Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Depression, Positivity, and Untold Stories

If I decided to run away like I did when I was a teenager it wouldn’t be hard to find me. My home away from home is the Cerritos Library and there’s never a time that I go in there without fantasizing about living on one of the three floors.

I’ve sat in my chosen space lost in daydreams about being alone in the library after hours having all those books to myself. It’s like that Ben Stiller movie in the museum except I don’t want anything coming to life other than the stories waiting to be read.

My visits to the Cerritos Library have become ritualistic; walking between the shelves with curiosity propelling my steps, wondering about the stories nestled in each book. It’s a slow, meditative stroll that allows me to read the titles on the book spine, completely in the moment. I try not to let the book cover cloud my judgment because how many of us are guilty of that?

And I’m not just talking about books.

Every day we walk past people judging them by their outward appearance. I’m raising my hand up high because hello, I’m guilty. At the cube farm, in the grocery store, picking up a coffee at Starbucks, fueling at the gas station, in the Sams Club parking lot, I walk by plenty of humans without making eye contact. Or if I do I shift my gaze away without smiling.

I’m in a hurry, I tell myself, always in a damn hurry.

We're so lost in a cyclone of noise and busyness we miss the pain in the young woman's eyes broken over infertility and a recent miscarriage; or the young wife who longs for connection with the husband who's forgotten her captivating beauty; or the grumpy man who's still reeling over his grief of losing his mother; or the defeated single mom who left behind her dreams to raise her children; or the affluent businessman who is addicted to pornography as a result of child abuse; or the pretty girl with the big smile who endured years of abuse as a sex slave and is now helping others; or the beautiful model who is surrounded by an entourage of admirers but feels so alone. 

The stories swirl around us every day. 

When Robin Williams committed suicide last month the Internet was pummeled with tweets, status updates, articles, and blog posts about depression. Most of what I read infuriated me.

So many posts published on how to deal with depression as if there were one formula to cope with the debilitating condition. Others straight up denigrated those who suffered from depression suggesting they had no reason to because they lived a “blessed life.” These people attempt suicide for attention, some said. Or what about the writers who claimed Jesus was THE one and only cure?

Let me put it out there: I have suffered from depression and still do. Weekly counseling and therapy sessions for almost a decade failed to drive my mental condition away. Add a handful of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications to the mix and I turned into a depressed zombie.

My depression, I realized, is like the imaginary friend I couldn’t outgrow. I came to a point where instead of fighting it and pretending it wasn’t there I acknowledged its daily presence in my life. In doing so I found a way to manage its onslaught. 

I’m not here to write another list on how to deal with depression, what not to say to people who are depressed, or how depressed people just need Jesus. This isn’t what this blog post is about.

It’s about knowing that every person is embedded with a unique blueprint of their untold story within them. Never assume someone has their shit together just because they exude it. Conversely, the nondescript and unassuming types have powerful stories if you take the time to listen.

I’ve attempted suicide three times but if you met me now you wouldn’t know. The first time was in my teens and that one was for attention. I needed my parents to listen. Taking my mom’s pills backfired because those were my pre-pharmacy technician days so what I ingested didn’t have the desired effect. The second time I tried slicing my wrists because I wanted to hurt my parents.  But my aversion to blood overpowered the conviction to off myself. Until next time, I vowed.

The third and last time happened when I was married to an abusive man. My youngest child was only three-years-old but in my deep despair I felt nothing but a pervasive numbness. Hanging and shooting myself were too much work; too messy. Sitting inside a car with the engine running in an enclosed garage was the easiest choice

My memories of that night are nebulous. Disjointed scenes flashed through my mind of being light-headed and dizzy while I slowly lost consciousness. I remember thinking wow, it really does work and later, okay this is it, I’m finally doing it. I don’t know how long it took for me to begin losing consciousness but my sister’s audible voice pierced through the fog. Like a megaphone next to my ear her voice scared me awake.

I think I coughed while I switched off the ignition wondering if maybe, just maybe, I succeeded and stepped into the dimension of purgatory. But when I pressed the remote to flip the garage door open my doubts were soon doused. I was alive.

That was the last time I tried to take my own life. And by the way, my sister never called my name that night as she was sound asleep upstairs. 

I wish I could say my life turned around after that but it headed straight for the rockiest bottom fate would find. It’s taken years to climb back up with the hardest lessons as footholds to the summit of my betterment.

Instead of fighting off my depression I acknowledge its existence knowing I can now recognize the triggers. Sometimes I lurch in the borders of its darkness because life can suck. But there’s always a choice. That gift called free will. I can stay in bed paralyzed by the mental torment that constantly plagues me or I can run my ass off fueling endorphins to puncture the pervading blackness with light.

Sure I need Jesus and he’s the primary reason I choose to leave the sanctuary of my bed every morning. But in addition to him I employ an array of ammunition to help me get through the day without depression controlling my every waking thought.

When I smile at co-workers, laugh at their jokes, hug my friends, or run the streets, depression is skulking below the surface. Some people I’ve confided in question me: what do you have to be depressed about? You have a man who loves you, three beautiful kids, and a precious granddaughter, a great job, a roof over your head…

What they don’t understand is happiness isn't grounded on external circumstances and the demon of depression takes advantage of that. I’ve forgiven my imperfections, accept my flaws. I discovered my purpose in life and combat the gloom with acts of kindness because kindness trumps all.

Please note, my methods of managing depression work for me. I can’t speak for others whose struggles differ from mine. When life spirals beyond my control and negativity abounds I can only focus on those who bring positivity into my realm.

My daughter, Maricelle, is the best example of setting positivity into motion. I learn so much from that kid. During one of her last visits before moving to New York she told me of Jerry, the supply stocker at the La Jolla VA, where she worked as a RN. When most people would dismiss an elderly man working in the custodial department, Maricelle made a point to say hello to him every night. The graveyard shift was grueling and some days were worse than others but Maricelle never missed a day acknowledging Jerry.

The weeks leading up to Maricelle’s last day were busy but she delved deeper into Jerry’s life when she told him she was moving to the East Coast. Jerry lives in San Francisco but was laid off. He works in San Diego during the week and goes home to his wife on the weekends.

Jerry’s story filled me with shame for the daily complaints of my hour-long commute to work. This is an elderly man who commutes to a city over six hours away if he traveled by car and returns home on the weekends to be with his wife.

Below is the picture of Jerry’s handmade card  for my daughter. I cried when I read it. It’s a beautiful example of how an act of kindness can uncover a meaningful story living inside someone. It reminds me of the power of a simple hello or smile---keeping depression at bay while making a difference in someone’s life.


When the internet was stirred into frenzy after Robin Williams’s suicide, writer Anne Lamott’s impactful words about the famous comedian emerged from the chaos.

 “Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multitasking bullshit.”

Amen, Anne, Amen!