Depression feels like Pudding

Depression feels like pudding.

Thick, heavy pudding.

My body just feels like one gelatinous goop as I lay alone in bed on this empty Friday night.

Motionless, my muscles have failed me yet again.

My brain is mush and frozen on deciding what to do next.

…so I just lay there because I have to…

and the World feels silent as darkness creeps closer towards my door.

…hollow and meaningless my very existence becomes.

I forget how to smile,

I forget how to speak,

i forget how to cry,

numb to any thoughts, numb to any pain

there is so much suffering, yet none at all.

And I can only sense my Breathing

one breath after another,

after another.

up and down my chest goes.

ever so slowly…

up and down,

up and down.

It’s all I have at this very moment.

I think I’ll just hold onto that and call it my friend for tonight.

Jason

 

 

 

 

Can Depression be Sexy?

I used to work as a Food Developer for Western Canada’s largest poultry processor. I developed some great and tasty crispy fried chicken products not for the faint of heart. I was an encyclopedia when it came to poultry and I could list out a million things you can create with chicken, just like how Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump did with shrimp….“you can bbq it, boil it, braise it, deep fry it…and there’s chicken cutlettes, popcorn chicken, fried chicken, chicken cordon bleu, teriyaki chicken, chicken cacciatore, chicken souvlaki…you can pretty much make anything with chicken! I tell ya’ what…you get a chicken farm and we be partners…just you and me, fifty-fifty…”

The director of Sales in the company was quite an eccentric and brilliant man. He could recite his sales numbers like Dustin Hoffman could recite phone numbers in the movie Rainman. He also had such a unique sense of humor that only a mother could appreciate. One of his notable traits was his use of idioms and unique ways of looking at things. When a project was too daunting, he’d say something like, “it’s like straightening the deckchairs on the Titanic!”

When I presented him with an exceptional prototype of a chicken recipe, he would describe it like this: “You know that’s really good! That’s really sexy…”

…chicken? SEXY?!

At the time I thought his adjective was misused and out right fucked up. As years went by, I occasionally thought about it. I began to realize that how he used the word ‘sexy’ to describe chicken was simply a way to make something that was plain and ordinary into something more attractive, lively and desired.

Although having depression isn’t sexy, the topic of depression is everywhere…it’s in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, etc), news, websites, schools are starting to talk more about it, documentaries and even athletes and celebrities are openly sharing about their experiences with depression. You would have to be living in a basement somewhere if you aren’t involved in discussions about depression these days. It’s yesterday’s news if you think that talking about depression with your family over dinner is weird or scary. It IS sexy to talk about depression. It’s not a fad. It’s the real norm that society is slowly but surely embracing for the right reasons and before we know it, we will no longer need ‘to be brave’ to talk about depression.

Awareness and education also makes us less fearful of people who battle depression and replaces that fear with compassion. I recently attended a 6 week community workshop on how we can reduce the stigma in depression and one of the key takeaways was that we need to normalize it.

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I talk about my depression with my son from time to time. I talk about it with my friends and colleagues when there’s an opportunity to. I talk about it with my boss and sometimes with people I just met. I’ll make an appointment to see my counsellor Guillermo when I need to talk even more. I’ll talk about days when I’m feeling blue and wondering, “is this as good as life gets?”

Not very surprisingly, I’ve never been judged by any of them. I get an attentive ear, compassion and I always feel much better afterwards.

Not very long ago, I couldn’t do all this. I was uneducated about depression and I blamed my girlfriend at the time for having it. And little did I realize that I also suffered from depression. I shut down, buried myself in the darkest parts inside my head and I felt the consequences of it all in the form of anger, resentment and loneliness. There’s a number of things that helped me break that silent barrier (which I’ll get into in later blogs). But today, I just want to emphasize that if society did not begin to normalize depression the way it has in recent years, it would be an even bigger challenge for me to go through it and seek support.

Although you may not use ‘sexy’ to describe the topic of depression, I still believe I had some real sexy chicken recipes…“there’s chicken tandoori, chicken nuggets, rotisserie chicken, chicken and waffles…”

When to say no to Ice Cream Floats and a Lesson in Listening to your Pain.

I should have listened to my stomach…

I had a bit of a stomach ache tonight, but I still insisted on having this sweet and delicious root beer float after dinner. That rich vanilla taste melting together with the root beer is purely bliss. How could I resist? Sip after sip, spoonful after spoonful I fell into the temptation of this delicious treat until the last sticky drop was finished and the only thing that remained was an aching stomach and regret.

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If only I listened to my stomach. If only I listened to my body.

*

I can be hell frightening sometimes.

One fine evening many years ago, my girlfriend at the time and I were getting ready to go to a fundraiser at a local pub. It was a casual event but none the less we still did our best to dress up for the occasion which for me meant a nice hot shower, fresh boxers and a bit of mouthwash to freshen up my aging breath. Typically just before social engagements among strangers or people that I’m not so comfortable with, I have a tendency to do one or a combination of the following:

  • think about how bored, disinterested and nervous I’m going to feel during the event.
  • find reasons in my head not to go or create legit reasons to cop out.
  • shut down and not want to talk or do much throughout the day.
  • get irritable and start an argument, unrelated to the event.
  • pout and clearly show an icy and cold facial demeanor that’s filled with resentment.
  • blame everyone for my unhappiness.

Because it was a fundraiser that was put together by the school that my girlfriend worked at, this meant I wasn’t going to know anyone other than her, which meant that I would cling onto her like a new found puppy dog, minus the cuteness factor.

As I was showering, we started talking about the evening and my running mind began wandering aimlessly like a chicken with its head cut off. An argument ensued and my ridiculous thoughts ran wild fueled by my insecurities and fears that my girlfriend would run off with someone at the pub who was a million times more dashing than I was and as charismatic as Robert Downey Jr. Out of frustration, she finally turned around and sarcastically replied, “MAYBE I WILL!”

Like a fired up tiger ready to pounce, I ripped down the shower curtain and roared, “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

Frightened, she disengaged but I jumped out of the shower and pursued her while I was dripping wet. I continued to rampage on and on how she doesn’t love me and this is not what love is (which is ironic given that I was naked, wet and yelling at her about what love is).

Like a person who just sprinted a hundred meters, I eventually ran out of breath. We miraculously patched things up in an hour or so and eventually made it out to the fundraiser unscathed for the rest of the evening. But like all major arguments, it left a lasting scar that was irreparable.

…that was a scary ass story me to recount and for you to read I’m sure. Abuse takes many forms and in this case it was about subconsciously striking fear in the other person to ‘show them who’s boss’ so that they’ll back down and concede to what you tell them to do.argument-238529_1920

So let’s take some time to strip this down more (other than how I was an insecure fool).

Why did I do these things? Years later, I discovered the word ANXIETY. Say it with me…anx-i-e-ty…it’s a word that took some time for me to accept.

Anxiety is a feeling I get when my mind starts thinking too many steps ahead and trying to pretend that I’m Carnac the Magnificent. Have you ever thought about future events and what’s going to happen when things get dicey or uncomfortable? Like what’s going to happen if you’re late picking up your kids from school or if the laundry doesn’t get done? End of the world, right? This was a pattern I experienced prior to unfamiliar social engagements: Christmas dinners at my girlfriend’s parent’s house, her grandmother’s funeral, meeting her friends for the first time and the list goes on.

My problem was that my feelings of anxiousness got me all tied up with wandering thoughts of: Who am I going to talk to? What if no one likes me? It’s just going to be a bunch of people getting drunk and it’s not going to be any fun for me so I’d rather stay home and watch the paint dry on the wall rather than spend my evening with these strangers.

The tricky part for me was that I wasn’t aware of these wandering thoughts. There were so many and all of them going on at the same time, it became such a slushy mess in my head that it’s difficult to catch what was really going on. And when the anxiousness wasn’t getting properly managed, the uglies came out in the form of anger as shared in my story.

So here’s the trick I use these days whenever I notice some of that slushy discomfort in my head coming on like a fast and furious freight train. Now, this takes practice and even I still fall off the bike from time to time. I believe it’s a learned skill for people like me, yet a necessary one for my benefit. For some it’s more innate depending on several factors including upbringing and genetics (gosh, I envy those people!)

The trick is….wait for it…wait for it…

…feel your body…

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No, not touch your body…feel it! Using your mind, pay attention and feel what’s going on in there first. Don’t judge what’s going on, simply identify it first. Trust not in your thoughts and with what you hear sometimes because many times they can be misleading to the truth about yourself.

Step 1: Feel your body.

Growing up whenever my dad called me useless and worthless I heard those harsh words. After hearing those words, my mind and body shut down to everything else and simply stayed in a fixed mode that I was worthless. If I was able to filter out what he said which was only his perspective (and not the truth), I might have been able to recognize the bodily sensations:

  • heat in my face and neck (from feeling embarrassment and shame).
  • tightened chest and as if everything was rising to the top in an instant (also from feeling shame)
  • a scowl and tightness in my temples and brow (from feeling anger and resentment)
  • increased heartrate

So fast forward to the story about my rampaging argument in the shower. If I was able to freeze that moment in the argument and filter out the things my girlfriend said, I might have recognized my bodily sensations:

  • heat in my face and neck (from feeling embarrassment and shame)
  • a rising tightness in the chest (also from shame)
  • a scowl and tightness in my temples and brow (from anger)
  • increased heartrate.

See the parallels? My body is an early warning signal that something could go wrong if I don’t pay attention to it. Anger, anxiety, depression could take over if I don’t feel what’s going on in my body.

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Step 2: Connect the dots

My lack of self-worth reaches way back to my own self-belief based on how I was taught to see myself. In this case, I saw myself as worthless. As an adult I carried those subconscious beliefs that I’m worthless, so in a heated argument with my girlfriend (or whomever), I saw them as the people who once hurt me. In essence, I’m fighting back against the pain of once being called worthless even though my girlfriend wasn’t even saying those things.

Let’s look at it this way:

  • as a child I was physically, verbally and emotionally abused by my dad, mom, brother and uncles and aunt. As a child I didn’t have the capacity to express my anger. The pain got bottled up.
  • the pain doesn’t go away. Because I kept the pain to myself growing up, the pain kept expanding and expanding like a soda can that’s been shaken.
  • because I did not properly process the pain faced from my childhood, as an adult I reacted to triggers in unhealthy way, such as anger and withdrawal. But underneath the anger is hurt, pain, sadness, loneliness and fear that I wasn’t able to identify (anger is a secondary emotion to all these things).

Pretty deep stuff, right?

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Step 3: Identify and acknowledge the bodily sensations and find an “outlet”

When I start breathing and recognizing what’s going on in my body (the heated face, rising tension in chest, etc), I can slowly and gently take care of those bodily feelings first and foremost. Once I can spend a couple of minutes and start to say calmly to myself, “I can feel my face heating up, my chest is rising, my hearbeat is faster…”, I’ve begun to acknowledge my bodily feelings and I will soon notice a shift.

My primary focus has now become listening and paying attention to my body rather than the thoughts in my head. At this point, the thoughts that plagued my mind becomes secondary to what’s happening and that’s where I can keep it. The thoughts are there, but I now discover that I can rationally acknowledge and deal with them. They’re just no longer the priority. They’re just thoughts. Only ideas. They’re just there. It doesn’t mean they’re real or true. They don’t need to be judged as good or bad. They don’t need to be forced out or cancelled. It’s just what my brain is telling me based on some triggers I may have previously experienced in my subconscious. With a cooler head, talking about those thoughts becomes a lot easier and in a healthier way.

When I’m focused on my bodily sensations and not on the wandering thoughts, amazingly, the bodily sensations will eventually subside.

There’s a lot of ways I can find an “outlet” that will make it easier to manage those painful thoughts. It can be hard and I still struggle sometimes depending on how painful the thoughts are. I just have to remind myself that those painful thoughts won’t help the situation so there’s no need to allow them to stay with me. They’ll merely get pent up and cause the heat in the face, tightness in the chest and so on and so forth.

Here’s some examples of “outs” that I will share with you in future blogs:

  • 4 second breathing exercise.
  • meditation.
  • distractions (ie. sex, doing something fun like video games, watching a movie, cooking, gardening)
  • exercising.
  • taking a bath.
  • do a crossword.
  • listen or play some music.
  • phone a friend.
  • read.
  • comfort yourself by doing a combination of any or all the above.

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To summarize when an onset of painful feelings or an argument starts to come on:

  • Feel what’s going on in your body (heat, pressure in temple, heartrate). Pause there and be with your feelings for a moment. Your body is an early warning signal saying, “Alert! Pay attention! Things could get dicey if you don’t!”
  • Thoughts will become secondary once you’ve successfully felt your bodily discomforts. 
  • Connect the dots – what are some deeper reasons why you’re reacting the way you do?
  • Acknowledge the discomfort in the body by calmly saying to yourself, “i feel pain in my stomach or I can feel pressure in my head.”
  • Find an outlet – breathing, meditating or talking with a friend are great examples of outlets. At this point your thoughts may become clearer for you to further rationalize and talk about without feeling terribly overwhelmed.

It takes a lot of practice, but remember that it’s worth it in the end.

…and if only I listened to my body I wouldn’t have regrets of having that float.

Mind ourselves

“It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking that people are the sum total of what you see.” – Jonathan Tropper

Good morning everyone from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia! This is my very first blog and I’m really excited about this new project in life. What’s Solace all about you ask? Well, let me introduce myself first and start from the beginning. The backstory’s usually the most interesting part anyway.

Well as a starter, I’ve done some bad things in my life…

That’s right…I’ve done some bad things. For starters, I was once an abusive man in my relationships…buuut, before i get into that, let me start with a different picture.

Who am I?

…well, I’m that guy…

 …which guy?

That one…there.

I’m the guy you pass by at the supermarket buying his weekly supply of milk, eggs, chips and toiletries, standing in line waiting to pay while pretending not to look at what’s new in this week’s tabloid magazines. I’m the guy that might have smiled at you while holding the door open at the local Starbucks. The guy that was laughing and having a good time with his friends at the local pub watching sports highlights while downing a frothy wheat ale and polishing a greasy plate of nachos. The guy at the gym every weekday morning at 6:00 am grunting like he’s on his way to an orgasm with every shoulder press and burpee.

You see, unless we already know each other, I’m that guy you see everyday but don’t even notice at all. I have a great job as a Food Developer for over 20 years that has allowed me to travel across North America and Europe. I have a great apartment in the suburbs and a teenage son who I enjoy playing basketball and video games with. I dress business casual at work, otherwise in jeans and a plain old t-shirt. I like to exercise so I am moderately to fairly fit and I’ve run my fair share of 10 km runs and half marathons. I pay my taxes and I’ve only gotten two speeding tickets in my entire life (although one of them was technically running a red light). I’m 5’9″ and don’t have any visible handicaps or verbal stutters.  I don’t know how the US electoral system works, I can’t remember shit about what I learned in organic chemistry and covalent bonds, and I can’t tell you the difference between a lager and an ale, unless I Google it right now.

In short, I’m just the person next door living in a great big world making his way through life…kinda’ like you.city-1759377_1280A month after my 42nd birthday a hard reality started to hit me. My girlfriend of 3 years said goodbye to the relationship seeing that I was emotionally and verbally abusive to her. She was a lovely woman with a smile that I could spot through any crowded room. Unfortunately, I was a guy filled with insecurities, challenging her love 24-7 and in pain staking ways that no one should endure. However before all that, I’ve always known a few positive things about myself:

  • I’m romantic (I buy flowers)
  • I’m passionate (I buy flowers and include a card with it)
  • I’m thoughtful (I write something in the card)
  • I’m considerate (I’ll get them delivered)
  • And I’m pretty easy going (…that’s fine if it gets delivered on February 15th…)

Yet I also knew that I can be stubborn, very irritable and hot headed at times…wait a second…did I say stubborn, irritable and hot headed? (cue the comedic record scratch)

Fast forward through years of working with therapists, workshops and a ton of self help books, I eventually managed to explore and  learn more about myself and my triggers. Other than the sugary sweet and wonderful things that I already knew about myself, I learned that I was also a very angry, depressed, insecure, controlling and resentful man who hid behind a mask and pretended that everything in my life was working out wonderfully. It took a long time, a lot of work and courage to come to terms with myself. But once I was able to, the feelings were liberating. This of course is the Coles summary of the work I’ve done, thousands of dollars later and a million Stuart Smalley impersonations.

I’m a man with a great job, great home and a great kid who seemingly appears to have his shit together. Thus, appearances can be deceiving. The truth is that I battle depression and anxiety. I grew up in a household where I was physically abused to submission by my caregivers and was also a victim of bullying throughout high school. My older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a teenager and I’ve made some bad choices in my life including being abusive in my relationships, with family members and friends.

You wouldn’t know all this just by looking at me.

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So finally…what’s Solace about then? Is it about looking after our inner health? The answer is a resounding, yes. It’s about discussing everything that we do to take care of what’s inside of us from how we think, our challenges, our successes, what we eat, our relationships, exercise, our family histories and the list goes on.

It’s also about getting to know ourselves more and challenging each of us to be courageous and to acknowledge our difficult feelings and to take accountability instead of running from them. Sometimes our poor choices and actions can make it difficult to forgive ourselves but when we understand ourselves more, it can put things into context. And finally, Solace is about finding comfort and peace inside us. It gets messy inside our heads and bodies sometimes…so let’s take good care of that together.

I’m not a doctor nor therapist by any stretch. Heck, I’m not even Dr Phil for that matter. I’m just an every day guy hoping to reach out and inspire friends, families and people I’ve never met before with my stories of failures and successes. Stories from growing up in a punishing and abusive home, to how I furiously ripped down a shower curtain in front of my ex-girlfriend during a heated argument several years ago. I’ll share stories on how I got professional help and why that’s so important in a later blog about counseling.

Through my lifelong experience with abuse, shame, depression, anxiety and many more inner health struggles, I feel it is my purpose and goal to share my learnings with you. I’m hoping you’ll help me as well by relating and finding that ounce of bravery inside of you to share your experiences with depression, anxiety, childhood trauma or maybe you have been abusive and controlling as well and want to change but unsure how to take the first steps.

For those of us who are uncomfortable talking and reading about mental health, abuse and emotions…well just remember, I’m just like you. I have failed as many times as I’ve succeeded. We all have mental health struggles from time to time. It’s hard to feel it, it’s hard to believe it, but trust me, you have them too and strengthening the relationship with yourself can have amazing results where stress, discomfort and fear become manageable feelings instead of overwhelming ones.pexels-photo-208165

We can all benefit by openly talking about our struggles without judgment and stigma. There’s no shame in our struggles, only if we choose not to do anything about them and when our actions begin hurting ourselves and others.

Well, that my fellow readers is a snapshot of who I am and where I’d like to go with this! So come along and join me for some great stories and let’s get to know ourselves some more.

Cheers,

Jason

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Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon. Photo by Kristi MacFarlane Photography.