Tag Archives: Coping Skills

George’s Tree

Photo: Jenny Bristol

Photo: Jenny Bristol

Today I got to see some of George’s family. His sister and her family were here visiting George’s mom. Jenny and I swung over to say hi before they left town again, and to see the new addition. George’s mom and step-dad had a beautiful Sycamore planted in his honor on their terrace. (Pictured above)

This culminated in us all standing around a beautiful (if late-seasoned) sycamore tree, with tears in more than one set of eyes. In the end, grandkids and crew were being swept up the path to the house, and I found myself saying, “excuse me, but I’m going to be silly for a moment.”

I then tried to hug a sapling. It didn’t go so well, at first, because the trunk is about 2 inches across. I ended up with my arms stuck through branches, and my head poked in through the most convenient gap. I felt very silly indeed as I felt some not-quite tears fill up my eyes. It felt good, though. Really good.

I came home and celebrated life with a friend (whose birthday is Thanksgiving Day), and played D&D until the kids called it off for the night. It was nice. In the growing quiet, I found myself sitting alone in the living room, half-heartedly playing Spider Solitaire, quietly crying.

I miss my friend. I miss seeing him every week, and I miss talking to him. And partly, I miss having another person I could trust completely. Life can be hard when you carry too much alone. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife. I don’t carry anything alone, not really, not anymore. But it was nice to be there for George, and for him to be there for me. His friendship made life feel a little bit bigger, somehow.

Now, it’s smaller, but that’s okay. I met a beautiful shade tree today, and I remembered that life goes on.

Sometimes the Sun is Bad for Depression

Bad Sun

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been busy with work, but mostly, I’ve been too depressed to care. I’ve been using my energy on what matters in the end: My wife and kids. Yesterday, we drove around a little more than usual, and I had to fight a losing battle: staying awake while the sun was shining on me.

You see, for most people (often including myself), the sun can help depression significantly. The light, warmth, and natural light add up to be a wonderful boost to mood and energy. Unfortunately, the sun can have another, stronger effect when I’m exposed too long. The heat and light drain my energy. My eyes are sensitive to the harsh Arizona sun, and my body thinks the only answer is the make me close my eyes. The longer my eyes are closed, the sleepier I get. On the other hand, the longer my eyes are open, the harder it is to keep them open. It’s a vicious trap.

When I wake up, I’m groggy and it takes several minutes to regain my status as a human being. My energy is gone, sapped by the light and heat. I’m a pile of noodles, which sucks. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem when I’m driving, because my body is really good at fight/flight/freeze management. But it can make me a terrible passenger, and goober up my mood. Bleh.

Thankfully, I have an understanding family, and the ability to pretend to be a human being, even when I feel like Chewbacca. Thank God for coping skills.

She’s Done Chasing Happiness

Today, I have a treat for you. A darling girl (who I took to prom once, full disclosure) reached out to me, and asked if she could share something on Terminally Intelligent. I hope you enjoy Brittni’s stirring words as much as I did.

I am Still Fighting

I live my life in a fluid discontentment between anxious and depressed. My anxiety stays around a 7-8 on a 10-point scale (with very few spikes and valleys) until my body and my mind can’t handle it anymore. When this happens, everything shuts down, and I get really depressed.

I think when my anxiety is an 8, my depression is a 4. Even when I crash, my anxiety is still a 3, and my depression becomes a 9. The worst part is that I know it’s coming. It always happens this way. This means that in my brief moments of happiness, I still feel the looming of depression about to set in.

I’ve chased happiness for as long as I can remember. I played softball. I thought winning would make me happy. I tried to impress my parents, thinking that would bring me happiness. I was the first in my family to go to (and graduate from) college. That brought some happiness to my parents, but not a lot to me. I found a man I love. At this point, I have to distinguish that while I am happy with him, I am not truly happy. We moved across the country, and while he did this for work, I thought this would be just the transition I needed to finally find ‘it’. Guess what. In New England, the days are short, the winter is long, and this southern girl hates the cold.

I have a hard time making friends. Exercise isn’t something I enjoy. I don’t feel at home here. There is so much that I’m missing out on from so far away. These are the thoughts that come to me every single time I start to enjoy a fleeting moment. I forget that I am loved. I forget that I am brilliant. I forget that I have never set a goal that I did not reach.

An outsider looking in says, “You seem so determined, ambitious, and kind. I really thought that you were such a joy to be around. How could you be so sad?” My burden is so much to have to bear, I would hate to impose it on anyone else. I don’t ever want to bring anyone down. So, I “fake it till you make it.” That’s all I know. I open up to very few.

My first real “bout” of depression began when I was a senior in high school. I heard a preacher say, “You choose to be happy.” I went home and read Ephesians, and decided it was true. To this day, I have no idea how that book brought me so much peace. I’ve re-read it again and again, but the peace is gone.

There are things I’ve done to try to gain some sort of contentment. I lost a hundred pounds, then gained 30 back. I have a list of my “favorite things” (which includes The Sound of Music) that I reflect on when I stop seeing the positive side of things. I try to move, and go outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I make an effort to eat real, whole foods, because being Paleo Primal “will save your life.” I talk to my mom. I talk to my shrink. I write notes to myself to pick me up when I’m down. I am telling you right now, if you could choose to be happy, none of us would ever be sad.

I still have hope, and hopefully it’s enough. I’m trying this new thing out. I’m going to try to teach myself to be happy. Let me break that down into a more doable task. I am going to make an effort to combat every negative thought with a positive one. I may start off reusing the same positive thought over and over. I may need to start out small. Maybe one positive for every two negatives. The important thing is that I’m still trying. I may need to take breaks, and when I do, I know there are people there to help me through. I want to find happiness, but I’m not chasing it anymore. This time, it can meet me here. Right where I’m at.

I’m still fighting.

Summer Sadness, or Autumn Apathy?

Rory Bristol

Rory Bristol

Ah, Fall. Bright colors all over the world. Except here. I live in the desert. No pretty leaves for me. Also, shorter days, colder nights, and the dread ascension of the Christmas season. To say it shortly: Autumn beats me into submission for Winter. I find myself disconnecting slightly. I don’t want to be sad, so I disengage. I’ve been doing this for years. It gets dark before I eat dinner, so I feel like I wasted my day, despite many hours left in the evening. I feel my heart shrink up in its little parka, my emotions gladly packing up their bags to sun themselves in the warm world of denial.

Not this year. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week. Not this year. Continue reading

Top 10 Strategies to Reduce Anxiety

toptenanxiety

There are hundreds of ways to reduce anxiety, and they aren’t all good for everyone. This list isn’t comprehensive, and it couldn’t be even if it were the Top 250 Strategies to Reduce Anxiety. These are tools that help me, and I’ve seen help others. Interpret them to apply to your own life, and you will feel better for it.

Continue reading

I Didn’t Tell

Image: Rory Bristol

Image: Rory Bristol

My memory is getting worse, but I’m not sure what to do for that. More talks with my doctors, therapist, and Jenny. More adjustments. Possibly more meds, possibly fewer meds. It’s inconvenient, but it’s helping me get into some great habits.

Cons:

  • Jenny has to remind me of stuff. All day long. It’s frustrating for her.
  • I have a harder time getting everything done, because I won’t remember it in 15 minutes.
  • I regularly walk into another room and forget why I’m there. Like, eight or nine times per day.
  • I make minor commitments and lose track of them.
  • All this makes me fucking insane and sad.
  • I forget to take my medicine.

Pros:

  • I’ve developed better habits regarding checking behind myself to make sure I took my medicine or that something is done right.
  • I’m learning to make lists, leave myself notes, and communicate more clearly.
  • People know I really mean it when I compliment a dress or shirt, because I’ll have commented in the past.
  • It’s easier to sit down and commit to the work I’m doing, because my to-do list isn’t hovering anxiously in the front of my head.
  • It’s easy as hell to keep secrets and be discreet, because I forget the thing I’m supposed to not talk about.
  • I make a great confidant, because I can genuinely listen without judging that person by the conversation later.

It’s both good and bad. It’s inconvenient, and it’s a case of changing my life to address side effects of medication, but I think it’s worth it. It’s worth it to have reduced anxiety. It’s worth it to have more structure. It’s worth it because I am surrounded by people who understand.

Dumping Circles

Sharing Your Pain – The Dumping Circles

I’ve long since learned, and try to live by a simple rule. When in pain, grief, fear, or frailty, there are only a couple of rules for being a good human. I call it the Dumping Circles Rule. When someone has died, for example, there is an order of who gets to dump sadness on whom. Because of current events, I’ll use George’s passing as the example here.

Dumping Circles

It starts in the middle, with Family. Family should always be allowed to dump out, and should never be dumped on. If you are not family, you do not get to say, “I can’t handle this,” or, “This is just too hard,”  or, “It’s not just about you,” to the family. Ever. End of story. The only things that should go “in” are compassion, support, respect, and honor.

The next circle is Close Friends. This isn’t about people who know someone a little bit. This is the circle of people who know all of the deceased’s fears, illness, weaknesses, and passions. Friends are the people you trust so much that you’d die for them. Friends are the kick in the ass you need when you aren’t looking hard enough for a new job. Family gets to dump on Friends. Friends do not get to dump on Family. It’s the responsibility of the Friends to comfort the family if they can, and bring support from others even closer to the Family.

The next section is for less close Friends, and Friends of the Family. These are people who knew the deceased, but not everything about them. This circle knew their schedules, and their birthdays. They knew what the deceased liked on their pizza, and saw them on a regular basis. These people may have known the deceased a long time, or a little. These people don’t know about daily struggles, or successes of the day-to-day. This circles gets to dump out to the next level, and help in their own ways.

The last section is for everyone else. If you knew each other by name, or you attended some of the same parties or restaurants, this is your circle. This circle lacks knowledge of hobbies, diet, birth dates, religious preferences, and/or passions. This is not a bad place to be. It’s just a guideline for who to cry with, or who to support.

Now, none of this negates your experience. Whether you had a short but powerful bond, or you knew the deceased your whole life, you can’t compare pain. I’m not saying you should minimize your emotions, or make them less. What I’m saying is:

Know your audience.

If you think you might be dumping in, then stop. Bring the conversation back to them, and maintain your composure if you can. If you can’t handle it, greet the person in the inner circle, wish them your best, and then find an appropriate shoulder to soak with tears.

To George’s family: If you feel like I’m dumping in, tell me. This blog isn’t for dumping in. It’s for sharing my experiences as honestly and plainly as possible. It is not in any way meant to affect you negatively. I cannot fathom the depth of your loss, the memories now changed, and the pain of losing a lifetime partner and friend. I am always at your service, and send my love, respect, and prayers with you. But I can’t leave this experience off. Terminally Intelligent has become one of my most powerful coping mechanisms. I can only hope you understand.