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10 Tips for Managing Depression

 I’ve written about this topic before, but I decided to revisit it, since it’s one of the most popular things people search for on my blog.

Anyone who has suffered through a major depressive episode or clinical depression knows the feeling – a few things go badly, some misfortune piles up and you start to feel the dread.  Dark thoughts creep in and anxiety seems to hang around like an unwanted party guest.  You think to yourself, “Is this just a brief spell of mood swings, or will this snowball into a full-blown episode?”  I’ve struggled with mood problems my entire life, but after a difficult divorce I spiraled into a massive depression.  I never really understood how overwhelming the disease could be until I faced it myself.

Treating depression requires medical treatment in the form of therapy, medication or a combination of both.  A quick top 10 list is not going to cure a mental illness. But if you need something to help keep your demons at bay, these tips might help.  I know they’ve helped me prevent a few bad days from snowballing out of control.  They might seem like common sense, but it’s good to have a reminder.

1.  Reach out to Friends, Family or Loved ones – For some of us, our families might be the most toxic people in our lives.  If that’s true for you, then by all means just try to connect with someone who is loving and supportive.  Face time is a million times better than social media. Liking posts on Facebook and tweeting a buddy is not going to cut it.  Get up and leave your house, have lunch with a friend, or hang out with a buddy after work. If nothing else call a friend.  As much as we think we are alone, everyone has people who love and cherish them.  If it helps, make a list of those people and put it in a place where you can find it easily, complete with phone numbers, emails, and other contact information.  Avoid Isolation – When we’re alone we can control our environment, avoid negative people and focus on work.  The downside is we are social creatures who function best around other human beings.  Even if you can’t find a friend or loved one to hang out with, just sitting in a library or coffee shop with other people can help.

2.  Volunteer or Help Others – Helping others always helps get you out of your head and you’ll probably get to interact with more people, which is another way of avoiding isolation.  Again don’t just click a link on a website or sign a petition.  Get out of your house or apartment and physically get involved. Studies have shown that volunteering can actually reduce depression symptoms.

3.  Exercise – Physical exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise can help increase endorphins and other powerful chemicals in your brain.  It won’t even cost a cent if you just decide to go for a walk, or do some yoga by yourself at home.  Deep breathing can also help.

4.  Eat – I completely lose my appetite, others might eat to try to fill the void.  Know your tendencies and do what you can to try to stay on a healthy regime.  I literally will write “Eat Lunch” on my ‘To Do List’ because otherwise I might actually forget to have a meal.

5.  Hang out with a friendly animal – If you don’t have a pet, then find a friend who does.  If you are allergic to the furry variety, even watching fish swimming around in a tank at pet store can help calm your mind.   If you don’t like animals then go to a park, getting out and around nature can do wonders for your mood.

6.  Find a Creative Outlook – Draw, write, paint, craft, bake, cook, sew, knit, play an instrument, whatever you love to do or make – do it.  Musical instruments seem to help me more than anything, as does this blog.  Surfing the internet, watching television and playing video games are passive activities.  It’s really best to try to make something out of nothing.  Creativity is one of the best ways to boost your brain.  Some studies have shown links between creative people and higher rates of depression, but don’t let that discourage you.  Creating something will give you a sense of accomplishment.  Just be careful about how you spend that creative energy.  If you’re feeling especially low, you might want to avoid work on that memoir about your divorce.  Baking cupcakes might cheer you up instead.  🙂

7.  Avoid Crazy-makers – Sometimes negative and destructive people are impossible to remove from your life.  If your boss pushes you to the limit every day, there is little you can do about it.  But if you are struggling with an ex-partner or spouse, then by all means try to give yourself distance.

8.  Practice whatever therapy has worked for you in the past –  For me its Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.   I write it all out, my fears, the deep voices of dread and doubt that live inside of me and then I have to cognitively and logically destroy those voices.  It’s not always easy, and it doesn’t work for everyone.  Others might use meditation, acupuncture, aromatheraphy, biofeedback, massage therapy, yoga or any number of other alternative methods to help manage their depression.  If something doesn’t work, then try something else.  Don’t give up.

9. Avoid self-destructive behavior – Your well-meaning friends might encourage drug or alcohol use when you’re down.  Substances are just a crutch that will exacerbate a depressed person’s symptoms.  Getting loaded might make you feel better momentarily, but if you’re suffering from depression, the high won’t last.   Other self-destructive behaviors could be gambling, binge eating, reckless behavior or a string of sexual encounters with virtual strangers.  None of these are inherently bad, but anything done to excess can ultimately slow recovery.

10.  Ask for Help – Probably the hardest one on the list, because if you have recovered from depression, the last thing you want to admit is that it’s back.  But if you are having thoughts of self-harm, losing hope, or finding it difficult to simply feel joy, don’t be afraid to seek medical help. Depression is not a weakness of character, it’s a disease.  Triggers for depression vary from person to person and some struggle with it for most of their lives, while others will have one brief episode and then never go through it again.  You are NOT ALONE, and you are not a bad person because you are suffering.  The reasons behind your depression are complex but it’s not your fault.  If your first doctor or therapist doesn’t work out, keep searching.  If CBT doesn’t work for you, then try any number of alternative therapies.  If an anti-depressant doesn’t work out for you, then ask for a different prescription.  If you think you are being over medicated, then tell your doctor.  For many patients treating this disease involves a lot of trial and error.  NEVER GIVE UP!

As a person who has suffered through this myself, you have my empathy.  You’ll have times when you might lose hope, but so many of us have been there.  It will get better. No one is fortunate all of the time, and no one lives in misery all of the time.  We’ve all had our ups and downs and millions of us have also suffered from this horrible disease and recovered.  It’s going to be OK.  Hang in there.  🙂  I’ve included some other articles of mine on the subject and other links to use as resources.  There is a lot of help out there, don’t be afraid to ask for it. 🙂

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Dating After Divorce: Becoming Comfortably Numb

 

I wondered when it would happen, then a few months ago, it hit me.  After countless bad dates and a dating scene that feels like a wasteland, I’ve finally become comfortably numb.  It’s not what I expected.  I thought I would be more negative and more jaded, but it’s honestly somewhat comfortable.  My expectations have just hit rock bottom.

When I first left my marriage I was completely unprotected.  My heart was overly sensitive, my mind ravaged with depression and my instincts set at high alert. I needed to calm the beast, or I never would have survived. I used to cry after bad dates, usually on the subway home.  As soon as I would just sit down, I’d mildly lose it.  I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations.  Multiple bad dates had trained me not to think beyond the first encounter.  Then on the rare occasions I had a second date, I taught myself not to get too excited.  I’ve only made it to three dates with one man.  We had hardly gotten serious, we hadn’t had sex yet when he had a slight meltdown.  In his case, I don’t think it had anything to do with me.  From what he told me, he had some seriously unresolved issues with his ex.  Unresolved issues with exes is just a reality for people over 35.

Some guys would rather remain virtual.  I sort of “dated”  a guy who just wanted to email.  He claimed he wanted to see me, but then created countless obstacles.  I lived in Brooklyn and he lived in Manhattan, so it shouldn’t have been that difficult.  He also wasn’t over his ex, and I suspect was still trying to get back together with her.  I’ll never understand why I kept talking to him, or what was going on in his head.  I found out months after I gave up, he found a good match and they are inseparable.

I’ve had a few casual flings.  I forced every jealous atom inside of me to stay cool.  Hooking up with guys when I knew they had other women in their lives, wasn’t easy.  It really took Herculean strength to not react, to tell myself that it didn’t matter, we weren’t serious, this won’t lead to anything. I managed to stay calm, but inside I was miserable.

They haven’t all been bad.  I had a strong connection with one guy.  We found out on the date we were both straight spouses.  His wife left him for a woman, and I thought that maybe our shared experience might work to our advantage.  Despite obvious warning signs that he was clearly not over his ex-wife, we made out in his car for over an hour.  It was highly unusual for me, as I usually don’t even kiss a guy on a first date. Then he completely blew me off.   I guess the situation was too much for him, I don’t know.  I can’t remember his name or face.

Now I still have a few men who hover but do little else. They might send a dick pic, or a request for sexting that will lead absolutely nowhere.  I’ve learned I’m not the only recipient for their x-rated self-portraits.   If I say I’m interested in something more, they tend to bolt.  Of course I still get harassed on the street by any number of men of all ages.  I guess that might end when I have to use a walker or cane to get around.

The worst was my rebound relationship, something I never should have gotten myself into.  It was completely exhilarating, but ultimately soul crushing.  I had so many conflicted feelings towards him, at least two years after the fact.  Now I don’t see him.  I have no idea what’s going on in his life, and I have no desire to find out.  I harbor no ill will, but I also don’t want any contact with him.

I’ve become someone I would have never recognized five years ago.  But in a way it’s not completely awful.  It’s not what I thought it would be.  I’m not angry or bitter, just numb.   I take everything men say and do with a grain of salt.  So what if the guy sent me several texts in a row – It doesn’t mean anything until he backs it up with actions.  I rarely text anyone because I can’t stand being blanked back.  I would rather just have nothing than the feeling of being ignored.

I just stopped caring.  So what if the guy from OKCupid sends me eight emails only to cancel the same night as our date.  I don’t even blink if some man rants about his “bitch ex-wife” for half the date.  It no longer surprises me, if he insults what I do for a living, or complains about my crappy neighborhood. This is dating after 35 in a city where only the strong survive, and you’ll be judged on everything your job, neighborhood, past relationships, pets, hobbies even your hometown.

Some of my dates have been so rude and so horrible that if I recreated them in a movie, I would be accused of being too fantastical.  I try to keep an open mind, stay positive and keep moving forward.  My horrible experiences have given me armor.  I rarely have crying fits on the subway anymore.  I’ve just learned to block the disappointments out.   Most divorced people never think they are going to end up like this.  Few of us expect this as our future.  If we learn more from our failures, I’ll be a genius by the time I finally meet a compatible match.  🙂

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When Saying “Smile” is the rudest thing a person could do

Teen Angst

On the day after Christmas, I sat in the airport and tried to keep myself occupied before my flight.  I was trying to play the NYTimes Crosswords app on my phone, but I just couldn’t focus.  My carry-on had a couple of books I knew I had to read, and a frivolous magazine.  Nothing sparked my interest.  The TV screens suspended from the ceiling were broadcasting CNN and it was some inane story about the economy.  No matter how hard I tried, I could only think of one thing – her face.  It was the face of a woman who was far too young to die.

On Christmas day a year earlier my cousin dropped dead of a massive heart attack.   She was in her late forties, unmarried, and was only in town for the holiday.  Multiple underlying medical conditions contributed to her unexpected death, but it was still a huge shock to everyone that she was gone.  Two days after Christmas her funeral was hastily arranged to allow as many relatives from out-of-town to pay our respects.  She was twice divorced with no children, but had three beloved cats.  On that side of the family I have 16 cousins, and she was the first of our generation to die.

Divorced and childless myself, I couldn’t help but think of my face in that casket.  Would I suffer a similar fate?  I also felt horrible that I didn’t get a chance to see her one last time and I worried for my aunt.  My Aunt was the oldest five and had already buried her husband and daughter-in-law.  Sitting alone in the airport on the anniversary of my cousin’s death caused me to grieve all over again.  As I sat there staring off into vacant space, tears started to roll down my eyes.  And then I heard him – a booming voice with a thick Southern twang.

“Hey pretty lady, you know you ain’t got nothing to cry to be sad about.  Come on and show me a SMILE.”  He was an average looking white man in his mid-thirties with messy hair and coveralls pushing a large piece of equipment.

“Why don’t you mind your fucking business!  Asshole!” I snapped back, giving him some New York City attitude.

I could tell by the look in his eye and his attitude he didn’t care at all about my emotions or what I might be going through.  This was his feeble and pathetic attempt to try to get me to talk or engage with him.  As if a woman couldn’t just sit there and have sad thought.  With that one phrase he wasn’t actually telling me to cheer up he was negating my feelings.  I was just sitting there completely minding my business.  I wasn’t dressed in anything garish or attention seeking.  A black down coat, black jeans and a sweater, minimal makeup and my hair wadded up in Saint Louis cardinals baseball cap.  Why wasn’t I allowed one moment of solitude?  Would he had dared to snap out such an order to a man sitting by himself?

I had a completely opposite situation once while riding the subway.  A man I now refer to as rebound #2 had just abruptly broken up with me.  My post-divorce depression was crippling, and I really shouldn’t have tried to date anyone.  I had just started treatment and was on medication but I was nowhere near recovery.  So that day on the Q train I just couldn’t hold it in anymore and had a total meltdown.  As I sat there sobbing, a woman sitting across from me simply said,

“Are you OK?”

She was tall, well dressed, close to my age, with dark skin and beautiful long braids.  I was so taken aback by her reaction.  I hadn’t even realized I was crying like that in public.  My depression had completely taken over me, and here was this total stranger expressing real empathy. At first I tried to get it together and said,

“I’m fine.”

She looked and me and responded,

“You don’t look fine.  It’s OK.  We’ve all been there.”

Then it all came spilling out,

“I just got a divorce, and I can’t date anyone.  No one wants me.  No one will ever want me. I’m damaged goods.”

The woman came over and sat next to me.  She told me about her own traumatic breakup, and how she had recently met a great guy and had renewed hope in life.  I realized quickly, she didn’t want anything from me, she didn’t ask for my card or information and she didn’t give me hers.  She put her arm around me and told me it was going to be OK and I wiped my tears and we just shared about 10 minutes of a real human connection.  I got off the train and waved goodbye.  It was one of the nicest moments I’ve ever had with a stranger.  She didn’t negate my pain, she acknowledged it.  We all have suffering sometimes and just hearing another person say,

“I’ve hurt too.  I’m sorry you’re in pain.”

It was enough to stop the spiral if for only a second.  Having a stranger scream, “Stop crying you don’t have any problems” is the exact opposite.  We all fall down.  We all go through rough times and we should mourn and give ourselves time to grieve.

When I recently found out that a friend of mine died suddenly at the age of 45 I was on a sidewalk in Union Square.  I literally fell down and had to brace myself on a fence to keep myself from completely collapsing.  As I struggled to make it to the train, get home and keep myself together all I could think of was…please don’t say anything to me…please leave me alone….I just want to get home.  Luckily for me that day, I was given peace.  I worry I might have physically assaulted a man who shouted “Smile honey you don’t have anything to cry about” Luckily no one was that rude or stupid.  Sadness is a perfectly healthy emotion and sometimes it doesn’t come in nice and neat ways.  We will find ourselves breaking down in public.

Making the decision to approach a total stranger in distress is a tricky one.  It’s sort of like going up to a wounded animal.  Will they try to attack back?  Will they go into shock?  Will we make things worse?  As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, the best thing anyone can do for another person in crisis is simply listen.  Don’t tell them what to do, don’t try to fix their problems just hear them out.  But whatever you do, don’t scream “Smile.”

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How to survive the Holiday Season – For the Newly Divorced

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This is a topic I have written about extensively in the past, but since I consider myself a divorce advocate I wanted to re-visit it.  The holidays are rough…hang in there guys! 🙂 

I wanted to write this piece because I really think a lot of the “Advice for Divorced People” websites, books and other resources might be written by people who have never actually been divorced.  Some of the post-divorce holiday advice is extremely helpful, and some comes across as overly chipper, insensitive and a bit clueless.

My first Christmas without my husband I felt completely numb.  I had made the mistake of having an intense rebound relationship before I was ready.   That brief affair ended dramatically less than a month before Christmas.   On the big day itself, I sat in my aunt’s house surrounded by my family and felt nothing.  Everyone looked at me as if I was a ghost.  It had only been six months since I found out the truth about my marriage.  Nine years of my life that I thought was the strongest relationship I had ever had, was now a fraud.   I found it especially painful that I was sharing the holiday with relatives who were in my wedding party.  It meant so much for me to have them a part of that day.  I wanted to go up to each one of them and apologize for letting them down.  We were all actors in a play that had gotten re-written midway.  Instead of a happy ending, it closed with a surprise twist and tragic finale. My loss overwhelmed me with a deep sense of shame.  None of my relatives blamed me, but I couldn’t escape the guilt.  Ultimately, I had picked the wrong partner. Little did I know things for me were going to have to get much worse for me before they got better.  I was about to spiral out of control into an episode of life-threatening depression.

That was three years ago, and much has happened in my life since then.  I haven’t really had much romance, but I have healed and moved forward.  My marriage had been the center of my happiness.  I had made myself co-dependent on one person and I paid dearly for that mistake.  Now I have this crazy network of unique, creative and astonishingly wonderful friends to whom I am eternally grateful.  I never want to go back to isolating myself emotionally to one person.  The trauma of my divorce also helped heal wounds I had with my family.  I feel healthier and happier than I have in years.  But there is always the holiday season, when the gray clouds loom and I find myself fighting back the demons in my head.

If you are newly divorced and reading this, I am not going to sugarcoat your obstacles. Divorce is hell.  It can cause a slew of emotional problems and even trigger mental illness.  The catastrophe of divorce can also fuel substance abuse and any number of self-destructive behaviors.   Anyone who has gone through a divorce understands the added loss of friendships and family members.  Some friends you thought were lifelong will drift away post-split. You might also be worried about your children, or blame yourself for failing them.  For many divorced people the biggest hurdle is overcoming the feeling of shame.

Don’t listen to those negative voices.  Marriages fall apart for all sorts of reasons.  Many couples just fall out of love, or learn they can’t live with each other in a healthy environment.  Other marriages are frauds from day one with partners victimized in green card scams, serial cheaters, or deceitful spouses.  You have every right to feel angry and to express pain, but at the end of the day, it is better to focus on repairing the damage and moving forward.  Regardless of who ended the marriage, both partners experience damage.  You can succumb and spiral downward or you can fight back.   Get help if you need it, either through therapy, counseling or medication.  Don’t let depression or substance abuse take over your life.  It will get better. Your fairy tale may have fallen apart, but you will have another chapter.  Even though it might feel like it, your life is not over.

There is no substitute for time.  However bad you feel now, know that it won’t always be like this. The holiday season is just hyped up to make a lot of people a lot of money.  In the long run it is just a short time out of the year and it will be over before you know it.  A better day to celebrate might be seeing a movie with your kids, or a football game with your dad, or just having drinks with your best friend.  Don’t let the build up of holiday parties and family obligations get to you.  As I have said many times on this blog, no one is fortunate all of the time.  We all have our ups and downs, and if you are recently divorced, you are going through a lot.  Just remember, things will get better, and you are not alone.  Much Love.

 

Depression is such a bitch…

Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Gingertail)

I don’t need a book or lecture to remind me that depression is a physical illness, and not something that is just made up in my head or a weakness on my part.   I don’t choose to battle this demon over and over again.  I know exactly what has caused this latest bout, but I won’t get into it on this blog because I really don’t want to pull anyone else from my personal life into something so public.  But even though I have come miles from where I was three years ago, just a mild cruelty from another person can cause me to spiral.

I am fighting back as best I can, but again I know this is biological in nature because I can actually feel it deep in the core of my being.  Depression feels like a physical ache, a dullness, almost like a heavy suit made of lead that the universe forces me to wear and walk around in.  Depression isn’t just feeling sad, it is the inability to feel joy.  It affects everything I do, everything I see and everyone I interact with on a daily basis..  I have difficulty concentrating, I lose my appetite and have trouble falling asleep, mixed in with the dark moods are bouts of anxiety that arise seemingly out of nowhere.  The constant battle of highs and lows is like riding the world’s most unpleasant roller coaster.  Sometimes looking at pictures of friend’s babies on facebook, or seeing a loving couple walking down the street will reduce me to tears.  The subway tends to bring on bouts of sadness.  I don’t know if it is something about the stillness, the anticipation of getting home, or that I have to sit and deal with my brain but I tend to fall down the rabbit hole on long late-night trips.  Or maybe it is that while sitting there I have a tendency to notice everyone around me, and little things remind me of what I lost.  I honestly don’t know, but those long late night commutes will cause all sorts of negative thoughts to swirl in my head.

But I fight back with every tool in my arsenal.  I write, I do all the cognitive behavior therapy techniques I know to dissipate the dark clouds that want to engulf me.  I silence the what if, what if, what if narratives that play out like a bad repeated record.

What if I was still married?

What if I was working more?

What if that last date had worked out?

What if I wasn’t so damn broke?

I know these things aren’t rational and I there is no point in dwelling on anything that is hypothetical but the thoughts linger nonetheless.  I know I am not alone and that there are millions of others out there who fight with this monster.  For some of us we have been at war with it our whole lives, maybe its is partly genetic, or from whatever traumas we have endured but we still have to fight a mental illness on top of our every day obstacles.

I write this piece with no answers, no quips or nifty conclusions at the end.  I write this for release as it tends to inexplicably help me when I do it.  Maybe one day the medical community will develop medication that actually works without so many side-effects.  One day doctors will find the biological mechanism that causes depression, and the stigma towards patients who suffer from it will disappear.

I have to remind myself how far I have come, and how much better I will be in the future.  To my fellow suffers of this disease I say…hang in there.  Whatever is troubling you shall pass, and you will survive it.    Avoid the temptation to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and try to not fall into the trap of  self-destructive behavior.  We are all loved and cherished by many, never forget that.  We will get better…we are just battling a disease that doesn’t have an easy way out.

Growing up with Depression

First Day of School

I guess it has always been there to some degree since childhood.  I would love to say that my childhood was happy and that everyone around me was loving and supportive.  But who has that childhood?  I have met a few who have been fortunate enough to at least have strength in their basic foundational relationships.  The lucky few who are supported by both their parents, have a secure and safe environment, and a steady predictable routine. My upbringing was relatively stable in most respects but emotionally I would describe it as volatile.

I don’t blame my parents, and at my age I would feel a bit silly putting any blame on them considering my circumstances.  I wasn’t abandoned or left to starve and I wasn’t neglected or ridiculed.  My parents got married young and had four children in five years.  We didn’t grow up with much, and money was a constant source of stress and anxiety.  Their marriage wasn’t perfect and they were not ideal parents but they always made their children their primary concern.  So with all of their faults I knew the did the best they could consider the obstacles they were up against.   I may not have had a father I could have tender moments with, but he worked overtime, marched on picket lines and lived with very little material wealth for the sake of his children.  My mother was in over her head with four babies and a husband who worked all the time but she always made us the center of the universe.   She constantly took us to trips to the library, bought us every educational toy or game we could afford and made sure we did our homework.  She may have been too obsessed, but I would rather grow up with her than an indifferent mother.

School wasn’t much of a solace as I was awkward and socially withdrawn.  I found children my age to be a bit of a mystery and found more enjoyment reading a book than playing with other kids.  There is much more I could write about, but I won’t because I cherish relationships I have with certain family members.  I don’t want to dredge up old traumas for the sake of this blog.  Some things need to remain private, for the sake of my siblings and my immediate family.   When things got bad I literally hid in a closet in our basement.  I would shut the door and wait for my world to stop spinning out of control.  To this day I don’t think anyone in my family knew I would go down there, I guess they might know now…if they read this blog.

Depression has always been there.  The dread that will sometimes wash over me that I can’t shake.  It causes me to overreact and panic and lose faith in others.   My divorce made it much more pronounced but depression has been with me for as long as I can remember.  I had no idea how bad it would get until post-divorce I became suicidal and nearly completely lost my sanity.  Clinical depression is nothing to joke about or to shrug off as just the blues.  I realize now that I suffered from a mental illness that is quite common but extremely frustrating to manage.  But I fought back with traditional therapy, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and eventually my situation greatly improved.

Although now, I can feel the seductive pull of the dark clouds sucking me back in from time to time.  At first it feels comfortable to give in to the black moods and collapse in tears but they soon take over.  And instead of having a quick therapeutic moment of release the dread wins out and starts to devour me.  I find myself lying on my bed looking straight up trying to fight back a panic attack.  I haven’t had one in over a year, and I am so proud that I have been able to stop them but when things get bad it is a constant struggle.  At least now I know I have some control, I don’t have to huddle in a closet until it passes.   And just knowing that I have some control has been paramount to my recovery.  As a child I didn’t know what it was, I couldn’t understand why I wanted to retreat by myself, why I had difficulty dealing with other and why I constantly had crying fits that were nearly inconsolable.   I couldn’t understand why things got so black in my head, and why hope was such a hard thing to imagine.  My Catholic upbringing caused me to look for a supernatural source but now I know the real demons live inside my head.  If it is brain chemistry or some genetic defect I don’t know, or if repeated trauma caused something in my brain to develop abnormally.  The source of my depression doesn’t really matter, at least that is what therapy taught me.  What matters is management, and trying to live with and fight against this affliction.

For the most part I do alright.  I am so much better off than I was just a year ago, but I still struggle.  And I know from the amazing feedback I have gotten from this blog and from fellow sufferers of depression that this disease is a tricky one.  If you are reading this and you have struggled with depression since you were a child, don’t give up hope.  You can and will beat it.  Some of us aren’t as lucky in life as others, some of us are born with more obstacles that the average person, and some of us are born with the biology that causes depression.  But it doesn’t mean that we can’t beat this disease and we can’t overcome it.

I wish I knew what I know now when I was six years old, if I could I would go back to that little girl with the ice blonde hair and the rosy cheeks and tell her that God isn’t punishing her when the gloom overtakes her mind.   Whatever is going on in her head is not pay back for any sins she committed and it is not a battle between good and evil.  The dark moods are just a slight flaw in her wiring, and that flaw is depression.  And everyone has a flaw, no little girl is born perfect.

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Life After Divorce: The 12 Foot wall of Ice

English: Wall of Ice taken in an ice bar in St...

English: Wall of Ice taken in an ice bar in Stockholm, Sweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have said many times on this blog, when a person is over 35 and still single they tend to fall into certain general categories

  • Those who never want to settle down – some people really are more content being alone
  • Those who are too immature to have a decent relationship
  • Those who are career driven and do not make dating a priority
  • Those who are broken from a divorce, or major break up – I would put myself in this category.

Of course not everyone fits so nicely into one of those four groups, and some people really just haven’t met the right person and are over 35.

I probably shouldn’t write about this.  This blog is making my dating life hard enough, although I think I have given up on online dating completely now.  Too many men will ask me out only to not follow through, and the dates I have gone on have mostly been miserable.  I have met some nice men, who weren’t exactly compatible with me, but nice men nonetheless.  Overall I have found the process very demoralizing.  I feel reduced to a commodity.  Everything about me placed on a mental check list, and since I have some fairly odd things in my background they all amount to deal breakers.  Which is fine since I haven’t met anyone online yet that has really felt like a good fit.

I joked last night that I have no “game” when it comes to dating, and it’s true I have absolutely no game.  I’ve lost the ability to flirt successfully, volley back and forth, seal the deal, manage advances, let a guy know I am interested….etc. When I was in my twenties I could make every mistake and still find guys who were interested in me.  For most young women, the game of dating is all too easy.  But something else has changed fairly fundamentally since my divorce and subsequent rebound implosions.  My apologizes to any of the men I may have dated since my divorce who might read this, but pretty much all of my relationships have been disasters.   I don’t think any of my former lovers would read this blog, in fact I am pretty sure they don’t.  If any of them are reading this, I blame myself more than anything for those failed attempts.  I was a mess, a complete and utter disaster, and I shouldn’t have dated anyone.

The newest change I have noticed now is I am just so guarded.  I am almost like a horse who has been overworked, it takes very little to spook me and make me bolt.  A misplaced phrase, the hint of a red flag, too many comparisons to an ex, a man mentioning wanting to get re-married, it doesn’t take much…and I kick my legs up and run.  It is as if a numbness has taken over me.  A profound deadness that I can’t seem to shake.  I often feel reduced to the  sum of my many faults: gay ex-husband, clown ex-husband, weird job, low-income, crappy neighborhood, uncertain future,  losing the ability to reproduce, and general emotional damage.  When I go on dates with strangers I can see the troubled look in their eyes as hints of my past invade their own neuroses.  The minute I notice it, I just want to go home.  Thanks to google I can’t hide anything, so I figure it is best to come clean least they discover the skeletons in my closet online.

When I meet someone I actually like I self-sabotage, I make excuses, I avoid actually going out with them, I create obstacles that don’t exist.  Although I am not really happy being alone, it is at least something I can manage and control.  I can also focus on work, which is extremely necessary now as I don’t have a ton of income.   I live with an imaginary 12 foot wall of ice around me.  It really feels like that sometimes, I have had a few glimmers of hope that it might melt but then something happens and it freezes up again.

When I first left my husband it was like stumbling out of a cocoon, I had absolutely no defenses.  Every slight, every injustice, every cruel action was massively compounded in my head.  It all just cut right through me until I was a pile of ribbons on the floor.  So the ice went up, formed slowly over time.  I had no choice but to protect myself.  But ice is transparent, and I can see right through it.  There is hope on the other side, I just have no idea when I’ll be able to cut through it.  I am not kidding myself that a unique person will simply show up with a blow-torch and my life will go back to normal.  I think instead I am going to have to change myself, or at least my outlook.  And as I mend those broken pieces I also have to try to protect what is left of me.  All the while opening enough for someone new to get close to me.  It is not at all easy.

Life After Divorce: The Kinship of Divorce

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.

LOL Just divorced. And no, that’s not my car. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago I had to make yet another trip to my bank to sort out some lingering financial ties with my ex-husband.  I had no idea when I set up our mutual funds as joint accounts, that getting them cut in half once divorced would be next to impossible.  Splitting mutual funds or any investment containing stocks requires such an overwhelming amount of challenging paperwork it isn’t even worth explaining here.   This trip to the bank was my third attempt, and the mutual fund company had given me the wrong information, again.

Sitting across from me, in one of those cubicles for private banking transactions was a manager, a small woman with dark hair and olive skin, maybe about 10 years older than myself.  She was firmly explaining that I would have to re-do my paperwork and bring in my ex-husband with me before they would sign the necessary form to get our joint account split.  I kept explaining what the mutual fund had told me, yet she wouldn’t back down.  It went back and forth like this for at least 20 minutes slowly escalating as I got more and more worked up, until finally I said simply.

“Do you know how hard these things are?  Do you understand why I don’t want to deal with my ex-husband with this?  Have you ever been divorced?”

To which she replied simply.

“Yes, I have and it was awful”

My mood immediately changed and I said.

“I’m sorry”

She then went on to explain to me how her husband had ruined her, she had managed to get full custody but through a ridiculous loophole on his part got no child support.  She wouldn’t go into too many details but said simply.

“I don’t care, I have my daughters and that is all that matters to me, I live paycheck to paycheck I am not sure how I am going to make it but I am free and I don’t care about his money, I just wanted out”

And I started crying.

She whipped out a box of kleenex and told me

“Look, this mutual fund is only for $2,000 don’t make yourself crazy over $2,000.  I know you want to put it in your IRA but it isn’t a lot of money and it isn’t worth this.”

I shook my head.

“I know, I just want it to be over.  I was ruined too, I lost everything even my ability to pay my rent.  I have looked for work and there is nothing out there, so I just do whatever I can to keep from starving, I used to work with my ex.  He is doing great and I can’t even buy food”

Then we just sat there for a few minutes sharing different parts of our stories.  In the end we got up and hugged each other before I left, as she gave me more specific instructions on exactly what I needed to do the next time to get my investment split.

I have had many other experiences like this since my divorce.  Perfect strangers instantly become friends the minute they say.

“I am also divorced”

I know many friends who have tried to empathize with me, with a long-term split that was not a marriage.  I have written before about the differences between a long-term relationship with cohabitation ending and a divorce.  In most cases a divorce is more traumatic, as both parties entered into a marriage thinking it was a lifetime partnership.  The wedding, family members getting much more involved, lifetime expectations are all different in a marriage than just a relationship.  Divorce is just so hellish, so terrifying and so life-altering very few things compare in terms of trauma.

But one of the strange unexpected side-effects is what I have found is the kinship I feel immediately between fellow divorced people.  It is immediate, and it doesn’t seem to matter how long the marriage or the reasons for their divorce.  We both understand each other in a way that non-divorced people don’t quite get.  I felt it with the bank manager as soon as she said she was also divorced and that her divorce was a difficult and painful one.  We became instant friends, the argument disappeared and I had empathy for her and her daughters immediately.   I didn’t have this before, in fact I didn’t really understand divorce as it is rare in my extended family.   It is as if going through the fires of hell and then surviving it, we form an army of battered souls.  Our fairy tales didn’t have a happy ending, in fact for some of us the entire dream was just a farce, a lie, a fraud.   So we aren’t going to see the world in the same way again, we aren’t going to have that sunny outlook necessarily on romance or romantic partnerships.  But we enter into an odd kinship with others who have been in the same place.

I tell anyone newly divorced to seek out fellow divorced people, sit down with them and talk.  Talk about everything and anything and most of us will listen.  I had another friend, who recently had a bit of a breakdown.  She had entered into a relationship immediately after her divorce and seemed really happy.  I marveled as she was the only person I knew that once divorced didn’t seem to go through the stages of self-destructive behavior or rebound romances that so many of my other divorced friends went through.   I didn’t know how she managed it, but she seemed relatively unscathed.  But a couple of years after the fact she finally melted down.  She called it a “ticking time bomb” that little by little let out its poison.  She had not yet mourned for the marriage and hadn’t allowed herself to heal properly and as a result the new relationship ultimately fell apart.  I really felt for her, I thought somehow she had escaped the torment by being in a healthy relationship right after her divorce, but I was wrong.  The demons caught up with her, and it was a little heartbreaking to here her talk about it.

Divorce really is one of the worst things an adult can survive, but we do survive and move forward.  Most of us worked hard on our marriages and never thought it would happen to us, but it did and now we have to live with our shattered lives.  If nothing else my divorce has caused me to become far less judgmental of other people’s situations.  It has also given me the gift of empathy of a depth that I really didn’t have before.  Unfortunately I have developed a wall of ice about 12 feet thick around me that doesn’t seem to allow a new partner anywhere near me, but I am working on that.  When I first left my husband I had no such defenses and got hurt horribly, so I learned to put that wall up.  A few months ago it was probably 20 feet thick, so in time it will melt away.   At least I hope it will, but at least I have this strange unexplainable kinship with anyone out there who has been through a divorce.  We will get better, but it will take time.  Solidarity to anyone out there recently divorced, you are far from alone.

Life After Divorce: ‘Round Midnight

Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York,...

Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the many profound changes since leaving my husband nearly three years ago is losing my ability to sleep.  From my earliest memories I can recall lying in bed completely awake worrying about something or pondering the meaning of the universe.   During waking hours I can chatter on about meaningless drivel but late at night my brain goes places I don’t quite understand.  I think it is why I tend to write better at night, as during the day my mind becomes distracted by all things trivial.

There is a song by the brilliant Jazz musician Thelonius Monk that perfectly explains my frame of mind post-divorce.

It Begins to tell
Round Midnight
‘Round Midnight
I do pretty well till after sundown
Suppertime I feeling sad
But it really gets bad round midnight
Memories always start
round midnight
round midnight
Haven’t got the heart
To stand those memories
When my heart is still with you
And old midnight knows it too
When some quarrel we’ve had needs mending
Does it mean that our love is ending
Darling I need you
Lately I find
Your out of our my arms
And I am I am out of mind
Let our love take wing
some midnight, round midnight
Let the angels sing
For your returning
Let our love be safe and sound
When old midnight comes around
 

The lyrics capture the essence of a broken-hearted person trying to shut down for the night while mired in misery.  At this point in my grieving, I no longer think of my ex-husband.  I haven’t for some time.  The man that he was in my life has become erased replaced by this guy that I talk to occasionally who feels sort of like a brother.  The fact that my husband was gay allowed me a type of closure that I suspect would be difficult in most divorces.  Since he was gay, I knew there was no hope of any reconciliation and no list in my head of things I could have said or done to change anything.  I no longer mourn for my marriage or my destroyed life.   But I do mourn for the sense of being loved that is completely absent in my life now.  I keep telling myself it will get better, it has to get better, but I feel trapped in a state of pure stasis.  Other aspects of my life have moved forward and in some ways I feel much stronger, but the emptiness remains.  Awkward painful date, after awkward painful date, only make my moods darker, my spirit more tarnished and jaded.  And I lie there and think this it, this is my new future.  Despite everyone telling me it is just a matter of time, the more I try, the worse things seem to become, so I stop.  I do nothing, I focus on my work and try to get out of the financial disaster that my divorce has left me in, and nothing changes.

But it could be worse, as I look around and see some people with selfish destructive partners and think to myself.

Well at least I am not in that situation.

I have male friends who I have no interest in dating, who tell me they will always be around if I am ever looking for a hookup.  And then I have the admirers, the stalker types who get obsessive and creepy.  I don’t quite understand it, but I am never without a few stalker types at any given time.  Men still shout rude comments as I walk through my low-rent neighborhood.  So I am getting some attention.

Having a decent conversation with a person who makes me laugh and who laughs at my stories, someone that I feel comfortable with and who doesn’t make me feel bad about myself or judged.  Someone that I find physically attractive and is close to my age?  Someone who does not immediately cringe at the story of my divorce.  These things elude me.  I would rather be alone than with the wrong person, or just any person but this existence is soul crushing.

I don’t remember how to date or flirt, I don’t know how to let my guard down for a moment and it seems like predator types surround me.   Men who flirt with me as a game, or just want sex.  Sex is easy, I could always get sex if I wanted it.  But the detached sexual experience does little for me.   Sex with strangers is usually somewhat awkward and self-conscious and generally lacking.  Some people can have sex, with nearly anyone and perfectly enjoy themselves but that person isn’t me.  So I remain in this frozen part of my life, a place I never thought I would be waiting for something to happen.   I try to focus on what I can do that is positive and will move my life forward.  And every night, for me usually well past midnight, I desperately try to fight the haunting feeling that it will never change.

And this is a bit cheesy of me, but I sang this for one of the burlesque shows I used to produce a couple of years ago and made this video as a promo. It is hardly a perfect recording, and I kind of screw up some of it, and it is recorded from my computer…but…

Why Enabling Depression is Impossible.

Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone searched for the following phrase on my blog, and it caused my blood to go cold.

How to stop enabling depression

The amount of misunderstanding in that one simple statement is enormous.   I just wrote a blog about addiction, and now I am back on depression.  So here we go.  Depression and addiction are often present at the same time in the same person. I am a rare example in that I’ve suffered from depression but I don’t abuse substances.  I wasn’t self-medicating my illness with alcohol or drugs.  A lot of depressed people think along the following lines:

“I am miserable and I need relief oh look there is a bottle of whiskey or there is a line of coke, that will make me feel better.”

They do the drugs, it makes them feel better for a short period of time, the euphoria wears off they use again.   The cycle gets worse until the cannot feel joy without the drugs.  That is the pattern of addiction, not depression.

An addict chooses to pick up a drink or use drugs. It is an active choice on their end to engage in this behavior.  A depressed person who is not an addict is not choosing that personal hell.  They have biological illness that is out of their control. Both diseases have genetic components and they’re both major medical problems.

Of course some emotionally manipulative people will use the label of depression to refuse to take responsibility for their hurtful actions or self-destructive ways. Not every person or situation falls neatly into any category, especially with mental illness.   During my depression I had many well meaning friends who blamed me for my illness.  I had text book depression:

  • Wild mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks – some so severe they would last for hours
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Inability to sleep for any length of time – waking after just a few hours
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Complete loss of libido
  • Lack of joy

I was a mess.  However, I wasn’t in control of these symptoms.   I couldn’t simply turn on happy thoughts and stop it.  I knew whatever was going on in my brain was a physical problem because I had never had symptoms like that before, and the physical effects were so overwhelming.  Like everyone I had periods of feeling sad, but the panic attacks and inability to focus were acute and new to me.  My sleep patterns were all about two or three hours long and then I would be bolt upright.  It didn’t matter how much coffee I drank or didn’t drink or how many Melatonin pills or over the counter sleeping medication I took.  My body didn’t want to sleep more than three hours, that was a physical side effect and it’s considered text-book depression.  What I needed was medication, therapy and time to heal – not tough love.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about depression.  Some people seem to think that a depressed person

  • Is really just lazy
  • Isn’t motivated
  • Has a bad habits – such as sleeping too much, or dwelling on negative thoughts
  • Is just pessimistic or has a bad attitude.

Because it isn’t always obvious to tell a truly depressed person from an emotionally manipulative one, depression is a tricky illness.  After all mental illness isn’t something that’s visible to the naked eye, and the tests for it are largely inconclusive.   So someone who wants to give up and not take responsibility for anything they do could just label themselves depressed and wallow in their misery. It’s not always easy to know who is really suffering from a medical condition and who isn’t.

But at the same time a sufferer can learn to mask their illness.  I have known people with depression who held demanding jobs while raising children. Others who have outwardly seemed perfectly healthy yet when left alone descended into fits of despair.  I was extremely sick and yet I never missed a day of work.  Over time I learned I could hide my symptoms to appear functioning in some situations.   A busy schedule wouldn’t have changed my illness, it probably would have just prolonged my recovery.

To “enable” an alcoholic you must make it OK for them to drink, not point out to them that drinking is the real source of their problem, and allow them to treat you horribly in the process.   Most addicts emotionally attack those closest to them the entire time they are disintegrating.  When you stop enabling the addict you usually have to cut them off, stop talking to them and make them know that you think their addictive behavior is self-destructive.  The addict’s main purpose in life is getting the substance and using.  They will do nearly anything to keep alcohol or drugs their top priority including betraying friends, robbing from them, putting them in jeopardy and causing them harm.

By comparison a depressed person who is not using, is not going to act out in the same way.  Where is the source of depression coming from?  It could be a death, divorce, loss of job, medical bills, work related stress, tension in a marriage or just simple biology as in someone with bi-polar disorder or chronic depression. Should a friend confront a depressed person about giving up their disease?  Get in their face tell them they are causing their own pain, label them depressed and stop talking to them?  I would think that would be the absolute opposite of what you might want to do to a person who is probably suicidal.  Bi-polar disorder especially is clearly a biological illness that requires medication.  Thinking you can talk a person out of bi-polar disorder with happy thoughts or positive thinking is downright dangerous.  It would be about the same as thinking you could talk a person out of schizophrenia or any other type of psychosis.  Also a person with depression is not going to actively attack those around them in the same was as an addict.  For instance, a depressed person usually just shuts down.  They aren’t going to steal your computer to pay for their cocaine habit.

Addicts go to rehab, and usually some type of 12-step program to try to stop using. Depressed people get on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and usually go into some type of therapy.  The difference is the addict is also willfully part of their own destruction.  Even though addiction is a disease and there are biological and genetic components to it, the addict is still an active participant in their demise.  No one is forcing them to use, they choose to pick up the bottle, down the pills, or shoot up.  The depressed person is not choosing to not get out of bed, to not eat, to not find joy in pretty much anything.  A depressed person should not be “cut off” or confronted for causing their own illness.

There is a fine line between being to the point of needing medical intervention and just a change in attitude.  But in general cutting off a person who is suffering from the real medical illness of depression in order to “help” them would bring about the opposite effect.   The depressed person would feel that much more isolated, unloved and alone. A depressed person needs compassion not “tough love”.  An addict will just continue using so when you cut them off they will return to their drug of choice, until of course they seek help.  Again since most addicts also suffer from an underlying depression the distinctions between these two illnesses get murky.

I’ve heard countless stories from readers of this blog about depressed relatives and loved ones who isolate themselves.  They verbally demean and attack anyone who tries to help them, and push away any hope they have for a recovery.   Again even in these situations, there is not much anyone can do for the depressed person.  A relative or loved one’s behavior is not going to change their mental illness.   If you’re in this situation, you’re NOT the cause of that person’s mental illness.  If they’re tearing you down, and constantly hurting you, the best thing for you to do is to disengage.   Try to get that person help, but not at the expense of your own emotional and mental well-being.  That’s not the same thing as enabling an addict.  People who give an alcoholic booze, or make it easier for the alcoholic to drink are enabling the addict.  A loved one or relative is NOT encouraging or making another person’s mental illness worse unless they’re either abusing that person or preventing them from getting medical help.

Unfortunately when I battled my disease I had a few friends who blamed me for being sick.  The people who helped me out the most, my friends who had also suffered from depression.  Instead of judging me they listened.  They knew I needed help and tried to get it for me.  I got books, recommendations on therapists, and patience.

I was not choosing to have panic attacks, run away anxiety, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, wild mood swings, black thoughts, suicidal tendencies or the inability to feel joy.  What happened to me was reactive depression due to a sudden and extreme trauma.  I was also suffering from bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I got better thanks to an anti-depressant, therapy and time.  What also helped in my recovery  was my active choice to not engage in self-destructive behavior such as drinking, or doing drugs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of therapy that does help re-train a depressed person’s brain into a more positive outlook.  In his book Feeling Good“, David D. Burns, MD touts the benefits of CBT but at the same time goes on extensively about the pros and cons of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs.  He also does not tout CBT as an overnight cure as recovering from a serious depression takes time for anyone.   Some severely depressed patients respond positively to electroconvulsive therapy, which is fairly radical treatment directly on the brain, not exactly a 12-step program.  As scary as this treatment seems, ECT is quite effective in some patients.

With about 30 seconds of research I found this highly misguided group.

http://www.depressionanonymous.org/

From what I could tell the website hadn’t been updated in five years and they were no longer holding meetings. The entire concept of Depression Anonymous seemed to stem from one book, by one woman.   It certainly didn’t seem like the huge and organized group that is Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.  And I know there are people who criticize both AA and NA for being ineffective as the success rate is low, but I have known many people who have greatly benefited from AA, NA and other 12-step programs, so I am not sure what to think.

I wish deep in my heart that people would stop misunderstanding what is probably one of the largest medical health problems of the past century, and will continue to be a problem in the decades to come.  I had no clue until I went through it myself, but my depression was so much more overpowering than any extended weekend of self-pity.  What I suffered from and what millions of others suffer from all over the world is a real medical condition that if left untreated can lead to intense suffering, and for some suicide.

I am eternally grateful to my many friends, relatives and loved ones that had the patience to see me through my bout with this horrible disease instead of deciding to stop “enabling” me and cut me off only to have me spiral downward.  What helped me the most was not rude interventions with scolding, tough love and lectures but when my friends sat me down and begged me to get medical help.  The friends that cut through the static in my head the most were friends who had struggled with depression themselves.   Had people decided to stop “enabling” my behavior and cut me off I might not be here right now to type this blog.

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