Thinking Thursday: Halloween

This Saturday is Halloween, and I am looking so forward to seeing all the little costume-clad visitors at our door.  In years past, this was one of my few “decorating holidays,” and the girls would help me decorate inside and out. Spiders, black cats, ghosts and goblins – they were everywhere we’d look.

Holidays change as our girls are growing. First Big G moved away to college, and now Little G is more interested in her group’s get-togethers and plans.  We don’t decorate anymore, except for the front door.  (My G likes to put a cover on the door that lights and makes creepy noises…he is the candy-giver when he is home.)  I still buy candy, though, and we still leave the light on so little trick-or-treaters will know our house is ready for them.

Here is this week’s question –

What is Halloween to you?

To me, Halloween is usually the first major milestone on the way to the blessed relief from the heat. I grew up in the Southwest, and we live in Texas – it often stays hot right up until and often past Halloween. Even here, however, the nights have usually begun to cool and we have sometimes seen the first “cold snap” (if an evening that reaches 50 degrees can be considered a cold snap).

Halloween is socializing, quick visits with neighbors and strangers. It is the humor of the costume, the awesome and the absurd.

Halloween is candy, and I definitely do have a sweet tooth.

Halloween is family, whether we trick or treat or not – there is a pause as we stop work or school and do something just a little different from the norm.

How about you?

No Color But the Gray – Depression

Gray 1

Over the last week or so, several friends have posted about depression.  They have commented that the seasonal blues are coming on because of the gray weather. They have been brutally honest about lifelong or situational struggles.

This has been a difficult post to write because so many members of my own family, immediate and distant, have fought depression (and its ugly sister, anxiety) with varying degrees of success.  There is such a fine line between honest discussion and oversharing/privacy concerns.

So let’s start with the basics.  Depression sucks.  It is a time-waster, an energy vampire, a heavy and laden weight.  It is different for each individual, and thus difficult to define.  Is it sadness? Is it fatigue? When many people think of depression, they imagine someone curled in a ball, crying their eyes out. They picture tears, sobbing, or a look of sadness. Perhaps they picture grief.

I once heard someone described as “always so happy go lucky” – who had just committed suicide. No one paid attention to the dark moods that came over him. “He could be moody sometimes.” Obviously, there is a serious disconnect between understanding when someone is feeling the blues and when they are clinically and deeply depressed.

What I am noticing more and more is that depression does not look like what we think it would look like. It isn’t always a person curled in a ball, hiding out.  It isn’t always someone who looks sad.  And we can feel deep depression and not recognize it in ourselves, because it doesn’t always look or feel sad.

It can feel anxious, without necessarily being an anxiety disorder.  It can feel flat and emotionally dead.  It can feel like the world is gray and dark.  Sometimes it can feel sad, or grieving – without necessarily having a cause for the grief.

I did a very quick Google search for “What does depression look like” to get a fuller picture of others’ experiences.  Google Images was especially helpful, with darkly amusing comics, happy faces with sad eyes (especially Robin Williams’), and charts that explain some of the more common symptoms or types of depression.

I think it is important for us to know what depression feels like, for our own benefit.  And to know/understand what it might look like, so we can help loved ones.  I have debated with myself at length about what to share, how much to share, and where to direct others to go.  I don’t feel like I know enough to say, “This is good information,” or “This is utter bunk.”  There is a very real risk in giving the wrong information and I would always suggest that someone dealing with depression would seek professional health.

But there is a deep thirst for knowledge, both from those who are fighting back the gray, clammy, cloud of depression, and from those who seek to understand the fight.

There is a desire to know – What is this thing, how can I help, how can we win?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are the signs that it might be depression, not just feeling “down” or “blue”:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

gray 2

Appetite – too hungry or never hungry.  For me, I’ve felt like everything tasted like cardboard.  Yum.

Sleep – can’t sleep, can’t get enough sleep.  Constant wakefulness is one symptom I’ve seen in others. I have dealt with lifelong sleep issues where I cannot stay asleep, and it gets worse when I have fought depression.

Aches, pains, digestion issues that resist treatment or diagnosis.  Headaches, stomach pains…

Most of these are not sadness.

I call it “The Gray” because that’s how my world has seemed when I’ve dealt with it. Mostly my issue has been hormonal, but not always. I have noticed symptoms of anxiety that come along with depression, which is very common. The two are like the ugliest sisters you could imagine. One gray and somnolent, one spiky and frantic. No wonder no one wants to be with those two.

The thing is, depression can be fought. It is treatable. Medication works wonders for many people. Diet, exercise, yoga, meditation and even alternative therapies like acupuncture may help others. Statistically, most people are best helped through talk therapy and medication together, to handle both the physical and emotional roots of the disorder. It takes energy to fight, and energy is one thing depression robs us of – there is an ugly irony in that. This is why it is so important to seek help.

Choices for treatment are very personal, and everyone’s situation will be a little bit different.  The important thing is for us to understand what the “gray” looks like – we need to recognize it in ourselves, and in our loved ones. We need to ask the hard questions – not just, “are you ok?”, but really let the people around us know that we see them. We can look up from our phones and our navel-gazing long enough to really see people. We can recognize when they appear different. We can recognize that they seem to be carrying a heavier weight.

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about coming right out and asking someone if they feel suicidal, so the conversation is beginning to open up about the truly hard topics.

I have not talked nor written a lot about my own depression for the same reason most people don’t – it is intensely private, and sometimes frightening.  So, yes, I get it. If we talked about it, we might have to deal with it.  And treat it.  And get down to the nitty gritty business of admitting that we, or someone we love, needs help.  And that is work.

But it’s worth it.  And there is hope.

It’s time we talk about the gray.  And it’s time we are honest about it.

Sun 1

Poem couplets copyright 2015, Casey Fogle

The Splinter of our Discontent

Do you ever have days where it feels as though there is a splinter, or a thorn, or some sort of irritating thistle rubbing and scratching you, just below the surface?

No?

Liar.

I don’t usually start my blogs by calling people names, of course, but I am a pretty good study of human nature and I know without a doubt that there are days when something or someone is just getting to you.

And you probably wish there were a way to just wiggle that little splinter on out.

Everything else may be going absolutely wonderfully, but the feeling of that little scratch, scratch, scratch is making you just a little crazy.  You might not be able to appreciate the wonderfulness around you, because of the irritant.

One year, we went to Disneyland, which is one of my very favorite places.  The very first morning, I smacked my ankle HARD on a bike rack.  The resulting (swelling) bruise made it very difficult to enjoy anything because the pain was a distraction.  Disneyland hadn’t changed. It was still magical.  I just couldn’t appreciate it.

Sometimes relationships can be affected by “splinters” or “bruises,” too.  The person has not changed.  Our relationship with them is still amazing, strong, and otherwise satisfying.  But the circumstances of our lives get in the way and we feel like there is a splinter irritating us.

We think, “Gee, if I could just get rid of this splinter, things would be great.”

The thing is, when we remove a splinter, sometimes we can be pretty harsh.  We try using our fingertips at first, and maybe we get part of it out. Then we try the tweezers, trying to grab the end of the thing.  If we can’t reach the tip, then we might widen the opening. Sometimes we open it WAY up. and the splinter is still there but now we have a wound.

Sometimes we ignore it, and hope it will go away on its own.

Sometimes it gets infected.

Sometimes, we need help.  We need someone to shine a bright light on the splinter, and help us see more clearly to fix the problem.

All of these things apply to relationships, too.  We can be pretty harsh when we are irritated by something outside of the relationship that is causing problems inside the relationship.  We snap at each other, we get irrationally irritated by the same things that have been there since the beginning of the relationship but now we feel like we can’t bear it any more.

Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need someone to look at the “splinter” under a strong light and use a fine touch to help us see where the problem is.

Sometimes, in our marriage or other connections, we need to go and do something nice for or with each other to ease the wound or the irritation.

We are in a season of our lives, My G and I, where things are really, really good.  We have an older daughter who is independent and happy. We have a younger one who is finding her strength and spirit. We are coming to the end of a mostly-satisfying career (his) and have reached the end of an educational goal (me), and we are dreaming big dreams together.  And we like each other.

The splinter is caused by the restless “what next” feeling that we are both facing, talking about where we want to live and trying to get our professional feet underneath us so we won’t be living in the car once he retires. There is both an abundance and a dearth of time before he will be finished with this part of our lives – and the push-pull urgency/inertia is getting to both of us.

Nothing has changed in our marriage, but we sometimes get distracted by the scratchy irritant.  And so we are making time for each other, and for fun. We make plans for more frequent dates that have nothing to do with the Army.  And we know without a doubt that the splinter will work its way out, with or without help, because we have faced other “splinters”.  I know that he is not the cause of my frustration or irritation.  I know that I am not the cause of his distraction or impatience.

We are not each other’s splinter.  But we can be the bright light for each other, and shine a focus on the solution.

ThornsAnd roses

Thinking Thursday – What Makes You Proud Today?

I am tired, and brain-weary. I have a stack of books to sell back, a smaller stack to keep and organize, and pages upon pages of notes to recycle/toss/shred/something.

The term is done.  The last two classes only await the final grades – all papers, discussion boards, etc are turned in.  These are the last two classes of the program to earn my Masters’ Degree in Human Services Counseling, Marriage & Family.

Done.

(Today I also applied to two different jobs and paid bills.  It’s been a busy morning.)

I feel kind of numb inside, though, you know?  I mean, it’s been full throttle moving forward, study study study, write write write…  I completed a really big goal, and accomplished something no one in my immediate family has done before.

But now it’s done, and I am in a similar position as what I was in before – applying for jobs and unsure of what the future holds.

I’m really tired of being “between”.  And I guess that’s what this blog is all about, finding out where I’m coming from and seeking the open door at the end of the hallway.  Mostly, I am ok with this.  Today, I am kind of…done.

I will add that I am really proud that I finished this challenge, that I did well, and that I learned a lot.  For that reason, today’s question allows you to toot your own horn:

What are you proud of, today?

Let’s celebrate, together.  For those things that are finished and fulfilled, for those feelings that are strong, or muddled – let’s celebrate.

Piles Upon Piles....

Piles Upon Piles….

Thinking Thursday: What Would You Like to Talk About?

There is so much going on in the world that we don’t talk about in polite company.  There is a whole list of things, in fact, that sometimes reads like George Carlin’s famous list of curse words he’d get censored for saying.

Guns.

Sex.

Money.

Religion.

Politics.

And yet, at the root of it, there is much that we need to talk about, as people and as a country, in a more civilized and actually listening way than we ever have before.

Guns.

Sex.

Money.

Religion.

Politics.

Emotions are high about these subjects, because we all have our preconceived notions that surround them. Certain words pop up and our ears just close until we are shrouded in a sea of silence – a sea we have created ourselves.  We put up protective barriers around ourselves so we don’t hear things that make us uncomfortable, or we refuse opportunities to discuss important things in fear that we might disappoint people who love us by feeling a different way than they do.

Both of these things, refusing to listen and being unable to talk, mean that we miss out.

Both of these mean that things do not change, and when they do change, no one is happy about it.

So my question for you this thinking Thursday is,

What do you wish you could talk about?

What topics make you the most passionate…or the most afraid?

Which topics bring you joy?  Or offer a sadness that desperately needs the reprieve of sharing?

I hope you’ll share with me.  I hope we can be brave together.

I have much on my mind, as well, and in the next few days I have some words to say about the topics I listed above.  I’ve talked about religion before, so that has become rather easy for me.  But other topics are still so verboten that only the most stalwart (or angry) seem to be able to write about them.  I don’t want to close people off when I write, so my passion (anger, sadness, joy, regret) will need to be carefully explained.  But still I will write.

Even about the topics that scare us.

Even about the topics that worry us.

Even about the topics that divide us, because we do not listen.  Or care.  Or both.

Will you join me?

Walk with me a ways.

Walk with me a ways.