Depression: Reflections on Robin Williams and Recognizing Pain in Others

Robin Williams’ death rocked the worlds of many. I share the sentiment that so many people have expressed, that it’s hard toCarie Sherman believe someone who made so many people laugh could have suffered so greatly.

Yet I have a feeling, if you’ve suffered from clinical depression (and it’s close cousin, addiction), the news isn’t that surprising.

I’m one of the 350 million people worldwide who suffers from clinical depression. It’s been a constant companion.

More than 10 years ago, when I was 26, I woke up and realized there wasn’t a goddamn thing on earth that could motivate me to get out from under my blanket.

I’d been in a “mood” for a while. I blamed work. I missed my family. Life had just felt tough. But that morning, I was on vacation. My parents were visiting. I had a wonderful relationship with my now husband and a multitude of friends I could count on for support.

The mood persisted. Soon enough, I had to get help.

I’ve spent years trying to understand my depression. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressants motivated me get out of bed in the morning. I learned how to recognize Depression’s Voice over my Own Voice through cognitive behavior therapy. I found refuge in exercise: Running, hiking, yoga. Rinse, repeat.

And I got better. I praised the meds, the therapy, the exercise…

If there’s one thing feeling good does, it breeds complacency. I felt invincible, and for a time, I was. But soon I “knew” I could do it without the meds. I upped the exercise and sought different methods through therapy.

I did everything I could to avoid pain and increase pleasure. For me, pleasure equaled busy. I buried myself at work, went to school at night, ran races, volunteers for charities, threw parties, binge-watched the Sopranos, read every bestseller. Each unit of time I was given was scheduled.

Little did I know, that which I ran from would always, always be with me.

It took getting sick to find this out. My lupus-like illness brought my treadmill life to a screeching halt. And without all my distractions, life felt, once again, impossible.

But I had to get out of bed. I had a family. And as worthless as I felt and as loud as Depression’s Voice was, I could still recognize my own. It told me to hang on, if only because my daughter didn’t deserve to navigate this life all by herself.

So I began a new march–recycling what I’d learned years before in an effort to get better.

This time, it didn’t work. Therapy took far more energy than I had in my reserves. I could hardly shower, much less drive across town. I started new medications. The side effects were terrible.

I tried to run. My body put me out of commission for a week.

I couldn’t control this new illness. I couldn’t control my old illness.

I was lost.

Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It isn’t just being sad. Depression is not just about being hopeless. Like lupus, somedays you feel fine. Other days, you wish for permanent reprieve. You seek pleasure–from socializing, from booze, from drugs, from food–because pleasure remission keeps you going. Depressed people are chameleons–we cloak ourselves in clever disguises so even those closest to us never see our true colors.

I’m still lost. But I credit this loss of control with opening my eyes to a new way of living. Change is constant. Pain is inevitable. Control is an illusion.

So what helped? For the first time ever, I was quiet. I started to trust my intuition and practice gratitude. I realized the only thing I could control was my thoughts. I went inward, through meditation and the seeking of universal principles. I listened for Depression’s Voice, telling me untruths with unmatched persuasion. And I listened for my own voice–that little piece of love that remains strong and steady regardless of my circumstance.

And guess what? I feel better. But the suicide of Robin Williams has forced me to remember:

1) Clinical depression can’t be cured. I’ll always need to do what’s necessary to stay a few steps ahead of it, be that meds, meditation, calling in a higher power, or writing about my experiences with the sincere hope my words could help someone else.

2) Everyone experiences pain. Even those who never show it. And pain–be it physical or emerging from deep within–can take over your life so quickly. Pain can take a single moment to a defining moment in a heartbeat.

I hope by remaining aware of my own depression–my own pain–I remain aware of the pain of others. I have gotten through many days because of the love, kindness, and patience of others.

Today, I promise to be more to the people around me, even if my mind says it’s none of my business or that the person is undeserving. Because you just never know.

RIP, Robin Williams.

Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and others.


How the Girl with the Pearl Earring Learned to Let It Go

A few years ago, my husband gave me a set of pearls. It was a big deal. First, most of my jewelry up until this point had beenCarie Sherman purchased on the 3 for $10 rack at Claire’s Boutique. Second, years prior, he’d splurged on a set of diamond stud earrings. Which I lost, only months after receiving the gift.

Now, my husband is a generous, kind man. But he doesn’t mess around with me being irresponsible. He once made me carry a suitcase across the airport that practically weighed as much as I did, simply because he told me not to pack so much. (He was totally right. You definitely don’t need two pairs of boots and three sweaters when you travel to the southern-most part of Florida.)

So, the pearl earrings were a big deal. I’ve been excessively careful each time I’ve worn them.

That is, until I wasn’t.

It was January of 2012. I was still reeling from the loss of my former healthy, non-lupus-like-illness life. I was still in the business of “fighting” my disease. I’d been throwing punches like a champ. But no matter how hard I fought, no matter how much I didn’t give up, no matter how many doctors I saw, I kept getting sicker.

My fight was taking a toll on me–physically, emotionally, even socially.

Around that time, my dear aunt visited. Now, this is my “woo-woo” aunt–the one who loves crystals and massage and natural whole foods and the Divine. I was a recovering Catholic. Recovering, because through my lens as a child, I only saw the angry God. I totally missed the whole “loving and forgiving” part of the Bible and my parent’s teaching. (I sometimes wonder if this was the same kind of distorted thinking that led me to my depression and yes, maybe even lupus.)

She brought with her this book: Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver. Now, talk about “woo-woo.” This lady was OUT there. I could tell the instant I saw her picture on the back cover.

I remember telling my aunt earlier that day about how in catechism class as a child, my teacher taught us to pray in terms of “thy will be done.” I found it to be complete and utter BS. The God I felt compelled to believe in would surely value my will.

So there I was, sick as a dog. It was snowing–one of those highway-shutting-down storms that forces Chinese food delivery drivers across the city into overtime. I was stuck in my recliner. And bored. So I picked up the book.

Much to my surprise, Tosha was kind of funny. And engaging. And soon a few hours passed and I’d finished her book, a compilation of stories about her love affair with the Divine.

She spoke of a message of surrender. Of letting the universe do its work. Of offering your struggles to something higher than your rational mind can comprehend.

Something in my head clicked. I’d spent the last six months of my life in the fight of my life. And all that I’d achieved was becoming sicker.

It was the kick in the pants I needed. A few years before Elsa and little girls everywhere dreamed of singing, I began to Let It Go.

I spent more time doing yoga. And meditating. And repeating to myself time and again that the universe wanted me to be happy. And ever-so-slightly, things began to shift. I was suddenly finding myself connected to the right doctors, the right medications. I started feeling better. Physically, emotionally, and socially.

Until months later, AKA the day I lost my pearl earring.

It had been a rough day. I’d put myself out trying to snag a new client, and I failed. I had a hard night of parenting. I burned dinner. It had all the makings of a terrible night.

But now I knew what to do. After all, the universe wants me to be happy! So I spent the hours after my child went to bed ignoring my husband and immersing myself into a yoga and meditation marathon.

I patted myself on the back for taking control of my day. I was an active participant in the Game of Life. I was WINNING.

I hopped into bed in a blissful state that was quickly interrupted by the back of my earring stabbing me. I removed said earring, and grabbed at my other ear.

The other earring was gone.

I hopped out of bed with a speed unseen in most lupies. I began tearing through my room, dumping laundry hampers, bulldozing through my closet, rifling through trashcans. My inner peace had left the building. I went from Zenned-out hippie girl to enraged, over-caffeinated, gun-toting, road-raging crazy person in a span of 30 seconds.

I’m not sure how long I searched. But it was all in vain. My pearl was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, Tosha’s voice whispered in my ear. “If something is yours by divine right, it can never be lost. Surrender.”

My body didn’t have enough left to keep up my fight. I laughed at myself, and how I’d fought so desperately for my Zen moment, only to let myself get worked into a tizzy nearly instantaneously post-adversity.

Had I learned anything?

I sat down. I gave up. I spoke directly to a higher power, saying, “If this earring is mine, it can’t be lost. I have faith in its return. If it doesn’t return, it wasn’t meant to be mine.”

My heart rate returned to normal. I unclenched my teeth. I went to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up to my daughter singing to herself. With a smile, I entered her room. But my smile turned upside down. Just two steps in, I stepped on something sharp. I began to cuss what was sure to be a Lego piece that had somehow been missed during nightly clean up. If you haven’t experienced the pain of stepping on a Lego, you simply haven’t experienced pain.

There was my pearl earring, stabbed into the skin between my foot and big toe.

Cue Twilight Zone music.

Back to the present. I’m once again going through a hard time. And by hard, I mean devastating. It’s nothing I can or will speak of in specific terms, but suffice to say that I’m currently being carried along by friends, family, and way more caffeine than one person should drink. To you all (I’m looking at you, too, Starbucks barista), I again say thank you.

This situation feels impossible. I’m doing my best to stay positive, to give it up to God or the Goddess or whatever higher power I feel most connected to, and to trust and have faith that all parties involved will emerge stronger and happier than ever before. Including myself.

But it’s hard. It’s so dang hard.

Cue reminder from the universe.

I’d just gone to lunch with my parents. I wore my pearl earrings. I came home and decided to take a nap. I went to remove my earrings. One was missing.

I felt like panicking. I felt like tearing the room apart. I felt like throwing something very heavy and breaking something just to watch something shatter. Instead, I remembered the lesson I’d already learned. I gave up my fight. I announced that if the earring was truly mine, it would be returned. I took my much needed nap. I awoke, with a strong urge to fall into child’s pose on the yoga mat that has parked itself next to my bed. I reached my hand under the bolster I use for yoga.

I pulled out my pearl earring.

I sat for a long while. I cried. I again gave up my devastating problem to the universe. I recognized that a problem of this magnitude could never be resolved as quickly as a lost earring. But I still needed to have faith.

If the universe has my back on small matters, it has my back on the big stuff, too. I just need to wait.

Here’s to surrender, my friends in lupus. May surrendering to your circumstance bring you the comfort and healing you need and deserve.

Thank you, Aunt Soy.


Life Lessons from a Broken Kitchen Sink

The faucet in my kitchen broke this weekend. Each time you turn it on, it sprays water–everywhere. And though I instantly thoughtCarie Sherman this type of problem was an emergency, it seems plumbers prioritize things like “major pipe bursts” and “sewer back-ups” over my inability to function properly in my kitchen.

So I’m without a water source in my kitchen.

After more than a few “dammits!,” I realized going to the sink for water was far too much of a reflex for me to remember on my own. I finally resorted to forming an “X” over the sink with painter’s tape–a visual reminder of what’s broken and a pattern I need to change.

Now, being without a kitchen sink–in the grand scheme of life–isn’t such a big deal. It can certainly be filed in the nuisance category. But let’s not underestimate the nuisance either: How many times do you use your kitchen sink every day? I reckon it’s a heckuva a lot more than you realize.

It’s been a few days now (plumber is coming tomorrow–they could have been here sooner but they operate like the cable companies and give you windows of time–and though I work from home I do have other obligations–so tomorrow, it is).

And guess what? This morning, I filled my coffee pot in the bathroom. Without thinking about it. I washed my hands, filled the refrigerator water jug, and the pet dish–all without turning first to my kitchen sink. Of course, I had to give extra thought to walking with full water containers the 10 feet from my bathroom back to the kitchen, but it wasn’t that big of deal. It’s just … different.

Kind of like the changes we’re forced to make when the bigger things in life go wrong. Like lupus. It’s not ideal. It’s not what we hoped for in life. But over time, we adapt. We learn to do things differently.

My sink broke, and I needed Plan B. With lupus, you always have to have a plan. Am I rested enough? Is there a place I can sit? What am I doing the day before? Did I pack Advil and water and comfy shoes?

Using the kitchen sink was a habit. So I had to put a big “X” over it. With lupus, sometimes you have to X over a few things to remind yourself that life has changed. I’ve put Xs over many things, and I’m sure you have, too. From where I sit right now, I can see my pill bottles–my visual reminder that life changed, and I need to take my meds.

But time passes. And today, using the bathroom sink emerged as a habit. Just like many of the changes I was forced to make because of my chronic illness. It’s still not ideal. But it’s certainly not the end of the world.

Life is filled with problems. Your sink will break. Your body will fade or your mind will betray you. Relationships will end.

Sometimes, the best you can do is put an X over it, and move on.


5 Ways to Feel Better Right Now

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

I hope this post finds you well. But if it’s not, here are 5 simple–and proven!–ways you can feel better right now. So forget that fever or rash or the fact you sliced your daughter’s finger with a nail clipper, and start feeling better now.

  1. Accomplish something. Just one small task. Don’t pour over your big to-do list, just see something that needs done and do it. I just opened the stack of mail that had piled up. And while it resulted in nothing good, I do feel better now that I know what’s in there (and when I go to tackle the pile of bills, at least there will be one less step).
  2. Use your imagination. Go ahead–take a few minutes and daydream. Think back to when you were a kid, and play pretend. Imagine your next vacation, pretend you’re on the beach, picture yourself running around in perfect health…it can work.
  3. Send a thank you note. Surely, someone has recently done something nice for you. So why not let them know how much you appreciated it? Doesn’t need to be fancy–an email will suffice. It’ll be good for them–and science says, it’s also good for you.
  4. Go outside. Just 20 minutes out of doors in good weather can make you feel more positive. One small study indicated a “behavioral change is associated with mood change and vitamin D status.” And since vitamin D is important for those of us with autoimmune issues, it may be even more beneficial.
  5. Don’t feel like smiling? Do it anyway. Studies have suggested that even a fake smile can boost your mood. Some researchers think that emotions aren’t only in our brains–other body parts contribute to what we’re experiencing. Bonus! The fake smile may also reduce your perceived level of pain.

These 5 things are easy to do, so what do you have to lose besides a sour mood?

What’s your favorite way to feel better?