When Depression Hits Hard

Nothing seems worthwhile I just wander aimlessly through my day. If I don’t have any obligations I lay in front of my TV staring at it and letting myself fall asleep as much as possible because at least while I’m asleep I don’t feel the deep chasm my heart has fallen into. The simplest of tasks, like paying bills seems about as easy as setting the goal of climbing Mount Everest by the end of the month: I have zero mountain climbing experience, I’m out of condition for the hiking portion at this point, my passport has expired; so you can see that such a goal would be impossible in a month’s time.  Even if I could make it there in time my odds of survival would be very low.

At work I try to make my voice sound at least neutral to slightly upbeat while interacting with people but once in a while someone is perceptive enough to notice and they call me out, to which I make no verbal reply, because the following seems borderline rude:

Customer: How’s it going?

ME: Fine

Customer: That isn’t sincere at all.

Me (if I were to say what is really on my mind): Ok you caught me, I’m depressed as fuck, now before you go on trying to comfort my ass, there isn’t a fucking thing you could do as a complete stranger. In fact even if you are under the delusion that you know me from seeing me here behind this counter frequently you’re mistaken, as far as you’re concerned I am fine. There are three people I’m comfortable talking to about this shit out of a world population of 6-7billion, so please don’t insult me by pressing me for details. I’ve faced this before all I can do is plug along the best I can, and rely on those who have proven that they know how to handle me in these times.

So yes I may be hurting but if I am not comfortable sharing that part of my life with someone, I am fine, because unless you are one of the few people I have carefully chosen to confide in when I’m facing these times talking to you about it will just make me more uncomfortable. Thankfully of the people I interact with only about 1-5% will actually notice that I’m not fine. I genuinely hate the question how are you doing? Being used as a greeting…I’ve already dedicated a post to that one anyway.

One thing that most people who pick up on my depression seem to love to say is “It‘ll get better” which for me is about the worst thing you can say to me when I’m down. I’ve had enough periods of depression in my life I know how to push through them, it’s not like I’m here wallowing in self pity, I’ve accepted the feeling and I’m working through it, but it takes time so yes I may sleep every moment possible, get myself obsessively caught up in reading or writing or some other thing that has helped me continue moving forward with my life in the past for a while, but I build off of those activities as a springboard to face life more effectively with each passing day. So don’t tell me it’ll get better, I know that and I’m working towards that, let me do what I know works for me.

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Morning Routine

I have a morning routine that I like to stick to sometimes even if it means less sleep. My alarm tore me from my sleep five and a half hours after I got to sleep this morning. I could have set my alarm an hour later and still made it to work in plenty of time, but I find my morning routine to be vital to my mental health.

I usually set my alarm for two hours before I have to be to work which on a slow days gives me about forty-five minutes to read or write in silence. Some mornings when I write I will have music going, but most I enjoy sitting in the still predawn quiet with my thoughts. Writing is one of my favorite coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression. That is why I have been writing a lot lately as part of my morning routine it gives me something to focus my thoughts on. I use my morning routine to get ready for my day ahead. Since working in retail isn’t exactly a good fit for someone with social anxiety as part of their repertoire of mental illness this time spent in the morning pursuing things I enjoy for forty-five minutes to an hour and a half can be vital to me making it through a day at work.

Yesterday thanks to a couple customers, one who was wearing so much patchouli oil it was making me physically ill and one with body odor so strong it did the same I found myself thrust into an anxiety attack that was escalating so fast I thought I was going to have a full on panic attack. The worst part is it happened while I was the only person in the store so I couldn’t get away for a few minutes to bring myself back down. Without my morning routine it would probably have been a full blown panic attack. Before I developed my morning routine it wasn’t uncommon to have two or three panic attacks while I was the only person ringing up customers. It’s surreal to be feeling adrenalin coursing through your veins and every sense seems to be hyper active, yet all you can do is breath deep and keep ringing up sales because you have no option. Unfortunately my anxiety often manifests as anger, so on top of that I have to spend a lot of time and effort hiding anger in my voice and movements.

Strong and unpleasant scents and certain noises will drive me into anxiety. Repetitive noises like the early morning call of a song bird I’m am now starting to hear through my apartment wall really get to me. While I am in the store I will start feeling boxed in when I can hear people moving around and talking in all directions. Oh yea and the company has this CD with public domain instrumental pop style music much of which is repetitive with high pitched notes something that drives my auditory system bonkers.

My morning routine of writing out my thoughts is vital to my sanity because it calms me and helps me recharge my social batteries to be able to face another day. I hate when I’m dying inside and have to spend hours interacting with people it makes an already stressful job that much more stressful. So here I sit writing to build up my strength to face another day knowing that by the time I find myself in this chair once again I’ll be the human equivalent of a bowl of quivering jelly. I’ll probably write some drivel that I will save to touch up some morning when my thoughts don’t resemble scrambles eggs, just to start feeling normal again….normal for me anyway.

Sympathy Makes Me Uncomfortable

I don’t know why but I find little to no solace when I tell someone something and they come back with sympathy. Maybe because I have a tendency to just spew out what’s bothering me because I’m trying to process it, which I don’t always find all that troublesome. Sometimes it is something insignificant that just happened to be one of many little things that are running through my mind. So when someone says oh I’m so sorry my mind is like “Wait, what? It’s not the end of the world, sure it’s frustrating me but it isn’t really a big deal at all.” Maybe that’s why the friend I turn to for such venting is autistic because she seems to be the only person that understands that I just need to say this shit out loud as a means of processing and move on, so usually I’ll get “I can see that,”  “I can understand that,” or “true” and she lets me move on.

Sympathy seems hollow and pointless to me. It doesn’t actually do anything to help me, knowing someone else feels bad for me actually often makes me feel worse like I’m burdening them with my problems. There is no need to feel sorry for me just let me sort myself out, I just need to get this off my chest I’m not looking for sympathy.

I wish I could find solace knowing that someone feels for me, I do appreciate it, but I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling from knowing someone feels sorry for me. If you have an idea on how I can process it or have been through it yourself and tell me how you got through it, I find that far more comforting than platitudes we’ve all been conditioned to use when someone if feeling down.

What really makes me feel uncomfortable is when someone I don’t know well tries offering me sympathy. Often when someone picks up that I’m down their offered sympathy is based on their assumptions of what is going on, not what is really bothering me. Being a private individual (I’ve had too many people air my personal shit when I didn’t want it out.) I often just say thank you and move on. Even if I want to correct them I rarely have time for conversation at work, I’m either trying to get the next person in line rung up or trying to get back to the project I was working on. This makes taking time to clarify that their assumption was off and explaining the reality of the situation impractical, so I let it go.

I forget what the exact platitude it was something along the lines of “if you stare at it too long you’ll never figure it out.” Which is a useful bit of advice, but at the time I wasn’t trying to figure anything out, I simply spaced out for a few seconds because I was extremely tired at the time. So I was thrown back by it. There are also ones that will say “It’ll get better” also, I’ve been dealing with this anxiety and depression stuff long enough that I don’t need to be told this.

I guess the best thing you can do is remind me that I’ve got this and let me sort it out for myself.  

Reluctantly Leaving My Bed

There are two things that will leave me wanting to stay in bed all day depression and lack of sleep. When I’m going through Depression sleep is a welcome escape from the world. It makes for eight, or more if you can manage it, glorious hours of your day that aren’t painful because you are unconscious. Yes it seems foolish to want to sleep your life away, but when your work day is the emotional equivalent of going ten rounds with Joe Louis (a famous boxer from the 30s) sleeping for the 12 hours you can carve out between leaving work and returning can be a welcome relief. One downfall to this tactic for me is sometimes I’ll wake up at two o clock in the morning wide awake because of anxiety. When anxiety is running my life it makes more than six hours of sleep in a night impossible…hell sometimes between my work schedule and trying to avoid living in complete filth and handling bills six hours a night is all I can manage regardless of whether or not I’m dealing with anxiety.

When I’m tired from weeks on end from working long hours any chance to sleep is welcome just so I can feel human again. I can certainly vouch for all the research that says a lack of sleep and heavy use of caffeine can cause or exacerbate anxiety. Unfortunately for me I have little chance for taking care of the lack of sleep and caffeine is practically a necessity for me to function at work.  Rock meet hard place…..no no no don’t hug I don’t want to be crushed between you two.

There is another thing that makes me want to just hide in bed all day which is laying in bed sliding in and out of sleep with a good dream that sticks in my mind. I often find myself waking up an hour before my alarm some days I just get out of bed and put on my pot of coffee, others I lay in bed trying to catch the other twenty minutes I might have hope for. Days like this morning the feeling of laying in bed is extremely comfortable. I call it waking dreams, I don’t necessarily remember them but if it was an emotionally positive dream when I’m laying there semi-conscious I still feel great because the dream was a good one and I don’t want to let that feeling go. There are times where nothing feels positive in my life for long stretches so when I wake with that feeling I don’t want it to leave me.  There have been times when I’ve woken up and had something good come to mind and it will end up incorporated into this waking dream as well.

For a multitude of reasons I find myself reluctant to pull myself out of bed in the morning.

Frankfurt to Heidelberg and My Sleep Deprived First Day in Germany

In my last travel post “A Folly Filled Flight to Frankfurt” I left off where I made it to the main entrance to Terminal Two at Frankfurt am Main. So with a large duffle bag strapped to my shoulders, I had backpack straps added to it so I could carry it on my back. I stepped out the door and got my first whiff of German air. I found a park bench and sat down to enjoy a cigarette and being outside, even if it was a crowded area not having walls around me for the first time since I had walked out to the airplane at Sawyer was a nice feeling. From research I knew the train ride from Frankfurt to Heidelberg would take just over an hour so I wasn’t in a particular hurry. While I was sitting on the park bench decompressing I talked to an American Serviceman who was there for a flight back to the US. His take on Germany and her people was….let’s say less than complimentary.

After a couple cigarettes I set to figuring out how to get to Terminal One, I walked over to the bus schedule posted on a sign nearby. It seemed like an hour before I finally saw the right bus. The bus drive took about fifteen minutes to get around the perimeter of the airport to Terminal One. Now I mentioned that I had researched heavily before heading to Germany however there is one detail I missed researching, the layout of the airport. If you’re familiar with FRA Port (Frankfurt am Main airport) you are already aware of my folly here. When I returned to Frankfurt for my flight home I immediately realized that the sky trolley connected terminals one and two directly. Upon looking up the airport map just now I could have easily walked to Terminal One in about five minutes. I had to laugh at myself for it when I realized my folly. I don’t know how I missed it; my lack of sleep, lack of familiarity with my surroundings, and barely passable German ability (at that time) probably played into it, but I felt like quite a dumbass.

I stepped off the bus and made my way into the terminal and found my way to the train station.  I walked up to the counter and asked for a train ticket to Heidelberg (bear in mind that this conversation was going on in German). The teller asked if I wanted a one-way ticket, I didn’t recognize the word, when I asked her to repeat she then asked if I wanted a one-way or two-way ticket. At this point it dawned on me what she was saying and I was able to secure my ticket.  I stood in a smoking area on the correct track while I waited for my train which was an ICE or inner city express, which would take me to Mannheim where I would connect to an RB, regional train, to the Heidelberg main train station.

While I was waiting for the train I got into a conversation with a German guy around my age and he was quite happy to give me some advice on train travel and other things about living in Germany. When the train came we ended up in an open cabin with six seats in it. It was quite enjoyable to sit back and watch the country side roll by and not have to pay attention to driving. This was my first time traveling by train. I don’t remember where my temporary companion and I parted ways, but the trip as far as Mannheim went well. I was able to find my connection to the slower train that would take me to Heidelberg.

On the train ride to Heidelberg I noticed an American girl around my age seated near me with quite a bit of luggage. As the train was rolling into the train station I noticed she was getting her things together, so I slung my bag onto my shoulders and stepped forward to offer her a hand with her bags. Which she accepted, that is how I met Steph, she was returning to Schiller International University, the school where I was doing my semester abroad. She suggested we split a cab over to the university, since they would probably let me check in a day early, so it seemed a like a good idea. Unfortunately I didn’t see Steph very often throughout the semester and have since lost touch.

The cab pulled up in front of a large brick building at the base of a wood covered hill. The building itself was formerly an estate for some land owning family. It was quite large with a good sized courtyard. After the cab was paid for Steph led me up to the housing office where I met Heidi, the housing director. I learned that I was not going to be able to check into the dorm, an apartment really in a building a block from the school. Heidi did let me leave some of my stuff in her office, so I moved some of the contents of my bags around so that all I had to carry was my day pack.

My plan was to stay at the Youth Hostel which was right on the river next to the Heidelberg Zoo. So being familiar with the layout of the city from studying a map that hangs on my wall today I started walking toward the river which was west of where I was and I knew the street one block down would take me to the river from there I would follow the walking trail along the river to the Youth Hostel. It was a lovely walk through town as far as the river, soaking in the architecture and getting used to the feel of European streets. As I made my way to the river I kept my eyes open for businesses I would need to visit while living there.

Once I got onto the trail away from the open park there were trees on either side of the trail with the Neckar River on my left. I felt quite at home surrounded by trees and seeing the river, spending time in the forest is one thing I rather enjoy. The walk took me about forty-five minutes and seemed to be taking longer than it should have. When I finally came upon the Zoo my worry that I had somehow botched my memory of the map started to drop away sure enough I found the gate to the Youth Hostel shortly after the zoo.  I do recall that along the trail before I came abreast of the zoo there were three or four metal sculptures ten to fifteen feet tall.

By this time I had gone over twenty-four hours without sleep and I was quite disappointed to learn that I couldn’t check in until sometime in the afternoon so I would have to wait a couple hours before I could check in and settle into the room. To start out I bought a bottle of soda from a vending machine, probably a Fanta (the real one is made from mandarin oranges so it is nowhere near as sweet as an orange soda you buy in the states, I found I much preferred it) and started reading. My head kept dropping so I walked down by the river, I sat on a set of steps that ended in the river and started writing. Shortly after a Mallard hen and her ducklings joined me. Wildlife in heavily populated area’s never seem to be all that nervous about people, there I was about ten feet away from them and they hardly regarded my presence, I’m used to having to work to get that close to wildlife.

I’ll fast forward to checking in, I managed to get checked in, had a little trouble understanding that I needed to grab the bed covers from a cart near the front desk. I got to the room which had three bunk beds, and as I would soon discover was right next to the peacock house at the zoo. I am not a fan of the peacock’s call it reminds me of a scream.  I finally got to change out of the coffee stained pants that had the gaping hole in them. To summarize in case you didn’t read the previous post in this series, as I was leaving my airport of origin my pants split at the seam. On the flight from Detroit to Frankfurt I spilled coffee on my pants and into the pocket in the seatback.

Before I left for Germany I heard that the best way to adjust to a new time zone was to force yourself to stay awake and stick to the sleep schedule you normally keep in your home time zone. So I’m going with little to no sleep and had to make it until about ten o clock that evening.

There were four others in the room I was in three were a group traveling together around my age, who I got along with well and they invited me to join them in going out to a club that night, but with the lack of sleep I had to decline. The fourth was a man in his sixties on a bike trip through southern Germany that started on the Swiss Border. He was an interesting character we had some interesting conversations. I ended up having a couple beers with him at the youth hostel before retiring for the night.

At around three in the morning he shook my shoulder because I was snoring, not realizing this I almost got up and started getting ready. I turned on my cell phone, for some reason the only time piece I had at the time, so I figured oh I was snoring and went back to sleep. I woke up to my alarm at seven the next morning, went down and grabbed breakfast then made the walk back to Schiller.

That covers my first day in Germany.

A Folly Filled Flight to Frankfurt

In August of 2005 I set out to begin a semester abroad in Germany. My flight originated at Sawyer International, the Marquette County, MI airport. My flight was around four in the afternoon, so I ran some errands in Marquette before heading to the airport. Since I smoked at the time and hid it from my family I took advantage to get a couple cigarettes before my flight to Detroit, which was my connection directly to Frankfurt. I remember that it felt almost surreal to see FRA printed on my baggage tag. A friend of mine met me at the airport to see me off along with my family. He gave me a pocket sized Moleskine journal which traveled with me until I filled it and retired it in favor of one I bought to replace it (I bought it at a shop in Venice, Italy… there were some gorgeous leather bound journals in that shop, but they were way the fuck out of my price range). To this day it is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have received in my life.

As I was tucking something in my backpack, which was on the floor between my legs, to walk over and go through security my pants split at the seam. The split was a good 7-8 inches long. Since my clothes were in my check bag, I didn’t have an option to change my pants. I spent the rest of my trip being careful not to expose the gaping hole in my pants. Trial one, I’ve had it happen before, I’m not the skinniest of fellas. I said my goodbyes and cleared security, since Sawyer is a tiny airport (except the Runway, it’s a former bomber base so the runway is huge.) it didn’t take long to clear security and we still had a good fifteen to twenty minutes to wait. I got myself as comfortable as I could while still hiding the hole in my pants and started reading the book of the moment (The Pentagon’s New Map, I don’t remember the author’s name). At some point I looked up from my book and saw my family standing on the other side of the glass partition watching me. I gave them a sheepish wave while thinking why didn’t they just leave? I couldn’t get within five feet of the glass anyway. Finally we were allowed to walk out to the plane, a twin engine SAAB turbo prop. I ended up at the front of the airplane sitting next to the one flight attendant. If I remember correctly his name was Jason and we ended up shooting the shit between his duties. I don’t remember much of the flight, I’m sure I spent most of it watching out the window, I love looking out the window of an airplane.

When I landed at Detroit my first priority was to find my way to the departure gate for my flight, then find a place where I could have a cigarette. When I found my gate the flight was already boarding and there were only about fifteen people in line, well fuck this is going to long flight. I’m not fond of flying commercial, not because I’m worried about the flying aspect, but rather being surrounded by people. I have social anxiety so I’m not very comfortable in crowds. As I was boarding the flight attendants were dealing with a large family that was on the flight trying to make sure the children in the group were seated with adults since their seats weren’t all together. There was a language barrier involved so the going was slow. Once I managed to find a window of opportunity to get past the falderal I found my seat. My seat was on the left side aisle in the middle section of the plane (an Airbus A-330) somewhere near the middle of the cabin.  As is my habit I read the safety card provided so I knew where the exits were, I’m not nervous about the flying part but if something goes down I want to know what I’m doing. (One of my favorite pass times while flying is watching Other passengers when the air crew drops the flaps and gear respectively…It might make me a sick bastard, but I love catching the looks on people’s faces when they don’t understand what is going on…panic isn’t an uncommon look in someone’s eyes)

I tried to look half assed interested when the safety briefing video was playing, I had just finished reading all the information after all. I just settled into my seat and got ready for a seven hour flight, I wasn’t too thrilled that I had to crane my neck to see out a window, I wish I had known then that one could request the emergency exit row, with all I’ve read about aviation I’m probably more qualified than most to sit an emergency exit.

Once we were in the air I started reading my book, about an hour into the flight reality finally set in and a million things started rolling through my head. I pulled out the new Moleskine Journal and started writing my thoughts and feeling feverously. I knew  I had to get to Heidelberg (my home away from home on a foreign shore) from the airport though never having been there I was freaking out about finding my way to the train station, having enough money to get through the semester, basically any part of my plan that had the potential to fall apart. One thing I can say for frequent anxiety, I have become an excellent contingency planner because I’m always expecting things to go sideways. So after some writing I settled into playing cheap video games on the in flight console, then watched a couple movies before trying to grab some sleep.

I could not fall asleep so I was bouncing between movies, my book, and writing most of the flight. I was pretty aggravated when most everyone in the cabin was asleep because there wasn’t a single shade open in my line of sight and I was experiencing mild vertigo from the motion of the plane and not being able to sense the horizon, I would have been happy to have an artificial horizon to display on my screen. I’m grateful that I’m not given to vomiting, that would have made for a miserable flight.

When they finally served breakfast I really felt the need for the cup of coffee the cabin crew offered me. It was quite hot so I launched into eating the breakfast. As I was eating I noticed that the tray table had an indentation for cups. Not remembering anything about basic physics my sleep deprived mind thought it a good idea to slide the cup into the cup holder. The Coffee spilled forward over my lower thighs and lower leg and into the magazine pouch of the seatback in front of me. So now on top of a hole in my pants I had coffee stains all over them as well, couple that with no sleep I probably looked like hell.

Once we landed and got off the plane I hit the airport money exchange and converted my pocket money to Euros to cover my train and a few meals till I got situated in Heidelberg. Then I retrieved my bag and cleared customs. At this point I was beyond ready for a cigarette so I ended up wandering the airport until I found the main entrance to Terminal One where I was able to get outside and have the cigarette I had been craving since Detroit.

Watch future travel posts for more stories from my semester in German.

Photo: Statue on the Old Bridge in Heidelberg, Germany. It has noting to do with the story, but I felt compelled to throw a photo out there.

Waiting for the Other Shoe To Drop

The past two days have been good, little anxiety and depression, it has been great. For reference I’ve been in a funk, anxiety or depression crushing me for about the last month. So two days in a row without anxiety attacks or feeling like there isn’t a fucking thing in this world worth a damn has been nice. Even though I’m happy to be in this state I just can’t trust it. With every situation that causes anxiety or depression, I find myself expecting my heart rate to explode or if it’s depression my heart to drop through the floor to wherever the fucker goes when a wave of depression hits me.

The depression is worse than anxiety for sneaking up on you because you’ll be going along on an even keel then before you know it your ship has capsized and you’re watching your heart sink to the bottom of the fucking ocean.  Whereas the anxiety is a little more like a gathering storm, hell I may as well stick with the naughtical theme here, you’ll be going along and get this sense that something is changing in the atmosphere. Looking out to the horizon you can just make out a dark line, watching it more closely you realize it’s clouds of a building storm. You have time to prepare, you can change course to try to skirt the edge of the storm (The course change would be doing something you know helps you cope with anxiety, like getting out of the situation for a few minutes to collect my thoughts in my case, probably why I am a heavy smoker…bad coping mechanism I know.). If the Storm proves too large you still have time to turn your bow into the waves and prepare to ride out the storm (facing the situation with a fake fucking smile until you can get to your refuge and do what helps you get through to face another day. For me that’s getting home to write, read, watch TV, or play video games depending on the day.).

I know I am not alone in this; I have a support group that consists of people who deal with anxiety and depression as well and have had them share this sentiment with me or agreed with me when I have. So here I sit enjoying some wine and Gaelic Storm on the radio. Writing not as a means to hold onto my sanity, but rather because I actually enjoy doing this shit. I would probably go for a walk in the woods if there weren’t so much snow on the ground here.  It’s funny how the things I do to hold on to my sanity are the same things I enjoy the hell out of when I’m having a good day…….Wait no it makes perfect sense really, if I enjoy doing it wouldn’t it be comforting in hard times???

So till that other shoe drops I’m going to do my best to enjoy life, and not worry until it happens.