Slogging your way out of it

You know the worst thing about fighting depression? Having to pretend you care about feeling better when, really, you’re having such a hard time convincing yourself that there’s any point to trying, because it feels absurd to fight so hard to continue doing something you don’t enjoy. The terrible part is, maybe you would enjoy it if you weren’t depressed — but it messes with your mind. It sucks the joy out of memories. You can’t remember ever enjoying anything. It just seems like one big uphill slog for no good reason, but you’ve got to put on the brave front and pretend it’s all going to work out.

Being in the middle of it is the worst possible time to try and decide whether it’s worth fighting it. You’ll just have to take someone else’s word for it: It is. Whether life continues to suck or not, it’s still worth it. At least then you’ll know. You’ll have the choice, the perspective, the capacity to differentiate between outcomes.

Don’t take depression’s word for it. Depression is a lying jerk.

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My beliefs, PTSD and Bob

I’ve been thinking about making this post for awhile, but religion is always a touchy subject for me and my beliefs are difficult to articulate. I have, at various times, identified by many different labels — Christian, atheist, deist and pantheist. None of them have been fully accurate, but I lack for other, more accurate terminology and the whole of the story is long in telling. This is, according to WordPress, my sixth attempt to put words to it without saying too much.

As a youth, I identified as Christian because I assumed that’s what most people were. I never went to church (I considered it excruciatingly boring and begrudged the few times I was taken there by relatives) and my interpretation of God was limited to “a masculine supernatural presence who controls everything that happens, good and bad.” I had almost no thought for Jesus, much less the Holy Spirit. I had a Bible, which I considered a bad gift from a religious relative. I read quite a bit of it, but it largely went in one ear and out the other.

Consequently, my faith didn’t hold up to the problem of suffering. The hurt and frustration I felt poisoned my relationship with Christianity for over a decade and I only started to heal when I found the Slacktivist community. I wrestled with the broken pieces of my faith and finally assembled them into a hodgepodge of mysticism and religious naturalism. It still doesn’t sit entirely well with me, but then again, not much would after having had someone make an excellent case for why I might be a reincarnated angel (but let’s save that thought for another time).

My beliefs afford me little comfort for suffering. They aren’t really intended to, but I still feel that lack of reassurance that there’s something after death besides oblivion and the transformation of electricity and chemical energy into new forms through decomposition. I feel no shame in admitting that I don’t want to die and I fear an end to my current existence. In recent months, this discomfort has manifested in two ways.

In an update from a previous post, I have been confirmed to have PTSD. How long I’ve had it is anybody’s guess, but what triggered the onset of visible symptoms appears to have been the fire that occurred at the house I was staying at on my vacation in Michigan. I know this only because the sight of fire now makes me deeply uncomfortable, and the sight of a burning or burned house now induces a panic attack complete with hallucinations of heat and smoke.

The interaction of PTSD and depression has been devastating. Events no longer feel like they have proper cause and effect, thanks to a haze of dissociation that follows me everywhere. I find myself unable to remember what day it is without a firmly established routine. I leave rooms uncertain if I accomplished what I wanted to there or if I was just thinking about doing it. Depression threatened to steal away my ability to feel things emotionally, but PTSD floods my system with so much stress that I find myself too tired to care about the things I still enjoy.

After most normal shocks–a near collision, an unexpected fall, waking up from a bad dream–there’s a minute of readjustment to the fact that you’re no longer in danger. PTSD, to me, feels like being trapped in that cycle of contradictory messages, as if I’ve only just ducked out of the room the fire was in. I feel that if I pressed my hand against the wall, I’d feel heat from the flames starting to eat through. If I see something that triggers a panic attack, I do feel that heat and smell smoke in the air. Even though I consciously know that the fire was months ago, it still feels like I’ve only just gained a reprieve from it. A temporary reprieve.

It’s hard not to feel that if I had more confidence in a continuation of existence (much less in Paradise), a brush with death wouldn’t have affected me as strongly.

Lacking that reassurance has also made grieving for our cat, Bob, even more painful. The thought that I will never see him again is difficult to accept. He lived twenty years, four of which I was able to share, and I loved him as much as I know how. I hope that if there is something after death that he and other cats I lag behind will be there, waiting for me. To believe this is entirely a matter of optimism. I have no evidence, only hope.

Bob
1993-2013

One of the coolest cats I’ve ever known, so laid-back, so casually loving, always purring, always happiest when hanging with his people. An old cat who still loved playing with a shoestring, who would swat after a laser at the slightest provocation. He will be cremated and his ashes interned with his human mother’s, as they both would have wanted.

Reduced activity

Yes, it figures that as rarely as I post as it is, my activity would then be reduced even further. I have a good reason though. Life has decided I didn’t have nearly enough lemons handy, so it gave me a one-two punch from which I’ll be some time in recovering.

First, it has become abundantly clear that depression isn’t my biggest problem. Discussing some of my recent physical issues with people has revealed more and more about them that wasn’t being considered. The long and short of it is that I’m a likely candidate for PTSD. The telling point was that the fire that occurred while I was on vacation caused the exact same response that I’ve had in several high-stress incidents of the past few years.

Then, just days later, my significant other and I called off our four year relationship. This doesn’t come happily, as you might imagine, but it’s not the knock-out punch it could have been had it ended on harsher circumstances. I acknowledge my faults, and the circumstances which led to this. I’m not bitter. Not happy, but not angry or inconsolable. The biggest problem is that now I also have a dire lack of financial and living space security.

As of the moment, my priority is finding income of any sort. PTSD, ironically, provides me with a possible option: Medicaid. It’s not the income I would have preferred, but at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get while I search for better options.

That “Aha!” moment, but without the exclamation

If you read my previous post, you know that I’ve struggled with depression.

If you haven’t read my previous post, why are you here? Go on, go do that first. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Finished? Great.

It finally occurred to me today why I might feel this way. It’s because of money. The love of money might be the root of all evil, but the existence of money seems to be the bane of my existence altogether. As Fred Clark recently said in three different fashions,

1) Money can’t buy happiness, but it does buy protection from certain forms of unhappiness.
2) Money is not sufficient for happiness. Money is necessary to avoid certain forms of unhappiness.
3) No, money cannot buy happiness. But it is necessary for buying necessities without which happiness is nearly impossible. Having enough money is no guarantee of happiness. Not having enough money is a guarantee of unhappiness.

That’s where I am. I have no money, therefore I am guaranteed unhappiness, in broad defiance of a tarot reading once taken which predicted my future would be “poor, but happy.” The fortune teller has since recanted the certainty of this reading.

It isn’t specifically the lack of money which makes this difficult. What seems to make it such a soul-blighting state of being is the inability to obtain money. As a number of people have written a lot about how being poor is a self-sustaining cycle.

You’re poor, so you buy a cheap vehicle.
The vehicle is cheap, so it breaks down.
You’re poor, so you can’t afford to replace it or get it refurbished.
It’s fixed on a budget, so it breaks down again.
You pay so much money keeping it barely running that you remain poor.
You’re poor, so you buy a cheap vehicle to replace it.
The vehicle is cheap…

On only two occasions of my life have I ever had an income. The first was working in the marketing department of a video game company — I sought out retailers to carry our products. It was a small company, so it paid me a mere $100 a month. This position was eventually terminated without notice, and by that I mean I continued to work for two weeks before anyone informed me that I had been laid off.

On the other occasion, I worked for a transcription company, transcribing audio recordings of business meetings held for a variety of clients. This was almost interesting, since every day, I had a new client and these were often major corporations — I was a fly on the wall at meetings held by everything from real estate companies to medical schools. The only problem was that their dialogue then had to be written up verbatim, which is a lot less easy than it sounds when not everyone at these meetings would speak clearly. I have a lot of difficulty making out dialogue, so it sometimes took several tries to decipher what someone was saying if they had a heavy accent.

The hours were also intolerable. I woke up at 6:00 AM to get my file for the day. The file would then be delivered between noon and 2:00 PM. Being on dial-up, the files took awhile to download. The average file would be an hour long, which would take (depending on the speakers) several hours to transcribe. I often didn’t finish until 10:00 PM and sometimes later, and this entailed taking no breaks, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in my office, working steadily. For the best chances of getting through the file without mishap, I would spend at least a couple of hours surfing any relevant websites by the company to familiarize myself with some of their terminology. Again, many of these speakers would have heavy accents and a phrase like “NASDAQ index” doesn’t come intuitively to someone who’s never been in corporate to begin with.

On top of that, the pay was shockingly terrible. I was paid a fraction of a penny per word, so over the course of an hour’s worth of dialogue, I would accumulate around $25. This is where my “90 hours weekly for a $125 paycheck” figure comes from that some readers may have heard — I could and often did work steadily from 6 AM to midnight for $25 a day. As you can imagine, there were no benefits to this job other than having it, and I eventually no longer had it at all. In the end, the job was outsourced to the Philippines. I can only shudder to imagine how little they were getting paid, before the company was then sued for corporate espionage.

Beyond those two jobs, I’ve never had a major income, and not for lack of trying. I apply to places, but never hear anything back. If I call or visit to inquire, I get noncommittal noises. I’ve probably applied to at least a few hundred businesses of all kinds, but the most conclusive response I ever received was actually seeing someone discard my application in the garbage beneath their desk.

This sort of thing can contribute toward poor self-esteem, as can repeated implications that one’s worth is determined by their income and their ability to maintain an income. This has led me into a hellish double standard: my value is determined by my income, my ability to get an income is entirely in the hands of potential employers, and yet I’m held personally responsible for my income status.

I need an income, but I can’t get an income, but I need an income, but I can’t get an income, but I’m a terrible person if I don’t have an income, but I can’t get an income because I’m a terrible person…

And so it goes in a downward spiral which threatens to leave me not only emotionally wrecked, but indebted for thousands of dollars for the student loans that have yet to make a positive impact on my employment status.

I need to get this bloody book written.

Depression

Today, a regular on Slacktivist, chris the cynic, posted to call attention to yet another blog I had never seen before: Hyperbole and a Half. The most recent post describes the author’s battle with depression. The author uses a comedic approach to explaining how bad depression can be, which trips up my artificial empathy patterns with the mixed message “feeling terrible is hilarious and I want you to know how hilarious it really isn’t,” but it’s a feeling I understand.

I almost feel as if I shouldn’t, but I do. I took every psychology class and anything related my college offered — Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Psychology of Sex and Gender, Developmental Psychology, Sociology, Social Problems, Bioethics… they all gave various insights on the human mind and its myriad conditions. But!

I still have antisocial personality disorder.

That’s kind of a problem. How does one properly understand how others feel when they’re afflicted by something which, by definition, makes it very hard to relate to anyone else? I won’t deny it, my natural impulse on reading “I have depression” is to think “… So, you’re like, uh, sad?” Words are inadequate to describe my own emotions; now I’ve got someone trying to tell me theirs, and I have no natural mechanisms to care. That makes me sound heartless. I am. I’m Commander Data, tilting quizzically while trying to determine which comfort subroutine is appropriate to your native species and culture. Should I pat you on the back or give an inspirational speech? (Neither. You’re a Talarian and I should join you in mournful howling. Awoooo.)

I do understand. I understand depression on an intellectual level from my schooling, but it took realizing that I suffer from the same condition to put the equation together and see how it related to other people. I’ve struggled on and off with depression over a number of years, wandering somewhere between dysthymia and major depressive disorder. At its best, it’s a feeling that never quite goes away, but it’s just comfortable enough to fade into the background. My usual emotional state is relaxed and easy-going, but who says that has to be a happy easy-going?

At its worst, it feels like having been crushed. Sometimes I swear that’s the literal truth, that if I had an x-ray done, I would see my ribs crushing into vital organs. It doesn’t help that I already have physical problems with my everything, which just adds insult to injury: not only do I feel terrible, I feel terrible. My mind and body are colluding in a grand design to make themselves miserable! Jerks.

It’s difficult to explain depression to someone who hasn’t ever had a major episode. I say it’s like being crushed. In a way, it’s almost more like those nights when no matter how you toss or turn, you can’t find a comfortable position. Your legs just don’t fit right, your arms can’t figure out if they want to hug something or punch the wall, and exactly how straight should the spine be? Have you ever had a night like that, and after awhile, you just give up and hope that you fall asleep before cramping and bruising set in? That’s like living with depression: it hurts, but there’s nothing you can do about it except wait and hope the day passes before it gets worse. After awhile, it’s just kind of there. It hurts. The sky is blue. It hurts. Kids are noisy. It hurts. It’s never warm enough, except when it’s too hot.

It hurts.

I discovered awhile ago that a lack of natural empathy not only makes it harder to care about others, it translates well into not caring about one’s self. Hyperbole and a Half’s author described this as “my depression got so horrible that it actually broke through to the other side and became a sort of fear-proof exoskeleton.” The emptiness and futility are so encompassing, they include any concern for what people might think of me. Thankfully, expressions of that total lack of self-regard have largely been limited to throwing on something society frowns upon people wearing (you name it, I’ve probably worn it, from tied straitjackets to clothing very obviously intended for someone not of my apparent sex to bondage collars to things which probably ought not to be mentioned without a NSFW tag) and wandering around public places.

It doesn’t bring me any great joy to do so, but the desire was there — along with a complete lack of concern for what could happen. Someone could see? Oh well. Someone could yell? Oh well. Someone could yell very loudly? I might muster up the willpower to yell right back. They might call the police? Darn, I might go to jail and have a place to stay and food and better medical care. Scratch that: I’d have medical care.

I feel like this sums up a lot of how I spend my days now, just tottering around while I wait for the day to end, alternating between doing responsible things and trying not to feel too flattened, rebelling against responsibility by throwing on a miniskirt or a dumb hat or (NSFW!) and grabbing a book and going outside. Or staying inside. I’m actually very bad with responsibility, a fact of which has apparently somehow been communicated to the eight places I sent job applications to on Monday.

I think I’ve run out of things to write. Can you tell this was an exercise to try and wriggle out from under my depression?