Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sometimes You Know Why

I have spoken previously about how frustrating it can be when you have bad days and don’t know why, but it should be understood that even knowing why does not necessarily make it a picnic. Some days are just bad. You can study all of the cause and effect you want, and identify all of the cause possible to identify, but sometimes knowing the cause just doesn’t help. Some days it isn’t enough. Some days a private island surrounded by hungry sharks and highly visible NO TRESPASSING signs wouldn’t be enough. It’s been that kind of day, or maybe that kind of week. Since I can’t directly address the causes, we’re going to talk it through instead.

We need to make sure that we understand one detail first. People who suffer from depression and anxiety issues tend to have larger reactions than might be seen as normal. This actually is normal for us and, if we’re smart about it, we know that and address it as part of the ongoing issue. Some of the things that twist me out of shape might be seen as regular stuff to regular people, but I don’t have the honor of being regular people. I’m not even entirely certain that I understand what “regular people” means, even though I have dedicated a very sizable chunk of my life to trying to figure that out.

So what kind of things are twisting me out of shape?

Seasonal issues are obvious. We are rounding the corner into the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this time of year is notoriously more difficult for people with certain depression issues. While it is not true that suicide rates increase over the holidays, as is commonly assumed (summer is actually worse than winter, according to the CDC), it is true that people who are already experiencing issues of isolation and separation anxiety can see these become more accentuated during the holidays when those holidays are characterized by any form of separation or isolation. If you don’t get to spend time with the ones you love, you don’t get the familial bonding and reassurance that such togetherness usually brings. Heather and I put on the biggest and best holidays we can each year - and I think we usually succeed quite well, to be honest - but we are still half-a-country away from people we want to be with for those holidays. It’s trying.

There is an added element for me because the holidays were such a big deal for Dad. If you didn’t know him around this time of year, you definitely missed out. He would usually have the biggest Halloween display in town, his turkey recipes for Thanksgiving were nearly legendary, and then Christmas would rival Halloween. I picked up the habit some years back of trying to imitate his displays, and we would send pictures back and forth since we couldn’t be there to see each other’s displays. Heather and I still do our displays here, and we still share pictures with the family, but it’s not quite the same. There is an important detail that is missing.

I’m tired. I haven’t been sleeping well, which is a very bad thing for someone dealing with depression. Even if you don’t deal with emotional issues, you already know that, the more tired you get, the more emotional you get. Magnify that by I don’t even know how much, and you’ll get a look inside my head. There are distinct advantages to my “all natural” coping methods - no chemical fog and no prescription bills, for example - but one disadvantage is that it does require a certain amount of near continuous work. The fact that it is all in my head doesn’t make it any less work. After all of these years I have it down to a nearly subconscious science, but it is not an autonomic reflex. It is work, and being tired makes any work more difficult.

One of the reasons I haven’t been sleeping well is the heat. I live in Phoenix, and it has been a hot summer. Even in the house, it’s never exactly comfortable. It has also been determined that there is at least some correlation between extreme heat and depressive episodes. As I said before, there are usually more suicides during the summer than the winter, and we have really had a summer. Add in the fact that I just don’t really like overly hot weather, and it’s not a good mix.

On top of these are the usual stressors that everyone encounters from time to time (or even all of the time, to varying degrees) about paying the bills, keeping the truck running, and feeding the family. Are the kids getting everything they need? Is there something more I could be doing? No matter your good intentions, if you’re not living in that mountainside hermitage that we’ve already established none of us are living in, you probably have daily worries that contribute to your blood pressure, sleepless nights, and occasional dark moods. We do the best we can, but the pressures are going to come calling, and all we can really do then is to pick up that pack and soldier on.

These are, of course, mostly external factors that I can do little or nothing about. I can’t change the weather or make the holidays less emotional. I can’t rearrange the employment requirements for all of the people I love so that we can all live in the same town, or nearly enough for visiting purposes. I can’t make the bills go away, and I wouldn’t trade the kids for anything you might offer. I can’t make these stresses not exist, but I can decide how I will face them.

It is obvious, when I step back and look at it, that these problems are not unique to me. If I were to take a survey around the office where I work, and if people were to answer honestly, most of the people there would probably check Yes to most of these issues, or to issues very much like them. Most of the burdens that we struggle with on a daily basis are burdens that we all struggle with. As such, we all have the ability to offer a helping hand because we have all been there before. I also believe that most of us do give a helping hand, or would give a helping hand if we knew it was needed. The biggest impediment there is that most of us also don’t let it be known when we need that helping hand. Speak up. You’re not surrounded by mind readers. Odds are, that person you’re ashamed to ask for help probably needs a bit of help just as often as you do.

These are also issues that are fairly recurring. Almost none of the problems that cause me to have bad days sneak up on me. I know they’re there, and I usually know when they’re coming. Each time, though, I have the bad habit of forgetting what we’ve already done before. Each time, this is the one that will do me in. It’s not. It wasn’t the end last time, it isn’t the end this time, and it won’t be the end next time. There will be a next time, and a time after that. That is the potential downside to taking life as it comes. It can be easy to forget the context, easy to forget that you’ve done this before, and it all worked out fine. To get it done effectively, you have to live in the moment while also sparing enough attention for the past and the future to remember lessons and plan for adversity.

The most important thing to remember with these bad days is just this: It’s a bad day, not a bad life. This is true when you don’t know the cause, and it is equally true when you do know the cause. Life will knock you down sometimes. It is up to you to stand back up and do something about it. You can, you know. You’ve done it before. If you have taken the time to read this, you have probably done it many times before, and you’re still here. One hundred percent success rate so far. That’s not so bad.

Sometimes knowing what is causing the problem isn’t actually very helpful. Those days will happen. They’ve happened before, and they will happen again. And still I rise. Remember, every day ends. Even bad days end, and tomorrow’s a new day.

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