30 September 2011

Reflections on nine months of blogging: Meh.

by Nia

I started this blog in January 2011 as a place to capture my thinking about my decades-long depression that ended about 12 years ago. About two years ago I started getting angry about how little support I had had, how you weren't supposed to talk about it, how you weren't supposed to acknowledge how much it cost. In a blog I figured I could express my frustration and categorize my ideas neatly and make them easy to find for someone going through that same shit who needs some validation about his/her emotions. However, after a few posts I realized I was in danger of boring myself to death, so I roped in my friends Pastor Jayne and Soledad for their perspectives on their own experiences with depression. Their thoughtfulness and enthusiasm have added exponentially to Blessed Depth.

We tried to recruit four different guys to join us, to balance out the hormones, but struck out with all of them and gave up. That was an important lesson: don't bother approaching someone about contributing to your blog if they don't read blogs. They'll think you're pathetic. The blogging and non-blogging worlds are a galaxy apart. And I understand perfectly: the vast majority of the blogosphere has all the grace of a strip mall, staffed by people who don't get enough attention at home. It took me five years of ruthless culling of my RSS reader feed list before I started to think that maybe it would be cool to join these blogger people.

After a few months of regular posts I started researching how to get the blog noticed by . . . well, anyone. I read Blogging for Dummies and blogging websites and how-to-blog posts by Mommy Wants Vodka and the mega-successful Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond. Everyone said the same thing: leave comments on other blogs in your area of interest until you're blue in the face. (The second most important thing to promote a blog is to post a lot, which I just can't do.)

This was a problem. I had never read blogs about depression. Perfume, astronomy, and product design, yes. Mood disorders, no. I started going through a list of about 180 mental-health blogs from the American Psychological Association's Your Mind Your Body blog. Maybe 30 of them I'd be willing to comment on. I was hindered by several things:

  • For some people this is natural. For me it is like having teeth pulled.

  • I no longer belong to the community I'm writing for. I feel a bit like an imposter. "Mercenary, stalking creep" might be a bit strong.

  • I ignore anything written for content farms.

  • I have no tolerance for padding and fluff like inspirational quotes and lists of links. Posting a lot is REALLY overrated.

  • I find it too stressful to read about abuse, a subject of many mental-health bloggers. I have to manage my stress level carefully. I'm pretty sure that watching "The Wire" gave me PTSD. Band Back Together almost killed me. They should consider a DEFCON warning system for their posts.

  • Many bloggers use a daily journal format to ruminate about their mental state. I need more distillation of the relevant points, as it were. I just don't have that kind of time.

  • For many mood-disordered bloggers, connecting with other bloggers is not on their list of priorities. They've got bigger battles.

As I continued my exploration I became increasingly pissed-off by the tendency of almost all the so-called "experts" -- practitioners, researchers -- to discuss the different types of depression as one and the same. They should be specified, separated out: depression caused by events, by biochemistry, by other medications, by thinking habits learned while depressed, by thinking habits learned just from being alive in the 21st century -- or as Cary Tennis called them in this post, "little linguistic machines of death."

People who've had their moods swoop up and down for 20 years are looking online for help and being told to "think positive thoughts." It's like spitting on a prairie fire. We need some way to categorize and describe the different levels of depression so that people are not left in despair by experts quoting cognitive behavioral tricks that might very well help someone at a different level of mood disorder, but which for other people are no more than moronic platitudes. This disconnect also has the potential to reinforce a misconception that a lot of sufferers hear all their lives, that their depression is their fault and that they're not trying hard enough, when that might not be the speaker's intent at all.

And don't even get me started on the lack of information about the blatantly obvious nutritional link to depression. At the rate the American medical establishment is going, it'll be 50 years before nutritional therapy becomes common practice for mood disorders.

Anyway, I finally abandoned the list and instead visited umbrella organizations of bloggers and writers and designers such as BlogHer and SheWrites and Technorati. I was more successful in connecting to other bloggers, but not to other mental-health bloggers, and not to other mental-health blog readers.

At the moment we have between scores and hundreds of visitors a day, including a dozen Russian spyware sites and an odd Jakarta resident who copies every single post to his non-English-language blog.

Anyone who finds us will do so through search engines and are at the mercy of my SEO keywording and categorizing and tagging. Kind of like the buried Monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," Blessed Depth's signal is beeping under the static of a million thrice-a-day bloggers.

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Image: detail of still photo of Elsa Lanchester from "Bride of Frankenstein," copyright 1935, renewed 1998 by Universal Studios. And I'm guessing there's some trademark thingamajig with that Apple product photo. Remix by M. Rhea.

22 September 2011

Has anyone ever said anything that made you feel better during your depression?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I originally posed this question to demonstrate the stupidity of assuming you can cheer up a depressed person or talk them out of it. It has since occurred to me that a friend's comment years ago, long before depression became a common topic in the media or in conversation, did make me feel less isolated and cursed. She snapped, "Do you think it makes you special? Why do you think so many people do drugs?" It had the effect of separating the depression out from my body chemistry just a bit, as if with a centrifuge. It gave me a new, albeit very limited, ability to stand back and look at it more objectively and dispassionately.

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Pastor Jayne: I was always shocked when people said, "I didn't know you have depression." I guess I assumed it was written all over my face (puffy from crying, red from insomnia), house (messy) and cooking (motivation-less and wholly uncreative). It was nice to hear that people couldn't always tell.

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Soledad: I was watching a British drama on PBS called "Downton Abbey" last winter. It's about the trials and tribulations of a wealthy (and struggling to stay so) British family living in a large country home in England. In one episode, one of the butlers tries to treat his limp with a "leg straightener," a giant leg brace that nearly causes gangrene on his leg. As he and the head maid stand at the edge of the pond ready to throw the monstrous device into the depths, the butler laments that he just wants to "be normal." To which the maid replies, "We all have our scars, inside and out."

How very true that statement is. It made me feel better because it emphasizes that although we each struggle with different debacles in our lives, we are never really alone. Each person has his cross to bear, so to speak. It makes me think of another saying that I believe has a lot of truth to it: "Most fears are born of fatigue and loneliness." What that says to me is that if we are each a little less tired and lonely, we really will fear less, and enjoy this life more. I try to keep these things in mind as I live mine.

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Image: detail of "The Seven Trumpets of Jericho," ca. 1902, James Tissot (1836-1902). {{PD-art}}.

13 September 2011

Have you had any eureka moments or revelations about your depression?

by Pastor Jayne and Soledad. Read Nia's earlier answer.

Pastor Jayne: Probably the most helpful insight into the cause of depression came when I read Undoing Depression (see our earlier post on helpful books we've read). It said that depression is "anger turned inward." Previously, I had (mostly) healthy, measured reactions to situations that should produce anger. But then my parents died, and my sister and aunts "disowned" me in the process of handling my parents' estate. With so many losses in such a short period of time, I found myself no longer able to express my anger. I just cried constantly. "Anger turned inward" made immediate sense to me when I read it. In order to heal from depression, one of my tasks in therapy was to learn once again to express ALL of my emotions in a healthy, measured way...especially anger.

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Soledad: Eureka! I have had sudden realizations about depression that have led to gold nuggets of wisdom to live by. They are:

1. Sometimes you really are making things worse in your head than they actually are. Case in point: I had surgery to remove bags under my eyes. Several years later, a vein appeared underneath one eye. In my mind, everyone was staring at the horrific vein, and it was zapping my self-confidence. A head plastic surgeon at a leading clinic told me, "I assure you, not as many people as you think actually even notice it."

2. Everybody gets depressed. Just not everyone is comfortable sharing that information. So you're a sharer. That's okay. It's bound to lead to people offering you solutions they've tried that worked.

3. You can get stuck in sadness if you don't try to develop positive thinking habits. Ever hear someone offer up the lighter side to a tough situation? Like the comedian with cancer who listed the ten top things about having the disease: number one -- "I can stand as close to the microwave as I want."

So yeah, no matter how bad it is, it is all a matter of perspective. In every bad week one good thing will always come...Friday!

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Illustration by Kris Barnes. Fun!

04 September 2011

Another JDID* survivor's story

*jaw-droppingly irresponsible diagnosis

In our 8/9/11 post on our responses to anti-depressants I mentioned that I had once been diagnosed as bipolar based on the fact that my ability to concentrate and my insomnia both worsened considerably on Zoloft, which I had been taking for depression.

I just came across Beyond Meds' Gianna's story of being diagnosed as bipolar following several manic episodes brought on by hallucinogens. Apparently the diagnosis "reacts really badly to hallucinogens" didn't occur to anyone who was treating her. She was on six prescriptions when she undiagnosed herself 23 years later.