Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Weddings and Thank You Notes

Lately I've been thinking about gratitude, especially as it relates to wedding presents.

First, a brief history lesson from
The wedding gift craze as we know it . . . really began in 1928. That’s the year that retail giant Macy’s had the brilliant marketing idea of introducing the wedding gift registry. . . . And at first, the wedding gift registry did make some sense. In most cases, couples had not lived together before marriage and married at an age when they had yet to accrue most items that they would need in a shared household. The gift-giving tradition was aimed at helping them to get started in their new home.
So basically, people compassionately gave young couples gifts so their homes could function because they often didn't have anything to their names! What a lovely and selfless tradition.

Unfortunately, things have changed over the years.

Kyle and I got married in August, and we heard more than one comment about how inviting more people equals more gifts. Kind of a tacky thing to say, even if it's true. And hearing that made me kind of not want to give wedding gifts to anyone anymore. As a wedding guest, am I merely a dollar sign? Or am I loved one invited to their special day, who is free to give a gift out of love and the kindness of my heart? Hmm.

In the end, we did get lots of presents.

And we were so grateful for them. I was sort of stunned with people's generosity. We got so many kitchen and home items I'd been needing or wanting super badly! Plus, we got gift cards and cash that allowed us to buy some other things we needed. It was fantastic and definitely made our home more of a home. The fact that so many went to the trouble of spending their hard-earned money on us made me feel pretty special.

And that's why I can't understand why it doesn't seem traditional anymore to say "thank you." The last five couples I've given wedding presents to haven't bothered to say any sort of thank you for my gift. Not even a Facebook message. Absolutely nothing!

I think it's pretty atrocious.

Maybe they think, "Ah, she knows I'm grateful for it! I don't need to tell her." Maybe they don't even bother to look at who gave them the gift. Who knows? All I know is that an in-person "thank you!" or handwritten thank you note for a thoughtful gift is the very least a new couple could do.

Just think of it. Someone buys you a $20 (oftentimes more) gift on your list (or not on your list—it doesn't matter), wraps it up, writes a card, and brings it to you or has it sent right to your door. You can't take 2 minutes to write a handwritten note expressing your appreciation and then mailing it with a 50-cent stamp? Really??

My hesitation to give wedding gifts because of the greedy gift-getting mentality has grown even more with this lack of gratitude.

I know wedding shenanigans and a honeymoon and setting up your lives together is time consuming and stressful—oh, how I know it—but showing your gratitude should never be given up for lack of time. Even if the thank you is a month late, it's still appreciated.

So to my single friends, keep this in mind for when your big day comes: please don't have an attitude of entitlement. Saying thank you will NEVER go out of style.

Stay classy, my friends.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Depression is a Silent Beast

Some (not-so) breaking news

Some of you already know, and some of you probably suspect that I've been struggling with depression. The truth is a lot of people are. Trust me, a ton of your friends struggle with it. It's very common, and it's a quiet disease.

Depression: an overview

It may be quiet to you, but to us it is the constant or exceedingly frequent downpour of loud negative thoughts and feelings. There are varying degrees of depression, and if you asked any of your friends that deal with it they would tell you it can be a bit erratic. Sometimes you're managing fine, and sometimes you just want to cease to exist. Sometimes you want nothing else but to be alone, but other times it's so lonely. It's wanting people to understand, but not wanting anyone to know. 

When it's really bad, it is battling your own mind every waking moment. For me, when it is at its worst, it's an excruciating unhappiness/emptiness where I'm feeding myself an endless stream of harmful thoughts, sobbing so hard I can barely breathe and I feel like my lungs are going to collapse, and I find absolutely no solace in anythingnot friends, not family, not talking, not serving, not socializing, not watching movies, not reading scriptures. The only hope I have for any peace at that point is unconsciousness. Sleep is the only respiteif I can even fall asleep through the storm of negativity. And even when that episode is over, it was so hurtful and exhausting it takes days and/or a lot of coaxing to get back to "normal." Before or after an episode like this happens, I turn off all feeling so I can cope. It is lonely. It is debilitating.

And I hate it.

Depression and spite

I hate depression so much, sometimes I do things to spite it. For example, one night there was a party. I had agreed to go weeks earlier, but my day was flipped upside down by a little spat with Kyle, and I really didn't want to go. (My emotions can be flipped from alright to super bad at the drop of a dime.) But I was tired of feeling lonely, and I wanted to follow through with my plans. I refused to let depression control me. I wanted to go with Kyle originally, but I went alone instead. I lied about why he wasn't there. I lied about how I was doing. I smiled and laughed and I tricked a fraction of myself into thinking I was having fun. Me with a healthy mind would have had fun. I love those friends. I miss them.

Depression is isolating

My friends don't know that I miss them because I don't reach out. I don't reach out because I'd rather be alone. I'd rather be alone because I feel terrible, and I am uncomfortable sharing that fact, or I just don't want to. I don't like dwelling on my own misery. What does it help?? I have always felt like the Debbie Downer, and I really, REALLY don't want to be that person. But I also don't want to pretend I'm happy and fine when I'm absolutely not, so it's always easier to just stay away from people.

Sometimes I really worry that my friends will think I'm not interested in their friendship anymore by the way I act. I try not to stress too much about that.

Depression is irrational

Last winter was a very depressive time for me. Baking was one thing I found that gave me purpose and made me feel good. One day, I decided to make a pie. I started making the crust, which needs vinegar. I knew I had some but I couldn't find it anywhere. It wasn't where I had seen it the day before. I LOST IT. I folded onto the ground and sobbed my eyes out. By that point, I had finally learned I could trust Kyle, so I reached out to him and asked him to bring some over. He did, and he comforted me too. Is it normal or okay to have a meltdown over vinegar? No. Did I know that? Yes. Could I control it? No.

Recently, I've been emailing a couple of girls who also struggle with depression. I told one of them about this story, and she told me about a similar baking experience she had, and that now she makes sure to buy extra ingredients for anything, just in case. I do the same thing, whether for baking or anything else in my life. I always try to account for any possible surprises and hiccups. It's about keeping control. We grasp for the little control we have.

Depression is overwhelming

For me, it's been something I've been able to manage alone somewhat successfully for years, but I just have so much going on right now, I honestly cannot handle it. I'm lucky to still have a job. And the only reason I have a job is that I am extremely disciplined and I can, for the most part, put my emotions aside for work. I know if I lost my job, it would be catastrophic to my psyche, so I do my best to not put it in jeopardy. However, I won't lieI have cried at work more than once.

Depression is foggy/indecisive

We're just muddling through our days sometimes. Our brains get all foggy. It's hard to recall thingsthings that should be simple to remember. It makes it hard to think straight when we're asked a question. Sometimes it's almost impossible to make even the simplest decisions. 

Where should we go for dinnerZupa's or Cafe Rio? *paralysis*

Lately I have been talking to so many doctors, and they are constantly asking me questions. When did ___ start? Do you ever feel ___? How about ___? How would you describe ___? How would you rate ___? What is ___? Does this hurt? How about this? Do you feel better? Sometimes I just want to yell, "Oh, for heaven's sake! I don't KNOW!" I spend so much time trying not to think about how I feel so I can survive that I honestly don't know the answer to many of these questions. Frankly, it freaks me out that I don't have the answers.

Depression breeds guilt

We feel guilty a lot of the time. We have so much to be grateful for, yet we're still unhappy. We know it's not right, so we feel guilty about it. We get the message at church that if we just had enough faithif we just prayedour problems would go away, but they often don't, so it must be our fault, so we feel guilty. We don't want to hang out with our friends, and we feel bad about that. We feel guilty for not performing as well at work as we know we are capable of. We get abnormally upset when things don't go the way we planned. Then we feel guilty for having lashed out. In relationships, we feel guilty for not reciprocating—for not loving like we should. Plus, we feel guilty for being an emotional black hole to those we love. We stop caring in general, and we feel bad about that. Perhaps we can't function in our calling and have to say "Will you please release me?" We then feel guilty for "quitting" instead of serving. For any single individual, the list could go on and on. And it never helps when on top of your own condemning judgments of yourself, others heap theirs as well. 

We want help

We want help, but we're terrified of being vulnerable because we already are always. And if we are rejected or ignored after asking for help, it's crushing. So deep down we hope someone will magically figure it out and help us. I am desperately seeking love, kindness, and help, but I shrug people off when they try. It's such a paradox. It could be because I don't believe they can help, I don't trust they have good intentions, I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to be patronized, I don't want to seem needy, I don't want to be a burden or have people say unkind things about me behind my back, etc. So I am really good at deceiving people and making people think I'm just fine.

We have happy facades

In order to survive, I have to trick myself into thinking I'm ok most of the time. In so doing, I trick others too, including Kyle. When I tease him more than usual, and reject any loving physical gestures, that's when I'm not feeling very good, and he's gotten better at recognizing it instead of taking it personally. It's not easy on either of us.

People romanticize death when they are actually suicidal

I recently came across a post on one of my favorite websites that harshly talked about how stupid it is to romanticize death and how selfish suicide is. I couldn't believe it. I had to respond! I had to speak up for the depressed. Here's what I said.
Can we think for a moment about how depression directly affects the person suffering from it? It controls your life. It keeps you from feeling happiness, and eventually anything at all. Your self esteem is gone. Your motivation too. You don't remember anything with fondness, and you have nothing to look forward to. Life is survival. And when you are forced to live in a world where it seems like everyone is happy except you, when you're painfully struggling to get through a normal day, expending the little energy you have on minute social interactions, forced to live a double life, trying not to cause any more harm or pain or sorrow to anyone else, then the idea of death doesn't seem so horrific. It seems like a place of relief.
You want to know why a symptom of depression is oversleeping? Because it's like death without the commitment. It's the only place a depressed person can escape their own poisoned mind. True, suicide is not the answer, but you have to understand how afflicted a person is to kill themself. Unconsciousness is the only rest of the severely depressed. Or at least, that's how they see it. I don't think depressive suicide is selfish. It is tragic.

It made me angry that someone would attack someone who is already being attacked by their own mind. How cruel! What people need is love and understanding, not condemnation. And the two girls I've been emailing agreed. That's how we came in contactthrough this post.

Things not to say

I have heard "Get over it!" and "It's not that big of a deal" and "It's all about your attitude" and "You need to pray" and the like for years. I can't tell you how much I hate these phrases. I know people have good intentions when they say these thingsthey want to give me hope and make me feel in control, but really, it just feels like a slap in the face. What I hear is "You have the ability to make the right choice and you're not." "It doesn't matter that you're facing Hell right now; things will get better sometime." "I don't have the emotional capital to deal with this pity party." "You don't want to be happy bad enough." "You're such a downer, and I don't want to be around you." "You're trying to be sad." "I have no idea how to handle this, so here's a dismissive platitude." "You aren't even trying!" "You just don't have enough faith." "This is all your fault."

As I was watching a show yesterday, this ad came up. I thought it was very powerful—I certainly identified with it.

Our lives are passing us by 

Above I mentioned the phrase, "Things will get better sometime." And to this point I want to say, that is perhaps true, but "sometime" is not fast enough when every day is torture. To my depressed friends, we have this culture that says it is honorable to try to overcome depression on your own. To a certain extent, sure, it is, but when it has become a chronic problem, it is more honorable to seek help in finding solutions to your legitimate (and depression is legitimate) problems. I guess I never thought that my happiness was worth enough or that my depression was out of control enough to do anything aggressive about it until Kyle insisted I get help. Sad, right? So here I am, a newlywed! And I have SO MUCH to be grateful for. So much. I should be happy, but instead I have been miserable. This is not right! You're only 20 and in college once. You're only 26 and a newlywed once. You're only 35 and a mother of three once. Each day, each month, each year is PRECIOUS. Don't live another day only trying to get by to the next. Seek help!

How to help a depressed friend

I can only speak for myself, but if you want to help, you first need to understand what depression is and how it feels. So a good start is reading this post or reading other stuff about it. 

Know the symptoms:
  1. Overeating/undereating
  2. Oversleeping/insomnia
  3. Disinterest in socializing
  4. Fatigue
  5. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  6. Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  7. Irritability/restlessness
  8. Loss of interest in activities
  9. Physical health problems
  10. Thoughts of suicide
I have experienced all of these symptoms except one. It's really difficult to have one of the above problems; just think how you would feel experiencing nine of them concurrently.

If you'd really like to help, do not wait for your depressed friend to reach out to you; you need to reach out.

If you sincerely want to help, ask your friend how they are doing—how they're REALLY doing. If they tell you they're fine, don't push it. They may not trust you deeply enough yet or feel comfortable sharing for whatever reason. Just keep being a good friend. If they do open up, ask them what you can do to help. Ask them how they're feeling or what's been going on—legitimate validation is therapeutic. Really pay attention to them. Do not—I REPEAT—do not try to fix it for them. Know that you cannot fix depression. It is very personal and can be very deep.

Do not try to "happy" depression out of a person. This will only make a depressed person close up around you as they will sense you do not understand or they will think you do not want to be bothered with their feelings. LISTEN for as long as the person needs you to. Depression should not be taken lightly. Do not give a depressed person platitudes or things they should try unless you're super close and have a strong impression that is the right thing to say. Chances are they've already thought through a lot of stuff and tried a lot of things.

Always feel free to invite them to do stuff, but be understanding if they say no. Keep inviting, but never put pressure on them. Don't make them feel guilty for not being social.

Pray for them. Let them know you're thinking of them. Text them. Bring them a thoughtful gift. Show them by your actions that you love them no matter what—that you accept their issues. Make them feel comfortable. As I said in a previous post, what depressed people need are people they don't need to wear masks around. People who are attentive, thoughtful, and kind, and who know, even when they're acting like they're fine, that they're not. It takes real empathy to support someone who is depressed.

We are tremendously brave

We, the depressed, tend to think we are weak. We are incapable. We are sad. But the truth is we are incredibly strong. Depression is like wearing a 50-pound invisible emotional weight on your shoulders every day, and your body never seems to adapt to it. It is a struggle every single day. And you keep hoping it will just go away, but the longer it stays, the more discouraged and tired you get. It is fighting with your mind every day to feel worthy, to feel lovable, to have faith, to feel okay. The fact that we get up and go to work, socialize, go grocery shopping, smile, go to church, or sometimes even just brush our teeth means we are strong. 

To a normal person, we look weak. To a healthy person, we may look like we're needy, attention-seeking, and irrational, but for us, even being around you in the first place is a victory. And I hope that you keep that in mind. When someone you know is being anti-social, irrational, emotional, or is putting on a smiling face when it doesn't seem quite real, these people are depressed, and they need love and support. They do not need pity. They need someone to know they're struggling and support and love them.

It really is true that everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, and I can't tell you how many times I've been embarrassed by my own actions in handling certain situations. I pride myself in being logical and independent, so, oh, I hate it when I get irrational and feel like a burden. As much as I try to keep control of my situation and my emotions, I don't have much control. And sometimes I have to work hard to forgive myself for behaving a certain way, and I can only hope that others forgive me as well.

Why I'm speaking out

It's honestly absurd how many people struggle with depression and it's also absurd how many people don't understand it despite that factincluding some of the people dealing with it! In order to face depression, you have to understand how it affects you so you can fight it. You also have to understand how it works so you don't feel guilty for some of the things you do that are perfectly normal. Of course, we should always be trying our best to be our best, but when your best doesn't measure up to someone else's best, it's not your fault. When you are depressed, you are carrying a heavy load.

Let's open our eyes. Let's learn about this very common and debilitating illness. Let's validate others. Let's help.