows. As a young adult, it mostly went away…but then it came back as I got older.
In 1999, when I was thirty, I experienced something new: anxiety. At one point, I thought I was having a heart attack. Nope. It was a panic attack. When the second panic attack came a few weeks later, I knew it wasn't my heart. It was me stressing about life.
Interesting note: It was after the second panic attack that my doctor strongly encouraged me to start drinking red wine. For real. Before that, I was a teetotaler.
During my divorce in 2011-12, Kris asked me a favor. “Please see a counselor,” she said. I did, and it helped. My therapist gave me advice for coping with depression and anxiety, plus she diagnosed me with ADD. For a few years, I was able to manage my symptoms.
Last year, though, things got bad. March and April and May were a struggle. In June, I published an article here about my ongoing battle with depression. During the summer, my mental health improved, however, and I forgot about how hard the spring had been.
A Sneaky Little, Sticky Bitch
In February of this year, my anxiety returned. The depression followed soon after. When my heart-attack scare in mid-March turned up no physical issues (other than high blood pressure), my doctor suggested that the problem was anxiety. She asked me to start seeing a therapist again. So, I did.
Since early May, I've been attending talk therapy once a week. We're exploring why I feel so anxious, and how using alcohol to cope with anxiety is a “maladaptive behavior”. We're exploring other ways to make things work.
The trouble? When I don't drink in the afternoon, I get more anxious.
The frustrating thing is that the depression and anxiety lead me to act like a completely different person.
For instance, I love people. I love spending time with people. Social interaction energizes me. Right now, though? I hate it. I don't want to deal with anyone in any capacity. I don't want to spend time with friends. I don't want to be in crowds. (I make an exception for Portland Timbers games.) I don't even want to go to the grocery store.
Here are some ways this manifests itself:
- Today, I had a lunch appointment with a colleague and friend. Karl is a great guy and I enjoy spending time with him. Normally. Today, though, all I could think about were the reasons I might be able to cancel.
- Yesterday, I taped a TV interview with a local station. I wanted to cancel that too. Afterward, I ought to have driven out to the family box factory. But I didn't. I didn't want to spend time with my brother and cousin.
- This Sunday evening, there's another Portland Timbers game. Kim can't go with me, so I need to find somebody else to join me. I have zero desire to do so. I may end up selling the tickets and skipping the game because of my anxiety.
My medical doctor has prescribed propranolol to simultaneously deal with my high blood pressure and my anxiety. While it seems to be helping the former, it's not helping the latter. (According to wikipedia, it's really only useful for performance anxiety.)
Meanwhile, the depression is even worse. If you look at the symptoms of depression, I'm exhibiting every single one. Some of my symptoms are severe.
- Fatigue? Have it.
- Insomnia? You bet.
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness? Oh boy.
- Irritability? Yes, and it's so not me. I'm not an irritable guy — but I am lately.
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable? Absolutely, and it's SO FRUSTRATING. Nothing appeals to me. I'm numb.
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions? You have no idea. Everything is a chore.
The latter is especially difficult to deal with. When Karl asked where to meet for lunch today, I couldn't decide. Why not? That's so simple! Last night, Kim wanted me to make dinner. But I didn't because I couldn't decide what to fix. That's ridiculous!
A Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
In fact, yesterday was miserable. It might have been the worst day of my entire life.
My head was a mess of negative thoughts and emotions, all of them swirling and swirling and swirling in a never-ending dark cloud of despair. I couldn't focus on anything. I did tape the TV interview (the first segment went very well, but the second bordered on incoherent) but that's the only productive thing I did all day.
On the drive home, I bought — and then consumed — a big bowl of clam chowder, a big bag of potato chips, and an entire package of chocolate chip cookies. Then I sat in the hot tub and played a videogame for five hours. (At least I didn't drink alcohol!)
When Kim came home, she asked, “What's for dinner?” I admitted that I hadn't made dinner — but I didn't tell her how messed up my head had been all day. (She knows I'm struggling but she doesn't know how badly.) While she changed out of her scrubs, I fried some frozen potstickers.
Naturally, all of this makes me feel even more guilty and worthless and depressed. It's a vicious cycle.
I'm sure you can see how this would translate in an inability to get work done, both here at Get Rich Slowly and in my real life.
It's a problem.
What's the solution to the problem? I'm not sure. There must be one. But I don't know what it is. Drink every afternoon? That's what I've been doing, and it works. But, as my therapist says, it's a maladaptive behavior. I think we all know where that road leads.
My therapist is patient. She keeps giving me homework assignments…and I keep avoiding them. Exercise! Meditate! Set goals! These all sound awesome. They're all things I know I like to do. But they also sound like tremendous effort, so I don't do them.
Instead of canceling my lunch appointment with Karl today, I went. I'm glad I did.
I've known Karl for almost a decade. He's one of the most uplifting, supportive people I've ever met. I love that his work is centered on positivity. He runs a site called Bring Gratitude and he published a book by the same name. (Six months ago, he shared a guest article here at Get Rich Slowly about practicing gratitude with a daily journal.)
As we sat down for lunch, I told Karl point blank about the issues I'm going through.
“I can totally relate,” he said, and he shared some of his own past struggles.
“You know,” I said, “my therapist has been urging me to try meditation. But I don't know how to start.”
Karl nodded. “I meditate. I meditated just this morning. But it can be tough to get going. You have so many thoughts racing through your head. Here's one thing that might work, though. Give yourself one minute. Only a minute. For that minute, meditate on all of the things that you're thankful for.”
“I like that idea,” I said. “I like it a lot. Normally, I'm a grateful guy. I'm a lucky man, and I know it. Usually. Lately, though, I've forgotten how awesome life is. Meditating on the things I'm grateful for would be a great way to remind me of what I've got.”
On my drive home, I put Karl's idea into practice. I took back roads. As I drove slowly through the countryside, I thought about all of the things that I'm thankful for.
- I'm thankful for Kim. She's a not just a wonderful partner in life, but she's a wonderful person. She's a good soul.
- I'm thankful for my dog. Tahlequah is a handful (a pawful?), and I do get frustrated with her. But I'm also grateful to have such an enthusiastic hound dog in my life.
- I'm thankful for my health. I haven't taken care of myself much lately, but that's on me. Generally speaking, my body is in fine shape. And with a little work, it could be in great shape once again.
- I'm grateful for music. I don't mention it much, but music brings great joy to my life. I love music of all sorts. Taylor Swift, yes, but also U2 and Mozart and Styx and ABBA and Public Enemy.
- I'm thankful for Portland. I love the green of it. I love its quirky die-hard (sometimes absurd) liberalism. I love the food scene and the Timbers and the passion for books. Speaking of which…
- I'm grateful for words. Books bring me joy. So does writing. I've managed to make a living from my words, and I hope to continue doing so in the future.
- I'm grateful for life.
Here at home, I had a call with my business partner, Tom. We spent two hours talking about behind-the-scenes details here at Get Rich Slowly. We made plans for the future. But we also took a lot of time to talk about nothing.
It was awesome. It was just what I needed.
When I got off the call, the dog wanted to play. She looked up with puppy-dog eyes and made her little whine that means, “Dad, throw the ball for me.” We went outside into the sunshine and I threw the ball for her. Then, I got down on my knees and wrestled with her. She loves when I wrestle with her.
“I really do have a good life,” I thought after the dog and I were done chomping on each other. I went into the kitchen to put away the clean dishes. “I'm thankful for all of it.”
You know what? I'm thankful for Get Rich Slowly too. And for you, the readers. This site has been a huge blessing in my life — and I'm not one to talk much about blessings. I've put a lot into GRS, it's true, but I've gotten so much more out of it. I've gotten so much from you folks.
So, thank you. I mean it. Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for everything.
Few and Far Between
As Karl and I chatted at lunch today, I caught a Natalie Merchant song playing on the restaurant's radio. At first I thought it was “Wonder”, but then I recognized it as “Few and Far Between”.
“How fitting,” I thought. Some of the lyrics:
“‘Til you make your peace with yesterday, you'll never build a future. I swear by what I say: Whatever penance you do, decide what it's worth to you, and then respect it. However long it will take to weather your mistakes? Why not accept it?”
So, that's what has been going on in my life lately. It's been a struggle. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. And I can see some money articles at the end of the keyboard. (Thank goodness, right?)
What's been going on with you?