Tag Archives: humor

When the Going Gets Tough…

“When the going gets tough/ The tough get going/ When the going gets rough/ The tough get rough.” – Billy Ocean

Depression level(s): Moderate to severe.

Here’s what’s real for me right now: My writing muse must have gone on vacation because, I swear to the heavens above, I can’t think like a writer tonight. You’d think she could have given me some advance notice, like, “Hey, Patricia, you’re on your own, ‘cuz I’m heading to Cozumel for the summer. Hope your neurotransmitters are up to snuff! Yuk, yuk, yuk.” But noooo….

Absent inspiration notwithstanding, because I want to honor my commitment to post something on this blog at least once a week, preferably on Tuesdays, let me share with you what I wanted to say.

What I wanted to tell you was this: When the going gets tough, it’s okay to distract yourself in reasonably healthy–or at least non-destructive–ways. Distraction can be a godsend to pull you away from your pain and negativity for a while.

Take music, for example. I defy you to remain completely down while Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” is playing on your stereo. Come on, go ahead! Put it on. Don’t you just want to get up and dance? Okay, maybe you don’t really want to, but at least give yourself the opportunity. Stand up, if you can (i.e., if you have two working legs). Turn up the volume. Start moving! The song is 4:08 long; by the time it’s over, you should not only be breathing hard, but also have a smile on your face and perhaps a germinating sprout of hope in your heart.

Distraction–healthy distraction, that is (put down that package of Oreos and step away slowly, please)–is a divine gift of sorts. When you’re hurting so much in your mind and heart that you just might do yourself some harm, give yourself permission to divert your thoughts from their usual ruinous rumination to something that feels better, even if it’s just for a little while. Here are some options:

  • Movies: Go for the comedies. Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient) famously healed his life-threatening disease by watching Marx Brothers films. Rent feel-good DVDs. Don’t be afraid to go to the movie theater by yourself. You will have nearly three hours outside of the dark and dangerous neighborhood that is your mind; it will be well worth it.
  • Books: Again, lighthearted is the theme here. There was a 2-1/2 year period when my depression was at its worst during which I simply could not read anything but the lightest of books because my cognitive processing abilities were shot. Back in high school and college, I was a romance novel addict; reading those books after I became ill with depression made me feel lonely, however, so I turned to “cozies”: mystery novels that were upbeat and funny, and not all that violent. Ask your local librarian or bookstore clerk to turn you on to some good cozy series. One of my favorites was “The Cat Who…” series, by Lilian Jackson Braun; the first book in the series is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards.
  • TV: Good TV, that is. Stay away from the gory crime dramas and stuff like “48 Hours.” You don’t want to feel worse, do you? Yeah, I know: “Good TV” is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, there’s some good stuff out there. A friend of mine who was in an abusive marriage in her younger years told me that watching M*A*S*H episodes prevented her from committing suicide. British comedies can be very funny. PBS is nearly always a safe, non-triggering alternative. Rent from Netflix or Blockbuster those titles you can’t find on the viewing schedule.
  • Music and dance: I put these two together because unless you are moving while the music’s playing, you’re going to be thinking too much. Line up a few get-up-and-boogie favorites for when the going gets really rough.
  • An outing: Any activity with a friend or by yourself. Get out of the house and out of your head.
  • Laughter yoga: Find a club near you and learn how to laugh on demand. It increases healing endorphins and helps you connect with others. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Check out this laughter yoga video, in which my friend Gita Fendelman is teaching the “Ha ha ha mantra”:

So, that’s my article for this week: Not planned, not particularly well constructed, not too clever. Not even a photo. But hey, I figured out how to add a video to a blog post! Did you check it out? Didja? Huh? Huh? At any rate, it’s done. The article, I mean. I hope you got something useful out of it. Maybe you were even distracted for a little while. I hereby give it the Good Enough Seal of Approval!

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Top Ten Things NOT To Do When You’re Depressed

Indulge in gallows (or guillotine) humor! It's good for you.

“Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.” – Erma Bombeck

In the life of every person with chronic depression comes a time when you are so miserable, all you can do is laugh at yourself. This laughter is not a funny, light-hearted kind of laughter, like that of a delighted child opening her birthday presents (wouldn’t that be nice). It is more a gallows humor, a grim yet wry acknowledgment of how absurd our plight is and how powerless we are to rise above it in any given moment. Marie Antoinette must have felt just so on her way to the guillotine.

The paradox, however, is that in acknowledging our powerlessness by laughing about it, we can then begin to take constructive action on our own behalf; soon, we feel better. (This assumes your hands are not handcuffed behind your back.) In the name of feeling better, faster, here is an ironic list of the top ten things you should not do if you have depression:

#10:             Do NOT invite friends or relatives over for dinner. See, the thing about your friends and relatives is that they tend to expect little things like clean dishes, cooked food on the table, an absence of dirty-kitty litter odor, and a roll of toilet paper on the holder in the bathroom. A selfish lot, to be sure. On top of that, they may distract you from your ruinous ruminations and make you think of something besides your own misery. Having company over is to be avoided at all costs.

Stay out of the kitchen!

#9:               Do NOT go anywhere near the kitchen. Kitchens demand healthy sorts of behavior, such as thinking about nutrition, recipes, and grocery lists; taking food out of the fridge and cooking it; sitting down to enjoy a tasty meal; and—worst of all—cleaning up afterwards. Shudder. Piles of dirty dishes overflowing the sink and the cardboard relics of takeout dinners and UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) are familiar and therefore comforting. They are to be protected and savored.

#8:               Do NOT get out in the yard to plant flowers or take any walks. The fresh air, sunshine, chirping birds, and cute squirrels are irritating in the extreme and may well incite a desire to rent a paintball gun and take out any small creatures you encounter. As satisfying as yellow cardinals and blue squirrels might be, it’s better to resist the temptation and stay indoors. A side benefit of refraining from any outdoor excursions is that you remain lethargic and couch-bound, and thus within reach of the chips and salsa. Much more satisfying.

#7:               Do NOT take any supplements that may help ease your depression, especially fish oils with omega-3’s and St. John’s wort. I mean, can we really trust what the alternative health industry is saying about these things? After all, they’re not regulated by the FDA, and you know how above-board and diligent they are. Those fish—who knows where they’ve been? And St. John’s wort?? Do you truly want to ingest worts? Do you even know what they are? Better to keep your money out of the pockets of those mega-health companies and spend it on more chips and salsa.

An unmade bed is much more conducive to hiding from the world!

#6:               Do NOT make your bed. Ever. For starters, you’ll be spending most of the day and all of the night in it, so why bother? Secondly, it’s so much more uplifting to walk into your bedroom and see the mounded covers, wrinkled sheets, and punched-up pillows than it is to espy a smooth, characterless expanse. The shed hairs, dead skin cells, and nose boogers that cling to your sheets only enrich the time spent in bed. Finally, this will give you added incentive to leave the dirty laundry in its hamper as you’ll have nowhere to dump the clean clothes when it’s time to fold them. What a relief!

#5:               Do NOT change your sheets every week. Maybe not even once a month. This is a corollary to #6. You’ll be spending most of your time in bed, so why bother, etc. etc. As an added bonus, by not changing your sheets you are doing your part to save the planet. Less laundry means less water, gas, and electricity used; less toxic laundry detergent sent into the groundwater; and less wear-and-tear on the sheets themselves. You’ll need to buy fewer sets of sheets and, therefore, those polluting factories will lower their output. You’ll be a hero!

#4:               Do NOT talk to your friends—not on the phone and especially not in person. The reasons for this should be obvious. Your friends have this obnoxious habit of caring for you. They ask questions like, “How are you? No, how are you, really?” and “Did you eat today?” and “When’s the last time you showered?” As if it’s any of their business! They might try to tell a stupid joke just to make you laugh. And—horrors—they may invite you to join them in some fun activity. Ugh! Unplug the phone. Better yet, cancel your phone services altogether and take your phones to your town’s hazardous waste drop-off site.

#3:               Do NOT watch or read anything funny. It’s very important that your mind be freed up to focus on how crappy life is and what a terrible person you are. This is important work. There is far too much goodness and light in the world. It is imperative that you act as a counterbalance by remaining as depressed as you possibly can. After all, we’ve heard all our lives how important balance is to a well-rounded life. Keep up the good work!

Stay out of the office, too!

#2:               Do NOT do your job. Whether you work for someone else or for yourself, stop it. What were you thinking? By working, you achieve three undesirable results: a) You reduce the amount of time available for staying in bed and being miserable; b) you help people, thus adding to the amount of goodness and light in the world; and c) you bring in an income, which allows you to pay your bills and seek help for your depression, such as beer spas and bee sting therapy. Do yourself and the world a favor by joining the ranks of the unemployed.

#1:               Do NOT take a shower. Indulging in diligent hygiene habits might make you fit for company and inspire you to do something. Are you nuts?! Being proactive is the last thing you want to do. If you smelled better, you might actually begin to have some positive self-esteem. If you removed the grease from your hair and the grime from under your nails, you might feel compelled to participate in life. If you shaved in all the appropriate spots, you just might want to get close to somebody else. All of these behaviors will bring you out of your comfort zone, thus defeating the point of depression in the first place. Stay comfortable by remaining unwashed.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Many thanks to wellness coach Caitlyn V. Johnston for her inspirations for this article!

Note: Did this article tickle your funny bone? If so, tickle others’ funny bones by sharing it via Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets. You may also copy and paste the article into an email and share it with your friends and colleagues, provided: a) You copy the entire article, b) you include my copyright statement and this paragraph, and c) you include a link to this blog. Thanks! And keep laughing!

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The Royal Elf of No-Shoulds

Some of my Henschen ancestors, who clearly had higher standards than I do!

“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” –Julia Child

It’s time to rout some of those “shoulds” that have been running your life and exacerbating your depression.

Start paying attention to your thoughts. How many of them contain the word “should” or “shouldn’t”? Perhaps you are even now thinking, “Oh, boy, I should count all my ‘should’ thoughts. I should grab a legal pad and make a tick mark for each one. I should carry this notepad with me everywhere so that I can capture every thought I think that contains the word ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t.’”

Relax.

You don’t have to keep track. You don’t have to write anything down. Just think of some. I don’t doubt that, if you’re at all like me, you have an inventory in your mind of hundreds to choose from. And that’s just the conscious “should” thoughts. Never mind the ones that fly under the radar, controlling us without our knowledge, making us dance like puppets on strings.

Here’s a “should” thought that’s been ping-ponging around my brain lately. As in many houses, my kitchen floor is surfaced with ceramic tiles, with quarter-inch grout between each one. I’ve lived here 5-1/2 years. Here’s what I’m thinking: “Man, that tile’s starting to look kinda grody. I really should get down on my hands and knees with a toothbrush and scrub all that tile and get it really clean. And while I’m at it, I should scrub the baseboards and the shoe moldings as well. It would look so much better!”

Well. You can guess what happens. Every time that “should” thought skitters through my mind, I groan at the very thought of all the effort involved, the time it will take, and the inevitable toll on my back and knees. Of course I don’t do it. Not only do I not scrub the floor with a toothbrush, I even avoid the usual scrubbing with a mop. And so the floor looks worse than ever.

The need to be/do/have perfect means that we’re never satisfied with good enough. That, my friends, is a surefire way to take a nosedive into paralyzing depression and stay there.

DEPRESSION DODGER

Try one of these simple exercises:

1)    Take control of your thoughts. Substitute the word “could” for “should” in whatever “should” thought is currently foremost in your mind, then give yourself a choice as to whether to do that thing or not. Examples:

a)     Original thought: I should scrub my kitchen floor with a toothbrush.
Depression-dodger thought: I could scrub my kitchen floor with a toothbrush, but honestly, the whole idea is simply ridiculous. I’ll just mop it the usual way. That’s good enough.

b)    Original thought: I should make homemade crafts for all of my friends for Christmas. I need to give them gifts and this is what I can afford.
Depression-dodger thought: I could make homemade craft projects for all of my friends for Christmas, but I feel that this blog is more important and I don’t have time to do both, and so I choose to call my friends for a cozy chat instead. They’ll be glad to hear from me, and I love talking with them.

c)     Original thought: I shouldn’t take afternoon naps. Successful people don’t take naps. I get hardly anything done and I don’t sleep well at night when I do that. Besides, people will think I’m lazy.
Depression-dodger thought: I could refrain from ever taking a nap again, but the fact is, some days I simply need one. It’s okay to take care of myself. I have learned the difference between actually needing a nap because things have been busy or stressful lately, or I haven’t been sleeping well; and wanting to avoid responsibility for something by retreating from it through a nap. When this latter happens, I can call someone on my support team and bookend something more productive instead. Besides, what other people think of me is none of my business.

2)    Get creative. Imagine that there is a Royal Elf of No-Shoulds. He stands outside the door of your favorite imaginary castle, his pointed ears perked at attention, reading from a parchment scroll. He has just decreed that all “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” are to be banished from the kingdom. This means that all lists of invisible standards are hereby banished as well, especially the 26 different kinds of Christmas cookies you thought you had to bake after you watched The Martha Stewart Show. In their place, only a question is allowed: “Does this potential choice empower me or does it worsen my depression?”

Take action accordingly, with the help of your support team. Better yet, don’t.

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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CPR4D’s Unofficial But Really Real Diagnostic Quiz

Taking my depression snapshot

“Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.” by Greenville Kleisser

If you’ve had depression for any length of time, you are probably familiar with the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression found in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (isn’t that the most charming title? Mental disorders??). You know, your psychiatrist’s bible? For the sake of thoroughness, I’ve included links to a site that lists the criteria for major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. Don’t spend too much time here, however, or you might send yourself into a depressive tailspin.

Instead, now that we’ve given a nod to the psych gods, let’s take a look at what depression is really like. If you can check off, oh, say, 12 or more of the criteria below and have experienced them for two months or longer–well, I hate to break it to you, but you probably have some serious depression going on. If you have a hard time reading this, then have a friend, family member, or therapist read it aloud for you. There are 40 items in the quiz. Check off the items to which you can say, “Uh-huh, that’s me!”

( )              Your bed has a permanent groove worn into it because you sleep so much.

( )              You couldn’t fill out a form if your life depended on it—forget the disability forms.

( )              You’ve forgotten how to write a check—never mind balancing your checkbook.

( )              Your mind feels like the congealed oatmeal you cooked three days ago and left in the kitchen sink. (Congratulations! You were able to cook something!)

( )              Piles of dirty clothes have sprouted up around your bedroom floor like some obscure species of mushroom.

( )              You’ve taken to smelling your clothing before putting it on.

( )              You have no peripheral vision.

( )              It’s been at least three days since you’ve had a bath or a shower.

( )              It’s been at least three weeks since your sheets have been changed.

( )              You can’t remember the last time you flossed your teeth… or brushed them.

( )              Your kids have started talking in whispers around you.

( )              A subtle but pervasive smell is drifting from various parts of your house or apartment — most likely the kitchen or bathroom.

( )              A not-so-subtle but pervasive smell is drifting from your body.

( )              You cry at the Hallmark commercials—and at the Sunday night movie of the week, the Monday night sit-coms, Grey’s Anatomy, and the news.

( )              Your mail is taking over your living room/office/kitchen.

( )              You typically pay your bills late, if at all.

( )              Your car registration tags have expired.

( )              You feel like you are moving through quicksand with concrete blocks chained to your ankles.

( )              You’re on medical leave from your job.

( )              You’re still working, but calling in sick regularly. You say your asthma is acting up again or you have a migraine or your back gave out. Anything but the truth.

( )              You ache all over, especially in your neck and lower back.

( )              You find it slightly miraculous that people still say “hi” to you, because you feel so invisible to yourself.

( )              Even though your food intake is about the same or even less than it used to be, you are gaining weight because of the antidepressants you’re taking.

( )              You feel resentful of people who are able to get more than two things done in a day.

( )              You eat out every day or, if you stay home, crackers and cheese has become your favorite meal.

( )              You are at your best (relatively speaking) at midnight.

( )              You’re afraid to go to sleep, because waking up is sheer hell.

( )              You’ve seen every late-night M.A.S.H rerun at least three times.

( )              You wish some kindly soul would stop by with a hot cooked meal and to lend a hand with washing the mountain of dirty dishes.

( )              You confine your grocery shopping to off hours to avoid the crowds.

( )              You have an irresistible urge to nap in the afternoons, even though you just got up a couple of hours ago.

( )              You frequently can’t find the right words for what you want to say.

( )              You can’t remember ever feeling lighthearted.

( )              You feel a deep, abiding sense of shame for existing on the planet.

( )              You are convinced that you will never have anything to look forward to again.

( )              You feel alienated from God, yourself, and other human beings.

( )              While driving, stomping your foot on the accelerator and careening into oncoming traffic seems like a really good idea.

( )              Your kitchen knives are starting to look just a little too good.

( )              You keep wishing there were some passive, easy way to die, such as an accident or a virulent cancer.

( )              You are wondering whom to leave your property and personal effects to.

( )              You wonder if you’ll ever be “real” again.

This quiz is meant to be an authentic look at what it’s like to have major depression. Hopefully, it gave you a rueful laugh and perhaps a sense of relief, knowing that other people experience many of the same symptoms and challenges you do. At the same time, if you’ve checked off a bunch of these items and you’re not currently seeing a mental health professional, it might be time to pick up the phone and make an appointment. If you aren’t sure whom to call, your primary care physician can refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist.

P.S. Please do share this quiz; others might like a wry chuckle! If you share by email, please include the link to this blog. Thanks!

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Hitting the Trail—Part 1

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

Flowers require darkness as well as light to blossom.

“…without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
Nothing flowers.”

–Excerpt, “The Invocation to Kali,” by May Sarton

Remember that classic Bill Cosby comedy routine where God calls upon Noah to build an ark? The conversation, paraphrased, goes something like this:

God:     Noah.

Noah:     Huh?

G:     Noah.

N:      Who is that?

G:     It’s the Lord.

N:     [Pause] Riiight!

G:     Noah.

N:     What you want?

G:     I want you to build an ark.

N:     Uh-huh. [Pause] What’s an ark?

And so forth. Noah, after way too many questions, doubts, gripes, and “Riiights!”, finally goes ahead and builds it.

I had a similar conversation with God in December of 1999. It went something like this:

God:     Patricia.

Me:     Huh?

G:     Patricia.

Me:     Uh, yeah? What do you want? (I already knew who it was, having gotten in the habit of conversing with God a few years prior—although talking way more than I listened.)

G:         I want you to write a book.

Me:      Oh, cool. You know I’ve always wanted to be a writer! What kind of book?

G:        I want you to write a book on depression.

Me:     Dep—what? But I don’t know anything about depression. Why depression?

G:        Because it’s needed.

Me:     Huh. Well, I suppose I could do some research. . ..

Back to Cosby’s skit. After one of Noah’s attempts at avoidance, God replies: “How long can you tread water? Hahahahahaha!” I never knew God could be so snarky.

Back to my, er, invitation from God:

G:        Patricia.

Me:     Huh?

G:        You won’t need to do any research. The writing will come naturally, based on your experience. Hahahahahaha!

At least, that’s how I think it went. Fortunately, I had already tuned out the conversation by this time and didn’t “hear” the last line. If I had, I would have said, “Riiight!” I conveniently filed the topic under “Possible But Improbable Things to Do in My Lifetime,” and went about my clueless way.

Fast forward nearly two years: I am newly diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder; and am taking antidepressants and already experiencing the inevitable weight gain. The 12 months ending in November, 2001 would have given Job a run for his shekels: The ending of a significant relationship, my father in the hospital, deaths of two loved ones, unbelievable financial stress in my business leading to bankruptcy, a stressful new job, a cracked molar leading to a root canal and a crown, a protracted, severe illness on the part of my dog that required medication costing $310/month, being assaulted in a park while walking said dog, a car accident that totaled my Nissan Pathfinder¼. There wasn’t much on the Top 10 Causes of Stress list (any such list—take your pick) that I didn’t experience that year.

Next time: “Hitting the Trail—Part 2.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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