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Filtering by Category: depression

defacebooking: an experiment {5/30/13}

Kelley Clink

You may have noticed that I've been quiet lately, Internet-wise. This is in part because I continue to focus my energy on physical rehabilitation. But there is another reason. In the past five years social networking has become de rigueur. It started innocently enough with blogging, LiveJournal, MySpace. Facebook swallowed them all whole, but that seemed okay because it was about 'staying connected.' Then Instagram, Google Plus, Four Square, Twitter. Now it's a bunch of shit I haven't even heard of (Vine?), in addition to the old standbys. If you look up from your phone, you'll see that everyone else is...looking at their phones.  

Clearly I'm not a Luddite--anyone who wants to have a career as a writer can't afford to be. But I've noticed more and more the uncomfortable itch that comes over me when I sit at my kitchen table without my computer. I wanted to understand where that itch comes from. I wanted to sit with it.

So for the past few days I have been. And wow. WOW.

For me, social networking started out as a way to 'stay connected.' It was a novelty to check in with friends I hadn't seen or heard from since high school. My current friends posts are always smart, funny, and interesting. I'm not sure when the change occurred, when status updates and tweets took the edge off lonely moments. When I started squeezing my life into 140 character chunks. When I began needing people to like, to follow, to comment, to reply.

What I didn't realize until I sat without it, was how much I've been using Facebook as a distraction, an escape from the present moment. 

During meditation, thoughts and feelings arise. We acknowledge them, we sit with them, and we let them go. This is supposed to help us do the same while we are not meditating. The more we realize the transitory nature of thoughts and feelings, the more peace we will cultivate in our lives. This is especially necessary for me as someone who experiences depression and anxiety. The problem with social networking is that it's all about tightening your grasp. Every little thought, observation, or experience becomes fodder. Becomes relevant. This is speaking just to speak. This is the opposite of mindfulness.

This isn't to say that mindful social networking isn't possible. It is. There are people doing it. Some of them are in my newsfeed. I'm just not one of them. Yet.

For now I'm going to continue my experiment. I'm going to sit at my kitchen table sans computer. When status updates pop into my thoughts I'm going acknowledge them, sit with them, and then continue washing dishes, or folding laundry, or reading a book. I'm going to try and get back to breathing. I'm going to pet my dog. I'm going to look at my face in the mirror, smile, and say "Welcome back."

kelley, the woman {4/12/13}

Kelley Clink

I have a confession to make: I have another blog. 

I started it in the fall of 2011. At the time I was extremely ill. I'd lost over twenty percent of my body weight and no one knew what was wrong with me. I spent most of my time on the Internet, trying to self diagnose, and running from one doctor to the next in search of answers. My obsession with my health kept me in a state of constant panic, and with no end in sight I plunged into a deep depression.

I didn't have a therapist at the time, so I went to see one recommended by a friend. She dropped some wisdom on me that helped save my life. She said I needed to separate Kelley the woman from Kelley the patient. And so www.kelleythewoman.tumblr.com was born.  

I resolved to post a photograph every day for as long as I needed to. And I succeeded. It helped me to remember that my life was about much more than my illness, and it gave my body the space it needed to heal. (I had gastroparesis, which is now, thankfully, under control.)

Why am I telling you this? Because I recently had hip surgery, and the recovery has been much slower and much more painful than anticipated. Once again, I found myself growing obsessed with the state of my health, and falling into depression. Kelley the patient was choking the life out of Kelley the woman. I've decided to resurrect my old blog, in the hopes that I will regain some perspective.

It occurs to me that the advice that therapist gave me stretches well beyond those recovering from illness or injury. All of us--especially those of us prone to anxiety or depression--run the risk of narrowing our lives and losing perspective. Problems demand attention. Uncomfortable situations are, well, uncomfortable. People want everything to be pleasant and easy, and we burn a lot of focus and energy trying to make them that way. And there isn't anything wrong with that--we're human. But when focus turns to tunnel vision, and all the other layers of life go dark, we need to step back and reassess.  We need to reclaim our personhood. 

It's important to remember that we don't do this alone. I always forget that, and spend weeks trying to fix everything myself before I reach out and ask for help. It's scary to take that step. It's scary to admit that everything isn't okay. But once I do, I instantly start to feel better--because in that action I am widening the circle, taking those first steps out of the tunnel.

Come with me, if you would like. Tell me about your tunnels, and your guiding lights.

don't panic {3/28/13}

Kelley Clink

I know I haven't written in a while, but I have a good reason. Four weeks ago I had hip surgery, and I've spent the last month focused on my body. Healing takes a lot of energy--both physical and mental--and I haven't had much spare brain power. Plus rehabbing is really, really boring. Seriously.

This week, however, has been a little more exciting. First off: I got my stitches out. The scars are actually quite beautiful--delicate pink dashes and dots, like the story of my pain in morse code. If I can figure out a way to photograph them without getting too scandalous, I'll post a picture.

Secondly, I started coming off crutches. Having been prohibited from engaging my hip flexor for three weeks, I've basically had to learn to walk again. The first few days were surreal: my rhythm was totally off. But I gradually began to trust my body more, putting more and more weight on my leg, easing into the bending of my stiff joint. On Tuesday I took my first steps without any crutches. On Wednesday morning I walked the length of the house.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was back on both crutches.

This is just how it goes sometimes, I know. The old cliche: two steps forward, one step back. Don't panic, I told myself. 

And then I panicked.

This is one of the problems with having a history of anxiety and depression. The more we practice a behavior, the more often we engage a set of responses, the deeper they become engrained. Over time, depression becomes a neural pattern. So to does anxiety. The more we panic, the more we panic. 

The good news is that we can change. Of course it takes practice and patience. Both of which suck. But it gets easier--I think. I hope? Well, it must, because here I am, 24 hours later, not panicking. 

Or panicking less, anyway.

I'm finding, and have been throughout this month of recovery, that awareness helps most of all. If I can acknowledge my anxiety for what it is--a feeling, just a feeling--it doesn't last quite as long. I can give the fear and frustration space, like a child crying out a tantrum, and then I can validate them. You are right, I can say. This is hard. Life is hardAnd then the anxious, fearful thoughts quiet down, and I can hear the rational, steady voice that has been there all along.

Maybe the more I practice, the faster the rational voice will come. Maybe panic won't always be my first response. Maybe it will. For now, at least, I am not panicking about panic. And for now that is enough.

staying ahead of the pain {3/1/13}

Kelley Clink

I had hip surgery a couple of days ago, and before I left the hospital my doctors and nurses repeated one thing a dozen times: stay head of the pain.

What they meant was that I should take my medications before I felt like I needed them, but I couldn't help thinking what a rare situation I was in. It isn't often that you get a heads up when something is going to hurt, much less a cure that fits in the palm of your hand. It got me thinking about all the pain that we can't stay ahead of, the pain that smacks into us out of nowhere like a meteor, shattering our lives and blasting us with aftershock.  

When we lose someone, or fall into a deep depression, taking care of ourselves can feel impossible. But knowing that suffering is a part of life, and that some days (or weeks or months) will be harder than others, we can do some prep work. So while we may not always be ahead of the pain, we can have a plan for taking care of ourselves when it comes. Here are four suggestions for making it through difficult times:

1. Be gentle with yourself: surround yourself with things that make you feel calm, nurtured, comforted, and safe. Start paying attention now and keep a list, so that you have it ready when things get tough. My list includes: meditation; getting outside; petting my dog; reading Anne Lamott, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh; listening to music; dancing; wrapping myself up in heavy blankets; and lighting candles.

2. Reach out. Have a list of people you feel comfortable calling when life gets hard. It doesn't have to be a long list, just a few friends and/or family members who will listen when you cry without trying to fix it. People who will tell you that you are not alone. 

3. Be present. Making space for your pain will help you identify your emotions. This is hard to do, because when we are hurting we seek distraction. But ignoring or pushing down our pain means it leaks into other areas of our lives.  If we can be patient with our pain and give it space to breathe, we are likely to move through it more peacefully, with less collateral damage. 

4. Look for changes, no matter how small. Write them down if it helps. Grief, depression, anxiety--these things are not the same everyday, and taking stock of the changes will remind you that nothing is permanent. 


say it loud {2/22/13}

Kelley Clink

This week I had two conversations with two wise, wonderful women, and both of them found their way to the same topic: how conditioned we are to keep our pain private. Whether we are mourning a death, the end of a friendship or relationship, the loss of a jo, whether we are anxious or angry about upcoming life transitions, whether we are sad for a reason we can't articulate or see, we somehow believe that others don't want to hear about it. Probably because, at some point in our lives, someone actually didn't.

Now, I'm not trying to point fingers at parents or teachers or friends. I'm saying that there is some truth here: it's hard to listen to someone else's suffering. Not because it is a burden, or because we don't feel compassion, but because it makes us feel helpless. Most of us (I hope) don't want anyone to suffer. And most of us, when confronted with another's suffering, don't know what to say. There isn't a handbook for this (well, there are probably lots of books that could help, but they aren't exactly being distributed on street corners). 

So, where does this leave us? With the scary-ass prospect of not only having to tell people what we feel, but also what we need. And the even scarier-ass prospect of being mindful enough to figure out just what the hell it is we feel and need.

I know. Yikes.

For a long time I thought it would be so much easier if, like Elizabeth McCracken wrote, we could summarize our transformative pain and put it on a card:

When I was a teenager in Boston a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I AM DEAF, said the card. You were supposed to give the man some money in exchange. 
I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: Surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explains it for you. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don't want to say it aloud. People don't like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. 

But the more I think about it, the more I believe in the importance of saying it out loud.

I know. YIKES.

Here's my theory: the less afraid we become to share our pain, the less afraid others are to hear about it. In fact, the more we share with others, the more others share with us. And when we give ourselves (and each other) permission to be wounded, vulnerable, human, we create space for compassion.

Not everyone is going to get it, and that's okay. As one of my lovely friends said this week, if I share my story with someone and they aren't comfortable with it, it's their problem. Your compassion can extend to these people, too. Perhaps your story is too close to something they have also experienced, something that they are not ready to share. Or perhaps they just feel helpless. Whatever the reason, I'm 99.9% sure it isn't because they don't care.

It's taken me nearly a decade to understand this. And I spent more than half that decade pretending I was fine because I thought it was what everyone wanted to hear. I thought it was what I was supposed to feel. But when I started telling people about my pain--out loud--my life changed. My grief changed. My heart changed. And I began to heal.



 


living with a broken heart {2/8/13}

Kelley Clink

Over the past few years I have learned this: there are different kinds of grief, and each kind of grief has its own rhythm. Grief for my brother came in steady, pounding waves, like a hurricane. Grief for my grandparents pulled like an undertow. And now, grief for my inability to have a successful pregnancy rises and falls like a tide.  

Today the tide is high. At a doctor's appointment this morning the waiting room was full of babies, and the water rose up through my chest until it began to spill over into tears.

A decade ago this would have been the end of my day. I would have gone home, locked myself in, and spent hours obsessing about my feelings. More accurately, I would have spent hours searching for a way to change my feelings. This panic would have layered over the original pain, leaving me paralyzed for days, weeks, even months. Today, instead, I am trying something different. I am trying to live with the pain.

The crappy news is that there is no step-by-step guide, no "top 10 ways" to push through your grief. Some days you can walk the dog, take out the trash, read a book, or make a meal. Some days all you can do is keep breathing. The important thing is to treat yourself gently and honor your pain. That pain is valid. That pain might even have a silver lining. It might encourage you to reach out to someone new, or hug your family and friends a little closer. 

That pain also might do nothing but suck. That's okay too. In this culture of incessant positivity, it's hard sometimes to remember that we don't have to make something good out of everything. Actually, we don't have to make anything out of anything. If we can be mindful of our experience for what it is, without judging or trying to change it, we are succeeding. WILDLY. 

Mindfulness isn't about feeling good. LIFE isn't about feeling good. By trying to convince ourselves that it's possible to feel good all the time, we are setting ourselves up for more suffering.  

Today living with a broken heart looks like this: I fold a little laundry, make baba ganoush, talk to a friend on the phone, cry in the car, go to the gym and walk on the treadmill. I hug my dog. I hug myself. I write a blog post, even though it is scary to admit to the world that I am hurting. But I do it anyway, because maybe someone else who is hurting will read and know that they are not alone, that they don't have to look on the bright side, and that whatever they are doing is enough. 

succinct {12/30/12}

Kelley Clink

Saw this Adrienne Rich quote in the NYTimes magazine today. This is what I was trying to say in my last blog post, only tighter, more poetic, and written 30 years ago:

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other's despair into hope?

You yourself must change it.
what would it feel like to know 
your country was changing?

You yourself must change it.

Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?


stemming despair {12/23/12}

Kelley Clink

This article, by Andrew Solomon, appeared in today's Sunday Review section of the New York Times. By the second paragraph, I was on board:

Adam Lanza committed an act of hatred, but it seems that the person he hated the most was himself. If we want to stem violence, we need to begin by stemming despair.

In the days after Newtown I too had thought about Adam Lanza as both the perpetrator and a victim of the tragedy. I thought about his family, the people who cared for him that were still living, and wondered how they would possibly deal with the way he'd ended his life. I thought about his brother. I wondered how I would feel if my brother had chosen to take the lives of others before taking his own. And, though I knew it would be an unpopular, maybe even unfathomable reaction, I felt compassion for Adam Lanza. I kept it a secret, because everyone around me was showing anger. Even the Buddhist service I attended to honor the victims did not list Lanza (or, for some reason, his mother) among the dead. The pictures of Lanza in the media made his actions even more bizarre. This young man looked more terrified than terrifying. What had happened to him, I wondered, to cause such violence? 

Solomon goes on to define the spectrum of perpetrators, the range of difficulty in predicting behavior, and, of course, the hindsight that prompts an outcry. The mad scramble to assign blame. Who failed? Was it the parents? The educators? The mental health professionals? Finding a fixable root for the cause allays the terrifying reality:

[P]eople are unknowable...We have to acknowledge that the human brain is capable of producing horror, and that knowing everything about the perpetrator, his family, his social experience and the world he inhabits does not answer the question “why” in any way that will resolve the problem. At best, these events help generate good policy.

So what is the answer, then? How do we stem despair? Solomon doesn't venture a suggestion. He falls back on the old, tired "better mental health screening for children." I'm not saying that we shouldn't be paying more, closer attention to our children. We should. But screening children won't solve anything. Treating children might. As might treating ourselves. 

As someone who entered the mental health system as a teen, I can tell you this: it was frightening, cold, impersonal, and filled me with shame. I only knew that there was something "wrong" with me. I believed I was broken. Psychiatrists did not educate me in medications or options. Therapists were a world apart from the psychiatrists, and they didn't offer any practical advice on how to deal with problems or feelings. I was treated as though I was a problem that needed to be solved. I felt like it was my job to get "well," and the longer it took, and the more I relapsed, the worse I felt about myself.

These days strides are being made with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, but I'm not sure how widely used they are, especially in regards to children. Here's the thing, though: they apply to everyone. Life is hard. We all need positive, productive tools to cope. What if they taught mindfulness in schools? What if they taught acceptance and impermanence? What if children, teens, and adults with depression or anxiety or bipolar or any other form of mental illness weren't singled out, pulled aside, and made to feel like they were missing something that other people had? We are all trying to learn to be kind, to be loving, to be gentle with ourselves and each other. Maybe some of us just need extra tutoring.

And maybe that's not a sufficient answer either. The truth is, I don't know how to stem despair in anyone but myself, and it took me 33 years to figure that out. But I do know that mental health is not an exact science. I know that children are in a constant state of change and development, and I worry that chasing after them with clipboards and diagnoses will do them more harm than good. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our children is to become a society of mentally healthy adults. Perhaps if they see us reacting to the world with more understanding, more curiosity, more compassion and less rage, their own fears and insecurities will feel less overwhelming.

We can change policy. We can change procedure. But first and foremost, we have to change ourselves.


compassion {12/11/12}

Kelley Clink

The front yard of the house where I grew up was shaded by two large trees. In spring they were home to dozens of twittering birds, and of course, the nests of their young. Inevitably some of the newly hatched fell (or were pushed) out of the nests. Every year my brother and I would find their small pink bodies on the driveway, the sidewalk, or in the grass. Once in a while we would discover a baby bird that had survived the fall, wriggling blindly, chirping in fear. We would scoop it up and run to the house, begging our mother to help us save it. On the advice of a local veterinarian, she would procure an eyedropper and some dog food. My brother and I would fashion a makeshift nest from a shoebox, which we'd place under a lamp for warmth.  

My heart is not a baby bird, but sometimes it feels like one. And, nowadays, I try to care for it like one. 

Self-compassion is a relatively new concept for me. For years I excoriated myself for having depression and anxiety. Why do you have to be so weak? I asked myself. Why can't you be like everyone else? I told myself that I was a burden on the ones I loved. I told myself that I was worthless, a failure as a human being. And the harder I was on myself the more depressed and anxious I became, and the more depressed and anxious I became the harder I was on myself.  

It seems sort of obvious, now, that my response to my illness started a vicious cycle. But it took over a decade for me to realize what I was doing, and half a decade to stop doing it. In fact, I'm not even sure I can say that I've stopped--but I'm trying. There are days and weeks when my heart feels naked, vulnerable, and bruised. During those times I try to nurse it like a baby bird.

I'm not calling this a cure and I am definitely not saying this is easy. For some reason (I tend to blame the Puritans), many of us feel that we are unworthy of compassion, though we tend to give it to others. "Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend," is the first mantra that got to me, and it's one I return to again and again. "Treat yourself the way you would treat an abandoned baby bird" works just as well.

I am not naive. There will always be suffering in the world. The baby birds of my youth, despite our best efforts and my mother's round-the-clock care, never survived. But we never stopped trying to save them. I can't stop myself from experiencing difficult feelings, but I don't have to add anger and self-hatred on top of them. I can hold myself gently.  And I've found that when I do, I recover more quickly than ever before, with less scars.

Besides, my heart is not a baby bird. It beats, it bounces back, it lives.


 

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