Depressed? Remember To Sleep, Eat And See A Doctor

In my response to the reader who claimed wanting to die 5 out of seven days a week, I forgot something critical: It’s not always “in your head.”

In other words, withering depression is also the result of physical trouble.

Mood music:

A friend reminded me of that after she read this morning’s post. She wrote to me:

May I also suggest to said young man to seek an MD’s opinion. There are numerous physical conditions that can cause lack of sleep and changes in appetite which in turn cause depression which in turn… well, I’m sure you’re able to continue the vicious cycle there. 

One of the things I’ve learned since being diagnosed with Celiac’s is the incredibly intimate relationship between physical and mental well-being. The psychological impact of an auto-immune reaction to gluten, for example, is far more long-lasting for some than the physical impact – causing depression, lack of sleep, utter despair, even suicidal thoughts. I get in these cycles when I’m reacting to gluten, and they are ugly – I have actually pondered driving into a tree more than once. Post-partum depression too, is most often caused by physical factors, for example, that can go away in time. I found the key to even a short period of PPD to be recognizing that it was physical, not mental, and that it would eventually “go away.” It didn’t make me cry less, but not heaping concern that I was “losing it” on top of the depression did help me manage more effectively until it dissipated. 

I’m sure there are other physical conditions as well that might be a cause, and I would encourage said young man (and anyone else) to take a two-pronged attack to the problem – seek a therapist or someone trusted to help with the traumatizing psychological impact now while simultaneously seeking an MD’s opinion. It may be all psychological, it may not – but if it is an underlying medical condition that is the root cause it can be managed. 

Too often people consider issues “in their heads” to be “all in their heads” and sometimes, that’s not the case, leaving them never truly able to be healed. Both avenues should be explored – just in case it’s something physically simple (and unrecognized) behind it…

Very wise words.

I know for a fact that physical problems have fueled much of my depression over the years: Violent Crohn’s Disease attacks during childhood, migraines, severe back trouble. It all wears you down to the point of feeling hopeless.

I finally found a good chiropractor and the back pain went away. I got lucky with the Crohn’s Disease because it hasn’t stabbed me hard enough to make Prednisone necessary since 1986. Those things have improved my mental health considerably.

It goes to show just how interconnected everything is.

So please see a doctor. A change in diet, increase in sleep and discovery of hidden medical ailments may be all it takes to feel the craving for life again.

Response To Reader Who ‘Wants To Die 5 Out Of 7 Days’

I’m scrapping today’s originally scheduled post because of a message that hit my inbox overnight. I’ll keep this man’s name out of it, but a more visible response is necessary.

Mood music:

This was a comment attached to a post I wrote a few months ago called “A Depressed Mind Is Rarely A Beaten Mind.” I’ll give you this fellow’s comments in bold italics, with my responses along the way.

Hello. Was wondering if I could ask you a few questions? What age did you first realize your depression? When did you accept it? 

I remember becoming aware of my depression as a kid. I didn’t see it for what it was, but had those awful feelings of hopelessness. The brighter the sun shined, the darker I felt. I’ve only come to accept in recent years that this for me is a chronic condition that can be managed but not eradicated.

I respect you’re a man of God and you haven’t killed yourself, but is it worth it?

Most of the time, I’ve felt that life is worth it for several reasons. The first is that this world is bigger than me and I truly believe I was put here for a reason. Maybe it was to write the stuff I write. Maybe it was to help raise the two children God entrusted me with.

Whatever the case, I’m a guy who simply doesn’t believe we’re put here by coincidence. It doesn’t make sense to me that we would be conceived by pure randomness or by accident. That’s my faith talking, but it’s what I believe.

I’m going to be 23 and 5 out 7 days I wanna die. And I don’t know why. My heart feels like its falling into my stomach and then nothing matters no more. My mind wonders to the darker side of life. Smiles turn to blink stares and burst of rage. I sleep 3-4 hours a night and am close to only eating one meal a day. Tried writing out my feelings distracting my mind with music and activities, although no one other than myself sees me in this state.

I’ve been there. For me, music has always been a savior, and the writing has been a critical coping tool in more recent years. Rage? I’ve lived with that many times and still do some days. Thing is, I think EVERYONE has those feelings from time to time. The problem is when those feelings crowd out the good stuff.

I don’t want people sympathy so I don’t bring it up to friends or family. Worst part of everything is, I wanna help people like myself but I can’t even help myself.

It’s funny how we try and sometimes even succeed in helping others when we can’t help ourselves, isn’t it? People tell me every day that this blog helps them, and I’m always dumbfounded because I still fall short in so many areas of my own life.

One thing has gotten clear to me as I’ve grown older, though: Keeping it inside is the absolute worst thing you can do. You need to talk to family and friends. You would be surprised how much they can relate to your feelings. Most people, after all, suffer in silence. When you discover you’re not alone, you feel a strength you never knew you had.

Don’t stop there, though. If you haven’t already, find a therapist and get the special help only they can offer. A lot of people balk at the idea of seeing “a shrink.” But I would be nowhere today had I not sought one out. A therapist can help you pinpoint the fault lines in your brain and help you seal them up.

Medicine also helps me. I take two drugs for OCD, ADD and depression, and they have done wonders. Some consider these drugs snake oil, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I try to explain it in a post called “The Engine.”

Sorry for burdening you just trying to find answers from all sources. Thanks and again I envy you. Take care.

You’re not a burden. And don’t envy me. I’m far from perfect, and the truth is that you don’t have to live your life this way. There is always a way out in which you get to live. You either want the help and the better life or you give up. I’m 41 and if I had given up in my 20s I would have missed out on so many joys that I’ve experienced since then.

I don’t know you, but based on what I’ve been able to glean from your note, you’re not a quitter. If you care enough about others to try to help them with the things you can’t help yourself with, that tells me you have it in you to bring the demons to heal.

I’ll pray hard for you, and end for now by wishing you the very best.

God Bless you.

Bill Brenner

Operation Global Blackout Would Save Me A Lot Of Trouble

In my work blog, Salted Hash, I predict that a threatened “Operation Global Blackout” attack on the Internet by hacking group Anonymous won’t happen for a variety of reasons. But truthfully, such a thing might do me some good.

In my vicious battle to live in the moment and be present for those around me, the Internet has become my arch-enemy.

On one hand, I need the Internet and require it’s presence to do my job, which is almost exclusively based online. I like being able to reconnect with friends there and keep tabs on distant family members. I like being able to access my music there.

But I have three problems that has made this a poisonous relationship:

–I have an addictive personality. With my cigarettes, cigars, booze and junk food gone, the Internet has become a crutch that is stitched to my hip. A normal amount of usage is not even close to enough. Ever.

–I have clinical OCD, which means that it’s hard to take my eyes off something online, whether it’s a favorite website, a work project that has my full obsessive attention or a Facebook chat message that won’t stop flashing at me.

–I have a touch of clinical ADD, which means that when I can’t focus on what’s happening in front of me, I stare blankly at the laptop screen, captivated by its warm glow.

Like any powerful nemesis, the Internet always seems to come close to destroying my life. I’m really starting to hate this sucker and fantasize about wanting it dead.

That’s one of the reasons this Operation Global Blackout thing appeals to me. If I can’t escape from the Internet, maybe killing the fucker is an acceptable option.

Consider the cumulative effect on me: I get so sucked into Facebook and Twitter that it’s easy for the observer to think I’ve built a secret second life there. Maybe I have, though not intentionally. Meanwhile, as a writer, I’m increasingly paranoid that in an act of copy-and-paste sloppiness, I’ll inadvertently commit plagiarism someday.

It’s turning me into an angry man. I don’t like being owned my anger.

But I’m also a realist.

As I said in the Salted Hash post, Operation Global Blackout ain’t gonna happen. Even if it did, it would be short lived.

And in the final analysis, I can’t remove the internet from my life. I don’t think anyone can at this point.

And so this is like everything else in my journey to wellness and being a better human being: I have to work at knowing when to look away and shut the machine, especially when someone is talking to me.

Truth be told, the thought of it makes my head hurt. But that’s life.

An addiction to crack or heroin would still be a lot worse, so I’ll go count my Blessings again.

‘Shattered Hopes’ Director On My ‘Learned Helplessness’ Post

Ryan Katzenbach, director of “Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders,” sent me a note on Facebook yesterday regarding the post I wrote on one of the themes of the film: Louise DeFeo’s “learned helplessness.”

Ryan always responds to his fans when they have questions or comments on the documentary. Given his high profile and workload, it amazes me how accessible he is. Anyway, I wanted to share what he wrote to me, because it really captures the purpose of this piece of work:

Bill, this was truly great reading. When we finished with Part I, and in watching the subsequent installments through the editing process, I had wondered if our film would actually help anyone out there who finds themselves caught in a similar situation of domestic, be it verbal or physical, abuse. Originally, this started as a means of understanding the family dynamic of 112 Ocean after hearing stories, like those of Peg Giambra, the juror from the case, when she told of the horrifying stories that she encountered while sitting through the trial. 

For me, growing up in a home that was never dysfunctional or abusive, there was a huge gulf between understanding WHY people stay and WHY they don’t leave. When you grow up absent any such environ, you simply don’t understand. I would ask myself “given the means of the Brigante family, why didn’t Louise do something?” Part of that answer, I would learn, was due to the era. We didn’t recognize domestic abuse as we do today; it was hushed, it was quieted, and essentially, it was a man’s right as the king of his castle. But then, when Drs. Hickey and Puckett began to apply clinical psychology to the situation, it really came into focus. Part of what they did was help us understand the tumultuous cocktail of dysfunction and WHY and HOW it happened. The next part of what they’re going to do is help us understand the psychology behind murder itself, and reviewing the elements of our forensic study encapsulated in Part III, it is, in many cases chilling. There are passages that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, still. Far, far more haunting and disturbing than Jodie The Demonic Pig. Because this stuff is REAL.

I hope that maybe as a residual, perhaps….MAYBE….somehow…some person who sees our film and finds themselves in this type of domestic abuse situation will be able to summon strength from the story of the DeFeos to do something in a proactive approach to escape their personal insanity. If just ONE person were to learn from what has been presented and get out of their situation, then perhaps the DeFeo family did not die in vain…..maybe their lessons will impact others and from this, we can draw a positive from a story that is otherwise dark and negative.

Just my thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback, Ryan.

Was ‘Hunger Games’ Star Too Fat For The Role?

There’s a controversy swirling around online regarding “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence. With one critic suggesting she was too curvy to play the role of emaciated heroine Katness Everdeen, the anger is on.

What is making some people bristle is that this smacks of the bullshit talk that sends girls into the hell of eating disorders.

Mood music:

I’m not a girl. But I’ve dealt with an eating disorder for much of my life. So, naturally, I have some thoughts on the matter.

First, let’s look at what people are saying, starting with the movie review by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times that set people off. In the review, she makes a point that the character Lawrence plays is a starved teen with bones sticking out everywhere. Specifically, she wrote:

A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission.

The L.A. Times “Ministry of Gossip” column ran with that single comment, calling it a “bold indictment” of a 21-year-old star “who currently captivates the attention of impressionable young females and her same-aged peers in show business.”

Are the critical sentiments — Vulture has a comprehensive roundup — correct? On the one hand, the content adapted from Suzanne Collins’ dark novels dictates that these oppressed citizens are in fact emaciated. But by all standards Lawrence is hardly overweight, though widely attributed with that dread celeb magazine buffer of “curvy.” 

My colleague at CSO Magazine, Joan Goodchild, expressed her outrage in a Facebook post, which is where I saw all this for the first time. She wrote:

This is the kind of b*llsh*t story that pisses me off. I haven’t seen the film, or read the book. But if it is a “Hollywood interpretation” of the book, then this is hardly the first time the film deviates from the book. Yet here we have an article about how a thin, yet healthy, young actress was “too well fed” to play the part she had. And we wonder why so many young women have issues with food and eating disorders in this country? This is ridiculous!

I agree in the sense that there is a lot of this bullshit in Hollywood. How “curves” got to be synonymous in Hollywood with overweight is beyond me. Media in general has perpetuated the myth for years that stars need to be super thin. That warped view is especially glaring in the case of women.

There’s a certain evil to how Hollywood carries on this way, because filmmakers know their work influences young people and instills them with the idea that they have to look a certain way to fit in and be loved.

Did Hollywood influence my own eating disorder? Absolutely, though my relationship with food was corrupted long before by growing up in a family of compulsive over-eaters.

For me, the Hollywood part stemmed from my love of Heavy Metal music and the culture built up around it. The heroes in this world of musicians were the skinny guys with long hair. To be emaciated was to look good. Wanting to be like my heroes, I did a lot of things I covered in a recent post called “Skinny Like A Fool.”

I think, to a certain extent, I abandoned my earlier goal of being a musician and got into journalism because in the latter profession, you could be fat and cool at the same time. Of course, I took that to the other extreme and became a 280-pound pile of waste before it was over. While I’m some 80 pounds lighter than that today, I’m still a big, stocky guy who had to drop flour and sugar and start weighing all my food to regain some sanity.

I was never trying to make it in Hollywood, and, being a guy, there were certain pressures I never felt. But what I did and why still left a lot of scars.

Having been down that road, I share Joan’s anger. But I also think some of the rage over calling Lawrence well-fed has been blown out of proportion.

In the original New York Times review, the words “too well fed” are never used. “Seductive” and “womanly” are over the top, but not the same as calling someone fat. The L.A. Times gossip column is where the “too well fed” came into play. Of course, that’s the newspaper of Hollywood, so spin that as you will.

Maybe someday we’ll move beyond looks and start judging each other by what’s in our heads and hearts. But not today, apparently.

Don’t Fall For ‘Learned Helplessness’

I’ve been watching Ryan Katzenbach’s documentary “Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders.” Forget the haunted house bullshit. The scariest thing about this case is how mental illness can destroy a family.

Mood music:

I’m not talking about divorced parents and kids going off into the world without a moral rudder. This story ends with six members of a family dead and the seventh in prison for life. Well, OK — the story goes on with a hoax about the next family fleeing the house after 28 days because of “hostile demonic forces.” But the real story ends with the death of the DeFeo family.

One of the most striking things to me is the notion that Louise DeFeo — wife of Ronald DeFeo Sr. and mother of his five children — had developed “learned helplessness.”

Fearful of what might happen if she left her abusive husband  — He smacked her and the kids around constantly and once punched her in the face as she carried a basket of laundry up from the basement, sending her and the laundry tumbling back down the stairs — Louise settled into a pattern of learned helplessness. The Wikipedia definition of learned helplessness is full of sadness:

Learned helplessness, as a technical term in animal psychology and related human psychology, means a condition of a human person or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

In other words, Louise learned to take the beatings from her husband and accept it as the only life for her. Her oldest son, Ronald Jr. — who was beaten up as often and badly as Louise — eventually shot everyone to death on Nov. 13, 1974, though there’s some evidence that his oldest sister Dawn killed the three younger siblings before he shot her in a rage, concluding the massacre.

It’s easy to consider how things could have been different if not for Lousie’s learned helplessness. Maybe she and the kids would have left Big Ronnie and snapped the cycle of violence, and everyone would still be alive. Maybe not, but who knows?

The point of writing this post is to raise awareness of learned helplessness. No one should ever assume they have no choices; that they can’t change their lives because they’ve been beaten down so much that it’s been proven to them that sorrow is the only option.

Maybe your learned helplessness comes from the kind of abuse the DeFeos lived with.

Maybe it comes from falling off the wagon so much you’ve learned to accept that your addictions will always rule you; that you can never quit.

Maybe it comes from being depressed for so long despite all the medication you’ve tried that you think there’s no escape short of suicide.

If you hate your life and you’re convinced it can never change because the bad outcomes have been proven for so long, this is a wake-up call.

Some people lose to their demons. Many more learn to control their demons and have lives worth living.

There’s always a choice.

If there were no choices, I’d still be lying on the couch every day incapacitated from OCD-fueled depression and shamed into paralysis from another day of binge eating. I could have taken my imperfect upbringing and held it up as proof that I have no choice but to carry on a tradition of abuse and self destruction. I could have looked at childhood illness as proof that I could only have a limited life.

It seems ridiculous to compare what I’ve been through to what happened in Amityville. OK, it IS ridiculous. But my experiences are what I have to go on, and I think there were periods where I practiced learned helplessness in my own way. But I got over it. Watching this documentary really drives home how lucky I am. Sometimes the grass is greener on your side of the street.

I still have a long way to go in being the man I want to be. But I’m still here, fighting for what’s better.

Because one day I realized I wasn’t helpless after all.

When ‘Helicopter Parents’ Get Easter Egg On Their Faces

When I see something like this news story about a cancelled Easter egg hunt in Colorado, I have to wonder what we parents are doing to our kids.

Mood music:

According to the article from The Associated Press, “Organizers of an annual Easter egg hunt attended by hundreds of children have canceled this year’s event, citing the behavior of aggressive parents who swarmed into the tiny park last year, determined that their kids get an egg.”

The article continues, “Too many parents had jumped a rope set up to allow only children into Bancroft Park in a historic area of Colorado Springs. Organizers say the event has outgrown its original intent of being a neighborhood event. Parenting observers cite the cancellation as a prime example of so-called “helicopter parents” – those who hover over their children and are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives – sports, school, and increasingly work – to ensure that they don’t fail, even at an Easter egg hunt.”

Being the parent of two kids born at the beginning of the 21st-Century, I get sensitive about this stuff.

I’ve always been fiercely protective of my children. Part of it is that fear of loss. I’m like Marlin the clown fish in “Finding Nemo.” Like Marlin, I don’t want anything bad to happen to my offspring.

The “bad” includes them being disappointed if they lose at a game or fail to win a prize. Sean loves watching “The Clone Wars” and once, when we took his screen time away for misbehavior, I felt horrendous. When a game doesn’t go Duncan’s way he loses it, and my natural instinct is to want him to feel better.

It would be easy for me to make fun of the parents who got crazy and stupid to ensure their kids got an Easter egg, but the truth is that I could have just as easily been one of those parents.

Any good parent is going to be over-protective to a point, and that’s how it should be. God gave us these kids to nurture, and we have to make sure they make it to adulthood and beyond.

But we’re also supposed to teach them how to survive adversity. For all my talk in this blog, I haven’t always done that part very well.

Some of it is my own background. Having watched my parents divorce, a brother die and a best friend commit suicide, I’ve had an overwhelming urge to shield Sean and Duncan from danger and disappointment at all costs. That kind of compulsion is tailor-made for someone with OCD, because we drive ourselves mad trying to control all the things we are absolutely powerless to control.

I’ve gone crazy over all the usual things. I see a mosquito bite or two on their legs and I go into a fit of lunacy because mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases. Letting them out of my sight can fill me with dread.

But I also remember something else from childhood: After my brother died, my mother, who was already overbearing, became absolutely suffocating. I think she wanted me to stay in whatever room she was in straight on through adulthood.

Naturally, I rebelled.

Thank God I did, because without taking some chances in life and breaking free of your protective sphere, you amount to nothing.

I can’t put my kids through the same thing, no matter how much I worry about them.

Learning to better control my OCD had been helpful. When I learned to break free of the fear and anxiety, I stopped going crazy over the little things.

But man, I still hate to see my kids upset. I mean, I HATE it.

But they need to get upset, sometimes. It’s part of growing up.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie I mentioned at the beginning of this post: Marlin and Dory are inside a whale, and Marlin laments that he failed to keep a promise to his son. The exchange went something like this:

Marlin: “I promised I’d never let anything bad happen to him.”

Dory: “That’s a funny thing to promise. If nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

Kids need adventure. They even need to experience adversity. That’s how they learn to be good, strong adults.

That adversity includes learning to handle the disappointment that comes with not getting an Easter egg, missing a favorite TV show or losing a game.