Monday, August 7, 2023

Depression: An Insider's Guide


"When you're depressed you don't control your thoughts, your thoughts control you. I wish people understood that."

A few days ago, a friend and I had a talk about Depression (not The Depression). Her 20-year-old daughter has it, has had it for a long time, and my friend doesn’t really get it. She tries to understand, and certainly offers whatever care she can, but she doesn’t follow exactly what her daughter is going through. It’s often an invisible disease. We can’t see it by looking at someone’s scar or cast but must rely on their behavior and what they might tell us in conversation.

Finally there has begun a public conversation about it and other mental health issues, which is fantastic. Still, most people don’t really understand what it means to suffer with this disease. Most of us know someone who has it – a spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend. Most of us know someone who has it – a spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend. We want to give this loved one sympathy but there is also an element of frustration in not knowing how they are feeling. Truly feeling. We see someone who seems to have everything – a happy marriage, a good childhood, a nice house, a rewarding job. What can she possibly be sad about? Why is he always down in the dumps? Can’t she just be grateful for what she has and look at the positive side of things? Maybe we hear that someone has committed suicide, and we’re confused – but she seemed happy?...Contrary to popular belief, depression is not simply feeling sad.

My friend has shown this frustration with a bit of eye rolling at not really understanding how her daughter feels. I’ve seen that frequently – loved ones try to be sympathetic and be gentle with that person. But they can’t show true empathy because they don’t actually get it. As my friend talked about her daughter’s issues, I interjected to explain a few things from my perspective, because I, too, have it. I was shocked at how surprised --and thankful -- she was with what I told her. I was equally shocked to find out she had no idea I have it, because we talk about everything. For those of us who want to cover it up, it truly can be invisible to others.

With this conversation I had a sort of epiphany. I only now realize that there must be many people out there who are similarly frustrated, curious, and sad at not understanding or being able to help someone they know who is dealing with this. After the reaction from my friend, I decided to tell what it’s really like, at least as far as my brain is concerned.

I have an autoimmune disease that causes Depression; I was diagnosed with my illness almost 30 years ago, so I’ve suffered at least that long. Probably longer as I remember feeling “down” as a teen and my dad had “moods”, so I imagine I got some of it from his side of the family. As an adolescent I remember often feeling out of sorts – which could be explained as being a hormonal teenager. I recall watching my best friend who seemed happy almost all the time, unless she had a good excuse to be otherwise. I always wished I could be “happy go lucky” like her. To say it stinks to have to live with this is a vast understatement.

Some people can have it for a few months and then the affliction “goes away” over time, or with the right medications. Another friend of mine who also has Depression told me she feels it coming at 10 am in the winter months, will take some prescriptions at noon and it’s fine again until 10 am the next day. I don’t think it’s that way for most of us. There are plenty of sufferers who cannot even get out of bed. I fall somewhere in between: I never go off my meds, and even with that help it never quite goes away; it wanes somewhat so I know the drugs are working, but it’s always there. If I run out of my prescription, I can feel a shift downward within hours. Nothing bad will have happened necessarily but a heaviness begins. I start to ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” Additionally, if my autoimmune disease flares up, I know how I will soon be feeling mentally. Conversely, if I’m suddenly feeling blue, I know a flare up of my autoimmune is coming to my body. My disease is a chronic illness, so I occasionally go into total remission, but the sadness is never very far off. I have learned to recognize the depression signs that often welcome in the rest of the disease.

These days we are lucky to be able to talk about it. I guess when “Prozac Nation” came out in the 1990s it became clear how widespread it has become, and it sort of gave permission to talk about it. Years ago (as in pre-1950) it wasn’t seen officially as a medical condition, but more of an affliction or even “nuisance”. As we look on our experiences of Covid, mental health has become a large focus of the effect of the pandemic and the experience of quarantine. I haven’t talked to many people about it because I feel shame, even though our idea of it as a disease, like diabetes, has become accepted.

Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are two well known people to have had depression. In Lincoln’s time it was known as “melancholia”. Women with it (often now known as PMS) that seemed impossible to live with were often committed to asylums and mental institutions, even when this affliction only hit them a few days a month. Winston Churchill was very aware of his disorder and referred to it as his “black dog”. I’ve always seen it as my “grey cloud” as that is what it feels like, all sadness and darkness hanging over me.

Depression can sneak up on you. I’m often completely submerged in it before I realize what’s happening. It’s almost like another personality takes over. She says awful things to me:

You’re a piece of shit.

No one loves you.

You are such a loser.

The thing is, I’ve had this disease for so long, I have finally learned to recognize its appearance and remind myself: DON’T BELIEVE IT.

That’s the key: to those who have it, you absolutely CANNOT believe what your brain is telling you. That feels insane. Ignore the “no one cares about you” and “you’re pathetic”. Remember that this will pass. That voice is very powerful, and hard to distinguish from reality. It is so easy to be convinced that the voice is coming from YOU, the you that is familiar and rational. It’s odd to convince yourself that your brain has been temporarily hijacked. It sounds crazy, you don’t REALLY have a split personality, and you are not having a breakdown. You are under temporary attack from a (sort of) stranger. And you are not alone in your suffering.

To those who don’t have depression, this inner conversation is false, but you need to understand how real it feels!! It’s easy to be overtaken by this dominant voice. It’s like a strong adversary – sneaky and eviI. When in the middle of an episode, it seems so real, so convincing, so true. It’s difficult to separate the angel from the devil on your shoulders. In the depths, it feels absolutely hopeless. There seems to be no future and the world seems to look better off without you. Bad things tend to pile up – you’re feeling awful and then every little thing – like a bad hair day or a crabby child – only adds to the feeling and seems like proof of your world being lost. This sounds overdramatic, but I assure you, it really feels this way. You feel like you aren’t contributing and you have no value. Your mind goes to the worst places and it’s hard to know what’s true. It feels like the whole world is against you. One can see how some suicides happen because this voice feels so authentic and powerful. All you can think about is how you feel, being very self conscious. The mean voice is so loud that you can’t help but be self-absorbed. When you are feeling normal again you look back at the craziness you felt and wonder how it came to be. Then it happens again.

I absolutely hate that I’ve spent so much of my life feeling this way, struggling, feeling so self-conscious, and so sad. The world is an amazing place, and I can’t stand the fact that sometimes I have difficulty seeing that. I was with another friend a few months ago and someone on TV said something about everyone feeling suicidal at times. My friend was taken aback and said, “I’ve never felt suicidal.” YOU’RE KIDDING, I thought. I can’t count the times I’ve thought about it. But I am confident that I would never do it. I could not hurt my family like that, break my mother’s heart, leave my kids to be scarred for life. IT WILL PASS. THINGS WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW. Luckily the rational part of me that refuses to be tricked by Depression takes over. Some, however, have it worse than me, and maybe their false inner voices are stronger.

Personally, when I feel bad, I tend to hide under my rock, to recede from public if I don’t feel well. I don’t want to be out with friends and be a sad sack. Who wants to be around someone constantly complaining about their life, or just moping in the corner? Observers probably see it as so much drama. When I feel better, I re-emerge. Being real with people is important, but if all you can think about is the bad stuff that’s going through your brain, it feels better to disappear for a bit and not subject your friends to this negativity. I’m always surprised when someone tells me they had no idea I felt this way because I am so conscious of that part of myself. I guess most of the time I hide it pretty well. The worst of it usually only lasts a week or two. I hate taking medication – depression pills on top of autoimmune medicines. However, I am so thankful that they are available. For those who say that I just need to “get it together” or to “get a life”, I wish it were like that. Believe me I’ve tried – on a regular basis I journal, get plenty of sleep, cuddle with my dog, paint, meditate, do yoga, talk it out, see a therapist, take a walk, get out in nature, show gratefulness, take deep breaths, volunteer – all the things that are proven to reduce stress. Those practices help but certainly don’t remove the sad feelings. Sometimes when it comes on it’s like the awareness you feel after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. You know that your brain is working differently, and you really have no choice but to follow the thoughts. You can’t control it during that time. My autoimmune (and therefore Depression) flare ups are caused by stress, short term and long term. I think mine is pretty much continuous because I’ve been under chronic stress for many years (health, death, finances, jobs, divorce, assault, etc.). Everyone deals with stress differently. If you’re thinking I need to figure out some ways to reduce my stress, believe
me, I’ve tried (see above). And I do everything I can to take stressors out of my life. This is just how my body works. Moreover, I had a fantastic childhood and remain very close with my family members, so it isn’t something I’ve repressed. It is a chemical misfunction in my body. I can feel my thoughts change when I run out of my medicine. This is when I remind myself not to be ashamed, because this problem isn’t caused by any action I’ve taken, but simply the way my body works.

There is often surprise when someone with depression is “discovered” or talks about having the disease, because there is still a certain amount of shame that comes with it (for some of us). Sufferers become competent at faking it even when this feels unusually tiresome, and why some of us recede for a bit. I don’t like feeling out of control of my emotions and self. If I knew that more people really understand what a depressive goes through, maybe I wouldn’t feel such shame. When someone catches me on a really bad day, I assume it’s clear to them how I’m feeling and what my problem is. Part of that reasoning is that with this disease all you can think about is how you feel, so it’s assumed that everyone else sees what’s so obvious to me.

Why can’t we all just be real with one another?? Unfortunately, most people are so concerned about their own lives and what they are going through that they don’t have the space to devote themselves fully to a depressive person’s issues. And maybe they are afraid of becoming depressed as well, hanging out with this person. As someone with the illness, it seems simpler to put on a positive face while everybody goes about their business. From there Depression makes it easy to conclude that no one really cares – isn’t this proof that I’m worthless?

There are physical symptoms of depression as well– one is fatigue, horrible fatigue. Desire to sleep. No appetite. Crying all the time. A general not caring about health and hygiene – nothing feels important. Except going back to bed or laying on the couch and listening to the horrible voices. I feel fortunate to be able to fulfill most of my responsibilities, albeit with a frown.

To those who are Depression caretakers: I understand how tiring it is. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells. My divorce is partially because he got tired of dealing with it. Tell your loved one how much they are valued and how lovable they are. Remind them that the evil voice is wrong. Tell them you understand they aren’t to blame. Hug them and make them aware of your love. Above all, let them know that you are thinking of them. If you don’t know what to say, tell them, “I don’t know what to say,” – the idea that someone out there sees you helps. Finally, know that it will pass.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Dating In Middle Age



(part 1)

When I decided to join the online dating world, within a month Covid began to spread and the world shut down. Including, of course, going out on dates.

I was ready to start dating again a few years after my split with my husband of 20 years. Our family had just gone through some additional trauma, and I needed a way to steer my mind away from it, so I joined a few dating sites, primarily for entertainment. Even now, two years after that, I am a lot more jaded but still thoroughly entertained. I’ll admit to occasional loneliness. I’d like to meet someone to go out with occasionally and even have a monogamous relationship, but never marriage again. I’m pretty current with trends and ways of living (thanks to my teenagers), but I’m not yet convinced that online dating is where I might meet someone I’d want to have a future with. As a GenXer I’m still a little dubious about meeting a mate online, but at the same time I figured I’d try it out.

I recently read in The New York Times that traditional dating might be making a comeback – that is, for long enduring relationships the best way to meet someone is through friends and family, mostly because the prospective date has already been vetted. And sex with this person should be put off so that the emotions associated with a physical relationship don’t get mixed in with the basic characteristics of someone’s personality. One can think more straight without adding sex to the mix.

These are the tales, absolute true stories, of my adventures in the dating world at 56 years old. As the saying goes, I can’t make this stuff up. When I began this discovery process, I didn’t make a big deal of it except to tell a few close friends. I wanted to shield my teenage sons from any more drama in their lives; their dad had quickly moved on to another relationship, and I wasn’t sure it was the best way to handle things post-divorce. I didn’t want them to worry about me or feel as if my concentration in their lives had shifted. There’s plenty of time for me, later, when they have left home. Now, I do occasionally show them photos of my online “recommendations” but don’t go into details about the dates I’ve been on. My boys have enjoyed laughing at some of my “matches” as much as I have and have given me unprompted advice about various dating sites. They advised me not to use Tinder “because those guys just want sex, Mom” and that Bumble puts women in the driver’s seat, so they advised me to try that one. I started out paying for several sites and after six months (during Covid) I stopped paying, and still don’t pay. By not paying, I mostly meet “bottom feeders” – the leftovers that also don’t pay. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet someone like me. Even when I was paying, the recommendations weren’t much different than the suggestions I get doing it for free.

The scammers are all over, and usually easy to spot. Their profiles all have similarities. They claim to be “marine engineers” or “oil engineers” or even “gemologists”. They grew up in another country, which is their excuse for poor grammar; they want to go to What’s App soon after the initial conversations; they have photos that look professionally done (usually lifted from Facebook). Usually they are “widowers” and will often say they are happy to move to wherever you are. They usually cannot name specific places in the town in which they claim to be living (often “on vacation” from the oil rigs). Once a guy started talking about his poor sick son in our second conversation. They are all about ultimately the same thing: money. When I know they are scammers I like to lead them on, kind of screw with them as they are screwing with me, like a cat teasing a mouse; then I report them. One guy was from “Copenhagen” but staying in Lynchburg, Va. He didn’t know that I went to college in Lynchburg, so I started to quiz him a little about the city and he got evasive. Leading him on, I told him I had a relative in Lynchburg – could he drop off some money to her? Then he was gone. Another guy claimed to be an oil engineer in India; I questioned whether there are oil engineers in India? He disappeared.

This guy has the typical good looks and professional looking photo, but notice his cultural mistake: if he’s looking for his “Romeo” he’s checked some wrong boxes.

All the dating sites require a long questionnaire about your likes, what you’re looking for, your background, etc. and you are sent, according to some WACKY statistics, recommendations of the people that might fit your interests. This is where it gets funny. Before I ever saw anyone I’d want to go out with in real life, I had to wade through the muck, as I still do.

Maybe some guy will read this and see what NOT to do, and if that helps him in his search, great. These are my tips on what to avoid, generally speaking, in order to meet a special someone. I realize there are a lot of exceptions to these rules, but this is my consensus. 

*THESE PHOTOS ARE ACTUAL “MATCHES” FROM VARIOUS DATING SITES; I have marked through some facial elements to protect their privacy.*

First off, Guys, the fish pictures have to go. I don’t care how big a fish you caught – it could be Jaws – I would still not be impressed. Immediate swipe left. What are you really trying to say with showing those photos? I am amazed how many men strike this pose.

Similarly, trucks and motorcycles also do nothing to impress. In fact, I would say the opposite – the bigger his truck or cycle the more I want to tell him sorry about the size of his man parts. NOT IMPRESSED!!!!

Another tip: take the damn sunglasses off! Why cover up your eyes? It’s okay with one photo but not all 4 or 5 pictures. Would YOU like to talk to a woman who kept her sunglasses on all the time?  What are you trying to hide? I immediately swipe left if I can’t see your eyes.

                                                                                 No comment on the Samurai costume

Not sure what to say about these two – these aren’t sunglasses, but the point is the same. This was during Covid, but this is taking it a little far.

We don’t need to see the gym pics either. Especially when you’re sweaty.  I don’t care how much weight you can lift; what have you READ lately?

More simple advice: LEARN HOW TO TAKE A SELFIE. You should NOT stand and point your camera to the mirror to take the photo. Some of the photos show the guy’s face completely covered by the camera! Either get someone to take the photo of you or hold your arm out to take the picture while the camera setting is on reverse! This is called a selfie. And another thing:  why oh why are so many of the photos taken in the bathroom, usually with toilet and toilet paper in full view??! FIGURE IT OUT!!  By the way, editing photos is really simple – your pictures shouldn’t be upside down or stretched. Our friend Google can show you what to do.

                                                                                      don't look too closely at the toilet

This guy is a repeat offender: bathroom, sunglasses, mirror

Next, don’t appear in a group picture without making it clear which one you are. I’ll see groups of guys, often fathers and sons, and wonder who I’m supposed to be looking at. The son is kind of cute; is he available?

Men, everybody has a smart phone now. If you don’t take a good photo, take another. There’s no reason to post a blurry photo. AND if it’s blurry and looks old, post something up to date! I went out with someone who looked nothing like the photo he posted, which was about 15 years old. I didn’t recognize him when we met – I took some new photos and insisted he post them (more on him later). Further, we really aren’t interested in your baby pictures, or how good you used to look in college.


                                                   Was Charles Manson released from prison?

 Another banned photo -- don't post the ones that look like you're in bed. If your photo is enticing, let us imagine that scenario. These photos do nothing to promote you.

 And now a few random pictures. Distracting background! I’m too worried about the tornado approaching to really check him out.

I'm from a small town. These are too reminiscent of people I grew up with. That is a subjective opinion I realize, but I'm pretty sure the large majority of women would agree that these two are a swipe left.


This one scares me.  Really, would this attract someone? Overcompensating, perhaps. What is he thinking?

This guy just makes me feel like crying. How could he possibly have time to date?

I’ll admit that I’m pretty picky. But this guy! Will he ever meet someone with all of these requirements?

I can’t write this without including some of the written messages I’ve gotten:




Does this guy really need a date (or a nurse)?  I love the fact that he’s a Sikh.      

Siamese twins?

You know those television commercials where, at the end you have no idea what they’re trying to sell? These are various cover photos – have no idea what these people are trying to represent about themselves.

   This one should say, "Do you want to be part of my harem?"


     Isn’t this Eddie van Halen?

These “matches” are all suggestions from the dating websites. On one site, they offer matches with “things you both like”. Here’s one I’ve gotten: “You and so and so have two things in common: penguins and vacations.” What??

This one deserves a caption. Who is this woman? Check out his sunglasses also…This one wins the Top Prize for crazy. 

In general, guys, think about the photo you are offering up! Remember, most of the people viewing your profile are trying to get an impression of you. They have never seen you before. Smile! Don’t look like you’re asleep, stoned, or angry.

                                                                Meth addicts?

Instead of "laid back, easy going", I would say "serial killer"

Why are they so angry?

Are these guys in costumes? Is he supposed to be Daniel Boone? And what is up with the King Arthur cosplay?

These final images I can only label WTF – what in the world were these guys thinking?

And last but not least...

 I had to reject a LOT of other photos! In my next post, I will go into some stories about guys I've actually been out with.
Happy Dating!!