Hospitalizations

I have been hospitalized four times in my life and partially hospitalized one time. They have all occurred in less than 2 years of time.

One hospitalization and the partial hospitalization were for mental illness and they happened last summer [2017]. Two other hospitalizations in 2016 and 2017 were for medication-induced pancreatitis. The last hospitalization was for a diabetic foot ulcer in the fall of 2016. This also included a PICC line, a lot of at–home nursing care and a long healing time. I had to go on medical leave from work which was really hard for me to do.

I am not a fan of being in the hospital. There are a lot of rules and regulations and a lot of boring down time and prohibitions from leaving the floor, “for your own safety.” Hospitals can feel like prisons, right down to the horrible institutional food. Privacy is a constant issue and there were always people coming in and out of my room. My absolute favorite was when the overhead light came on at 5 AM and someone came to draw blood from. I had earned the title of a “hard stick” and so taking multiple sticks was the norms. Me, not a morning person, being flooded with light and then having a needle repeatedly stuck in my forearm was not my idea of a fun time. Then there was the time they would not let me take a shower and told me to take a bath in the sink only.

In the mental hospital we could not have any of our stuff. They went through our suitcases with a fine tooth comb. Everything was seen as a source of potential harm and as something you could use to hang yourself with. A little string with lovely origami that a woman sent me was seen as a source of potential harm. They took it and then did not return it to me when I checked out. I literally got it in the mail about 2 months later. No phones except for a tiny phone booth I could not fit in and very little computer access. I can see why they did the limited phone and computer access because they wanted people invested in their recovery. I went to various talks and workshops throughout the day and found them moderately interesting and helpful. Thanks to my insurance, I was only allowed to stay a week even though I needed more time. From there, I went into a partial hospitalization program.

The partial hospitalization program was from around 9-2 or 3 every day. There were about 12 of us that sat around a big table and were lectured to my several staff members. It was hard to make connections with other patients because they were constantly coming and going. The psychiatrist was absolutely useless and did not help me one bit. The social workers/nurses like to talk a lot and there was not a lot of engagement. I found it minimally helpful but did appreciate the emphasis on self-care. Unfortunately once I finished the program and had to go back to work most of my self-care went out the window.

As far as the mental hospitals, both in-resident and out-patient, they were a little bit helpful while they were going on but when they send you back into the world it is a different story. It is hard to transfer the skills to an outside life where all the stress and difficulties return with a vengeance.

Someone once asked me: which is harder – the mental or the physical health problems. I thought about and realized I didn’t even need to think about. Mental problems are harder hands down. When I had pancreatitis and a diabetic foot ulcer, they fixed me up. They essentially cured me. Now, I have the possibility of both returning. But I have confidence that they can fix it quickly or take a longer length of time. There is no fixing mental illness. There is no cure. Man of us relapse constantly. To be honest, I would not wish severe depression on my worst enemy. I could picture additional hospitalizations in my past and dark thoughts of self-harm. With depression you often have to take it one day at a time and even one minute at a time. While the hospitalizations taught me some things, they do not cure the future. I do not fear future hospitalizations; I fear that they will continue to leave me in a vulnerable state where by I continue to struggle mightily in an interminable battle for my very life.

I wish I could end on a more positive note, but as my friends know, I am all about keeping it real! If you have depression and have been hospitalized, I would love to hear your experiences. Feel free to DM on Facebook.

 

Napping

Before I write this I am going to take a nap.

Ok, I’m up.

I love napping and do it whenever I have time. Admittedly, part of it is due to depression. Part of it is due to exhaustion. Part of my exhaustion comes from depression. Part of my depression come from exhaustion. The two go hand in hand. Naps are usually during days off from work. There is simply no time when I am working. Naps make me feel more calm, tranquil and less anxious.

I think we are made to feel shame about napping. In this capitalist society, so we are supposed to be working every moment. We get to sleep at night, often for less than 8 hours, but napping during the middle day is often characterized as laziness.

Now, to be sure, some of my naps are likely too long. I wish they were 1-2 hours but they often go for 3-4 hours. But who gets to decide what is or is not too long? Napping can feel like an escape. But sometimes that is exactly what I need. My depression can often feel unbearable. Sleeping is a way to escape this pain for a few hours.

Napping is luxurious. It is like eating when you want and what you want. Napping is giving into your body. If your body is saying I am tired, it is time to give in and let it sleep. But this is not how the capitalist framework works. The capitalist framework is all about work, work, work. In this way, napping might be seen as a form of resistance to this framework.

I have a very specific framework when it comes to napping. I create a cocoon like environment to help me relax and to sleep. I close the drapes to make it darker. I light a stick of incense, usually Nag Champa. I light a candle, often to a Saint. Lately I have been lighting a candle to Saint Dymphna who is a Saint of mental disorders like depression. I turn on my little wave machine to listen to soft waves and I also turn on my little boom box to play New Age music. Then I rearrange the pillows and blankets so that they are comfortable. My dog Jamaica sleeps with me so she has to scratch around the blankets to make a comfortable little nest for herself. Then I put on my CPAP mask. Then it is time to sleep. Sometimes I’m able to fall asleep more easily than others. A lot of it depends on my frame of mind and how much anxiety I am feeling. If I can’t get to sleep I just breathe in the incense and listen to the waves and the music or gaze at the candle that burns. I rest, which is the next best thing to napping. Nothing feels better than when I go to sleep quickly and have a sound and nightmare-free slumber.

Napping is wonderful and I can’t say enough good about it. I think it keeps me more sane and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a way to feel more rested or as one method to combat depression or anxiety. I find afternoon and early evening naps work best, like between the hours of 3-7 pm, but other people will find other times that work for them. Naps are a great form of self-care and one that all people should consider if they are looking for some relief from tiredness or strong emotional feelings.

 

Depression III

I have felt very depressed now for the past two weeks. This is why I have gotten behind on my daily entries. I wasn’t planning on writing another entry on depression but I feel the need to. I can’t believe how much depression takes out of me and has taken out of my life as a whole. It is the problem that will not go away, at least not for long. I have a lot of serious health problems but this is the one that is the most deadly and dangerous. Most of all I am exhausted from depression and tired of living with it day after day. Despite endless therapy, psychiatry, medications, hospitalizations and partial hospitalizations, I have made so little progress.

I barely have the words to describe how exhausting and depleting depression is. And the reality is that most people don’t want to hear about it. When you have had depression for a long time I think people get tired of hearing about it. People who don’t have depression can NEVER understand people who do have depression. I have not met a single person yet that could. This is why it is so important for us to speak from our voices and not for non-disabled “helping professionals” to speak for us.

If you are reading this and have any ideas for me to try, please reach out to me. I feel like I have run out of ideas. Depression makes it so hard to function. Not only to do your job, but just to function from day to day life in terms of the activities of everyday life. Sleep is one of the only things that feels good to me, or maybe eating carbs or sweets. I do not have the energy to do much else. As always, I wish I could understand what causes my depression. I can never figure it out. Perhaps there are triggers but other times I just think it happens for no reason at all. It is a chronic illness and it is spiking.

Look at the lack of treatment for people with depression. We are given talk therapy, psych drugs and put into hospitals. There are other more “alternative” options but they are expensive and usually not covered by insurance. So if you are cash-strapped like me, these are difficult to obtain or maintain. I can color in my adult coloring book or play my keyboard and they may help a little but not for long. It is a shame that there are not more options for people with depression because there are so many of us and we often suffer in silence. We wear the mask and try to conceal how we are actually feeling. Mostly I don’t even try. I may be able to say I am “okay” if somebody asks me, but I am tired of being expected to say “good” when I am feeling anything but.

Depression is the fight of a lifetime. I face many challenges but this one is the worst for me. It is life threatening and it is exhausting and depleting. I wish there were more resources, more understanding and more options. If I have to write depression parts IV, V, VI, VII etc. I will do so because I feel the need to write about it, even if I say the same things over and over. Like with anything, being vocal helps. If you have depression, please tell me if you are comfortable doing so. It always feels better to feel less alone.

Trauma

Trauma has a profound effect on human beings. Human beings are not machines. They are not robots. They are vulnerable assemblages of skin, blood, organs and bone. Violence is done not only to our bodies but to our psyches. I have seen trauma in my own life but I have also seen tremendous trauma in other people. I have seen the burden this takes on people. We live in a sado-society where violence, cruelty and degradation are the norm. It is frightening when I think of how many people I know who have trauma and how many people I know who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only veterans who get PTSD. Some of us are soldiers of other kinds of battles and wars. I have many battle scars and I don’t even know the extent to which they have impacted me.

The death of a dog and two of my best friends have been incredibly traumatic. Severe bullying through most of K-12 has been extremely traumatic. I will go into these traumas in future posts. But right now I want to talk about how these make me feel.

Obviously, they contribute greatly to depression. I can’t tell you how sad I feel about the loss of innocence in my youth and the loss of stability in my adulthood. Fuck people who say this makes you stronger. In a better world, these things would not happen. This is not some kind of revolutionary utopianism. It is basic dignity and decency. I would give anything to not have to go through the mental torture that my multiple traumas have brought me.

I am triggered on a regular basis. Triggered by bullying, triggered by suicide, triggered by hospitalizations, triggered by transphobia. I never know when it is going to hit. I never know how severe it is going to be. I never know if a Klonopin or two is going to be enough to walk me off the ledge. What does triggering cause?

For me at least it causes anxiety. I become anxious when triggered, sometimes to the level of a full-on panic attack. These episodes of anxiety are terrifying. And of course there are the nightmares. Waking up from horrible dreams and feeling like you have lived the trauma all over again.

For me, trauma also causes dissociation. I rarely talk about this because it is so incredibly stigmatized. It is stigmatizing enough to have depression, anxiety and PTSD, but when you add dissociation to the mix people really think you are full-on “crazy.” I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple psych diagnoses. I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple targeted/oppressed identities intersecting with the mental illnesses. Trauma is a key element that binds the different diagnoses together and also affects my multiple identities like being trans, fat, crip, queer and low income.

Trauma can also cause problems with relationships and self-esteem. Loved ones in the circle of the trauma sufferer may not know how to react. They may not have the tools to help the trauma victim/survivor. This could cause misunderstandings and strained relationships. I think trauma hurts self-esteem. This is particularly true for childhood trauma. We are undermined at the very time in our life when our personhood is in development. I know that the bullies made me feel like shit. They still make me feel like shit, despite years of therapy. It is easy to say: “Don’t let them rob you of your happiness.” How about: they should not have abused you in the first place. My self-esteem has suffered dire consequences from my trauma. With the suicide of my best friend, it made me more susceptible to suicide. With the death of my other best friend from medical transphobia, it made me terrified of encounters with medical “professionals.”

According to the APA, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”

The main point or take-away from this blog entry is that trauma is horrendous. The treatments for it are often limited and ineffective, at least the mainstream ones. I have suffered horribly as have many of my friends. Compassion is key, as is understanding. Realize that people with trauma will go through a range of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms. There is no cure and people should not be told to “just get over it.” It is a long-term struggle and people need to understand the impact. While emotions can be managed, they cannot be fully controlled. Patience, endurance, perseverance and strength are required to deal with trauma, and usually for a lifetime.

Psych Drugs

Remeron. Cymbalta. Paxil. Zoloft. Klonopin. Valium. Ativan. Nuvigil. Adderall. Vyvanse. Gabapentin. Effexor. Lexapro. Celexa. Buspar. Trazodone. Lamictal. Risperidone. Lithium. Hydroxyzine.

The preceding 20 medications are all psych meds that I am either currently taking or have taken at one time or another. They are the ones that I remember; there are more. I call psychiatry the medication roulette wheel. It is like a piece of spaghetti that is thrown at the wall: let’s see if it sticks. The efficacy of so many of these medications leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think I have ever come across a more inexact arm of medicine than psychiatry.

Given the problems with psychiatry, you might wonder: why even go on these drugs? The answer is simple: so I don’t die. I have severe major depressive disorder along with anxiety, PTSD and a few other diagnoses. Suicidal ideation is something that I live with on a regular basis. Although both talk therapy and psychiatry are extremely disappointing, they are the main things we are offered as solutions and the main things that are covered by insurance. And so I try them and hope that they keep me alive.

What has amazed me is how many I have tried and how many have not worked. Or they slightly work and bump your mood up just a little bit. Although I think the regimen I am on now is one of the best in my own history, it certainly hasn’t wiped out my depression. If they have developed a drug to do that I haven’t heard of it. And I definitely would have heard of it because it would be raking in billions upon billions of dollars. Like talk therapy and psychiatry, I wish that psychotropic drugs worked better. I wish that they worked quicker and more consistently. Some of them have a habit of “pooping out” over time and then are no longer effective.

There are definitely times I wish I could take every last bottle and go and throw them in the dumpster and quit seeing a psychiatrist. I grow tired of the lack of effectiveness and the annoying side effects that go with these drugs. I don’t want to go into the specifics, but some of the side effects can be highly unpleasant, uncomfortable and frustrating. I do wonder about the risk-benefit ratio a lot. But what I generally come back to is that I do better on them than off of them. There could come a time when that is not true, but now is not that time.

When you take a good, honest look at the world, you have to ask: how can we NOT be depressed? Things in the world are absolutely horrible right now! We are hurtling towards global destruction and major catastrophe. I believe depression is chemical AND situational. I do not agree that mental illness is a “myth.” But I do see the limitations of our current system, which tend to individualize problems that are actually, at least in part, sociocultural. Like so many problems in society, we are all looking for the quick fix, the magic bullet. It is easier for a GP or PCP to just write a script for an SSRI than really deconstruct the patient’s problem in a much more complex and nuanced manner.

I understand those who rail against psychiatry and against big pharma. To some degree I agree with them. But obviously my actions don’t follow those beliefs because I see a psychiatrist and I take psych meds. It’s because I don’t have other alternatives and need to do SOMETHING to try to improve my mood. I hope that science improves rapidly and helps to proffer more creative and less medical solutions to those of us suffering terribly from mental illness. If you suffer from depression, I wish you good luck in your journey towards wellness.

Counseling/Therapy

I have been in therapy for most of my life. I first started therapy in high school. Luckily it was free and I went for all four years, having one therapist the first year and another the last three years. Then I went in college and in graduate school and have seen several therapists in private practice in the years I have not been in school. I am in counseling now with a therapist I have had for five years or so. Most of my therapists have been good at what they do and very compassionate and empathetic.

With that said, I wish therapy worked better. I have been in therapy forever and I can’t say whether or not it has actually improved my mental health. It has kept me alive. I think it has kept me treading water rather than drowning. But is that really enough?

Western talk therapy is severely limited. It provides a space to talk about one’s problems, but seldom is it a place to actively solve problems. Therapists rarely give direct advice and I understand why. They want us to have insight into our problems. They want us to come up with our own solutions. But if I could come up with my own solutions, why would I be in therapy?

The holy duo of talk therapy and medication is what is supposed to fix us. The “talking cure” and psychotropic drugs leave a lot to be desired. I have had major depressive illness since I was 14 years old and it has largely been unrelenting for 30 years. Sometimes I am surprised I have made it to 44 given how serious depression for me has been, leading to a suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and hospitalizations.

Going to therapy makes me feel better in the immediate aftermath of a session. But it doesn’t last much beyond a few hours or a day. Then I am back to stage one and trying to survive.

The talking cure is very Western-based and not necessarily the way mental health challenges are dealt with around the globe. I think we could take a cue from developing nations and see how they deal with mental illness. Clearly what we are doing in the U.S. with talking therapy and medication is not working. We need to think about much more creative solutions and multiple modalities. We need to demand that insurance cover all mental health for FREE [with no co-pays] and that it also cover alternative forms of therapy like Reiki, Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Biofeedback, etc.

I am thankful for most of my therapists and counselors. They have a difficult and stressful job in trying to help people who are often living on the edge. However, the system itself needs to change. There needs to be better mental health access across the board and there needs to be more options available beyond talk therapy and medication that are covered by insurance. I would not wish the depression I have had to contend with on my worst enemy. I hope that in my lifetime treatment vastly improves and that one day I can be free of this debilitating illness.

 

Holidays/Holidaze

Being in late January, the holiday season is behind us. Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about the holidays. As a Person of Faith, Christmas obviously means a lot to me. The religious significance places it right up there with Easter as one of the two most holy days of the year. Christmas time is sacred, and it brings into many of our lives peacefulness and harmony with other people and the world.

“Holidaze” is for the negative aspects of the holidays, and unfortunately there are many. I like to joke with people that January 2 is my favorite holiday because the cultural “craze” is finally over. Obviously, the holiday season is completely commercialized, commodified and monetized. The religious meaning or even cultural meaning is replaced by the drive to shop till you drop. It places stress upon people who are concerned with buying the best possible gifts for their loved ones. The will to not disappoint is very strong. It is also places a financial burden on many people and thus they must rely on the plastic, putting them into significant credit card debt. The true meaning of the season is lost in a whirr of consumerism and capitalism, and this is a truly a shame.

But in addition to the commercialism of the season, there is the imperative that people be happy, joyous and merry. What does this mean for those of us who battle chronic depression? In 2017, my family and I celebrated Christmas on December 24th because Christmas day was very snowy. I sat home alone on Christmas day and it was really hard for me. On the one hand I felt disappointed for buying into hegemonic cultural imperatives. On the other, I felt compassionate for myself because like it or not these cultural directives are overwhelming. If you are not out and about with people and eating fancy food and opening expensive presents you are seen as some kind of loser or failure or may feel as such.

Many people, depressed or not, feel overwhelmed by the holidays/holidaze and feel like they are not living up to the threshold of joy and happiness required of this time period. Religious and cultural significance aside, it is ultimately another day or series of days on the calendar. We should not feel disappointed in ourselves or others for failing to evince the requisite merriment.

In a more general sense, I have to say that I am not a huge fan of tradition, and holidays are so entangled with tradition. Tradition is based in repetition, and I always prefer the fresh and the unestablished. It is no wonder people get bored with the holidays because they are the same year after year after year. I think we need to create new holidays and subvert the existing ones. The newness keeps us young and refreshed, rather than dreading another round of stress and requirements. I like the idea of new traditions or traditions that morph and transform over time. Traditions are, after all, meant to be broken, meant to be violated. One of the things I am trying to do each year is make the feast day of Joan of Arc into my own personal holiday since she is my Patron Saint. There is no infrastructure for these personal holidays, which makes them more challenging. But even if it is just me and a strong intention, I can consider it a holiday that has worth and meaning. We also need more queer holidays beyond pride parades. One that I celebrated in November was the birthday of Black Lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde. It was really meaningful to me and we had a nice group and discussion.

What I would say to people is to celebrate or not celebrate holidays however you want. Don’t feel stressed out by them or bound by tradition or expectations. Holidays are meant to be fun, so how did it happen that they have become a drag for so many? Also, practice good self-care during the holidays and reach out if you are struggling. Your well-being is infinitely more important than any holiday. And finally, consider establishing new holidays or traditions for yourself, your family and your community. You will find others also appreciate new ceremonies and rituals and that these help to keep life fresh. Whether you opt in or opt out, you are in the driver’s seat and get to decide your own relationship to holidays and traditions.

 

Depression [Part II]

Good things about depression? The mere concept seems absurd. But the answer for me lies with the motif of this blog: queerness. In this entry, I want to talk about the “good” or “positive” facets of depression by talking about it through a queer lens.

For me, being queer means being an outsider and taking pride in being an outsider. It is being a pariah. It is being and living at the margins and making a home there. Being queer is different from being gay and different from being transgender. Those could well be part of it, but they do not define it. Queerness is more expansive and distinctly more political. In my view queer is radical and it is revolutionary. It takes pride in being different. Which is why all of the emphasis on normativity and status quo establishmentarianism is so annoying [military service, marriage, adopting children, etc.] and so thoroughly anti-queer.

If I revel in my queerness there is a way I can revel in my depression in that both confer outsider status. It is very important to state: being gay or trans does not cause one to be depressed. Being gay or trans in the context of a virulently homophobic and transphobic society may cause one to be depressed. Making society less homophobic and transphobic may make LGBT people less depressed. But in the interim, many queer folks deal with depression and search for ways to survive with it or even find “positive” aspects of it to make sense of their suffering. What are some possible “positive” things about depression for me [these may not resonate with other depressed folk]:

1. Having depression makes me more sensitive. I have to be. It makes me more sensitive to other people’s illnesses, disabilities and life adversity. Suffering can cause great compassion to develop. It can help manifest empathy in the depressed person’s life. Sensitivity is a good thing. There is far too much harshness in our society. Depression has caused me to develop greater empathy, compassion and sensitivity and that is indeed a gift.

2. We have to think about our health: mind, body and spirit. Depression means thinking about where you are in terms of your mind, body and spirit. It means taking action to work on mending yourself. We cannot ignore our depression. If we do so, we do it at our own peril.

3. Depression can be life-threatening, so it makes you reflect more carefully on the value of life. Life is so precarious. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. When you make it through the dark tunnel to the other side, you can have a new appreciation for the value of life. We have good coping skills. However hard it is, I now often think, very simply: I am alive. And what a miracle it is that I have had the ability to live my life for 44 years. I am thankful for life, even though it has been full of suffering.

4. We get stronger. One of the most obvious positive parts of depression is our strength, determination and resiliency. Many of us go through hell and back. But we make it, and we get stronger and we get smarter. I would not be who I am if I had not had depression. It has certainly made me more determined to fight and to take pride in my queerness, my fatness and my crip-ness. Depressed people are often cast as weak, as tragic and as victims. An opposite way to view it is: We are strong, we are epic and we are survivors. Meeting other depressed people is always a joy because I see the strength within them and the desire to persevere.

5. We experiment with self-care in ways that are innovative. Writing this blog is a form of self-care for me. So is coloring, playing my keyboard and drinking tea. Sometimes I bring a small stuffed animal with me for comfort when I am anxious or feel social anxiety. Often we may get in touch with our “inner child” and do child-like or playful things as a form of self-care. When you’re depressed, you have to get creative and improvise. We often don’t care about others viewing our actions as strange because we are willing to do whatever it takes to feel better and be more functional. This will enable others to be brave and unswerving in their commitment to unique/queer self-care.

There are surely more but this gives you a sense of my thinking of subverting depression away from hegemonic meanings and queering depression to see its potentiality. If I had the choice of having or not having depression, I would choose to not have it. But since that is not an option, there are ways to re-think and re-conceptualize life that are comforting and innovative. Step by step, I choose to live with depression by using my agency to fight for my own life and everyday mental wellness.

 

 

Depression [Part I]

This one is really tough for me to write about. I have stated publicly in talks that depression has been the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in life. Given the myriad of problems I have dealt with, this is really saying something, trust me! I have faced depression since I was around 13 or 14 years old. Originally it was largely caused by the bullying I faced in Elementary School and Junior High School but it continued after the bullying ended. However, the bullying simply switched to discrimination and being a social pariah for being Trans, queer, fat, tall and disabled. The thorny question becomes: is my severe depression due to social circumstances that I live under or due to biological/chemical realities going on in my brain and/or body?

I really don’t know. And it is not for lack of thinking. I have thought about this many times. It is a question that remains elusive and that remains a mystery. I think that it is probably not an either/or, but a both/and. Depression is multi-pronged and has a multi-causality origin. It is incredibly complex, and many years of therapy and psychiatry have me shaking my head because I have yet to figure out this behemoth which has taken up so much space in my life and in my brain. In fact, it should be paying rent for the way it has moved in on me!

Depression is life threatening. I know because it has been life threatening for me multiple times. Even writing this makes me nervous. To admit in a public forum like a blog that you deal with mental health challenges is taboo. We are not supposed to even talk about mental illness, much less admit that we are dealing with it. And yet, SO much of the U.S. population deals with depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mental health diagnoses. It is the pink elephant in the living room. Everyone sees it but nobody talks about it or even wants to admit that it exists.

I think being in a professional job makes the stigma even worse. The powers-that-be may assume that your mental health challenge makes you unable to effectively do your job. Or they may believe that if this is something you experience that you should not talk about it. You should not talk about it with colleagues or with students. I have been very open about my journey with depression and I do wonder how much of a liability that has been for me on the job. Somebody once told me that I had enough strikes against me and that I should not talk about my mental health issues. In fact, my other targeted identities laid the groundwork for me to talk about having depression. I have come out of so many closets. What’s one more?

Depression is an illness and it is physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually painful. I really would not wish it on my worst enemy. It is difficult to deal with when it is chronic. I have been dealing with depression for 30 years. I have had countless years of therapy and psychiatry. I have been hospitalized and been in a partial hospitalization program. I have survived a suicide attempt and frequent passive suicidal ideation and I have literally been on dozens of different psychotropic medications and even thought about ECT. I know that unless there is some miraculous cure, I will have to deal with this life-threatening, chronic condition for the rest of my life. The negative impact this has had in my life is tremendous. I also have great trouble identifying what is the trigger for my depression. I can have times of relative calm and then be hit as if a bomb has detonated. I search and search my mind for what has caused the seismic shift in my mental landscape and come up empty. This is frustrating beyond belief but it shows that a person does not have control over their depression. That is one of the greatest myths, that a person has control over this and can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This is a myth and a very dangerous one at that.

In Part II of my discussion of depression, I will be writing on a challenging question: Is there anything positive about having depression?

 

Laughter

Laughter is an instant vacation. – Milton Berle

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. – e.e. cummings

In writing previously about hope, it occurs to me that one thing I didn’t mention was laughter. Laughter makes hope easier, more possible. Laughter is the gateway to hope, and an antidote to fear. While I am not the best at cracking jokes per se, I definitely have a good sense of humor and like to laugh. Sometimes people get the wrong impression about me because I am an activist and social justice practitioner. I also am a feminist and a Women’s Studies professor. Feminist are thought to be dour and humorless. In actuality, feminists are some of the funniest people I know. We have to be. After all, we are doing battle with the patriarchy, and that is no small feat!

One of the most important things for me about laughing is that the laughing does not involve the dehumanization of any individual or group. Too much humor punches down rather than punching up. Humor that punches down routinely goes after women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, poor people, people of size, old people, religious minorities and people with disabilities. Given how oppressed these groups are, “humor” against members of these groups functions to further press them downward and perpetuate status quo power relations. Humor can still be funny and not go after any specific group. Poking fun at people in the dominant groups can be sharp analyses of the power structure and the unfair privileges that these people receive.

Queer people are often very funny. I feel that members of oppressed groups are often funnier out of necessity. Due to the pervasive prejudice and discrimination we face, we must develop coping strategies to survive. One of these coping strategies is being funny and frequently laughing. Laughing is a medicine that is free and readily available. Life can seem less harrowing when you can laugh and make other people laugh. Stand-up comics can be very hateful and bigoted, but others don’t rely on degradation for their humor and can be fantastic. Queers have a long history of “camp” humor, humorous drag performances and there are many fabulous queer stand-up comics. I think queers also often have a sarcastic or sardonic sense of humor that also reflects our difficult life circumstances. This humor is a healthy outlet of expression and freedom.

I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. While laughter is no cure for this serious condition, it can help to lift the symptoms, at least for me. I am thankful for every laugh that each day brings. This is one way to practice gratitude. Laughter can be taken for granted; it shouldn’t be. And the ability to make other people laugh is a true gift. I marvel at some people’s wicked senses of humor. Without thinking, they can make jokes about the most mundane of circumstances. They often don’t know how much their humor can benefit people who are suffering. So many people with depression and other mental health challenges are suffering in silence. Laughter can be, as the quote above states, an instant vacation. It can jolt somebody out of their current despair and provide hope. Thank the Universe for every laugh you have every day and remember that the silly joke you crack could be a healing balm on somebody’s else’s soul. It could even be a life-saver. Namaste.