Dealing with Depression — Driving

I hate driving.

When your main driving is commuting to work, and that commute is about 40 minutes, driving becomes a great place for negative thoughts, triggers, and breakdowns to form and take hold, leaving you relatively helpless to do anything about it. You’re stuck in that driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, sitting more or less still with the exception of moving the steering wheel or switching your foot from the acceleration to the brake.

For those that don’t know or don’t remember, I moved rather suddenly last fall. The whole experience wasn’t exactly smooth. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t move far. A couple of towns over, about 25 miles. It’s my grandmother’s old house, which my parents inherited after she died a few years ago. I’m familiar enough with the area and the space between the two houses, so it’s not like I was completely thrust into a new environment. (Even though it sure feels like it. Guess it’s the difference between visiting somewhere and living there.)

Anyway, my job is back in my old town, so I’ve got a commute again. I had bigger commutes traveling to college — both of them — so I didn’t think it would be that big a deal. And with no homework waiting for me when I got back home, I was like, “who cares then?”

I didn’t count on depression like this, though. I didn’t plan on my car being one of the easiest places to be affected by it. Which in hindsight, I guess that should have been more obvious. My mind wanders a lot. Being stuck in a car for an extended period of time should have been a red flag from the start.

It’s not just the extended commute. As soon as I leave my neighborhood, I’m on busy roads. I lived in my old town for almost 20 years. I’m not only very used to traveling on mostly empty back roads, I need it. I need open spaces. I’m a nervous enough driver as it is. To immediately leave home and merge into busier traffic is still jarring, even nine months later.

I’m pretty much traveling through light traffic for 75% of the commute (a little less if I’m on the parkway at a good time). And I guess I’m more or less used to it, but when I’m trying to fight off attack thoughts and feelings of negativity, being surrounded by other vehicles and constantly stopping at traffic lights definitely doesn’t help. In fact, being stuck at a light when I’m being overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings is one of the worst places to be if you don’t want to feel completely helpless.

That last 25% of the commute is traveling the back roads from my old town to my job. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, getting away from all those other drivers and cruising down empty back roads filled with trees and fields feels much more right for me. (Did I mention my new town and most of the commute isn’t very nature friendly? No? Well it isn’t.) For a brief time, I get part of my old life back.

On the other hand, depending on how badly depression is hitting me that day, traveling through here only makes me feel worse. Missing my home and my neighborhood is also one of the reasons I’ve been depressed. Which in all honesty is kind of weird, because I honestly thought I was ready to move someplace completely new. But after everything that’s happened, now all I want to do is move back. Being back there makes me feel more at home than anywhere near my new place, but being there also makes me miss it even more.

I’ve cried a lot while driving this year. When I’m driving, something will always find its way back into my mind to remind me I’m still struggling with depression. And because there’s so little I can do about it in the car, everything builds up and overwhelms me. By the time I get to work, I honestly feel worn out. And I haven’t even started working yet!

The only realistic thing I can do while driving to distract myself is listen to something. I’m not really a fan of radio. Between stations playing music I either don’t like or the same songs I’ve heard too many times (coupled with varying degrees of static), I generally stay away from radio unless I really need to listen to something and whatever CD I have in my car and whatever music I have on my MP3 player won’t cut it.

I used to be able to leave any given CD in my car for a week and listen to the whole thing two or three times. My commute to work used to be only about 10 minutes, after all. It’s pretty easy to stretch out an album with that kind of time. But now I can easily listen to a whole CD twice from one trip to and from work. I feel like I’ve overplayed a lot of music, and I hate to say it, but I’m losing interest.

And it’s not like I had a lot of music that I currently want to listen to, anyway. I’ve built up a pretty decent music collection over the years, but at least half of that is stuff I’m not into anymore. The remaining CDs, well… they definitely fit certain moods, I can tell you that. The thing is…

I don’t know if this is going to make sense, but hear me out. Music’s great at being something people can identify with. In the past, music has been a great asset to me. I felt like whenever I was overwhelmed or alone or, well, depressed, I could count on music to connect with. That connection helped in some way.

It’s been over a year since I fell into my current state of depression, and for the first time, music isn’t helping. In fact, most of the time music makes me feel worse. When I feel like I can completely get real and submit to all my feelings and just let go with the right album, music’s great. But most of the time, music has been reminding me of all the reasons I’ve been so unhappy. And most of the time I’d honestly rather try to concentrate on getting though the day. I know I’ll probably be reminded of my depression sometime in the day. I don’t really want my music to act as a trigger.

There’s only a few bands I have albums of that I can really have “fun” with. They may still strike some chords with me, but as a whole they’re still something I can still enjoy. Thing is, it’s still easy to overplay and get tired of them. I’ve actually brought out some of my video game soundtracks from back in high school to listen to more, just to mix it up. They don’t have lyrics, so nothing about them triggers any negative thoughts, just general nostalgia (and since I don’t have any real desire to return to high school, I don’t see any harm in it).

What seems to help me most while driving, though, are podcasts. I used to listen to the Rooster Teeth podcast once a week when I walked around my old neighborhood, but stopped at some point a few years ago. I felt like a disconnect was growing between me and my interest in Rooster Teeth, so I started skipping weeks and eventually stopped listening to their podcasts altogether. I missed it though, so now that I have a bigger commute I figured it would be a good time to try getting back into it. I’ve been listening to their new podcasts for the past month, and I’m glad to say I enjoy them. Maybe not as much as I used to — I still feel disconnected or uninterested during certain parts — but as a whole listening to the podcast again has been helpful. Listening to conversations is a lot better for my mind right now than listening to music lately.

One of my friends also makes a podcast with a couple of other people. I’ve been listening to his for a while now, too, and it’s also helped me deal with driving. They mostly talk about video games, like what they’ve been playing, what’s new in the world of games, and the music of games. They even have a segment dedicated to a certain soundtrack each week, and they’ll talk about it, how it was composed, what the soundtrack was trying to go for, etc. If you’re into that kind of thing, I’d recommend giving them a listen sometime at http://www.8bitsandjoysticks.com/ They’re also trying to do some community events, so give them a little love if you’re interested.

While I do enjoy both of these podcasts, they’re both about video games. And while I do like video games, I don’t need to listen to stuff about them all the time (I already listen to enough game stuff on YouTube while I’m working on other stuff as it is). And while Rooster Teeth talks about a lot of other stuff on their podcast, I still identify them as a game-related one.

Podcasts have been helping me deal with driving a lot. I’d like to find more to listen to. They’re free, and should be released regularly. It’s been a great way of getting new stuff to listen to without hurting my wallet. If anyone has any podcast suggestions, or if anyone’s had similar problems with depression and driving and wants to share anything they’ve done to help deal with it, leave a comment. You never know who it will help.

Thanks for reading, hope everyone’s having a good week! 🙂

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Dealing with Depression — Revisiting Community College

I don’t really want to talk about my depression, but against my better judgment I’m thinking of starting a new series of posts discussing ways I’m dealing with it and how effective they are. Like I said, I’m thinking of it — this may or may not be a thing, and I have no idea if it would even be a regular topic if it became one. But I know a lot of you also have issues with depression, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out in case it somehow helped someone, or at the very least made someone feel less alone.

A lot of my depression comes from the fact that most of my friends have either moved or started a new phase of their lives that I can’t be a regular part of. That departure also makes the fact that I no longer have the closer community of literature majors and writers from my four-year school that I’d grown to appreciate and need a lot more apparent. I feel like I’ve lost a lot, and it really hurts.

I’ve been trying not to think about it, which of course varies in success depending on how well I’m feeling at the time. I changed a lot when I transferred to my four-year school, and I still stand by the fact that I changed for the better. However, as much as those years and people have influenced me and helped me grow into the person I am today, I’m beginning to wonder if placing so much into those things is making my fight against depression more difficult. I feel like I’ve lost too much, and that makes it harder to feel like there’s anything more to my life.

However, I’ve been trying to think of a time before my four-year school and the people I met there. Because whether I want to admit it or not, there was a before. True, I was less mature then. I honestly don’t have any sort of desire to return to that time. But there was a time before then, and I’ve been trying to do the things that made me happy then.

Before I transferred to my four-year school, I went to community college for two and a half years. It was a really big transitional time in my life between high school and college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent each semester cycling between art, business, teaching, psychology, and language classes, trying to see where my proper fit in life lay while making sure these classes satisfied my requirements for the A.A. in liberal arts I chose to pursue.

Honestly, community college wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life. College was a huge adjustment to me in terms of workload. I had a new 45 minute commute to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing in life when I clearly didn’t. My friends from high school were dropping one by one. Now that I’m writing it, I see some similarities between then and now. 🙂 But a big difference was I wasn’t depressed back then. I was just mad a lot.

That being said, a lot about that time doesn’t really stand out to me. I don’t remember most of my classes very well, and I don’t remember a single professor’s name. I never made any long-term friends there, just a few people to talk with before class started.

Honestly, despite the workload, what I remember most of community college was spending time with the one friend I had left. I went to high school with him, and he wasn’t having much more luck in college than I did. We ending up hanging out a lot, and those times are what I end up thinking about whenever I recall my memories of community college.

We’d usually have one day a week where our classes would line up in such a way that we could meet for lunch. We’d spend an hour eating and talking, very similarly to lunch period in high school. If we were both free afterwards, we’d usually go back to his house and hang out for the rest of the day. We’d take trips to the mall, buy new anime and manga, go out to eat, play video games — a lot of stuff what you would expect teenagers to do. But at the time it was fine, because we were still teenagers. It took us a while to grow up.

And like I said, I don’t have any particular desire to go back to those times and do all the things we used to. But I do miss something about those times. I miss feeling like someone else was in the same boat as me. I miss knowing what I liked and what made me happy. I miss feeling like even though I just started college and had no idea where I was going, I still had a lot of time before I finished school and entered the “adult” world. And I guess that’s what I would want to return to — those feelings.

Anyway, I hate building this up like it’s some grand story when it really isn’t. I’ve been wanting to revisit my community college and take a little walk around campus. Sometimes things become much clearer to me if I’m physically there, so I was hoping I might find a way to remind myself that I had a life before my four year school. You know, that I existed before it and I could exist after it, too. So yesterday after work, I finally took a ride up there.

I’m never really up in the area where my community college is. Of the 45 minutes worth of a trip it was from where I used to live, I only ever went 20 minutes of it for unrelated needs. So a portion of the ride there was full of “Oh, I remember this!” moments. I was a little concerned I would forget the way; I didn’t remember any of the road names I needed to take. But things started clicking into place fast. I smiled as I remembered some of the littler things on the way there, like this one roadside stop that sold garden decor and the large expanse of farmland. There was even a bridge that went over a really beautiful lake! How the hell could I forget about that?

I brought the messenger bag I wore during college with me — partially for storing some casual clothes to change into after work, and partially to look like a college student in case someone thought I wasn’t supposed to be there (I’m a paranoid mess, cut me some slack). I also brought my camera with me. I used to bring my camera everywhere when I used to walk a lot. There was usually a lot of beautiful scenery that I wanted pictures of, and eventually I started taking pictures of important places so I wouldn’t forget them. And although I must have gotten a few weird looks from passing students and maintenance workers for taking pictures of seemingly random things, I’m glad I finally had some photos of the places I used to spend time at on campus.

One of the first things I started thinking about was how it’s been almost 10 years since I started at community college. Those milestone thoughts are usually common ones for me. I started thinking about who I was still talking to, the car I was driving, the job I was working at, the classes I started out with (oh god, the art class) — my mind was all over the place.

And of course, these milestone thoughts make me compare myself to me 9 years ago. It’s a mixed bag; I’m still struggling with many of the same problems, albeit in different ways, but I can also see how much I’ve grown up since then.

As much as I don’t remember my classes and professors, I somehow retained a pretty vivid image of most of the buildings on campus, and this was really obvious as I walked about and toured the school again. With the exception of the cafeteria, everything at the school stayed the same. I recognized everything. And I guess that’s to be expected — after all I did spend two and a half years studying there. But like I said in the beginning, this was a very transitional time for me. When I think of community college, I don’t think of what I did at the college itself, but rather my time hanging out with my friend.

I looked through all the buildings again, trying to remember which classrooms I had courses in. I recognized some of them, even the dreaded art room that demoralized me from pursuing anything creative for over a year as well as the “psych dungeon,” which is what I called the basement level classroom I took my second psych class in with an awful and rude professor.

Maybe it was just the heat (90+ degrees and high humidity are perfect parameters for hiking around a campus with your messenger bag full of crap you never emptied from the last semester, btw), but the longer I spent exploring campus and trying to relive memories, the less I really cared. It was nice seeing the place again, considering it played an important part in my life that wasn’t all bad, but… I don’t know.

I don’t want to say it didn’t matter. In a way, I came back and confronted a place that gave me a lot of stress and frustration. So that felt empowering. I set foot in a place that had remained in my memories for years, so that helped me feel like I can always come back and revisit people and places. They don’t need to stay locked away in memories forever. Well, sometimes. And at the very least, I took a drive to somewhere besides work, and I enjoyed it. It’s nice to be going somewhere other than work. In clothes that aren’t work clothes.

But the trip didn’t make me feel much better in terms of believing that a life existed before I was depressed and could therefore exist afterwards. I’m still trying to maintain the outlook, but the trip itself didn’t do anything to really reinforce it. Maybe it was never going to. Maybe it was just a weird line of thought in my head and something got mixed up. I got up this morning, started working on this, got called into work, had an awful day, and came back to finish this post. The negative thoughts and me missing so much ran pretty strongly today. I was hoping this trip back to another time would have helped, and even though it did in some ways, in the ways I wanted it to, it didn’t.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t significant enough in the grand scheme of things. Maybe there are more important things to make me feel there’s more to me than what I lost. Maybe it was just a bad day. Who knows.

I’m glad I went back there, though. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and it was nice to physically see something that only existed in memories. Maybe in some unknown way I needed closure and this will help. At any rate, taking a drive to somewhere unexpected and having it go smoothly was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should make a point to go venture out to interesting areas more often.

An Immature Rant About Older People Criticizing 20-somethings

As I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed last week, I was blessed with the following image posted by one of my older coworkers:

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Mmm. It was gonna be a good day.

When I was done cringing that the “l” in “life” was capitalized for no reason, I begun thinking why this was a great example why anxiety-ridden 20-somethings don’t share their feelings with people, particularly older people that may hold some kind of advice that could help us with life. Was I thinking too hard about this? Probably. Was this directed towards me specifically? No. (Although funnily enough, it was posted by someone I had opened up to about a recent issue after struggling with it for a week. Seemed very supportive and sympathetic then, but now who knows if she was being genuine or not?) But as someone who’s not really liking a lot about his life lately, I couldn’t help but get a little defensive.

And then a couple days ago, someone else (also older) posted the same picture.

… Ha ha. Yes. We get it. 20-somethings have never experienced life before, and should therefore refrain from voicing our made-up problems and concerns.

I hate to bring out my inner teen rebel that never grew up, but it’s comments like these that make me wish older people would stop trying so hard to convince the world that their problems are worse than everyone else’s. Sorry that we haven’t had as much life experience as you, but to be fair we’ve only been around half as long. Holding it against us that we haven’t “gotten fucked” by life through paying mortgages, becoming bankrupt, being in shitty marriages, raising children, and working jobs we hate seems a little unrealistic, though (by the way, we do work jobs we hate, but I guess since you’ve been doing it longer that doesn’t really count, huh).

I really hate that I can’t talk about life to someone who’s gotten 15 or 20 years on me without it coming back to how I haven’t experienced it yet. Conversations always seem to circle back to them:

“You think you’re getting older? You’re young. What do you have to worry about? Wait until you see what it’s like at my age.”

“You think you have money troubles now? Just wait until you have a house and family.”

“What do you know about love? You haven’t felt anything yet.”

These are the kind of responses I expected to hear when I was a teenager. At 26, I’d like to think I’ve earned a little more respect. Sometimes it honestly feels like I haven’t. I feel like nothing I ever say or do will compare to what an older generation says or does. Because let’s face it, I’m a 20-something. What the hell do I know about life?

To every 20-something who actively has their problems ridiculed by older people on the grounds that you haven’t had enough life experience yet, I’m sorry. It really sucks, and I hope you at least have a couple good friends around your age to talk things out with. It’s a strange, transitional time for us, and it’s too bad we can’t get better guidance from people that came before us. I know it’s sometimes tempting to have an older person give us life tips, but it’s probably better that we rely on each other for comfort and share things we personally found to have worked or not worked. Having people walk with you in the cliched path of life seems to be better than being led by someone that hasn’t been at your particular place for 20 years, anyway.

For Ex-Christmas Fans

It’s here again.

I don’t want to be a Grinch and spoil the holiday for those that enjoy it, so if you’re someone that feels the need to spread Christmas cheer, this post probably isn’t going to be too appealing. This is more for those that are looking forward to the holiday season ending.

Sigh. What happened, Christmas? We loved each other once.

It used to be my favorite holiday. And I mean, come on: compared to dressing up and getting candy on Halloween, or shoving my mouth with Peeps and more candy on Easter, Christmas had presents. Like, non-consumable, things-I-actually-wanted-but-couldn’t-get-because-I-was-a-kid presents. Action figures. VHS tapes. Books. Video games. Things I saw in stores, during commercials, advertised in magazines, things I’d seen all year, things I’d developed a hope of receiving at the end of the year. I don’t want to say I was deprived of fun things as a kid, but unless it was a Happy Meal toy, the only time I was going to get anything a kid would actually want was on my birthday or Christmas.

So yeah. Christmas. Kind of a big deal when I was a kid.

And I don’t want to sound cheesy, but family was a pretty big part of Christmas, too. We invited my grandparents and cousins over every Christmas Eve. There was always a genuine rush of excitement upon seeing them, and the bags of presents they brought was a pretty nice touch, too. Christmas music played all day and night, and my dad would make a fantastic dinner. And as soon as it was over, either he or my grandfather would say “Who wants to open presents!?” We would all rush over to the tree and start opening the gifts from our grandparents, uncles, and aunts (gifts from parents would be spared until Christmas Day). And afterward, we would watch A Christmas Story, a favorite of my dad’s and just as much an annual tradition as everything else.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, my parents and grandparents would hype all of us up over Santa coming that night. And it was like, “Whoa. You’re telling me, that mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa bought all of these presents for us kids, and now tomorrow there’s going to be another person with even more presents?”

We were kings, really. And the adults were bringing their yearly offerings.

On Christmas day, my sister and I would sneak downstairs and dig into our stockings before our parents were up. And when they finally got up, after like, a million hours, we tore into the rest of our gifts. The floor would literally form a whole new layer over the carpet as we sorted through our new stuff. I always felt some strange sense of bonding with her as we compared what we received. We would play with them all day, and sometimes my best friend from next door would come by and show what he got for Christmas, too.

When I became a teenager, things started to become a little different, although Christmas still remained my favorite holiday. I was really into anime during high school, so now when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas, it was always awkward because I had to write out the names of TV shows or soundtracks because how the hell was an adult supposed to remember some obscure Japanese title they’ve never heard of?

At the time, I really didn’t think I minded; I was a teenager, I didn’t want my parents all up in my business about what I liked, I wanted my own space to explore interests on my own. But thinking back on it now, I think part of the magic Christmas had during childhood was that my parents did know everything I was into. They knew what I liked, and they knew how excited I would be to get my gifts.

But you know what? That was okay. I had friends that knew how much I would appreciate what I got. Friends that would be excited for me and who I would be excited for as well. Where in childhood Christmas was all about receiving, my adolescent years presented me with the fulfilling sensation of searching for presents to buy for other people. I don’t really know what changed, but I found myself looking forward to seriously thinking about what I was going to buy for people. Exchanging presents with friends was always so… great, to be blunt. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was because my friends didn’t all live in town, and the fact that they were thinking about me made me feel like I was special or something.

And god, I’m so embarrassed to admit this now, but back then, I loved the Christmas hype most of all. I loved seeing everything decorated. I even started hanging Christmas lights around my room the day after Thanksgiving. I loved hearing Christmas music on the radio and in stores. I loved the Christmas specials.

The Christmas specials! Look, the Grinch, Peanuts, Rudolph and all them… yeah, okay. Classics or whatever. But for me, a big Nickeloden fan, Christmas specials stepped up their game my freshman year of high school. Nickelodeon was doing this series of commercials that had stop motion clay figures of all their Nicktoons singing Christmas songs, and it seemed like every show got its own holiday special that year. The Fairly Oddparents had a surprisingly good Christmas episode that was honestly a little heart warming. Invader Zim did its own twisted take on Christmas, and considering what a huge fan me and another friend of mine were of the show, our excitement easily showed as the premiere grew closer.

But I think all fans of Nicktoons from that era can agree on the Christmas special that stood out most: the Spongebob Squarepants one. The way Spongebob kept saying “Christmas,” Mr. Krabs’ high-pitched lines when they sang the Christmas song, the super sad picture Squidward took of Spongebob when Santa didn’t show up, how they put the donkey over his face as he was mocking Spongebob for believing in Santa, and the ridiculous gestures Santa made when he eventually made an appearance – I think most people can agree the Spongebob Squarepants Christmas episode is one of the most nostalgic, memorable, and loved Christmas specials from the generation us 20-somethings grew up in. To this day, it’s probably the only Christmas special I’ll try going out of my way to see.

And judge me all you want, but when Squiward feels bad, dresses up as Santa, and says “I didn’t bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, Spongebob. You did,” I’m sorry, but… tears. Tears all around.

But yeah, during my teenage years, and even my early college ones, I loved how hyped the world seemed about Christmas. It was really embarrassing how much I loved it. I even remember when I was 16, I was talking to a friend during art class about it. She hated how commercialized Christmas was, and I argued I loved it because it hypes the world up and actually seems to make people nicer to each other (oh, 16-year-old me… enjoy that naivety).

Sometime during college, though… I don’t know, Christmas. You just started becoming something else.

Like clockwork, the end of every fall semester put an enormous strain on me because of final exams, papers, and projects. I didn’t even have time to think about Christmas until the semester was over. And even then, I began feeling more and more worn out and unable to get excited about the holiday as each year passed. It started becoming something that came and went, rather than a day I couldn’t wait to count down to. I still liked it, but the magic started to run out around this time for me.

It also didn’t help that unfortunate circumstances seemed to start gathering around this time, either. I lost a couple of good friends rather suddenly pretty close to Christmas. One of my friends lost her husband in the middle of Christmas night. My grandmother died the week before Christmas. Things like started happening, and it’s hard to get back into the Christmas spirit when you have memories like these taking up residence in your head.

And it’s not like I’m the only one that feels like this. In fact, I’d say a good third of the people I know have some kind of nasty memory that gets in the way to enjoy Christmas. Depression becomes pretty common around this time of year, especially when the rest of the world seems so happy. And like other times of depression, it’s easy to feel like no one wants a party pooper around.

I think one of the reasons why Christmas became such a hated time of year for people with this problem is because they have this idea that Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. It’s supposed to be an end-of-the-year celebration, “the most wonderful time of the year,” as so many radios and store speakers insist on persuading us. And we feel awful for our own personal reasons, and the world becomes forced positivity being shoved down our throats. It’s incredibly suffocating, especially when we’re busy dealing with our own shit inside our heads. And we can’t be honest about how we don’t want any of this, because it ruins Christmas for those that like it.

It’s even harder when you used to like Christmas, too. You’re very aware of how much things have changed. And you’re very aware that things aren’t going to go back to being the same. You may want to really like Christmas, but… well, you just can’t. You can try, and you may even stop hating it for a while. Who knows? Maybe you can reach a decent ground with Christmas again. But until that time comes, it’s just so… awkward. And with the season being hyped the way it is, complete with its own obnoxious soundtrack everywhere you go, and beginning as early as September (no one’s thinking about Christmas in September, stores!), the entire last quarter of this year can be so difficult for a lot of people. And when no one else can understand that, Christmas becomes an extremely lonely time of year.

Loneliness is often difficult to talk about. Loneliness can make you feel vulnerable. You feel isolated. You feel empty. And again, when the whole world seems to be talking about how wonderful this time of year is, it makes you feel even worse. Even if there’s other people around, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not lonely. Loneliness is very much a state of mind. If you’re surrounded by other people that you don’t get along with or understand you, it’s easy to feel alone. And because Christmas promotes togetherness, it’s easy to feel even more lonesome during the holidays.

And then, of course, there’s family. I feel like many people who enjoy Christmas either still have a great support network of friends and family. I can see why they’d still enjoy the holidays. But for others, friends have come and gone. Family isn’t quite what it used to be. Drama develops and Christmas becomes more about accommodating your relatives’ issues while still trying to remain positive. And as we get older, it becomes more difficult to meet new people to include in our private lives. If there’s not a lot of people around to start with, looking forward to meeting with the ones who are still here, but aren’t on your good side, is very difficult.

Christmas. My friend. What happened? Surely all these dumb, grown-up emotions and problems can take a backseat, right? Wasn’t Christmas about the presents?

It’s weird, but all those memories of presents involved other people. My parents and grandparents giving them to us. Opening and comparing them with my sister and cousins. Shopping for the perfect gifts for friends. It’s easy to look forward to the presents most of all when you’re a kid, but whether you like it or not, you become more selfless as you grow up. The presents involve other people. Christmas involves other people. And if you don’t have the right people, Christmas becomes a chore. A state of mental health you deal with and try to move on from. A distant memory whose magic is long gone.

I don’t want to be a downer. I really don’t. I still make efforts to enjoy Christmas. I just made a Perler bead ornament of Link from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That’s something. Right?

But I can’t deny it. I’m one of the people – one of the many, many people – who find Christmas depressing. This post is for those people, who get scrutinized for hating “the most wonderful time of the year.” I wanted to trying exploring the reasons why Christmas has lost much of its magic for me over the years, and I hope in the process some of you were able to understand why Christmas isn’t great for you, either.

But let’s not end on such a bum note. I still want to enjoy Christmas. Somewhere inside of you, I think you do, too. So just remember that much like depression, you don’t have to let the negative aspects of Christmas own you. You can try making new traditions. Try focusing on doing happy things for you, even if it’s not Christmas related. Try making this time of year something to look forward to, even if there’s been a lot to make that seem impossible.

Just keep trying. Christmas still wants to be your friend. It has flaws and doesn’t understand what happened between you either, so try making it understand. Teach it and yourself why things have gotten so distant, and then see if there’s any way you can make something work out.

Keep trying. Stay healthy. And good luck with the holidays. 🙂

 

Mentally Preparing for Families During the Holidays

Thanksgiving’s this week, and the rest of the family-centric end-of-year holidays are approaching too. If you’re reading this, chances are you have some family issues. Maybe they put you down. Maybe you never feel good enough for them. Maybe they just piss you off. Whatever the case, holidays can be extremely stressful and take a heavy toll on our mental health.

I want to remind everyone not to let the obnoxious tendencies of our families bring us down. As much as I hate the holidays, even I’ll admit they’re supposed to be good experiences. But I know sometimes there’s no helping it, and they’re not going to go well, no matter how much positive thinking you’re going to bring. So it’s really important to remember to take care of yourself during this time of year.

You should try spending as much time around people that have a positive effect on your life as possible. I know it’s not always easy, especially the older we get, but don’t forget about all the different forms of communication we have today. There’s texting, social media, Skype, and the good old fashioned phone call. Even if you can’t see them, remember to keep in touch with the people that make you happier during this time of year.

Make extra time to do things that make you happy, too. Read more, write more, play more games, watch more movies, take more walks – do more of the stuff that stops you from focusing on the bad. If you’re going to have to deal with hurtful experiences with family, the least you can do is walk into those situations as recharged and happy as you can possibly be.

Like I mentioned in my post about unwanted house guests, there are some things you can do to take the edge off having to deal with family. I recommend checking it out if you want more details, but to add to that list, don’t be afraid to show up a little late or leave a little early. Everyone’s situation is different, but make something up. If you’re having guests over at 3:00, say you were invited to another person’s place to celebrate the holidays and you’ll be back at 4:00. Or not at all, if you can get away with that. Say you have work very early the following morning, so you should go home earlier to sleep. Pretend you’re sick. I don’t want to encourage lying, but when family’s driving you to the point of a mental breakdown, you have to play a little dirty. Do something personally fulfilling both before and after the main event so you won’t have to end the day on such a bummer note.

I wish there was some kind of universal advice I can give to make it through this, but there isn’t. I can only encourage you to take care of your mental health and make it through the holidays with as little damage as possible. Take care of yourselves, guys. And treat yourselves to a soft pretzel or cinnamon bun or something when it’s all over. ❤

Dealing With House Guests When You Don’t Want Visitors

This weekend, my grandparents came to stay with us for four days. I love them. I really do.

But my god, how I hate having people stay over.

I’ve come to value and appreciate silence and space over the years, and whether someone’s coming to visit for a day, staying overnight, or staying for a week, these two things tend to become disrupted when you have visitors. Under normal circumstances, I might be able to handle myself a little more maturely than I did this weekend, but due to the frustration of dealing with many personal issues lately, having company over for an extended period of time wasn’t something I particularly wanted to add to my plate.

I told myself I was really going to try to be a good sport about the situation, too. When they visited last year, I was dealing with the tail end of a frustrating depression and didn’t present myself very warmly. And when most of my family went out of state to attend my cousin’s wedding a few months ago, I stayed behind, which nobody was happy with. I know I haven’t left a great impression with them, even if I am genuinely nice towards them when we talk on the phone, and I wanted this visit to go differently. I really did. I put on my A-game and was so nice welcoming them in, helping them bring in luggage, making small talk, making them tea, etc.

That lasted two hours. Max.

My grandmother is a chatty woman. A very, very chatty woman. Unfortunately, she’s the kind of person that talks a lot without ever having much to say (sorry Granny, I really do love you ❤ ). And after a couple of hours of being bombarded with conversation that, sadly, I honestly had little to nothing to contribute towards, I was exhausted. I was getting a little agitated. My mother was supposed to be home shortly after they arrived, and she was showing no sign of pulling up the driveway anytime soon. I was praying she would walk through the door at any moment to take some of the attention off me. Negative thoughts about my personal shit kept bubbling up inside my head, and I wanted to get out of the house and breathe.

And then my grandmother hit one of my sensitive spots: how’s the job hunt going? I could feel myself tense up as soon as she began the question. I knew it would be coming eventually, but I was hoping to be in a better frame of mind when it happened.

For those that don’t know, I graduated two years ago with a B.A. in literature, with a focus in creative writing. My long term goal is to get published; what comes in between then and now, I don’t know. I’ve looked into several areas of interest where I felt I wanted to be, but regardless, I still only have my part-time retail job. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I particularly like talking about, especially now when I’m honestly not sure I want to do what I thought I did anymore. I’m lost, to be honest. And it’s very frustrating to be lost and have people try to force advice on you when they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

I’ll leave it to your imagination on what happened next.

My grandmother can come off a little critical, as well. I know she doesn’t mean it; I know she doesn’t have a filter when she speaks, and she says the first thing that comes to her mind. But I criticize myself on this matter enough as it is. I really don’t need to have another person do it for me. And sure enough, this turned into an extensive, criticizing conversation. At some point, I knew I lost my ability to fake smiles and be polite. I knew I lost whatever mental energy I’d saved up to enjoy their visit. I knew this visit was going to suck. And now all I wanted was for them to leave so I could have some fucking peace and quiet and space again.

I really do love them. I really do. But I can’t handle house guests. I really can’t.

Well, good luck within bad luck, I got sick the day after they arrived and remained that way until today (still kind of sick actually, but at least now I can function). I had an excuse to stay up in my room for most of their visit, and an excuse to not be particularly outgoing. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but with the way I am right now, I needed a legitimate excuse to keep some distance.

But maybe you don’t have an excuse and need to deal with house guests. How do you deal with them when you don’t really want to? Well, even though I completely failed to do most of these, here are some things that have worked for me in the past when I’ve had stressful visits.

Don’t feel solely responsible for entertaining them. If someone’s visiting for a day, this may not apply as well. But if you have guests staying for a couple of days or a week, don’t make it your sole responsibility to spend every minute of the day trying to entertain them. You have your own life to live, and while you need to make time for your guests, you can’t stop your life to please theirs. For example, you all don’t have to go to bed at the same time. Say you’re going to bed a little early and let them watch TV or whatever. After you’re done with work, take a little time to do some grocery shopping or errand running to give yourself a little room to breathe. Try designating a specific time you’ll spend time with your guests so you don’t feel like you’re ignoring them.

Don’t take things personally. I know. I’ve got some balls to be telling you this. This, coming from the guy that recently found a hand-written note taped on his mailbox that said “Smile You Are Healthy 🙂 ❤ ” and immediately texted his friend, asking her if she thought this was a random act of kindness by some kid or the universe mocking me (yes, this is a thing that actually happened).

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She convinced me it was a random act of kindness, and now it’s taped above my desk :3

My grandmother didn’t mean to hit a nerve with me. I know that. I knew that when it happened. I just didn’t have the patience to deal with it. Be patient with your guests. Unless they’re people you talk and actively open up to on a common basis, they probably don’t know everything that’s going on with you. Your guests may be people that honestly don’t know you nearly as well as they once did, especially if a lot of time has passed between visits. People change, and sometimes others may not notice. If your guests are saying or doing something that’s starting to offend you, try to remember they’re most likely not doing it on purpose. (Unless they are. There are some genuinely rude guests that live to get a rise out of people. But you can usually tell the difference between these people and the ones that don’t mean any harm.) And if they keep doing it, try gently letting them know what they’re doing.

The visit isn’t going to last forever. Sometimes it seems like it is, but try to keep things in perspective. They’re not going to be living with you, even if they’re setting up their own station in the bathroom and you suddenly need to share counter and shower space. They are going to leave, and you’ll have your space back soon enough. Remember all those times when you found a day or week to pass by very quickly? Try thinking in those terms. The visit will be over soon, and the sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can deal with your guests a little better.

Try to include other people. I went out to dinner with my grandparents and parents on Saturday night. We invited my sister, who doesn’t live with us anymore, and her boyfriend. During previous visits, we’ve also invited my other grandmother (who is unfortunately no longer alive) and my cousins. Your guests may be visiting you, but chances are there are some other people you all mutually know and they want to see as well. Try to get them in on the visit for part of the time. It will help break up the repetitive nature of taking care of your guests and alleviate some of the unwanted attention on yourself.

Try to appreciate visits while they can still happen. Some visits will be one-time only situations, or just plain unwanted, whether or not you actually like the people that visit. But if you do like the people and you don’t get to see them often, even if you’re not up for it, try to enjoy the company while you can. I live in New Jersey. My grandparents live in Florida. We keep in touch regularly, but we don’t get many opportunities to see each other. And while they do make the drive back up here to visit their kids every year or so, the truth is my grandparents are getting up there in age. My mother has been saying “this might be their last drive up here” for years, and perhaps because they keep doing it I take for granted that they’ll always end up visiting. But realistically, I never know how many more visits they’ll make. They’re getting old; they may not have it in them to drive up and down the coast within the next few years. Even though I really haven’t enjoyed myself during the past couple of visits, I hope that they’ll come back again when I’m in a better frame of mind and can appreciate the company. You don’t want to come off like you don’t want your guests to visit when you still want to see them. You might make them feel unwanted and they may never want to visit again.

It’s not just family, either. As you’re getting older, chances are you’ll have more friends that live far away. They may need to crash at your place for a night if you want to see each other. If you make their time with you feel awkward, they may not want to make the drive to see you. It’s hard enough to keep up with friends that moved; you don’t need to make it harder.

Don’t forget about the bathroom. I’m sure different people from different ages and situations will read this, but if there’s one piece of universal advice I can give about dealing with house guests, it’s to use the bathroom! When you need a break, when you need to breathe, when you need everyone to shut up for five minutes, go to the bathroom. Keep a book or mp3 player hidden somewhere in it. Take your iPhone in and check a news feed from a social media site. Just sit on the toilet, turn the fan on if you have one, and breathe. The bathroom is, like, the one place you should be able to go and not be interrupted.

Should be. Life ain’t perfect. But take advantage of the bathroom. Trust me. It’s a lifesaver.

Hope this helps. Have a good week, and happy first day of fall! 🙂

Don’t Be Afraid of Happiness When You’re Depressed

Sometimes people are afraid to let themselves be happy when they’re depressed. Like many aspects of depression, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. But that’s the thing about depression- things don’t have to make sense.

It’s not always easy to admit to yourself that you’re depressed, let alone to other people. And sometimes you might feel you’re… hmm. What’s the right word, here… obligated? Maybe? Sometimes you might feel you’re obligated to act sad once you’ve admitted you’re depressed. You might think, “Well I just made a whole big fucking deal about being depressed. I’d better look like it or else people might think I’m just overreacting.”

And okay, that sounds a little bad. It’s not like we’re trying to put on a show for people. But it’s not unusual to have some kind of thought process that might convince you that you need to be sad while you’re depressed.

What a lot of people, including depressed people, often don’t understand is that depression doesn’t always mean you have to be sad 100% of the time. Depression includes a lot of emotions- anger, confusion, fear, and desperation, for example. Happiness, strangely enough, is also one of these emotions.

Just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be happy. As much as it doesn’t feel like it, not every day is going to be spent isolated under the covers. You’re going to be depressed, but some days are going to be better than others. And if you allow it, you might even have a good day. You’re allowed to have good days when you’re depressed. You’re allowed to wake up and be in a good mood. Just as you can become depressed for no reason, you can also be happy for no reason. It’s not a crime, it’s just how things go.

Sometimes when I’m depressed, it’s because I lost something important. Or because it felt like I was making progress in one area of life, and I was so happy about it, only to have all that progress reversed in some way. Sometimes I feel like after spending so much time mourning over whatever happened, it would belittle the situation to allow myself to be happy when I’m feeling better. Something I’m still trying to teach myself is that being happy is part of the healing process. There are different phases in depression, and you’re more than allowed to explore them without feeling like you’re failing at being depressed. You’re allowed to have days when you cry in bed and only leave your room for food and the bathroom. You’re allowed to have days when you finally drag yourself out of bed and watch funny videos all day. You’re even allowed to laugh. You’re allowed to leave the house and go to school or work, and ease yourself into your normal life again.

And you’re allowed to relapse.

Like I said, depression doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’ve got to spend time with it if you’re going to learn how to deal with it, and if that means being sad one day and happy the next, you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re doing something wrong. You’re dealing with it. And that’s good.

And if someone ever makes you feel like you need to constantly be crying or hiding in your room because you’re depressed, and that’s what they think depression means, then that person needs to learn more about depression. Depression is such a mental war with yourself, and you’re usually a one-man army. You can have your victories and you can have your losses, but that doesn’t mean you’re not fighting one way or the other. Let yourself smile and laugh when you feel like it. It’s okay. You’re allowed to. You can still be depressed and let yourself get better.

That being said, it can also be easy to convince yourself to stay depressed. When you’re feeling like this long enough, it’s easy to believe that you’re going to stay depressed forever. This is why it’s so important to let yourself be happy when you’re like this. It’s easy to think that allowing yourself to be happy is only going to bring you disappointment, but you shouldn’t. You want to be happy, right? You’re not going to get better if you let those good days slip on by because you’re afraid something worse is going to happen. Take the good days. The more you can enjoy the good days, the more often you can have them. And the more often you can have them, the more progress you’re going to make in moving past your depression. That can be kind of scary, because even though you want to get better, you might have been depressed so long that you can’t imagine life any other way. Doing new things is scary, especially when you’re depressed. But you’re going to stay that way unless something changes. And a lot of times you can’t make those kinds of changes when you’re depressed, and that’s fine. That’s normal. But if you can, and you’re feeling like you’re getting better, and you want to enjoy that feeling, do it. It’s okay.