Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: depression

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

dark wet cold damp.
Depression as dark as night.

A friend recently asked me how my depression was, and the question stumped me. It’s not something I talk about, and I didn’t know quite how to answer. I said something like, “It’s better than it was before. I’m sleeping more, but I’ll probably have to deal with it all my life.” This is technically accurate, but it’s not the whole truth. I don’t like talking about my depression because it’s boring as fuck–much like the bronchial/sinus shit I’m experiencing right now. Who the hell wants to hear, “I’m depressed. I can’t get off the couch. I want to die.” over and over and over again? I certainly don’t, and it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

It’s tricky because on the one hand, it’s absolutely true that I’m much better than I was twenty years ago. I can sleep more than four hours in one block, and I don’t have the death nightmares that used to pepper my dreams on a weekly basis. I don’t constantly see all the ways I can die as I move along in my daily life, and more importantly, I don’t have to continually fight myself not to ram  my car into a concrete lane divider or anything like that. I don’t spend days catatonic on the couch, curled up in a ball, wishing I had the courage to kill myself. I don’t hate myself or think that other people hate me, either.

These are all good things, of course. In fact, when I think of how far I’ve come, I’m amazed. I’ve done a lot of hard work, including three decades of therapy, medication, and taiji (and writing), but the depression has alleviated despite myself–not because of anything specific I’ve done. I say despite myself even though I’ve worked on it because the lifting of the depression has crept up on me inch by inch. Here’s the thing about being marinated in depression for all my life. It’s my life. It’s what I know. It’s all I’ve known. It’s my norm as oppressive as it is. I got used to it, and I didn’t notice as it changed little by little.

It’s a truism, but change usually isn’t a big bang. It’s a minute more of sleep a night, rather than an extra hour. It’s sleeping with only four interruptions rather than six or seven. And, because I have anxiety as well as depression, it’s not freaking out when I say something I perceive as stupid to a complete stranger, or only freaking out for a minute instead of the rest of the day. It’s making a mistake and not berating myself for an hour afterwards, but only for fifteen minutes.

Because the change is so minimal, I don’t notice it at the time. It’s only when I look back that I can see how different I am now than I was even five years ago. I give a lot of credit to taiji, and I’ve recounted the ways it’s helped me in past posts. I’m pleased with my progress. But, and I bet you knew a but was coming.


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Try a Little Tenderness

One of the downsides to being sick is that I get depressed at the same time. It’s understandable, but it’s difficult to handle for someone (me) who has dealt with depression all her life. When I say depression, I don’t mean the blues or feeling a little down. I mean, “There’s no point. It’s all hopeless. I might as well be dead” feelings. The worst part for me is that it makes me not want to write, which is akin to death for me. My brain tells me, “Your writing is shit. No one cares what you have to say.” I read what I’ve written, and it’s horrid.* I’m hard on my writing in general, but I know I’m being extra-hard on myself.

I woke up this morning and thought, “I hate all my writing. I should just stop.” I actually considered quitting for several minutes, and then I stumbled across an article about Mr. Rogers on Facebook (h/t Krista Elliott) that made me feel better. The author, Anthony Breznican, recounts a terrible time in his life when he felt hopeless about his writing and life in general. He’s from Mr. Rogers’ hometown of Pittsburgh, and he (Breznican) caught an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on the television in the common room at his college. He watched the whole thing and felt better. Later. he ran into Mr. Rogers and poured his heart out to Mr. Rogers about how hard a time he was having and how watching one of Mr. Rogers’ episodes helped him. Mr. Rogers actually sat down with him and related his own story of grief (losing a grandfather for both of them), and said that it never went away, but the love was always there.

The story really resonated with me because of the writing aspect, and it was exactly what I needed to read at the moment. Writing is a lonely business especially for an intense introvert like me, and it’s hard to see the end of the tunnel when there’s no light along the way. It also reminded me that there is kindness in the world, which is hard to see when things are dark all around.

Breznican wrote this article in response to the Manchester bombings because the quote by Mr. Rogers about always look for the helpers was making the rounds, and he (Breznican) wanted people to know that Mr. Rogers was the kind and gentle soul he appeared to be.

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The Downside of Social Media

I’m a heavy user of social media, at least two of the venues–Twitter and Facebook. I get most of my news from Twitter, which is how I found out about the Manchester bombing this morning. (Tuesday morning). I read up on it, and it broke my heart. All those excited young girls going to the concert of their life (Ariana Grande), only to be terrified and traumatized, and many of them killed. At last count, 22 dead and 59 injured, and I have no doubt the numbers are going to rise. It was a suicide bombing by an Islamic fanatic, and we have to address the elephant in the room. I’ll get to that in a minute, though.

I check my social media right after I wake up, and I’m realizing that’s not the best thing to do for my mental health. I mean, I’ve known it for a while, but it’s really hitting home, especially since this administration has taken over. I’m already a pessimistic person with a negative view on life. The last thing I need is a steady diet of all the things wrong in the world the minute I wake up.

It’s a tricky thing because I believe you should be informed about current events in order to be a productive member of society. However, it doesn’t help to drown yourself in all the negative news, and I don’t know where that line is drawn. The problem for me is that I feel the news as if it’s happened personally to me, and while I’ve worked on erecting a wall between me and other people’s feelings so it’s not as bad as it used to be, I can still feel the pain as if it were my own.

This brings me to one of my pet peeves on social media–pictures/stories of abused children and animals. I know some people believe you have to make people see the ugliness in the world, but I don’t need to see it to feel it. I especially don’t need to see the same picture of a dead kid/animal over and over again on Twitter. It hurts me every time I see it until I eventually am numb, and I don’t think that’s the end result people are looking for. It’s the same as Sarah McLachlan’s SPCA commercials–they just make me feel shitty and helpless because I can’t save all the animals.

The brain isn’t designed to deal with repeated negativity that isn’t able to fixed. At least mine isn’t. It just makes me depressed and feel hopeless about the world in general. I know I have to curb my social media intake, and I’ve been doing it incrementally over the past year or so. We’ll see if I can keep on keeping on.

I’m tired. I’m grumpy. I’m still recovering from the crud. I’m sad. Here’s a Maru & Hana video.

(I remember what I said earlier, but I don’t feel like tackling it right now. Maybe in another post.)

Natural Vs. Man-made: The Tension Between

More information has come out about Chris Cornell’s death, which is now officially a suicide.  His wife revealed that in her conversation with him after the concert, he was slurring his words. She said he admitted to having taken too many Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication. Concerned, she asked his bodyguard to check in on him, but the hotel wouldn’t let the bodyguard into Cornell’s room. So, he kicked the door down and found Cornell unresponsive with a belt around his neck.

It’s a tragedy for so many reasons, but I want to focus on a comment I saw on Facebook after this news was revealed. The comment was, “This is why I don’t trust Big Pharma.” It was written by a friend of a FB friend, so I didn’t respond, but it made my hackles raise. There are many reasons not to trust Big Pharma, but this isn’t one of them. The side effects of Ativan are well-known, and it’s pretty basic knowledge not to exceed the recommended dosage without input from your doctor. I want to make it clear I am not saying Cornell deserved what happened because I fully understand wanting desperately to feel normal and grabbing at anything that will do that for you. Our society has become anxiety-producing on its own, and it’s swimming upstream to remain calm in chaotic surroundings. In addition, creative types usually are extra-sensitive to external stimuli, which is one reason they’re so susceptible to self-medicating.

My point is, there is only so much a doctor or anyone can do if the person is determined not to follow the instructions.  Drugs can work for people, but there are so many ways they can be misused. If someone is determined to take twice the dose, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s the same with, say, seat belts. You can put them in the car, but you can’t force people to wear them.

My bigger point is that there is a swath of people who believe in being natural at all costs. They think society is too medicated, and they eschew any kind of pill to help what ails them. Now, there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that pills are not a whole solution, but only part of it, but they think any medication is of the devil. The same people eschew GMOs and many of them are part of the anti-vaxxer crowd. It’s an anathema to me because the same people are using cellphones and driving cars and are on the internet with impunity. I realize there’s a difference between technology you use and things you ingest, but it’s still the same science behind all of it. It’s weird to me to want to roll back time on certain things, but not others.

Back to meds. As someone who’s dealt with chronic and crippling depression all my life, it’s frustrating to hear people disparage antidepressants and saying anyone who uses them is weak. My other favorite, “It’s dealing with the symptoms and not the cause,” in a snobby, smug voice. I think part of the problem is that if you’ve never experienced deep depression, you cannot understand how pervasive it is. If something can alleviate it, just a little bit, you’ll sell your soul for it. It’s the same with anxiety which can be more immediately worse. In the middle of a panic attack, you will do anything to stop it. Yes, you’ll want to deal with the root of the problem, but that can take years if not decades. A temporary stop-gap while in the middle of the pain is a godsend. In addition, there are chemical reasons for depression and/or anxiety, and ain’t no shame in correcting that malfunction with better science. Here is a well-worn comparison, but if you broke your leg, you probably would go to the doctor to get a cast for it. You wouldn’t think, “Oh, it’ll just mend by itself if I drink enough hemp milk and eat enough quinoa.” No, you’d get a cast on that damn thing pretty damn quick. So why when you hear that someone’s brain chemistry is broken do you disparage them using something that will heal that break?

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Mood and Body Inextricably Linked

when will it end?
What’s the point?

For the first time in weeks, I don’t feel like aliens are chewing my face from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. For this, I am thankful, and I find myself in a much better mood as well. There’s a spring in my step, and I can smile rather than moan and groan the whole time. In addition, I can check in on my social media without feeling like it’s a big chore to tweet/post or respond. I’ve written many times about how I used to think my body was separate from the rest of me, but being sick makes me realize how connected everything is.

When I was sick, I was also really depressed. I felt as if there was no reason to be alive, and it’s mostly because I just hurt. I was discouraged by how little I could do and how little energy/motivation I had to do anything. I know this isn’t anything new, but I haven’t been this sick in quite some time, and it really underscored how important it is to take care of my health. I’m not the best at this. I do taiji every day, which is good, but I don’t do any other exercise; I sit on my ass for several hours at a time (with bad posture to boot), and I eat like shit.

I have a very complicated relationship with food. I was a fat kid, which was a horror to my weight-conscious mother. She put me on my first diet when I was seven, and it’s fucked up my eating ever since. She would tell me, “You’d be so pretty if you were only thinner,” and I believed that I was a lumbering pile of goo that didn’t deserve to to live. I learned at an early age that as a woman, I had to keep my body rail thin, which isn’t my natural body type. I may be Taiwanese, but I’m sturdy as fuck. It’s probably the peasant side of my family, but I’m solid through and through. I used to be anorexic/bulimic, and when I see pictures of myself from that time, I look ill and unnatural. I looked as if a good stiff wind could blow me over, and I had no energy at all. I still thought I was fat, however, and kept trying to lose more weight.

Once I quit that nonsense, I went the other way and decided I wouldn’t control what I ate at all. I reverted to overeating, and I quickly ballooned past my original weight. Through it all, I’ve hated the way I look, and I rarely look in mirrors. Any time I do, I wince at what I see. Intellectually, I know I’m not ugly, but I still don’t like looking at myself. My body looks alien to me, and I have a hard time making friends with it. I’ve become more at ease in it through eight years of studying taiji, but I haven’t completely accepted that I am trapped in my body for the rest of my life. I know I need to stop hating on it, and I think the one upside to being sick is that it’s forced me to accept that there is no separation between my mind and my body.

Back to food. I’m slowly doing better by adding fruits and vegetables back into my diet, cutting back on junk food, and cutting back on Coke Zero. I have a problem with knowing when I’m really hungry because of the years of fucking up my body. I can ignore my hunger for hours, and then when I eat a few bites, I’m full. I know ideally, I would be listening to my body, eating when I’m hungry, and stopping when I’m full, but that would mean eating every few minutes, which isn’t practical at all. Another method suggested for people with a history of eating disorders is to set a schedule and stick to it, regardless of hunger levels. I’m skeptical because part of my eating disorders is that I rigidly schedule/count everything and don’t listen to my body at all.

I have gotten better at recognizing I’m hungry, but I have a harder time knowing when I should start. More to the point, I don’t stop when I should. I’ve written several posts about this, but I still don’t feel as if I’ve made significant progress. It’s as if my emotions are overriding the rational part of my brain, despite my best efforts. It’s frustrating because I can’t seem to find a solution that I’ll actually do. I’ve read plenty of articles about the healthiest way to eat, and, yet, I don’t do it. I still view food as the enemy, albeit one I love in an unseemly fashion. Food is amazing. I love food. It’s so fucking delicious. I just had a breakfast calzone with scrambled eggs, cheese, sausage, and a side sauce of maple syrup. The calzone itself was good, but a bit bland. Dipping it in the maple syrup really pulled the whole thing together and made it amazing. However, I know it was too heavy and not very good for me, and, yet, I didn’t regret eating it. I’m not feeling great about it now, and remorse is always 20/20. I always have that constant battle in my mind of, “This is tasty and I want it in my belly” and This is so bad for me, and I’m a bad person for eating it.”

I think I’m more prone to being sick because of my unhealthy habits, but I don’t know how to change my mindset about said habits. You would think how much better I feel when I’m not sick would be enough for me to be diligent about what I eat and the amount of exercise I get, but it’s not. It’s frustrating because I can usually get to the core of why I do things, which is the first step to changing behavior. In this case, though, there’s a block in my brain that repeats over and over, “I do it because I want to.” I’ll have to think about it some more and see if I can get past the block, but for now, I’m just grateful that I’m back on my way to healthy.

Sickness, Hypothyroidism, and Depression, Oh My!

constant criticism running through my brain.
Weighted by the world.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling depressed. I have no idea why as there is no logical reason I should be any more depressed right now than I was, say, a month ago, but depression isn’t logical. I know that having suffered from it for most of my life, but it’s still frustrating to feel it descend upon me and not be able to do anything about it. It’s also weird to actually realize it’s happening as it happens because I used to just live in it before. It was like a warm coat that suffocated me as it clung to my every curve. I didn’t know what it felt like to be depressed because I never felt anything else. Now that I’ve gone several years without being chronically and debilitatingly depressed, I know what it feels like to be depressed.

You know how it feels? It sucks. It drains all the color from the world, leaving it a drab gray. It doesn’t help that the environment around me in the physical world right now is also a drab gray, so it’s matching my interior mood. The grass is brown, and the snow has melted. This is the shit time of winter, which is my favorite season by far. I love the cold and the snow and the crisp bright air. But, I hate it when it starts warming up and everything is dead. All the bugs are flying in the air, and it’s easy to get sick during this time.

I feel as if I’m going through the motions, even with things I enjoy. I’m tired all the time, no matter how much or how little I sleep. This is how I used to feel all the time, and I don’t understand how I dealt with it at all. I hate feeling like this, and it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. I remembered days when I had to force myself to brush my teeth, and that was the only thing I did all day long. I hated myself and my life, and I wanted nothing more than to not exist. I didn’t want to die, per se, because I was convinced that whatever existed after death was worse than life itself. However, everything in my being was telling me that life was a chore and that I shouldn’t be alive.

I’m feeling whispers of the same sentiment now as well. Why am I alive? I don’t want to be alive. I don’t want to die, but I can’t be stuffed to actually care about being alive. I have good things happening in my life and in my friends’ lives, and I know intellectually that I have a lot to be thankful for, but I. Just. Can’t. Care. I try to talk myself out of it, but to no avail. To someone who’s never suffered depression–are there any people who haven’t any longer?–it’s incomprehensible that someone can’t just shake themselves out of a bad mood. That’s why there are so many annoying pieces about Top Ten Ways to Beat Depression! and such shit.
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The Sound of Silence

all i do is write, write, write.
The pen is still mightier than the sword.

When I was in my twenties, I had stories in my head all the time. They were clamoring to be heard, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I could write for hours with the words just pouring out of me, and my biggest problem was knowing when to stop. It’s the same when I started blogging. I had so much to say, and there seemed to be so little time to say it in. I was passionate about my opinions, and I wanted the world to know what I had to say. Even when I was depressed, I could write. It’s the one thing I didn’t have to force myself to do. I couldn’t make myself take a shower, but I sure as hell could type thousands of words.

When I first started writing at the tender age of seven, I wrote poems. They weren’t great poems, but they were heartfelt. I never much cared for rhyming or more traditional poetry, but I loved free-form, and I wrote what I considered prose-poetry before it became a thing. I found it limiting, however, especially as I did not enjoy reading poetry, and I eventually switched over to prose. Part of the reason is because I loved to read, but I never saw anyone who looked or acted like me. I’ve nattered on about representation in popular culture so I’ll skip that whole spiel right now, but I felt a longing in my heart any time I read to see someone, anyone, who looked like me and/or had a life experience that was at all similar. There’s a Toni Morrison quote that has stuck with me about this sentiment:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

–Toni Morrison

She also has said unapologetically that she is a writer for black people, and she doesn’t have a problem with that. She said it was “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio.” I felt the same about much of what I read. Even if something was exquisite literature and moved me, there was always something missing. There was an explosion of Asian immigration stories when I was in my mid-to-late twenties (I blame Amy Tan), but they didn’t feel that relatable, either, because they were  about Chinese laundries, broken English, and three generations of suffering women. It became so prolific, I remember standing in the middle of Modern Times (used bookstore) in San Francisco, seeing another spate of books like this, and loudly declaring, “If I never see another book about three generations of suffering Asian women, it would be too soon!” My friend shushed me, but I was fed the fuck up.

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Fear and Self-loathing in Minnesota

Have you ever looked in the metaphorical mirror and hated everything you saw? I’ve been feeling that way for the past week or so, which is both bad news and good news. It’s good news because it feels foreign to me now. There was a time when it was the way I felt all the time. During my twenties and early thirties, I hated myself to my very core. The only nice things I could say about myself was that I liked my hair and my brains. Oh, and I could write. Other than that, I was convinced that there was nothing good about me. I was toxic, and I could feel it oozing out of my pores. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt this way. How catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror could spiral me into a deep abyss of depression, it took weeks to claw my way out. How I felt as if I was adding negativity to the cosmos every minute I was alive, and I couldn’t do enough good things fast enough to compensate for it.

It’s one of my frustrations about post-depression–it’s fucking impossible to describe what it’s like. It’s almost claustrophobic as it swirls around me, choking out all the fresh air. Sometimes, it feels like hands are actually around my throat, closing off my air supply. Other times, it’s an incredible sense of lethargy running through my body and draining out all my energy. I’m talking about it in the present tense because even though my chronic and debilitating depression is over, I still suffer from a low-grade version of it almost every day. Now, it’s more that I’m tired more often than not, and sometimes, I don’t have any interest in anything. I tend to calibrate for inertia, and it takes a lot to push me out of my natural state.

But I digress. I’ve been feeling this way in the last week, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I’m also adjusting to a new dose of my thyroid medication and that I’ve been ill with the flu or a cold for the same duration. I have a fragile immune system, and when I get sick, I get SICK. I hate it because I instantly become a big baby about it, even if it’s only in my own brain. “Why am I so tired?” “Why don’t I have any energy?” “I can’t do my full taiji routine.” “Wah, wah, wah.” I like living on my own, but I will admit that when I’m sick, I like having someone else in the house to make me tea, bring me soup, and just cluck about me in general. The other day, I went to the store to get honey, lemon, and ginger to make honey lemon ginger tea (duh). I had to run to the post office after, and by the time I got home, I was almost in tears because I was so exhausted. All I wanted was for someone else to tuck me in bed and make me my tea. It’s been over two weeks since I got the flu or whatever this is, and every time I start to feel better, I have a relapse. It’s the weirdest thing because I can feel it happening to my body, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel better today except for the bone-deep weariness, but that’s normal for me, even when I’m not ill.

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I’m Having Fun, Right?

worry fear anguish anxiety
Overwhelmed with anxiety.

I went out tonight (last night by the time you read this) to the Acme Comedy Club. I haven’t been to a comedy club in….forever? Damn. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to one, it’s been that long. Anyway, Ian’s friend with the emcee (@ItsTheBrandi) on Twitter, and he asked if I wanted to see her and Dana Gould, his doppelganger at the Club (which is right next to where he works). I said sure, why not? It’s outside of my comfort zone, which is one reason I said yes. I’m trying to stretch my limits little by little, and I thought this would be a good way to do it. I like comedy. I like laughing. Who doesn’t? I didn’t know much about Dana Gould, but I’d heard of him, and he was bound to be pretty funny, I figured.

I woke up with a headache, bordering on a migraine, Tuesday morning/afternoon. I popped a couple migraine Excedrin, then lay* on the couch with all the lights off. I tweeted a bit and watched a Let’s Play on YouTube, but that was it. I felt shaky, and all the colors had bled out the sides of my vision. I didn’t move for hours, and late in the evening, I popped a few more Excedrin. I used to say I had migraines, but given the descriptions I’ve read of them, I’ve downgraded my migraines to really fucking bad headaches. I was sixty percent better the next afternoon, and I popped more Excedrin. Didn’t move much for most of the afternoon. My brother came over, and we had dinner, and I had to pop a few more Excedrin before going to bed. This morning, I woke up about ninety percent better, but still slightly shaky. Both Tuesday and Wednesday, I had a hard time doing my morning routine. I was exhausted by the time I was done, even though I cut it short both times. I felt slightly better today, but still tired. I haven’t done my weight set since the attack of the bad headache.

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I Don’t Want to Talk About It

i can't stop crying
Raining tears

I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was fifteen years old. That’s two-thirds of my life for those keeping track at home. I’ve been severely depressed since I was seven, which is, coincidentally or not, the same time I became aware that I would die one day. Once I realized that, I became obsessed with death, alternately horrified by and attracted to it. I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’ve been suicidal most of my life as well. Suicidal is too harsh a word for it, though. It’s not as if I wanted to kill myself, per se; I just didn’t want to be alive. I was terrified of what was on the other side, however, so I stopped myself from crashing my car into the divider on the highway, from sitting in the garage with the door shut and the engine running, from submerging myself in a bathtub and never come out again. It’s been a long time since I’ve actively had to stop myself from doing something rash, but the thought it never far from my mind. Whether it’s, “I could end it all right now,” or, “Holy shit, I’m going to not exist one day,” death is hovering over me. I know it’s coming for all of us, but it feels so intimate and personal. When I was getting my MA in Writing & Consciousness fifteen years ago, my thesis was death, and every story I wrote for it had some element of death to it. It wasn’t as if I made a conscious decision to write about death, but that’s what interested me at the time.

To be honest, it’s still what interests me. I like reading and writing murder mysteries, and most of the fiction I write these days still centers around death. There might be some romance in it, but it’s secondary. Don’t get me wrong. I like writing a good sex scene as much as the next person, except, most people don’t write good sex scenes. They’re not easy to write, and it’s further hampered by the fact that many publishers won’t let you use the actual words for genitalia. Any time I read sex scenes, it’s ‘throbbing member’, ‘loins’ (sometimes even moist, which is so fucking gross),  and ‘nether regions’ all over the place. Nary a penis nor a vagina in sight, let alone a dick, cock, or pussy. I don’t even read ‘tits’ much in literature. When I write sex scenes, I use explicit language because I think the euphemisms are silly. They take me out of the moment because who the fuck says, “I put my hand on his hardening member”?

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