OyChicago blog

Breaking the Cycle

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06/10/2009

Breaking the Cycle photo 1

Grand Canyon

I often feel like a walking contradiction.

I went to a theater camp for six years and was president of my BBYO council in high school, but am now terrified of even opening my mouth in a business meeting with more than three other people.

I know that if I watch any crime show after dark, when I go to sleep that night I will more likely than not dream that I was the victim in the most recent episode, and will sleep fitfully at best. And yet, I am currently obsessed with CSI: Miami, and will watch two or three episodes in an evening after getting home from work.

I’m terrified of regaining the 50 pounds I lost a few years ago, and yet if you put donuts, biscuits, ice cream, popcorn, corned beef hash, brownies, pretzels, nuts, cheese, or even a jar of peanut butter in front of me, I will lick the plate/bowl/carton/jar clean.

I refuse to cross the street against even the flashing “don’t walk” sign, or outside the crosswalk, and yet I’ll hurl myself out of a plane at 120 miles per hour from a height of 12,000 feet? That’s right, this past April I went skydiving.

Perhaps most ironically of all, I wrote an entire post about how my long, long, long list of fears had paralyzed me long enough, and how I wasn’t going to let fear and anxiety keep me from living my life any more, and promptly decided that I was not going to post it.

Because once more, I was afraid.

I was afraid to admit to the world (and, even worse, my mother), that I don’t have it all together.

I was afraid to admit that there are days when I can’t bring myself to do anything after work other than eat a few bowls of Cheerios for dinner and watch TV for three hours before crawling into bed.

I was afraid to admit that there are times when I’m so paralyzed by fear of not doing a good enough job at work that for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, I’m unable to do ANY job. I stare at a blank Word document. Or I write a sentence, read it back to myself, erase it, and start the process all over again.

I was afraid to admit that my fears aren’t just idle fears anymore, that my perfectionism and desire to live up to everyone’s expectations are no longer simply a quirky byproduct of being raised in a middle-class Hyde Park family.

No, that ship sailed a long time ago.

What I was afraid to admit to my mother, my father, my brothers, my friends, my boss, my colleagues, all of you Oy!sters out there—and to myself—was that I’d spiraled back into depression.

But here’s the thing. I know I’m not alone in fighting this particular demon.

Breaking the Cycle photo 2

Sunrise over dead sea from Masada

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals between 15-44, and it affects approximately 14.8 million American adults—6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older—in a given year. It is estimated that women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression.

Add to that the findings from a National Mental Health Association survey that 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and it’s no wonder that the same study found that 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help. All told, 15% of depressed individuals commit suicide.

Those are staggering statistics. And yet if depression is so prevalent—last night during a single episode of the Rachel Maddow show I saw commercials for Pristiq, Cymbalta, and Abilify—why are we all so afraid to talk about it?

So here’s where I end my cycle of contradictions.

Here’s where I stand up to myself, to my own fears, and to the rest of the world, and say that the time has come for those statistics to change, and the stigmas, too.

Here’s where I admit that I may not be posting my original piece, but that I’m not going to be afraid to be the (slightly imperfect) person I am anymore. I’m not going to hide my battle with depression, because it’s not something shameful.

It’s a medical condition, just like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, or cataracts; you wouldn’t shame your next door neighbor for his cataracts, would you? You wouldn’t be ashamed to admit to your mother that your arthritis was making your backhand a little less powerful on the tennis court, would you?

I’m not going to ask you to share your own stories in the comments, because I know how deeply personal mental illness can be—though of course you’re welcome to share if you’re so inclined.

I’m not going to ask for your pity or sympathy or to cry on your shoulder—my pity party ended a long time ago, and I’ve got a great therapist to listen to me whine and blather on and on for an hour every week.

I’m not going to ask you to donate money to specific mental health organizations, or to lobby your local representatives in favor of or against specific legislation related to mental health issues, or to sign up for any number of mental illness/suicide awareness events that are being held in the Chicago area in the coming months.

But I will ask you to take the time to learn more about depression (and mental illness in general).

I will ask you to understand that just because someone is depressed, it doesn’t mean they hate their life, or they’re permanently unhappy, or you need to preface every conversation with them with “how are you? Are you okay?” (That’s not to say that there aren’t situations where additional concern is warranted, but I think you understand what I’m saying).

I will ask you to be honest with yourselves and—in a textbook case of “do as I say, not as I do,” since my family is reading about this current struggle of mine for the first time here on Oy!—your loved ones.

Don’t become one of those NIMH or NMHA statistics of people who would shame others, or who would neglect to seek help for themselves.

Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you’re not perfect. None of us is, as Jacey and Dana touched on recently, and Cindy wrote about last fall after interviewing Leslie Goldman.

Don’t be afraid to confront your fears and stand up to stigma.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re afraid.

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“I have to live with a booyyyy?!”

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06/10/2009

“I have to live with a booyyyy?!” photo

Stef and Mike—new roomies!

You know that episode of “Friends” where Monica’s about to move in with Chandler? When she turns to Rachel and with a look on her face that says both I-can’t-wait-to-live-with-the-person-I-love and I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-to-live-with-this-slob-who’s-going-to-leave-the-toilet-seat-up, whines “I have to live with a booyyyyy!?”

I get it now.

About three weeks ago, I moved in with a boy—my boyfriend of over a year and a half, Mike.

The decision to move in together was not a rash one. I have a very strict rule that you should not sign a yearlong lease with your significant other until you have been dating for at least that long.  But when we knew both of our leases would be up in June 2009, moving in together just seemed like the obvious, and right, thing to do.

 Leading up to the big move, I had no apprehension whatsoever. I was excited to be able to see him every night, excited to feel settled and grounded, excited to move on to the next phase of our relationship. I expected the transition to be smooth—why not? The rest of our relationship has certainly been that way.

We found a small but beautiful one bedroom in the city, managed to agree on furniture that was nice and affordable and fit all of our clothes into our small but mighty walk-in closet—no easy feat for a boy who wears three pairs of socks a day and a girl who…well, and a girl. We decorated and built furniture, and dreamed of bbqing on our tiny balcony and snuggling on our comfy new couch to watch our way too big TV—if we could only agree on what to watch…

And so it began. He likes to go to bed early—I like to stay up late. He likes to cook meat in the kitchen—I don’t want to clean it up. I like to watch quality television like “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and “So You Think You Can Dance” –he wants to watch “Man vs. Wild.” I have to leave my hair straightener out on the bathroom sink to cool down—he wants it out of his way to make room for his beard trimmer. And the list of trivial disagreements goes on…

At first, I got frustrated—and a little freaked out. Why wasn’t everything perfect? What if these little fights turn into bigger ones? What if this didn’t work out? 

One afternoon, after a discussion about where to go to lunch escalated into a full-blown fight— amid my irate stomping around and door slamming—I looked over at Mike and smiled at the horrified look he was giving me. I love that “Man vs.Wild” watching, meat cooking boy. Finally, I was able to put things in perspective.

 I decided then it was time that I stop fuming about the stupid stuff and start to appreciate all the good stuff that comes along with living with a boy—like, there is always someone to take out the trash, reach things up high and kill spiders! (okay, maybe that stuff is trivial too, but it’s still useful!)  And after a long, busy day, we both have someone to come home to, a shoulder to lean on, someone to make us soup when we’re sick, a built in plus one for weddings and parties. 

The other day, after many dizzying hours of picking out furniture at IKEA, Mike suggested that we get a set of Shabbos candles. And a few days later, I went to my parents’ house to pick up the mezuzah I had bought years before in Venice, still in its original packaging because I had been saving it for the right time.

Sure, there will always be trivial disagreements when two people try to meld their two living styles into one, but the really cool part about all this is that through putting together this apartment, we are starting to build our life, together. Maybe all these little fights are just practice for some of the bigger compromises that lay ahead of us.

And even though we’re just renting our tiny one bedroom, for the first time since leaving our parents’ houses after high school graduation, the place where we eat, sleep and watch TV is starting to feel a lot more like home.

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