Seasonal Depression – 7 ways to help yourself through

FuckWinter

Winter has always been like a big black hole for me, but this year is far worse than any I can remember. Having struggled with year-round depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve navigated through some dark shit. But, this recent spiral into seasonal depression has got me by the throat. I hope to help someone else to not feel so alone and to send a message of hope and inspiration because it will get better.

Waking up

An uncomfortable discussion with my husband (I’m being polite, don’t get used to it) is what woke me up – “THAT’S why I’m feeling and acting like THIS!” Something similar occurs almost every month when I finally realize that PMS is responsible for my current misery, but THIS was way more intense. I was a deer-in-the-headlights for a few days, stunned at the realization that depression had taken hold of me in this way. I was shocked that I hadn’t consciously seen it coming. I knew I had no energy and felt like an irritable, negative piece of shit, but that cloud of doom held me tight in its shadow, forcing me into straight-up survival mode. It’s called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or what I like to call the winter blues. It sounds a little lighter to me that way and isn’t technically accurate for my situation, but I don’t give a fiery deuce. Whatever you call it, it’s emotionally defeating and negatively impacting my life in a very real and frustrating way.

Maybe this current episode is due to the added stresses of the recent holidays or having the huge responsibility of molding my kids into highly functioning, well-adjusted, self-reliant adults. Maybe it’s because the only exercise I get is putting the dishes away, making vacuum marks, and sneezing on occasion. Maybe it’s caused by the lack of sunshine (I still love you, Seattle), a chemical shift in my noggin, or maybe it just IS. Sometimes I get caught up in the “why” and that’s not where I need to be.  All I know is that if there were an award up for grabs for Most Miserable Negative Wretch, I’d probably win 3rd runner-up (because I suck that much) and then insist on a digital copy, so I wouldn’t have to go pick it up.

Being depressed

Prepare yourself, this section is pretty depressing. I want to paint a picture of what depression looks like. It’s different for everyone, of course, but the theme is there. It doesn’t ever go away, but there are times when it’s much worse. This is a bad time for me, as you’ll clearly see. If you could hear some of my thoughts, you’d probably have tears in your eyes, but I won’t go into many of those.DrowninginDepression

I look around and see gray skies, barren tree limbs, bare streets, and death. Yes, death. Everywhere. People, animals, garden flowers, dry skin, my will to shave or get out of bed – all dead. I’m reminded of those I’ve lost along the way. I think of our pup who left us almost 2 years ago…it was so traumatic, I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the horror of losing him the way that we did. I miss his loving heart, protective nature, and his big fuzzy ears. Then there’s my grandma. I long to be in my happy place – in her green, 70’s-inspired kitchen eating a peanut butter and butter sandwich on Wonder bread, having her tell me I have a “cute shape” and how talented and special I am. It makes me so sad to think of these things that I’ll never have again, these bonds that have been broken. That’s a never-ending road if I let those memories drive. Of course I’m grateful for those memories – but being grateful doesn’t take away the pain. Depression feeds on the dark stuff and sucks out the light.

Depression is feeling like you’ve been ironed out by a steamroller, like when you get the flu, only there’s no phlegm and the zap just doesn’t go away. I feel weak, tired, emotionally detached, tense, and heavy. I visualize myself wearing flannel, drowning in a murky, cold, stagnant pond of goo. Occasionally I manage to break free from the darkness and gasp for air, but my limbs are too weak and I slip back under. This time of year it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I get home. All I want to do is sleep. I know extra sleep won’t help, but I desperately fantasize about sleeping for a month. Just a month to check out, and then maybe I’d wake up feeling refreshed. Just want to check out.

My worries tend to haunt me – futuristic crap like having to go find my next job, having to talk to someone when I’m not ready, my loved ones dying, getting into a car wreck, or the Seahawks not making it to the Super Bowl. I’m extremely irritable, indifferent, foggy-brained, and self-critical to the point that I’d classify as my own relentless bully.

JustTiredDepression

I don’t want to do anything or see anyone and would rather spend all day locked up in my bedroom with chocolate cake and booze (don’t worry, I’m not going there). My instinct is to isolate for a few reasons; I’m too busy spending time in my head, I don’t want to depress anyone, I don’t want anyone to see how miserable I feel, and most people either irritate me or stress me out for some reason. Often times I’m a raging, ball-breaking hag because I just can’t handle how I feel. My husband gets the brunt of it, the sorry sack.

If I could have a superpower, I’d either want the ability to fly (fly away FAST) or become invisible. I want to be invisible more often than I want to admit. Depression is an overwhelming experience and frankly, when I’m in the throes of it, it makes me not want to be me. This is a big problem because I’m actually happy, I’m pretty cool, and I have an amazing life!!! I have it all – in fact, I think that makes me even more depressed about being depressed. As a recovering alcoholic, it’s especially important that I fight through. Hopelessness and desperation is a recipe for relapse or worse.

“The most powerful words you can say to someone with an invisible illness is…I believe you.”

 

Finding the light

Depression is dark, so we must seek the light, whatever that means to you. There are things we can do to help make it through. Here’s how I find light:

1. Be with people

  • Supportive people. Luckily, I have people who lift me up. My husband steps up continuously and I depend on his optimism, strength, persistence, and mind-blowing amount of energy, even though it annoys the shit out of me. My kids help me appreciate the simple, most valuable parts of life, pulling me back into the moment. My mom has always been my key to staying grounded and my dad relates with me because we experience a lot of the same struggles AND we can laugh about them. My brother and sister-in-law inspire me and love me for who I am. I even have a close friend or two. A girl couldn’t really ask for more.
  • Set boundaries. I set internal boundaries with everyone. One might call them walls – whatever works. I don’t hang out with assholes and I limit my time with people who trigger negative emotions in me. I don’t care about the reasons why at this point, I just keep my distance as much as possible.
  • Spend time with an animal. Animals are far better than most people. Pets offer unconditional, uncomplicated love and acceptance. They distract us, bring us into the moment, promote touch, get us outside, ease anxiety…need I say more?

2. Be aware of moments

  • Be grateful. You know that feeling when you go on vacation and the stresses of your everyday life disappear and your partner doesn’t annoy the holy living hell out of you? I know that a similar state of being is achievable. It’s probably called peace. I experience peace every night when I kiss my 5-year-old before bed (I love the other kid just the same, but I can’t risk waking the beautiful little freak up at this point) – he’s sleeping so soundly and he’s so damn amazing, I take a big whiff of his neck, give him a few pecks and walk out of his room with a pure, whole, glowing white heart. That’s peace. Sometimes that’s the only peace I get all day and I’m grateful for it.
  • Slow down. Take a deep breath. One deep breath does wonders, you just have to actually remember to do it.
  • Set small goals. I found some pro-longed peace the other day (better than I’ve felt in months) – I’d completed all 3 tasks on my to-do list, sat in front of my “happy light” for a few hours, AND did yoga! While I still felt like a constipated asshole, I felt much lighter, accomplished, and optimistic. Optimistic?! Yes, optimistic! Now that I’m awake to this current depressive episode, I am able to do more about it bit by bit. Some days brushing your damn teeth is an accomplishment…celebrate the fact that your teeth are no longer wearing wool sweaters.

3. Go outside

  • Get some sun. I’ve always been a sun worshipper, probably because I’ve always been depressed. The benefits I get from the sun far outweigh any potential risk of skin cancer. My husband doesn’t get that. He sings a melanoma song sometimes when he finds me sitting in the sun, but I’m not a pasty white English boy with a history of bad sunburns. Now that I’ve entered mid-life (WTF?!), I can only handle 10-20 minutes in sun before I’m spent anyway. But that’s all I need. The feeling I get when I’m sitting in the warm sun is amazing. Drink it up with your eye balls and soak in the warmth on your skin. (I don’t want to get sued, so I’ll just say, please don’t look directly AT the sun. Sun rays can enter your eye balls if you’re simply looking in its direction. If you look directly at the sun, you’re an idiot and you need more help than I can lend.)
  • Try light therapy. I’ve used my new “happy light” 5 or 6 times within the past few weeks or so and I do believe it is helping my mood. It gives me a bit of a headache at first, but then I’m good.
  • Remember that Spring is coming. It helps to be reminded that winter won’t last forever. If we could remove January, February, and March from our calendars, I’d be stoked. Living in Seattle during wintertime is a real pisser.

4. Eat OK

  • Make better choices. I’m not asking you to change it all and emulate Dr. Oz. You don’t have to get all freaky about it and go organic or vegan, just make small improvements. Instead of a candy bar, choose a juicy sweet apple. Instead of white bread, try a loaf of wheat or sourdough. Have 2 scoops of ice cream instead of 5.
  • Give yourself a break. I have the tendency to eat my emotions or attempt to fill voids with food. Rather than fight that urge to binge, I just let it be and make sure it’s food that isn’t completely useless. I take down a seriously large bowl of popcorn with coconut oil regularly. Popcorn = whole grain, fiber, antioxidants. Coconut oil = saturated fat (it’s good, y’all), vitamins and minerals, digestive benefits.
  • Drink water. Water is important for so many reasons. Flush those toxins out. If you’re like me, dealing with constipation, water is essential. Having a large, compacted piece of shit crammed in your intestines doesn’t feel good and certainly adds to irritability, at least for me.
  • Eat less sugar. Sugar is evil.
  • Don’t eat fast food. The only thing you score with a $4 lunch combo is fake shit full of chemicals, sugar, and fat. McDonald’s is a twisted joke. Fast food is an energy suck. Please don’t put that shit into your body!

5. Get into a routine

  • Get up early. I started getting up at the same time everyday about 2 weeks ago. When I hear my alarm go off I want to scream and thrash about like a 2 year-old, maybe even poke my husband in the eye, but I do feel more prepared for the day, once I’m ready to go.
  • Get enough sleep. This isn’t news. It’s hard to feel human, let alone like a good one when you’re tired.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk. This shit is exhausting. But, if you just try to be more aware of it and do what you can to redirect your thoughts or tell yourself to shut the hell up, it will help. Every little effort counts.
  • Take meds if you need to. This here a controversial one, but I’m going to set it right. First of all, see a mental health professional, not your regular doctor. Regular doctors aren’t trained in mental health and don’t know shit. If you’re anti-meds, just hear this – no one is going to give you a medal for toughing it out on your own. If you’re miserable and can’t break free on your own, get some god damned help. Give it a whirl. If you’re afraid of becoming dependent on it, you should probably let that shit go – if it makes life easier, so be it. Life is too short to feel like shit all the time. I’ll pop a pill till the day I’m dead if it helps. Educate yourself.

6. Move more

Exercise is a tough one for me. It used to come naturally, but not anymore. I see people running on the street and I want to open my car door and clip ’em. I’m jealous as hell that I don’t have that drive or will to be able to commit to something so challenging and rewarding. I don’t like committing to things like gyms or workout routines now because I end up losing money and feeling like a worthless dumbass. I am careful not to set myself up for failure. “Well, just DO it then” you say? How about that doesn’t work for me and we’ll just leave it at that.

  • Make small changes. Instead of organized fitness, I’ve been making small efforts throughout my day. Parking farther away from the grocery store is a good one (no, I’m not 80 years old, but all it takes is a little shift of intention sometimes). I’ve taken a few flights of stairs at work for the hell of it (or maybe it was to get away from some idiot crop dusting my area). No matter how I get there, I am making an effort to move more. I’ve taken a few yoga classes and managed to hold my fart in, so those were HUGE encouraging wins. None of this is routine and certainly won’t get me bathing suit ready, but now this is all I can handle. At least it’s something. Plus, I don’t know if I even care if I’m bathing suit ready anymore…I just want to FEEL good.

7. Laugh

LaughterHelpsDepressionLaughing makes us feel better instantly. It is a natural pain reducer, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers stress hormone levels. It relaxes our bodies and gives us an overall feeling of well-being.

  • Find something that makes you laugh every day. Sitcoms are great. Check out some YouTube videos of people falling down or look at pictures of animals cuddling or being cute. Find a goofy morning radio show that makes you chuckle. Whatever makes you laugh, find more of it. And don’t forget about the power of farts. Thinking about, talking about, and ripping farts is funny. And not just to me…you know you can’t help but laugh when someone in the stall next to you rips a long, raspy toilet bow fart. Those echo chambers are there for your entertainment! Smelling someone else’s fart is highly offensive and instantly turns me violent, but everything else about farts is hilarious. Enjoy them!

I’m still pretty deep in that pond of goo, but I can see a ladder to grab and my legs are kicking. This too shall pass and life will go on. I’ll take my moments of peace and keep trying for more, by taking small mindful steps.

If you’re really struggling, this list looks like a piece of shit. I know. It’s so hard to imagine feeling better sometimes. In that case I’ll tell you to do this: put your hand on your heart. Do it. I’m not going to move on until you do it…….OK….Do you feel your heart beating? I couldn’t either and it almost freaked me out…try your pulse. Feel that? That’s your heart pumping blood. That’s love in there. That’s your strength to get you through another day. If I can do it, you can do it. Please don’t give up. Every effort counts, no matter how small it seems to you or others. Your story doesn’t end here and neither does mine.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise on your brain. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”

Sleeping with the “normie” – recovery with a spouse who drinks

My husband still drinks. I haven’t asked him to stop drinking because of my situation – that wouldn’t seem fair – he doesn’t have a drinking problem. We have a shit load of alcohol in the house, but I don’t freak out about it because we keep it out of sight. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously since I quit drinking and, for the most part, we are both happy with how we compromise in that respect. I do struggle when he’s having a drink or two at home, though. I don’t know what the hell he gets out of just a few drinks, but that’s a mystery I’ll never solve. On these evenings when he drinks, I often have to remind myself that he doesn’t have the same kind of relationship as I do with alcohol. A few seconds of reflection are tolerable, but some nights aren’t as smooth.

DISCLAIMER: YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ SOME OF MY PRIVATE, NOT-SO-PRIVATE-ANYMORE THOUGHTS. I’M NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THEM. IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING SUPPORTIVE TO SAY, I’M GAME. ALSO, I’M TERRIFIED TO CLICK “PUBLISH”, BUT WHATEVER.

Sitting at the counter, rests a water-stained stem-less wine glass, ravenously filling with rich, grapey, smooth perfection. Hints of oak and mild tobacco pillage my fluttering nostrils – and it all smells like home. As the vino gurgles through the aerator, it taunts me, “Neener, neener, neener! I’m sophisticated and delicious and you can’t have me!” My internal dialog gets a wild hair up its ass and goes to town. Come along on the crazy train for a minute and sample my secret, not-so-secret-anymore hell:

God damn wine. Screw him. Why the hell can’t I drink it? I’m a grown woman, I can make my own choices. Who does he think he is, giving me an ultimatum and then flaunting it in front of me?! That gurgling makes me want to shove that aerator up his ass. Why does he have to invite the booze, can’t it just be me and him? Hmm…Maybe this is just my perspective and not reality – if I had one or two drinks, that’s all I’d be focused on. He probably doesn’t focus on it one bit, he just has a drink and lives his life – he’s so weird. This isn’t fair. I bet I could have just one glass now. It’s been so long. Maybe I’m cured! Maybe I’m not actually an alcoholic – I was never THAT bad, anyway. I functioned well in all aspects of my life still. Well, except for verbally abusing the shit out of him – yeah, I guess that was pretty bad. Glad I don’t remember any of it. Would it hurt anything to try again though? I miss wine tasting with him. I miss our happy hours and funny adventures. I miss the relaxation. I miss the buzz. I miss getting wasted. I miss feeling normal. But I’m not normal, am I? I’m such a loser. I could never stop at just one or two, all I’d want to do is get shitty drunk. But what would that really accomplish? A glowing buzz, a moment to just let go and be wasted. Shit…I’m totally obsessed! The next day I’d be hung over AND be required to be a good mom, no thanks. I’d regret the shit out of losing my 8 years’ status and have to start back at day one…hour one…that’d be enough of a disappointment and reason to drink myself into oblivion. I don’t want to lose my life. I will not disappoint my family or myself. Plus, I have two kids I am responsible for! I want them to look up to me and know that because Mommy can do anything, they can too. Shit. Once again, I’ve talked myself out of this shit. Good. Like it was ever really touch-and-go. This is still annoying, though. Why can’t he just not drink? Would that be a fair ask? What if I did ask him to not drink? Would he be willing to? That’s a scary thought…I wouldn’t want him resenting me anyway, so it’s not an option. I’m the one who is strong enough to overcome resentment, I’ll take this on. I’m so much stronger than anyone knows. I’m actually the shit. He’s so lucky to have me. OK, now I feel a little better and actually hope he enjoys his wine…but not too much. If he gets a buzz on, I’m going to go through this all over again and want nothing to do with him. Maybe I should get out of here and head for the hills. Ok, ok. Simmer down, cray cray. All is good in my world. And both worlds can still meet for now. He’s totally fine. Stop watching him. Don’t count his drinks…STOP! Deep breath. Everything’s ok. I’m ok. One day at a time and I’m still sober. Damn, I think too much. I’m so strong, though. Look how I just worked through that shit. I really AM the shit…

Yep. Pretty intense for a gal on any given evening, huh? Sometimes I honestly wonder if I could be considered clinically insane in these moments. Why is it so hard to remember that I choose sobriety for myself?

Face it and conquer it!Why does it take a few grueling minutes of inner torture to bring myself back to a place of peace? Sometimes I envy those who have significant others who are also in recovery, versus being with a “normie”. What a huge and instant support system, plus, they’d understand you on that level that only addicts could. But the grass is only greener where you water it. And I love my man. If I didn’t have challenges, I wouldn’t be human. And I’ve learned how strong I am. I’m not willing to give that up for anything.

So, here’s my takeaway: Boundaries are essential. In early sobriety, I had a rule that I wouldn’t open or pour drinks for anyone. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way I started to slack. I think I wanted more normalcy and to be useful and less of a burden. My husband and I recently discovered that this boundary must be reset. Holding or pouring a drink is too dangerous for me. It’s death in a cup and could easily slide down my throat, poisoning everything beautiful in my life. This telling conversation sparked after I’d snapped at him – he was innocently pouring wine and I heard gurgling – “Go into the friggin’ pantry and shut the door when you’re pouring that gurgling shit, mother fucker!” For now, I am going to keep being real with myself about what sets me up for success. I’m grateful to have a partner who wants me happy and will agree to pour his wine in the pantry, so I can’t hear it. He’s pretty incredible and boy, has he learned more than he ever wanted to about alcoholism! I’m not a big fan of “rules”, but they are necessary in my life, at least right now. I’m hoping someone out there knows what it’s like to go through this. I always come out on the bright side, sure, but why does it feel so traumatic every damn time?! It’s draining and infuriating, but in the end I’m grateful that I can coach myself back to my peace. I always reach my peace, and that’s what matters most.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

3,000 Days Sober! No more stigma…

No more shame!On this 3,000th day of my sobriety, I sit here amazed. I’m amazed at myself, of the life I’ve created, and at how damn difficult this journey has been. I’m even more amazed that so many people out there are still suffering in silence. My heart is troubled lately, as I’ve realized how big of an epidemic this really is. Alcoholism isn’t what I’m referring to – it’s the stigma. This stigma is a salivating beast and a force to be reckoned with. I’ve joined the mission to kick its dirty little ass.

Off the top of my head, I can think of about 20 people who I know personally, struggling with alcoholism and problem-drinking. A handful is in the closet, dealing with their spouse’s drinking, some are getting divorced, and the others live in their own private drinking hells. People have confided in me – it’s awesome and a little scary – but mostly it’s a kick in my ass to get louder. So many are miserable, but very few are talking about it. Shame is all around us. I hate shame. This silence feeds the stigma, which, in turn, enables denial. Maybe more of us would have turned our lives around sooner, had we known more about this shit and the real people going through it. Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate like stigma does – it takes idiots and scholars, assholes and saints, wealthy and poor, good-looking and fugly, strong and weak, and everything in-between. We are no more flawed than anyone, we are not a disgrace. It’s addiction, not a plague. We, in recovery, are not victims, we are warriors. Sometimes we fall – we get right back up. We are brave and amazing sons of bitches. And we must help others get out of the dark.

Knowledge nugget: You don’t have to join AA or get anywhere near the 12 steps to recover. I am proof of that with 3,000 days, dude! This misconception is driven by AA, and has ultimately fed fear and stigma. There’s no right or wrong way to recover. Recovery is yours. You don’t have to have a plan – the only plan I’ve had is: don’t drink. You don’t have to claim powerlessness. You don’t have to be anonymous! You don’t have to go to meetings. I’ve done just fine without meetings and some would even argue that I’m better off. Support is essential, whatever that means for you. I started off with a few close family members’ support. My greatest source of support these days has been from social media. More about that later. For now, as I revel in the last hour of my 3,000th day in recovery, I leave you with this…To my friends in recovery – you are never alone and I’m so proud of you. I’m here if you need anything. To those who are struggling, afraid to reach out for help – you can find your strength, it’s there, and we can help you. To all the sorry sacks out there that support this stigma – suck it and stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

Recovery Runs in My Family

familyinrecovery

How many people can say that recovery runs in their family? Better yet, how many people can say it and be proud of it? I can! Let me introduce the three of us who are keeping it real every damn day: Me, my dad and my brother. We have a bond that is quite unique.

No matter how long we’ve each been sober, we make conscious decisions to not drink EVERY DAY. And just as many others in recovery have learned, it doesn’t get any easier, we just get a little bit better. What helps me be better is the connection I have with my dad and bro. I used to think I was a badass when I was wasted, but nothing compares to how powerful and awesome I feel having these two on my side and in my little “club.” Recovery posse up!

Today we celebrate my dad’s second year in recovery! Two years of sobriety is his longest stretch in over 40 years! That’s pretty amazing. I’ve never been more proud to be his daughter.

As I reflect upon my family in recovery, today especially, I bask in that powerful light that we’ve created together – healing ourselves, healing our family, and making our moments real. One day at a time, one panic attack at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time – we rock!