Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Too Many Victims

How's my mental health today?

It is what it is.

I've been reflecting on other things.

Last Friday evening Heidi and I went to the opening of an art show at the Mennonite Heritage Building Gallery entitled Indescribable: It's all about murder. The works of art were done by 3 artists who had lost a very close family member to murder and two artist friends who were part of the group of friends that been supportive especially through a recent murder trial.

The art was incredible. It reflected so much of the artists' process of dealing with murder and the aftermath, including the trial and conviction of the accused in one of the cases.

I met a couple I hadn't seen in close to 5 years at the art show. As we were talking I learned that they were preparing themselves for attending a murder trial that began earlier this week. The difference was, they were related to the accused.

That got me thinking about how many people are victimized through horrific crimes like murder.

Families and friends who've lost a loved one to murder. Family and friends of the accused perpetrator(s). Family and friends of the convicted killer(s). Jurors who are traumatized by the evidence they see and hear.

Our news has been reporting on three murder trials over the past weeks and months, and at least one of those trials will continue to be in the news for the next 2 months. In all 3 cases the victims were apparently killed by family members.

Over the past few years a lot of effort has been expended to develop support services for the victims of crime, especially murder.

How does one sort out the victims and offer them supportive services in these complex situations?

In a recently concluded case 3 family members were convicted of first degree murder in the deaths of 4 women. The murder was supposedly an "honour killing". How many people were traumatized by these murders? How many are grieving the loss of these 4 women? How many are grieving the wasted years the convicted now face? How many are angered because they believe the killings were justifiable according to their cultural and religious views? How does one sort out the complexity of emotions and issues in this one case?

And what about the other 2 cases currently before the courts?

What about the jurors and others involved in the legal process? Who helps them cope? Yesterday the news media reported that the jurors in the most recently begun trial were each handed a large binder of photos. How will they respond to the brutality apparently depicted there? Who will help them cope?

So many victims! so much pain! So much anger! So much hatred!

It's disconcerting. It's depressing. So much forgiveness needed.

Who's there to help?

Do you see how you hurt me, baby? So I hurt you too. 
Then we both get so blue. I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, 
looking for the key to set me free. 
~ Joni Mitchell 

Monday, January 30, 2012


How's my mental health today?

Better than last week! My mood is better, I have more energy, and life feels lighter. Things aren't 100% yet - that will take some time. The most important thing is that I pace myself. I have a couple of options. I can get really busy one day and have to rest the next, or I can work on having more balance in my day to day, everyday levels of activity.

I'll start by looking at the goals I had set myself for this year. I didn't make anywhere near the progress I had hoped, largely due to my depression, but I did reach 3 of my goals:
  1. I lost a little more weight than I had set as my goal (8 lbs/month for the year 2012) - I was down 10.2 lbs this morning.
  2. I surpassed my goal of taking Heidi on a date (I always teased Heidi that we don't date - we go out and do different stuff) at least once every 2 weeks. 
  3. I've managed to write my blog 5 days /week despite my difficulty with focus and concentration.
I Have made a good start on some of my other goals, and gotten nowhere on others. I'm going to revisit the goals to evaluate whether or not they're realistic, achievable and measurable. There's no room for fantasy and unrealistic goals & expectations.

All in all, January has been a pretty good month, even with my journey through Seasonal Affective Disorder.

February might be a problem - there's an extra day to deal with this year (That's a joke in case you're not sure).

In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal 
to performing daily acts of trivia.
Author Unknown 

Friday, January 27, 2012

On The Upswing?

How's my mental health today?

I feel pretty good this morning.

That might be because 2 of my brothers are coming over for coffee this morning and I need to get a few things done before they get here. Or it might be because I also had to do some problem solving (scheming). Or it may be that I'm slowly rising out of the depression. Or a combination of the above.

My biggest challenge is finding the balance between doing too much and not doing enough. If I do to much too soon, I risk exhausting myself and setting back my recovery. If I don't do enough I risk sliding into lethargy which doesn't help my recovery.

You'd think after 22+ years of dealing with this stuff I would have the balance thing figured out, but the balance point shifts from day to day. Self awareness is critical. Determination plays a large role. Hope for a better future is an absolute necessity. My faith that God has a purpose for me is a life saver.

And so I keep searching for balance and recovery - one day at a time.


Christ has given me my entry fee.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

Thursday, January 26, 2012


How's my mental health today? 

I'm feeling a little better this morning - probably because I actually had a good sleep last night. That hasn't happened very often in the past month or so.

I was looking through the files on one of my external hard drives this morning and I found a file of cartoons. I used to have many more cartoons but they've been deleted along the way.

I used cartoons a lot in my work - they can be such an effective way to make a point. I was asked to tell a bit of my story in an all day professional development workshop almost 10 years ago. I knew that almost half the participants in the workshop had heard my story before so I needed to do something a little different. I decided to put together a PowerPoint show (with timed slides) consisting of many mental health & psychiatry cartoons. 

The PowerPoint show ran on a screen behind me while I spoke. It added a lot of tension to my presentation. One participant told me afterwards that she didn't know whether or not to laugh at the cartoons because the story was difficult (emotionally) to listen to. 

There are days when I regret deleting that file (the PowerPoint show and that version of my story) but I needed to purge all work related materials from my computer so I could stop looking back and focus on moving forward.

A few cartoons did survive. Take a look.
(I know they're copyrighted, but since I'm not making money by using them I hope I won't get sued for using them without permission.)

Caption: The Bluebird of Happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the Chicken of Depression.  --- Gary Larson






I need to be able to laugh at myself in order to beat the depression. Stuff like this helps.

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, 
if I did not laugh I should die.  
~ Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fighting Thru

How's my mental health today?

Not much has changed with the exception that I really pushed myself today.

I got up early for my regular Wednesday 6 a.m. meeting with the `Band of Brothers`. I didn`t last the whole 90 minutes but I gave it a good shot. On my way home I went grocery shopping, picking up considerably more than I had planned to. (Hey - when I can get baby back ribs at 50% off I don`t pass up the opportunity). I`ve also done some cleaning and booked a short vacation in March for Heidi and myself.

It feels good to get a few things done, but now my energy is pretty much depleted.

That`s just another part of clinical depression.

Now it`s time to rest because we have company coming for dinner tonight.

I`m trying very hard not to think about tomorrow. It`ll be what it`ll be.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Struggle

How's my mental health today?

Every day is a struggle at the moment.

A struggle to get out of bed.
A struggle to take a shower.
To brush my teeth.
To take my meds.
To get dressed.
To eat something.
To clean up around the apartment.
To read the newspaper.
To start up my computer.
To check for emails and other messages.
To write my blog.
To read a book.
To get out of the apartment.
To answer the phone.
To talk to other people.
To do anything that requires energy.
To do things that I usually enjoy doing.
To concentrate.
Even restful sleep is hard to find.

Such is the reality of depression.

I know it will end.

But when?

Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, makes you damn miserable.
~ James Hillman

Monday, January 23, 2012

One Of Those Days

How's my mental health today?

It's one of those days!

I'm tired.

I'm tired of reading about home invasions and an 88 year old woman beaten for the sake of a little cash.

I'm tired of kids shooting and stabbing one another.

I'm tired of people using their choice to overindulge alcohol and other mind altering substances as an excuse for their lawbreaking behaviour.

I'm tired of people using their poverty and dysfunctional upbringing to justify their criminal behaviour.

I'm tired of victims being blamed for not being more careful and prudent.

I'm tired of people whining and complaining about paying fines after being nabbed by photo radar. If you don't want to get fined - don't speed; don't run amber and red lights!

I'm tired of being depressed.

I have a choice. Do I Give in to the depression and squirrel myself away with a 'brain candy' book or do I go do something to help me feel better?

It's time to do something.

I'll start by going for a walk. (Exercise gets the endorphins going).

"No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try." 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take it Easy

How's my mental health today?

Better to ask how my day is going.

I'm looking forward to beginning the day having coffee with my unemployed and underemployed siblings. (I'm the oldest of 7 and only 2 of us are employed full time, 1 is retired, one is employed part-time, 2 are on disability, and one is between opportunities).

Yesterday I was looking forward to beginning my day by going for a therapeutic massage to get the day off to a great start. Unfortunately I decided to check my email before leaving for the massage and found an email informing me that the payment I made for he replacement battery for my laptop computer had been refunded in full. No further explanation. Back at square one!.

I decided to go for the massage before dealing with anything else. In fact I decided to take a few days to thoroughly explore all the google results for the part I need.

Today will be a day of visiting with my siblings, running a few errands and will finish with Heidi and I visiting a friend and watching a movie.

Relaxing, engaging, easy on the energy; therefore easy on my mental health.
A good way to finish the week.

Time to live, time to lie, time to laugh, and time to die. 
Take it easy baby. Take it as it comes.
~ Jim Morrison

Thursday, January 19, 2012


How's my mental health today?

It's still too early to tell.

Yesterday was a day like I hadn't experienced in some time.

The day began well with my usual Wed. 6 a.m. coffee/Bible study with the "Band of Brothers". It's a great way to start the day.

I zipped home afterwards to give Heidi a ride to work. It was then that I learned that my day was going to unfold differently than I had envisioned. Heidi asked me to get the lock on the trunk of our car fixed because she needed to haul audio/video equipment in it for work. (The lock had become increasingly non-responsive to our keys - the keyless entry was also on strike!)

I drove to the garage where we usually have our car serviced and had to deal with a new staff person there. All I wanted to know was if they could recommend a locksmith close by that could fix the lock for me. Instead the suggestion was made that I leave the car there for the day and they'd see what they could do with it. I directed my question to  one of the senior staff that happened to come in and was given the information I asked for. The locksmith wasn't sure he cold get the trunk open without drilling out the lock so he made a few calls to try to find a replacement part before he started drilling. It turned out the only option would be calling auto-wreckers to see if they had something useful. At that point the locksmith went out to the car and within a couple of minutes he had the trunk open. The lock was removed for repair and I was told it would take a couple hours for the job to get done.

I picked up a few groceries and then went home to wait for the call to come have the lock reinstalled. I needed a bit of stress relief so I went to the games room in our building and shot a couple games of pool. Then I went back upstairs to wait for the call from the locksmith. While waiting I decided it was time to try to find a replacement battery for my laptop. I hadn't been able to recharge the battery for over a year now so I figured it was high time to get a new one. In fairly short order I found a battery shop that said they could take care of that for me - they just needed the part number off the battery. No problem.

When the lock was ready I took the battery along with me, had the lock reinstalled on the car and drove to the battery shop. After10 or 15 minutes I was told they couldn't find a battery with that part number anywhere online. So much for that idea.

I got back in the car and drove to my daughter's place of work to deliver some mail to her. (She's currently using our address as her personal P.O. box).

When I got home the 'fun' really started. I called the manufacturer of my laptop computer and was told they had the battery in stock and could ship it to me. That changed when I told them I was in Canada. They didn't ship outside of the U.S. but they would check what was available in their Canadian warehouse. Not in Stock!

Time for plan "B". I was given the  name and toll-free number for a firm in Canada that was their Canadian parts distributor. After successfully navigating their automated call answer service a recorded voice told me their service staff was all busy - I should leave my name a number. Then the call was cut off. I repeated the calling process but this time I was directed to the company's website where I could find an email address to submit my request via email.

I did that.

I received an email response within 5 minutes informing me that they did not carry the item I was looking for.

I called the manufacturer again. I got a different parts sales rep (of course) than on my previous call. I repeated my story of what I was looking for and gave the part number. After being on hold for several minutes the sales rep asked me for the model and serial number of the computer and put me on hold again. 5 minutes later she was back on the line and informed me that I had the wrong part number. I picked up the battery, checked the number again and repeated it to the rep. She insisted that it was the wrong number and gave me the (supposedly) correct one. (I really don't understand why the part number stamped on the battery during manufacturing was incorrect - did it have something to do with the computer being built in China? Did something get lost in translation?)

Even though their Canadian warehouse and designated parts re-seller didn't have the battery, the manufacturer still could not ship it to me from the U.S. I was given 2 other company names and toll-free numbers to try.

I tried the first number and learned that although the company sold replacement parts for the brand of computer in question, they weren't in the business of selling batteries. Now I was beginning to steam a little.

I called the second number and learned that they too,did not carry the item I was looking for. Now I was on the verge of using some very colourful language, but I held back the f-bombs. The young lady I was on the phone with then (without my asking) made a suggestion that I hadn't considered to this point.

She said, "Why don't you just Google the part number you're looking for? Maybe you'll find something there." Finally, a helpful suggestion. I thanked her.

I googled the part number and lo and behold, all sorts of options became available. The first link I tried was a Canadian company and they sold the battery for $30Cdn less than the US$ price I was quoted by the manufacturer. I placed the order and breathed a huge sigh of relief. 

This sort of run around is not helpful when I'm dealing with the symptoms of depression. Even though I was successful in accomplishing everything I had set out to do, the process was very draining. I'm not sure how much energy, if any, I have left to deal with today.

Reminder to self: stay positive!

To conquer frustration, one must remain intensely focused 
on the outcome, not the obstacles.”
― T.F. Hodge

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Responsibility

How's my mental health today?

Exhaustion continues to be a problem.

Wednesday mornings are usually one of the highlights of my week. I meet with other guys for a Bible study at a Tim Horton's coffee shop at 6 a.m.

With my energy and mood as low as they are right now, even a highlight is a challenge to pursue. I continue to push myself through rather than give in completely. This too takes energy.

Heidi reminded me that the process of cleaning up the clutter (resulting in a large part from the anxiety) which I've been working on is also exhausting. Awareness of why things are the way they are, makes it easier to accept the reality and deal with it.

The old cliche of one day at a time holds true at this time. Looking beyond today is too overwhelming and a waste of time and limited energy.

If I follow through in taking care of my responsibilities, I know I've done everything I can do. The rest is in God's hands.

Action springs not from thought, 
but from a readiness for responsibility. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Busyness and Rest - Where's the Balance?

How's my mental health today?

We'll see what the day brings.

Yesterday was a very low energy day - they're part of my depression experience. So is the lack of a good night's sleep, which I haven't been getting lately.

Everything becomes a major chore - getting out of bed; showering; getting dressed; cleaning up the kitchen; making something to eat, pretty much everything on my to-do list.

A walk outside in the sunshine and crisp air helped a little but not much.

I have two options: I can give in to the symptoms of the depression, or I can push myself to
work my way through it. An important aspect of working through the depression includes keeping a balance between activity and rest.

Balance has always been a challenge for me. The key for me is to keep trying.

So I got things done that needed to be addressed, and then I took time to rest.

I'll see how today unfurls.

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dealing with Clutter

How's my mental health today?

I'm still trying to stay afloat. Some days are better than others.

Living with mental illness has many consequences. I'm trying to clean up some of the consequences of living with disruptive anxiety for many years.

I decided it was time to finish off some of the many projects I started over the course of the years that have remained unfinished. Part of that process involves sorting out files on my computer and external storage devices. I have found a ridiculous number of duplicate file copies - and not just 2 copies but sometimes 3 or 4 or more.

One of the ways my anxiety interfered with my living and working was that I was uncertain of whether or not I had a backup copy of a file. To make sure, I would back the file up. As I upgraded computers (at home and at work) the uncertainty would make another appearance. So I had backup copies on CDROMs, on flashdrives, on external hard drives and on the main drive of my computers.

Now my computer (and peripheral devices) are unnecessarily cluttered.

The culling has begun! I have to fight off the anxiety and fear that I might lose something by deleting a file or files. I constantly have to remind myself to trust the process because I don't take shortcuts - I check everything at least twice before I hit delete. I also need to remember none of this "stuff" is life or death; if it's gone, it's gone - life goes on.

How many other areas of my life are unnecessarily cluttered because I give in to my anxiety? How much "stuff" am I clinging on to and thereby hindering my ability to move forward?

Finishing the incomplete projects (one at a time) will hopefully clean out a lot of the baggage that has accumulated in my battle with anxiety.

I'll let you know how it goes.

“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. 
You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have.”
— Norman Vincent Peale

Friday, January 13, 2012


How's my mental health today?

I'm still deliberately taking a slower and quieter pace.

Part of this slower and quieter pace is noticeable in my reading.

I used to zip through books in a very short time. Not anymore - it's taking me considerably more time to read and absorb books - especially those that are far more than brain candy.

Among the books currently on my active reading list is Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing, edited by Robert Inchausti. The book consists of short excerpts from Merton's journals, poems, letters and books.

I am unable to tear through this book because I find I need to contemplate Merton's words on almost every page. Here's what I'm currently chewing on:

"The true solutions are not those which we force upon life in accordance with our theories, but those which life itself provides for those who dispose themselves to receive the truth. Consequently our task is to dissociate ourselves from all who have theories which promise clear-cut and infallible solutions, and to mistrust all such theories, not in a spirit of negativism and defeat, but rather trusting life itself, and nature, and if you will permit me, God above all. For since man has decided to occupy the place of God he has shown himself to be by far the blindest, and cruelest, and pettiest and most ridiculous of all the false gods. We can call ourselves innocent only if we refuse to forget this, and if we also do everything we can to make others realize it."

A challenging statement!

The depression I'm going through is hindering my ability to concentrate and absorb information, ideas, and concepts. That makes processing statements like the above more difficult and time-consuming.

Whose solutions and theories do I live by? Do I examine every theory and solution before deciding whether or not to accept it? Where do I start?

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, 
it is necessary that at least once in your life 
you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
- Rene Descartes

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nature and Grace

How's my mental health today?

I have to be careful that I don't overdo things because my energy levels are still quite low.

I do need to stay active in one way or another so I don't stagnate, isolate myself, and allow the depression to consume me.

So I've been reading, working on incomplete projects, going for the occasional walk, and reflecting.

The movie, The Tree of Life is still bouncing around in the back of my mind. One of the opening statements keeps coming back at me.

" There are two ways through life; 
the way of nature and the way of grace"
- quote from The Tree of Life (2011)

What does that mean? How does that relate to me and how I live my life?

If I say "It's just my nature" to rationalize who I am and what I do, am I limiting myself; depriving myself of other/better options?

When I looked up the word 'grace' on dictionary.reference.com I found:

grace[greys]   noun, verb, graced, grac·ing.

1. elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action: We watched her skate with effortless grace across the ice. attractiveness, charm, gracefulness, comeliness, ease, lissomeness, fluidity. stiffness, ugliness, awkwardness, clumsiness; klutziness.
2. a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment: He lacked the manly graces.
3. favor or goodwill. kindness, kindliness, love, benignity; condescension.
4. a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior: It was only through the dean's grace that I wasn't expelled from school. forgiveness, charity, mercifulness. animosity, enmity, disfavor.
5.mercy; clemency; pardon: He was saved by an act of grace from the governor. lenity, leniency, reprieve. harshness.
Living life by the way of grace is my preference. 
I just have to do it.
That's not always easy.

“Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens 
to be annoying him at the moment.” 
- C.S.Lewis


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Tree of Life

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
   Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
   Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
   or who laid its cornerstone —
while the morning stars sang together
   and all the angels shouted for joy? 
 Job 38: 4-7

 A different question than I usually begin with.

This question, asked by God of Job, is raised at the beginning of the 2011 movie, The Tree of Life.

Heidi and I watched the movie this past weekend. In discussing it afterwards we agreed that we needed to watch it at least one more time - this time with subtitles. There are subtleties and whisperings that are difficult to catch on the first viewing - at least we found it so.

If you like films with lots of action, car chases, explosions etc. - this is not a film for you. If you like a good story told in clear, chronological order - this film is not for you. If you like films that make you think and dig for deeper meaning - I'd recommend this film for you.

It's a film of memories, both happy and painful; of imperfect people in an imperfect family; of life and faith. The film asks the question, 'Where is God when calamity strikes?'

Before we watched the movie we had no idea that the story told in the film makes a connection to the biblical story of Job. I found it interesting to note the timing of our decision to watch "The Tree of Life" while we are in the midst of reading the book of Job. Coincidence? I think not.

The film leaves me asking myself the question, How do I respond to calamity; to setbacks; to personal misfortune? When it's my experience? When it's someone else's experience?

These are more significant questions than, "How's my mental health today?"

What am I going to do with these questions?

“When you face adversity, you need to remind yourself that 
whatever is trying to defeat you could very well be 
what God will use to promote you.”
― Joel Osteen,
Your Best Life Now: 
7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

MH Break

How's my mental health today?

I need to take a mental health break for a little while. Be back in 10 days.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Head Scratcher

How's my mental health today?

It's been a challenge for the past week. Typical depression - no energy, low mood, poor concentration, little or no get up and go.

I've been at a loss for words - don't have a clue what to write. I have been reading short excerpts from Echoing Silence - Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing. One paragraph  - one sentence actually - has me deep in contemplation.

"How can a man really know whether to write or not, whether to speak or not, whether his words and silence are for good or for evil, for life or for death, unless he understands the two divisions of tongues - the division of Babel, when men were scattered in their speech because of pride, and the division of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost sent out men of one dialect to speak all the languages of the earth and bring all men to unity: that they may be one, Father, Thou in Me and one in Them that they may be one in us!"

Quite a statement - one that has my head spinning as I try to process it. I could be puzzling this journal entry of Merton's for some time yet.


Monday, January 2, 2012


How's my mental health today?

It's been better.

The week between Christmas and New Years day as well as early January have been difficult for me for many years now. My energy level drops to next  to nothing, my mood plummets, and I often end up with flu-like symptoms for several days. This year has been no exception.

Is there something I can do differently to avoid this annual depressive episode?

Other than try to force myself through and keep pushing to maintain a higher activity level I'm at a loss as to what I could do differently. The problem with pushing myself is that it usually only delays the inevitable, draining me of more energy resulting in a more severe crash when the energy runs out.

This time of year is one of reflection, evaluation, new and renewed resolve. It's a time of setting new goals, new hope and dreams. It's a time of fresh starts.

But is the changing of the calendar as significant as our culture makes it out to be?

We have the opportunity to reflect and evaluate at the end of every day and every undertaking. We can set new goals or get a fresh start every morning when we wake up. We have a chance to do better today than we did yesterday when we get out of bed and begin our morning routine.

I don't need to make resolutions to begin the new year. Even if I don't openly disclose it, I know how well I did or didn't do last year, last month, yesterday. I know what I need to do better or differently. I've known these things for many years. However, nothing will change unless I move beyond thinking, dreaming, hoping, and talking and actually start doing!

So what will I do in this coming year, or better yet, the day before me?

Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. 
Seize common occasions and make them great. 
Weak men wait for opportunities; 
strong men make them.
- Orison Swett Marden