It Can Be Overcome: How I Cope with Depression


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By Steve Crowley

I’m going to try and keep this piece relatively short but I can’t make any promises. Once I open up and start writing about things like this, I’m not exactly sure what will come out or where it will lead. For starters, I’ve been dealing with depression and slight anxiety for as long as I can remember.

Coupled with that, I also have cerebral palsy. Mine isn’t as bad as a lot of other cases but I do walk with a significant limp and have difficultly performing certain tasks that most would have no trouble with. This might surprise some but if I had the choice of getting rid of the palsy or the depression, I would eliminate the depression, hands down.

The cerebral palsy is obviously visible. People can tell I’m dealing with something. They most likely don’t know what, but they know something isn’t as it should be. But more importantly to me, it’s the same day in and day out. It’s not like I woke up one morning and was like, “Shit, I can’t run a mile today because my leg is fucked up.” That’s always been the case and it always will be the case. I know what I can do with it and I know what I can’t do with it. Many things I do in my own way. Sure, I get some strange looks if I’m a crab walking down the side of a hill during a hike because it’s the easiest and most efficient way for me to get to point B. I couldn’t care in the least. It’s one way I deal with what’s been given to me.

The depression, on the other hand, is a totally different animal altogether. No one can see it, no one knows I’m dealing with it unless I say something (which I never do) and the worst part is that it can show up unexpectedly at any time. And on top of all that, there are varying severities of it as well. Some days I have very little energy (that’s the worst of it) and on others I want to keep to myself and not be around anyone. At the worst of times, I constantly think about taking my own life. But with a lot of conscious effort, those really bad days don’t come around so often any more. And that’s what I want to focus on in this piece: explaining some of the things I do to make my depression not as formidable as it once was.

For years I tried battling it the “traditional” way with counseling and medication with very limited results. Part of the problem was that, for whatever reason, my cerebral palsy leaves me with odd sensitivities to certain foods and most drugs—both the fun ones and the prescribed ones. So while some medications would make it even more difficult for me to walk, another might make it nearly impossible for me to get it up and to me not being able to walk and/or have sex is more depressing than having depression. The best results I had were when a drug would work great for six months and then be absolutely worthless after that. So needless to say I needed to find something other than prescription drugs to help me get through or prevent these low points.

After some time (and trial and error), I came across a combination of things that really help keep me happy, build self-esteem and fight off these funks. I know people aren’t robots or machines so everything that works for me won’t be the exact things that do the trick for someone else, but I still thought it could be beneficial to share them. For the sake of length and simplicity, I’m just going to list the items and give a brief description if I feel it’s necessary.

  • I’m kind to myself. I don’t beat myself up for making mistakes.
  • I’m kind to others. It doesn’t do anyone any good to judge others and put them down.
  • It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s helped me tremendously.
  • I like to help my friends whenever possible with no expectations of anything in return.
  • Continuously volunteering in my community has had an enormous, positive impact on my life
  • Eating healthy.
  • Not spending a lot of time on electronics (phone, TV, etc).
  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Deep conversations.
  • I try my best not to give a shit what others think of me.
  • Consuming very little alcohol and no other recreational drugs.
  • I try to quickly dispel any negative thoughts, and not dwell on them.
  • This one can be tricky but it’s might be the most important. I try to always be doing something that I love. I’m not crazy about my job, it brings me no joy whatsoever so I do projects here and there that do make me happy. I work on my writing, I brew beer and am trying to open a brewpub, I also want to open a place where kids can come and meditate, no matter their experience level.
  • Lastly, I’m always trying to make myself a better person. The key is I don’t put overwhelming pressure on myself to do so. I just give myself little, encouraging, mental nudges when I need them.

That might seem like a lot but it’s not as difficult as you might think. If I slack on a few of them, it’s not the end of the world. It’s when I’m doing almost none of those things that I find myself in trouble. I’ve followed this guideline for nearly two years now and have only had one bout of depression the entire time and that’s because I allowed it to happen.  I was drinking heavily almost every day. I wasn’t meditating, I was eating like garbage, my heart wasn’t in my volunteering, and all I was doing with my free time was watching TV and playing video games. That’s basically a recipe for sadness and self-loathing. But I slowly put the pieces together and got back on track.

The key is that you have to play with it. I didn’t come up with this list overnight; I had to look deep inside myself and really analyze practically every move that I made. The things that brought be down, I slowly cut out of my life and that unfortunately included some people I used to be close with. The things that brought me happiness, joy and raised my vibration, I slowly kept incorporating. I imagine you’ll have to do the same. There are many tools and support systems to help you with your fight against mental illness. As cliche as it may sound, you just have to keep your head up and know that you’re not alone.

It can be overcome.

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Life Without Regrets


“Each of us is merely a small instrument; all of us, after accomplishing our mission, will disappear.” 

–Mother Teresa, humanitarian

 

This has been an extremely trying week.

On Wednesday, April 20, Joan Marie Laurer—also known the legendary female wrestler Chyna—has been found dead in her home. When a friend of mine announces her death on Facebook, I don’t even believe him initially.  In fact, we argue online until TMZ.com release a report confirming her death.

If that hasn’t been tragic enough, the iconic musician Prince has passed away in his studio in Minnesota the very next day.  According to the media, he has canceled two concerts due to being ill and is hospitalized for a medication over dose.  Those who spoke with him prior to his death state that he seems fine, so the news shocks his neighbors and depressed the entire world.

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Unlike many of the celebrities who have left us earlier this year, Chyna and Prince are considered relatively young by today’s standards (the former was 45 while the latter was 57). Both seemed somewhat healthy despite taking medication and have been active up to their last days.  On the flipside, both have been struggling with substance abuse issues that may have contributed to their deaths.

Regardless of how they occurred, these recent deaths now have me ruminating on mortality and my own life in general.  Due to my beliefs in past lives and reincarnation, I do not believe that we simply disappear after we leave the Earth plane. I believe that our spirits move on to either become our spirit guides or to live another life to learn additional lessons.  But our physical bodies and people’s memories of us will remain here on Earth as well as our contributions to the world—whatever that may be.

I will be lying if I told you that I don’t wonder whether my last days are approaching sooner than I hope.  Like any person, I could never view myself as a person who would die, putting myself in situations that make absolutely no fucking sense because I somehow knew that I have been destined to make it out in piece. I would even go so far as to believe that if I were to die, I would do so by my own hands (these thoughts would come at the height of my depression, which I haven’t felt these days).

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But I will thirty-five this year and, though I don’t fear death for the most part, I also understand that I (or someone I know) can die at any moment.  With this in mind, I ask myself this question:  if I am to leave this world today, what type of life do I wish to leave behind?  Or what type of woman do I wish to become while I’m living and breathing?  What will be my legacy in the here and now and what can I do to make the best of the life I have now?

I’m not referring to being remembered in terms of fame and fortune (though that would be awesome).  But what can I do to make a life so epic in my own eyes that on my deathbed I can look back, smile, and think “Now that was dope ass shit right there.”

To tell you the truth, Reader, I’m halfway there:  I have published my own political sci-fi novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars, host a radio show called The Bonfire Talks every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. on WAYO 104.3 FM, write two blogs, and I’m now starting to see the fruits of my labor as far as getting my name out there. These are causes I could not even see myself making due to my lack of confidence. However, I know I’m not done yet and have so much to do as far as my personal and spiritual work.  This is one of the reasons why I’m seeing a therapist and stepping up my Nichiren Buddhist practice.

Since I’ve begun doing The Work, I am able to look at why I am the way I am thus far.  Why I have been struggling with mental illness for as long as I have.  There have been various reasons, but for as long as I can remember, I have either shied away from my true power or have hidden it away so that others could bask in the glow of theirs. I’ve wasted time and energy trying to save others, doing for others while running on empty mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I’ve given people my body and allowed them to chip away parts of my spirit.

And there have been times that I have harmed someone in order to get the validation that I am enough.  In other words, I have depleted uber amounts of time—most of the time unnecessarily.

So when I read about the deaths of both Chyna and Prince, I not only think about their contributions to this world, but the energy and time they’ve spent being themselves.  Which is something I’ve always wanted to do just so I can experience life beyond trauma and mental illness. Therefore, I’m making a personal pact with myself:  from this day forward, I will work to step into the glow of my own power and do everything I can to create and live the quality of life I envision for myself.  I will no longer hide my talents but mold and shape them for the sake of being better.

Regardless of my spiritual beliefs, I will make certain that this life is not a wasted one.  I know in my spirit that I am not meant to live a life full of regrets or mourning over my past or erroneous decisions.  I am meant to be happy and to experience the life I imagine myself having.

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It’s Not Worth It: Not Caring About What Others Think


Not caring about what other people think is the best choice you will ever make.

–unknown

 

For years, I’ve carried the burden of caring what others thought of me.

Caring causes me to compare myself and my very existence to my more successful friends, reading their statuses on Facebook and wonder why I seriously haven’t gotten it together enough to obtain stability.  I even suspect that people whom I have known since my earlier days in Rochester are now giving me the side eye because I’ve decided not to work and focus on me and my mental health issues.

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In terms of intelligence, I know that certain people I have friended during my graduate studies no longer talk to me on the regular—possibly because they feel I cannot hold a conversation. I find this to be unfortunate because I don’t have any other people of color to talk to about the issues of racism that affect me daily.

I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells around others because I don’t want to have that conversation about my career goals or personal feelings, fearing judgement if I share my true thoughts (If I seem standoffish and quiet, that’s one of the reasons why).  This fear of judgement also plays into my fears of failure and being forgotten, which is another blog entry altogether.

After receiving a rejection letter from a prominent publishing house, I have reached out to my friend, Pam.  I have met her two years ago when I was writing Star Trek fan fiction and she and I have been friends ever since.  After sending her private messages about how I am not the person I imagine myself to be, she calls me later on in the evening to see how I am doing.

“Pam, I feel that people are judging me because I decided not to work in order to work on my mental health issues.  I even had a friend unfriend me on Facebook for whatever rea—“

She stops me midsentence.  “Who are these people you keep talking about?  Man, fuck these people.  You have to do what’s right for you.  You can’t give a fuck about what other people think and if they are going to unfriend you because of your mental illness, then they were never your friend to begin with.”

After hearing those words, I sit quietly on my bed and wonder why I care so much about what others think of me to begin with.  The truth is that I hate losing friends as it’s actually hard for me to keep them for whatever reason.  In fact, the fear of losing someone bothers me more than anything else—especially if I cherish them dearly. But would feel even worse about myself when they stop rocking with me if they deem me a damn failure. This is the reason why I would often bust my ass in school, at home, at work hoping for a positive outcome.

But in terms of failure, by who standards am I measuring my success?  My overall significance?  The more I think about these questions, the more I come to the conclusion that I’ve been listening to people—family and professionals alike—who either haven’t recognized my efforts or haven’t been aware of the issues I have been pushing aside.  Either way, I am hurting myself trying to impress them so they will be proud of me because I’m fighting for their love and approval.

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To gain the admiration of many, I have placed my mental health on the back burner in order to function in school and life.  I have placed my own trauma on hold to get involved in radical politics. Concerned friends have advised me to care for myself, but I have not listened because—in my mind—I still need to prove that I’m not the lost cause “most people” have written me off to be.  But I realize that actively ignoring my struggles (even though I experienced flashbacks and panic attacks on the low) has caused me more harm than good.  Caring about what other people think and attempting to mold myself into their image not only contributed to my depression, anxiety and PTSD but my suicidal ideations.  Wanting unconditional love and approval is one of the reasons why I would stay in toxic relationships to the point of being sexually and physically assaulted.

It has taken talking to my friend Pam and reflecting on my negative thinking logically to finally see people’s opinions of me for what they are—their fucking problem.  I don’t have to have the fancy job, the man, car, house or the big name in the political scene. What’s more important to ME is my overall sanity and happiness.  I deserve that.  I desire that and there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the workforce or volunteer work to become healthy.  If people don’t understand that, that’s on them—not me.  And don’t you know that by not giving a fuck for the time being has actually alleviated my depressive episodes?  For the past few hours, I’ve felt like a beast, y’all!

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By the end of the day, this life—my life—is about giving myself the opportunity to heal from all that’s happened to me so I can be a whole.  Granted, I still want to be successful and even memorable. But I’m no longer willing to break my own spirit to gain the world’s approval.

It’s not worth it.