What Depression Looks Like When You're Not Depressed

When life is good and you're showering regularly and smiling and wearing bright red lipstick and being productive and people find out that you have depression...they are shocked.  Because your current state is not what they understand depression to be. I've had people flat out tell me that I don't have it...because I laughed at something. Because they saw me dancing.  Because I wore yellow. Because I post pictures like this:

Apparently there is some rule that people who have depression must ALWAYS be depressed. Forever and ever, amen. And they cannot laugh or make funny pictures or have a sense of humor, because they are supposed to be depressed. Which is...um...well, that's not really how that works.

Allie, from Hyperbole and a Half, is pretty much hilarious. And has depression. She wrote about it - if you've never read it, it's hilarious and sad and a pretty good illustration of the depression journey.

Depression is here...until it's not. Except when it's not here, you always know it's probably going to come back. So there's a little bit of anxiety about that. Which, if you already have anxiety, is now more anxiety. I don't know many people with depression who don't have the double whammy of depression and anxiety. They seem to like to hang out with each other. They're friends. They're the mean girls in your brain.

When you pick out an outfit and your brain is like, "yeah!" and then you put it on and your brain is like,"oh no." Except then your brain also calls you ugly. And over / under dressed. And unpopular. And finally convinces you to stay in sweatpants and not leave the house.

So what depression is (for me), when you're not in the throes of depression, is constantly looking over your shoulder for it. And feeling anxious. On top of your anxiety. And maintaining. Making super healthy choices, just to try and keep it at bay.

My doctors originally put me on fluoxetine, which was not the right answer for me. My experience with fluoxetine was bad enough that I elected to try to manage without medication.

This is not the right answer for everyone. What works or does not work for me is specific to my circumstances. I'm not a doctor. I would never make recommendations regarding management of mental illness with or without medication. That's between you and your doctor. I'm just sharing my journey.

I elected not to medicate. I experimented with supplements. HTP-5 for a while, and then I switched to Sam -E. Neither of them really made a huge difference, and the difference I thought I felt could very well be attributed to the placebo effect. I thought it should work, so my brain was all, "Yes! This is working!" Until my brain was like, "I'm actually not sure this is working."

So I quit taking supplements. I read a lot about depression. I read that sugar is a drug and takes your brain on a roller coaster of a journey that can contribute to depression. So I cut down on sugar. ( I really love cake, so I really cut down on daily sugar consumption, so I can still have cake when I want cake. Because cake is life.) 

I read that processed foods can contribute to depression, so we eat fresh food as much as possible now.

A friend commented that my caffeine intake was high and that caffeine could contribute to anxiety, so I cut back on coffee.

When the cloud over my head gets too dark, I make sure that I'm seeing my therapist. I paint. I write. I try to work through it. I try to get out of bed.

My therapist suggested I get my thyroid and my vitamin D levels tested, so I did that. My thyroid was fine, my vitamin D was super low. I take Vitamin D religiously, now.

I'm triggered by social situations, so I'm very careful about which ones I attend, and truthfully, I rarely attend anything.  I don't force myself to attend events I feel really anxious about. I know my brain. It's not going to just be magically ok when we get there. When I do attend anything, I try to have a buddy system - going by myself generally turns out badly. 

I exercise because exercise creates endorphins and endorphins make your brain happy.

Facebook became a trigger for me. I had read that social media could contribute to depression and I felt like that was becoming a factor for me, so I've taken myself away from that for a bit.

My point is, even when I look like this:

...I'm still fighting depression. I make choices every day that are designed to keep my brain as healthy as possible. I'm vigilant about it. And my husband knows all of the details, so that if I start to slip, he can talk to me about what I need to stay on task. On the days that I can't fight the dark cloud, he can hold my hand through it, and check in with the steps I'm taking to stay safe.

Depression doesn't look like something. It's a funny little beast that hides in our brains, and if you don't live in our brains, you can't see it. So you don't know what it looks like. And you don't know what it doesn't look like. Today, I am sunshine and rainbows and big smiles and life is good...but I'm still fighting. I'm always fighting. And it's important that people know that, because I have all of these coping mechanisms in place (reduced sugar, lower caffeine, limited social engagement, physical activity, etc.) that I need people to respect. And when the beast shows up, sometimes out of the blue, I need people to know what's going on, because I need a support system. I'll need help.

And I bet you know someone like me. Or you are somebody like me.

So here's to the fighters, who may or may not look like they have depression. I see your beast, even when she hides. Let's be vigilant. Let's keep fighting. Let's ask for help when we need it, and hold the hands of others when we're able. We're all in this together. We'll just keep going. Together.

Happy New Year and Stuff!

It's New Year's Eve.

This is the time when we make all of the promises, to ourselves and to others, about how much better we're going to be, because right now we are not good enough.

I mean, that's basically what a New Year's Resolution is, right?

How can I be better than who I am right now.

I was thinking about going into the New Year and how much my life has changed over the last year and the thing is...

I'm good.

I don't have any resolutions. For the first time in a really, really, REALLY long time, my soul feels light. My heart feels open. My mind feels peaceful.

And this is why:

I needed help and I finally asked for it.

I left facebook and turned off all of the noise of one thousand people's opinions about absolutely everything. I quit shoving my opinions about absolutely everything at one thousand people who probably never really cared.

I realized that I care far too much about what other people think and that I should definitely stop doing that. Because the things I worry about constantly are not things that most people care about, anyway. 

I stopped feeling obligated to make sure everyone else was ok and started making sure that I was ok.

I love people. So much.

I got a bunch of plants!

I mean...I just overcame the last hurdle to this peace something like two days ago, so by no means do I have this locked in.  The thing is - I have been anxious and sad and overworked and stressed and trying too hard and traumatized and freaked out and depressed and holding it in for most of my life. Who am I if I'm not that girl?

And as an artist, how do I transition from all of that pain to this...peace? And will anyone care?  How do I keep connected without all of this darkness?

I got scared, you guys. I've been embracing my love of color and make-up and music and laughter and joy and solitude and I had this moment where I thought...no one is ever going to take me seriously again.  I'm this weird mash-up of "bring me all of the joy and let me love you  and everything is amazing but also, please stay away from me because I get anxious and depressed and I don't like to be around people."

And then I said "fuck it."  I don't care.  I can't constantly try to keep shifting everything around so that everyone else is comfortable.  I can't hang out with people all of the time and pretend that I totally love social events when in reality I fucking hate them. I can't pretend I don't like rainbows and make -up and mythical creatures and bright red lipstick and crazy hair and cake with sprinkles just because some random person might not take me seriously. I can't not feel what I feel or not be all fucked up and weird because I just am fucked up and weird.

I've been so tired. But now I'm rested. Now I'm here. I think I'm ready to be me. Finally.

I'm excited to enter 2017 exactly like this.

Happy New Year. Whatever it brings you, I hope it includes peace and joy and happiness, a couple of mythical creatures and at least one slice of cake with sprinkles. You deserve it. And if you're a fucked up weirdo, I hope you embrace it. And also, I'd probably like to be your friend. From a distance. Because you're people.

The choices we make to stay healthy

Someone recently got really, REALLY angry with me. As part of their anger they told me how absolutely fucked up I am, how I'm crazy, how I have so many problems with so many people and I am surely seeing a doctor and medicated because of all of my crazy.

This person actually doesn't know me that well.

But they've read my blog.

I worry sometimes about what I write on here. That showing the world my struggles and insecurities and flaws could completely blow up in my face. That it could be used against me and that perhaps the safest course of action is to just post some recipes and talk about dogs and going to the gym.

I'm not really that great at taking the safest course of action. Ships are safe in harbor but that's not what ships are for and all...

And besides, the "me too" is too important. If I pretend that nothing is wrong, then that encourages other people to pretend that nothing is wrong, which encourages shame, which encourages "fear of people finding out what's 'wrong' with me," which depression and anxiety actually feed off of and then nothing is wrong with anyone but everyone is actually miserable.

It's totally unhealthy.

So here's what's 'wrong' with me right now: I am, once again, really uncomfortable around people. I've just been waking up more and more lately and thinking...I can't. A little depression, as well.

I'm ok in small doses. Work is fine. I can still go to the gym. I can function. But things that feel a little more social are...no. And I've pinned it down to "not enough." Which I've traced back to social media.

I don't think it's any secret that I want to save everybody, all of the time. And that that sort of thinking has taken me to some really unhealthy places.

The thing about an election season is, it makes you pay more attention to the world. At least that's what it did for me. And the world is hurting. And if you are the type of person who veers towards thinking you can save everybody, all of the time, then more exposure to a hurting world can take you to some really dark places. Some deep sadness. Some hardcore feelings of inadequacy. Of not being enough. It can lead you to ignore the hurting and struggles in your own life, because there is always someone who is suffering more.

Because you have friends who care about refugees, about Aleppo, about Standing Rock, about foster kids, about kittens, about dogs, about the homeless, about the mentally ill, about veterans, about child trafficking, about addiction, about Planned Parenthood, about marching on Washington, about climate change, about the ACLU, about the NAACP, about poverty, about immigration, about hunger and why aren't you doing something about all of that? All of it. And more. Why?

That's what it feels like. Like...LOUD. And that I am not doing enough. And I start to abandon what's needed in my own life because I am so consumed with the struggles of others and it is a spiral downward...it is being on the plane and running around frantically trying to save everyone while neglecting to put my own oxygen mask on and in the end, saving no one...not even myself.

So the choice that I'm making now to stay healthy and to do real good is to withdraw from all of that noise. To acknowledge that the world is hurting, but that I cannot save the world. I'm one person and I have limited resources, both financially and mentally. I have chosen something that I feel will be the best use of my resources, and that is what I'm committing to. And in order to keep myself focused, I need to shut out the rest of the noise for a little while.

It doesn't mean I don't care. It doesn't mean I don't love. It's just... I can't do anything if I'm not healthy, and I can't be healthy if I can't focus. We can care about people, but we are not the saviors of the universe. We are not Superman.

So I'm taking a 90 day...thing. I don't know what it is, exactly. A cleanse? A sabbatical? It's kind of like Eat, Pray, Love except I can't actually afford to do that sort of thing so I'm just going to take this journey in my house and in my mind.

A while ago I posted something on facebook about the desire to read real books more and to stop scrolling. And then there was this election and I was the queen of the scrollers. Facebook was my home. And so I've realized that I can't just taper down my time on facebook. It has to be eliminated. At least for a little while (My personal page. The Hey Lola page is still active).

That's the first thing. The next thing, which I've been working on for the last two weeks, is to reduce the amount of stuff I have. Too much stuff is also noise. I'm reducing the noise.

And after that...I don't know. We'll see where the road takes us. But as always, I'm proud to acknowledge what's wrong, to say "this part of my life is kind of fucked up right now and I feel inadequate and sad" and to then take steps to get my brain to a healthier place.  There's nothing wrong with that.

There's nothing wrong with being human. There's nothing wrong with seeking help. There's nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and there's nothing wrong with talking about your struggles. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Marriage. Election. Divorce.

Once upon a time, I married the wrong guy. At the time, I did not know he was the wrong guy. He probably didn't know I was the wrong girl. We got married and we thought it was right.

We got married and we moved to LA and we had a cute little apartment and life was good. For about a month. And then, it quickly became apparent that this wasn't right.

Multiple things happened, and they were all very bad. But each time, we each thought, "we can make this work. We can make him/her understand me." And we would plow ahead...

And then more bad things would happen. Ultimately, we were not the same. We could not make the other see things the way we saw them, because we didn't think or see anything the same. We each carried our own moral compass, and each compass pointed us in vastly different directions. And each of us was quite sure that the other was crazy.

Our marriage died quickly...but also...somehow...painfully slow. I can still vividly recall each dying gasp for air and the last few weeks where I pounded on its chest and tried to breathe life back into it and I was SO SURE that I could fix this.

I can fix this. I'm smart. I'm caring. I work really, really hard. I can fix this.

Holding the shards of our marriage in our hands and ten different kinds of glue and thinking, "I just need the right combination. I just need to hold it together a little longer so that it has time to set. I can fix this. It will be ok."

And then...finally...in our marriage therapist's office...

I looked at her...and I knew. I broke down and sobbed and she asked me what was different what had changed what was I feeling and I said...

"I can't fix this. And I don't know what to do."

I feel that way today. About this country. About this home that I love. About the people I love. About myself. We each carry our own moral compass, and each compass points us in vastly different directions. And each of us is quite sure that the other is crazy and cruel and heartless and selfish.

I can't fix this. And I don't know what to do.

Politics...sort of.


I'm probably a lot calmer and optimistic than a lot of my liberal friends right now.  And several of them are very confused by that. And I get it. But my recent experiences have given me a really unique view into how people think and how, ultimately, while they might care about you, they will not sacrifice their self interests to serve what many of us consider the greater good.  They just won't. And that's a hard lesson to learn, but I believe it's a fact.

And here's why:

A few years ago, I owned a pretty popular bar.  People often commented on how inclusive we were and how they felt safe in the space that we had created. Some of our customers suggested we get involved in the neighborhood, so we created a community association and planted a garden and cleaned up trash and eventually started raising money and turned it into a 501c3.

Life was good.

Shortly after we opened, a couple of other businesses opened in our neighborhood. They said that they supported the work that we were doing. They did not show up to our community association meetings or garden plantings or clean-ups (save for 1 of the businesses, a few times out of the 5 years that we held them), but they verbally supported our work. Once, one of them donated something that they had no use for, that ended up being useful to us. So life was still good.

And then politics.

One of the newer businesses wanted to put new signs up and down our street and they wanted to choose everything about the signs. Some other people, myself included, wanted the signs to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood and include long standing businesses AS WELL AS newer businesses in the decision making process.

It got ugly. And local politicians got involved. And ultimately, the newer business just wore us down until we finally threw up our hands and said, "whatever."  And they put up their signs.

Throughout this process, one of the newer businesses said some really terrible things about me. That I was a thief. That I turned a bunch of local businesses into governing organizations to try and get them shut down. That I was a giant piece of shit. That I gave myself more credit than I deserved because really, I didn't do that much.

It was emotionally devastating. So, of course, I was emotional about it. So then I was just this emotional, hysterical woman who needed to calm down and relax and let things go. People distanced themselves from me because, as it turns out, you're not much fun to be around when people are trying to destroy your life.

Then, another newer neighboring business who we were friends with, jumped on the bandwagon and told most of our mutual customers that I was a piece of shit who had turned them into governing organizations to try and get them shut down. Like the other things that had been said, this was 100% not true. And this one hurt worse than anything else that had happened. I had actually volunteered at this business and tried to help them on the road to success. I literally got on my hands and knees and scrubbed their floors. It was a blatant lie that I had turned them in and they offered no proof, but the rumor persisted and the business owners wouldn't even talk to me about it.

Now - some of my "friends" stuck by me through this. To my knowledge, only a couple of them were willing to defend me publicly, due to not wanting to get involved in the "drama." But as time passed, many of them forgot or just didn't seem to care that two neighboring businesses had engaged in activity designed to put us out of business.

And ultimately, our business suffered. And so did my health. And we closed our business.

This is the edited version of events. In truth, it lasted nearly two years, was devastating on an unimaginable level, led to me nearly killing myself and took a whole lot of hard work to recover from.

So you would expect that your friends would not support businesses that engaged in such terrible behavior. That they would take a stand on your behalf.

But, the thing is...no.  If it doesn't affect them negatively and those businesses are the place to be on First Fridays and First Sundays, then that is where they will be. And you will constantly see pictures of them in these places on your facebook timeline. And they will invite you to events at the very businesses who were directly responsible for some of the worst years of your life. And you will drive up and down the same street every day and see those new signs and remember how the people who put them up said that this community didn't matter. And the next day, you will see members of the community who don't matter embracing the very business who said that they don't matter.

No one cares. And there are no repercussions.

This is true. This is how people think. This is how they act. They may care about you, but they will always take care of themselves first. If taking care of themselves first might hurt you, they're still going to take care of themselves first.  If someone does really terrible things to someone that they care about, but overall the person "isn't that bad," then they are probably still going to support that person.

And in this election, that's what 1/2 of America did. They took care of themselves and those closest to them first. They discounted the terrible things because of the good things they saw. And I don't like it, but I now understand that that's how people think. So really...this isn't as shocking to me. I learned my lesson in the hardest way possible.

And there are those who would say, "well, this isn't the same thing. Don't make excuses for people. You weren't in danger. No one was beating you up or spitting in your face or threatening to kill you."

And that's true. That's not what my experience looked like. What my experience looked like was an artist organization bullying me online and calling radio stations to tell them I had no right to be on the air. Paying visits to neighboring businesses and telling them to stay away from me. People calling me a thief and a liar. Losing business so fast that we could barely afford to eat and pay our bills. Multiple doctors appointments to deal with the depression and anxiety and confusion. Missed work days. Weight loss. And finally, sleeping with a scalpel next to my bed every night just in case I finally got the courage to just kill myself.

The thing is, I'm actually better for what happened to me. It taught me to look at life differently. It taught me to stop putting my faith in politicians. It taught me to keep most people at a distance but to hold my tribe close. It taught me that no matter how deep your pain, if people can't empathize with you, they will more than likely believe you are over-reacting. It taught me that people will lie about you and that people will believe it, even without a shred of evidence to back up the lie. We live in an age where people get their facts from memes. Of course the lie is easier to believe.  Who wants to do the work to search beyond the image you're presented with?

I HATE that it happened, but I finally saw how people really are and figured out the person that I want and need to be. It strengthened my belief in personal integrity - that if you stand for something, you stand for it all of the way. So I love people better these days. And I'm a little more in tune with how they think. I'm not naive. I'm very careful with my heart and my hope and... I just see CLEARER.

Look - I wish that people I knew would have stood up for me and boycotted the businesses that hurt me, I really do.  Or tried to talk to them about what was happening or defended me. But I also didn't encourage them to. When they offered, I told them to make their own decisions. I tried to play it strong and neutral. I guess I was playing politics, too. And most of them chose to continue supporting those businesses and not get involved in any way. That's where the crowd goes, that's the routine, that's where their friends are, it's in their best interest to keep going and not make waves. No matter how much they love me and no matter how much it hurts, they're going to take care of themselves first.

That's the nature of people. I'm still friends with a lot of these people. I don't hate them. I don't think they're awful people. I don't think that they actually wanted me to kill myself. They just served their own interests over mine.

I don't like it...but I get it. And I get that that's what happened with most people this election. So I'm trying to practice empathy and understand people who I completely disagree with, rather than demonize them. Without a doubt, some of them are really terrible people. But some of them....they just did exactly what people did to me - they took care of their interests first. And if I can still call those people friends, then I can certainly practice empathy with conservatives. I can hear them out and share stories of the marginalized so that perhaps we can get to a point where we care for the interests of each other as well as ourselves.  I don't know how we get there, but I'm willing to do the work to try.

(photo via Peoria Journal Star)