depression

It's Happening Again

That feeling of perpetual dread. The endless churn of negativity and baseless assumption.

That feeling of your chest wanting to literally explode.

No matter how much pranayama you practice, that drum in your chest just beats harder and harder.

"Why are you like this?" you ask yourself, to which you have no verbal response as you stare back at yourself in the dirty mirror. 

"You like the pain. You will grow from this," is what your conscience says.

But subconsciously you know you won't. 

You start to think rationally and apply simple logic to your seemingly complex problems. 

Logically you shouldn't be this upset. Logically you should just divert your time and energy to other aspects of your life.

Logically you shouldn't care this much.

But you do, and everything you do seems to defy logic. 

Here you are again, stuck in between reality and a dream.

A dream that's quickly turning into a nightmare that keeps pulling you in.

And all you can say to yourself is, it's happening again.

Mind Over Matter

I find myself increasingly frustrated lately. I've tried different things this past week to help calm myself down, to release tension, and to just relax. I tried walking home from work, which I regretted doing midway but powered through. I tried going to a dance party. And now I'm blogging with Elliott Smith on in the background. 

In general my MO is to keep myself busy so I don't have time to think about the things I don't want to think about. 

Since the start of the new year, I've been working on a couple different personal projects to help occupy my time when I'm not at work. I was desperately seeking a creative outlet and while not having any traditional creative skills, I decided to try and make a website. I already had my Medium blog that I started last summer but I wanted something of my own. That was the birth of Anxious Asian Man.

I try to blog and podcast as regularly as possible. Lately my blog posts have been few and far between and oddly I've been podcasting almost every week. I would think my blogging would be more frequent, but come to think of it, it's easier for me to just talk into a mic than to type out my thoughts. It's the same issue I had with Talk Space vs. going to see an actual in-person therapist. 

Outside of my site, I volunteer to take pictures for another friend's comedy show every week. It's easy and I get to see stand up comedy. Not much more one could ask for to be honest. I let several weeks of pictures go unedited though. Skipping one week of edits isn't so bad, but it just piles up so quickly. Piles up so high you just don't even want to go near it. I tackled the edits recently and am going to try and do my edits weekly.

At times I feel like I've bitten off more than I can chew. Lately when I feel overwhelmed, I get a feeling of paralysis. Like these picture edits, it just got overwhelming and I didn't want to do them. I had to psych myself up.

It's getting to the point I have to psych myself up to put laundry into the dryer. Or take trash out. 

I think it's just this recent wave of depression that has hit me. It's making me very lazy and lethargic. 

For the last 4 weekends I've spent the majority of my time on my couch watching reruns of Archer, Rick and Morty, and re-watching Star Wars movies. 

I try to make plans. I even decline some others because I think I might be doing something else. My plans just don't seem to stick. It's okay at first. But when it keeps happening, it's like a mental garbage pile that just builds up and I end up not wanting take that trash out. 

Well...let me rephrase. My mind wants to do something, but my body says no. 

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I really don't want to be like this. I fear I am just being conditioned to feel and act this way, because lets be real...plans will always get cancelled, pushed back, or not materialize. Even the most reliable person you know is fallible. 

I was onto something when I decided to seek a creative outlet. But I realize now that I didn't take the full step. I've got to actually seek out what it is I'm looking for. Now that I've identified my outlet, I need to execute. Easier said than done, but a lot of time, it really just is a little mind over matter.

The Struggle Bus

I'm failing at this. Very badly. I've got a monthly pass for the struggle bus.

I had this fantasy that I would be shooting out blog posts left and right and podcasting every week. I have tried my best to podcast every week but they are so fucking boring. I talk too slow and I'm not talking with enough emotion. And these blog posts...I'm just fucking lazy.

I've been in a bit of a funk lately. I have been dealing with some anxiety and some bad habits of my depression have crept back. One of those things is lethargy.

Yesterday after work, I tried to find something to do (with a low level of effort though). I came up empty, which is quite normal. It was a Friday evening, so I sank into my couch and started dozing off around 9pm. I decided to just call it a night and went to bed. It was the earliest I had gone to bed in a very long time. 

I got about 11 hours of sleep and woke up today and did my normal morning routine, which is to feed Ruth (my cat) and then take my medication. I then proceeded to do laundry and watch old episodes of Rick and Morty. When the washer was done, I knew I had to throw my clothes in the dryer but I my body didn't want to get up. I sat there for several minutes deliberating if I should get up and put my clothes in the dryer. 

A normal person would have just gotten up and put the wet clothes in the dryer as soon as the washer was done. I sat there for about 15 minutes and forced myself to get up because I hate how clothes that stay wet for too long get that weird smell.

The simplest tasks become so difficult and daunting. When the will is there, I can be a very productive member of society, but when it's not, I'm just a heavy bag of bones and fat.

This is something I've struggled with for most of my life, but I didn't know how to put it into words growing up. And it usually is only the case when I'm by myself.

I went from someone that was very comfortable with being alone to becoming someone who is dying to get out of the house but is too lazy. It's still very difficult to explain how I feel. Obviously.

That said, I was able to muster up energy to finish two loads of laundry (clothes and sheets+duvet), take my cat out to get her nails trimmed (super sharp) and then get a cup of coffee.

Now I'm back home typing this up while listening to emo music in the background while I have the Wisconsin v. Villanova game on mute. 

I often have the feeling that I'm going through an existential crisis because I often feel like I don't really have a purpose. It's not so much a source of anxiety though because I honestly don't believe anyone when they say they have a purpose in life. I won't refute anyone, but inside I'm calling bullshit. But what I think doesn't matter to anyone else. It shouldn't. Live your life.

Human beings in general. What purpose do we serve? I haven't heard a good answer yet. Is our purpose to find a way to get off this planet and find some other place to ruin...I mean...live?

I don't mean to be so down. I'm just trying to find my self purpose, which to me is different than having an overall purpose. My self purpose is 100% selfish. My self purpose will never be something like, "making sure the children in 3rd world countries always have food to eat." It would be more like, "making sure that I always have food to eat."

Sometimes you gotta take care of yourself. I just don't really know how to do it.

Next stop on the struggle bus? Anywhere. I just want to get off and charge my phone cause it's about to die soon. 

Sleepless in BedStuy

*This entry was originally posted on Medium on December 10, 2016*

If you tell the truth about how you’re feeling, it becomes funny.
-Larry David

So if you’ve been following my posts, you know that I’m big on mental health. It’s something that I believe needs to be talked about more openly.

I’m not saying that we need to talk about our personal issues out in public, but if it’s normal for people to say that they “need to lose weight” or “are out of shape” then it should be just as normal or OK to say when we’re feeling sad, depressed, or anxious.

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There’s a stigma to mental health. Typically a lot of judgement or perceived judgement is associated with it. There’s the “emo” stereotype. There’s the term “mental” to negatively describe someone. I’ve even read posts/articles about how people shouldn’t call others “crazy”. This last one I’ve got some issues with, but it has less to do with the mental health aspect and more to do with PC culture. Will have to dive into that another time. But even people you wouldn’t suspect actually suffer from depression.

Anxiety and depression affect more people than most realize. I am not armed with any statistics (which makes me feel very vulnerable right now…I like having good data to support any claims) but so many people don’t even admit that they might have a mental disorder.

It might just be because they don’t know. I think that’s probably the most logical reason, because education around mental health is so poor. Maybe it’s better now…I haven’t stepped inside a classroom in many years. I’m more than 10 years removed from high school and we definitely did NOT learn much about mental health.

I’ve always had trouble falling asleep because when I close my eyes when I go to bed, my brain goes into hyperdrive and a lot of thoughts just surface up. I over think and over analyze everything.

I don’t hate going to sleep, because who doesn’t like going to sleep? But I do often go to sleep with anxiety knowing that I will have difficulty falling asleep.

I know I’m not alone in this. I also don’t know how to accurately put into words what I experience. I admit I’m bad at explaining things.

Having difficulty sleeping is a physical issue, but physical and mental health is so intertwined that the state of one impacts the other.

I need to learn to chill and meditate. Headspace doesn’t work for me. Self hypnosis is very difficult to achieve (but I try). I don’t drink a lot so I don’t like to have night caps.

I am trying to embrace my hyperactive brain and overall restlessness. Maybe accepting will help me sleep. We shall see!

Mental Health

*This entry was originally posted on Medium on July 5, 2016*

What is mental health? Before I go into my entry, I would like to share with you a definition and some facts from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO’s definition of mental health is:

“A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”

Here are some random facts on mental health (from WHO):

  1. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems
  2. Mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide
  3. Mental disorders are important risk factors for other diseases, as well as unintentional and intentional injury
  4. Stigma and discrimination against patients and families prevent people from seeking mental health care
  5. Globally, there is huge inequity in the distribution of skilled human resources for mental health

There are 5 key barriers to increasing mental health services availability (also from WHO):

  • The absence of mental health from the public health agenda and the implications for funding
  • The current organization of mental health services
  • Lack of integration within primary care
  • Inadequate human resources for mental health
  • Lack of public mental health leadership

Being someone who is seeking information on mental health, I’m shocked at the lack of attention paid to it. Sure, there is a lot of information online but there are so many opinions. Who is right? Is there a right answer? I assume no because as far as I know, nobody has truly figured out how the brain works.

Mental disorders of all kinds impact so many people. Yet it is seemingly swept under the rug. It is not viewed as a legitimate issue. People tend to shy away from the unknown and there is a lot we do not know/understand about our psyche.

The last six to seven months I have been trying to educate myself on mental health because I have reached a stage in my life where I am dealing with certain anxieties and stresses and realize that I have no real method of coping. I realize that I do not truly understand what these things are and it is really upsetting.

I have always had this baseline level of anxiety that, to me, seemed completely normal. I just assumed everyone had that same baseline, and to a degree I still think that. There is no person that is devoid of anxiety as every human being in this world goes through ups and downs. That’s just…life.

But what I did not realize growing up was that people experience anxiety in vastly different ways and in, equally, different levels of intensity. In my household, we never talked about mental health. Physical health on the other hand was discussed all the time. I was overweight as a child and remained overweight until I was about halfway done with university. My parents always wanted me to lose weight.

Maybe it’s a Korean thing, but when seeing relatives, there is always a criticism that they share with you, about you. And it’s usually based on your physical attributes. Or if you are of a certain age (18 or older) they will start asking if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend. I digress, as this alone could be a whole other topic that I can touch upon another time.

Back to physical health. Long story short, when it came to health, that is all that mattered, or at least that is all that was taught to me. Sure, in high school health class we talked about mental health, depression, anxiety, etc. But it was so out of context for me. I even joked about it.

My senior year quote was, “Depression is like trying to slay a dragon with a plastic knife.” I did not use that quote because of the content. I chose it because of who said it (a guy from the class below mine that had a penchant for saying odd/funny things), not because of what it actually meant to me. At that time of my life, it meant nothing. I was not depressed. I did not even really know what depression was at that point.

Fast forward twelve years and here I am, a week into my thirties and am almost as clueless about mental health as I was back in high school. The main difference between now and then is that I have experienced more in life and seemingly have more self awareness than my younger self.

In the last year and a half I have experienced more significant change in my personal life since I graduated from university. My relationship with my girlfriend ended, I left the company where I started my career and worked for six years, and I realized that I experience and possibly suffer from several forms of anxiety.

I had mentioned before that I always felt that I had a baseline level of anxiety that was considered normal. Normal in the sense that it is something everyone has and experiences. I couldn’t tell you exactly when but, as if some mysterious force flicked a switch in my brain, my anxiety levels elevated and have not come back down.

Sure, I have good days (even weeks) where I am completely happy and feel on top of the world. But I more often feel the complete opposite.

For illustrative purposes

Six to seven months ago I decided it was time for me to seek professional help in the form of therapy. The problem was, I did not know where to look. How does someone that essentially knows nothing about mental health find the right help? Do I need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? What is the difference? What kind of therapy do I need? I had so many questions.

I was lucky enough to meet a new friend who shared with me their experiences and they were actually the catalyst for me to start going to therapy. Without going into too much detail, having someone to talk to that has also has gone through or is going through similar things is eye opening.

I logged onto ZocDoc and found a place that took my insurance and I set up an appointment. I had my first session on December 30, 2015.

For four and a half months I saw my therapist once every week. At the time I could not say whether he was good or not because he was my first therapist. I had zero expectations.

I would go into the sessions and he would ask things like, “how are you feeling?” or “what has been bothering you?”

Therapy cannot work if you are not honest with yourself and your therapist. I thought it was going to be really difficult to open up but I surprisingly found it easy to just talk freely and openly. Maybe because I knew it was a complete stranger who’s purpose in my life was to listen and help resolve my issues.

I learned a few things. I learned some breathing exercises to help calm myself down and relax. I learned that I need to not use my phone late at night before I go to bed. I learned that I need to be honest with myself.

Unfortunately my time with this particular therapist ended abruptly. I received a call from the owner of the practice saying that my therapist could no longer see his patients. The woman on the phone was actually quite rude and then asked if I wanted to see another therapist from the practice. I declined. I decided to take a little break and see if I could apply the things I learned to my daily routine (as I had been practicing) and see if I could deal with things on my own.

I lasted two months. My anxiety level shot up and I was having a really hard time coping. I was having panic attacks on a regular basis and I actually went backwards. I reverted to bad habits. I put strains on relationships and I was the most miserable as I had ever been.

To be honest, I don’t know why I’m typing in the past tense. This is happening to me now. In the present.

I am at a point in my life where I am open to trying new things that have the potential to improve my quality of life such as online therapy via Talkspace.

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If you are not familiar with Talkspace, it is an online/mobile therapy app. You chat with a consultation therapist and answer some questions. You are then assigned a dedicated therapist whom you speak with in a private chat. The service of course is not free, there is a monthly or quarterly subscription model.

My experiences with Talkspace, to-date, have been okay at best. I signed up for a quarterly subscription so am committing to 3 months. It is a place for me to just type away how I am feeling at any given moment. The therapist will then respond back to you. What I really like is that it logs the conversations and you can just go back to see what was discussed as reference.

The challenge is that I find myself editing what I type. It is not the same as if I was just talking with a therapist in person. It is also hard because you do not get instant feedback. I never know exactly when my therapist will respond, but usually within 24 hours during weekdays. Weekends they log off but I can message them freely at anytime.

Time will tell if Talkspace is effective.

I started seeing an in-person therapist again as of two weeks ago although they don’t take insurance (another barrier to treatment). I entered the session with at least some expectations having gone to therapy in recent past. I realized that my last therapist did not really challenge me. I talked and talked and he offered up some suggestions, but never really dug deep. This new therapist is incredibly engaging and she really digs into the things I say, which I enjoy. It is uncomfortable at first, but is that not the point? To get away from our normal habits and really challenge ourselves…

I have also tried hypnotherapy. Now I cannot tell you what hypnotherapy is exactly but I really enjoyed my single experience. I ended up feeling extremely relaxed and had the best night of sleep in over a year. The idea is to train yourself to self-induce hypnosis. I have not gotten to that point yet though.

Source: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Source: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Throughout the last few months I have come to realize that I take some things really personally. Things that I did not take personally in the past. I keep asking myself why? Why do I let certain things bother me so much? Why do I care so much about X/Y/Z?

I realize that I need to develop a new way of thinking and learn new ways to cope with my anxieties. This requires immense effort because I essentially have to create new neural pathways in my brain.

I am quickly figuring out that this journey I am on does not have an end. I do not mean that in an ominous way. I mean it in the sense that we are always changing and we need to be mentally fit to adapt.

I want to share my journey because one of the problems within our society is the overall lack of conversation around mental health, yet people talk about their weight-loss journeys all the time or their daily CrossFit workouts. I recognize there is a stigma with mental health but I genuinely feel that we need to be more open about it.

I am not spilling my guts to you. I am not giving you the details that I would otherwise only share with my therapist. That said, I am not in a place to talk about mental health objectively because it is so personal to me.

I admit that this entry has been in my draft box for almost a month now. It has been edited so many times because I was not sure if I was sharing too much, or not enough. I cared too much about how people would perceive me based on assumptions that I made up in my head. That is a really dangerous thing to do.

At the end of the day I know that there are many others that are going through similar experiences, and many more that have it way worse than I do.

My goal is to share the things that I learn on my journey. If I am advocating for more openness and conversation about mental health, I should start with myself.

I welcome a dialogue. If you have any suggestions or feedback for me, please leave a comment.