Depression: Let Us Not Fight the Battle Alone

Like many, I have spent considerable time over the last few weeks pondering the loss of the great Robin Williams. It seems that nothing in the news, not even the happiest or saddest story, is immune to nastiness and negativity. So, naturally, people—most of whom have never lived in the black-hole of despair and crippling anguish that is chronic depression—came out talking about how selfish suicide is and proposed various bogus theories regarding how to “cure” people like Mr. Williams of these terrible thoughts. If only he’d had more faith! If only he were stronger! If only he had a better support system! If only he’d turned his frown upside-down! Hogwash, all of it.

Those of us who have lived with depression, including myself, realize that it is never that simple. I am a big proponent of optimism, gratitude, and focusing on the good in life, but I am also a person who has battled anxiety and depression for about seventeen years. I know what it is to fall into that darkness and feel there is no escape, to see all the good around, to feel the love and support of family and friends, and still not want to live one more day. I went through that in my teens, college years, and again about 6-10 months into my marriage. When I was 14, a mysterious illness ravaged my body and left me bedridden for months. At 15, I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematous and my life has never been the same.

Battling this crippling illness and the emotional war it wages has been the greatest physical struggle of my life. It is unending, disheartening, and unbelievably painful. To be “disabled” at such a young age can break a person. I can admit now that it very truly broke me many times. Because of this physical battle, I suffered for years with paralyzing anxiety and depression that would wax and wane—sometimes a storm wrecking my life and other times a quiet breeze whistling in my ear telling me over and over again that it was not going to be okay.

Since finding my “calling” and having children, I have been spared the plunge into that pit of despair. At 32, I like to think I have conquered depression; that the daily happy presence and love of my husband and children is enough insulate me from going to that place of misery ever again. I hope that the cold, dark thoughts and mindset that come with depression will drown in the light of my faith, my eagerness to follow Jesus, and my studies in theology. I assume that, if only I catch it early enough—as I did recently when I began feeling the mean reds attack—I will, at least temporarily, immunize myself from falling into that Dante’s Inferno-like state from whence no good can come. The truth is, however, that depression is a very complex beast with causes that range from physical, chemical make-up, to the change in seasons, to situational issues and everything in between. And over none of that do I, or anyone, have complete control. I hope I do not fall down that rabbit-hole again, but I cannot be sure that it is conquerable or that I am completely immune to it.

So what? Where does that leave us? Is it hopeless? Should we, all of us who battle these demons, just throw up our hands in exasperated despondence and let them swallow us whole? If all the therapy, medication, faith, money, and support in the world can’t save a man like Robin Williams (also diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness), what hope is there for the rest of us? For me, the hope lies in this simple fact: I did not always feel like that. So far, I have always, eventually come out of it. And so, I try to fight back early and hard, using coping mechanisms I have learned leaning on my support systems as I am able, and trying to hold onto whatever sliver or shred of hope remains. Will that always work? I cannot know. I cannot be sure, but I have to keep trying. I have to keep fighting. And I have to keep looking out for others I know are waging similar wars within.

I will leave you with this thought and encourage you to look out for others who might be fighting this type of battle alone:

 

Resolution or No?

The force is strong… that force that pulls at each of us as every old year presses to a close and the new year rockets toward us at breakneck speed. Of which force am I speaking? Well, I’d have thought the title would give it away, but okay: I’m speaking of the force I am calling “resolution pressure.” It’s like peer pressure, actually, but really, it doesn’t matter if your peers are making a resolution or not, at the end of the year, this force weighs on each of us to make a resolution. Make a change! Improve yourself! Make 2014 better than 2013! Do something with your life! Be successful! Lose weight! Get healthy! Quit smoking! Be nicer to people! Read more books!

Whatever it is, whatever resolution you feel pulled toward, make it count. Do not just resolve to get healthy and give up on January 6. Don’t start wearing the patch and then casually pick up a box of cigarettes at the convenience store. Do not approach days 1-4 with sweetness and light and then buckle at the first sign of frustration. In the words of Nike, “Just do it,” (is that even their slogan anymore?). Do not make a resolution that you cannot possibly live up to, no matter how tempting it is. Be practical, of course, but if you are going to make a change, just do it.

I have heard people say, “I don’t do resolutions, but this year I’m…” Nice try, but newsflash, that’s a resolution. If you feel better not calling it that, well that’s okay. If you are making a decision on January 1 to change something in your life for the better, yep, that’s a resolution. Maybe it’s not very specific, maybe it’s something you’ve been meaning to do anyway, but regardless of your reasons or what word you use, it is still a resolution. There was one year, I think, when I said I wasn’t making a resolution–maybe it was last year because I cannot even remember last year’s resolution–but then I did. In the SAME BLOG POST. Pathetic. It’s a resolution. So this year, rather than play semantics, I’ve just decided to give in and go with the crowd. I like having a goal, anyway. And what better time to declare one than at the start of a new year?

When I thought about what my resolution would be, a quote from Meet Joe Black came to mind,

“You have to try, because if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.”

It’s actually part of a much longer quote from Anthony Hopkins’ character about the importance of passionate love in life, but this last part has always stuck with me. My only real resolution this year is to try new things, especially if I don’t think I will like them. I am the type who assumes they don’t like something simply because it is popular not to like it. I said for the longest time I didn’t like sushi, and then I met my husband who took me to many sushi restaurants before I actually gave it real a try (my very first attempt at sushi years before literally left a bad taste in my mouth). And guess what? I loved it. I love it maybe more than he does now.

So far, it is January second and I’ve tried exactly nothing I wasn’t already planning to try. I don’t want to force the issue, though. When things come up, so long as it doesn’t violate my pescetarianism, compromise my health and well-being (or that of anyone else), and is not illegal or in some other way a violation of my own moral code, I vow to seriously consider giving it a try. I realize that is heavy on the caveats, but it’s not as if I can try veal for the first time this year or start base jumping just because it’s something I assume I wouldn’t like. Veal really compromises almost all of those caveats. And, er, the very idea of base jumping terrifies the living hell out of me and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t exactly fit in with maintaining my well-being.

Like last year, I have also decided on a word of the year. This was a concept my friend Emma (brilliant lady that she is) introduced to me. I wasn’t overly successful in implementing my word last year: CALM. In fact, that’s more often how it appeared in my mind during tough times, in uppercase letters and bold: C A L M! 2013 was anything but calm. Dealing with a new baby, my oldest son’s diagnosis, and a major move from Germany to Pennsylvania (for two months), and then on to Little Rock, Arkansas (for the foreseeable future) brought much stress into our lives and sometimes, we freaked out a bit. However, the word came to mind each trying moment and that reminder did, I think, help me calm down much more rapidly than if I hadn’t declared it my word of 2013.

This year, we’re continuing to work on our “calm” and intermingling “JOY.” This may be an easier task, there is so much joy in my day already with my two little guys when they wake up and give me a bright beaming smile or giggle out loud about something silly. Or with my big guy when he gives me a kiss as he returns home from work or we snuggle on the couch to watch fascinating television together. I just want to appreciate these instances more and stop to reflect, even briefly, on other moments that may bring joy. I want to look for joy even in moments that do not seem particularly joyous. I just feel like, for most of us anyway, our lives are what we make them. We can choose to see a whole lot of trouble at every turn, or we can roll with it and, in the words of the endlessly fascinating Buffy character Faith:

“Find the fun.”

So that’s what I’m going to do: find the fun. Except that I’m calling it joy because it just sounds classier.

Try.

Joy.

I can do this. Here’s to 2014!

Time: So Little and So Much

I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.

– from “Angel”

My little family of three is less than three weeks away from becoming a family of four (and even more heavily testosterone laden). At moments during this pregnancy, it felt like these weeks would never arrive and now that they’re here, it seems as though they’ve come around quite suddenly. Pregnancy, like many things in life, feels at once blisteringly fast and painfully slow. I do not wish to wax poetic about the joys and struggles of carrying a child for nine months nor complain about the pleasures and stresses that come along with motherhood. I realize there are multiple perspectives and am fully aware that many do not get to experience these gifts.

As I sit here watching my son play, intermittently happy and then running to me upset when he becomes frustrated (which happens approximately every minute or so at two-and-a-half years of age), it occurs to me that time is an incredibly curious phenomenon. In many respects, it does seem as though it passes more rapidly as we age. It is true that a minute is a minute regardless of how old we get, and yet there’s a relativity to time that shifts dramatically in varying circumstances. Two minutes seem an eternity to a two year old stuck in a time out, but fly by for the student trying to squeeze a few more test answers before the professor announces, “Time’s up!” Waiting at a red light for sixty seconds is incredibly frustrating (especially when running late) and yet those same sixty seconds tick down ever so quickly to the football team desperately trying to score the winning goal at the end of the fourth quarter.

Time’s fleeting and seemingly bi-polar nature is something wholly out of our control. I suppose the moral of the story is to enjoy every moment of life and try not to worry about those things over which we have no control. My easily frustrated toddler who, at the moment, cannot get enough of Mama’s love and attention (especially at the most inopportune moments) will become a busy young boy soon enough and, let’s face it, I’ll miss these days and that “clingy-ness” that sometimes wears on a tired pregnant mother.

Yet another curious observation about time is how easily some seem to classify it as “wasted.” Priorities in life differ from one person to another. So, too, do our interests and hobbies. People occasionally deride those who spend their leisure time watching television or playing video games. Such time is clumsily classified as frivolous and wasted. It may be true in some cases. Some who enjoy nothing more than the “great-outdoors” find it “sad” that there are those of us who, for one reason or another, do not. Then there are those who enjoy spending their time with their nose in a book and laugh at those who stare “mindlessly” at the “idiot-box” for hours a day (I am a reader and would argue there are plenty of books out there that are doing absolutely nothing to contribute to one’s IQ or knowledge base).

Any number of comparisons can be made regarding what is and is not wasted time. This, I think, is a judgment that is largely relative and best left for each individual to evaluate alone. For my money, I agree with this sentiment:

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

-Marthe Troly-Curtin

I will leave you with one final thought from C.S. Lewis, as I seem to be turning to his wisdom with increasing frequency even when I do not, necessarily, agree:

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

– C.S. Lewis

Enjoy whatever time you have, however you choose to spend it.

Blessings!

Back to it!

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The three of us at Notre Dame in April. Just one of the reasons I’ve been a bit MIA.

Hello everyone!

After a lo–ong semester during which I took an unintended break from all things blogging, I’m back. I do not have great insight to impart today. The semester just ended and my brain needs a bit of time to decompress, but I wanted to make sure no one thought I had abandoned this platform. I haven’t, and I’m back to it!

I’m going to take a moment and catch you up briefly and sit down later this week (maybe even tomorrow) to expand on some things or perhaps I’ll become intensely inspired to write about my second seminary semester or our semi-recent trip to Paris. That, however, will have to wait.

Today, I’m simply going to do something quick and informative, inspired by my friend Emma’s blog.

I am:

missing: my girls back in the states. The people I’ve met here are incredibly wonderful people and I’m having fun with them for sure! But I think we can all agree that there’s something about long-time friends, y’know?

needing: to go pick up my referral to an off-base, German specialist (for the lupus stuff). The appointment is in June and it’s after mid-May now!

dreaming: about a good night’s sleep. I’ve been an insomniac lately.

wishing: my husband and I were able to go see The Avengers in theaters. This is just one of the plethora of problems with living so far from family.

hoping: that planning for Weston’s birthday party isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems in my head.

reading: the last half of The Hunger Games. God help me, I needed something fun and leisurely after a semester of intense theological reading. It’s actually quite an interesting story (reminds me of the Asian film Battle Royale, but I like the characters a bit more)!

feeling: much calmer now that my semester is over. It was my most difficult yet and the stress was a bit much to bear with all the other life-stuff over here.

craving: coffee. I’ve been on a sort of cleanse and taking some supplements (Advocare is amahzing!) to help with some general and lupus-related issues and to get some toxins out of my body. I feel great (especially these last two days since the stress of classes is lifted), but I Miss. My. Coffee.

listening: to the newish album by Vanessa Carlton “Rabbits on the Run” – it’s a bit of a departure, but feels more authentically her. Refreshing. Light (and yet full of depth). I’m enjoying it.

watching: episodes of Dollhouse to keep pace with my favorite podcast “Active Architecture” from some of my twitter buddies (hi, Justin and Cindy!). I’m up to “Echoes” again. It’s even better this time around. “You haven’t seen my drawer of inappropriate starches?”

laughing: at the fact that my son will be two in less than two months. I’m laughing to keep from weeping actually, and that’s half sarcasm, half truth. He’s growing up much too fast.

Jessie’s Favorite Television Shows of 2011

Once upon a time, I wrote “Top” and “Best of” lists. Top Movies, Top Television Shows, Top Albums, etc. On further consideration, I have arrived at the conclusion that I was not so much making “Top” or “Best of” lists, as much as “favorites” lists. I am no more qualified to make a best of list than I am qualified to write a weighty tome on astrophysics. I do not have experience with all of the entertainment releases of the last year, so I am hardly qualified to write a “Best of” list. However, based on my limited exposure (even less so since having my son a year and a half ago), I am uniquely qualified to write a list of my favorites of a given year, and that is what you will find here. Today’s topic: Television shows of 2011. I watch a lot of good TV, so limiting this to 10 was difficult. If I’m speaking strictly of these shows based on episodes they released in 2011. I am ranking them 10-1, but it’s impossible to choose the order, so take that with a grain of salt and know that it might very well have been different had this list been written or published even an hour later. The absence of Mad Men from our televisions in 2011 and the decline of The Office left some spots wide open. Here’s my list:

10. Modern Family and The Big Bang TheoryMF is a consistently funny sitcom whose heartwarming moments never feel contrived and are always just what they aim to be. With so much consistency, it’s hard to chose a favorite episode. They all just roll on through and make me laugh and cheer each week. BBT has been back on its game the past two seasons with the addition of Amy and Bernadette. I’m not wild about the whole Howard dates Raj’s sister storyline, but it doesn’t take much from the rest of the show. This rag-tag bunch of geeks gives me some of the biggest belly laughs episode after episode.

9. Bones – Bones and Booth sleep together and we don’t see anything? On any other show, this might have really irritated me. With Bones steady ways and intriguing character development, I was merely slightly annoyed. The kicker of season six came in the last few minutes of the finale: finding out Bones is pregnant and seeing the look on Booth’s face. It is a delight to watch as this season unfolds and the relationship between them so seamlessly (in terms of the show, itself) falls into place. We’ve seen all the joy and appropriate conflict we would expect of a coupling between the two – and those kisses and hugs add to the quiet, shared tender moments already so characteristic of Booth and Bone’s relationship. I’m intrigued to see how Bones fares with a child of her own to wave her phalanges at.

8. Chuck – Chuck and Sarah planning their wedding whilst still carrying out the spy life? The lovely and talented Lauren Cohan appearing in the role of Vivian Volkoff? Ellie and Awesome with a baby? Come on, what could be better? I’m behind on this final season because of our move and its complete lack of iTunes availability, but you can bet I will be downloading it just as soon as it’s available.

7. Vampire Diaries – If this show upped the ante any more, I’d fall off the edge of my seat. Having Lauren Cohan on another one of my shows as yet another favorite (if short-lived) character was just another highlight in a stellar second season. Season three has proven just as surprising and enjoyable. Down deep, I don’t see so many similarities to draw between this and my favorite show ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but in terms of how the show has continued to get better in its first three seasons and how it wonderfully bends genre norms to appeal to the masses open-minded enough to give it a go, it is certainly similar. I find myself rushing to watch this as soon as it’s available. I’m addicted. As a die-hard Buffy/Angel shipper, I never thought I’d ship Elena/Damon… yet I am. I am shipping them hard. And um… despite the wicked-weird eye thing that he does, I can’t get enough of Somerhalder as Damon. Cannot. Get. Enough.

6. New Girl – It’s Zooey Deschanel at her goofy, happy, optimistic best. Some of the funny bits are hit or miss, but I find myself unable to stop watching and have gone back to re-watch each episode of this multiple times. I think my favorite episode so far is Naked, in which Jess sees Nick naked and is completely unable to say the word ‘penis’ – “Bonjour le pene!” Oh, I love it.

5. Big C and Californication – Easily my favorite of the cable comedies this year. Had I seen Laura Linney as Cathy last year, it would have been my favorite somewhat-dark comedy of 2010, too. And oh, Hank, how do you find yourself in these bizarre situations on Californication? I felt the return of Hank Moody was truly inspired and loved watching the drama, action, and comedy of season four unfold. I always find myself saying, “This could only happen to Hank.”

4. Happy Endings – I have watched every episode of both seasons of this show multiple, (multiple!) times. I LOVE it. I can’t stop watching. It is 2011’s answer to Friends if ever such a feat were possible. I go back and forth on which character is my favorite, but I can’t say any of them are my least favorite. Together, this band of six thirty-something buds makes for a uniquely hilarious show, funnier with each re-watch. I simply cannot get enough.

3. Ringer – “OMG, SMG!” My best friend and I uttered this little saying the day the pilot aired and have probably used it at least two or more times per episode. Each time we think it can’t get crazier, it does. I won’t say the writing is special, but the ploting and performances are fun and its wildly unpredictable nature keeps me coming back week after week. Is it the “best of” 2011, probably not, but it’s compulsively watchable and highly enjoyable and thus certainly one of my favorites of 2011. I have the highest admiration for Sarah Michelle Gellar, so it’s no shock that this show would be on my list. I can’t help it, I just love the insanity. OMG, SMG!

2. Revenge – Oh what a tangled web we weave! When I first saw the teaser for this show and heard Angus and Julia Stone’s beautiful “For You” playing in the background, I knew this show would be something special. It did not disappoint. I wasn’t sure it would be one I’d go back to re-watch, but I have. I love the complex plot, the surprising twists, and the delightfully wicked smile that spreads across the face of our villainess, Victoria Grayson (played with graceful aplomb by Madeline Stowe). Emily VanCamp was one of my favorite parts of Brothers and Sisters (her absence was one of the many reasons I didn’t watch much of the final season), and she’s given real room to shine here as the lead. Is she a villain or a hero? Can we possibly cheer for someone with such nefarious intentions? Happily, the answers to those questions are both and yes. Somehow, her back story and the way she goes about carrying out her plan despite the conflict she’s clearly feeling about the effects of her actions make her character someone to watch, cheer for, and marvel at. What makes this “nighttime soap” even more enjoyable is that it doesn’t take itself so seriously. Some things are clearly unbelievable, but we go with it. Revenge is a ridiculous ride we are more than happy to climb onto.

1. The Good Wife – It was tough for me to make a choice between my favorite new show of fall 2011, and a show that is just of such top quality episode after episode. In the end, I went with experience, because “Revenge” has only just begun. Julianna Margulies continues to shine in the role of the good wife. She has made Alicia into someone more than just a wronged woman making her way in the world, and we delight at where her journey will take her next. Archie Panjabi as Kalinda broke our hearts as we watched the strain and fallout from revalations about her prior “dealings” with Alicia’s husband. Her one friend in all the world that she’d betrayed before they even knew each other–and yet we root for her. We root for Alicia. My one request for this season would be more Chris Noth as I enjoy the tension when he’s on screen with… well… anyone, but especially Ms. Margulies. I’m excited to see where this season takes us.

Honorable Mentions to shows that didn’t have their most stellar years last, but ones I still make it a point to see: Supernatural, Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and The Walking Dead.

The jury’s still out on American Horror Story (but in the 5 or 6 episodes we have seen, it’s easily the most shocking show of the year). Two I did not include here are Homeland and Once Upon a Time, each of which seem truly special. But only having seen three episodes of each, I’m hardly able to make a real assessment. I’m not sure which I would remove from up there to include these (I’d probably just combine them with another one) if I love the remaining episodes as much as I did the first three.

Hope you enjoyed reading any or all of this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’m waiting to do a favorite films of 2011 post until I’ve seen a few more from last year (one of which is Moneyball, which I just purchased this past weekend). Till next time 🙂