Episode 26: Breaking Down Reactions

I delve deeper into some columns that I wrote this past week to try and untangle depression from my life.

Dedicated Regina and Vivian, the first who asked the question that set me on the path to the answer and the second who provided a billboard to the answer.

I use Writer’s Block as an example. I realized that my life had unknowingly become writer’s block and show how the depression infiltrated every facet of my life. I know now and can begin the path to healing.

Freedom is still a journey ahead of me, healing, but I am taking the steps I need to take.

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

Let’s unmask mental illness!

The first podcast of 2023 and, hopefully, the last from Tijuana.

Yep, still stranded in Mexico. Long story. But I’ll be getting on the road before this podcast is actually posted. I hope. As you get this, I’ll be somewhere in the United States. It’s all about weather patterns now and sneaking into Minnesota behind the latest storm later in the week.

I’m still scattered. I did finally unpack my car but am about to repack it from the pile I have in my living room. I still have no idea what the hell I am doing or what to do–part of that longer story.

Since my belongings are still scattered, my thoughts are still scattered. I thought to myself, the hell with this episode, the hell with my streak, nobody would blame me if I skipped one or two weeks with everything going on. I decided, though, to keep talking, though, keep writing. Break down some of the columns I wrote and react to some things that I ran across.

For now, following the path from the reactions seems to be the best way to get on the path to my authentic self, but I’ll be getting into that later.

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.

Things tug at me. Thoughts and ideas push and pull at me. Some slap me on the back of the head. I’m reacting to the slaps. One thought just slapped me on the back of the head with the city of Chicago, wielded by an old, dear friend, Regina.

It was on a rooftop bar in Chicago in 2019 that I met with an old friend of mine from the University of Miami. It had been years since I had seen Regina, decades, but we quickly fell into our easy, comfortable relationship.

Regina has always asked me the best questions.

“Why,” she asked me at one point as we discussed life, “do you call yourself a PWS (person who stutters) but also a depressive?”

I think she knew the answer when she asked the question. I didn’t. I figured it out, though it took me a couple of years. It was not a matter of semantics, of wording, it was something deeper that I needed to figure out to really get on with my life. I think she knew this as well, and also knew I needed to figure it out on my own for it to cause an authentic change. She even gave me a hint, using both the stuttering and the depression.

A couple years later, I finally stumbled across the answer.

As identifying as a person who stutters, as opposed to a stutterer, it meant that I did not allow my stutter to control my life. It was something in my life, but just something that I dealt with like a bum knee or a broken ankle. Adjust and adapt.

There is no adjustments or adaptation identifying as a depressive, as opposed to a person with depression. By identifying as a depressive, I give it control over me, power. I think Regina knew this and was nudging me along.

I first wrote the following in 2014 in a piece I wrote about the death of Robin Williams when he lost the battle to depression. He did not commit suicide. He died from a disease, depression.

Depression is a disease.
Depression is real.
Depression can be treated.
You are not alone.
There is hope.

I wrote it many times. I think it was only in 2022 that it really started to sink in. Aye, what can I say? Some of the more unflattering adjectives that can be ascribed to me at times are stubborn, dense and resistant to change.

In 2022, though, my dear Regina, I think I finally shrugged free of the mantle of “depressive” and became a person who suffers from depression. I still have a long road ahead of me though. Now that I realize and understand, and accept, that I have an illness, I can begin untangling it from my authentic self.

It’s a start.

The first question of many to answer is “am I suffering from depression now?” I can say with absolute honesty that I have no friggin’ idea. None. I don’t know.

I talk about it in previous episodes (and write about in my book, hint hint), just as it is difficult for our loved ones to see the effects of the illness, it is just as difficult for us.

It is not a broken ankle with a cast wrapped around it. That is simple. The cast a visible sign. The swelling and pain I see and feel now a visible and tangible sign that something is wrong, and I need to work on things. The ankle is healed, but I spent a long time in a cast, a long time doing nothing but sit on my ass.

I did the doctor recommended exercise bike a few times. I wore shorts–a bad idea. My legs, side by side, look ridiculous. My left one is a monster if I do say so myself. It was what I used to hobble and roll around for a few months, doing the work of two legs. My right one is scrawny, like I had not eaten for those three months.

That’s depression.

I need rehab. There are parts of my psyche that are monsters. There are other parts that have not been fed and nurtured for decades. I need to balance the two.

This is where it get’s confusing. Where does the depression leave off and the need for rehab begin? Has the cast come off or is still on? The feelings and thoughts I have now? Are they the illness or are they the side effects of the illness? Am I still laid up with a broken ankle or am I stumbling through the swelling and pain of healing?

I really don’t know.

I’m guessing it is a measure of both.

See, that is the thing that so many people get wrong about depression and so many other mental illnesses. There’s a pill for that! Yes, I take mine regularly. Many people think since you are taking medication, it is like magic, or like aspirin for pain. Take the pill and everything is okay.

Doesn’t work like that.

I talk about it in a piece I wrote a long time ago, a hint that I gave myself back in college that was published internationally. Dysthymia: The Thief of Happiness. You can find the article by following the link if you are reading the transcript or you can find it on my website under “articles.”

Dysthymia is a low-grade chronic depression. You need to have it for two years before you can even be diagnosed with it. What does that mean? Yes, after diagnosis, you can begin treatment that will heal the damage, take a pill, but there is still the scaring of living that way for a minimum of two years. Imagine if you have a cast on your ankle for two years. My legs look ridiculous after three months. Imagine what my psyche looks like now.

Even if the depression is gone, I still need to figure out what to do about it, how to live that way. I still find myself hopping now when I don’t need to, still find myself favoring my left ankle. I was told that the swelling and aches could last for a year. I need to rebuild muscle and tendons. Imagine if I had had that cast on for decades?

I guess this is where a psychologist would come in handy, the mental health version of a physical therapist.

Depression is like cancer. Long term, untreated, it is like a cancer that metastasized, sending numerous tendrils to infiltrate, wrap, and choke parts of my psyche. It is going to take a while to treat.

The important thing, though, is realizing it is there, realizing and accepting what I have been writing all these years. The important thing is taking those first steps: admitting I was powerless over depression, the Universe could restore me to sanity and help me find my authentic self, and then decide to turn my will and my life over to the care of the Universe.

Aye, I can’t do this alone. I understand that. It is where the column that I wrote this week came from.

Perspective: Use it or Lose it

2022 was one of the toughest years of my life. It got downright ugly. I’ll make the jokes and share the memes on Facebook because they are funny, but I’ll also look back on 2022 fondly.

It was the year I was fired—twice. Completely ran out money—a few times and dipped far below the poverty level. Broke my ankle. Walked three blocks on the broken ankle with a half-trained dog in the most excruciating pain of my life. I was stranded in Mexico. Completely helpless. Had to beg. Totally fruitless six-month job search. And I’ve spent the end of the year waiting for management to come through on their word to return my deposit, so I have traveling money. My car has been packed since the 13th, all my life’s belongings with room to spare.

And those are just the things that are at the top of the list. I could go on.

If all goes well, I’ll be starting out 2023 on the roads in a snowstorm. 

What a great, awesome year!

I really began to find myself this year, after 51 trips around the sun. I started a podcast and found my passion for writing again. I met some truly wonderful people that have further blessed my life. I renewed contact with old friends and severed contact with unhealthy ones. I have purpose again, and within that purpose, I have found a measure of peace and happiness that I never knew existed.

It’s not a contradiction. 

It’s about perspective. 

Yeah, the depression kicked my ass on many occasions, and still is, but I have learned so much about it, myself and how it has influenced me. By learning about it, I have shrugged free from the hold it had on me. Well, I’m getting there. I now know the paths I need to travel. 

In 51 years, I have never had such an awful one, emotionally, financially and physically. In 51 years, I have never had a better one.

No, I am not one of those hippie type people. I’m definitely not the “turn the other cheek” type of person. The memes about appreciating what you have make me gag.

Through the lens of perspective, though, I find myself smiling at 2022. I really don’t understand it myself.

The only thing that truly bothers me about 2022 is the way I broke my ankle. After walking away from train wrecks, car accidents, hurricanes and other natural disasters, and many disasters of my own choosing, I broke my ankle walking my dog. It is just…boring. It is prosaic, completely in contrast to everything that I am.

There are some lessons in that as well.

But I am sipping my coffee, greeting another morning. No, it is not my Hawaiian Kona, but it is not all that bad. I am looking at another day of waiting, sitting in my chair.

Live aloha. Be aloha. Be excellent to each other. Be excellent to yourself.


My mission now, that I do choose to accept (Mission not so Impossible), is to learn depression, learn how it has infiltrated and altered me. I don’t need to fix what is broken (another episode–thank you Dr. Rani Bora), but I need to learn where those tendrils exist, dig beneath them, and find my authentic self. It is a journey, but perspective will keep me on the path, going in the right direction.


A lightbulb went off inside my head the other day. Things clicked. I’m seeing many “end of year” things. In my writers’ groups, there is a lot of talk about writer’s block and how to overcome it.

A very long time ago, I wrote about it.

In the short piece, “Foreword,” this is the opening paragraph:

“The concept of writer’s block doesn’t hold much weight with me; I know that there are ways beyond that wall if I but choose to take them. Music lifts me over it, sex allows me to seep through it, letters to friends gets me around the sides, and simple determination makes me hammer myself against it until it shatters and crumbles. And yet I have not written anything for over two years.”

Thinking about depression and writer’s block, and looking back on my life, I realized that what I wrote was a lie. Due to the depression, my life had become writer’s block. I did not write that particular piece for two years, but my attempts to write for the next couple decades were sporadic, disjointed, and never focused.

I’m still doing it, I realized. It is where a very short column came from that I posted in my writer’s groups.

5 Subtle Hints of Depression for Writers

Writer’s Block can be a sign of depression in and of itself.

When many think of mental illness, they think of the extreme forms. I am on a journey through my mental health in my podcast, “Let’s Unmask Mental Illness,” and I am learning about the subtle signs of depression. It is teaching me that depression has had a grip on me most of my life. It is teaching me about writer’s block.

On the Real Depression Project on Instagram, I ran across a series of slides about the subtle signs of depression.

1)  Rewatching reruns of old TV shows you used to enjoy to feel a sense of comfort and safety.

2) Neglecting chores/habits because you have no energy–all of it is used up fighting depression/faking a smile when you’re with others.

3) Spending long periods of times distracting yourself/finding an escape from your inner turmoil.

4) Planning out how you’d explain your struggle to others (and even typing it out via text) but then not following through with it because you fear being a burden (or that you won’t be accepted).

5) Getting lost in / fantasizing about a memory you cherish.

I delve into all of them and how they influenced me as a writer in Episode 22: Are We Okay?

At 51, I know what it takes to be a professional writer. I knew at 16. I went into orthodontics and had a very successful–but unfulfilling–career. I am realizing now that my life has been writer’s block.

In short, I can react to things very well. The life of an orthodontic laboratory owner is all about reaction and daily gratification. A pile of molds come in and then a pile of retainers go out that night.

Writing is a very different animal. It is an act of creation that takes will and purpose. There is no instant, daily or maybe even yearly gratification beyond that of the act of creation.

I delve deeper into everything on my website: http://www.friendsofgina.com 


But let’s break it down. (Yes, the various 80’s songs are playing in my head.) Let’s dive deeper into it. I think by using that as an example, I can learn more about depression and myself.

The first one is the easiest and jumped out and smacked me. Not the back of the head slap, but a full frontal one.

“Rewatching reruns of old TV shows you used to enjoy to feel a sense of comfort and safety.”

It changed in my mind, transformed into an answer to a question I have been asking myself all of my life, “what the hell is wrong with me?”

You see, all of my life, I have wanted to be a writer. I’m serious when I say, “all of my life.” My first article was published when I was about eight in a Philadelphia newspaper kid’s section. It was about an older man who always had a jar of candy to give out to the neighborhood kids when they came up and asked politely.

In high-school, I learned what it really meant to be a writer, what it took. The top two rules were 1) write every day and 2) read voraciously.

I did, but I am finding out now that my depression nudged me into the wrong directions. The “read voraciously” part troubled me. I did. I write about it often, asking, “what the hell was wrong with me?”

It is a necessity to read what you want to write. I always knew I wanted to be a novelist, contemporary fiction, and support that with articles on mental health. I even worked with my college advisor to alter my requirements so I could focus on that.

I never did. Oh, I read. I could have a read a library by now. Maybe a small one, but a library all the same. All the greatest works, all the newest works, every article appearing on health and mental health, and even the scientific periodicals. I didn’t. I kept returning to the same fantasy fiction books that I read over and over again, a genre that I enjoyed reading but had no intention of writing.

Over and over throughout my life, especially as I picked up an old, tattered book to reread again or replace with a shiny new one, I’d ask myself, “what the hell is wrong with me?!? I know better!” And then I would dive into Pern, or Middle Earth, or some other fantasy world.

The guilt built over the years. A few years back, maybe four, I couldn’t read anything anymore. There was no escape for me. Every time I reached for a fantasy book, I felt the lashes of “should have.” Every time I finally reached for something that would help me with my journey to be a writer, I felt the lashes of “could have.”

It was the depression. “Rewatching reruns of old TV shows you used to enjoy to feel a sense of comfort and safety.” I found safety, security and escape in those old fantasy books. I never put it together until I read that quote on the Real Depression Project. It was a subtle sign of depression I never realized until a month ago.

The next slide from the Real Depression Project was just as revealing to me. “Neglecting chores/habits because you have no energy–all of it is used up fighting depression/faking a smile when you’re with others.”

Exhaustion I could understand. It was the extreme exhaustion that eventually led me to want to take my life. I was just so damn tired, soul wearied and aged far beyond my 49 years. It still bothers me in a way when I hear, “50 is still young.”

No, it wasn’t. You don’t understand. 50 felt like 250 and I could feel every single one of those 250 years, like I was stretched far beyond a human lifespan.

Yes, I understood the extreme exhaustion of major depression very well, but what about simple weariness? The tiredness of coming home from work and not being able to or not wanting to do anything? I never put that together with the depression.

Writing is a chore, a habit that you must get into if you want to be a writer. I wrote about it often. Yes, “should have, could have and would have” are no-no’s in therapy, but if you have a goal, they become essential. If you want to be an Olympic Athlete, you can’t just sit on the sofa and eat Oreo’s all day. You need to train. Writing is the same way.

Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, I was just weary. Not that soul weary exhaustion. Just tired. So, I wouldn’t write. I’d read my fantasy fiction, play computer games, watch tv and hated myself for it. I had the time! I just never did anything with it. I neglected my chores and habits that I knew would make me feel more fulfilled.

The third slide, “Spending long periods of times distracting yourself/finding an escape from your inner turmoil,” goes with the second. No, I was too tired to write, to think, but I had the time. Even when I was buried in work, which I am pretty sure I did on purpose, I still had time. I could have made that time.

It was only six years ago that I finally started sleeping well, and that was with pharmaceutical help. The turmoil of the day began intruding into night. When I was not doing anything, when my mind was at rest, that’s when it would really get going.

I had started having panic attacks. The panic attacks intruded into my sleep. I would wake up heaving, on the floor, panting and gasping. It got so I couldn’t sleep, was afraid to fall asleep. I was completely defenseless when I was asleep.

Awake, I could escape. I could read into all hours of the night. I could work until I was exhausted. I conquered the world, demons, and old gods thousands of times with computer games. I watched all of the old movies so many times I got sick of them.

When my mom was dying, when I was told that there was no way she would survive this time (another long story as she was dying for 10 years), I couldn’t even find peace in sleep. I would later be told by my wife that she was afraid to touch me in my sleep, that I always jerked and spasmed. Then, there were the panic attacks.

Down in Florida for my mom’s final days, I rented a house with my brother. When he saw me afraid to fall asleep, he gave me a quarter of a pill. .25 milligrams of Clonazepam did what nothing else had ever been able to do. It doesn’t knock me out. It’s not that kind of pill. It allows me to turn off my mind and sleep peacefully.

After my mom passed, and I returned home, my doctor gave me a prescription. I was amazed at the difference it made. My wife was amazed. I began to sleep peacefully every night.

Clonazepam is addictive–I want to add that because it is important. I’ve been on it ever since. I peaked at 1.5 milligrams and never had to go beyond it. Am I addicted? Damn right I am. I don’t care.

I did wean myself off of it once. After the multi-billion-dollar settlement against the drug companies, Clonazepam was getting harder and harder to get. I used the step-down method, a half milligram at a time for a week. Each step was mildly awful. Withdrawal. I managed it. The doctor then tried me on just about everything else. Nothing else worked. I finally convinced him to put me back on the Clonazepam.

A peaceful night sleep–now–is well worth the potential side effects of long-term use. I’ll try again when I get other things figured out.

One of my routes around writer’s block was letters to friends which brings us to the next slide from the Real Depression Project. “Planning out how you’d explain your struggle to others (and even typing it out via text) but then not following through with it because you fear being a burden (or that you won’t be accepted).”

Want to see my computer file on it? Aye, I’m a writer. Emails, no texts. I have an entire file filled with emails to friends, family and people who I do not even know anymore. All unsent.

I attempted to write a book about everything a few times. I could make a book of the “introductions” to the book. I never actually got very far into the actual book. There are dozens of them. I have written plainly and clothed it in metaphors. I tried from very angle imaginable. Nothing I wrote ever gave me something solid to hold onto and write the rest of the book.

To a writer, that translates to about a year or two of concentrated effort on books and articles. The attempt to explain the struggle became the struggle. It also drove me into a very informal style of writing. Emails are easy, less formal even than columns. My writing skills deteriorated to the point where I didn’t think I could write anymore, not anything formal like an article or a book.

I would make feeble attempts through my website, but even my Coffee Chronicles got lost somewhere in the digital universe and I lost the rights to it. I did finally revive it as The Chris Chronicles.

It was only on my journey to self-destruction that I really started writing again. Facebook posts became columns that became a book. It’s not ironic at all. Think about the last part of the slide: “… but then not following through with it because you fear being a burden (or that you won’t be accepted).”

Who really gives a shit about being a burden or not being accepted when you are planning on ending your life? Hell, I even lost all my anxiety. All. Nada. Nothing. I have a phobia when it comes to flying. It has never stopped me, but I am gripped by terror during take-off and landing. I flew to both Alaska and Hawai’i with no issues at all. I was at peace. If the plane went down? I didn’t care.

Trying to explain my struggle has now become my purpose. Hence, this podcast.  

Then, the final slide, “Getting lost in / fantasizing about a memory you cherish.” This was my specialty. It is still how I spend time, particularly during the ten minutes or so that it takes me to fall asleep at night or for a siesta.

I have rebuilt my life from the ground up paying attention to every detail. It is in the details where I lose myself and fall asleep. A memory becomes a “what could have been if.” I wrap myself in these illusions and fall asleep.

Fantasies become my reality when I close my eyes. I have a lot of material. I am also extremely creative with an imagination that may be unmatched.

Nowadays, I am trying to retrain my mind and thoughts. I try to move away from fantasies, though I do indulge in them from time to time. I step away from “what could have been if” and towards something scarier for me, “what could be.”

I now fantasize about balance and hope, about this podcast and books I am working on. I fantasize about a new life in Minnesota these days. I push towards a path where fantasies can become dreams that can become realities.

It’s hard, so damn hard. It really is. Depression, unknowingly, became engrained into every facet of my life, even my dreams and fantasies. The need to escape has to be pushed aside for the desire to live, to find my authentic self.

Small steps, baby steps, maybe even falling backwards at times. One day at a time.

One episode at a time?

And that is a wrap. Be kind to yourself. Realize and learn that your struggles may have more to do with deeper issues than you imagine. Take steps forward. You may be standing in place like I did and not even know it.


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