Colder Weather

 

In many ways this song puts to music my experience with depression and anxiety, It was never intended to speak to those issues, but the mood of the music and the lyrics are something I can relate to far beyond any literal intentions. The songs true inspiration was the love interest of a musician in the band. He was touring the northern tier of the country and she was in Kansas City. He and his band mates were chasing their musical dreams and he just wasn’t able to put in the effort to make things work. He was literally “stuck in colder weather”.

For me the colder weather is more reflective of the darker days of my life. These darker days almost caused me to leave a special girl behind and they did cause me to leave a great deal of the things that defined me and gave me joy. I have found my way back to some of these things, but others are gone forever. These things aren’t to be mourned. Life works in funny ways and lately I have been finding myself in milder climates, using the parlance of the song, and I am finding new joys, while allowing myself the fond memories of those closed chapters.

It is a beautiful song. I hope you enjoy it.

 

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Going Through The Motions

Most days I can’t tell if I am dead or alive. My life has become nothing more than going through the daily motions. It wasn’t always this way. I try not to dwell on the past as it rarely serves any constructive purpose. I try to take my lessons and move on, but there are days when I look back on who I used to be, that confident young man full of potential, and pine for what has been lost.

To paint a complete picture and be fair to myself my teen years were not fantastic, and I would not wish to relive them. That said there are things I miss from my youth. At that age there was an almost daily thrill to being alive. The adrenaline rush of life was a regular occurrence. I have said in the past that the tell tale signs of depression were there even back then, and I was a sensitive serious kid, but I had yet to feel the deep dark lows that were to come, and I had the ability to feel the rush of life on a regular basis.

The rush I am talking about came from a lot of sources in those days. I was successful in academics, and treated school like a competition.  By my senior year of high school I had developed into a mostly straight A student, but those grades were mostly a function of me being good at school. Sure I was bright, but I had also figured out how to play the game that was school. This was a skill that I really capitalized on in college. When I am taken by the feeling flatness as an adult the rush I really yearn for is the one that came from athletics. Forgive me while I let me inner jock out for a moment. I was blessed to be from a small town and attend a small high school. This meant you didn’t have to be particularly talented to participate in varsity sports. I began swimming competitively when I was eight years old, and competed until I graduated from high school. We didn’t have any youth football programs, but when I got to high school I joined the team and despite being only 160 pounds I played all through high school including two years of varsity where I was co-captain my senior year. I am not trying to relive my “glory days” here. I have run across acquaintances from that time in my life that never left the area and still talk about nothing but the days they spent in pads. I have gone on to do many more things, but I do miss they rush that came from standing on that field. I was 160 pounds and a very slow runner which meant I couldn’t play on the outside with the other small kids. They were all way too fast. I played inside where all the big boys were. I was easily the smallest kid down in the “trenches”, and there was an intensity that came with those circumstances that I miss feeling. To physically overcome another guy who outweighed me by anywhere from 20 to 100 pounds to make a play was a rush that defies description. I felt strong, vital, and alive. Anybody reading this who has ever watched a football game has probably seen a player make a big play and break into spontaneous celebration. I didn’t have any stupid or offensive dance like you see in the pro game, but beating another guy in a contest of physical skill and making a big play in a football game takes a lot of energy and intensity, and when it all comes together and the whistle blows that energy needs an outlet which usually comes in the form of jumping, yelling, fist pumping, and helmet slapping. Imagine having such a rush of positive energy that it actual needs a physical outlet. It was a thrill to play down in the mud with guys so much bigger than me and be successful.

I got the same charge from swimming. The contest was not one of trying to overcome or control another physically, but putting forward your maximum output of energy over a race had a similar effect. The nice thing about swimming was that it was often as much about beating the clock as it was the guy next to you. You didn’t need to win the race to get the thrill. There were times when I started a race knowing full well the guy next to me was faster and was probably going to win, but chasing him could lead to a personal best in an event which was a rush in itself. Swimming was the only place I ever saw the loser of a contest celebrate. Hours, days, and weeks, of practice would culminate in seconds of racing and seeing that effort and dedication show up on the clock was exciting.

My junior year of high school I discovered another source of life. I have often repeated that we had no money growing up. I didn’t really know what a family vacation was. I had never traveled. When I was 16 a small group was selected from a pool of applicants to spend a month in Ecuador on a community service trip. I was one of ten picked to go, and spent the better part of a month living with host families and traveling about the country. We were with a group, but lived alone with our host families. I heard and saw things over the course of that month that a small town kid from the north could barely wrap my brain around. We weren’t on vacation we were immersed in the culture and it was an amazing experience. When I came home I was all fucked up. I had seen too much poverty, too many dirty hungry kids, and my perspective was clouded. I eventually got my shit put back together, but the wanderlust seed was planted. A couple years later I was sailing to the Caribbean where I would again be living in the island communities as opposed to behind the walls of a resort. I was pretty well grounded all through college, but a couple years out of school I had the chance to move a sailboat from Fiji to Australia by way of Vanuatu, and was again able to breathe in the life of new cultures. Other than a business trip to Europe that was the last time I had any significant travel and it was nearly ten years ago.

There has been nothing in my adult life to replace any of the above. I am sure many people get their rush from success in their work, and others have interests or hobbies that keep that spark going. Some may get a sense of purpose from raising their families. I am in a job with no future, circumstances have taken the hobbies I had and most of my passion for pursuing them. I love my wife and my child, but I don’t find personal serenity in either. I am no longer strong, and I don’t feel vital or alive. I mostly feel angry, tired, and short tempered. The routine of daily life is a long way from exploring new cultures where a fresh experience is waiting at every turn. Adult life is about monotonous repetition, and it is snuffing out any spark that may be hiding somewhere in my soul.

I am tired of just going numbly through the motions of life. I am tired of missing out on the experience of living. On paper it seems easy to recognize this and plot a new course towards a better place, but there is nothing easy about the real world. It’s like solving the world’s problems in a classroom or at the water cooler. Things are easier said than done, and are often simpler in theory than in reality. Every decision has its consequences and the grass is not always greener. A drastic change in the direction of my life would likely lead to unacceptable personal consequences so I am left with finding acceptance in my heart for my life as it is or with minimal changes. Changing my perspective on my current circumstances to find some peace for my soul is the goal, but the path is not clear. Sometimes I think peace in the Middle East is more likely than peace for me, but that defeatist attitude is not productive either.

Through this blog I hoped to skip another expensive trip through therapy and a return to the world of SSRI’s. The thing is I know what the first thing a new shrink is going to say. Get more exercise and better rest. They all say the same damn thing, but here is the truth; I have tried exercise, and as an adult with no competition to train for I have a hard time staying interested and it becomes just one more chore. It is just another piece of the monotony.  I have given it an honest try a few times.  I am not saying I couldn’t use a little more activity, I can see that in the mirror, but I have never felt and great lifting of my mood from sweating at the gym. Regarding rest it doesn’t seem to matter how much I sleep I am always tired…  hello depression we have met before.

So I suppose I am at a cross roads of sorts as I have been since this blog got started. Something needs to give I know that for certain. When and in what direction remains the question.

Have You Seen My Life?

Depression is a complicated topic to write about. Its sources and symptoms are just too complex and too interrelated. You start describing one aspect of your struggle when you suddenly realize it makes no sense without explaining this other piece of the puzzle, and the next thing you know you have 2,500 words of rambling nonsense. I am going to try and write about the pieces of depression isolated from each other the best I can. I think the easiest place for me to start is to talk a little about the feeling that dominates my current day to day life. That feeling is loss; loss of opportunities due to depression, loss of control of my own life and its direction, and the loss of my identity.

To date depression has directly cost me two careers, and its effects have indirectly cost me two more. In my post about anxiety I described the loss of my flying career. I tried to work in aviation in a non-flying role, but that led directly to a cubicle which felt a lot like prison. The movie Office Space is funny for a reason, and after three years I plotted my escape and made a break for it.

Cover of "Office Space (Special Edition w...

Cover via Amazon

Somewhere along the line here I mentioned that I spent some time working on boats, and the new plan was to get out from under “the man” and start my own sailing charter business. To do this I figured I needed some more formal training so I decided to attend a maritime academy. While I was in school this second time I got married. When I finished I approached the bank with a business plan. The projection for this plan showed no profit in the business for five years. We would be living off my wife’s teacher salary while I tried to build up a business. The bank was prepared to give me the money, but I was troubled by forcing my wife to support us both. I was being offered jobs by various towing companies that paid good money, and in the end I chose to go to work for a large tugboat company that moved petroleum all over the East and Gulf Coasts. This work had me gone a lot. Depending on the boat I was on I was away 14 – 21 days and then home an equal amount of time. Of course I was working my ass off trying to get promoted so I often picked up extra days when the company needed somebody. Over the time frame that I worked there I averaged 210 – 215 days a year away from home.

A Tug Boat in New York Harbor

Image via Wikipedia

The end of my tug boating career was caused by a confluence of events that are hard to explain. First I was tired of being gone so damn much, and tired of being passed over for promotion to mate so I began planning for a way to work ashore. I heard that a local air traffic control facility was hiring and given my aviation background, and that this wasn’t considered a desirable location, I was a shoe in for one of the slots. There was a catch though. I would have to pass an FAA medical exam. The same exam the pills I take every morning would make me fail. I decided that I just would not tell the FAA about the pills. I actually knew a couple guys on SSRI’s who were working in aviation and keeping their mouths shut about it. The only hang up there was that I had been told the Klonopin would pop on a drug test. Of all the meds I have taken this one has always been the crutch, but it was going to have to go.

About the same time I made this decision the long awaited promotion to mate come through on the tug boats. The first step was to work as a trainee with a captain until he signed you off as competent. The training took place in very busy and very congested New York Harbor. I had worked with the captain I was assigned to as a trainee in the past. He was easy to get along with which was nice, but had had mixed success with his trainees. He and I were told that there was no rush for me, that we should take our time and be sure I was ready before I was cut loose as an actual mate. This sounded good to me, and during my first fourteen day stint I drove the tug around a little with no barges attached to it, but otherwise did little but observe and learn the geography.  This is also when I started tapering off the Klonopin. During the second tour I drove the boat a lot more and landed a couple barges in the easiest places in the harbor. When I arrived for my third tour I was told by the captain that they were looking for a mate trainee to push up and we had to buckle down and get me ready. I didn’t really take him seriously. I was on my third trip as a trainee and there were other trainees in the harbor on their seventh and eighth trips. Why would they promote me when they had these other guys, and there were a lot of difficult docks I hadn’t even tried yet? Well it turns out the captain was more interested in making himself look good than taking care of my career, and he told them I was ready to go. Two days into the trip I got up from a nap in my off watch and found the captain running the boat when the mate should have been. I asked where the mate was and was informed he was me.

I was shocked. I told the port captain I wasn’t ready, and he told me that the captain said I was so I just needed to build a little confidence. I told him about all the things I had yet to even attempt and was told they would take it easy on me in the beginning. Now I was responsible for operating the boat moving oil barges around the harbor, and to add to the stress the captain took the good deck hand for himself and left me with a new guy who still didn’t even know what he didn’t know. Great time to be tapering off the anxiety drugs. I finished that trip and did one more after. I got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping on the boats and when I stopped sleeping at home with five days to go before I was due to head back for my third trip as mate I called and quit. That phone call did not go over very well at all, and I was brow beat into returning for a final tour to give them time for a replacement. I lasted thirty-six hours. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted and I told the captain what was going on. Then I told the HR director who accused me of misleading them all. I had taken a physical for pre-employment, and once a year after and never hid my conditions or my medications. I was a mess at this point and needed the medication to get myself back together which blew any hope I had of working for the FAA.

The several years since this event have been spent in a professional wasteland. The Coast Guard has changed their medical guidelines as a result of a couple high profile accidents, and my renewal is pending. It is looking more and more like they may not issue me a license because of my meds. I have a decent job in support of the marine trades, but the economy has been hard on the company and there is really no future in it. I have lost my ability to go commercial fishing and am essentially feeling around in the dark trying to find a path forward. How you spend a third or more of your life is no small decision and the wrong one will have a negative effect on my mood. I have made the wrong decisions repeatedly, and at this point I have no idea how to move forward professionally.

Making these decisions when I was in my twenties was not nearly so difficult. Being single and childless allows you to take chances that you just cant when you add a second personality, a mortgage, and a kid to your life. The weight of responsibility is a burden I don’t bear well. Before I went back to school the second time I had my life pretty much where I wanted it with the exception of my career. I love boats and was living aboard a small sailboat year-round, something I had wanted to do since I was eighteen. I was doing a lot of sailing in the summer, and dating my future wife. I had been working with a great therapist, and things in general seemed to be coming together. It seemed the worst was behind me.

When the plan changed from starting my own business to working on tugboats things began to slowly unravel again. We were in a place where the geography and lack of facilities made living on a boat impossible, and since I was going to be gone so much it didn’t make a lot of sense anyway so we bought a house. This major purchase was made within months of the housing market crash. When I married my wife she was well aware of two conditions. The first was I had no interest in owning a home. I have described what led to the change in that line of thought, but when we made the purchase I made it clear that if we found ourselves in financial circumstances that precluded owning both a house and a boat the house was going to go. My boat is currently for sale. The second condition was that there were going to be no children. My son is two. Having a child was my idea, and I really cannot explain what happened other than I really felt an urge to procreate. I have no regrets, but parenthood is not all sunshine and roses.

I was in a place prior to returning to school that had me pointed in a healthy direction, and I was in control of my life. Seven years later I am living the exact life I wished to avoid, and cant seem to find a way out. I defined myself as a sailor and I loved to SCUBA dive. My wife was also certified to dive, and while it was mostly my thing she participated willingly and had some fun with it. We have not been in the water together since she got pregnant, and I have not been in the water in well over a year. I have not been sailing in over a year now, and have not sailed for myself since before my wife was pregnant. All the sailing I have done has been as an instructor for pay. Not only have I stopped participating in these activities my wife has lost any interest she had in them, and I do not have the motivation to force the issue. The lack of energy and motivation is partly the depression and partly an acceptance of my new reality. This is a reality that feeds back into the depression.

Compass Study

The bottom line here is that through circumstances created by depression, and unintended consequences of well intended decisions I have lost everything a person uses to define their self. I have no professional direction, but worse I have no real direction or purpose for my life and don’t really feel like I have much say in it anyway. I have no idea who I am, and only a vague idea of who I might want to be. I live with a deep sense of loss, and am lost myself. Until I can find some direction I am not going to break out of this cycle, and will continue to wander through the fog trying not to fall into the darkness.

The Gathering Darkness

Commercial Fishing Dock by Taku Smokeries

Image by gillfoto via Flickr

When I first started this blog I was just back from spending a week or so living in the darker places of my mind. I am pretty sure I know why, but that may or may not be a topic for another day. The point is I have been spending way too much time near the edge.

Yesterday was not a good day. When I was a young adult I had the privilege of being involved in some commercial fishing. The license structure allowing entry to this fishery has changed a great deal, and due to some decisions made when I was fighting some of the darkest days of my life I am no longer allowed access to the fishery. Of course that is all I really want to be doing and there are some unique circumstances surrounding my license that have nothing to do with depression. I have always thought that if I could speak to the man in charge of the fishery and lay out these circumstances I would be allowed back in, but getting that meeting is nearly impossible. Well after nearly a decade of trying I got the meeting I was looking for and it was yesterday. Turns out I was wrong. I was sent home being told that while he empathized with the situation I was “screwed”. Yes the quotes are there because it is the actual word this government official used. I don’t really blame him for his word choice as it is probably the best descriptor for my circumstances.

Today a large part of me wishes I had not had the meeting. I had been living with hope and now it’s gone. I have felt lost for years with only a vague idea of where I wanted to be. I was able to spend the summer working in this fishery at the very bottom of the food chain, and it refocused me on how badly I wanted to be doing it, just in time to be officially shut out. There is a government commission looking into the licensing structure, and a little over a year from now they are due to report and make recommendations for changes, but when you need to make changes in your life sooner rather than later a year is a very long time to live with uncertainty.

The timing on this news could not have been worse. Here in the north winter is fast approaching and with it is coming darkness in both a literal and figurative sense. I used to like the winter, but since depression became a part of my life I dread it. I hate the darkness. The short days really bother me, and those stupid fucking light bulbs do nothing to change that. As this winter approaches I have already slipped once, and all the feelings that led me down that path are still in place and now compounded by further feeling of loss, and being lost. I am scared. I have been down this road too many times, and I can see it coming. It is going to be a long winter.

As I write this I wonder if this is what it feels like to be an addict. I can see the path I am headed down. I know that like drugs the thoughts in my head are dangerous. I know that if I let them creep in it will more than likely spiral out of control, but I can’t seem to stop it. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do it anyway and feel powerless to stop it. I don’t want to feel like shit, but my body reacts the way it reacts. Am I making excuses for myself here? Rationalizing? Probably, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is how it seems to work.

I hoped to fill this blog with insightful reflection on my experience with depression and anxiety. I wanted to avoid the pity party, but the truth is I am still living day to day and I don’t always feel smart and insightful. Some days I just feel like shit. The goal is to limit these days and I hope that expressing myself here will help me see the dangerous thought patterns developing. God knows I can see them here, now I just need to find the energy and the strength to do something about it. Wish me luck.