Tag Archives: life

Depression: Not Dirty Laundry

Depression isn’t something our society talks about very much. I don’t mean our “global” society–certainly in the celebrity world, we’ve heard quite a bit about depression over the last few decades. But in our individual societies, our towns, cities, apartment buildings, family units, groups of friends, we do not discuss depression very much. When it strikes our friends, or even our own family members, we are often the very last to know that there was even a problem to begin with.

It’s sad that depression just doesn’t get talked about, not even with family. It’s somehow a shameful thing, or something we are “meant” to endure alone, not something to share…somehow, it’s almost too painful and personal to share. On the rare occasions when I have brought up the subject of depression, most people brush it aside–they either don’t want to talk about it (“I don’t like discussing somebody’s emotional dirty laundry”) or they disregard it as a real illness (“Well, if they’d go back to church/get a job/get out of their relationship/get in a relationship, they’d get out of it”).

In this article, I seek to dispel some common misconceptions as well as offer some definitions of what depression does to a person.

Depression is not just being “sad.”

What most non-depression sufferers do not understand is that depression is not just “feeling sad,” but feeling NOTHING, as Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half describes in her two posts on surviving her own depression. Things you used to love, you could care less about now. Life itself seems pointless, and enjoyment seems beyond the scope of your mind.

For instance, when I suffered my last major attack of depression in 2008-2009, I watched as all my creative processes slipped away into the mist–first, my web designing, then my poetry, then my musical composing, and finally my singing. I didn’t just feel sad; I felt as if nothing was enjoyable anymore, and I suddenly had no mental energy left to do anything anymore.

Depression is not mere laziness or “being emo.”

It angers me when somebody implies that depressed people are just “being lazy.” Laziness isn’t even part of it–you WANT to get up, you WANT to do things, but the minute you try to climb out of the bed, the horrible nothingness crushes in on you again, leaving you breathless, absolutely unable to fight the slow encroachment of despair. Suddenly, everything takes so much darn effort; just going to the store and facing the stares of people is unbearable, and just the thought of trying to talk to somebody becomes a terror-inducing idea.

As for being “emo,” the emo and goth cultures simply romanticize depression as sadness, and make a fantasy out of suicide; I dealt with the grisly realities of depression and suicide when I drove down the road every day after teaching and thought about driving straight into a telephone pole, just to end the monotony that my life had become. That wasn’t normal for me–I was nonviolent and shuddered to think about death, and yet I was nearly overcome with the need to escape my life.

Depression eats your identity and your life.

Each time I suffered depression, especially the last time, I felt hollowed out…and yet, to all the rest of my friends and family, I was normal. They could not see what I felt inside, and since I felt unable to talk to anybody about it (including God–it was like I had forgotten how to pray!), I endured most of it alone. Having lost the ability to feel and think as normal, having lost the will to be creative, my inner self seemed like just a shell of my previous personality, and I simply kept up the facade to keep others from asking questions and giving me advice I couldn’t even begin to follow.

My life’s normal rhythms, too, seemed lost in a void. During the last attack of depression, I often came home from student teaching, thunked my books and papers on the desk, stripped off my shoes, and landed in the bed almost fully clothed, to sleep for nearly 6 hours. Then I’d be up in the middle of the night frantically trying to grade papers and crying too much for me to even focus on the task. Again, nobody else saw this; I tried to hide this change in routine even from myself. Depression overrode who I was for those endless months, leaving me with little energy, lots of irritability and impatience, and an overwhelming combination of boredom and sorrow.

Depression manifests in different forms.

My experience of depression is not uncommon, but there can be other symptoms. Other depressed and formerly depressed people reported loss of interest in hygiene, hoarding trash items, not going out in public anymore, and avoiding social contact, as well as trying to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Some depressed people don’t think about suicide all the time, but it can happen with any manifestation.

For non-sufferers, realize that this illness changes a person, and the depressed person needs your compassion and understanding. Depression attacks every part of you, body, mind, and soul, but sometimes the attacks are a little more visible than other times. People who seem wonderfully well-adjusted in public may lock themselves away at night and weep about formless problems that make no sense.

Depression can be fixed.

The thing that really helps with depression are good friends and family who keep asking after you, who keep trying to contact you regardless. They can help you remember what’s good about life, as my friends and family did for me.

I was incredibly lucky to not only have a supportive immediate family, but a wonderful boyfriend who stood by me, loving me regardless of the changes in my personality during that time. That, plus a timely divine intervention, saved me. (I literally was sitting on the end of my bed staring at the stacks and stacks of papers I had to grade, the stacks and stacks of assignments I had to complete for my graduate school courses, and I found myself thinking, “I might as well kill myself–I’ll never get them all done.” Then, a little thought I couldn’t identify as mine popped into my head: “Why do you want to kill yourself over pieces of paper?” Up until then, I thought the “still, small voice of God” was just a poetic metaphor. I have since experienced it as a real phenomenon, and it snapped me out of my desperation just enough to begin to heal.)

For other depressed people, antidepressants work wonders and keep them stable long enough for them to recreate a life for themselves. I was desperately trying to avoid having to “take a pill every day for the rest of my life to stay happy,” and for now, I’ve managed it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need one in the future. Depression can sometimes recur in cycles, but it is manageable if you get help (or have great friends and family who help you get help).

A Few Final Thoughts

One reason I decided to write this post is because I read an eye-opening book called The Noonday Demon, which is all about depression, its effects on people, its history and social knowledge, etc. Reading about others’ experiences with depression has helped me recognize more symptoms within myself and others. Though it’s a jarring, poignant read, I believe this book is very useful in learning how to empathize with depression survivors.

By sharing my personal experiences of depression, I hope I’ve taken away some of the “dirty laundry” characterization of the illness. I was able to climb out of my depression without the use of antidepressants, thankfully, but there are an unfortunate number of people who cannot climb out without them. Depression comes in all shapes and sizes, all severities, and affects anyone. It strikes sometimes out of nowhere. And surviving it does not mean you’re any stronger than someone who is still suffering–it just means you’re lucky.

Joining My Voice With Others

Choirs have been a major part of my life since childhood, and I have loved every rehearsal and performance of it. Even though performing with any group, be it a dance troupe, an acting company, a band, or a large choir, is a commitment that takes dedication, it has helped anchor my life in many ways. The interdependency of a performance group is one reason I love choir–you become a family of sorts, understanding how each other operates, helping each other learn, working together for the common goal of producing beautiful music.

And yet, I would have never known my future interest in choir if I hadn’t taken a risk in 7th grade…and I wouldn’t have known just how important it was to me until I couldn’t be in a choir for a while.

My Personal Experience in School Choirs

Though I sang with my elementary school choir in 5th grade, I never really thought I had much of a singing voice until 7th grade, when I joined the choir “just to see if I liked it.” If I didn’t like choir, I reasoned, I could always go to band the next year.

I started out the year singing as I had always done: very softly, because I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. But my choir teacher kept urging us to “sing from the diaphragm”–take deeper breaths and somehow push a louder sound out. I couldn’t wrap my head around what she wanted, so for a few weeks I continued singing very, very softly.

Finally, one morning she was fairly exasperated with us because we weren’t really trying much that day–most of the class wasn’t paying much attention. Right in the middle of her instructions on how to produce bigger sound, a knock came at the door, breaking her concentration. “All right, I’m going to say this one more time,” she said quickly, as she went toward the door. “Take a deep breath–don’t move your shoulders–tighten your stomach, and produce the sound!” Then she opened the door and talked to whoever was outside.

In the 30 seconds it took for her to talk to the person, understanding suddenly flashed in my head. Tighten the stomach? OH! THAT’S what I was supposed to do! I thought, “Well, is that all? Heck, I can do that.” When she came back into the room and took up her position at the music stand again, I was ready to sing, with my deep breath and tightened tummy.

From the expression on her face as we sang through one or two measures, she was not ready for the explosion of sound that came from the alto section. She motioned for us to stop singing, and in this shocked voice, she whispered, “Who was THAT?” It felt like every finger in the alto section pointed to me, and I wasn’t sure if her reaction was a good thing or a bad thing at first. 😀 But the big smile that dawned on her face let me know I had done at least something right.

From that day, I became one of the strongest altos in the section, and I never did make it to band. Finally, after nearly seven years of feeling like I had no place at school and that I would never do anything of consequence, I had found a place for myself, a place to be useful to other people. Many of the other altos were, like me before, still too shy to sing, so I produced tons of sound…which, I found out later, helped some of the other girls become more comfortable with the idea of singing with every rehearsal. The rest of seventh and eighth grade passed in this way–and, by the end of eighth grade, most of the altos I sang with had found their confidence as well. We thus had a strong corps of ladies ready to move on into high school choir.

I made it from the freshman Glee Club to the highest-level Chamber Choir in tenth grade, as one of only three ladies to be promoted immediately from Glee Club to Chamber Choir that year. Three successful years of Chamber Choir followed, under the direction of our high school choir teacher, who worked with us just as hard to shape our sound. (Some days I was worried he was going to have a stroke in front of us, he worked so hard!) But I did learn how to produce the tall vowels and enunciated sounds he consistently looked for in performance and rehearsals.

I carried this experience and knowledge into my college career, with one year of singing with the Women’s Glee Club and three years of singing with the Women’s Choir. My knowledge of choral music and my ability to adapt to different song styles grew as I sang in college, and by the time I’d graduated with my undergrad degree, I had sung in at least 13 different languages, traveled to sing in New York and England, and met a number of wonderful musicians who enriched me just by singing beside them.

The Break from Choir

Unfortunately, when I got into my graduate degree program, I had to largely quit choir to pay more attention to my studies in Middle-Grades Education. Other than my church choir, which I got to sing with only on Sundays I came home from college (and even then, not as often as I liked), I was out of the organized singing groups I had been used to singing with for nearly 10 years.

This break from choir, oddly enough, helped me realize what I loved about singing, and what I missed about it. I missed the camaraderie formed by trying to learn songs together (and often missing notes, lol); I loved performing with my fellow altos, keeping our line strong and helping the other three parts to stay on target. Though I did get to sing on occasion, I missed the constancy of rehearsals more than once a week, learning many different pieces, building up to a huge performance. I honestly felt lost without a group to perform with, and I think it contributed to my sinking heart and low state of mind.

A Joyous Return

But a serendipitous meeting with an old choir buddy (at Walmart, of all places) let me know of a new opportunity–the local Choral Society, a group of all levels of singers, was looking for altos. That was the impetus for me to attend a rehearsal, which led me to join up within the week. It was an electric experience after having been out of regular choir for so long. I snapped back into place like a long-lost puzzle piece, and I haven’t even entertained the idea of dropping out since.

My Current Choir Experience

I’m now involved in Choral Society as well as my church choir, and both choirs fulfill me musically, but in different ways. Church choir is a time for me to praise God for the ability to sing and the ability to make music; it’s not so much about the technical perfection of the music, but about the feelings and meanings that propel that music along. Choral Society, by contrast, is a time for me to sing with other choral musicians who enjoy rehearsing and learning challenging and lovely music–striving for technical perfection is part of the enjoyment (even if you don’t quite get there in one rehearsal, LOL!).

I enjoy singing with others much more than singing alone, though singing alone is cool; there’s just something about hearing your voice meld with others’, hearing it build in intensity, hearing it recede and return like audible ocean waves. It’s almost an animal in and of itself, moving, growing, and changing moment by moment…it’s awesome. It may not be a powerful soloist’s career, but for me, it’s a powerful experience. I’m so glad I took the chance to “see whether I liked choir”–it led to a lifelong love.

Momentary Meditations

There are blessed moments I encounter–moments of living neither in the past or future, but in the massive and yet ephemeral present. Being aware of each second clicking by, the cool freshness of the air being drawn into my nose. Taking time to truly feel the grass blades tickling my flip-flop-clad feet, and to smell the light sweet scent of azaleas and wildflowers in the front yard. Sensing the mobile curvature of my spine as I hunch above a keyboard or stretch back against the computer chair. Knowing how the smooth plastic computer keys will give way just enough under my fingers to produce a letter on the screen.

It’s an odd, electric kind of feeling, as if a shade has been drawn up from over my eyes and I’m finally seeing life as it is. In these few seconds, thought and intellect give way to feeling and instinct, just for a little while. I can appreciate the visual beauty and symmetry of tree branches and buildings around me, pause to hear random harmonies of birdsong and traffic, weaving together like the woodwind and brass sections of a giant unseen orchestra. Touch and smell become many times more important; suddenly, I am aware of how soft and lovely the shirt I’m wearing feels against my skin, and realize that the breeze is blowing a faint wonderful scent of food cooking from a restaurant down the street.

These moments of sensory feeling and glimpses of present peace are usually rare for me. Too often I live in a world of past guilt and anticipation of the future, and I’m insensitive to all this wonder going on around me. (I think we all have days like that!) Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a shell of myself, “living” without really feeling it, while my brain is somewhere else entirely, worrying, fretting or just going around and around without solving anything. Often it seems like I’m actually forcing myself to relax, and yet my brain is resisting every second of it.

Momentary meditations on the world around me, actually sensing the environment around me, actually hearing and seeing things outside my own head, manage to snap me out of the foggy dreariness I usually shuffle through, make me feel more alive. It’s often not an instinctive thing, either; I have to shift my mindset, and hush my inner monologue. (Amazing how much more life can filter into your brain when you actually let yourself experience it rather than letting your brain talk over it!)

If you’ve never had one of these random moments of clarity, it can start as simply as looking around you and really seeing everything. I hope this post can be one of those moments for you–then, you might find that a shade has lifted from your own life.

Leveling Up in Life

These days, experience-based games like World of Warcraft are very popular. Players of these games generally play through many quests, defeating enemies, dedicating many hours to “leveling up” their character, getting ever closer to the top level, where they no longer have to gain experience, and they are fully powered-up and epic in battle.

Does this sound familiar to people in the modern workforce? To me, it reminds me a lot of the “rat race”–the constant striving for promotions, raises, better hours, more vacation time, more leadership, etc. People play games like WoW to escape work, or so I thought, but instead they seem to be duplicating the same conditions in play as in work.

Life Today = Meeting Goals Rather Than Having Experiences

We generally live our lives, these days, like it’s a goal-oriented game rather than an experience. Stopping and smelling the roses went out of our heads a long time ago, replaced by a drive to get “the most” and “the best”, all in “the fastest” time. Students who take AP classes to get college credits while still in high school are hailed as “go-getters;” collegiates who manage to get through a four-year degree in three years or less by taking classes during the summers (and even winters) are praised for their “academic drive.” And people in the modern workforce who advance rapidly through their chosen field or company are looked on with favor.

This drive even extends down to our children, sad as that sounds. No longer can kids just go outside and play at random games; now, they’ve got to be learning all the time with “educational” games. They’ve practically got to know how to read and write before they hit kindergarten, otherwise they’ll be considered “behind.” (Not knocking educational games, but surely there’s time enough for them to just be children, too?)

This Used to Be My Life, Too

I lived like this, trying to “level up in life,” for a long time. I was one of the “bright” kids in my school, a girl who was going to get out there and be somebody before she was 30. I picked up on things very quickly, was fast, accurate and (usually) neat in my preparations; I got good grades and participated in all sorts of activities, and so I got honors and won awards. I took that same drive into college, obtaining my BA in English with Magna Cum Laude and a slew of other academic honors. I even advanced into my ill-fated teaching career with that same attitude, pushing to get my Masters in Middle-Grades Education in 2 years so I could go out into the world and make money doing what I supposedly loved.

But where did all that drive and ambition get me? I ended up crash-landing back at home, recovering from severe depression and suicidal feelings. All that pushing and stressing and struggling, and it had gotten me no honors this time, no rewards. I couldn’t teach anymore; I just simply wasn’t made for the job, even though I had worked so very hard to achieve it. So I began to question this “most/best/fastest” way of life. What had all my striving been for, in the end? What had I been doing with my life all those years I was working to become something? There are quite literally years of my life I barely remember except for vague memories of working my butt off writing papers or completing tests, all to get “somewhere better”–a better college, a better job, etc. I thought I was doing it right, living a correct life.

My New Life: All About Experiences

In the wake of my capsized teaching career, in which I had faced death at my own hands, “leveling up” in life didn’t seem as important anymore. I began to focus instead on rebuilding my charred inner world, trying to salvage what I could of my life and my interests. And, in fact, I rediscovered myself among the ashes, and began to write my novel as a way to pull myself forward. I began to live life as I had never experienced it before–weeks of just BEING rather than DOING, just writing rather than publishing, just playing the piano rather than performing, just being with friends rather than being constantly “busy.”

Some people might look down on me for this, maybe thinking I’ve become complacent, lazy, and unmotivated. Nobody’s said anything to that effect, of course, but since I spent such a large part of my life driving ahead at 80 mph, it feels very strange to be going suddenly 30. Or maybe I’m still a bit paranoid about what “other people” think of my life, worrying that people will think I’m not as smart as I once was, or that I just don’t care anymore.

But this new speed of life is far from “not caring.” Actually, in a way it feels like I’ve dropped an addiction: an addiction to perfection, to needing to be the absolute best, fastest, and most. Some days I’d like to care about that stuff again, because it felt somehow normal to be addicted to that lifestyle. But I know that if I start caring about it, it’ll be as virulent as any addiction, taking over my life again before I know it. I don’t have to chase after every success if the chase is going to dehumanize me and strip me of joy; I have to chase after the successes that are important to me. And right now, just living is enough of a success, considering I was contemplating suicide not too long ago.

Am I Enjoying This? YES!

Now that I’m not so worried about “leveling up” in life, I find myself able to enjoy my life. Sure, days aren’t as action-packed as they used to be; sure, I’m not doing a whole lot these days beyond writing, singing, blogging, designing, and gaming. But…I’m okay with it. I don’t have to get to the next level of my life soon–I think I’ll just roam around in this game and explore a bit, enjoy the level I’m on right now.

Writing as a Pressure Valve

These days, I might be a blogger and novelist, but I’m also still using writing for another purpose, one which has literally saved my life several times. Instead of raging about my problems, I write about them.

How I Got Started Using Writing to Solve Anger and Sadness

I’ve always been a particularly sensitive and emotional person, and I was bullied quite a bit in school, yet I was not allowed to let out those feelings by openly crying at school, nor were my feelings understood by the staff, who believed that “kids will be kids” and I should learn to put up with the horrible treatment I endured. As you probably can guess, this became a HUGE problem over time, until I discovered that I liked to write creatively. Soon enough, I found that I could funnel what I was feeling into writing, using the activity as an emotional pressure valve.

What do I mean by that? I mean writing instead of punching, writing instead of screaming, writing instead of staying home from school just to be away from it all. I had come to love creative writing early on in my life, but beginning especially in middle school, writing became a lifeline. Whatever I felt, I wrote, in poetry that likely should never be seen by anyone else, but helped me cry out with silent paper and ink. There were times when I wrote about getting back at the people who treated me like I was sub-human (because I did get physical abuse at times from some of them), helping me to vent my frustration without hurting anyone. (Some people worried that I was going to act on what I had written, but for me, the act of writing about it was the release of it–once I had written about it, I was finished with it, and I didn’t have those feelings to that high degree anymore.)

This is how I survived school–writing (as well as music) gave me the outlets I needed. These days, I may not need as much of the “venting” space as I used to, but I know it’s still there, whenever I need it–just a few clicks away on my computer.

How You Can Start Using Your Writing as a Pressure Valve

  • If something’s really bothering you, words will often come of their own accord; get a paper and pen or open a text document and go to town. Don’t edit yourself, don’t think too hard, just write. If you begin to cry (or even just get a little teary) while writing, you’re doing it right–you’re beginning to expunge the emotional poison.
  • If you’re having trouble figuring out what to write about, try freewriting, either on paper or using an online freewriting exercise. Write about anything you want, just don’t stop writing. Start with a nonsense word that makes you laugh if you have to, or write about something you’re sensing in the environment around you, and then just keep going. You would be INCREDIBLY SURPRISED at what comes out of your head when you freewrite! (Another take on freewriting: The Thoughts Room)
  • One exercise that works even better than the old “write a letter and don’t send it” trick, especially if you like to write fiction: Write a story about a character who feels just like you do about another person, and then–when you’re ready–write another story from the other person’s perspective. Difficult but REALLY rewarding.
  • Lastly, if you’re just as stuck as ever, write one word to describe how you’re feeling. Just one word. Make up a word if you find you don’t know how to describe it any other way. How does your description make you feel? Write about those feelings. (Again, if it makes you a little teary, you’re doing it right!)


Writing can be wonderfully therapeutic, as I’ve certainly experienced over and over. How about you–do you like to use writing like this? Tell me in the comments!

Warmer Temps, Warmer Mood


It’s amazing how much the coming of spring affects my mood. Even though I know I’ll hate the hot weather when it arrives (usually in late April for us North Carolinians), I can’t help but enjoy the warmer breezes, sunnier days, and slowly leafing and budding plants. It feels like something in my spirit unfreezes–something unfurls and reaches for that first touch of sunlight that bears real warmth.

Could this be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Maybe. But maybe I’m just a springtime creature, reveling in the earth coming back to vibrant life after a long winter of icy weather and a dull outdoor color palette of browns, whites, and grays. When the woods around our house begin to yawn and stretch with birdsong and warm sun rays every year, I awaken with it, and wear my short-sleeved shirts with abandon (and without a coat). Soon, spring will bring waves of pollen blowing into our faces, and later it will leave us with humidity that won’t let even the least bit of sweat evaporate, but till then I will enjoy little buds of color slowly appearing on every bare branch, and the first brave green sprouts dappling across the front yard.