Episode 15: The Anatomy of a Slide

Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.

Let’s get naked about mental health!

In this episode…a friend gave me a much-needed kick in the butt. I was sinking into the depression again without even realizing it. I caught it in time. It is much like those big slides at amusement parks. They start with the slight decline and then you hit the steep part. Instead of a “weeeeeee!” though, it is…well, not so fun. I was still in that slight decline.

Before getting into the episode, the important stuff: I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.

If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. In the United States, there is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.

I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 in the US will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.

Now, let’s get into the episode.

How the hell did that happen?

I did not even realize it, but the depression had gotten me. I was even thinking the opposite. Shit. It took a friend reaching out to me to make me realize it.

An old friend is helping me out with my book, editing it. She sent me pages on Wednesday. “I’m all over this,” I thought to myself, as I opened the email and downloaded the attachment.

Then, nothing.

On Friday, she reached out to me again. “What’s going on?”

“…I sent you those pages on Wednesday,” she wrote, “and you should have been finished reading. Just read them and if anything jumps out, we will discuss. Again, the priority is those pages. 

I think you have some sort of block with the book because we keep going back and forth on the same things and I don’t think your energy is in it. You seem scattered. What’s going on?”

She was right, I realized: I was scattered. I am grateful for all that she is doing for me and always reply instantly to her texts and emails. I drop everything and get right to work. I’ve been waiting for this next edit as it marks the halfway point of the book. I had opened the file, quickly scanned through for comments and highlighting, and then…nothing.

I am not even sure if I closed the document or not.

I explained to her what is going on.

“You’re right,” I wrote back. “I’m actually getting it done right now. I’m seeing a few things and adding notes. Not many. 

The anxiety is kicking into high gear. My fundraiser helped but I’ll be out of money soon. I’ll have to get on the road before I’m healed and I’m worried about it…I’m not sure what to do about me, my dog or my stuff. 

My mind tends to start shutting down. Sorry. I needed the kick in the pants. I’m focused now and getting it done. And getting it done right…”

She replied back that if I needed some time, that was okay, that she would just continue on the next section.

“Seems like you have your hands full,” she wrote. “Why don’t you solve what you need to solve and pick the review up when you are calmer. I know, money issues are the worse. 

No sense in concentrating on the book when your heart is not in it. I will continue editing from where I left off when I have more free time. And you’ll just check two edits at once. All will be well.

Don’t worry about going into what has not been edited. I’ll handle it.”

That’s when it hit me. I was sliding into the depression again. She even offered me a way to gracefully slide deeper in.

“Oh no,” I wrote back. “I’m all over this. I’m having fun! It’s what fulfills me and keeps the depression at bay. I just needed to refocus. I’m about a third through the edit now. But I do need to nap because I’m exhausted from waking up at 3.   

I’m calm. My heart is 100% into it. I needed to get my head to follow my heart and it jumped on the bandwagon finally.

I’m LOVING this. I’d continue but want to sleep for a little while so I’m clear. I ran into an issue with the Ft. Benning info and started to stumble with the edit. 

This is my norm now. Sleep from 11-3, get to work, sleep from 9-12, make breakfast for me and Dani and then get back to work. Maybe nap another hour in afternoon. 

I can guarantee 100% of my best effort. After a nap…”

I was still a bit scattered, ran into some issues with exhaustion because I am not sleeping well, but I did get it done and back to her.

That scattered feeling is one of my first signs that the depression is coming on. It is tough to recognize though. I am at work on a half dozen different projects, working on things to promote myself, my resume, my podcast and…

…I found myself on dating apps and wasting time having conversations with fake accounts on Facebook Messenger.

I didn’t even get to work on this, the podcast script.

The book and the podcast are what everything else is about, it is what fulfills me and keeps me going. They really do make me happy. They fulfill me. They are what have added purpose to my life again.

But let’s back up. (I’m not allowed to do that in the book, start a story in the middle and then jump back to the beginning. Here, I think it’s okay.)

I broke my ankle. I wish I had a good story for it, but I was just walking my dog in the morning rain. That bothered me. After all of the shit I have been through including train wrecks and natural disasters, I break my ankle walking in the rain.

I talked about how I’ve been having fun with it. I’m under doctor’s orders to not do anything except sit on my ass (which inspired The SOMA Chronicles–Sitting on my Ass Chronicles) and had me graduating from Instagram and Facebook to TikTok.

It really could not have happened at a worse time. Money issues, or lack thereof, have always been a trigger for my depression. Asking for help is another one of my triggers. The ankle had me facing both.

I had overstayed my time in Tijuana. It’s a long story that I cover in a previous podcast. I had already had to reach out for help to get me through September. But I had a plan to start adulting again which included a move back up to Philadelphia for a while where I could start working again.

A few days before I was about to leave, I broke my ankle. I can’t go anywhere until the end of November.

I have never been in this situation before. I am completely dependent upon others. For everything. Some bruised ribs even made it more difficult at first as it made using the crutches impossible. And, I had to start begging for money.

It killed me inside, but I posted a fundraiser. I needed rent, medical and living expenses until I could start working again.

I think that is when the depression started trickling back in, when I started that slow decline on the slide. People reached out, contributed. I was embarrassed, but grateful. The embarrassment put me on the rug to the slide. The people not responding were the push to get me started.

Bitterness and a touch of anger, that should not be there, started intruding into my thoughts. And a song. I made a video–that was pulled off of TikTok for copyright violation. I told myself I was just having fun with it. That I can’t be bitter or angry for people not helping me.

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Eric Clapton became a bit too popular for me.

Aye, I’m human. I’m not perfect. I work at it every day but what can you do?

Once I lived the life of a millionaire
Spent all my money, I just did not care
Took all my friends out for a good time
Bought bootleg liquor, champagne and wine

Then I began to fall so low
Lost all my good friends, I did not have nowhere to go
I get my hands on a dollar again
I’m gonna hang on to it till that eagle grins

Cause no, no, nobody knows you
When you’re down and out
In your pocket, not one penny
And as for friends, you don’t have any…

I know that’s not true. I have a huge net of friends and family and people who love me. But the depression begins to warp reality. I guess I began to wonder: where the hell were they?

And the bitterness began to intrude as well. It’s not healthy, it’s not me, but I’m human. I’ve always said to give without thinking of getting anything in return. I never loan money. I give it if I have it and don’t if I don’t. I always gave until it hurt, and then beyond…but I’ll get into that one when I finally get around to discussing unhealthy boundaries.

I gave freely of my time and money to anything and everything. It is only recently I began pulling back. But I did have to start wondering where everybody was?

The fundraiser got off to a quick start, but then slowed to a trickle and then stopped. I got October covered, but November is creeping up on me.

The rational side of me knows that everybody has lives, they haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve spoken to some friends who never even saw my posts about my fundraiser.

I know that that is a part of the depression. I start overthinking things, takings things personally that are not personal. And having not much else to do besides sit on my ass gives me far too much time to overthink things. It is almost like a paranoia begins to set in. Why are people against me? Things begin jumping at me out of the shadows.

The right way to think about things, as I have mentioned, is people have lives. Hell, I’ve gone years without talking to friends. It’s comfortable kinds of friendships where we slide right back into where we left off, catch up, and move forward.

Facebook posts? How many do I miss? How many do I pass on? Because of my feelings about asking for help, I have not been very good about advertising the need for help.

Nobody is against me. Nobody has abandoned me. Just like I never was against or abandoned anybody else.

But the depression makes the specter start to loom.

Bitterness really started to kick in when I tried to post about my situation with the national association that I founded to help small labs. They would not even post about it. It went against their new rules.

That just pissed me off. And made me feel rotten all at the same time. I chose to do things and I own everything I did, all of the consequences of my actions. Yes, it was the unhealthy boundaries that made me pour myself into that association, all the time and money, but I did it to help, not to get anything in return. But I had personally allowed posts from small labs in trouble that needed help.

Looking back now, I can see how all of the things combined to push me into the depression. The feelings of abandonment, the bitterness, the anger, and the guilt of asking for help and the guilt over the anger. I was on the rug on the slide and then the feelings pushed me, so I started that slow decline.

The depression started whispering to me. No, “wheee” as I began the slide, but a “you are alone and need to do what you have always done. Figure it out. Isolate. Retreat. Escape.”

Lack of sleep was not helping either. That had nothing to do with the depression. I am able to fall asleep easily. Staying asleep is the issue. It’s the cast. But I have learned that not getting enough solid sleep drastically effects my mood. And there are a few hundred studies that support me.

I’m going about my day, doing everything that I can be doing, telling myself I’m doing well, but the depression was sinking its claws into me again without me even knowing it. I started missing beats, my thoughts scattering. My 100% productive days started being filled with diversions and trouble concentrating on particular projects.

Resumes were going out every day. Wasn’t that enough?

No, it’s not.

I know this. This is truth. This is the truth I discovered not too long ago. I need to be pursuing a purpose. I need to be working on self-actualization. I need to be working on the projects and videos that get me beyond the day to day.

What’s there to binge watch on television? How about that stupid ass dating app again that I hate? Where the hell was everybody? Without realizing it, I started slipping into escapism.

But I’m fine. That’s what I told myself. We can rationalize anything. Even as the resumes began to trickle off, I’m still fine. Aye, the hundred or so I put out there will produce something–ignoring the fact that even if they did it was too late to help with my current situation.

Scattered, I froze. Time froze. It became about my ankle, recovering, healing, and making it through the day until I could go to bed again. But time doesn’t freeze. The days of the month are ticking down. My bank account is trickling down. I ignored it.

Until my friend kicked me in the ass.

Getting kicked in the ass is a good thing when you have depression. But I had to jump on it. She gave me options. She even gave me ways out, would have allowed me to sink into the depression, maybe hit the steep part.

When dealing with any kind of mental health issue, from depression to addiction, there is a fine line between helping and enabling. It is not my friend’s job to be my personal coach. That’s my job.

That’s why I stress about that base of my mental health pyramid: the self-help (episode 5). The small things we need to be doing each and every day to help ourselves out. I can’t do much with a broken ankle, like my walks, but I can still do some things like mediating and staying away from the useless conversations. I can continue the resume barrage as I put more pieces of my projects into place.

And I have to keep begging because that is my reality.

I want work. I want to start adulting again. I’ll accept charity, because I must. But I know there is a point if I hit it, where I’ll say, “stop, enough.” I know the line between helping and enabling. I know it well because I crossed it from the other side many times.

I did stop adulting. Long story. I went looking for oblivion and found that I needed work/life balance. I forgot about the work part. Yeah, home runs are nice. The long ball. But it’s the singles that win the game, get you through the day.

So, with my butt hurting–it really is hurting from sitting so much–I slowed the descent. Stopped. And am now making my way back up. Have you ever tried making your way up a slippery slide? It’s a pain in the pass–I’m not asking for pardon for that pun.

I do need to regroup a little bit. Tuesdays, when I upload these podcasts, I give myself off. That is kind of necessary. As much as I enjoy doing these podcasts, they drain me, so I leave my mind to wander and recharge.

So, what the hell do I do? What would you do?

First, don’t do that. –I really have no idea what that line means from Good Will Hunting but I’ve always wanted to use it.

Second, I have to take some steps backwards. Whether I wake up at 3 am or 4 am or 7 am, I need to go back to an old routine: making my way to the mirror while the coffee brews and giving myself a choice: be happy or be miserable.

It’s a tougher choice than you think. Being miserable is easier, far easier. Being bitter and angry, being paranoid and abandoned, being guilty is far easier than starting to think right. It’s a comfortable feeling, an easy one, like following ruts in the road. The easiest thing to do is allow myself to slip down that slide, hit the steep decline, and stop thinking about anything and everything.

I need to start choosing each morning what I have been faking each day, to be happy and productive, strive towards my goals and purpose.

I don’t think there is much I can do about the sleeping, but I am hoping that resolves itself when the cast comes off in a little over two weeks. I don’t have to sleep with the boot, do I?

I have to get back into my meditating. Mindfulness. It is especially important now that I can’t do yoga which allows a natural mediation and reach towards mindfulness.

I’ve already ended the useless conversations on social media.

Maybe Sara will talk to me? She was a personal coach I met in Seattle during my travels. She’s the one who taught me about the net, gave an idea substance, an architecture for my mind. She doesn’t give herself enough credit. She’s given quite a few ideas the architecture so people can have a symbol to hold onto in their minds, but she says they are simple ideas. I reply if it is so simple, how come nobody has done it before? But an affirmation, a reinforcement, would be nice. –I actually just stopped typing this up and texted her.

We are all connected, and the connections are like the strands in the net. The people the knots. The net is the safety net over that chasm–or, for the purpose of this episode, the barrier between the slight decline and the fall to the bottom.

My life has gotten quiet again. Another sign of the depression. It is time to recharge the speakers and get the tunes going.

It is time to continue that flood of resumes. In between, I need to work on marketing and SEO research to build my projects better.

I’m going to keep at the funny videos. It’s fulfilling for some reason. I have a whole other website, the original one, and a few YouTube channels I am trying to organize.

Next week, for the podcast, I want to do something that I have not done in a long time but have been promising myself I would do: be a journalist. I want to research and write an article. Most of the jobs I am applying for require writing samples. Some are specifically asking for translations of difficult subject matter into an easy-to-understand article. I know how to do it, but all of my clips are 25 years old. I’m getting it done.

What I am not going to do is isolate. I will not dwell in the negative thoughts. I’ll tell them to go away–It really does work.

Finally, I am going to keep talking.

And that is a wrap for this week’s episode. Next week? The new (and old) treatments for medication resistant depression. An article by yours truly.

Keep talking everybody.


PS. Sara texted me back. It was a simple text. She’s busy as hell. I asked for something simple, a minute or two of her time, a hello, to hear her voice. Knowing we are connected is different than having an affirmation. It’s not weakness to have need. She feels the same way. She called.

Be kind to yourself, everybody.

Once again, until next week, Aloha.

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