LGN 89: Mental Health and Hygiene

I was talking to a friend about SAD and the narrow borderlands between introversion and depression. He suggested that I get a prescription for anti-depressants. I don’t and didn’t want to.

He said, “Why not? If there’s something that’s going to improve the quality of your life, why would you not do it?”

I didn’t answer him eloquently in the moment.

I told him that I don’t want to take meds that alter brain chemistry and not always in predictable ways. I also don’t want to rely on pharmaceuticals to function. Period. Have you seen the warnings and contraindications for that stuff?

I’ve been on hand for people who have had bad reactions to anti-depressants. I’ve seen people who drink socially turn into completely different people making choices that seem fun at first and then quickly turn questionable, and doing things they’re obviously going to regret later when the alcohol interacts with the meds. I had a relative that committed suicide by stabbing himself through the heart, although I’m not sure of the details. As I’ve said before, my family is a bit old school and doesn’t really discuss such things.

While my friend and I were talking I noticed a bottle of prescription medication. I didn’t ask what it was but something along the lines of Ritalin or Adderall.

I said, “Maybe it could help. Maybe it would make me more outgoing in public. Boost my charisma points a few notches. Maybe I’d jump into social events unfettered and even seek them out. That could mean a lot for my music or photography or professional career if I were hustling with vast amounts of psychological and emotional energy.

“That’s the upside. But then there are the swings. The lows that come along — the troughs between the waves — are loooooooow. It seems like I’d be at the whim of the vicissitudes of modern pharma. Sometimes the drugs work for a while and then don’t. The dosage has to be carefully monitored and adjusted, of course.

“From what I’ve seen and heard it can make people feel like not-themselves. That may seem like a good thing if it elevates their mood and activity but by ‘not-themselves’ I mean it can create a schism in identity. A sense of being blurry, out of focus.”

Here’s what I was trying to say.

“There’s nothing wrong with my brain. It’s my life that’s out of balance.”

BY SHOW OF HANDS

Raise your hand, wriggle your nose, or twitch your left ear if that’s all you can muster if you’ve been prone to depression or anything similar recently.

See? That’s why I’m willing to put this out there in public — if I can consider both of the people that read this blog public. Because I know you can relate.

Oh. I’m not saying that people should not take prescription medication to treat depression or chemical imbalances, although I am saying that I don’t want to and I don’t think I need them. I’ve never been diagnosed as anything other than borderline hypertensive, though.

Past tense. Future tense. Hypertense! Awaaaaaaay!

So this isn’t a judgement thing. I don’t think you’re a freak, weak, or lesser for 1) realizing that you need help, 2) having the will and courage to seek help, 3) accepting help.

I also believe that depression is real. When you suffer from it, it is like an entity. It’s very real and it doesn’t discriminate. It also can be caused or triggered by stressful events and who knows what-all.

Still, like I said earlier. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my brain. It’s my life that’s out of balance. Think about it.

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

So let’s talk about this. Let’s be real. You get home from work or hanging out with friends, back to your empty place and in the silence it hits you.

Have you lost a loved one recently? A healthy mourning process lasts for months and sorrow rushes over you like high tide when you least expect it. Maybe you have loved ones that are very ill or even terminally ill? That’s stressful as hell when all you can do is hope, accept, and then love, which doesn’t change the situation. Then there’s the guilt because you always could do more but you still have to live your own life.

How about your own health? I’m lucky enough to have not had any health scares yet but damn. Look down the path of your life a few decades. What’s it looking like? Does it scare the s*** out of you when you stop moving long enough to think about it?

It makes you think of your own mortality. Are you making the most of your time? The answer is no. For 99.999999% of us. We’re not. Hell. You spend 33% of your life asleep and probably another third working and commuting. I’m sitting here and writing this, for goodness sake.

Speaking of which, how’s that job going?

Does it make you feel good about your life? You do it well and give it what you’ve got, sure. There’s still something about it that whispers in your ear that you’re mired in mediocrity. Are you getting a return on investment for your time and energy? What do you do about that? Does that mean you should put more energy into work, finding another job, or into your home and social life?

Maybe you have a stressful job. Maybe you’re just type A. That cranks things up a notch, huh. It’ll drive you and then drive you right into the ground.

Did you lose your job? How does that make you feel about yourself? Your relevancy. Been looking for work for months and can’t find anything in your field? Ouch. Not to mention trying to pay your bills when you’re broke.

That leaves one third of your life for shopping, eating, hygiene, running errands, paying bills and — oh wait. We haven’t even touched on the non-pragmatic part of your life yet. The “living” part.

How’s your romantic life? Haven’t found The One yet, have you. No question mark because that wasn’t really a question. You start to think that there’s something wrong with you. Your friends are all getting married, one by one. Heck. You’ve run around the country to celebrate with them. They’re having kids. Your siblings and cousins seem to be in relationships all the time. Is there something wrong with you? Is there something broken? What the hell do you do about that?

And your dates, when you muster up the appropriate genitals to jump into it. What’s up with these people? It’s like there’s something missing in there. Wait a minute. Are they thinking the same thing about you? More rejection. Does anyone know how to communicate anymore?

Maybe you say eff it and roll around in the hay here or there. That might take the edge off. Maybe. A little respect would have been good, though. Oh well. Maybe you’re saving your emotional energy for something meaningful. Something with potential. You’ve lived in line with your moral code and beliefs and — what.

Maybe you don’t have any options. No prospects. Still. Another year gone by. What does that mean?

You spend a weekend alone and it’s relaxing. You read a book, eat comfort food, catch up on this or that. You spend another weekend alone and realize that this is beyond “me time”. You’re lonely. You spend another and another and it’s beyond lonely. It’s empty. You’re isolated. How did that happen? How do you become isolated in a metropolitan area?

Does anyone miss you when you’re not around?

And you want to have kids some day, ideally. But damn. Time is flying and none of us are getting any younger.

Okay. On the other hand, maybe your life is pretty rich. You’ve got most of that stuff sussed out already. Good work. I envy you. But you still wake up kind of “meh”. Or you get blindsided by drama or tragedy. Is this all there is? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. House, wife, car, kids, pets, job, hobbies, friends, family, health.

Now what? And it grows. The “now what” goes unanswered for too long and you get got.

Maybe you should call your close friends and hang out. A little good company goes a long a way. Oh, they’re busy? Their kids are sick? They’re busy working? “Okay, I think I’m free some time during the third week of next month. Give me a call.”

That’s too bad.

LIKE THAT

If you’re experiencing a substantial part of any of that, you have reason to be down. If you’re experiencing a lot of that, then you will experience depression. If you get a big dose of that over a long period of time, chances are you’re going to be Depressed.

There’s nothing wrong with your brain chemistry, per se (until there is). Your life is just out of whack and needs attention. (Again. Medication may play a role in this. You may need a boost in order to take on the ups and downs of building the various aspects of your life. We should do what we need to do.)

If you experience a pervasive sense of isolation, you should be depressed. That’s painful.

If there’s no affection and intimacy in your life, that hurts. It weighs on you and there’s only so much you can shoulder for so long. If you are in a relationship and it’s far from fulfilling — you still feel lost — that’s almost worse.

MENTAL HYGIENE

I don’t necessarily have answers, obviously. It would also be hypocritical of me to try to give advice. I don’t think anyone has a quick fix. I do believe that there are things we can do for ourselves and we have to find them. I’m not fatalistic about it. I recently heard someone say that genetics are a loaded gun and behavior/environment are the trigger.

I do have one strategy for life’s ails, though. New memories. Make new, good memories.

That is often harder than it seems but it’s there. It requires a social outlet. Many depressed people don’t have one, which is often the crux of the problem, in my non-professional opinion.

I’m lucky enough to have creative outlets. That can be cathartic.

I try to keep moving and stay active. Exercise does so much good. Laughing is like shining a light in a cave. Nature is therapy.

Isolation is a killer.

Seriously, exercise is a salve. It’s been proven to release feel good hormones aside from its other neuromuscular and cardiovascular benefits. It can also be a sliver of social sunshine.

ETA: Be a part of something. Be a part of a community, whether that’s a team, club, organization, committee, church, etc. Preferably something with a sense of obligation. Something that has its own built in drive and becomes a habit or enjoyable duty.

Oh. Also, there is something I do when I have those “Ugh, what’s the point.” or “I have no energy for people.” moments. I’m not recommending it. I’m just telling you how it is.

Coffee. Starbucks peppermint mocha with 3 or 4 pumps (if I’m feelin’ froggy) and an optional pumpkin bread. I don’t know what it is, in particular. The sugar and caffeine combination?

Yes, I would prefer actual real, whole food. But sometimes you need a caffeine mood boost. It works for me.

What works for you?

THE PILL OR THE BULLET

The other day a teenager set himself on fire in a school cafeteria. He drank a water bottle full of bleach, poured flammable fluid all over himself and set himself on fire. No one knows why. He wrote in a suicide letter that he knew people would try to figure out why. (He survived and is in the hospital with burns on 80% of his body.) He said in the letter that there was no reason.

No reason.

Whenever these suicides and killings — shootings + suicides — occur, it’s always the same reporting. We rarely get the intimate details. I wonder if someone is studying the brain chemistry or keeping track of mental illness and medication.

It seems like we now treat actual, chronic mental illness in two ways: psychopharmaceuticals (don’t think that’s a real word) and bullets — death by cop — for the mentally ill who don’t self destruct.

How does it get that far? Does isolation result in psychotic behavior? (Some antidepressant and antipsychotic medications warn that they can result in suicidal and homicidal behavior.) Are these incidents preventable? Is there an increase in mental illness or a decrease in ways to take care of people? Why?

Are we emphasizing the manipulation of brain chemistry over improving the quality of life and relations? Are we that removed from one another?

I think we’re going to see more of this as people struggle to achieve meaningful connections with each other. It’s harder when a lot of us aren’t where we are. I mean, you see someone in a cafe, but they’re on their smartphones being virtually present elsewhere. Even when you hang out with your friends in the physical, they’re often somewhere else: texting, browsing, googling.

So it goes.

THAT IS ALL

Hm. That wasn’t the most uplifting post. I guess what I’m saying is, I get it.

Our mental health is so important but we get swept away by the momentum of what everyone else is doing. We lose ourselves in the chaos, noise, and commotion. It’s understandable. We’re victims of our own excess and privileged distractions.

I wonder what other people do when they get low. Do you weather out the short days of the Winter months? Do you supplement with vitamin D and full spectrum lights? Or do you hibernate? Or is it a year round, unpredictable thing?

Whatever the case, keep your chin up out there. Take care of yourself. Have fun. Stay connected.

I’ll see you on the other side.

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