Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Depression does not equal Sadness

I recently had a conversation with my mother that was quite enlightening. I learned that through out my childhood my mother experienced severe depression. I had no idea. Like most children I saw my mom as a superhero, capable of anything from fixing a scratched knee to a broken heart. I never saw the full picture until recently and even now I wonder if I truly see the entirety of my mother.

Growing up I never knew it but my parents keep the most stressful parts of their lives to themselves. I knew about finances at a young age, how to budget and make investment decisions, but I didn't know how to overcome emotional trauma. I knew how to do basic repairs on a house, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc but not how to repair a broken relationship. My parents did an amazing job teaching the hard skills of life but not the soft skills. This affected my life in several ways.

First, I never learned that depression is not sadness until I almost lost myself in depression and became someone I didn't like. Someone who lied about his life to everyone around him and refused to let anyone in to see the hurt, lost child he was inside. I didn't know that depression can express itself as apathy, as anger, as wistfulness, as loneliness or as sadness. This was the summer of 2013. I worked pest control and was far from home and from friends. I felt utterly alone and almost left the things that have proven to bring the most joy into my life.

At that time I didn't see, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't even see the tunnel. What I eventually did see were the friends who found me in Utah and refused to let me go. I saw a family welcome me as their own and even if they didn't know exactly how to help they let me know I was not alone and never needed to be. They were crazy and wild and so full of love it hurt. I didn't just hear them say they loved each other, I saw it in every interaction they had from breakfast to bedtime. I never told them how much they changed my life that summer. But now I have a chance to.

Second, I learned that I should hide those things that hurt me most. Let me be clear, my parents never deliberately taught me this. They just taught me by example that this is how things are to be done. You put on your best clothes and wipe your tears and act as though nothing is wrong because if you admit to yourself, for even a moment, that something is wrong you break. That summer I learned that this is a lie. I learned that to heal and to grow you have to break sometimes.

Like the seed, sometimes our hard exterior has to break so that we can let our inside self shine. I learned it is okay to break, it is okay to cry, it is okay to be held. I learned that just like the seed cannot grow in a vacuum neither can people.

So now I return to my conversation with my mother. I never knew she experienced depression. I never knew how depression can sneak into a life stealing the joy from our grasping fingers. I never knew how destructive depression can be. When I spoke with my mother about my experiences with depression I learned that depression runs in my family. I learned that I was not crazy, there was nothing wrong with me and I was not alone.

I also realized that we, as a society, have no idea how to help those that are in the grips of a very real feeling of depression. Here are some things that helped me and can help you help others:

  1. Be yourself and be genuine: When I was about to abandon my faith I was comforted by my friends who didn't preach or lecture but who were just themselves.
  2. Be present: When someone is depressed and needs help they need to know that you are there for them. They need to know that when it comes right down to it you are willing to listen and let them talk as long as they need to. Be willing to talk about depression if they bring it up. It is a sign that they are ready to begin healing.
  3. Be Cheerful: Be happy and let the infectious joy of your life brighten their day. Joy and laughter are catching. If your friend or family member who is depressed doesn't join right in that is okay. Give them the time to break their shell of depression and let their inner self shine.
  4. Educate yourself: Learn about depression for your own benefit and don't lecture the things you learn at those who are depressed. Arm yourself with the knowledge of depression and signs of it getting worse. 
  5. Overall just be their friend. Not everyone who has depression is suicidal. Don't over react and just be a friend. 
Until next time, Vaya con Dios. 

(For those of you who don't speak Spanish "Vaya con Dios" means "Go with God".)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Recently my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is of the HER2-positive variety, an aggressive form that can grow quickly. Thankfully is caught quickly and she should make a full recovery after a year of treatments. So why am I mentioning this in my blog about SGA?

I am because it has to do with fear. I didn't realize that I am still afraid of losing my mother. My mom also has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and when I was young she was in and out of the hospital frequently. I still remember the nights I would be woken up by the paramedics as they rushed my mother to the ER to save her life. I never knew whether she would be coming home or not. For a child that is very traumatic. Thankfully as medicine has improved so have my mother’s MS symptoms.

This new health concern of cancer caused my latent fear to resurface because as a child I didn't know how to resolve my feelings of fear and terror of losing the woman who brought me into the world at great personal risk. I still haven’t completely resolved these emotions but I have come to realize that there are things I can do.

First, I learned that I have to accept the fear as being real. Until I allow it to be part of my reality I cannot do anything about it.

Second, I learned I cannot hide from emotions. Whether I try to hide in work, in books or other forms of entertainment they are a part of me and as such cannot be avoided through activity.

Third, I learned that there are people who love me and want to help. The more I retreat from emotion the more I hurt myself by not enjoying the positive things in life like friends, family and wholesome recreation activities.

I started hiding within myself, which in the past has only led to bouts of depression. I am grateful to those friends and coworkers who have taken me aside in the last few weeks to share their concern and love with me. It has helped me return from the precipice of depression and start enjoying the little things in life again. I didn't even realize I was slipping. Thank you for helping me see the divine signatures in my life. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Be Better not Bitter

Today I saw this meme and it made me think.

I have often fallen into the trap of letting myself become bitter and angry about things in my life. Things like friends in high school who proved that they were not friends at all and leaders who didn't listen to me when I needed help. It is easy to let your heart become bitter when things don't go the way we want. Then I realized that even if it is not something good in my past I have still learned from it. I learned that often times the worst experiences of our lives are the ones that teach us the most. And I learned that who I was doesn't matter, what matters is who I am and who I am becoming.

Then I also came to understand that just as it doesn't matter who I was it doesn't matter who you were either. It doesn't matter that those friends in high school were rude or cruel or that a leader didn't listen. What matters is that they aren't the same people they were any more than I am the person I was back then.

Lets look forward to who we are becoming and leave the pain of the past where it is while carrying the lessons on with us.