Tenth blogiversary

Fri, Feb. 1st, 2013 11:12 am
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I started my Livejournal ten years ago today, when I was crushingly depressed, in the middle of my senior thesis, and so gray that Buffy was one of the only things that kept me going. I wrote a bit about how reading [livejournal.com profile] valerie_z's LJ got me to start using the word "depression" for what I was feeling, and I wanted an LJ of my own both to talk about my own depression but also to talk about Buffy. I didn't have many expectations, just the hope that a few people would drop by with kind words or Jossverse squee. Vague hopes, really, and even at my most optimistic, I barely touched on just how influential that choice to buy a one-month subscription—I didn't know anyone to get an invite code from—could possibly be.

I don't know what I would have done, those first few years out of undergrad, if I hadn't had my blog, if I hadn't had people talking honestly and openly about therapy and meds, both things that absolutely terrified me. I don't know what I would have done without book recs and squee and people cheering me on when I got my first Real Job, particularly when I knew it was something my parents were not too happy with. I don't know what I would have done without you guys when my first boyfriend broke up with me, the sympathetic comments and treats in the mail and mix tapes (CDs) and phone calls all tangible proof that someone (many someones) out there cared.

This is how I first heard about Wiscon and how I decided to finally go in 2006, how I started to finally take what I had learned of feminism from you all and apply it to my experiences of being Chinese, to so many of the things that had bugged me in college that I couldn't quite put a finger on. This is how I learned to be angry and how I learned to speak up, how I learned that the best friends would listen and disagree and argue and it wouldn't be the end of the of the world, that Geek Social Fallacies were fallacies and not everyone I liked had to like each other. This is where I learned that what I had to say was important too.

I want to focus on this not because of how it changed my politics (because I've written a lot about that), but because of how it changed the way I interacted with people. Learning to say no, to disagree, to draw boundaries, to realize friendships aren't transitive, to trust my own instincts, to believe that I have something to say and something worth saying while also holding open the possibility of being wrong, all of these are things I do imperfectly, but these things have made such a difference to me offline, from grad school to my current relationship with CB to how I now interact with my family.

So much of who I am right now is tied up so tightly with this blog, from experiences both happy and painful to some of the best friends I have. Thanks to everyone who has read and commented, past and present and hopefully future. These collections of words didn't just save my life so many years ago, they've shaped and molded it into something I never could have anticipated, and I'm so glad my tenth blogiversary is happening at a time I'm starting to post more and when so many other people seem to be too.

(no subject)

Fri, Jan. 25th, 2013 02:01 pm
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I just saw the news that [livejournal.com profile] valerie_z has passed away. Oh man.

I never knew her in person, but I was an avid reader of her LJ when I first got into Buffy in college. In many ways, she helped save my life. She used to post frequently and at length about depression, and it was largely due to those posts that I managed to figure out that that was what was happening to me. And if she hadn't been so open about it, it probably would have taken me years more to acknowledge that my depression was depression, not just a bout, not just me being lazy and weak and sucky. I didn't gather the courage to go to therapy until a year or two later, but she played a huge part in my beginning to normalize depression instead of pretending it didn't exist, and I am so grateful she chose to talk about it online. The combination of personal and fannish Buffy talk on her LJ was a big factor in getting me to sign up.

I also loved reading her because she made me laugh, because she liked Dawn, because she talked about vidding. I still have one of her Dawn vids ("When I Grow Up") saved on my computer, downloaded from when she first posted it.

My thoughts are with her friends and family.

(no subject)

Thu, Jan. 10th, 2013 03:27 pm
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  • [personal profile] staranise has a brief guide to telling doctors about psychological symptoms. I kind of knew how I talked about depression has changed after years of therapy and when I compare it to how CB talks about it, but this really crystallizes it.
  • I've been having a ton of fun reading [personal profile] 12_12_12's posts on Avatar and Korra.
  • [personal profile] skygiants has been bookblogging her read of Les Miserables, which is really fun to read, especially after seeing the movie.
  • Captain Awkward has a really good post on depression being contagious; i.e. what happens when you're in a long-term relationship with a depressed person. The relationships in the letters are romantic, but I feel it applies to any long-term relationship. (Probably there is even more for when you are a child dealing with a depressed parent.) The comments in particular are great.
  • [personal profile] laceblade is hosting a discussion on potential anime/manga panels for Wiscon. It'd be great to get input from tons of people, even if you aren't interested in Wiscon!

Fannish things

Wed, Sep. 26th, 2012 03:06 pm
oyceter: (ouran fangirls)
CB and I have been watching Buffy and Angel, with him watching for the first time and me being all, "I want to watch [episode title] with you!" I think he just started this year, and we're already in the beginning of Buffy S7 and just finished Angel S4 yesterday.

It's funny because the prior seasons of Buffy make me feel nostalgic for the characters, who aren't quite as broken as they get later, but the latter seasons make me feel nostalgic for me, since I started watching live and engaging with fandom around S6. It's funny just how many posts I remember from when I was lurking around AtPoBtVS, from the ones connecting everything to Restless to all the spoilery ones I devoured.

I remember various fannish wars and arguments too, but mostly I have a large fuzzy feeling toward fandom right now. It's especially interesting going through memories as someone who just delurked and started to tentatively send out feelers, versus now, when quite a few of my best friends are from the groups of people I met on DW/LJ and I talk about it regularly with CB and we have OTW and I go to cons and etc.

I don't remember very much from my senior year of college since it was mostly being depressed, fighting with people, and being even more depressed, but I remember Buffy and Angel posts and discussions and what vids came out when and I can still tell you how my ideas about antiheroes and angst and manpain has changed just from AtPo.

And it's odd watching and knowing about all the social justice fail in the shows. I think CB gets a bit defensive when I critique at times, but he is newly falling in love with them, whereas I am the Bitter Old Fan ranting about Firefly and Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse and yet still cheers on the idea of a Joss-run SHIELD show.

Random notes, spoilers for all of Buffy and Angel )

Mostly, though, it's hard to believe this was ten years ago.
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For [personal profile] chomiji, who asked for "stories about your personal history and encountering and/or embracing a situation that occurred because of a point of difference" for her [livejournal.com profile] con_or_bust post.

1988-2010 )


Tue, Sep. 16th, 2008 10:45 am
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I've mostly been too busy with school to keep up with the news, particularly what's going on financially right now (main reaction: AIIIEEEEEEEEE!). So here, have some links:

  • I got to see [livejournal.com profile] rilina, [livejournal.com profile] laurashapiro, and [livejournal.com profile] cofax7 over the weekend, and I sicced the Korean movie Le Grande Chef on everyone. The movie's based on the same manhwa that the kdrama Gourmet is based on, although Gourmet is much, much better. Also, less cow death! But for $3 at Blockbuster in Taiwan, I feel it provided a great deal of entertainment value. And cow-related trauma.

  • Redefining Depressing as Mere Sadness - I read the title of this, rolled my eyes, and groaned. But the article is actually a debunking of the myth of depression as "mere" sadness, and the practitioner/author is more worried about the undertreatment of clinical depression.

  • The Bipolar Puzzle - Haven't finished reading this, and so far, the POV skews toward "OMG bipolar children are overdrugged and overdiagnosed!" despite the severity of the first case study. It seems to mostly concentrate on pediatric bipolar.

(no subject)

Thu, Jun. 28th, 2007 04:09 pm
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  • For those of you who have been reading the 2004 Italy trip write ups, [livejournal.com profile] jinian is blogging about her recent trip to Seville, complete with nifty photos!

  • [livejournal.com profile] vom_marlowe offers pie recipes, many of which feature Cool Whip, which I am assured is a sign of Midwestern cookery. I was introduced to Cool Whip a few years ago by my (American) ex; it is awesome. Also, I have been craving pie for a month or so for no really good reason. Thankfully, I found a wonderful pie place around here. Unfortunately, it's about half an hour away.

  • [livejournal.com profile] vom_marlowe also posts on depression, a subject that I sometimes wish were not quite so near and dear to my heart.
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Download vid (goes to website)

Alas and alack, I didn't get a chance to go to Vividcon and have been jealously reading everyone else's posts and downloading scads and scads of vids.

Since I can't do con reports, I figure I will write up in detail the vids that really got to me somehow, even if they weren't shown at VVC.

This one apparently premiered there. For some background, I've seen the BSG miniseries and the first six episodes, and then bits and pieces of S1. So I have a vague idea of what happens.

Everyone seems to be talking about Coldplay as a musical choice; I have no idea what is and isn't popular, so I had no idea. I had also read a little commentary prior to watching the vid, so I knew it wasn't going to be what it seemed.

That said, having the vid be from Six's POV, having this rather gentle, loving song be about Six's love for humanity and her desire to fix them, all this totally bowled me over. Also, it didn't hurt that the editing is awesome.

Vid write-up )
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Some things that happened over the weekend had me thinking about depression and about speaking out. On the importance of sharing experiences, of having someone else who was only an acquaintance before look across the table at you and say, "Yes. Yes, me too." On that one horrible secret you don't tell anyone coming out, on it being smaller, lighter, easier to carry once it's out of the dark.

Index of "On Depression" posts

I wrote about living in the mire of depression before and on watching someone you love and care about going through depression or mental illness as well. And I keep wanting to write about treatment, about recovery, about finding your way back. I didn't want to call it "recovering" or something, because I think that's somewhat deceptive. Sometimes you don't recover, not fully. Sometimes you heal. Sometimes you don't. For me, though, treatment and recovery and healing mean living with depression, not living in depression, knowing enough about myself and this disease to be able to coexist with it, to keep it from taking over my life.

The path out of depression has so many steps, all of them hard. But I keep thinking that the first one that I took was in finally admitting that I needed help. It's so easy to suspect depression and dismiss the possibility, to fear treatment, to fear the medication, to fear what it means for your life. And it's so easy to never decide to treat it; treatment is scary and new, depression is the familiar, even in its misery. And depression saps you of your will to do anything, much less take steps to cure it.

But one day, one month, you decide that you cannot do this anymore, and that the way out is not suicide or self-injury or the bottle or your multitude of dysfunctional coping mechanisms. For once, you decide that you need someone else's help. You ask a friend, a lover, a family member. You find a therapist or a psychiatrist. You have to talk about it in an office to a complete stranger without even knowing if this person will be the right fit. You're afraid that they'll listen to your story and tell you that you aren't depressed, that you just can't cope well, that there's really nothing wrong with you. You've told yourself this so many times before anyway.

You deal with therapists who don't seem to listen, therapists who spout platitudes and cliches. You get tired of trying, of telling the same story again and again. You deal with horrible office hours, missed calls, taking calls at the office, at the supermarket, whenever is most awkward. You worry about how you'll pay for all this. You hear horror stories on the effects a diagnosis of depression has on insurance rates. You try to read up on medication and hear people talking about their awful experiences on them, or you find articles that tell you the bad things the drugs do to your brain.

Then you have to get a prescription, get it filled, wonder what the lady at the drugstore counter thinks of you. There are side effects. There are weeks of waiting for the meds to kick in. There are even more battles with insurance and copays.

And then, hopefully, there is that one day when it feels like a cloud has been lifted from your eyes. And, oh, you can breathe, you can see, you can feel; you're alive and you're you and it's good. This is what normal feels like. This is that elusive feeling that's been evading you for years. It's so easy because finally, existence is no longer painful. Sometimes it takes a little time to recognize joy, so long a stranger. And finally, you can start working on being ok with yourself, on living.

Then there's family and friends and lovers, people at work, people at activites. Who do you tell? How do you tell them? How will they react? You try to tell some people and watch as a wall comes up. Other people say they understand but treat you like you're fragile and breakable. The worst tell you that it's not a disease, that willpower alone can conquer it. Well-meaning people ask you if you've gotten off your meds yet. There's pressure to be better, to never be down again, to suddenly be well. Other people try to help you by saying not to stress, not to worry, and they only stress you more.

But then, you find some people and you tell them, and maybe they've never dealt with this before, maybe they've had a family member or a friend deal with it, maybe they've been through the same thing. But they understand. They know the territory. And suddenly, you're not alone. It's always different, but having those people who don't think you're crazy, who can look at you and see you and not a disease, that's a gift.

Finally, when you think you've got it down, your medication stops working. You always have to worry and think, to test, to make sure that this grey day, that this bad mood is just a bad day, is stress. Sometimes you forget that normal people feel bad as well and that you can let yourself feel bad. But you can never let yourself forget that if it goes on for too long, if it persists even when the stressor is gone, that your old enemy is back and you have to muster up the energy to fight it again. You have to watch your diet, your sleeping habits, your mood more carefully, because anything could be a trigger.

But at least this time, you know enough to somewhat stave off the irrational thoughts, even though you still feel them. You have something built up: friends who will tell you that you sound off, family who will let you know that they're still there. You know you're the only one who can help yourself, you know that you can only get well when you decide to. But there are moments of grace, times when you don't have the strength, but someone else does. After a while, you find that you can sometimes even be that person.

And so, you keep going, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. It's not a straight path or an easy one, but it's progress, it's movement. It's not just choosing life, but choosing to participate in life.

2005 book round up

Fri, Jan. 6th, 2006 07:03 pm
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I read less than last year by a bit, probably by a lot volume-wise, because so much of this year was manga, which I read much faster. I am too lazy to separate out my manga read, and so I just count a volume as a book. I also still haven't figured out how to do LJ entries on manga -- sometimes I do entries on a chunk of volumes, sometimes I do overviews after I finish a series, sometimes I just hold off on writing anything until I've completed the whole thing. I dunno. I'll figure something out, I guess.

I didn't get quite as excited over what I read this year as well, which makes doing this difficult. I don't know if it's because I was concentrating on other things, like re-picking up knitting or having a better social life, or if it's just what I read. Last year it was tough just picking ten books out of all the good stuff I had read; this year, I'm sort of struggling to fill it. It's not that what I read wasn't good, it's that not as much hit quite as hard.

Anyhow, here are my ten favorite books of the year, alphabetically by author. I don't pick books written this year, but books read this year. And my definition of favorite is very fuzzy. Basically, it's anything that left a lasting impression on me, or anything that I smile at when I go over the list of books read. While I generally don't include rereads on the list, I also reserve the right to cheat horribly.

I've blogged all of these except some of the manga, for reasons explained above. You can find everything in my books memories. I am too lazy to link all 149 books.

  1. Loretta Chase, Lord of the Scoundrels

    This is a sort of placeholder for all the Loretta Chase books I read this year (Miss Wonderful, Mr. Impossible, and The Last Hellion). I loved all of them, though Lord of the Scoundrels is hands down my favorite. Loretta Chase is very good at taking some fairly boring and standard romance tropes, most of which I dislike, and inserting a proactive heroine, a hero who is completely ok with falling in love, and a plot that generally ends up enabling the heroine. LotS also subverts one of the romance tropes that I most dislike, that of the alpha bastard hero who treats everyone, particularly women, abominably because he had a rotten childhood. Chase writes about people who like each other while they're falling in love, which is all too rare in romance.

  2. Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

    This is a small, unambitious book that nonetheless made me happier than Gaiman's latest books. While the comedy relies on the awkwardness of the protagonist, there's a sense that Gaiman loves and identifies with Fat Nancy; the awkwardness isn't embarrassing, but rather, endearing. And in the end, it is, like Sandman, a story about the stories we tell ourselves and how stories shape our lives.

  3. Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

    Hornbacher's memoir is a stark, no-holds-barred look at the damage that eating disorders can wreak on a life; her descriptions of her ordeal are visceral and stunning. It's a painful read of someone who has dedicated her formidable intellect and willpower to destroying her own body.

  4. Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle

    Technically, this is a reread, but I remember vaguely not getting the book the first time I read it. This time, I loved it to pieces, from the decidedly imperfect characters to the wry narrative voice. The best part is that despite the moving castle and attempts to foil the Witch of the Waste's plans, the book is about the characters growing up and growing into themselves, while remaining crotchety and flawed. Jones never tries to make anyone in the book a straight-up hero, and that's why it works so well for me.

  5. Rosemary Kirstein, Steerswoman series

    Kirstein's Steerswoman series made me realize how much I missed traditional science fiction; her books are about knowledge and the scientific method, discovery and logic. She also does this without making the characters mere talking heads; rather, the process and not the results of uncovering knowledge and analyzing drives the main character. There's also a wonderfully rendered friendship between two women who are very different and yet respect each other.

    The series is yet unfinished and consists of The Steerswoman, The Outskirter's Secret, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power.

  6. Caroline Knapp, Appetites: Why Women Want

    Knapp's book is also somewhat biographical, like Marya Hornbacher's, but rather than describing the experience of eating disorders, Knapp attempts to analyze the whys and hows of them. She talks of deprivation of both the body and the mind, of the complex factors that feed into eating disorders and problems with body image. Sympathetic and compassionate, Knapp never loses sight of the human in search of the universal.

  7. Peter D. Kramer, Against Depression

    A deeply compassionate and very compelling argument on the destructiveness of depression. Kramer looks at how depression affects the people who suffer from it and the people in their lives; he gathers data on how much depression costs in terms of physical health and lost productivity. I would give this book to anyone who argued that depression wasn't a serious disease or wasn't a disease at all, as well as to anyone who argues that getting rid of depression would somehow tampers with the human condition.

  8. Minekura Kazuya, Saiyuki (spoilers in second half)

    Minekura's gorgeous art, sharp and sinewy, and the snarky, angsty, fallible characters are hard to resist. Sanzo, Goku, Hakkai and Gojyo are all wonderful, well-rounded characters in their own right; but I love them best as a group. They're all broken people who have found each other; they're all trying to recover from their pasts, and I love how they help each other even while they snark and bitch and moan and look incredibly sexy.

  9. Simon Singh, The Code Book

    One of the fun pieces of non-fiction I read this year. The book is deceptively simple until you realize how difficult some of the concepts that Singh is explaining. The invisible prose and effortless explanation make it an educational experience, but it isn't just a book on hows and whys. Singh never fails to show the reader how exciting he finds cryptography and code-breaking.

  10. Scott Westerfeld, Peeps

  11. This book made me go on a giant Scott Westerfeld binge that has yet to stop. Like the Steerswoman series, Peeps reminds me of why I love science fiction. Much of it lies in how enthusiastic Westerfeld is about parasites and the way they work, so much so that I didn't mind reading about gory deaths and biological details at all. Peeps takes the vampire novel, which I was getting bored of, and turns it into something else all together.

Also recommended: Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses; Rachel Manija Brown, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost; Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls; Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever; Teresa Edgerton, Goblin Moon; Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Laura Kinsale, Seize the Fire; J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and Tsuda Masami, Kare Kano.

Hrm, looks like there was a lot of non-fiction this year, particularly in the realm of eating disorders and depression. Why is this not a surprise to me? ;)

2004 book round up

Total read: 149 (6 rereads)

All books read )
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Many, many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] fannishly for giving me the permission to write about my experiences with having someone with bipolar and bulimia as a roommate. And of course for just being a cool roommate in general. But I want to add that this isn't a specific post on [livejournal.com profile] fannishly, but more on my experiences with my friends and family while I was depressed, as well as my experiences trying to be a friend to people who are depressed or mentally ill, and the experience in general.

This post isn't about depression per se, but on being friends with someone with a mental illness (or two), and on the general experiences of people who are close to or care about other people with mental illnesses.

And in case anyone takes it the wrong way, it isn't a condemnation of someone with a mental illness; rather, it should be an acknowledgement of how deeply a mental illness can affect many people's lives.

Just like any chronic illness, living with someone who has a mental illness, being friends with them, having a family member with a mental illness, all of it is very stressful. Depression is the one that I'm most intimately familiar with, but as stated above, my roommate and good friend has bipolar and bulimia. I'm not an expert on this. It seems to me, though, that the heart of much mental illness (at least the ones I've had experience with) is self destruction.

It takes the form of starvation, of apathy, of obsession; it always justifies itself. And it is so incredibly painful watching someone you care about destroy themselves, consciously or subconsciously. Mental illness always seems to be isolating; the very symptoms are ones that tend to alienate people just when support is needed most. And it is horrible watching and knowing this and still feeling the need to withdraw. You try to be a good friend or a good daughter, you know that someone you care about needs you, but you can't bring yourself to do anything or care because it is too tiring, because too much depends on you, because that weight on your shoulders is too tough to bear. You feel guilty and berate yourself for not being able to do anything. You constantly worry about saying the wrong thing. You restructure your life.

Sometimes you get angry at the person, even when you know that it's the illness speaking. Sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes you get confused. Even when you've gone through depression or illness, it's still hard to remember why someone you care about can't seem to get their life together. And when it's your first time dealing with mental illness, it's even more confusing. Someone in your life has drastically changed, they're not doing well, and you don't know what's going on or how to help. Every attempt to help seems to go wrong.

You never quite know what to expect. There's the day to day of not knowing what plans will be cancelled or kept, not knowing if you're going to meet up with someone who is ebulliently cheerful or withdrawn and sullen. You don't know when someone whose opinion you care about a lot will lash out at you. Something that makes them happy one day may make them suicidal the next.

I think the worst part for the person watching is the recursive nature of the beast. Every time your friend is feeling better, you start to get your hopes up. Every time the mental illness doesn't miraculously disappear, you feel disappointed. Being caught on that track of false hope and constant relapse is tiring; it feels like you're pouring your time and energy and strength and caring into a bottomless hole that will never be filled. Knowing that it's a cycle makes it so easy to stop caring because there's no end in sight, no promise of relief. And it's so hard not to feel angry or tired, it's hard not to disengage, especially when someone you care about is lashing out at the time.

I don't think that anyone should ever feel forced to stay, and I especially wouldn't encourage anyone to stay in an abusive situation, no matter how needy or ill the other person was. For me, one of the hardest things was trying to stay kind, trying not to be cruel when I was angry, because it would be like kicking someone who was already down.

It's hard to write this as well. There's the perspective of the depressed person, who desperately needs support and understanding and help. But then, there are so many other people it affects. What worked for me (hopefully) was to separate the person from the actions, separate the person from the disease. It didn't make things hurt less, but at least the despair and the anger and the hopelessness came without blaming the person, but rather, the illness. I think in the end, you just have to accept the way things are, without holding out or planning for recovery, because your life is now, you're in the moment, and promises of the future in depression are notoriously short-lived. And it's so hard and so sad to realize this, so heart-wrenching to think that someone in your life may always be in pain. It's so hard not to feel helpless. It's so hard to know that there really is nothing you can do.

You can't take responsibility. You can't get tangled up in the if-onlys. Sometimes the only thing you can do is admit to yourself that there's only so much you can do. You aren't a therapist, you aren't a psychiatrist. Your job isn't to fix things, but to help someone along on their own path to fix things. You can't make them take their meds, you can't make them stop injuring themselves, you can't make them promise not to kill themselves. Sometimes, all you can do is be there. Sometimes, you can't even do that because you're so tired and so hurt that even your best intentions come out wrong, and you only end up doing more damage.

You have to balance kindness with selfishness, because if you don't, you'll burn out, you'll care too much, and sometimes that's worse than caring too little. And I think people can care while still living their own lives. In the end, it's a delicate balance between giving and withdrawing, between your life and someone else's, between boundaries and open arms. Not a balance, actually, but a mixture; caring for yourself isn't a negation of caring for others, but an extension of it.

I don't want to make this sound like it is hopeless, because I don't think it is. I think friends and family help, and I never would have made it through without them. There's just that mix of feelings to be maintained, a careful check of emotional, mental, physical and financial resources to see how you can help and when, or if it's the time to take care of yourself for a little.

In the end, it's not the grand heroics that save the day, it's not the dazzling revelation of love that sweeps away depression, it's not the giant sacrifice that makes someone with a mental illness sit up, miraculously recovered. It's the day to day, sometimes the hour. It's a half-hour phone call slipped into the week, it's the casual email, it's the LJ comment or the mix CD. It's finding your own support network. It's doing all this despite knowing that it may only be a stopgap measure, it's giving resources that may never be returned. It's caring and being tired out and then trying again because you're human.

Index of "On Depression" posts
oyceter: Delirium from Sandman with caption "That and the burning baby fish swimming all round your head" (delirium)
I've been meaning to write this for a long time now, but I couldn't figure out how to organize it, or what to say, or how personal I should make it. I knew that I wanted to make this (and any subsequent) post public so that other people who are suffering from depression can stumble on it and read it.

I think I'll limit the content of this post to the experience of depression and leave recovery and the experience of having people you care about being depressed to other posts. Also, when I talk about depression here, I'm talking about major depressive disorder, not seasonal affective disorder or the downswings of bipolar, though it may also apply.

I used to read magazine articles on depression and wonder how people could tell the difference between being depressed and being moody, or sad, or angry, all normal reactions to external circumstance. As such, it's easy to go out and say that depression isn't really a mental illness, that it's just a slightly more extreme reaction to things. After all, everyone feels sad or down every so often.

Depression (for me at least) makes it so that the sad, down, grey, dreary feeling is the norm, that anything that brightens your day will quickly pass, that all you have to look forward to is drudgery, misery. [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink writes that depression is the least linear of narratives; it's an endless loop of self-loathing and recrimination, of a constant lack of energy. Every step forward only leads to two steps back, everything good is temporary, everything bad is forever. It's not dramatic, except for the occasional bursts of temper or crying jags, the suicide attempts or suicidal ideation, the bouts of self-injury. Even these are relegated to monotony; from the inside, it's only an increase in the level of misery. It will go away, but only for greyness to take its place, only to lurk around and come back another day when you're more susceptible.

That sounds bad enough, but the problem is, that's only the foundation. I don't know which is the cause and which is the effect, but on top of this drab existence is self-loathing, disgust, anger at yourself, at your friends, at your family, at the world. There's the bone-deep conviction that something is wrong with you, and that it's not a mental illness, but a character flaw. There's the thoughts that while other people have real and serious problems, you're only being weak and selfish. Other people suffer from depression; you are just stupid and lazy and fat and ugly.

I hope this doesn't sound romantic. It's not. It's tiring and boring and repetitive. After a while, you get sick of yourself, you get sick of your own misery, but the worst part is that you still can't stop. The suicide attempts and self-injury look like action, the anger and the crying jags are extreme emotion. But the day to day is feeling so worn down that the thought of getting out of bed to shower is too much. And you know that this is an easy thing, that everyone in the world over the age of six can do it, and yet, you continue to lie in bed while people tell you that you're going to miss class, miss work, miss going out. And you care, but not enough.

Everything in depression feeds into itself; you can't be depressed because you're just lazy and selfish, so you resist treatment. Labeling yourself as depressed is just a way out, it's another excuse, another act of selfishness that takes away from the seriousness of the disease. You're so mired in self-hatred and pain and lethargy that you can't imagine another way of being; you convince yourself that this is normal, that the brief moments of happiness are all you'll ever get. You remember the happier you of the past and believe that that person is dead and gone, or you remember the you of the past and can only hate yourself more for all the things that have gone wrong.

You lie there, unable to do the simplest things, while everyone around you gives advice and means well, but you can tell that they don't understand why you can't just get up/clean your room/write your paper/answer email. You feel like an even greater failure. Or else you rage at yourself for lacking the willpower, for being a failure, for being wrongwrongwrong. Then you hate yourself even more for being a horrible, ugly person, even as you alienate the few people who are still sticking around. You want to make them see how awful you are, make them leave, even while you're desperate and lonely and terrified of being abandoned. You test people to make sure they'll stay, and nothing is ever good enough. You cry without knowing why.

There's so much self-destruction underlying this, there's so much self-hate. You hate yourself so much, not passionately, but with a dead, grey certainty, that anyone who sees anything positive about you must be deluded or stupid. You sabotage everything you do. Your brain is your worst enemy.

Sometimes it gets so bad that the only thing you can do to make it stop is to hurt yourself physically, to scratch or cut or drink, to distract yourself from the pain that your life has become. Sometimes it gets so bad that the only thing you can do to make it stop is to think about everything stopping, when the only way to not hurt is to not be. Sometimes you only fantasize about these things and shy away, and instead of this being a good thing, it's only another sign that you're not really depressed. Sometimes you read about these things and know that you aren't there yet, so you take it as a reason why you are just messed-up and not mentally ill. Sometimes you are there, and you take comfort in the cold planning, convince yourself that everyone you know would be better off if you were dead because your very existence wrecks everything.

And then, when you can't go through with it, that's yet another thing that you fucked up, not a reason for celebration, because your life isn't worth celebration.

Depression is a disease. It's the worst kind of disease, one that takes over your entire self and convinces you that it's the real you. It closes you off in your own self-contained world. It flips a switch in your head so that any criticism or frown means that you suck, that any praise only means that you will disappoint people later. It translates "I like you" to "I liked you the way you were and now that you're like this, I'll abandon you." It takes everything good and twists it. And then, after it's done all this to you, it convinces you that you aren't sick at all, that this is the world, that this is reality. Or even if you do realize that things aren't normal, you lack the energy or the desire to make things better, because you don't deserve it.

And the worst part is, even when you're armed with knowledge, the voice in your head still goes on and tries to convince you that you are worthless, takes anything around you or in you and turns it into a weapon.

More smart people write about depression:


Index of "On Depression" posts

(no subject)

Thu, Sep. 22nd, 2005 12:38 am
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I had a green tea frappucino today (not all that extraordinary) and was suddenly struck by memories of Hong Kong (a bit more extraordinary) -- having green tea frappucinos for the first time there, treating myself to them on the weekends in icy-cold air-conditioned buildings of glass and metal, lonely rides on the subway and taxi back to my apartment, trying desperately to make myself feel better.

I wish I had more happy memories of Hong Kong. I loved the city itself, with its spindly sharp buildings jutting out into the sky, all crammed on a tiny island, the architecture in Central HK -- the famous Bank of China building, the somewhat less famous HSBC building and the Lippo Center, which wasn't so much famous as odd (it looked like it had metal koalas climbing on it). I loved the winding roads and the tropical lushness of it, how the balmy, humid air and the occasional patches of bright green contrasted with the slivers of steel and reflective glass.

But most of my memories are of wandering in those cold buildings by myself, always feeling a little less than real, a little too removed from myself. I was always in air conditioning, turned on at full blast to counter the summer humidity, and because I was interning as an investment banker, I worked from 9 till 2 in the morning, and I never felt the heat of the sun on my skin. By the end of that summer, I would welcome trips to other floors on the building, because that meant taking the non-air-conditioned stairways. And even so, even missing the sun that much, I would still sleep in till 5 in the afternoon on weekends, half out of exhaustion, half because I was so depressed that I couldn't think of anything else to do with myself, and so I would see even less sun.

After I transferred to private client in Taiwan for my last week as an intern, I danced around in the living room of my apartment my first day, jumping up and down and flailing about with my hands, out of the sheer joy that I was home before sunset for the first time in nine weeks.

I wish I had more memories of laughter and of the city proper, as cities should be, living and vibrant and bustling. Instead, I feel I only had the shell of the city, the hard glittering carapace that was more isolating than enlivening.

I thought about this as I walked from Starbucks to my car, on the way back to the office from a dentist's appointment. And despite being stressed out from work, despite knowing that I'd probably have to stay a little late, it was so good to have the sun on my face, to know that I'd be coming back to an apartment that was messy with activity, and fuzzy rats and [livejournal.com profile] fannishly for company.

I hope that all the green tea frappucinos I've been getting this summer make it so that they remind me of bright summer days in the downtown of my dinky city, walking back from the local farmers' market, arms laden with fresh fruits and vegetables. Or of nightly strolls to the used bookstore and the cool air against my skin, with sprinklers going in the park and feeling so very alive. The Bay Area isn't Hong Kong by any stretch of the imagination, but it very well could have been in my head during those first two years here; the loneliness, the sense that the city or suburbs were crushing me with unfamiliarity and unconcern, all of it made it so that even hot California summers were never warm enough. But now, I feel so drenched in sunshine and greenery and living things that my icy cool blended consumer-ist Starbucks drinks still can't make me shiver.
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[livejournal.com profile] fannishly had this sitting around, and then her therapist recced it, so, here I am.

Kramer begins the book by explaining that nearly every single talk he's given about depression and depression medication has someone in the audience raising his/her hand and asking, "Well, what about Van Gogh?" The book is mainly to dispell the gulf between medical knowledge of depression versus common perception of what depression is and why people still believe it is an essential part of the human condition and/or a contributing factor to genius.

Kramer does a very convincing job detailing why depression is indeed a disease and why it should be eradicated. He manages to go into medical details on how depression damages the brain, especially the hippocampus, how it increases the risk for heart attacks, and in general how much damage it does to the body. He also managed to scare the heck out of me! I was reading and basically decided that I needed to go find a therapist rightthissecond, because I like my brain! I want to keep it healthy! Also, hardening arteries and minor strokes and all that jazz very not good!

Anyhow, I found this very convincing, but I also don't have enough medical background or general background on depression to really be able to evaluate how well he presents current research. It seemed to be fairly balanced, and he does remark that many of the studies he cites aren't conclusive.

He does discuss several things that rung true with me though -- take with a grain of salt, of course. He mentions that with some of his patients, when they hit baseline or normal or the undepressed state, whatever it's called, they know it. They feel fully themselves again, even if they've been suffering from depression for a very long time. I remember finally hitting baseline for the first time in two years in March and how right it felt, how I had no doubts that this is how I was supposed to feel. It's that more than anything that convinced me that depression is a disease, not the way the body and mind normally operate.

Of course, all Kramer's chapters on how the depressed mind and body looks very different from a healthy body in terms of resilience and health were also very convincing! And he also mentions something that I found very interesting, that depression is basically a disease that affects the body and mind's resilience. A depressed brain repairs damaged neurons and neuron casing (glial cells) much more slowly than a healthy brain; depression similarly hardens blood vessels and makes them more susceptible to rupture and blockage, ergo the heightened risks of stroke and heart disease. Kramer correlated this cellular susceptibility to damage with the depressed person's mental and psychological lack of resilience. I can't say on a scientific level how true that is, but it personally rings true.

An end to depression, he argues, would mean a return to "normal" functioning on a cellular level, along with psychological resilience. The gist of the book seems to be that while feeling sadness and grief and pain is part of the human condition and contributes to art and such, depression occurs when the body and the mind cannot bounce back from such emotions.

Anyhow, I probably didn't need much convincing with regard to such points, but it was convincing all the same. Highly recommended.
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Diane Ackerman recounts her experience as a counselor for a suicide and crisis hotline, along with various musings on the nature of the human animal and how our states of crisis are somewhat reminiscent to animal states of crisis.

I picked this up mostly to see what sort of advice counselors gave to the callers; from a very practical standpoint, I felt as though I should see how the professionals did it. Ackerman doesn't so much focus on this; the book is more of a meditation on crisis and suicide, along with a chronicle of her own feelings of helplessness and weariness, and also of hope. I wasn't quite as impressed with her meditations on nature as I was in her A Natural History of the Senses, although I did very much appreciate the speculation on drunk squirrels and roadkill.

Er, I can't remember what it had to do with suicide hotlines, but come on! Drunk squirrels!

I am easily amused.

Anyhow, I didn't get as much practical advice as I wanted, but I liked the look behind the scenes and the feel that all these anonymous people out there suffering had somewhere to turn to.

(no subject)

Tue, Aug. 23rd, 2005 04:46 pm
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I've been thinking about making a post (or posts) on depression lately. One will probably be on the experience of being depressed, and one will probably be on the experience of being around someone who is depressed.

I'm still not sure if these posts will be public or not, or how much personal info. I'll be putting in them, but I figured I'd sort of check and see if people were interested.

Ergo, poll!

[Poll #557838]
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(subtitle: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself)

I liked this one better than How You Can Survive When They're Depressed, probably because I felt it had a slightly more balanced view of people who are depressed. Either that, or else it just made me feel less guilty or something. It doesn't look quite as closely at the effects that depression has on other people, like the other book did, but it does seem to be a much more practical guide for people who just want to figure out how to deal with someone who is depressed.

The book gives guidelines for how to tell if someone is depressed, and tips on how to help out. Most of the tips are pretty much the same, even though the book is split into sections for lovers, parents, children and friends. I suspect the authors did this so people could just flip to the applicable chapter instead of read straight through like I did, because the book does get fairly repetitive that way. It also goes into dealing with suicide or suicidal behavior, constructive behavior, therapy and meds. Although I found a lot of the examples too pat -- problems got resolved so easily in the book -- the guidelines in general do seem to be good ones. However, I do wish that the authors said something more about the limits of what you can do. I think it's tough for a lot of friends and close ones to realize that in the end, if the depressed person doesn't want to go for help, you can't force them. Gentle nudging and convincing, yes, but anything that hints of forceful behavior (for me) at least, didn't work at all.

And it would have been nice to have something about the importance of finding other depressed people to talk to, if you want to help out someone who is depressed. At least personally, one of the biggest things that helped was just finding that there were other people who felt the way I did, and people who had pretty much the same thought patterns. Thoughts that seem perfectly normal suddenly look suicidal or depressive on other people.

Anyway, an interesting read, though rather repetitive.
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(subtitle: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout)

I picked this book up for pretty obvious reasons, and because I thought it would be interesting looking at depression from the other side. It's basically the first bit of literature on depression that I've read, so I don't have much to compare it to.

Anne Sheffield suffered from what she calls depression fallout -- the fallout and often subsequent depression and emotional damage caused by living with someone who is depressed. In her case, it was her mother. She later went through a depressive episode or two of her own, and also joined a group of family members and loved ones of "depressives." I was a little weirded out by the term "depressives" and how casually Sheffield uses it ("your depressive" or "the depressive may do blah"). I personally don't like thinking of myself as a depressive. She is also extremely pro-medication, which I have yet to make my mind up about. She generally says that while talk therapy can be useful, medication is the most efficient way to get well.

Of course, I focus more on the depressed person's perspective. But Sheffield's accounts of several relationships with depressed people and the subsequent fallout really is incredibly... er... depressing. I felt like quite a monster by the time I was done with the book. I feel it probably has good advice for people who have to live with other depressed people, and it is good that there is something focusing on them. Sheffield comments more than once that the focus of books and doctors all tends to be on the depressed person instead of on those around them, which is probably true. So all in all, it probably has good advice, but it was still pretty painful reading it and thinking about all the nasty stuff I inflict on other people.

(no subject)

Sun, Dec. 5th, 2004 12:26 am
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And another happy thought: I think I'm not depressed anymore. It's hard to be sure, but that's how it feels. I realized it today when I was calling up the insurance company to make arrangements and file claims and all that other nasty stuff. Me. I called them up and calmly discussed all this. I did not break into tears. I didn't freak out and make the boy do it. I didn't particularly want to do it, but I had to, and I got the ball rolling. It sounds like such a silly, inconsequential little thing, but it was one of the hardest things about being depressed (well, that and the whole being depressed and screaming and miserable and hurting bit).

I'm almost scared to point it out, for fear that I'll simply relapse again. It feels like finally being able to breathe again, not realizing that the entire time I had had this giant weight on my chest. I had almost forgotten what it was like, not being anxious and worried and stressed about everything, about my own competence. This is nice. I hope this lasts.

Addendum, in case I am sounding too Pollyannish these days (I am just so overwhelmingly grateful that I am ok and that the other guy is ok that I am cycling through being extraordinarily happy and really really scared about driving) -- I am still kicking myself in the head because I forgot the hardcover library sale was today and I missed it! Argh.


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