Madness Is Like Gravity…

“Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

Madness in this case is depression. As I say, the not-so-fun half of my Bipolar II.

The little push was a fun, friend-making, successful week doing some substitute cohosting on 96.3 WDVD in Detroit for a week.

ERIC! THIS SEEMS COUNTERINTUITIVE. HOW CAN SUCH A THING HAVE WROUGHT DEPRESSION?!

Glad you asked. Let me explain the enimga. But first, some of my customary verbosity.

A long time ago when I had something called a J-O-B I often questioned my ability to manage my stress. I doubted whether I had acceptable coping mechanisms in place to deal with seemingly endless emails and something always being needed, or some unfinished work left behind. When you’re immersed in it – especially when it’s something you’re passionate about – it’s hard to have an accurate innate perspective of oneself. Besides, I wanted to justify my voice in the chorus of those questioning a younger generation whose coping abilities are often (wrongly, or rightly) doubted.

In hindsight I believe my professional survival skills were mostly, good enough. Or, a passing grade at least. In reality, I probably HAD bitten off more than I could chew. However, I began to lose track of what defined success. The professional target always seemed to be moving. In this case, getting farther and farther away through no fault of my own. I think for the most part when the hazy cloud of stress would subside, I was proud and thankful for what I achieved, and the relationships I built. I still am.

I’m not the first to say it, but I ALWAYS try to say it when the opportunity presents itself…

This is not curable, but it is treatable. 

I was so wrapped up in the exhilaration of last week’s accomplishments, I didn’t see the inevitable emotional let-down on the horizon.

I went from having a mostly full, and very, very early day where I felt I was part of something high functioning and much grander than myself to…not having that. Outside of the sluggishness of the holidays, I’ve stayed professionally and socially busy enough to fend off any devilish boredom that could’ve wreaked havoc on my mood.

A basin of alcohol over the weekend, and an eBay rampage and I was skidding toward something I’ve managed to avoid amid my unemployment; an extended depressive episode.

My depression was pushed. I had to forcefully punch back!

The remedy? Again, as I always say, do the opposite of the depression is telling you/me to do. No getting buzzed or drunk for a bit. But even more potently than that, get back into the routine I was successfully functioning in prior to 3:26am wake ups. Also, make a coffee date with a dear friend. Ahhhh, now the inertia is rattled! No problem getting to the gym, picking out a new recipe for the evening, slicing through Kroger for the ingredients, catching up on some websites I literally slept through for two of three days, and finishing up with some minor professional tasks.

It’s just a day, but the first blow has been triumphantly landed on a foe that had slayed me too many times.

This was treacherous. Had I not continued to build and refine my mental muscles, it would’ve been simple to slip down a very dark road; one I cannot travel as I try to retain my professional bearings.

 

 

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I Am Going To Have A Good Day

When I’m REALLY in a mental funk. The torrent of negative thoughts shrouds any kind of hope for…well, anything, seemingly.

In March of 2017 I took up a new practice to help combat the depression; the residue of those defeatist thoughts.

This rudimentary technique was at the suggestion of my remarkable therapist. He’s not a sports guy, so I never expected him to be telling me baseball story marked with psychological assistance. And as big a sports fan follower as I am, I was surprised I’d never heard the anecdote of Detroit Tigers star Kirk Gibson vs. his position.

Some of the details of account are a little foggy to me, and this may be more of a tall tale since I can’t confirm the details on Wikipedia, but here goes…

Gibson was struggling to play right field in Tiger Stadium. Something about the sun being a significant impediment. Again, I think. The moral of the story, how it helped me and why I’m blogging this will all makes sense. I promise.

So, I’m told, Gibby goes to a sports psychologist. And that person told Gibson you need to convince yourself you CAN play right field, in the sun, in Tiger Stadium. They (sorry, don’t know if it was a him or her, but I’ll surmise a him) said every morning before you get to the ballpark you need to repeat this OUT LOUD to yourself. Repeatedly! I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN IN TIGER STADIUM. I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN IN TIGER STADIUM. I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN AT TIGER STADIUM.

The out-loud part of this is crucial! For some biochemical, neuroscience reason, negative thoughts need to hear positive words to be beaten down. I have no empirical data to back this up. Only my own experience. I KNOW when negative thoughts arise, they’re going to cause a deluge of mental and emotional trouble. Positive thoughts (thoughts) don’t seem to shove them back where they came from. However, out-loud positive words (words v thoughts) seem to be a helpful remedy. EVEN if you don’t believe they words, they still seem to work! SCIENCE!

This little mental parlor game worked for Kirk Gibson. Or so says my therapist. And who am I to argue. Call it a placebo effect if you’d like. If it works, it works!

This mental demon I was battling in March ’17 had me on the offensive. A lengthy PCP (he’s prodigious with meds) visit and TWO sessions with my counselor in four days. The second one to be one where I turned in homework on how I was going to combat my depression differently this time.

After that first session I committed to beginning my mornings, like literally IN THE shower, where I’m usually most thoughtful and productive anyway, to reciting I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY. I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY. I AM GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY! It sounded ridiculous. At first, I didn’t believe it. But eventually the funk I was in began to dissipate. I was even able to add a layer to I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY to those days when I’m feeling really negative, down or just back into my cynicism of THIS. DOESN’T. WORK. I am going to have a good day today BECAUSE…and then I quickly peer at my day through my mind and see where I KNOW I can find some small victories to rebuild or just build even more confidence so that I can continue to keep the scary harmful thoughts at arm’s distance.

For example, this morning was, I’m going to have a good day today because…I’ve prepped a good show, I’ve beaten this cold back a little bit, and, if all else fails, I can be back and resting the sickness out by 11am. Oh, I also came up with this blog idea!

There’s genuinely something, at least for people like you and I, about HEARING words, rather than listening to thoughts. And I should know this, because my most successful sessions in therapy are when do most of the talking. The mark of a good counselor is one that asks the right questions – of a bright, self aware individual like us – so that we pull the answers to our emotional troubles out of our own mouths.

I also chastise myself for letting those negative thoughts* beat me up because I’ve long subscribed to the aphorism, we need to talk to ourselves, more than we listen to ourselves.

*Though sometimes those negative thoughts are so overwhelming, words won’t do the trick. Maybe stressors have been environmentally amplified, or it’s a weather thing, or meds need changing, just some outside perspective to reshape the prism of my mind is needed.*

I’ve shared this story on the radio shows before, but the reason I decided to day to write this up is because as I was seven feet out of my door, with my cold, car warming up outside, I was walking down the hallway doing my I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY, etc…and these words came out of my mouth.

If repeating words or a belief over and over again can help a Jedi-wannabe navigate a deadly open battle field of troopers (STOP!) trying to protect the emerging Empire, then it can work for us!

 

Washington State QB Kills Self

With sports, we often use wild, and warlike metaphors and analogies. Sadly, that’s not the case here.

Tyler Hilinski blew his head off. Also, not likely an exaggeration, considering a rifle was found next to him.

In wake of the situation, the words are morbidly familiar…

‘He was so…(INSERT WORDS THAT WOULDN’T ALARM ANYONE OF DANGER)’

I guess I can’t expect, in this situation, 18 to 22 year olds to intuitively ask themselves if their teammate was really as happy as he emanated, or if like myself and many others, it was a protective mask hiding their true macabre state of mind and emotions.

It’s not even a fear of mine, it’s more like a future I need to ensure doesn’t ever occur. Too often I think about my dad no longer around, no dogs of my own to care for, and I fall prey to my depressed, then suicidal thoughts.

This is my top precept for why someone like me should not be allowed to legally own a gun. Ask it on the background check: HAVE YOU EVER VISITED WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, or something similar to that. Sure, I could track one down – and there’s other ways to make the attempt – but in the time I did, hopefully my suicidal ‘courage’ would’ve evaporated. Essentially, second, and wiser thoughts.

I’m extremely candid with my mental health struggles, so I’m hoping if my behavior ever seems more dour than usual, someone will take the words and sentiments of Brady Quinn very seriously, after this terrifyingly public murder-suicide by his teammate.

How are you?

Hindsight is always perfect vision. Perhaps now, Hilinski’s teammates, coaches, teachers, friends and family can look back and likely vividly see signs that could have portended such deadly thoughts and actions were on the horizon.

Please know, I’m not blaming them, though maybe some deserve it. Their punishment will be their conscience. Wins, not even education, are worth life.

It’s impossible to know everything. Even about those close to us. We’ve all heard, read and seen stories about next door neighbors, relatives, or coworkers that end with I had no idea (insert one of the previously mentioned) had seven terabytes of snake porn on his computer or really, they did WHAT. Eh, you get the idea.

The story that gave rise to my ceaseless  eyebrow raising cynicism of others is the Kobe Bryant rape case. I was 24. Not far away from the age of those Washington State kids, thus my forgiveness and sympathy. NO WAY I thought Kobe, already an NBA champion and icon, someone from nearby my hometown, with a gorgeous wife could have driven the lane past a NO from a woman. Got that wrong. Nobody thought OJ Simpson could be capable of murderously slicing up two human beings either, right?

See, we don’t and can’t know everything. There are clues though. Often in plain sight. Just pause. It could save a life.

You watched the Brady Quinn video above?

When we ask someone how they’re doing, do we really mean it? No, not really. It’s just a friendly colloquial greeting.

But I plead with you, maybe even for my own future’s sake, if your instinct about someone says something is off, heed the words of Quinn. Not howareyou, try, for real, HOW ARE YOU?

I have a friend, who knows he is, because of what he’s shared with me, I MEAN IT WHEN I ASK IT. 

Another geographically distant friend of mine who knows I spill my mental health guts for everyone to digest, and maybe learn a little too, just recently messaged me about her concern for a coworker. Behavior had changed and some suicide jokes were cracked. Other coworkers of theirs took note as well. By acting, these people may have saved this man’s life, and now can work together, with his family, to show him that he’s not a burden on any them.

I close my TED Talk with, within that hopelessness and helplessness, there is hope and help. There are mind-numbing times when even I don’t recognize that. The cloud of depression has altered my reality and my bent my rational. That’s when I…we need YOU to step in, and ask, how are you.

 

A Down December

MOM, GRAMMY, I made the Jewish News!

Jewish Federation News HERE.

Speaking (invite me?) at Temple Shomer Emunim on February 11 about my adventures in my own mental health.

I’ll be honest (when am I not) December was a crummy month, filled with some Intermittent depression. I know some numbers will indicate it’s a high month for suicides, due to the holidays, and I suppose people lacking closeness. The idea was contemplated but never ruminated on.

The source of my 💩 was the weather. Yesterday, I couldn’t be outside enough. I truly loathe winter. I don’t buy into the Scandinavian quote about ‘no cold days, just appropriate clothes.’ I’m probably part cold blooded Stegosaurus (dinos are birds, it’s just an analogy cmon!). Also, I wasn’t jealous or sad I didn’t have scores of people to celebrate things with – I was actually home for 8 days in December. Stress and depression free, home, for the first time in a long time.

I was down because YOU were busy. Yep. During my semi-retirement, partial-hibernation I’ve worked to share my time with people and endeavors who I want to make part of my future. But, everyone was busy. Businesses slow, vacation get taken, time off is used, surgeries to use up that deductible, it’s family time, the holidays grind my goals to a halt. I’m not mad at you. You deserve who you care for! I was a bit upset with myself. Knowing this period was coming.

Oh, and I missed my LONG dog walks around downtown. I’m sure the boys missed it too. They often broke up days.

Happy to report there was never a string of days – 2 at most – where the existentialism set in. That’s my indicator of ‘oh shit, the D word.’

The calendar has turned, and it’s been a busy week. Back at it. Connecting with those who I can help. Ultimately that’ll lead to employment and long lasting contentment.

If you need me, you know where to find me.