Thursday, January 10, 2008

How Fix-a-Flat explains the world of depression

I had a flat tire this morning.

I mended it with a $5 can of Fix-a-Flat. That's one of the reasons why I am bankrupt.

And I blame my depression.

Before I go any further, I'd like to address a few common misconceptions. First, the "d" word - depression. Everyone gets down at some point, except maybe Robert Schuller and Charo. It's a word that's thrown around freely, like doctor's opinions about Ian's test results.

The word "depression" is like the word "love," oft-used and mis-used. I love foreign films differently than I love my wife differently than I love a bag of Bridge Mix differently than I love wandering down new city streets. Same word, different meanings. The same principles apply to the word "depression".

I've pretty much "felt like crying" every day since January 28th, 1985, the day when We Are the World was recorded, although I don't think it's related. Nothing shattering happened when I was seventeen-years-old, but it was then that I started to realize that my sadness didn't ease up like it did for most of my fellow classmates. It just hid out in the shadows, stalking me, always there. And, no, I'm not going to cry, mind you. (Unless you break out singing We Are the World.) It's just that what I experience on a day-to-day basis is similar to the feeling you get while crying. Pressure behind the eyes. Constant exhaustion. Muddled thinking.

I've got that I've Helped Pay for My Therapist's Lexus and Have Popped a Lot of Pills brand of depression going on.

Second, I want to define what I mean when I say "I blame my depression." I don't mean that I can't help myself. Everyone deals with something. My actions are not predetermined by my depression, but they are influenced by it. My depression explains, in part, why I am bankrupt.

What's all this got to do with a can of Fix-a-Flat?

I knew that I had a slow leak in that tire but have been so overwhelmed with Ian's medical issues, the darkness of winter, financial burdens, turning forty and my lingering depression that I kept putting air in the tire every few days instead of taking it in because that would mean having to arrange for a time to get the tire fixed and then I would have to interact with people and when I bought the car it came with these hubcaps that require a special key to get them off and I don't know where to buy the special key because the guy we bought the car from lost it and so I am unable to put the spare tire on the car because I can't get the flat tire off because of the aforementioned stupid hubcaps so I just went down and bought a cheap can of Fix-a-Flat for $5 knowing that the tire repair store will require me to buy a new tire for $80 instead of patching this tire for $20 because it is their policy not to work on tires that have been fixed with Fix-a-Flat for whatever reason, which I kind of knew but didn't really care about because it was easy and did I mention - I fight depression.

Twenty or so years of making decisions like this one and I think that my bankruptcy mystery is solved.


Terri said...

You described that brilliantly. That oh-my-gosh-i'm-pretty-sure-if-i-just-ignore-stuff-it'll-probably-just-go-away-or-even-if-it-doesn't-i-just-can't-deal-with-it-right-now. It really truly sucks.

Still listening. And praying.

Laurie said...

Oh, Tom. I can't even pretend to know how you feel, but I do understand that fog a little from watching my mom and her depression.

Wishing you some peace.

Go get a smile from your kids.

Aunt b said...

Wish I could make you a nice cup of hot tea(do you drink tea?) and just sit and listen to you or take care of the kids so you and Annie could go out to eat. Can't do that from here, but I am still praying for you and yours. Lots of love to you, Tom.
Aunt B

Anonymous said...

I think of David in the Old Testament who fought bitterly with depression.

Is it plausible in the 21st century to say since we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)--being organically one with Christ, having all the faculties that He has (including that of intelligence, the understanding organ)--we can know what He knows? That is to say, we have not only the life of Christ but also the mind of Christ.

Perhaps that is why we suffer such dark days? Perhaps He is suffering, weeping in and through us--our minds being one?

Or maybe Christ must saturate our mind from our spirit, making our mind one with His? Maybe we are in this painful saturation process?

Perhaps we simply need modern medication?

Whatever it is I can say you are not alone! Grace to you.

Michelle said...! I have been pulling myself out of the throes of depression since childhood, to be frank. My problem is, I am an optimist, even at my own depression. I always think "It will be ok", and dont even try to deal with it in the long term.

I think that maybe my depression is more like a recognition of reality. I have lots of good things in my life, but boy I have had some real shitty stuff, too. I am still recovering from multiple divorces, multiple "daddies" and emotional and some physical abuse that left its mark and I am recently 40, too.

Dont you think, maybe (this is that damn optimism again) that what we are isnt so much depressed as AWARE? I mean, we have our eyes wide open, and beyond our families who we adore and find great joy in, the world can be a pretty sucky place. Wars, poverty, hatred. How can anyone be genuinely happy when there is so much broken in the world? Step over the homeless guy on your way to work, and smile? How?

Anyone who has half a brain and a sense of empathy is walking around crazily trying to smile while the realization that the world is not real fair is roiling around their brains. Rome is burning, soldier, get that smile on your face.

You have been to enough places of extreme poverty, war, and violence that you are not immune to seeing the pain out there. Maybe that is just...awareness, not depression? or maybe it is both, or maybe...maybe it really is just depression.

But IM an optimist, and Im choosing to believe that Im ok, just too smart to be fooled into thinking everything is fine and dandy when it isnt.

Tom said...

Terri: Thanks (for the prayers, that is) And I think Bella did a nice job of capturing more of what I was trying to convey in comment on my "Regrets" post.

Laurie: Thanks. Silvi and Ian keep me laughing (with the occasional pulling-my-hair-out going-crazy episodes as well)

Aunt B: I would love a big cup of Earl Grey about now; there's something so comforting about it. And thanks for dropping a note and the prayers. They really do help.

Anonymous: Thanks so much for the beautiful, and wise, words.. they really are.

I've got the medication thing covered... has made so much difference in my, and my family's life.

David's always been one of my favorite writers and models from Scriptures. How he agonized yet never completely lost his way in his desire to know God more intimately.

I like what you said about Christ saturating our minds. I truly long for that.

Thanks again.

Michelle: Appreciate you sharing your own struggles in this arena, and it is an "arena" isn't it? A real fight.

I have seen a lot of sadness around the world, and I try not to shy away from letting it impact me.

I just watched A Mighty Heart about the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl; after his beheading, his wife could have sunk into a world of depression and self-pity. But she is trying to establish a dialog with the very people who killed her husband. (I've followed the story from afar beyond what's in the film.)

Guess what I'm getting at is that I hope to be able to use my own wounds to maybe be a part of helping to heal others... that "Wounded Healer" thing. And I fail more often than not.

Sorry for your own "wounds." And thanks for chatting...

eclexia said...

I struggle with burnout. Some days it looks a lot like depression, and I have found a lot of help (and comfort) reading and listening to people with depression. There isn't a lot out there about burnout, and reading about depression has also helped me find words (in a Venn diagram sort of way) about what burnout is like.

Many of the "symptoms" are the same, even if the root is different. And even though the ways I deal with burnout are sometimes quite different than how I would address depression, a lot of the strategies for coping with depression are helpful for me as well.

All that to say, the spirit in which this post is written in encourages me and reminds me of a book I just started reading called How to Get it Done When You are Depressed. I might review it later on my blog (or not, depending on how I feel :) ). But, the author, like you, is comfortable in the shoes of acknowledging the influence of depression in her life and decisions, in a way that is very different from excusing actions in a blanket way.

It's like she is able to understand why she has or hasn't done certain things, and out of 20 years of hit or miss, has learned some things about getting things done (1) without ignoring the depression and (2) by working within the realities of "life with depression". Maybe it would be along the lines of How To Do What You Need to Do After Your Hands Are Amputated. There would be some pretty significant limitations, and that would certainly explain a lot of what one couldn't do, but, at the same time, working from that reality as a starting point, there would be other ways of making certain things still happen.

I'm a brainstormer at heart. And I'd rather have 50 strategies (as there are in the above book) than 1. Because with one, if it doesn't fit for me or work, then I get to feel like a failure. But if there are 50, I'm encouraged to think outside the box and sometimes can come up with the 51st or 52nd, which might work for me. And also, I start out KNOWING all 50 won't be relevant for me, so I'm freer to take what helps and leave the rest behind without the guilt....

The other thing that encouraged me about the book, and encourages me as I read your story, is that I really do see how life is not all about arriving at some emotional health nirvana, and all the years up until we reach that state are wasted. The author certainly wishes she had known 20 years ago what she knows now and spent fewer of those years coping through alcohol and job hopping and other distractions. But, the bottom line is, she didn't know then what she knows now, and in great part, what she knows now and is helping other people with comes out of the experiences of those 20 years. The depression years are not wasted years. I'm a "no regrets" type of person, which sometimes drives other people nuts (and occasionally drives myself nuts :) ). What was was. And regrets place a lot more certainty on "what might have been" than we can actually know. Your depression, was is and has been. It may get better some day. But it's not like your life will start mattering and having value and impact then. It matters and has value now, and you have great impact now.

Well, I don't know if that is encouraging or discouraging to you. You certainly encourage me and give me smiles in the middle of my own "heavy" days.

(Oh, by the way, the book is not a cure-all. The author battled depression the whole time she wrote the book, which made the whole book more encouraging to me.)

Kick me out if I've violated a blog rule by how long this comment is....

eclexia said...

You left Joel Osteen off of your list of people who either never stop smiling, or at least aren't in a place to let others see them if they do.

Kim Ayres said...

Quit moaning you grim bastard.

Just checking how black your humour is...

Tom said...

Kim: Finally, advice I can really use. Where were you when I was shelling out all that cash for therapy? :)

Tom said...

Kim: As I was writing my response to your comment I was also emailing my sister (multitasking at it's finest) about some of my favorite clips of Man Stroke Woman on You Tube. Me likes me humor dark as night.

Tom said...

eclexia: No blog rules here. :)

I like the title of that book... it cuts to the heart of the matter. "Getting things done" is very tough when depression sits heavy. I've had to learn how to identify what truly need "getting done" and what I can let go. So much energy is spent just trying to function at all, with little left to get stuff done.

And I really like your point about never "arriving at some emotional health nirvana." I think that I've accepted that this is my lot in life, the thing that I take with me and the thing that shapes me. I'm OK with that, for the most part.

Appreciate you taking the time to share a bit of yourself here.

Tom said...

eclexia: Oh, and I think Joel Osteen's smile has been sewn on, so no chance of him ever frowning.

Anonymous said...

i second what aunt bonnie says, read to the end, and laughed out loud at kim's words!

Chad said...

Tom, i can't thank you enough for your honesty and transparency - it is an encouragment to me. and since you are going through some dark times yourself, i would like to offer some (potentially akward) encouragment back: i firmly believe that life should not be edited (no offense what with the film industry background and all) and by that i mean that if you are depressed you shouldn't ignore it and you shouldn't try to cut it out of your life. i say "shame on you" to people who act like depression is a sin - we are human, we have limitations, that's part of life. maybe one of those limitations is not being ecstatically happy all the time? anyway, i don't want you to revel in depression, just make your peace with it and move on through life to greener pastures. i have found that if i own my depression (and yeah, i struggle with it too) and i do my best to let God redeem it, i can move on and leave the episode behind me. it's not ever easy and it does take time, but this too shall pass.

so yeah, i guess i could put it another way: don't give in to pressure to feel or be or act a certain way just because other people think you should, be honest with yourself and life is a lot more bearable. but leave room to grow.

hmmm.. not sure if it came across the way i want it to. fight the long and patient fight (Hebrews 10:32-39)

Anonymous 3 said...

Hey Tom,

Sorry you are as depressed as me. Why do we have to play by "their" rules, anyway? Up at 6. In by 9. Deadlines. Work. Work. Work. Home by 6. Pay bills. Get calls from creditors. Stress over unpaid bills. Stress over calls from creditors. Get flat tire. And on and on.

Why do the "normies" require us to be like them?

I say we revolt. Create our own American dream. Our own exodus. We could find some island in the Pacific. Create our own laws. Sleep in til 10 or 11 or 12 or whenever you feel like getting up. Take long walks on the beach. Read. Read. Read. Enjoy your evenings. Weep when you feel the need. Laugh.

Modern society and its demands are hostile to those who are depressed and have mental illness. What is our solution?

Tom said...

Chad and Anon 3: 'preciate the thoughts.. sorry it's taken a bit to get back.

Your right, Chad, that we can't allow ourselves to be consumed by despair. I think I'll write a post here soon about learning to distinguish between despair and depression. Despair is full of self-pity whereas depression is like a cold that won't go away.

I try to keep out of despair. Appreciate it.

Anon 3: I could really use a trip to an island about now. Too bad I have to take myself with me. :) Just a vacation would do me good.

And forget about the "normies." They just want you to rack up lots of credit, like I did. :)