Saturday, June 30, 2012


Sometimes I wonder if I've gotten too comfortable with my life.

I mean it.  As much as I dislike the fact that I've remained officially unemployed for so long (it's weird how volunteer work somehow doesn't actually count as work), and as much as I really don't like still being under my mother's roof when I'm going to be turning thirty years old in a few months, I wonder if perhaps I've gotten too comfortable with these forms of discomfort.  I'm starting to wonder if I'm too used to experiencing disappointment in my job search, and if I'm just too accustomed to feeling stuck and boring and lonely.  I'm even starting to wonder if some part of me wants to stay this way.

I also wonder if I've gotten too comfortable with the state of my spiritual life.  I'm so accustomed to going to church on Sunday, mentally adding my own private Pagan musings to what I'm seeing, hearing, and doing as part of an Anglican church, that somehow some of the flavour seems to be gone out of it recently.  I'm so used to going through the "Wheel of the Year" with my own private observances and reflections that incorporate some aspects of Christian thought and practice that seem appropriate to the time, that I'm starting to wonder if I'm doing all of this out of habit.  I wonder if, since I joined my church choir, I've become too Christian and not remained Pagan enough.  (There are certainly those who would argue that any amount of Christianity in Paganism is too much.)  This path still has meaning for me, and that's why I'm still walking it.  I don't intend to give up on it any time soon.  But even so, I still have doubts, especially because I could easily be seen as being part of a privileged group (Christians) who is wrongfully appropriating aspects of a non-privileged group's culture and beliefs (Pagans and Neopagans, and the various cultures and traditions from whom their beliefs are drawn).  So much of my philosophy of life is wrapped up in this idea that kindness, compassion, and respect for other people is absolutely essential, and cultural appropriation is something that just—please forgive me for using a fan culture term here, but it just absolutely squicks me.  The possibility that I'm actively taking part in it because I couldn't stick with just one or the other is, to say the least, somewhat disturbing.

And I miss my closest friends.  Somehow I've managed to just fade into the background with most of them.  One is living across the border until sometime around the end of August, and I haven't seen him in a couple of months; the border guards really scared me the last time I went into the USA, and though I can certainly understand that it's their job to make sure that it's safe to let people into their country, being "subtlely" accused of being a homewrecker, a slut, and a possible future illegal immigrant really gets old after a while, especially when these things come with not-so-veiled threats of being detained or refused entry into the country unless I can prove without a doubt that I intend to return to Canada in a reasonable amount of time.  Another friend is so busy with various things in her life that if I hadn't randomly run into her while we were both running some errands at the beginning of the month, I wouldn't have seen her at all since sometime in May.  Another—who is somewhat paradoxically the friend with whom I've had the most contact in the past month, and from whom I'm trying to withdraw a bit because I'm getting a bit afraid that I'm annoying him—is in a city that's several hours away until the end of August, researching and writing what he hopes will be his first book.  And every time I've tried to make plans with the other two in the past month or so, those plans have always fallen through for one reason or another.  It's a little discouraging, to say the least.

So it's reasonable to say that I'm not precisely in the best mental space right now.  I need to re-engage with the world again somehow, and I need a bit of positive discomfort in my life.  Something that helps me to move forward, rather than the discomfort that I've got right now, which is just making me feel stuck and hopeless.  Darned if I know how to invite it in, though.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Out of the Void

Today, a friend re-blogged something on her Tumblr blog that hit very close to home for me.  I'll paste it at the end of this post, but for now, I'd like to say a few things.  (Probably at length, as usual.)

I used to be depressed.  The person described in the Tumblr thing isn't me anymore, but for the most part, it used to be.  I never became actively suicidal, though I would be lying if I said that the thought of just disappearing into the wilderness and letting myself die of exposure didn't look awfully appealing from time to time when I was at my worst.  And I did function to some extent in the rest of the world, though it took a tremendous amount of effort.  In fact, I was only able to function at all for two reasons.  First, the only other member of my household was (physically, at least) in worse shape than I was at the time, and she was mentally about as bad, so if I let my depression take me over, she'd have nobody to take care of her.  So although I was entirely convinced of my own worthlessness, the hate that I felt for myself at the time actually drove me to make myself useful to her because I felt that I'd be even more worthless if I let my issues get in the way of her recovery.  Second, I was still singing with my community choir, which helped me immensely because it forced me into some badly-needed social interaction with people who like me, and which was (and still is) directed by a kind person with an excellent sense of humour.  In cases like mine, laughter really was some of the best medicine I could have asked to receive.

Depression stole valuable things from me: time and ambition.  I can't do anything about the years I lost to it, but my ambition has largely come back, though it brings some of its own frustrations with it.  Foremost among them is the fact that although I'm making progress, I still haven't managed to build myself the kind of life that I'd like to have.  And this is because that awful void, the feeling that nothing really matters and that the world would be better off without me, took me far too long to escape.  (No doubt this was exacerbated by the fact that I never sought treatment for it; I didn't want to be medicated, especially as I was reasonably sure that my depression wasn't the result of any sort of chemical imbalance, and I'm still young enough that I might want to or have to change my health insurance plan at least once in my life.  Even in Canada, a pre-existing condition like depression, even when a full recovery has been made, can be a bad thing to have on one's insurance record.)  In fact, I still occasionally feel its pull, especially when something goes more than usually wrong.

 And sometimes it threatens to send me back.  A little over a month ago, I had what I now think might have been a minor relapse, though I denied it at the time; I felt very gloomy for about a week, and I had several reasons.  I'd been worried about a couple of my friends; one has two daughters-in-law who have been diagnosed with cancer, and another was at the time facing some difficult circumstances that were not of her own making.  Then, I started worrying about my future; I've been out of teacher's college for several years now, and although I am working in a classroom now, I don't get paid for it.  True, I wasn't exactly free to leave for a couple of years (and it wouldn't have been a good idea anyway, given my mental state at the time), but I do sometimes worry that I've managed to screw myself over by not seriously looking for work outside of my district for most of the time since I earned my Bachelor of Education degree.  (I've started actively looking for teaching jobs elsewhere again since then, though, so this is less of a concern now.)  Overall, I was feeling pretty awful.

And to top it all off, for various reasons, the venue for my community choir's spring concert this year was bringing back some pretty seriously painful memories, some of which involved the man of whom I wrote in this post about two years ago.  Since then, I've completely moved on; I stopped missing him quite some time ago, and although I'll never forget him, I've put him quite firmly in my past.  Still, I've recently had a number of reasons to realize that he hurt me in ways that I hadn't even known about at the time, and while I have friends who are helping me to deal with them (often without even realizing it), sometimes the damage that he did becomes more apparent.  And while I'm not quite sure why it happened so strongly near the beginning of May (though I certainly have my suspicions), this, on top of everything else, left me feeling rather shaken.  All in all, I was feeling pretty vulnerable, and in past years, all of those things put together might have been enough to tip me back into a full-blown episode of depression.

But they didn't.

The difference was that I now have friends whom I trust with these things; I don't just know that they won't abandon me, even when I'm feeling rotten and do something stupid like start to isolate myself.  I believe it.  I trust them with my vulnerabilities, and they've trusted me with some of theirs.  Between them, they've helped me to develop the tools that I needed to fix something in me that I hadn't even realized was still broken.  When I get gloomy, they don't let me stay that way.  One of them has even inspired tears of relief and release with little more than a few well-chosen words that reminded me that there really is hope and that I'm not as awful a person as I'm still sometimes afraid that I am.  Knowing that these people care, and that I can trust them, is incredibly powerful.  Without them, I would probably not have gotten through that as well as I did, and that horrible week that I recently had would certainly have sent me back into the mental state that I was in when my depression was at its worst.

I can say with absolute certainty that what the following description says is true.  I've been there.  So many kind, compassionate, funny, intelligent, unusual, talented, and caring people have helped me to stay away from that territory; some of them even have first-hand or second-hand experience with depression themselves.  So if you ever feel inclined to dismiss depression as something insignificant, the sign of a whiny and lazy individual, think again.  It takes a tremendous amount of strength to uphold the fiction that everything is OK; it takes even more to admit that it isn't and to ask for support from loved ones and seek out the help of trained professionals.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

Depression is humiliating. It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t wash a dish or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your children, your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune. It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything outside of bed. You alienate your friends because you can’t comport yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. You become pathetic and you know it. And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. If you’ve never been depressed, thank your lucky stars and back off the folks who take a pill so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life.

 It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. At all. If you and your loved ones have been spared, every blessing to you. If depression has taken root in you or your loved ones, every blessing to you, too. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a dentist appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself. Depression is real. Just because you’ve never had it doesn’t make it imaginary. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression. Have a heart. Judge not lest ye be judged.

(Source: sherunsfromdarkness)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a week...

It's been a deeply emotional week, and I actually feel rather exhausted because of it.

Last week, I did something that, from what I've heard since then, may have led to some undesirable consequences for someone who was, up to that point, a close friend (and for one or two of her friends as well).  It was unintentional, and if it hadn't been for the written equivalent of a slip of the tongue, I might not have caused any damage at all.  But I did make that mistake, and I still feel terrible for it, though I'm no longer in the state of self-loathing that consumed me for several days after I was informed that I'd made a severe and potentially harmful misstep.  I did what I could to fix the mistake, and I apologized as much as I dared to, given how upset my friend was, and knowing that I was quite possibly the very last person she'd want to hear from at the time.

I've consciously kept away from her—and to a certain extent, our mutual friends as well—since then; I'm terrified that she's still angry with me and I'm afraid that I've done our friendship irreparable harm both by doing what I did and then keeping such a low profile afterward.  But for a few days I was in absolutely no shape to talk to anyone if it wasn't totally necessary.  Experience has taught me that when I'm that upset, it's best to shut off my more social inclinations for awhile.  I ultimately end up truly hurting fewer people that way.  The person I am when I'm depressed, or even when I'm just somewhere on the outside edges of depression territory (as I was last week), is not a particularly pleasant person to be around; I don't become cruel, but I do become very gloomy, and people tend not to appreciate the company of someone who is that negative.

And then, a few days ago I heard from another good friend, a person upon whom I've come to depend perhaps a little more than I ought to, that he had the opportunity to leave our mutual hometown to work somewhere else.  There were several reasons why going elsewhere would probably have been a good decision, as well as several reasons why it might have been a mistake, but it's not my story to tell, so I can't say much more than this.  But I can say that I encouraged him to go; as much as I'd have missed him, I truly believed that he'd be most content with the decision to leave.  However, he eventually decided that he'd be staying here for a while yet after all; he says that he's at peace with that decision, and as for me...well, it was quite possibly the first good news I'd had in a week.

That these things happened more or less all at once was an interesting coincidence, if not an easy one to deal with.  And it's got me thinking about the importance of social interaction.  You see, although the friend whom I accidentally hurt last week is someone I've known for somewhere between eight and ten years (we had a couple of classes together in university), and one of our mutual friends is also an old university classmate of mine, the other people I've come to think of as particularly good friends are of a much more recent acquaintance. I met two of them last May, and the other late last September.

Given that it's usually very difficult to earn my trust, it's rather remarkable that I let all of these people become so close to me, most in a fairly short period of time.  Because of them, I've become more social in the past year than I had been in years.  And it's changed me.  Although I still maintain that nobody can make other people happy, and that looking for another person to complete oneself is foolish at best, because of these friends I feel more more alive than I did at this time last year.  Because of them, my mind and my heart are more full than they were, more engaged, and even healed from some of the more significant hurts in my past.  My life is better because of them, and I hope that I've been able to be at least a little helpful to them as well in some way, in spite of the problems I might have caused last week.

I don't use the word "friend" lightly.  And my faith in myself was severely shaken by the mistake that I made; I felt that I could not be trusted and that I wasn't fit for human company.  I'm out of that initial shock of self-loathing now, but the results of my mistake last week are still somewhat unclear to me.  Perhaps in a few more days I'll be able to muster the courage to ask my friend if she's still upset with me, but for now, I remain a coward.  Perhaps it's for the best; if what happened after my mistake did happen as a result of it, I suspect that I might still not be the most welcome person in her life at the moment.

So, yeah.  This has all been fairly exhausting, and I hope that the week ahead doesn't hold any more unpleasant surprises.  I still need some time to catch my breath from the ones I've already had!