Category Archives: Mental Illness

Raynaud’s Syndrome

So, unexpectedly, I had a calm Christmas. Yes, I had nightmares. Yes, I’ve been depressed. But those symptoms are predictable, and I can mentally prepare myself ahead of time. I can keep my care team (read: wife and medical professionals) in the loop, and keep everything in context. Nothing major or disruptive, just depression and some annoying nightmares.

But there’s been another layer to my Winter complications. A moderately common disease called Raynaud’s Syndrome. It’s a chronic disorder, which can last your entire life. It affects many fewer men than women, but there are about 200,000 cases reported every year for people of all ages and sexes. But what does it do? It causes pain, irritation, and tissue damage including gangrene/frostbite.

Ouch! Here’s how it works: My fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, nose, even nipples get cold. Like, really cold. When my body senses cold, especially in the extremities, the body stops sending heat to the extremities to preserve core temperature. Blood vessels, capillaries, veins, and even lymph vessels spasm as blood flow is reduced. This hurts. Like, a lot.

After a while, the tissue grows colder and colder. There are a scary number of cases which involve people being so cold in the Summer that they get frostbite, even if it’s 100 degrees outside.

Son of a dog, folks! Thankfully, my case isn’t that severe, for now. I concentrate on staying warm, and keeping my core temperature high enough that my body wants to get rid of some heat, so it sends it to the radiators (fingers, toes, nose, top of head, etc.).

So I’ve been cold or hot for months. It sucks. But you know what? I’m glad to have the diagnosis. It means that I’m not crazy for being cold or hot when other people are comfortable. I can take control of this all on my own!

Unfortunately, the medications that work well for treating Raynaud’s are all blood pressure medications. I cannot take these because of my normal medication regimen, so it’s all manual work. That’s okay, though. I’m just glad that I have supportive friends and family who have all kinds of ideas.

I’m still depressed, and having a hard time with some of my work. I’ll talk about work another time, though. What matters is I’m okay. I hope you are all doing well. As ever, I pray for all of you, but if it would help you to have more prayer or positive energy, comment, and you will get it. Hugs, folks.

PS: You’re a bad-ass. If you have Raynaud’s, let me know. I might be able to suggest things to help!

Christmas Nightmares — PTSD and Seasonal Affective Disorder

I’ve been quiet a lot this month, and I’m sorry to anyone who has missed me, or worried. I just have a hard time being 100% myself in the winter, and my energy all goes to my kids and Jenny, because they are most important. Happy Christmas to you all, by the way. I know it’s late, but what the hell.

The nightmares have been the hardest part. Constant, vivid, terrifying dreams of my brothers becoming ill, and trying to care for them as they wantonly spread infectious diseases. In the dreams, they aren’t the young adults I know. They are the small children I lived with, and cared for, for so many years. Children. Sick, tired, enjoying life as much as they can without parents to guide them.

I also dream of Jenny and our two wonderful kids, hurt, tired, confused, and looking for answers I can’t give them. Our daughter in college, desperate for guidance. Our son leaving home for the first time, unable to see that he’s still welcome in our home. Jenny, terrified of losing her close relationship with her adult children. Me being unable to help, frozen like Han Solo in carbonite, watching, unable to speak or act.

None of these dreams are true. They are lies created by the depression and tiredness that come with the Christmas season. My brothers grew into healthy adults. My children are safe, and will always know the love of their parents (all of us, I’m sure).

Split families can be hard. Christmas in two homes, parents who aren’t together any longer, trying to belong in two worlds simultaneously. I know, too well, the burden of a child trying to make sure that both parents know they are loved. It’s a challenge children shouldn’t have to face, a burden they shouldn’t have to carry. But parents are humans, too. It’s hard for everyone, and that’s okay.

I had a good Christmas. A simple affair with Jenny and the kids, then the kids we able to spend the night with their father, and spend the Christmas weekend with him.  It’s magic, you see. A miracle that our children are loved by so many. It’s a blessing I didn’t have as a child, and I can’t be happier for them.

My nightmares can sit on a stick. They can stay in the dark of the night, washed away by a mug of morning tea. The darkness passes, and now the days will get longer again. Winter may be in full swing, but the sun is shining a few moments longer today than it did yesterday. The days will only get longer as summer comes.

My depression is a nasty bitch. It’s hard to do everything, but it’s harder to do nothing, so I cling to that. I woke up this morning to a wonderful wife, in a warm bed, with a beautiful view of the desert highlands. I came upstairs to find emails, comments, tweets, and pokes, all wishing me a happy season. Point taken, world. I’m off to make something of my day. I hope you do the same.

The Oppressive Fog of Depression

I’ve always had a hard time putting the symptoms of my depression into words in a way that I can share, and quantify in some way, how my depression affects my day-to-day. During my latest wave of depression, I noticed my work was going much slower, and that I was spending more time working than normal. So I put myself to the test, and did some numbers and observations.

I’m typing at half-speed when I’m depressed.

My typing speed, on a normal day, is about 65 words per minute. That’s about 400 characters, or around 7 characters each second. While depressed recently, I took an online test to check my speed. I was horrified to find that I was typing only about 35 words per minute, or about 3.5 characters per second.

My body can’t work as long.

This problem has several fronts to address. First, I can’t look at my computer screen as long as normal, because my eyes get worn out sooner. If I sit too long, my energy drops into “rest” mode, so I have to get up and move around. During my normal, I can work for up to four hours without breaks. During my recent work stints, I’ve noticed I start to lose focus after about 45 minutes. I have to get up, move around, and blink a few times. Finally, I have to take more bathroom breaks. This might seem silly, but I have chronic Colitis, which means my intestines are always inflamed. Always. Bathroom trips (especially 6-8 a day) are not my idea of “productive time.”

I am hungrier when I’m depressed.

I eat 30-40% more when I’m depressed. During my normal, I maintain weight. When I’m depressed, I gain weight. It takes a lot to lost weight, because I get sooooo hungry. I don’t want to eat my emotions, I just want to feel satisfied. See below for more on that.

Depression Means Fun

Feeling satisfied is a Sisyphean task, and happiness just isn’t happening.

I reward myself for small successes, like finishing an assignment early. I celebrate by “feeding my soul”. “Feeding my soul” is a combo of things that make me feel happier, or special. This is usually video games, or egg-nog. Now, each time I feed my soul, the void grows when it empties out. I struggle to fill it. I pour more-and-more happiness into this growing pit, feeling less-and-less “fed” each time. I take breaks, get distracted, spend longer stretches of time playing games between work sessions, and drinking huge tumblers full of egg-nog. My work day gets longer, and I still get sadder.
It takes more “fun” to feel like I’ve had fun.

I am a lot more anxious.

I second guess everything, especially myself. I withdraw. It’s like my depression is this Dementor inside my brain, sucking the happiness out of me, lurking in the hope that it will get my soul, which makes me anxious. Mostly this manifests in me not putting out ads for work, because I’m sure I’ll be turned down. Thankfully, my work comes from multiple places, so I can trust work to come my way, even when I’m not chasing work down. This is intentional, I set my work up so it keeps going, even if I’m depressed.

I drink about 4x more tea.

Caffeine and sugar give me some relief. Some of my medications make me sleepier, and low-grade stimulants help. I drink glass after glass of sweetened strong Earl Grey. It’s a short-term solution, that leaves me to pay for it later. I end up taking a few naps, or skip my early-morning “fun-time” (which means Facebook and Skyrim), in order to sleep in an extra half-hour.

Basically, everything slows down. My vision suffers, and my empathy takes a hit. I find it harder to understand other people’s emotions. I get a little more selfish, not because I want to take it out on others, but because I have fewer spoons to work with, and fewer to share. I have to save my spoons to get my work done, and what little bit I have left I spend on Jenny and the kids, because nothing is more important than them.

I am coming out of a funk. At least, it feels that way today. But I’m still slower than normal. It took over an hour to write this, for example. It’s not (just) that I have a hard time typing, it’s that my words take longer to stick together. I have to read everything an extra time or two, just to make sure I’m making sense. If, for any reason, you aren’t understanding this, blame the fog. It’s clearing up, but it’s still there, for now.

Here’s hoping for a clear day.

Carbon Monoxide Couldn’t Kill Me

Carbon Monoxide - "Carbon-monoxide-3D-balls" by Benjah-bmm27 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

“Carbon-monoxide-3D-balls” by Benjah-bmm27 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

I moved to Arkansas when I was 12. My mother had fallen in with the most abusive man I’ve known (which is quite the damned feat, I tell you what). We didn’t say goodbye to our friends. We didn’t have a going-away party. Our family just woke one day to find that we were suddenly hundreds of miles away. What a shock it must have been for them. It was certainly a jarring and terrifying experience.

That winter was a harsh one. Loss of power, a lack of running water, and a failed heating system became the highlight of the season. No fireplace, no central heat, and a lack of enough space heaters added up quickly. I remember soothing the tears of my five-year-old brother, pulling him under a blanket with me, trying to keep his tiny, thin body warm. My mother and Dirk finally caved, and bought a heating solution: a propane space heater.

Yep, you read that correctly. Those nightmare stories you hear on the news of a family who died because of carbon monoxide poisoning? My family, by sheer luck, wasn’t one of those families, despite all efforts to do us in anyhow. We were kids, but I knew it was dangerous. I was just too afraid to speak up. Dirk had a way of silencing any dissent. Usually, that method involved lots of physical pain, often caused by whatever was at hand.

Eventually, we left that house. We became squatters, in an abandoned home with serious structural issues. But it had a wood stove. The angels sang, and trumpets blared my relief above the red dirt road. But I wasn’t prepared for the task. I didn’t know how to start a fire. I never learned about tinder or kindling. It took months for me to learn the art of putting wood in a concrete stove without snuffing the fire.

I slept no more than three feet of the heater. I would wake up when it started to feel cold, and I would stoke the fire back to life at two in the morning. At five, I would wake up again to get it roaring. I would shovel out ashes, pile in some small wedges of wood, and work it up to a blaze. My family would wake to a warm home. I’d already be showered and sometimes have food ready. I always had coffee made, so Dirk and my mother could remain zombies while we prepared our daily escape to school.

Each day, the last thing I did before leaving for school was to bank the fire. Carefully folding ashes over white-hot logs, I’d put out the open flame, but not the heat inside. The coals were the critical bit. If the whole fire went out, I’d have to start a new fire, from scratch. I still had to, sometimes. Those were some of the worst days. Nursing a fire to life inside a box no more than two cubic feet inside is difficult. Old ashes, damp kindling, and thick smoke made the fire a matter of nightmares.

But the stove was better than a propane heater. Going outside, at all times of the year, with an electric chainsaw to retrieve logs and branches sucked. Splitting wood with a maul that weight 8 pounds, but felt like 50. These were inconveniences, and I hated them at the time. But they were always better than poison, and risking the death of my family.

I wasn’t alone. I had four brothers supporting me. I also had the scowling, hateful, and altogether humiliating feedback from Dirk. We were a poor family, living on a dirt road, twenty miles from the nearest Wal-mart. We did what we had to do, even if I hated every minute of it. My brothers and I survived cold winters, and had each other. I couldn’t ask for more, because we had what mattered: family.

Un-press My Depression [The Computer Analogy]

No Easy Button

Today, I feel the weight of Depression holding me down. My vision, typing speed, communication skills, and focus are all diminished. My emotions sit in a pile in front of me, and are like a bizarre abstract sculpture, disorganized and baffling. But more than anything, I feel like I’m in Sleep Mode.

You know the drill. You don’t want to shut down your computer, so you don’t lose your work. You also don’t want to pay for the power and bandwidth used by a computer running all day. So you put it to sleep. That’s where I am today.

I’m still plugged in. I still have a place to be. I’ve got power, and can access all my software. I’ve got processing power, and all my hardware is perfectly functional. But, for some reason, I’m unable to do my stuff. There is this undefined filter between me and my world. I’m connected to my router properly, and I can access the internet, except that I can’t.

Just as a computer is perfectly useful before and after sleep mode, I am in great shape when I’m not depressed. But that button is pressed. I’m down, but not out. I’m on, but not up. I’m in this limbo where I can’t do my job because something is there, keeping me from loading my drivers and sending my packets.

If your friendly neighborhood IT guy (or doctor) were to check things over, they’d say everything works fine. All the tests in the world will say there’s nothing wrong, except that nothing is happening. Thankfully, a computer can be woken up with a click of a mouse, or stoke of a key.

Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent for Depression. No way to un-press the button. No “wake up” protocol. At some point, I’ll wake up. But I won’t know when, and I won’t know when that button will be de-pressed again. All I can do is run when I can, and rest when I can’t run. It’s that simple.

I Love You, Andre.

For many of us, it is hard to love ourselves because we feel unloved, unwanted. Indeed, I believe self-love is the most challenging task a person can be given. But you’re worth it. I’m worth it. We are both worth it. You are amazing, that is all. Enjoy this clip, it’s beautiful.

Letter From the Jailer #4—You Aren’t Creative

I'm not that nice.

I’m not that nice.

In a sluggish progression, your creativity drains away. No muse, no love, no inspiration. Writing, creating, building, making, nothing is there for you. Find meaning in trivial tasks. Obsess over nonsense.

Passion is nonsense, and trust is a weakness. Open yourself to pain and ridicule; you deserve it. the loss of your drive is a natural consequence of your sloth.

There is work to be done, but why bother? Work makes you money so you can eat and sleep and wake up and work. Life is a donut on a string hanging from a pole on your head. You’ll never reach it, never embody it.

You’re alone, friendless. Those who love you do so from a distance. Those who hate you keep it to themselves, so you’ll never know who they are. Judgment and ridicule are the sum and total of your docket for entertainment.

Go. Try to create. Embrace yourself, and love yourself through it all. It’s all pointless. You’re still under the wet blanket of failure, behind the bars of despair.

Ignore me as long as you can. You’re not going anywhere, and neither am I.


As ever, Letters from the Jailer are a summary of the things my brain tells me. Thankfully, they don’t often translate into real-world problems. Thank God. But yeah, my brain is really good at hating me.

You Can Get Ready for Christmas Now

halloween is over

Thanks to the miracle of time, the harvest festivals are over, and the witches’ hats are hung. A chill is in the air (we had our first freeze last night to celebrate), and winter is well on its way. Now that Halloween is over, you officially have my permission to celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or all of the above.

I’m getting ready, too! We’re learning new Christmas carols, I recently made a new stocking, and making plans for Christmas, because it’s after Halloween, and it’s now time for these shenanigans. As ever, we had a blast on Halloween, supporting our kids as they quest for treasure. We picked up a kid-friend, went out to eat, and then let them loose on a local neighborhood. And by “set loose”, I mean that I became a cruise director for the evening, jovially pointing out all the houses they are missing, and making sure they don’t eat any glass. You know, normal parent stuff.

We then had a sleepover, and I’ll be making egg-nog waffles for breakfast. Because it’s holiday time, folks. Huzzah!

I Need Someone to Tell Me to Stand Up in the Morning

Image: Rory Bristol Original photo: Allen Watkin from London, UK (Lazy Cat) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

Image: Rory Bristol
Original photo: Allen Watkin from London, UK (Lazy Cat) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

I’m depressed. I’m not sad, I’m not separating myself from everyone else, I’m just depressed. Mostly, this means that I wake up, and follow my normal routine until it fails. Namely, I wake up, check the time, start planning my day. Normally, this is the part where I get out of bed and do stuff. Lately? Notsomuch. I fall asleep before I finish planning my day.

After a couple of days struggling to start working on time, I realized I had a problem. Jenny had to come wake me up on Saturday. I had been in bed like three extra hours. We talked about it a bit, and decided to work to be pro-active together. All I need is for Jenny to say, “Stand up.”

That’s it. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s not that I’m sad, or tired, even. I just don’t wake up with enough brain to tell me I’m going to fall back asleep if I don’t stand up. Pretty simple. I just need one thing, and my day is back on track, right from the start.

Huzzah for figuring my brain out a little bit!

Also, a follow-up about telling my therapist “no”… I chickened out when I realized she was going on vacation. I’ll have to do it later. I didn’t want to ruin her vacation with my complaints, and she didn’t tell me how I was feeling once that whole session! So, no harm done. Now… where’s my mug? I need caffeine.

7 Must-Know Facts About Depression


Tickle yourself 2

There is so much to know about Major Depressive Disorder that it can be daunting to learn about it. Thousands of studies representing billions of dollars of research have been conducted around the world. This isn’t the work of a few deranged folks. Dozens of countries have been studying this illness for decades, and the work is far from done. Here are the must-know facts of Depression:

Depression isn’t a mood. It’s a mood disorder. The difference being that moods change constantly. Mood disorders are often a permanent part of a person’s mental chemistry. Those with Major Depression face the daunting possibility of ongoing treatments for the rest of their lives.

Depression is the leading cause of disability world-wide. With over 350 million people world-wide dealing with Depression, it is also a leading portion of the world health burden.

Depression ≠ Laziness. Lethargy and a lack of energy are symptoms of Depression, but it’s not a matter of being lazy, it’s a matter of being overcome with an illness. When someone suffering from Depression says they literally cannot get out of bed, it is not a matter of being “too sad” to get up. I compare it to hypothyroidism. In both cases, the body has created a lack of hormones required to function properly. It is literally impossible to do more than the body allows.

Depression cannot be cured. Some people who are diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder are later declared “cured”, but no cure was applied. In some way (as yet still not discovered by any scientific community), the person’s bio-chemistry has altered significantly, removing the disorder.

Depression is difficult to treat. If things weren’t hard enough, folks with Depression might never find a treatment that helps. Nearly half of the population with Depression are unaffected by Depression medications.

There is hope. Effective medications and other treatments have helped millions of people find relief from their symptoms. Medication is not the only treatment out there. Psychosocial treatments, therapy, and other ongoing care can treat symptoms.

The best treatments are unique to each person. While it is encouraged to use therapy, medication, and other treatments, not everyone needs all of these. Some people will not find success with medication, while others will struggle more while participating in therapy. Only a diligent care team and physician can make the final call, but the patient knows themselves better than anyone.

Check back tomorrow for my list of things you should never say to a depressed person.