Papa and the gun

Papa brought his gun everywhere he went. It wasn’t a small gun, either, no sir. It was a shotgun, meant for bears and the like. Gardening or the grocery store made no difference. He toted it all over Grandville, in the elbow-carry position most of the time. Sure, he got some strange looks when he was off his property, but everybody knew he was a retired Colonel (full bird, not Lieutenant) and cut him some slack. He’d never shot anything or anyone his whole service career, but that didn’t matter now. He’d been an electrical engineer before the World War started and he signed up as soon as he could. He wanted to do his part to help out his country. Maybe deep down he also wanted to make right the shame his father had brought to the family all those years ago when he left his family the permanent way.

But now he was at his new home, his two children (the requisite boy and girl) waving at the edge of the forest. They had just moved there, the 3 bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath, 2288 square-foot house they came from just wasn’t enough for him anymore. Maybe he was like a hermit crab and had outgrown his shell. He’d had to find a new one and fast or he’d die. That unsettledness was his inheritance from his Pa.

Papa was a tender soul in a hard world. Deep down he would have preferred to walk in the woods, without a care or obligation. He married out of social expectation, but had requested they have no children, but his wife had snuck two in on him before he’d insisted on separate rooms. He didn’t want children because he couldn’t bear to think of a child having to undergo what he and his sister had – the hardship, the skimping, the growing up fast after their dad died at his own hand. The family story was that it was during the Depression.  It was a depression alright, but not the capital-D kind. More of a personal kind than a public one.

Yes, that was why he carried a rifle. His father had used a revolver. And while you could kill yourself with a rifle, it was a lot harder.

You’d think he wouldn’t carry a gun at all, but he needed a reminder of the weakness that might affect him. He wanted to never succumb to weakness – whether inside or out. He needed a reminder to never forget how easy it was to go astray. Some former cigarette smokers kept their favorite ashtray, while some ex-drinkers kept empty bottles on display. It was all for the same reason. They kept their old sin before them so it wouldn’t become their new sin all over again. He never knew if suicide would sneak up on him like it had his father, but he was determined to not let it get a chance.

You can’t wish depression away.

This is a conversation I had online about how to cure depression. I read something in a group I belong to that I felt needed some comments from someone who had been there. However, it was a waste of my time to even try.

You can’t wave the victim flag and the victor flag at the same time. As long as people are stuck in the same old broken story that people’s mental health is entirely due to their attitude, they will continue to be sick. This is victim blaming at its finest. We don’t blame people who have diabetes for their bodies not working properly.  So why do we blame people with depression for their minds not working properly?  We must get over the idea that body and mind are separate in order to heal.

The Original post – “This is a special request that only a true friend can give and I appreciate all you Beautiful people out there,so I post this- I have a Beautiful Friend called Ruth who fights depression every day,She has an Absolute heart of Gold so I thought what better way than to show how much she is loved by others.Would you be so kind as to post a lovely heart or picture that you have done so I can save it to show she has support and well wishes because she just could do with that extra boost that she can’t do for herself right now!!! Thank you kindly and I can’t wait to share with her your Beautiful posts and love- God bless you All.”

I waited for a few hours before replying.  It was a knee-jerk response, and I wanted to cool down first.

I replied – “From personal experience – take her for a walk outside. Take her out for lunch and feed her healthy food. Depression is fed by inactivity and junk food – fried foods, few vegetables, too much carbs, too much sugar. It is something that can be overcome. It requires a lot of work, but the results are worth it. Pretty pictures will not do it.”

One person commented – “Anything done with love is a great idea. Maybe it isn’t a solution. But, it may put a smile on her face. Or even stop the tears. And that is positive.”

My reply – “Yes, love and positivity are good. However, I’m aiming for something more permanent than a quick fix. It requires a lot of self-discipline, which is super hard when you are depressed. It is like pushing a heavy ball up a muddy slope. But – the view from the top is so much better than the one at the bottom. We don’t treat diabetes and heart disease by kind thoughts. They require complete lifestyle changes. Depression is the same. Full disclosure- I am bipolar and have hospitalized myself twice. I take medicine daily. But the best medicine I take is self-care. Journaling is part of that. So is eating well and getting regular exercise.”

Another person replied – “Art journaling would be a great thing for Ruth – Art heals, for sure.”

By this point I was getting frustrated.  Nobody was listening.

The original poster said  – “I appreciate your comments and Ruth does try very hard with diet but its abuse from others that causes alot of her depression its not just from not trying other methods because she does really try,she just needed to know people love with a genuine love right now xxx”


On depression, addiction and following God’s commandments

Several of the many blessings in Judaism give thanks to God for sanctifying us by giving us commandments. What does this mean? We are made sacred when we follow the commands that God has given us.

While reading this week’s Torah portion (Bechukotai), I was struck by how this relates to depression and addiction. When we stray from the path of order, we get sick. The word “Sanitary” refers to being clean. Insane literally means “not-clean”. When we act in a good way, we stay clean and sane.

In Leviticus Chapter 26, God is telling us what will happen if we don’t follow the commands that we have been given.
14 “But if you do not obey Me and observe all these commands— 15 if you reject My statutes and despise My ordinances, and do not observe all My commands—and break My covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring terror on you—wasting disease and fever that will cause your eyes to fail and your life to ebb away. You will sow your seed in vain because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will turn against you, so that you will be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even though no one is pursuing you.

“Terror, and your life will ebb away”? Sounds a lot like anxiety and depression. And we will run even though nobody is pursuing us? That sounds like anxiety too, always in a panic.

Note that this is not some random punishment. It is the natural result of dis-order – of not following the order, the commandments, of God. It is more that we are punished by our bad choices, rather than God is punishing us.

19 I will break down your strong pride. I will make your sky like iron and your land like bronze, 20 and your strength will be used up for nothing. Your land will not yield its produce, and the trees of the land will not bear their fruit.

“Your strength will be used up for nothing” sounds very familiar. Depression feels like nothing you do is meaningful or worthwhile. What little energy you have amounts to nothing.

26 When I cut off your supply of bread, 10 women will bake your bread in a single oven and ration out your bread by weight, so that you will eat but not be satisfied.

Depression and addiction both feel like you are never satisfied. Nothing ever makes you happy. You never feel fulfilled.

36 “I will put anxiety in the hearts of those of you who survive in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a wind-driven leaf will put them to flight, and they will flee as one flees from a sword, and fall though no one is pursuing them.

More anxiety and terror, even though there is no discernable reason for it. Once again, this is part of depression and anxiety.

43 For the land abandoned by them will make up for its Sabbaths by lying desolate without the people, while they pay the penalty for their sin, because they rejected My ordinances and abhorred My statutes.

And this is all for when we choose to disobey God.

Yet, even though we abandon God, God does not abandon us.
44 Yet in spite of this, while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am Yahweh their God. 45 For their sake I will remember the covenant with their fathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God; I am Yahweh.”

We can turn around right now, and start acting correctly. We can be like the prodigal son, and return, right now, to obeying God.

Jesus boils down all of the commandments to two – Love God, and love your neighbor. Treat your neighbor how you like to be treated.

(All translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)


I read a post about how to help someone with depression. It said that you should encourage them to talk about it. That is insane. Sure, there are often things that need to get out. But there is no “cure” in just talking.

We must remember that our bodies are not separate from our minds and spirits. What affects one part affects the rest. We must stop thinking about depression as a mind issue, but a body issue that affects the mind.

My personal experience is that it is far healthier to take them for a walk outside with you while you talk. And feed them healthy food. Then show them how to take care of themselves.

I’ve hospitalized myself twice for bipolar disorder, so I’m not on the sidelines pontificating here. I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness for since 1999, and in that time have learned how to take care of myself so well that my psychiatrist only sees me once a year. This means I do far more than just take my medicine (which I do, twice a day). I eat well, exercise, journal, and make art. I am a regular person with a regular 40 hour a week job. I do not rely on others to take care of me. I have learned to not blame others or situations for how I feel.

We must get back in touch with self-care. We do not have to ever experience depression. It requires a lot of work but it is worth it. No longer will we feel overwhelmed and controlled by our moods. This does not mean that we are “up” all the time. The point is not to just feel good all the time, but to feel everything with intention. We have control over how we feel.

Depression is a symptom of an imbalance – not enough sleep and exercise being part of it. Perhaps these examples will help give perspective –

When a tire is flat because it has a hole in it, you don’t put tape over it and drive on. We don’t say it is “depressed”. We look for the reason for the problem and fix it.

We don’t diagnose plants as “depressed” when their leaves droop or turn yellow. We find out what they are getting too much of or too little of and fix it. Too much or too little sun, water, or nutrients will make a plant droop and then die. The same is true for people.

When a car has run out of gas, we don’t say it is “depressed”. We put gas in it, and ideally we put in gas that doesn’t have additives in it. Better gas means that the car runs better. Food is the fuel that our bodies use. Better food, better results.

When we spend all of our money in our bank account and don’t put any in, we don’t say that the account is “depressed”. We either need to not waste our money or make more. Our energy levels are the same. We cannot continually expend energy without rest. However, too much rest is also bad. Our bodies are made to be used. Exercise builds up our “bank account”, but we also must take time to get enough sleep and schedule in times of inactivity in order to rebuild and refresh.

Talking about it is a waste of time. You wouldn’t expect a person with diabetes to “talk about it” to get over a low blood sugar episode. You wouldn’t expect a person with high blood pressure to “talk about it” to lower it. Certainly, they both might benefit from a little research into what they are doing or not doing for their health, but then they will only truly get better if they start acting on that realization.

Search for what you can do to help yourself. Start small. Keep doing it. It is easy to look at the big picture and feel overwhelmed. It is easy to come up with reasons why you can’t do it. Mental and physical health is not easy. Nobody else can do it for you. Your best source of medicine is to take care of yourself in any way you can.

Mixed Messages

“People and things don’t stop our pain or heal us. In recovery, we learned that this is our job, and we can do it by using our resources: ourselves, our higher power, our support systems, and our recovery program.” — From “The Language of Letting Go: daily meditations for codependents” by Melody Beattie

I saw this picture recently.
mixed message

The title of the article is “Her tattoo contains a hidden message, and it started an important conversation.” The tattoo is an ambigram – a message that can be read upside down as well as right-side up. In this case, the message is different when read upside down. The normal way it is viewed by others says “I’m fine”, while the way that she sees it says “Save me”.

The article says that she got it as a way of dealing with her depression. It is her way of asking for help. But there is something very wrong about this. It is passive. Help does not come from other people. If you give away your power to others, you will continually feel powerless.

I find it significant that “Save me” is the view from her perspective. Maybe she will finally read it that way – that she is the only one who can save herself.

She is the one who makes choices.
She can choose
to get enough sleep,
eat healthy food,
avoid negative people,
find a job that is meaningful,
learn to speak her truth.

She can choose,
and must,
for her own survival.

Being healthy is a choice, and something each person must do for themselves.

Depression is a symptom, not a disease. It is the result of feeling powerless, disconnected, alone. It is a sign of not owning your own power, using your own voice. The way out of it is not to ask others to save you, but to save yourself. If others have to rescue you, you aren’t healed. They cannot do your work for you.

The giving away of power to others is part of the disease, the dis-ease. Ease, comfort, health, comes from taking responsibility for your own life.

You can ask for help to learn different ways of healing yourself, but you cannot expect others to do it for you. You must own your own power. You must be your own best friend. You must save yourself. This is the cure.

Stop being passive about your life.
Stop expecting others to rescue you.

Thoughts on defeating depression

Plenty of people want to save the money, the social embarrassment, and avoid getting treated for depression. It is hard to admit you are depressed. It is hard to go seek help for it – to admit to a doctor that you are sick. It is seen as a sign of weakness.

But you can do a lot to stave it off. Avoid sugar – it lies to you. Avoid caffeine, or at least severely limit it. One cup of green tea a day is plenty.

Go exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym, although it is nice. Having a regular routine is good – and accountability. Go for a 20 minute walk at lunch instead of spending the whole hour sitting.

Park the car further away. Do jumping jacks. Find new ways to get moving.

Notice if you are coming up with excuses for why you can’t do this. This is normal. Don’t give in. See these impulses as a sign to keep going.

You can’t stop. This isn’t a temporary thing. You have to do this for the rest of your life – to have a life.

Put good fuel in the car, it goes well. Our bodies are the same. They are electrochemical machines. Eat well – no processed food. Learn to cook simple foods. Steaming isn’t hard and it means you get fresh vegetables. Don’t wait until you have a crash before you eat – then you’ll eat whatever is at hand. Plan your meals and eat them regularly. Don’t have junk food in your house or you will eat it.

Make art. Some of the biggest reasons for depression are that you aren’t communicating your feelings. Sometimes that is because you don’t know how to say what you need to say. Art says a lot.

Getting out (on addiction and depression)

Getting out of addiction and/or depression is like taking antibiotics. When you take antibiotics you think that once the week is over you are done and you are cured. But the disease of addiction and/or depression isn’t like that at all. They never really go away. You just hold them off for a little while. You have to keep taking your medicine every day in order to stay healthy and strong.

Your medicine isn’t necessarily a pill. It might be, don’t get me wrong. I take daily medicine prescribed by a doctor for my bipolar disorder. But I also take “medicine” that is prescribed by the true Doctor, and this medicine includes daily exercise, eating healthy, and being creative. There are other things I do which I discuss in this blog.

Getting enough sleep is critical. You may have heard of the idea of cutting your nose off to spite your face and that is very true with these diseases. With the idea of burning your candle at both ends, you’ll just end up with no light at all. With addiction and depression the result is the same. You have to put proper fuel in your body’s engine, and sleep is a big one.

Consider it this way – You are stuck behind a dam that is leaking. When you are feeling well, do everything you can to shore up that dam. That way, when you are down, you won’t get as wet. Sure, a few rocks will come loose and more water will come in when you are down. When you are back to “normal”, (Admittedly hard to spot because sometimes being down feels like your normal), add more rocks to that dam. It may feel like one step forwards and two steps backwards at times. Keep doing it. Trust me.

Every effort towards getting healthy adds up. It takes a while – this isn’t an overnight thing. This isn’t even something you can be sure will “stick” after a month. You have to keep doing it every day.

Sometimes being addicted or stuck in depression feels like you are possessed. You feel helpless to do anything about it. You want to stop doing what you are doing, but you see yourself doing it over and over. There is a way out and it is in your control. The first thing is taking control when you can.

Part of that is you must stop thinking that you have no control – if you blame others for your problems – that is your problem. Fix what you can, as often as you can. Understand that there will be times when you can’t – the situation won’t let you, you don’t have the resources. Accept it, and pounce at the next opportunity.

Routine is essential. Write down a list of what helps you feel better. Stick to it. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stick to all of it every day. Forgive yourself and try harder – or modify the list to something more reasonable. Don’t start off too big at first.

Fighting the Nothing.

I went to yoga class today. This isn’t normally a big deal. But today was different because my wrist hurts.

I’ve skipped class for various reasons recently. It is too cold outside. I’m tired. I’m out of town. The last one is the only valid one. My wrist hurting seemed like a good reason as well, but I decided that I had to go anyway.

I think I’ve stretched a ligament at work. My work involves a lot twisting my wrist and picking up heavy books. My wrist is getting worn out from it. It would be great if we could replace body parts like we can with car parts. Some we can. Not always. Until then, rest is required.

There are several yoga classes at the Y that don’t do any moves that involve wrists. This is not one of them. Downward facing dog, plank, upward facing dog, fallen triangle – all wrist moves. This is the class I’ve committed to going to because this one is on my day off.

I haven’t been in the past three or so weeks. In part I’ve used the holidays as an excuse. But I’m starting to think that seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have so much to do with less sunlight and a lot to with less activity. Sure, they are connected. Less sunlight means it is colder outside, and it gets darker sooner. Thus, we are less inclined to go exercise outside, or at all. We think we’ll take a break, just like the Earth does. We’ll fly south for the winter, even if it is in our heads. We’ll hibernate as much as we are allowed. We still have to go to our jobs, but that is it as far as activity. Everything else can just wait.

This year of writing has taught me the danger of that. Slow down too much and the doldrums set in. We are dead in the water, going nowhere. There’s no wind in our sails.

Then depression comes for a visit.

And when depression comes to visit, it isn’t really interested in a quick stop. It stays, longer and longer, gathering energy while we lose it. Depression is self perpetuating. It feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger while our control on our minds gets less and less.

Writing has taught me this. It has made me stop and see patterns that never made sense before. It has made me realize that the only way out of this funk is to pull out the paddles and start rowing for dear life.

So I went to class today. I went even though I could only do half the moves. I went even though it meant that I had to modify all the other ones. Downward facing dog became dolphin. Plank was done on my forearms as well. I’ve never looked forward to doing warrior one and two nearly so much as today. I took child’s pose a lot. I did some of my favorite twists at other times. I tried some moves on my fists instead. It wasn’t that great.

But I went. And I stayed. And I did what I could do and didn’t push myself today. Sometimes yoga is about pushing. Sometimes it is about backing off. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself. The motto “No pain, no gain” is not a healthy mantra.

But really, I did push myself. I pushed myself to get up out of bed, and showered, and dressed, and to the class on time. I know me. If I’d let the doldrums win, that horrible inertia, that nothing that just feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger, then I would have stayed at home all day and done nothing. Then I’d feel worse. Then I’d do more nothing. And I’d use it as an excuse to not go next week.

And while I wrestle with the concept of stillness, I know that doing nothing is death.

You have control over your moods.

If you are feeling anxious, your breathing will become shallow. However, once you notice this you can change things. You can change your feelings with your breath. Breathe in slowly and calmly and deeply and you will start to feel better. Intentionally shift from shallow breathing to deep breathing and your mood will shift. You have control.

We have control over depression too. When we are depressed, we tend to eat a lot of “comfort food” that is high in carbohydrates. Bread, desserts, potatoes, pasta – you know the routine. We also tend to not exercise. Sadly, this is a terrible cycle – we feel bad, so we eat more of the things that we think will make us feel good, but they actually make us feel bad. We take time off from exercising because we just don’t feel like it, then we feel worse.

Just like with anxious feelings and breathing, you can turn around depression by eating better and exercising.

Sometimes I wonder what causes what. Are we not mindful about our breathing so we start to breathe shallowly, then we feel anxious? Or is it that we feel anxious and then we breathe shallowly? Do we slack on eating well and exercising and then we feel depressed? Or do we feel depressed and then sink lower because we start to eat badly and stop exercising?

Does it matter, if we have this key? We can improve our moods by being mindful. We have control. We no longer have to suffer the randomness of our emotions.

You don’t have to do anything complicated. Go for a walk. You don’t have to go on a run. And the walk doesn’t have to be long – twenty minutes is good. Can’t do twenty? Then do 10. Now, don’t think you can get away with five – that’s cheating. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

I know people who say that they don’t have a safe place to walk. Walk inside your house. Walk around the kitchen. Walk down the hallway and back. Then when you feel brave, go outside and walk to the mailbox. And back. And back to the mailbox. And back to the door. This trick also works for those people who think they don’t have the strength to walk a long distance and are afraid of getting stranded out far away from their houses. I know a lot of people who think this way. Another option is to drive to a large public place – the hardware store is one of my favorite suggestions. Use their large area and air conditioning to walk. No gym membership needed!

Your body isn’t a car. Well, it is, kind of. It is a machine, albeit an electrochemical one. It is a vehicle for your soul. And you need to put good fuel into it if you want to get anywhere. But you don’t really run out of gas. You may get tired, and if that happens, just slow down and wait until you feel better. You’ll get stronger for the next time. Soon you’ll surprise yourself.

We are so good at making excuses for why we can’t take care of ourselves. Trust me; taking care of your body is a great investment. It is all you have. It is more important than your car or your house or your neighborhood. It is where you live, in the deepest sense. Make it strong.

Eat more vegetables and less meat. Skip the fried stuff. Drop sodas and go for water. Try to go for natural, unprocessed food. Sadly, this is really hard because we’ve been taught that food comes in little packets with writing on it. Rather than eating an energy bar, have an apple and some almonds. Try something organic. Go for colorful food – green, red, yellow – let your eyes be delighted by a rainbow of food.

Sure, there is a lot of fear in changing. And your mind try to trick you – you’ll think you want to eat whatever you want and not exercise. This is your inner two-year-old saying “NO! You can’t tell me what to do!” Tell it to shut up. Two year olds aren’t known for making good decisions.

Don’t be at the mercy of your cravings. They aren’t real. You don’t need a soda. You don’t need pizza. You don’t need a candy bar. You don’t need fried chicken. You think you want them – but they all leave you feeling flat. Deep down you know this.

They are like a bad boyfriend, all flash and pizzazz, but no substance. And just like with the bad boyfriend, you think you are being a rebel by hanging out with him. Really, he’s no good for you.

Cycle (On taking time off for yourself)

This being human is cyclical.

We aren’t awake all the time. We aren’t creative all the time. We aren’t at our best all the time.

When we “fall off the wagon” of our plans – exercise, diet, or any creative goal, we feel like we are failures. And it is very hard to get back on that wagon and get going again.

But it is essential to allow for these times of rest and reflection.

Just like a seed has to spend time in the dark to begin to sprout and grow towards the light, our lives need times of inwardness and quiet.

This is very hard. Perhaps it is a guilt thing that our society puts on us. We think we should always be active and moving and growing. We think we should always be working on our book or painting or exercising.

But this simply does not mesh with nature. Every creature has to sleep. Every plant has periods of growth and decay. We have simply to look around us at the natural world to realize we are fighting against what truly is.

We like to think we are above nature. We have done a pretty good job of separating ourselves from it. We live in houses where we can have light anywhere and anytime. We can adjust the temperature to anything we want to suit our needs or our whim. We have created things to eat that do not resemble anything in nature.

So of course we don’t know about the natural cycles. We think we are more than nature. We forget ourselves when we do this. We set ourselves up for failure.

When we wind down and stop going to the Y or start eating fried foods again and we gain some of our weight back we tend to beat ourselves up for it. We think we are failures. We don’t notice that we’ve only gained back 5 pounds when in total we’ve lost 50.

When we wind down and stop creating we tend to think the same thing. Whether it is painting or drawing or sewing or writing or beading, we sometimes have a tendency to notice all the blank canvases or raw materials than see the finished work.

There is certainly a danger in taking time out. There is a danger in that lull, that slowing. There is the danger that you’ll stay there, doing nothing. There is a danger that you’ll stay in the dark and never sprout.

Inwardly, we all know this. We may not be able to speak it out loud. But that feeling drives us to get over our “slow” times or “no” times as fast as possible because we are afraid we’ll be stuck there.

But then we may burn out. If we constantly work ourselves we will wear out. We need down time. We need slow time.

Scheduling it helps. Entering into it intentionally helps. Being patient with yourself helps. Consider it a Sabbath for yourself. It is a time out, a time off. If you plan for it then it is easier to accept. It is like scheduled maintenance for your soul. Don’t wait until the carburetor of your creativity breaks down.