Episode 20: Stumbling in Darkness

Let’s get naked about mental health!

In this episode, I’m, well, depressed. I’m stumbling through the darkness. It was really difficult to start writing the transcript. Nothing is popping, nothing coming to me. I have tons of material and was thinking I was just in a slump but then it hit me: I’m depressed. It’s not so bad.

My life right now is like Rocky III. Depression is usually like the first fight with Mr. T, Clubber Lang. Pretty much just taking a beating. Vicious, brutal, until you lay there on the floor hoping for the ring of the bell so the beating stops. This depression, I guess, is more like the normal depression? I feel like Rocky getting ready for the second fight, pushing at Clubber’s face with my glove.

“You ain’t so bad. You ain’t so tough.”

Ding.

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.

Aye, I got a lot to be depressed about. The Friday before uploading this episode marked exactly 70 days since I broke my ankle. You try sitting around and depending on everybody for 70 days with the doctor and physical therapist telling you that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

It’s been about six months now since I’ve been employed, and the job search continues to not go well. It’s been a struggle here and I’ve been lonely. I did learn I could get by on next to nothing but discovering that knowledge depresses me.

I reached out to all of my friends and family with a plea, a fundraiser. Begging for money. I reached out to the national association I founded to help others. The association rebuffed me, even punished me. The response from family was a few “best of luck’s” and some friends responded to the fundraiser but not enough, though I appreciate everybody who did. Where is everybody?

Like I said, the depression wants to push at me, push at my thoughts. Push my thoughts down darker paths. It fills me with questions that I do not like the potential answers to. It even alters the answers.

I read something from The Depression Project, something everybody listening to this should check out, that people don’t talk about depression because they don’t want to burden people that they care about. That’s a part of it.

Who really wants to listen to all of this crap?

But it is also about expectations. The depression tells me the old saying, “Have no expectations and you will never be disappointed.” Disappointment leads to that deeper depression. Reaching out, burdening people, and then not getting the response I need, is disappointing.

When cries for help go unheard, you learn to just keep them inside. As I have said, both the depression and life have taught me some harsh lessons that I need to unlearn.

Even this podcast is dragging me down–through the lens of depression. Are people listening? Am I being heard? Is it worth it? Is it a pushing outward to find something that is inside?

Posting the podcast is frightening. Is that why my job search is not going well? Are potential employers comparing my resume to my podcast and moving on to the next candidate that doesn’t talk about depression and mental health? That isn’t, well, nuts?  

There is just a twisting of the paths here, a convoluted thought process that I must be wary of, to dance along the depression without falling into the deeper depression. I’m not ready for that battle yet.

That battle is the Russian in Rocky IV. I need training first. But I do know now what I need to do. I have a trainer and people in my corner. I need to go into winter to find the strength and abilities to chip away and find my true self.

The self that people will not be afraid of or dismiss? The person that I showed everybody most of my life, including those closest to me? The person that thought themselves so alone when surrounded by people that..

This lighter depression can make things start to swirl. I just have to be careful of that funnel downward. Very careful. The questions piling up inside of my head push me down. Paralyze me. So instead of doing the things I need to be doing, the things I should be doing, I do nothing, which depresses me even more.

I can feel time compressing in on me, where the “now” becomes the past and the future. My world gets very, very small.

It even makes me forget the most important lesson I learned in life, as reflected in the opening to this podcast. This is not a battle. I’m not Rocky and depression is not Clubber Lang. Major depression is not the Russian.

I need to look on it with soft eyes, the softest of eyes, and remember.

No, it’s not a dragon to slay. I need to look upon it with soft eyes. I need to take a few steps backwards to gain some perspective. Or, in my case with the ankle, hop a few steps backwards. See the forest through the trees. The field.

In the field, I am doing pretty damn good and there is a lot of potential. I have a good friends and people who do understand. I’m expanding my professional network to people who do understand with organizations that I can be a part of and pursue self-actualization. I’m learning and growing.

I need to push away the self-doubt and the questions and focus on the confidence and answers. I need to get my Philly back.

But it is hard.

I need to focus on the fact that though it has been 70 days since I have been sitting here, I only have two more weeks until I can start walking again. The field, if I but start walking through it–or hopping through it–, is filled with potential.

Yeah, I’m all over the damn place here. Stumbling. I’ve started rewriting this a few times. It hasn’t gotten any better. This is my depression so I am going with it. A bomb went off inside my head. As you might be able to tell, it has to do with my ankle.

It was three weeks ago when I went to get the cast off. I was doing well, staying in good spirits, making videos, writing often, being productive. I was even being funny about it. I had enough to get by because I KNEW as soon as the cast came off, I would be fine. A couple weeks and I would be able to drive and start working again, fend of eviction.

I got the x-ray, praying the doctor would read it and say the cast could come off. A lot was depending on this. He read it, said everything was healing great, and cut the cast off. It had been seven weeks since I had broken my ankle. It was swollen more than when he put the cast on, and I couldn’t move my foot. I couldn’t feel my foot. The muscle had atrophied. I expected it, But I KNEW once I got moving again, everything would be fine and…

He then informed me I was halfway through, that I couldn’t put any pressure on the foot for another six weeks. He wanted me to do ten sessions of physical therapy in the next two weeks. Ten sessions I couldn’t afford, two weeks of Uber rides, six weeks of continuing to depend on others, two more months of rent…

If this was a video, there would be a cut scene to a nuclear bomb going off.

That was my brain. The depression. The moment that started the cascade of thoughts and questions. Everything shattered. I wanted to cry in the doctor’s office. Everything started swirling around me and I couldn’t think anymore.

I put on a good face, the front I would show everybody, thanked the doctor and said I’d be back for my next appointment. I made my way down and outside and ordered my Uber home.

I arrived home. It was about 2 in the afternoon. I went to bed and stayed there. Except for coffee and a little bit of food, it is where I stayed for a few days, trying to figure out what to do. I made a feeble attempt at begging for money again, reposted my fundraiser, reached out to a few people personally. Made a deal to get November’s rent paid.

Then, I started to move again. Not well, and my concentration was total shit, but I did start moving again and made it a point to eat. Then, I got the flu and stayed in bed a couple more days.

I did another podcast.

My concentration is still shit and my thoughts are swirling. I wonder if this is normal depression. It’s not the deeper kind, I think. No suicidal thoughts. No crushing weight. I can shrug it off for the most part and go about my day. I’m eating, and only sleeping a little bit more than normal. There is no swarm of hornets stinging me.

I think I get exhausted by the swirling thoughts, the inability to concentrate, so I lay down and fantasize about when this is over, when I am walking and driving again. I fall asleep to wake up a couple hours later to start the process over again.

Two more weeks, now, until the physical therapist said I can start walking on the foot again. I look at that. December 1st. I know I can hold off until then. I know I can keep busy and keep hacking away at things.

Let’s compartmentalize things and clear a path through the depression. It’s what I do when I can’t write. I organize my desk and my desktop on my computer. Clearing everything and putting everything away makes it easier to start making my way towards my goal.

Let’s get into the nuts and bolts.

–the depression is telling me not to, or at least not to write about it. That it is silly, stupid. Nobody wants to listen or read about this mundane crap. Nobody wants to hear about your boring struggles.

But isn’t this why I do the podcast? Isn’t this why I write? Just exploring things for the podcast, joining other groups and reading other posts have given me insights. The truth is I couldn’t care less if only a single person is listening. This is something I want to do, something I need to do, so I’ll keep talking.

A podcast is supposed to be about metrics and numbers. I’ll eventually learn how to figure it out or buy the software to do it for me. But this is something that is helping me.

The ankle has me bummed out, but I can move it a little more each day. It looks a little better each day. I’m not in pain and know I’ll be back to mobility in two more weeks, two more podcasts, and full mobility not too long after that.

In two more weeks, I won’t have to depend on everybody for everything anymore. I’ll be able to take my dog for a walk, make it to Cosco on my own and not have to depend on Uber anymore.

No, the job search is not going well, but a friend mentioned I may have to take a few steps back sometimes to move forward.

Orthodontics? Possibly. I know what I need to do now. I have to learn SEO, search engine optimization, maybe get certified as a life coach, organize my portfolio better, write some articles that are true journalistic endeavors to have in my writing samples.

A home. I have one waiting for me. I know that with November’s rent paid, I can hold out on getting evicted until I am ready to drive. A friend has an apartment waiting for me in Minnesota with a yard for Dani. It is a job rich environment. She even has some furniture waiting for me.

No, the fund raiser has not gone well but I know I also sucked at promoting it. People have their reasons for not donating. Everybody has their lives going on. It’s easy to miss.

The association I formed was a real disappointment, but it finally allowed me to sever an unhealthy relationship. I created some incredible friendships and will just take the positive with me moving forward. Knowing when to walk away continues to be a lesson I need to work on.

When the depression hits, I know I need to remember. When time and the world compresses in on me is when I need to push back. It makes me want to exist in a tiny moment and in a tiny place.

I know how big the world is. I know many people who populate it. I know how time works. When I get home, when I get stabilized, I know exactly what I need to do continue my journey. I know what I need to start doing and continue doing today. It’s just hard getting to the starting point some days.

I don’t know why I don’t. Even when the major or minor depression is not hitting, I just can’t seem to function the way I want to or need to. This is exactly where the question posed in the last episode comes from, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

I wanted to get into The Mental Health Triangle I spoke about, the path to self-actualization, and Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Today, though, I don’t know how. Today, I just want to beat the living hell out of myself so, instead, I turn away from everything. Instead of a photo album of my life and glimpses into my future, it becomes a snapshot of a life.

I know the snapshot is not a true picture. In no way can it encapsulate what I am or what I have done, but the snapshot is of me sitting in my chair, sipping coffee, and doing nothing.

I’ve spoken about it before, how I am very good at reacting. Reacting is what has gotten me through life. It is what made me an excellent business owner. As an orthodontic lab owner, a pile of work would come in and I would react to it. It would all get done and get done well. It would go out the following day. I would end the day invoicing everything, seeing a result.

I find myself reacting to the here and now, not future potentials. I’m sitting in my chair and have to wait. Have to wait for my ankle to start working again. Have to wait for a job offer and then the right job offer. Have to wait for the right thing or person to come along. I wait for the things that I need, instead of going after what I want.

This is where, if I allow myself, I can break out the cat of nine tails and really start beating the hell out of myself. I can hear the sound of the leather unrolling, the iron tips scritching against each other.

What the hell is wrong with me?

I’ve had 70 days in a chair and far too much time on my hands. Yes, I take my meds each day religiously but that is as far along the Mental Health Triangle I’ve gotten.

There are three books to be written, articles to write, websites to work on. Hell, I could have been an SEO expert by now. I could have packed my portfolio with work that would have wowed any potential employer.

There are things I know I could have done about the self-care part of the pyramid that I have ignored. Meditation and simple exercises.

Psychology, or therapy, the third side of the pyramid, is beyond me right now because I’m counting my pennies, but it is something that I have ignored most of my life anyway.

I sit and I wait. What the hell am I waiting for?

Reaction vs action.

Maslow’s pyramid of needs. I think that is one of the things that has gotten me into trouble all my life. Pyramid of Needs or Hierarchy of Needs. If you don’t know it, it was a paper that was published in 1943 and outlines what motivates us.

It is, well, a pyramid. Go figure. At the base is things like food and shelter. You move up the pyramid towards love and self-esteem and then further up towards self-actualization and transcendence.

I feel as if I have been stunted all my life trying to build the perfect foundation, meeting my basic needs. I build it and an earthquake comes along and shatters it, so I rebuild it better. Another earthquake. I’ve ignored the upper levels to concentrate on the lower levels. Knowing the upper levels existed, and that I could and should be reaching for them, make me depressed and ignore them.

My motivation has always been solely concentrated on that bottom level. Why?

That’s what made me a good business owner. As a good business owner, with money coming in, I could build the best, earthquake proof foundation ever made. But why can’t I apply that to other things that I want as opposed to the things that I need?

Yeah, I’m whining a lot. Bitching. Having a pity party. But this is the current snapshot of my life, of the depression. I know it will pass and I will get back to work on the books and the other things I need to be doing.

But this is also why I had such a great time on my path to self-destruction, when I knew I was going to commit suicide at the end. I could say the hell with the pyramid, couldn’t care less about the future, and gave absolutely no thought to self-actualization. All thoughts and feelings of depression faded into the background of the here and now. I was alive like I had never been before. 152 days on the road, only existing in the cities, towns and parks I was passing through, all of my senses alive.

The perfect foundation I had worked on building all of my life? I blew it up. Set explosive charges and allowed the pieces to rain down on me and into my bank account. I mean, screw it. It’s not like I needed it anymore. All I needed was my Subaru Outback, my credit cards and my life insurance policy.

It was only when I got back from Hawai’i, state number 50, with the journey over, and the knowledge that I wasn’t going to commit suicide, that I could feel the tidal wave of depression starting to build again. I’m kicking at the pieces of the foundation I had been building for 50 years and thinking, “ahhh, hell.”

It was time to start over. I knew, though, as I made my way to Texas to rent a house with the last of my money, that I first had to face down the Russian and take a beating.

The beating came. If there is a freedom in planning on committing suicide, the opposite is true when you don’t follow through. I was screwed, in the corner, and could do nothing except allow the punches to come. There was no “ding” to end the round. The only ending would be the depressive tidal wave to pass or for it to sweep me into oblivion. I had decided against oblivion, so just had to wait.

A snapshot with a broader focus.

I just hung onto the pieces I had picked up along my travels that might need to hope and health.

I took what I learned to Tijuana. I didn’t want some grand, impervious foundation anymore, just a place to start looking at the pyramid and motivations. A bed, a place to set up my computer, an income. That’s it. And I did start stumbling in the right direction. Well, kind of sort of in the right direction. I still have a lot to learn.

Then, I broke my ankle.

What can you do?

It is so, so, easy for the depression to tell me to do the wrong things. So easy to stumble along in the darkness. I can take a positive from this though. There was no tidal wave. No swarm of hornets. There was a bout or two with the gnats. There was the question, “what the hell is wrong with me.”

But there is direction. And hope. There is hope every morning I wake up and am excited for the day to begin. Excited about sipping that cup of coffee. The darkness swirls with the thoughts but I know it is a passing thing.

And that is a wrap for the episode.

Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Learn and follow the better paths.

Aloha.

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