When will the darkness leave?  My lifelong battle with depression

I was totally devastated this week.  Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park, ended his life.  He was my age.  His Arizona home is a few miles from mine.  His son attends my daughter’s high school.  In fact, our next concert was next month, Linkin Park.  Tickets purchased months ago.  Before the news broke, we were talking about how excited we were that the concert was just a mere month away.  He, like me, and so many other people, struggled with depression and addiction.  Before Chester, Chris Cornell.   Are their lives more valuable than any of ours? Of course not.  But the tragic loss of their lives brings back to the forefront the often silent and ignored battle many of us fight alone.  Chester’s lyrics always reflected what he was going through, which made him such a relatable figure.  I have read so many tributes.  “A part of me dies with him.”  “I feel like I just lost my childhood.”  “You always spoke to me.”  “Please come back.” And then, then inevitable, “Only a coward commits suicide”, which truly, maybe shut up if you are saying that.  Just don’t.  Same goes for the “Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do” people.  Stop talking. 

We don’t shame people for having cancer, or heart disease.  We do like to judge people who are in depression, or have a form of mental illness.  I distinctly remember being a young mother, sitting at a table at work, when a man who was in his forties came and sat at the table with me.  He started talking badly about a more difficult customer, calling them ‘bi-polar’ as an insult.  I pulled out my courage and  said to him, “I’m bi-poplar, but you are still talking to me, so he must not be that bad then I guess.”  The simple truth is this.  If you have not experienced the sucking black hole of depression, or a depressive disorder, perhaps you should sit down and stop talking.  I’m not meaning to come across as harsh here.  Or maybe I am.  


A few years back, I sat in a meeting with the owner of the company I work at.  It seemed obvious that something rather earth shattering had happened to either him, or someone close to him.  He started to talk to us about signs.  We all wear signs.  Most of our signs are invisible.  The person who smiles at you in the hall everyday may have a sign that says, “My son is being bullied and I don’t know how to make it stop.”  The person you work next to you may have a sign that says, “I don’t fit in here or anywhere.  Please help me.”  But because our signs are invisible, we can’t know what anyone else is feeling or going through unless they tell us.  He asked us to please remember that every one of us has something, and kindness is always warranted.  

I remember the first time I felt depressed.  I was 10 years old.  I went into my bedroom, shut the door, sat in the dark and cried.  My sister came into my room and asked why I was crying.  I told her I didn’t know.  I just can’t not cry.  She sat with me and hugged me, and then left.  As much as I wanted her embrace to make me feel better, it didn’t.  I just felt dark.  Like all of the light in the room and in my body was being sucked away from me, like a black hole swallows everything around it with no remorse.  It is not sadness.  It is empty.  It is feeling that no one cares, and you are a burden.  You want people to stay, but you want them to leave you alone.  It’s confusing.  You can’t articulate what you want or what you need.  Others may marginalized your feelings..  Everythign cuts.  Everything hurts.


In my early twenties, I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling manic depressive.  What the heck is that, right?  Basically, I can go from the depths of depression, to an all out mania, back down to depression several times a day.  For someone who craves stability, you can only imagine how frustrating and exhausting this can be.  The mania helped to get me into steep credit card debt, but also helped me to have a very clean house and organized files.  I remember being up at 2am on a week night feeling like I needed to reorganize and purge all of my files.  To the point where I felt jolted out of bed because the need was overwhelming.  I know now that my drinking was self-medicating to just make it stop.  If I got drunk enough, I wouldn’t wake up.  There were times that I hoped that I would just go to sleep and never wake up again.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen.


There was one point in my life that I was on 4 or 5 different medications, drinking heavily, and taking sleeping pills.  How did I live through this?  Friends, this is why I forever admire the resilience of the human body.  It seems impossible that I didn’t accidentally die from overdose.  To this day, I can’t bring myself to even take Advil unless there is just no other way.  I maybe take 10 a year, if that.  I don’t impose this strict regimen on anyone else.  I know, for me, I am lucky to be alive.  I need to respect my liver and kidneys and give them every opportunity to recover and heal from the years of abuse.  

There is help available.  It is hard as hell to ask for help.  And you need to use the help in a way that if helpful to you.  That sounds dumb, let me explain what I mean.  I took every pill the doctor gave me.  I told him that they don’t work, give me more and more and more.  I didn’t tell him I was drinking at a very dangerous level.  If my older self could kick my younger self’s ass, you bet I would!  Medications help to stop the cycle.  They can help you put on the brakes so you have an opportunity to work on yourself.  For me, I have found what helps is for me to have an honest dialogue constantly with myself.  I have to recognize negative self talk when it creeps in, and I have to vigilantly keep it from taking hold.  I have to deal with every painful thing that comes into my life immediately, and I have to let shit go.  What I did with medication was not what it was intended to be used for.  I used it as a crutch instead of a tool.  Talking helps.  I talked, but I was never honest.  To be able to keep my mental health in check, I have to be 100% honest with myself, and with everyone around me.  Now, there is a difference between honesty and over-sharing.  It’s important to be appropriate, and not over share with people who don’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  Still…talk to people..  There are times that I feel depression creeping back.  I talk about it.  I call out the boogeyman.  I will not suffer silently anymore.  I will not let the emotional pain become so debilitating that I wish for the end.


As we have seen from these very high profile suicides lately, this disease doesn’t discriminate.  I encourage you to take courage.  Take people to task who believe that calling someone ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘bipolar’ is acceptable. Let’s stand up and stop stigmatizing mental illness.  I am no longer hiding in the shadows.  I have problems.  People who know me now have no idea what I used to be.  “No way are you bipolar!  Impossible!  You’re such a positive person!”  I think that maybe we should recognize those invisible signs.  Maybe compassion, empathy, and understanding don’t have to be lost on us anymore.  Maybe just listening for once, instead of just making our own points, is more important.  Maybe that person next to you needs to hear that you are glad to see them today.  Maybe a passing smile and nod is all the person on the street needs today.  Today, I pledge to you that I will smile more, I will acknowledge strangers, I will speak up and say, “I hope you have a good day today.”  We can change the world.  Kindness is all it takes.  I challenge you to join me.  Let’s help carry the load of others.  

I am sitting and watching a July 2017 Linkin Park concert, and I am fighting back tears.  To be surrounded by thousands of people who love and admire you, and still feel empty.  Please, don’t choose a permanent solution to temporary problems.  The world can’t stand to lose any more of us to this affliction.  Keep fighting.  You are not alone.

…and you are probably not crazy either!

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

Have you ever read that book, “The Secret”?  I know, I know…but stick with me on this one.  For those of you that haven’t read the book or seen the subsequent movie, the basic premise is that what ever you put out into the universe, you will get back.  If you put out worry that you will be broke, the universe will grant your wish, and you will find yourself broke.  On the flip side, though, if you visualize yourself being content and financially stable, that will happen for you as well.  This is the secret that separates you from the wealthy and successful.  They know how to harness their thoughts, and you don’t…yet.  Now, I am NOT presuming to know if you are wealthy, successful, or content.  What I do know is that when I talk about controlling my thoughts, I usually get a very puzzled look.  “There is NO WAY to control your thoughts!  My brain thinks thoughts all day and all night, it has nothing to do with me!!”  If this is true, then why the slogan ‘Think Positive’?

The first time I was told that I could control my thoughts was shortly after I sobered up.  I am sure that not all who come to read these musings know what that is like, so let me explain.  Have you ever gone swimming all day long in a pool with your eyes open?  Your ears are sloshy.  Your eyes sting and you can’t see anything clearly.  Your skin crawls and tightens from the chlorine.  People talk to you, but you feel tired and groggy and not really present.  That’s how the first bit of sobriety felt to me.  So, when I heard this revolutionary idea that I can control my thoughts, my honest reactions was, “Bullshit”.  The truly beautiful thing about our minds is that we take ideas, push them to the back,  roll them around, and digest them, all without knowing it.  

When I was finally ready to accept that maybe I could try, I also had to swallow a pretty big pill along with it.  I had to accept that if I had power over my thoughts, then I have always had power over my thoughts.  Therefore, this warped reality I had been living, these negative thoughts that consumed me, were all within my power.  I had to accept that I had done all of this to myself.  Maybe knowing that I had to accept this idea was what made me balk so heavily in the first place.  It’s pretty scary, but, as we have already discussed, you can’t live any kind life if you are consumed with fear.

Albert-Einstein-quoteIf you’ve ever taken a yoga class, or tried to meditate, you may have heard the idea that you can guide your thoughts.  So, how the heck do you do this?  You may be yelling at the screen, “How do I stop thinking about my grocery list, my kid’s schedules, the vet appointment, the undone laundry, EVERYTHING going on at work, not to mention what I am doing for dinner?”  Well, let me tell you how I did it, and maybe you can find a way too.

In my previous mariage (let’s just get this on the table, I have been married 3 times…THREE TIMES!  So, yeah, I have a lot of marriage experience, and a great sense of humor regarding my failings.  Moving on…), I was always focused on being a victim.  I seriously was always mad about what my ex husband was doing to make my life so terrible.  If I think of things in terms of ‘The Secret’, you can only imagine how much misery the universe was dropping at my doorstep, because all that I was putting out there was how miserable I was.  One day, I changed.  I decided it was time to change the course of things.  When I started to think about what a jerk he was, I noticed the thought, and replaced it with The Lord’s Prayer.  If you’ve ever been in a 12 step program, The Lord’s Prayer is like saying ‘Om’ over and over and over.  It was the one thing I knew like the back of my hand.  At a moments notice, I could think the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven.  Hallowed be thy name…” and it acted like a mantra.  

Happy-face-among-sadness That’s it?  Yep.  That’s it… First, notice the thought.  Your brain is often working on auto pilot. By the time we reach adulthood, we don’t even notice thoughts coming and going anymore.   So, by noticing the thought, you are starting to turn off the auto pilot.  If the thought doesn’t serve you, start methodically repeating, in your mind something that does.  “Life is beautiful.”  “Today I will be the change that I want to see in the world.”  “It is never too late to be who I always should have been.”  “There is no time like the present.”  Anything that is at least neutral, at best a positive message.  When you start, you may find that you are repeating your mantra almost all day.  The great news is, we are very intelligent and adaptable beings.  Once you make the decision to change your life, your mind will follow suit quickly. The first few days are the hardest.  If you fail, then you redeploy your mantra, and you keep going as soon as you noticed that you failed.

Now that you are starting to come off of auto pilot, you will start to notice your thoughts, and you may start to notice patterns.  These patterns may surprise you.  I personally noticed that my mind was often giving me thoughts such as, “You are fat.  No one likes you.  You have no friends.  People only feel sorry for you.  You will never be truly loved.”  Just typing that makes me feel terrible!!  None of that is true, nor was it true at the time.  Once I gained confidence with changing my thoughts, I started to push out the negative thoughts consciously with their positive counters.  “I am healthy.  I like myself.  I don’t care if people like me or not, I have value.  I am appreciated.  I feel loved.”  Do not let the negativity of your auto pilot thoughts scare you.  If you were harnessing your thoughts all along, you never would have allowed this to happen.  You just didn’t know that years and years of people telling you you are not good enough and you believing it have manifested in your thoughts for reinforcement.  

After a while, it feels like you have an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other, like a cartoon.  You become pretty skilled at recognizing the lies that your brain has grown accustomed to telling you, and you easily shut it down and replace it with something that is true.  In time, you will have completely retrained your way of thinking, and you will likely go back on to auto pilot, but this time, your thoughts are now geared towards your opportunities and possibilities, and not pinning you down to the ground.  You may find that stress is no longer really stressful.  You may also start to see that a lot of what you found so stressful before is totally manageable now.  What if you started to write down the changes that your see, so you can go back a year from now to remind yourself just how far you have come?  

If you have mastered guided thought, but all of sudden, you start to feel stressed again, or maybe you are feeling uneasy or just not at peace, start listening in on your thoughts.  Unfortunately, it is possible to relapse into that great abyss of negative self talk.  You may have had an upsetting event at work.  You may have had a senseless arguement with your spouse that fed the negativity.  Maybe you have a parent that is like the T-Rex at Jurassiac Park, and is constantly testing their boundaries with you.  Check in with yourself.  Find your mantra again.  Every time you need to get back on track, it gets easier and easier.

Friends, take care of yourselves. Maybe you are thinking of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live from that late ’80’s.  Maybe you’re thinking that this is a lot of new age bullshit.  Maybe.  Or maybe it is going to the back of your brain now for you to roll around and consider until you are willing to accept responsibility for the role you have played in your own misery.  Or maybe you are already here, and, like me, you find gratitude for the hard pieces of your life.  For, if we don’t have the hard times, we would never know what we are actually made of.  

How do you feel about the idea of controlling your thoughts?  Is it really hocus pocus, or is there something to this?  Let me know in the comments section, or on Twitter or Instagram, or you can contact me by using the contact form on the home page.  I think that you may be starting to figure out that I know one for sure….

You’re probably not crazy!!!

-ism’s and me

Hello, my name is Chris, and I am a recovering alcoholic. What makes an alcoholic? Am I an alcoholic? Am I ready to know if I am an alcoholic??

Chances are, you don’t know me. You may see my pictures on instagram (@healthierverrsionofchris) or see my tweets (@OlFthfulFitness), but that’s just the side of me that I carefully craft.  The pieces of me that I’m not afraid to show the world.  My natural instinct is to hide the darker reaches.  To conceal the very things that make the bright side of me so brilliant. Inside of me lurks the frightful -ism.  Alcoholism.  Addict.  Reject.  Mental.  Stigma.

I am not what you might picture as an alcoholic.  I have a home, a family, dogs, gainful employment.  I was never homeless, on the street, brown bag in hand, begging for change.  In fact, I was terminated from a pretty great job during the height of my active alcoholism by a boss who would go out drinking with me.  I was deemed ‘unreliable’, which really irritated me at the time, but years later, I feel that he did the right thing.  He helped to save my life.  Interestingly enough, many people are still surprised that women can also be alcoholics.  Maybe they are just shocked to learn that I am an alcoholic.  

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 60% of women have at least one drink a year…HAPPY NEW YEAR (right??).  Of those, 13% have more than 7 drinks a week.  In the United States alone 5.3 million women drink in a manner that threatens their health.  So, when does it turn from HAPPY NEW YEAR to OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?  That is not easily answered.

                                                       
Just as with everything else it seems, every body is different.  Any person who has been in the rooms of AA, NA, GA, etc… will tell you that only YOU can decide if you have a problem.  That then begs the question…if you are neck deep in addiction, how can you have the clarity of thought to decide if you are on the wrong side of the fence?  Let me share with you my abbreviated story, maybe it will help.

I had my first drink at 12 years old.  It was. a wine cooler.  I had a ‘cool’ older sister who let me drink.  Mind you, I went to church every Sunday, sat in the front of the church, knew my scriptures, and had a family that was straight laced and decently successful.  I may have had one or two more, then guilt consumed me, I confessed to my church leader, and was back on the ‘right’ path.  Forward eight years to age 20.  I started drinking to defy my parents and the church, and show everyone that I was my OWN person.  Once I was legal, I was off to the races!  I was drinking every night.  I was young.  I was having fun!  I got married, had a baby, got divorced, got remarried to a fellow alcoholic, led an insane life with his three kids and my one, was involved in things I swore I would never do, gained 130 lbs, and stopped having fun.  At 3 o’clock every day, my mouth would start watering for my next drink.  Every morning was a hangover, every night was hair of the dog.  I got up for work and was on time every day.  I managed people.  I had successful teams.  I met deadlines.  And I was barely hanging on by a thread.  

Unrelated, or so I thought, I committed to a ‘Biggest Loser’ challenge at work (more on this story in a future post), and drinking was keeping me from losing weight, so I quit.  I was angry and self righteous.  I decided that my husband had a problem, so to show him that I was more powerful than him, I very publicly went to an Al-Anon meeting.  Well, I thought it was an Al-Anon meeting.  I took a wrong turn, and ended up in an AA meeting instead.  As I sat in the back, I realized that I was sitting among my people.  In a moment, I saw the wreckage of my life flashing in front of me.  I knew that I was done, and it was time for me to face this.

In a review of my past, I realized that I had a problem when I recognized all of these behaviors:

  • Drinking every night.  Even if I was trying to cut back I was scheduling my drinking.  (I am only going to drink on the weekends, I am not drinking on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays-because that’s a holy day).
  • Inability to take any responsibility.  Nothing was my fault.  I was not the problem, I was the VICTIM!
  • Paranoia.  EVERYONE was against me.  No one cares about me.  
  • Powerless over alcohol.  Powerless over my destiny.
  • My kids begged me to please just not drink today.
  • Other people joked that I was an alcoholic, because what makes jokes funny?  (Answer:  because they are true).
  • Thinking that harming myself was a good way to control the people around me.  (If you leave me, I am going to kill myself).
  • Committing wreck less behavior with little thought of consequences (drunk driving is a big one here).

While it is true, only you can decide if you have a problem, chances are, if you are wondering if you have a problem, you probably do.  HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: there is help.  There is a way.  I’m not preaching one form of recovery over another.  What I know is that I was a hopeless cuss back then.  Today, I haven’t had a drink in over 8 years.  The more I learn, the more I understand that certain brain chemistry causes a predisposition to addiction.  It’s not your fault.  But though it is not your fault, you can only get into recovery by accepting that this is your life and that you are the only one that can take steps to recover.  Ain’t no one gonna do it for you, kiddo!

On the same note, if you have a family member who suffers from addiction, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT EITHER!  There is help for you, too!  You can still love these people, and not contribute to their addiction.  In fact, the more you hold them up and prevent them from hitting the bottom, the longer they will drain the life out of you.  Remember, these are not BAD people.  These are SICK people.  
If you need immediate help, please reach out to your local Alcoholics Anoynomous chapter (for the alcoholic) OR Al-Anon (for family members of the alcoholic).  There are many resources available to you.  If AA isn’t your deal (a lot of people get hung up on the ‘Higher Power’ concept, because once you are at the point of no return, you’re kind of done with God for a while or maybe forever, and that is OK!), find something that does work.  But don’t give up.  And just don’t drink.  

I promise you…you’re probably not crazy!!