Sunday, August 31, 2014

What is depression you ask?

Time for my next level of vulnerability.

After my last post, dozens of people have asked me questions about depression and have commented that they never would have expected that I deal with it.  Just like the ALS ice bucket challenge, I actually studied about ALS and realized I knew nothing about it.  The first time I heard about it, I thought it was American Sign Language Foundation.  I'm dumb.
Here are a few of the ideas and thought processes that I have dealt with in my years of depression.  I know they do not speak as fact, but if I go through this, I'm sure at least one other person does.  Please don't read this and think this is me 24 hours a day, it's usually me 15 min to a couple hours a day.  BUT, there are some people who do deal with it 24 hours a day, every day, for years.

1)  Depression, Anxiety, and stress go hand in hand for me.  I get overwhelmed very easily and I have to go into a zone to deal with everything at once.  When I get overwhelmed, I become quiet and easily irritable.  It has nothing to do with anyone personally.  I get frustrated with myself that I can't deal with it and that it affects me, which causes more stress and anxiety, and that causes more depression.  Then I get angry that something is causing me more stress and my anger is layered with the subtext "why are you in my life right now?"

2)  I go negative instantly and really have to be in the right state of mind to think positively.  The worst phrases you can ever say to me.  "I need to talk to you", "Can we talk?", "Call me back as soon as you can".  When I hear an open ended conversation that has to deal with me, it can only be bad things.  It's never followed with, "I want to give you more money".  I go back into my database and try to figure out where I've screwed up along the way. Then I put about 50 things that I could be yelled at or shamed for and that sits in my head until the conversation occurs.  Then even if any of those 50 things weren't brought up, they will stay with me for a long time.

3)  I can be made to feel like shit in a matter of seconds.  It's easy.  It's the power everyone has over me.  You could tell me one thing I've done wrong and I'll hold on to that for weeks.  Tell me two things, and my summer is destroyed.

4)  My depression hasn't hit extremely low in some time, but dips into that area every so often.  A depressed person feels sorry for all the problems they have caused you.  If I hadn't done this, said this, shown this to you, etc, then YOU would be a better and happier person.  My existence has caused you pain and anger and I am more sorry than you could ever know.

Are you reading this and shaking your head and saying get over it?

5)  Telling me that I shouldn't be depressed or that I should be over something or not let something bother me is probably the worst thing you can do.  I remember in college, a friend pretended he was me and listed all the great things I had in my life and then said "But I refuse to be happy" and everyone laughed. It might have been the single worst moment of my life.  If I could flush all my paychecks down the drain in order to not deal with this, I would.  I dwell.  I let myself have too many regrets.  If I'm made to feel guilty about something I already know is a problem and already am ashamed and am called out on it, you have beat me in more ways you know how.   I absolutely, 100% know that there are things that bother me and that I dwell on that I shouldn't. Telling me that it bothers you and that I need to get over it doesn't make me get over it, it tells me that my mental illness bothers you and I should be better and now I'm depressed that you have to know me and have me in your life.

6)  I will avoid conflict at all costs.  I doubt everything I do on a daily basis.  I have failed and screwed up so many things in my life, I think it's the norm.  If I bring up conflict or argue with someone, eventually I will back down because there is no way that I am right.  Conflict causes anger, anger causes resentment, resentment causes someone to think less of me and that I'm incompetent, and all of that makes me more depressed.

7)  I dwell on things way past the point they should be dwelled about.  I know this and I try to not let it.  I know it's stupid.  You pointing out that I'm still dwelling on something I shouldn't be makes me beat myself up more.

8)  The snowball effect:  I have learned over the years to identify my triggers that put me in a negative state.  Sometimes one blind sides me and anywhere from 10 minutes, to an hour, to a day I will have accumulated 30 things why I suck and why I only bring pain and stress to myself and other peoples' lives.

9)  Everyone is better than me.  Period.

10)  I've gone back and forth on this one, but I can't figure out if depression causes someone to be defensive and deflect blame for everything or accept all the blame.  Someone being defensive causes me to be really angry, but I don't know if it's because I say "I'm mentally weak and I can accept blame, so why can't someone strong like you accept blame?"

11)  If I hear what people have said behind my back, I might as well chalk the day up to being useless.  Goes back to if I wasn't in that person's life, I couldn't cause them anger or stress and that they had to take time out of their life to tell someone else what I do wrong in life or the decisions I make aren't right.

12)  Telling me what I do wrong is awarding yourself the Captain Obvious title.  I know what I do wrong.  And if I don't know what I do wrong, and you making me feel guilty or ashamed of it has now put me 3 rungs down on my self confidence.

13)  100 things go perfectly for me in a day. One thing goes wrong?  I will dwell on that one thing for the rest of the day.  Wish I didn't.  Man, I wish I didn't.

14)  Please don't tell a depressed person to "just cheer up".

15)  There have been many times in my life I wanted to call out of work "because I'm depressed" but would be laughed at, but if I had food poisoning, a headache, or a fever, I would have a free pass.

16)  There are many times I believe I'm the only person who ever feels this way.

17)  I HATE that I have to take medication for this.

18)  There is a world of difference between asking someone "What's wrong with you?" and "Is everything ok?"

19)  Don't ever feel like you have to fix or heal someone who is sad.  Sometimes just listening is enough.

20)  There is not a human being in the world who can say or do something to make me feel worse than I have made myself feel at some point for the exact same thing.

21)  There is a very special bond between people who suffer from stress/anxiety/depression and when they ask are you ok and you say "panic attack", they understand 100% and know exactly what to do.
When someone who doesn't understand goes into "what can I do" mode and you say nothing and they say they feel bad for not being able to help.....that causes more depression and more guilt.

22)  Boring people is a huge fear of mine.

23)  Being too much for people is a huge fear of mine.

24)  Sometimes being in the presence of people is a huge fear of mine.

25)  Sometimes being alone is a huge fear of mine.

26)  I have imaginary arguments with people in my head all day and lose most of them.

27)  I recognize when I'm having irrational thoughts and feelings, and when I'm out of the depression they seem ludicrous, but inside the depression, they are the realest things in the world.

Please don't respond to this with positivity and "Jason...blah blah blah".  This is solely an informational post that might just save a friendship, relationship, or maybe a life by someone who reads it.  I went through a bad time in my life and that was mostly because I didn't understand it AT ALL.  Now that I can look at it from the outside, I can recognize it and label it, I can defeat and conquer it, and sometimes it punches me in the nuts, I have now learned to manage it and have taught my wife how to deal with it.  She has a special place in heaven.  20 years ago I went from being depressed and having irrational thoughts and feelings 80% of the day to 10% now.  But damnit, that 10% can be a mountain sometimes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The 20 Year High School Reunion Headspin

I get most of my ideas for plays, essays, or blogs from a simple comment or idea.  With my 20 year high school reunion approaching my head was already thinking a million things and then I read a comment about how the people probably haven't changed and that was my launching pad.
(First of all, everything I write here is based on my own experiences and thoughts and reflect nothing of a universal truths of my classmates. )
Who's scared?  Nervous?  Excited?  Freaked out?  Angry?  Resentful?  Working out? Clothes shopping?  I'm sure we all fit into one, a couple, if not all of them.   Why?
Why is this night the pinnacle of how we are judged or by what label we put on ourselves now?  I found myself asking an actress in my show if I should shave, cut my hair, or keep letting my hair grow along with a beard  for my reunion and I froze dead in my tracks.  I put myself in high school, 20 years later, in front of someone who would help me be proud of myself.  I think this is why I'm writing this.  This is my therapy.
With Robin William's suicide this week, I have been evaluating and comforting myself more than usual.    Some of you know, and some don't, that I have been suffering from mild, average, extreme, and 1000% depression since High School.  I've spent years seeking help, dealing with it, succumbing to it, and conquering it.  It's still an issue I deal with every day of my life but not nearly as bad as it was during my teenage years.  The point in stating this is simple:  I don't have any clue who I was in high school.  I didn't understand life, love, death, friendship, work ethic, sexuality, eccentricism, and did I say LIFE?
The 38 year old Jason looks at 18 year old Jason and says "What the fuck were you doing?" Hell, 38 year old Jason looks at 36 year old Jason and says the same thing.
This brings me to High School....... What.  The.  Hell.   Think about the given circumstances.  400 "kids" in our class, pumped up on newly formed hormones, confusion, and excitement.   We were put together and STUCK in that building for 4 years with each other.  We had no escape unless our parents moved away or we dropped out.  So what did we do, we picked anything and everything that made us feel safe and comforted.  Was it a sport?  The drama program?  Art Class?  Band?  Math Club?  Wildcat?  Cheerleading?  Hanging out and smoking?  We found what we could safely live in and we stayed.  We formed cliques because, I don't know, that's the social norm.  I've casted movies and TV shows where we had to find actors who fit the social norm in cliques.  We didn't invent these things, they came way before us.  We spent our days hating other cliques, wanting to be in some, passing judgement on them, or being embraced by them which gave us an identity.  Would these groups define who were for the rest of our lives?  In the minds of 38 year olds looking back at high school, probably Yes.
On this isolated island of High School, we were players in The Hunger Games.  Survive or be killed.  Some of us were bullied and some of us were the bullies.  Some of us got beat up, some of us were the beaters.  Some of us were "Popular" and some of us weren't.  We were stuck with our arch enemies in class.  If someone made fun of me, I couldn't escape, I had 4 more classes with them that day and the next 4 years.  And they were bigger than me, and better looking, and had the girls, and that made me define myself as weak.
Now I'm 38.  If someone was to do that, I'd tell them to go fuck themselves and go to my wife, 2 cats, and insane library of theater books....because that's what defines me now.  I don't believe any of us knew what made us happy or who we really were in High School.  And if you do, you have all of my respect.
The reason I'm actually excited about going to the reunion is because deep down and using common sense, we've all changed.  Good and Bad.  The good stems from the fact that we're adults and most of us have realized life sucks and isn't fair, but we've learned to survive and find what makes us happy.  It's almost like we're all on the same playing field.  Wives, Husbands, Kids, Pets, Etc.  We didn't have those staples in high school.  We were seeking and experimenting and failing more times than succeeding, and that's really ok.  We've lost parents, siblings, children, jobs, and homes.  We've dealt with cancer and divorce and murder.  Cheating, money loss, and war.  In 1994, we didn't have the scars that cover us now.  Human beings fascinate me and why shouldn't I see the people that started this journey of life with me.
I believe something happens in everyone's life that is the game changer.  Some find it very early, some mid way, and some don't at all.  Mine was Sept.11, 2001.  The best part of that day for me living in NYC was the first 4 phone calls I received that day before the towers fell were my friends from high school.  That day stuck with me as the day that we as humans only have each other and the life we have is so precious and short.  Columbine affected me a lot because I don't think that school was much different than ours.  There is not one person in my graduating class I couldn't sit down with and have a conversation with.  What really separates us apart now?
I hear about people hurting in school and being outcasts and being picked on and shooting up schools and 38 year old Jason shakes his head and thinks "Why do we put so much emphasis on high school?"  If we could've gotten some of those kids out of school and to see how much of high school is actually a joke.
I've spent every day since high school being an artist and actor and spend every day studying people, behavior and ideas.  Honestly, I didn't know the first thing about homosexuality in school and now about 60% of the people I hang out with are gay, lesbian, or transgender and I don't even think twice about it.  That doesn't make sense to 18 year old Jason.  It's such a taboo to be different, artsy or dress differently growing up, but honestly, those people have become the core of my friends and I seek them out more than boring, safe people.  18 year old Jason would have been afraid to be judged.  38 year old Jason says "Get a Life".
I'll admit, I was very lucky in school.  The group of guys I was placed in class with became my soul mates.  I admit.  I am in the minority.  These guys became life long friends and groomsmen at my wedding last year.  Do I wish I had talked to every single on of my classmates in school.  YES.  Why didn't I?  Because I was scared and believed I had absolutely nothing to give to heir lives or fun.  On a scale of 1-10, my self esteem was below 0.  I'm sorry if my own demons and depression caused anyone pain or rejection. I didn't ask out girls, who would want to be with me?   I was just trying to survive.  I found my safety in drama, choir, and those friends.  In my latest show Fetish, I describe in detail my journey through puberty and becoming a man.  The show is a complete comedy and I have a blast performing it and the audiences are in hysterics as I perform it.  It's non fiction.  At that time, 1990-1994, I thought I was the only one in the world who was confused by sex, and believed I was the only one masturbating, which made coming to school everyday an enormous embarrassment. It was an enormous relief that most of the things I went through were shared by all the audience members who see it.  I didn't know that then.
 Who of us can't say we're better friends with some people now than in high school because of Facebook?  I enjoy seeing your lives and family and achievements because that's what I do now as a human being, cheer on.  I didn't in high school because my own insecurities destroyed me.
Going back to a High School reunion opens old scars and puts us back in the minds of our confused teenage years.  It mixes our past life with our new life.  Even if we have conquered our insecurities, it reminds us that we had them.  I hope I'm never defined by who I was in High School, because I absolutely have no clue who I was.  I know I was beat up a couple times.  Will I go to my reunion worried that I'll get beat up again?  Will I worry that the girl I had a crush on won't talk to me like I did everyday in school?  I don't care, I'm still going to say hi and catch up and then go home with my hot wife!  If I talk to someone who seems to have no interest in me, that's fine, I'm not going to see them after that night!  I want to laugh with people I laughed with back then.  I want to laugh with people I didn't know back then.  I was made fun of a lot.  Will I worry that I'm going to be made fun?  Sure, bring it on!  My weird things are what make me me!  And I'm ENORMOUSLY HAPPY with who I've become.
Plus....You know 2 of our classmates are going to hook up that night and that's going to be awesome for them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Go Cats.  Class of '94 Rocks!