Tag Archives: personal

SomeDay in February

When I learned about the #SomeDayinFeb project on the fantastic Danica LeBlanc‘s Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago, I thought “Wow, what a great idea! I am very good at frittering my time away and not getting to the things on my ‘Nice To Do’ list. I should write about this and put it out there, because I know exactly what I’m going to do for that project!”

And then I didn’t write anything about it. Because — as has been stated above — I am very good at frittering my time away.

The last few…months, really, I’ve felt like I’ve been stagnating. Just scraping by, getting the barest minimum accomplished, and sometimes not even that. There are a number of reasons for that, few of which are interesting or unique. And they’re not even reasonable, like “I would love to learn to waterski but I have three kids and two jobs and a mountain of debt and also I live in a desert in space where there is no water and also it’s the fifteenth century and the internal combustion engine hasn’t been invented so there are no motorboats.”

(Your definition of “reasonable” may be different than mine.)

Which brings us to my #SomeDayinFeb project. I’m going to do an oil painting.

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One of my biggest sources of comfort and inspiration is the American painter and television personality Bob Ross. The man who hosted The Joy of Painting on PBS, who painted almighty mountains and happy little clouds and friendly trees in half an hour or less. When I think of his paintings, they’re rarely  brilliant works of art — though there are some that I think might fit that description — but his show wasn’t about showing off how good he was at painting. It was about teaching, getting people inspired, and yes, probably to sell some of his Bob Ross Art Supplies too. I’m a pretty big cynic, but even I don’t think that Bob Ross did over three hundred and fifty painting shows just to make a happy buck. He always said “Everyone can paint.” And I honestly think he believed it.

I’ve been watching Bob Ross videos semi-religiously for about ten years. I discovered his show one Saturday afternoon while visiting a friend, and couldn’t believe this was a television show. For my friend, who had grown up with PBS, it was old hat, but for me it was a revelation. Here was someone who had dedicated his life to art, making beautiful things and helping people find that spark of joy and creativity in their life. When he said things like “We don’t make mistakes, we make happy accidents,” or “Just like life, we need the dark in order for the light to show,” I didn’t actually believe it, but it was comforting to hear him say it. He shared his love of nature through his paintings and by bringing rescued animals on his show to raise awareness about animal rehabilitation. And even when the paintings turned out a little lackluster, I was in awe. It was something I could never do, but I could be happy just watching him create. I never dreamed that I would make a painting myself. I just wanted to watch from the sidelines.

Then just over a year ago, my brother and his fiancée gave me a gift of a mess of canvasses and a Bob Ross Joy of Painting DVD set. “This way you can make your own,” they said, smiling at me. And a hole opened up in my stomach. “Don’t you know,” I wanted to tell them, “that I’m not supposed to do this? I’m only supposed to sit and watch!!” But I accepted their gift as graciously as I could, then put it on the shelf and didn’t do anything with it for twelve months. Occasionally I thought about it, but I kept pushing those thoughts out of my mind, crushing them down, tricking myself that I could forget about them. I can’t make a painting. I can’t do this. I can’t.

Then a few months ago I was watching The Joy of Painting, an episode I’d seen probably a dozen times if not more. Bob Ross looked right into the camera and said “The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it.” That line hit me like a lightning bolt. I realized in that moment that even if I don’t think that I can do it, Bob Ross does. And he’s a lot smarter than I am.

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So I got an easel. And some paints. And I set aside some time today to see what I can do with them. I’m terrified of what’s going to happen. I’m fairly sure it’s going to be an absolute mess, a waste of time and money and effort. I’m also worried that when I fail at this, it’s going to ruin The Joy of Painting for me forever, and I won’t be able to watch an episode again without remembering the art atrocity that I’m about to commit.

I’m still going to try, though. Because Bob Ross believes in me. Even if I don’t.

My Depression

I don’t talk a lot about my experiences with depression. I tell myself that I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. But that’s just an excuse. Really, I don’t talk about it because I’m ashamed of it. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to admit that I struggled with depression, and that I still struggle with it. There’s still a part of me that feels like talking about it will cause people to look at me differently. To pull away from me. To keep their distance.

The terrible truth, though, is that not talking about it forces people away from me. It keeps them at arm’s length. Not talking about depression makes depression worse. It causes the thing that I’m most afraid of.

So today, I’m going to share a little bit. To be vulnerable. Because, as I’ve learned from Brené Brown, vulnerability is what connects us to people. And that’s what today’s supposed to be about.

My depression came suddenly, when I was an adult. Though I was never a positive, happy, optimistic youth, I think managed to weather my good and bad moods fairly well. In my twenties, I did everything I thought I was supposed to do, tried to make the best life I could with the circumstances I had. And then, just after I turned thirty it all fell apart. And I fell apart too.

I spent six months depressed and not admitting it to myself. Everyone around me knew I was depressed. They told me that maybe I should talk to someone about it, but I thought I knew it all. I thought I knew better. After all, I had a psychology degree; I knew the tricks that therapists would try to pull on me, because I’d seen therapists before and I trapped them in logic circles and I danced around their questions and they never managed to fix me. I didn’t see how this would be any different. This was just the way I was going to be from now on.

What I didn’t know at the time was that during those six months that I couldn’t admit to myself that anything was wrong, my brain was changing. It was stewing in poison, rewiring itself and changing the way it processed information. All of my new memories were tinged with the depression, and all my past memories were painted with it too.

Because memories aren’t recalled perfectly like finding a photo on a hard drive; every time you remember something, you reconstruct it, and part of the reconstruction involves the mindset you’re in at the time you “remember.” So every old memory got reinterpreted negatively. That’s one of the worst things about depression, in my experience. It makes it hard to form new good memories and it blots out old good memories. It makes everything grey. It numbs you out.

There have been a number of times in the past few years where my mind would go into what I called “sleep mode” when I was alone. I would just wander my apartment, or go for a walk, and I wouldn’t feel anything. I’d just be numb. When people were around, my brain would go out of sleep mode, and I could feel things again, but when people went away, it was time to power down. Use what little energy I had for basic functions and otherwise just zone out.

Depression can also hide. A number of studies have shown that once someone suffers an episode of depression, they are very likely to suffer a relapse or recurrence at some point. When things in life change, circumstances get better, and it becomes easier to cope, a little positivity can seep in, and the depression seems like it’s gone. But often it’s not. Often it’s just hiding. And it just needs a little push to come back, and then it’s like being smothered. Except this time, you know what depression feels like, and it all comes back on you.

In the past, it was all I could do to just cope with it. I spent months in survival mode, barely able to get through the workday before collapsing in my bed. I spent weeks where every time I looked in the mirror I said, out loud, “I hate you.” There were years that I frittered away because my only goal in life was “make it to Friday.” On Friday, I had two whole days where I wouldn’t have to do anything if I didn’t want to.

Sure, there were days where things felt okay. I don’t mean to imply that my life has been a grey cloud for five years. There have been great things, wonderful things that have happened to me in that time, things that even the depression couldn’t completely suck all the colour from. But they always felt like anomalies. Eventually, I knew, things would go back to “normal,” and I’d be struggling again.

Depression is insidious because it makes itself feel like the default mode. It makes working to keep it at bay seem like an insurmountable battle. All the work I’ve put into trying to work against depression in the past few years often seemed worthless, because I knew it was all going to fall apart again eventually. But I kept at it, because I got to the point where I decided that literally any change would be better than what I’d been feeling. Through a contact at work I found a new therapist, a good therapist, a therapist that costs a lot of money but I am fortunate that I can afford the rates. And I’m putting in the work.

In fact, by interesting coincidence, this January has been the first time in over four months where I haven’t felt tired and sad all the time. And, because depression tricks the brain into thinking it’s normal, my reaction to not feeling tired and sad all the time has been to ask myself, “Oh man. I feel weird. Am I sick?” That’s what depression did: it made feeling alive seem wrong.

I know I still have work to put in. I know that statistically there’s a very good chance that if I get over this bout, another will eventually occur. But talking about it, with my therapist and my friends and my family, and putting in a hell of a lot of work, has made a difference. And it makes me feel like the next big bout will be survivable.

So I guess the reason I wrote this is to share what I’ve learned in the past five years. To speak to maybe one person out there who will identify with one small part of this and take one small step to talking about it. So if that’s you, here’s what I’ve learned:

Depression will trick you. It will hide, and it will lie to you, and it will convince you that living tired and sad and numb and without hope is your normal now. And you will have to fight back against it, and you won’t always win. But you can be strong enough to keep fighting, and the way to get that strength is by talking to people. Talk to professionals if you can. I know that good help is often hard to find, through a lack of resources or income or qualified therapists, but I encourage you to try. And if you do find one and they’re not a good fit then keep looking until you find one that works for you. Talk to the people who love you, because they want to understand, and if they walk away from you then you can take comfort in the fact that you just discovered someone you didn’t actually need in your life anyhow.

Just don’t keep it to yourself. That’s what it wants.