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Waves of Ennui and Depression

Living with schizophrenia, I’ve run through the full gamut of symptoms; from delusions to paranoia, to hallucinations to side effects. I’ve written about these extensively, but one thing I don’t often write about is my depression which, at times, is just as prevalent as any of my other symptoms.

Depression can be a killer all by itself but, when combined with anxiety and paranoia, it can throw my whole world off its axis. Sometimes I can feel it coming; the middle of summer, as my birthday approaches, and in the midst of winter, when it’s cold and gray. There’s something about these two times of year that speak to the bleak passing of time that everyone experiences. When it gets cold, when the snow starts to fall in the quiet, my mind starts to wander into thoughts about the futility of life’s daily struggles. The grey skies match the shade of the hole that’s been in my chest for years, and I let myself ruminate on the things that bother me instead of forsaking them for a sunnier, more productive mood.

There are also internal factors that can contribute to my depression.

I’m worried about money.

I got rejected by a girl.

Somebody said something to me — I felt attacked.

Work’s piling up.

I try my best not to let the thoughts and insecurities of these situations get the best of me, which may or may not be to my detriment, but work, money, love, and social connections all require taking chances, and all carry with them the potential to get hurt. That hurt can turn, very easily, into depression.

For me, depression comes on subtly — like an auditory hallucination may start: with a whisper. I start to feel a bit of ennui, a French word meaning, “general malaise.” I’m bored or something didn’t work out and I frustrated. This can go on for a while — a month or two — until the ennui surrounds me and I feel worse with every passing day. I begin comparing my accomplishments to the achievements of others (this is a major reason why I don’t use Facebook or other social media). I feel like I don’t perform socially in “the right way.” The weather changes and, before I know it, the ennui has morphed into full-on depression.

For me, depression feels like getting hit by a truck. I am tired all the time, I struggle to function in public because my insecurities are getting the best of me and I feel worthless. I have the distinct notion that nobody cares about me, that they never will, and that I wouldn’t be missed if I killed myself or just died naturally. I struggle to tell anyone about these feelings because I don’t want people to worry. I also seem to get the feedback that there is an inherent misunderstanding about depression among many people, that when I do sometimes give voice to those feelings, some people respond in a way that equates depression with just having “a blue day.” This is not the case at all. Depression tends to get minimized, which stigmatizes the illness and negates the deep and real suffering of those impacted. I didn’t have much depression before my illness, but I can remember a distinct periods where I struggled with school and social life in high school and middle school. I didn’t have a name for those feelings then so I just lived with them.

Depression feels different for each of the 350 million people worldwide who are caught in its talons. Sometimes I’ll think about what it would be like if I killed myself. Twice in my life, I’ve scared myself with a clear plan to end my life. When that happens, I know it’s serious, and it’s time to seek serious help. Part of taking responsibility for my wellness is noticing that ennui and not letting it go un-checked. Here is what works for me:

I talk to someone about how I’m feeling; a family member, or a friend; someone who knows the program, (i.e., someone who doesn’t buy into the myth that depression = being down), and is non-judgmental. Sometimes talking helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always important to try. Following that, I always go to my therapist or my psychiatrist and, together, we figure out a way to get out of the funk. Sometimes it’s taking a break from work and responsibilities, sometimes it’s antidepressants, and sometimes it’s a prescription for healthier activities like walking or taking a nature hike.

I also try to restructure my responsibilities, as much as I can, so they take less of a toll on my daily mental health. I talk to my bosses about needing some leeway or a break, or I develop an adjusted routine that works with how I’m feeling at that time.

Finally, I treat myself well. I take care of myself with the steps I’ve learned to take it easy like taking showers, getting enough sleep and eating good food, all these things put a little joy back into life and, combined with a program of medication, talking, and prevention, I usually am able to maintain a sort of homeostasis. But there is another, more intangible facet of self-care, and that is how we treat ourselves in our minds and in our hearts. I still struggle with compassion for myself. I am way too hard on myself over things that really shouldn’t matter, and I know that. I try to be kind to myself; I tell myself that I don’t have to be perfect. Accepting yourself as you are is a major stepping stone on the way to finding comfort and peace. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Everyone has depressive periods at some point in their lives, and that there are strategies and supports out there that can help you get through those episodes. Therapy is beneficial, meds are helpful, and treating yourself well is essential. I wish everybody knew that self-care measures are perfectly acceptable and that seeking help when you need it doesn’t make you weak or “less than.” We all fall into a funk every now and again and we can all take steps necessary to lift ourselves up. The most important thing to know is: you are not the only one who feels this way. Even if you feel like complete, worthless trash, just know that, at the same moment you’re experiencing that thought; millions of people all over the world understand. We could all do with a reminder that we’re not alone. Depression is brutal, but you don’t have to suffer; and you certainly don’t have to suffer alone.

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

Music Video: When Anxiety & Panic Attacks are Your Kinfolk

In October, 2006 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks and depersonalization. At the time, I was actively pursuing a career in music, performing, and recording throughout South Florida. I had experienced an intense anxiety episode for the first time just days prior to seeing the psychiatrist who would give me those labels that I wore for many years. During that episode, I felt helpless, out-of-touch with myself and my surroundings, and terrified that I was losing control and might accidentally do something I couldn’t take back. The panic attack came on strong. I pulled over at a train station, locked my car doors, and I frantically called my parents, asking them to come save me. The next several weeks were spent in constant fear, stuck in my house, as I waited for my new medication, Celexa, to kick in and relieve my pain.

I returned to my normal life, eventually weaning off medication in 2011, as I began to write, record, and perform music again. Constantly “on my grind”, I worked feverishly day and night to accomplish my dreams. And then, one fateful afternoon in August, 2013, I found myself right back in 2006. The train station was now an emergency room, anxiety had taken the mimicked form of a heart attack, and once again I felt helpless and debilitated. Handed Celexa once more, I reluctantly swallowed the little pink pill that could deliver relief. Only this time, it had the opposite effect. After a week of severe anxiety exactly four hours after taking the medication, I decided to stop abusing my system. I would like to note that, as I stated earlier, medication did wonders for me. The decision to not continue taking it was made from my heart, not from pessimism about what had been my saving grace for many years.

To find relief and return to life as I knew it, I tried everything under the sun, except recreational drugs or alcohol. Exercises, video games, hobbies such as ping pong or magic, all helped when I was engaged, but nothing could take away the panic I felt the moment I would open my eyes in the morning. I wish I could tell you exactly how the next part happened, but all I can remember is I found myself seated in my studio, headphones on, listening to a meditation recording. I had tried meditation before, but felt it only intensified the symptoms. However, with nowhere else to turn, I decided I couldn’t get any worse and would just push through whatever arose. So I sat, eyes closed, and repeated the mantra for roughly twenty minutes. When the soft tone of the bell rung, I opened my eyes to a new experience: relaxation. The following two and a half years were spent diving head first into mindfulness, a skill we all possess but rarely use to befriend our emotions, thoughts, or sensations. What I found is that all roads pointed towards one simple lesson: open your heart and accept what you are internally experiencing as it is, without judgment, because we are built to do so anyway.

Daily, I practice this skill of mindfulness. Every moment I can, I turn to my internal sensations and thoughts and remind myself that, “I can experience this too; this is safe.” What I’ve learned is that fear, out of context, is really love misguided; an attempt to keep us safe but often just keeps us isolated and more afraid. I’ve learned that we are much more powerful and fluid than we give ourselves credit for, as we are ever-changing and somehow remain the same wonderful presence of life, unstained and fresh in each moment. I’ve learned that the only limits we have are the limits we place on ourselves. Once I remind myself that I’m limitless and “can experience this, too”, I find that I can experience the intensity of my fight/flight/freeze response with greater ease; the suffering is in the fighting of what’s happening, not what’s happening itself. I’m able to look back at the experience as a reminder of how amazingly resilient we are as human beings.

OC87 Recovery Diaries is proud to feature this exclusive music video for Shawn’s song, Kinfolk.

The song “Kinfolk” is sprinkled with this message of coming back home, with “home” referring to our basic state of fluidity. Whenever old symptoms of anxiety arise, I notice that an old habit of wanting to escape arises as well. This escape is seeking shelter, a safe place that can make the pain go away. But there is no external place that can do so because wherever we go, the sensations follow. The only difference is that I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling when I’m in a place I deem safe. No matter what’s happening within me, I can observe it as a passing experience. This ability we have to observe is the difference between jumping into the rapids, or watching them go by. In the end, I am the safety I seek. My perspective is that the sensations, emotions, and thoughts are not meant to hurt me, like some outside intrusive attack. They are my own powerful life force reacting to my needs and the world around me.

We can get thrown around by our beliefs about who we should be, what we should do, or what should be happening. Judgment is a heavy burden that often precedes emotional suffering. But these too are just passing experiences we can observe and be at peace with. If we can step back and allow them to naturally come and go, we can stop being dragged around by their presence and begin to find peace in the moment just as it is. I hope this song and music video can serve as a gentle reminder to come back home to yourself. We are the home we seek. We are the love and acceptance we long for. We all search for the same sense of peace and happiness. In this respect, we are all Kinfolk.

 

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

The Tenuous Balance of Mental Health Stability

It’s a beautiful spring day. You’re cruising along a stretch of ocean highway. The top’s down, the Beach Boys are crooning, the motor is humming, and the sun is streaming in. Things are good. Suddenly, the idiot lights on the dashboard come alive. The car stops dead in its tracks. That comfy ride you had been enjoying, perhaps without even realizing it, has ended.

In my most recent essay, I spoke about finding stability. But what happens when you have stability and you find that it’s still so easy to lose, given one or two unfortunate events? Finding stability is a challenge, but maintaining it is just as complicated and stressful. It’s an inevitable, and often cruel, tightrope act of living with a serious mental illness. I’ve been stable for a few years now, (and I’m taking a chance even saying that), and there are several things I’ve learned about maintaining that stability that may be helpful for you, or for someone you love.

The building of supports has helped me tremendously. If I am, in fact, walking a tightrope; my supports are that giant, inflatable cushion underneath so that, if I do happen to lose my footing I have a chance at a safe landing. Amassing and cultivating your supports is a process that can take years, but it is essential to have people and plans for when things may falter.

One thing I’ve done is build a career around people and organizations that understand if I need to take some time to myself to focus on my mental health. This includes organizations centered on furthering education about mental illness that have compassionate knowledge about how mental illness can affect a person. I realize this is not something everyone can do but being open about your illness to your superiors at work can open some doors for you in terms of providing the net that is so necessary. Of course, disclosing your illness is a very delicate matter that requires a considerable amount of thought. There may be consequences to disclosing and while, in a perfect world, there shouldn’t be, the reality is that disclosure may require some counsel on the part of your doctors and your support structure.

The people you choose to surround yourself with probably matter most of all. Both friends and family have my back through thick and thin and, while this network is small, (fewer than ten people), these people are there for me when I slip and need help getting back up. I recognize, too, that many people with a serious and persistent mental illness would do anything to have ten people on their side. My allies understand my illness and they know how to support me. Support, like all aspects of relationships, should be a two way street. My brother and I are in therapy dealing with our own individual mental health issues, and we help and support each other as best we can.

I also believe that maintaining stability without an abundance of education is nearly impossible. Education could mean reading relevant subject matter, or discovering new therapeutic modalities that I can then try out with my therapist, or researching coping strategies for the problems in my life. Coping with mental illness is my full-time job and, while it can anger me and cause me a great deal of heartache, it’s an endlessly fascinating “occupation.” There are many authors with diverse and intriguing perspectives who specialize in mental health and, when a new book on neuroscience comes out, I quickly get my hands on it. I’ll do anything to get even the smallest inkling on how to deal with the thoughts that careen through my head.

Educating myself about schizophrenia is perhaps one of the most beneficial steps I’ve taken since being diagnosed. The knowledge I have gained has helped me analyze the mechanisms in my brain that cause things to erupt or die down, and I’ve used plenty of strategies I’ve learned in dealing with my illness and becoming a productive member of society. Having these has helped me parse out my paranoia and my delusions from reality.

Implementing knowledge and skills gained from reading, research, and therapy is the final piece, for me, of the stability maintenance program. Acquiring tools is great, but, if you don’t use them; then it’s all for nothing. I use deep breathing almost daily when dealing with my anxiety and paranoia, and that’s something I wouldn’t have learned without reading about anxiety. Reality-testing, (the process of attempting to parse out delusion from fact), is another little nugget has saved me countless hours of frustration and anxiety. I learned about reality-testing from reading about the function of delusions, combined with countless hours of practice and talking with my psychiatrist and therapist about what things are real and what things are neurological impulses bent on deceit.

I have often talked about my delusions that I am, or will be, under attack from people that I deem to be shady characters. I fear that they will make fun of me or verbally assault me somehow. Working through these feelings in the safety of my therapist’s office has shown me that, the vast majority of the time; I’m projecting my own fears on these innocent people. It’s frightening when you can’t trust your brain, upon which you’ve relied to carry you through the world, because it is now telling you things, sometimes harmful things, that have no basis in reality.

In flashing moments of panic, the pulsating pressure of paranoia, or during extended periods of depression, it is critical that you have the tools and people in place to support your stability. As you live with an illness, you learn what is necessary to keep you grounded in reality. Like learning how to do a Sudoku puzzle or read a map, it takes learning and effort until using these tools becomes second nature.

Maintaining stability is a delicate dance that, at times, can be very unstable and can cause some strife trouble if you fall. However, building these support structures, educating myself and using the tools I’ve learned has kept me, for the most part, on the highway, my motor purring away.

 

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

When We Were Small: An Intense Struggle with Depression

I broke down on a cold December evening and rested my head on the window.
I didn’t know how unclean I’d become, until I watched the world fill with snow

My parents always did everything they could for me. It was the seventies. There was hardly any psychiatric medication to speak of then, cognitive therapy was barely emerging and, in general, the information on mental illness was not there to discuss, if you wanted to. I first felt it when I was about eight years old. Depression. When I was sad, I got comfort from my stuffed animals. I wasn’t their king. I wasn’t their leader. I was their peer. Whole stories were told in a small Wisconsin house in a single evening. And although I liked to be alone often, to make up my own world, I had many close friends. Aside from getting beaten up occasionally in middle school, most of my childhood was happy and without trauma(more…)

What is “OC87” Anyway?

“OC87” is a term coined by one of my therapists. It refers to the year 1987: the year I wanted to control everyone and everything.

The year before, life had been significantly out of control for me. I was a freelancer in the film industry in Philadelphia. For a guy just a year-and-a-half out of college, that meant a lot of unsteady employment and a big lack of structure. This is a transitional period that most college graduates are able to weather but I have always had problems dealing with unclear situations. I get stuck and scared when a journey of mine has no clear destination. Since I have obsessive compulsive disorder and I am still trying to cope with uncertainty in life, (the core of OCD is a need for one hundred percent, absolute certainty), I was literally going crazy back in 1986.

The way I attempted to cope with this loss of structure was to force myself to take a full time job in a store that sold and rented video tapes (this was pre-internet and pre-Netflix). For me, the job was avoidance — a misdirected attempt to structure my time and life, but also an easy escape from the field that I loved: filmmaking.

Because I was out of control in my head and my mood swings fluctuated from manic to depressive (I had not been diagnosed with OCD or bipolar yet) I felt I needed to be in control and in charge of my external world. Financially, I could do this because I was self-sufficient through the graciousness of my family. Therefore, in my mind, I was in control of everything and everyone. Why? Well, it didn’t matter how I acted or behaved socially at a job. If I got fired I would get another job — all that mattered was that I believed I was in charge.

That year, 1987, later became known as Obsessive Compulsive 87; the year when I tried to control everything and everyone. Luckily, my plan never worked because, if it had, or if I had believed fully in it, I would have continued to go severely psychotic.

Even though, at the time, I told myself that I didn’t need social attachments, I did need them. I was going psychotic because I was very lonely and because I was trying to do everything myself. The psychosis set in for the simple reason that, with very few meaningful relationships, I resorted to navigating my world by totally using my mind. For example, I would be in a conversation with two people at my job and, instead of being emotionally connected to them, I would tell myself,

“Stay connected, look at Steve. Now look at Dan — pay attention — watch yourself! Look back at Steve, now Dan….”

I still do this a little bit. As you can see, this would be maddening for anybody, let alone somebody who was frightened, angry, and paranoid. Back then, I trusted no one!

Eventually, my psychiatrist said that enough was enough and I was placed in the outpatient, day program at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. It was there, in 1990, that I developed my first meaningful friendships since I left high school in 1979. It was eleven years before I started to experience any type of re-bonding process with other human beings. I had been hurt by a friend’s nasty remark right after twelfth grade (we have since mended our relationship) so life was empty for me until I began my “work” in this program. I use the term “work” because Friends stretched me out of my comfort zone.

Another social milestone was the making of the film documentary, OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie. Because of that film, the term OC87 has taken on new meaning for me because now it also represents a giving up of control and an ability to trust people outside of myself. Even though I was making a film about my life, film is never a solitary process– it is always collaborative. And for somebody with anger and trust issues such as me, making that film was a very challenging task. I had to deal with not getting my way on many occasions — challenging for most, very difficult for me. I knew that, if I wanted the film to be good, (which I believe it is), that I had to rely on individuals who possessed technical and artistic skills beyond my own in some respects. Every project that somebody makes is important but this one I hoped would help others — and I hoped it would help me.

And it did.

The film helped me begin to trust people again. For the viewers, I hope they feel that they, too, can tell their stories, which is one of the reasons we started OC87 Recovery Diaries. This ability to rely on others is also transformational for recovery, and one of the reasons our site is named OC87 Recovery Diaries. We want the site to help and guide people who are in their own recovery. And it’s important for me to say that, even though I am the Publisher of the site, I don’t control everything that happens here. Even when I was Editor in Chief, I had to pay attention to, and acknowledge, other people’s ideas, especially when they were better than mine.

The old term that “nature abhors a vacuum” is particularly true for me. In 1987, I was so hurt and so angry that I wanted to live in my own vortex of a world — an alternative universe. That is why I wanted to live totally in the intellectual caverns of my mind. Luckily, it didn’t work because, even though life is still difficult for me, I realize that I’m not alone in this world anymore. Life is difficult for everyone! And, perhaps, it’s in that shared struggle that we begin to heal.

For many artists, that’s what their chosen profession is all about: healing. OC87 Recovery Diaries is a journey of struggle and healing. Now that you’ve read about a 1,000 word definition of what OC87 means I hope is it is no longer a curious hieroglyphic but, instead, a term that means transformation, hope, and connection; for me, and, maybe, for you, too.

Bud Clayman
Publisher; OC87 Recovery Diaries

 

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman