Monday, August 28, 2006

Making a List. Checking it Twice.

When I came up with my Carnival of Hope idea, I e-mailed some fellow bloggers about it, and I noticed that several of them posted small bits o' optimism yesterday. Is this just coincidence, or is my Evil Plot to Achieve World Domination through Disgusting Cheerfulness already bearing fruit?

Bwah hah hah!

About the Disgusting Cheerfulness thing: most people who know me know that I'm a long-term chronic depressive, recently back on meds after a number of years off them. I accepted a long time ago that this is a medical condition I need to manage, just as I'd need to manage diabetes or hypertension, and I've developed some very workable strategies for doing that. I've always been very high functioning; I've never been overtly suicidal or needed hospitalization, and I have every intention of keeping it that way.

But I do want to emphasize that Disgusting Cheerfulness isn't my normal state. At all. Even remotely. And it never has been. I'm told that most kids and adolescents think they're immortal and invincible; this always makes me wonder what planet they're from, or what planet I'm from, because I never felt that way when I was a kid. Ever. I was always convinced that I was about to die, or that my parents were about to die, or that if any of us left on a trip, something horrible would happen and we'd never see each other again. Throughout most of junior high and high school, I believed that by the time I was twenty-five, I'd either have killed myself or have been locked up in a psychiatric hospital.

Okay, so maybe teenager Susan was just a little melodramatic. (You think?) But I cried myself to sleep every night for years, and various teachers and friends and relatives made concerned noises at me about depression even before anybody knew much about it. This was the nineteen-seventies. Nobody had even heard of Prozac yet.

If I'd grown up in the eighties or nineties, I'd have been put on meds when I was two. Overall, I'm glad I wasn't. I still prefer to be off meds, but part of managing a chronic medical condition is knowing when you have to supplement your self-care strategies with better living through chemistry.

So, anyway, looking on the bright side isn't something I insist on doing because I'm a naturally Disgustingly Cheerful person who's naive about all the darkness in the world. It's something I insist on doing because not doing it is very literally dangerous to my health, and maybe to my life. There's been suicide in and around my family, and when I was in my twenties, two friends killed themselves. I have all kinds of fun risk factors for suicide, and I don't want to go there. I don't even want to get close.

So I'm stubborn about self-care. Here's what I do:

* Take meds. Go to therapy.
* Exercise at least every other day, and preferably every day.
* Volunteer: service is a known antidepressant.
* Stay active at church: spirituality is another known antidepressant.
* Stay in touch with friends. This is a challenge; my default is isolation.
* Keep a blessings journal.

This last one is a notebook in which I jot down a very quick list of good stuff that's happened that day. My cats are usually on the list; on really bad days, when I can't think of anything else, air and water are on the list. (There are very few days like that, luckily!) Sometimes the list's long and sometimes it's short, but I've made an entry for every day -- although sometimes I fall behind and have to catch up -- for almost nine years. This is a very useful discipline, because it trains me to look for things to write down. And when you have several notebooks of blessings sitting around, it's harder to believe that everything sucks.

Also, when I even get close to thinking about suicide -- if I find myself even thinking of thinking about it -- I make a list in my head of twenty-five people who'd be upset if I killed myself, or even tried to. I know the list is probably actually much longer than that: I'm certain I wouldn't have been on any such list drawn up by my two friends who committed suicide, and I think about both of them all the time. But making a list of twenty-five people who'd be really pissed off by my untimely demise, or even just a little disgruntled, always restores my perspective. Depression's a form of disconnection, and this is a way of connecting myself again.

My doctor and therapist both like this strategy a lot. I was talking to my doctor about it once and said, "And even if I couldn't think of anybody else to put on the list, you know, somebody has to find you. How horrible is that?" She looked at me and said gently, "It's pretty bad."

So that's why I'm starting a Carnival of Hope: as a larger way of looking for blessings, and of encouraging other people to do the same thing. (Kim has plugged it on Emergiblog; thanks, Kim!) Is it corny? Yeah, maybe, but so what? Maybe we'd all be in better shape if we weren't afraid to be corny sometimes.

Oh, and speaking of corny carnivals, I have an embarrassing admission to make. My Pet Chaplain post is in this week's Carnival of the Cats. If cute pictures of furry animals make you squirm, do not go there!


  1. My dear, I sympathize with your battle against depression, and wish you all the best. Please don't feel embarassed about participating in the Carnival of the Cats. Your entry was very moving, and it fit so well in our section about celebrating the feline through Catymology. As someone who hass known depression herself, I find that taking pictures of my cat and looking at pictures of other people's beloved pets is very comforting.

  2. In the long, long years when I was chronically depressed -- the only downside to my happy years is that they're shorter! -- I could never approach suicide too closely because I could not stop thinking about the people who would care -- I always knew there were a few -- and I could not convince myself that they wouldn't care; in fact, my imagination was too vivid, and the thought of how they would react was devastating to me. So I couldn't kill myself, and thinking about why made me more depressed. I finally had to get really drunk to try it, and fortunately did so in a really drunken and stupidly ineffectual way. The fallout from that led to me losing my apartment -- that squalid East Village one you lived in -- and ending up in Bellevue for a while. Which perhaps was the beginning of the road out of depression.

    Anyway, the blessings suggestion is a good one. Anything that keeps the conscious mind pointed toward the good. Almost anything that looks outward at all, in my experience.

  3. Hi, Amanuensis, and thanks for the kind words about that post! And yes, pet photos are very comforting, only slightly less so than pets themselves.

    Scraps: I'm very glad you have such a good imagination! And I'm glad your attempt was "ineffectual," even if it meant having to be in Bellevue.

    Ah, the squalid apartment! I have very fond memories of that place; it's where I wrote Flying in Place, and where I was living when I met Gary. The last I heard, Don Keller was still living there. Do you know if that's still true? It would be a shame for the place to pass out of the SF community!

  4. Donald is still there. I think he will end up living there as long as all the previous science fiction people combined.

  5. Wow. The place must really be squalid by now. Even when I was living there back in 88-89, Gary and I sometimes wondered why it hadn't been condemned.

  6. Every time we set off somewhere, Cathie asks us what we want to say 'thank you' for. I always say 'our children' and I always mean it because they always fill me with joy and hope even when they are being as obnoxious as 16/17 year old boys and girls can be. Even when they are horrid they still take my breath away just looking at them.

    I know it is gauche, but if you can't celebrate your kids, why did you bring them here in the first place?

    I just got notification of my regular diabetic check up. Have you felt lost or ineffective in the last month, the form asked. I got to spend three weeks of that month with my kids - three days with all three of them! I was on holiday rather than at work. No, Dr Blair, I did not manifest any symptoms of depression lately, but thank you for asking.

  7. Hi, Martyn! Great to "see" you back here again!

    I don't have kids myself -- my husband and I are childless by choice -- but most of the parents I know feel the way you do about their children (as is only right and proper!). I'm glad you enjoy them so much!

    Are questions about depression standard in diabetic management? I'd never heard that, although it would make sense, since it can be a very difficult condition indeed.

  8. It was the first time I have ever been asked the question in this context. A step in the right direction.

    I have been away from the net for a while, and am trying to instil some discipline into my time - ie, write first, blogs afterwards! Five chapters in a week. Maybe I'm making progress.

  9. Martyn, what are you working on?

    I need more discipline too. I think many of us are in that category!


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