The Gift of Uncertainty

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For most of my life I’ve struggled with depression. It has been my longest and, with the exception of my wife, most loyal companion. I’ve never had to worry whether this companion would abandon me. It has always been there, a most loyal foe. Depression has manifested itself in my life in various ways. Early on, depression became extreme fatigue and shyness. Throughout my adolescent years, depression took the form of intense anger. For the majority of my twenties, depression made itself known as an intense and literally suffocating anxiety. And up until about seven years ago, depression took the form of excessive drinking and all the less than pleasant results that accompany such an activity. It is difficult when depression is one’s guiding force, but we carry on.

 

Now, two years ago things changed drastically. The depression became so intense, so disabling, that it stopped me in my tracks. I could no longer use my tried and true method of gritting through it. I gave it my best effort. I pushed myself, even as my reserve emptied and a terrifying sense of hopelessness set in. And not without a valiant fight, I surrendered. It was a crushing blow that shook my sense of being and challenged my faith that there was a purpose in all things.

 

Over the past two years I have had two major breakdowns which put me in the hospital and forced me to retire with disability from a nearly eighteen year career. A career that was a major source of my identity and self-worth. Although I have income, which I am so grateful for, I have yet to renter the workforce in any meaningful way. When a man is unable to work he feels half-a-man.

 

This is not to say that I have not made progress. Quite the contrary. Over the past several months I’ve worked with my psychiatrist to come up with the right medication balance, and it is working. My mood improved and I even went back to school to start a new career that is much more in line with my creative interests.

 

But life is relentless. And when there are lessons we must learn, the circumstances will be provided. Four months ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that is most likely benign. I initially went to the doctor because my right eye had been getting progressively blurry over the past two years. I know. Why did I wait so long? Because the mind wants to believe that everything is okay. I had every eye test possible and was told that my eyes were fine. Eventually, I had a CT scan and then got that unnerving phone call where they ask you if you’re sitting down. I was told that I had a mass in my brain that was 2.3 by 2.5 centimeters in size, about half the size of a golf ball. I was told I needed to have an MRI to get a better understanding of what type of tumor it was. Based on the MRI, my doctor diagnosed the tumor as a meningioma, a brain tumor that is most likely benign. Turns out my blurry vision was caused by the tumor pushing against my optic nerves. I’m scheduled for surgery this Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

 

Although I’ve never felt sorry for myself through this, I have been profoundly affected by this situation. There has been plenty of anxiety and fear, but even more, there has been a wonderful awakening. I’m beginning to understand that there are some things you can only learn through uncertainty. Up to now, I had never faced a situation that was so out of my control. Even when my depression was at its worst, I could always grit through it and work harder to overcome it. But with a brain tumor, there is really one choice: let go and have faith. There are things I can control. I can take good care of myself, eat well, get plenty of rest, etc. But ultimately, I am placing myself in the comforting and experienced hands of God and my surgeons.

 

While I do believe all will be well, surgery will be successful and life will go on, the changes that are taking place are wonderfully profound. I have developed a much deeper sense of gratitude for family, friends, and people in general. My faith in God, while already strong, has become deeper and more profound. I am learning to stay focused and immersed in the present moment and soak it up for all its worth. And I’m learning to let go and trust in the face of situations over which I have no control. There are many other awakenings taking place, seeds that I know are blossoming into a greater sense of equanimity, gratitude, and faith.

 

Oh, and the surgeon also said that this tumor very well may have contributed to my depression and its intensity over the past two years. So maybe, just maybe, my loyal and unrelenting foe, will say goodbye. We’ll see…

 

 

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Stay the course. Keep the faith. You’re a hero.

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True Moments

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Sometimes, or really as often as we can, it’s important to stop and realize, really appreciate, just how beautiful this world is. We tend to whiz through our days, seeing only the blur of moments that should really take our breaths away. Work, school, taxes, mortgages, promotions…all important things, necessary for a well-ordered life. But the true moments are different. We’ve all experienced them, even if only once or twice. Moments where we find ourselves at peace with things, as they are. We look up, and instead of seeing alarm clocks, buzzing traffic, and responsibilities, we see a world so beautiful, so perfect that we sink into our being, if only for a moment.

I don’t know why these moments happen, or why they are so hard to come by. But thank goodness, they do come. If we wait, patiently. If we keep up the day-to-day business and don’t give up, those beautiful moments do come. And it doesn’t always happen when we expect it. Maybe in the supermarket or on the freeway. Maybe at work. One doesn’t have to be standing in front of Half Dome to experience the wonder, the beauty that is life.

The thing is that these moments are always there, have always been there. Even when we’re angry, sad, tired, scared, stressed, depressed, jealous or just plain grouchy, these moments are still being offered up to us. We can’t always take part, and that’s okay. But just to know that these moments are there gives me solace, comfort, and happiness.

Stay the course.

Keep the faith.

You’re a hero.

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Message for Today. Don’t Give Up.

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Depressed minds get stuck in a terrible winter. And in the midst of this cold, dark season it feels as if things will always be this way. But seasons do change if we just keep going. This is my message for today. No matter what your depressed mind is telling you. No matter how hopeless things may appear. They are not. They really are not. Depression lies. Don’t give up. Tread water if you must. Know that there are others who understand the internal battle that you fight every day. Keep being a hero. Don’t give up.

 

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stay the course. keep the faith. you’re a hero.

Art Therapy and Anxiety

Here’s a good article on using art to manage anxiety. I tried the first technique, Anxiety Expressing Itself, and found it helpful and pretty revealing. I learned that my own anxiety is related to feeling sad and scared that I will never reach my full potential. Never would have thought this, but it’s worth exploring. Definitely worth a quick read.

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Managing Stress

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Found this short video on managing stress. It’s helpful for understanding how stress affects the brain, mind, and body. I have to say that, for me, managing stress meant leaving a job that was too stressful. As a man (and I imagine for women too), admitting that a job was too stressful for me felt like weakness and failure. But the truth is that having Bipolar 2 disorder, means that I have to limit the amount of stress in my life. If I don’t, the consequences can be catastrophic. I know this from experience. I spent a few days in the hospital because I refused to limit my stress. My mind and body finally said, “Enough!”

So I left a job that I had worked for the 17 years. I was terrified to do this, but I had no choice. I applied for disability retirement and, by the grace of God, was approved. But I would have left the job either way. We’ve had to make adjustments to our lifestyle due to less income, although these adjustments were far less catastrophic than I thought they would be. In many ways, they’ve made my life better. I spend more time with my wife and kids, and actually listen to them, instead of staring off blankly while they try to interact with me. We don’t eat out as much, which has lead to healthier eating. And there have been a lot of other positives that have come as a result of having less money. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’m also pursuing a new career as a graphic designer, which is much more in line with my personality and interests ( I was a school administrator in my previous job.)

I think the key is that we are more important than the things that stress us out. And although change can be hard, it is well worth the sacrifice. We’re definitely worth it. Our self-worth doesn’t come from our jobs or possessions. It took me 46 years to learn this, but I finally did.

 

 

 

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Stay the course. Keep the faith. You’re a hero.

The Science of Depression

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I often feel a sense of guilt for feeling depressed. The behaviors that depression promotes often make one appear lazy, angry, mean, etc. The reality is that the disease makes even simple tasks and responsibilities appear and feel monumental. This exhausting way of living makes a person completely different than she or he would be if not depressed. If you don’t have depression, it’s probably difficult, maybe impossible, to understand. Compassion, empathy, and support are so very appreciated.

Education breeds understanding. I found the first video on this page helpful. Check it out…

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Stay the course. Keep the faith. You’re a hero.