But I Can Do Something
Thoughts on creativity, time, mindfulness, and small steps
A bit of a life in real-time update. Some music information at the end.
I was born by the railroad tracks Well the train whistle wailed and I wailed right back Well papa left mama when I was quite young He said now "One of these days you're gonna follow me son" Woh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh I ain't ever satisfied Woh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh I ain't ever satisfied -Steve Earle
My Depression Story
As my first marriage ended, I slipped into depression. I didn’t realize it at the time. I’d never had that experience and have not since.
I typically live in a nearly manic up-state of confidence and creative musings. This is both a good and bad thing. We may explore why at a later time.
Suffice to say, too much confidence and creative musings has allowed me to take my eye off the ball many times. Again, we may explore this later.
I am, with all honesty, excited and motivated nearly every day of my life! I’d say it is every day but I suppose when I was sick with Covid and then RSV last year I woke up annoyed and exhausted those mornings.
So the above referenced depression was so unfamiliar that I didn’t recognize it.
Then, one day, I got up from my computer. I realized it was nearly 2pm and I had not eaten lunch. I walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, grabbed some turkey slices, and ate them while standing there.
I closed the fridge, washed my hands, and went back to my desk.
On the screen was a blank document. A document I had opened earlier that morning.
~ Blank ~
Jess, my 2nd child, was living with me at the time. She was outside reading something.
I walked out to her and said, “I think I’m depressed.”
She started crying.
I carry a lot of shame about this. Still do… please, no kind words. I sort of appreciate the feeling of shame.
I had allowed Jess and my other kids to carry the burden of watching me fall apart. I feel that if I had spent any time truly assessing myself, my lackluster action at anything, my lost consulting projects, dwindling income, etc., should have served as a loud crashing warning that things were amiss.
But, that too is hubris.
I know enough about depression to understand that, when in the midst of it, you rarely see it or want to admit that you see it.
The causes of my depression are many. Loss of marriage. Loss of family. Feelings of failure and inadequacy. Letting my children down. Letting my friends down.
It took me a couple years to move through it. I didn’t get on any meds but I did get some counseling and I picked up a couple mentors. One, in particular, who I asked to check in with me on Monday to see what my plan for the week was and to check in again late Wednesday to see if I’d taken concrete action.
Disclaimer: I am NOT offering advice on getting through depression. I am not qualified to do so. For many, depression is chemical and far more insidious than what I faced. The only advice I’ll offer is that you talk to an expert! Not the internet and not well-meaning friends. An expert! Please do that.
A Benevolent Dictator
It is also when I began referring to my calendar as my benevolent dictator.
Concrete actions did NOT fix/cure my depression. Nope…
But it did help me complete some projects and improve my income a bit.
The calendar knew (and still knows) better what I had to do on any given day than my feelings did. And, while I was not always successful, when I did my daily actions, by rote and mindless adherence, I alleviated some of the extra pressures.
And I wrote a lot of songs and started performing a lot!
For me, my depression slowly abated as I understood and leaned into my agency. Feeling in control of my actions and emotions - and a study of radical honesty - were healing actions.
Oh yeah. In case I’m not clear about this, songwriting! Creative output! It helped me explore emotions, themes, and involved me with a community of performers.
I've stood still and I've stood down Stood frozen with fear when I should have stood my ground Stood by while others have taken the fall Now I stand naked in my shame and I just can't stand it no more Cuz time keeps rollin' Life is moving me on Climb that mountain Get back where I belong ----- Where I Belong © 2009 - Matthew Moran
A couple weeks ago I admitted to Deb that I was dissatisfied with life… with our life!
This is not an indication of her… I love her! She is my favorite person! She is appropriately mean to me, too forgiving of me, demands too much of me, and is the first to tell me I need to relax, breathe, and not take on the burdens of others.
I’ve reflected on this dissatisfaction a lot over the past week or two. I’ve shared it with a few friends. In some ways it is curious to me. I am often dissatisfied with my actions or lack thereof but I’ve never felt dissatisfied with life. Not like this!
Recently, I was watching this Sam Harris video where he discusses the idea of the illusion of self and how our unexamined and automatic thoughts are a primary source of unhappiness.
In the video, at around 36 minutes, he explains and then takes you through an exercise in Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as a word, is all the rage. However, in discussions with people the past couple of days, I recognize that, similar to me, most people have no idea what it is.
It is a meditation practice where, in simple terms, you simply reflect on your current experience, working to recognize when your mind wanders due to random thoughts. It is NOT meant to minimize or block out the world, sounds, sights, smells, etc. But to take stock of them, and your thoughts, very intentionally.
Sam does this exercise while extricating any vestiges or pretense of the metaphysical trappings of any religion. You do NOT need to adopt or know anything about Buddhism or any tradition. It is purely a mind exercise. Neuroscience baby!!
For my Evangelical friends, don’t worry, I’ve not summoned Baalzebub yet… yet.
I own my thoughts, therefore, I own my dissatisfaction
This isn’t new news to me. I am a true believer of ownership. People don’t make me feel a certain way - ie: “You made me angry” is a lie.
We get angry when things occur - but the anger is ours and ours alone.
Or happy! Or content.
I also believe that our emotions are, at times, warranted. They are appropriate to the situation. We should be angry or happy or dissatisfied…. at times.
But, what I believe mindfulness is meant to do is to help you recognize ruminations. Ruminating is not a healthy option.
Some type of action is.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve explored my unhappiness and dissatisfaction a lot. Not ruminating but rather assessing. Ultimately, I realize that we are in a certain season of life.
Some of the stresses we are facing are tough. Some of the worries are warranted. Deb and I are committed to the cause…the cause being us, our family, and our plans.
I’m not going into any detail here. Nor am I seeking support. We have family, friends, and mentors who both encourage and push me.
I’m simply conveying an experience. I hope in doing so that, if you see yourself or someone you love in a similar emotional state, that you can point them at this piece or offer them support.
Our current season of life has us busier than almost any other time I can recall.
And this frenetic pace has pushed many of our desired projects to the side.
I simply do not have time to get to everything.
I have time to get to a few things.
Mornings are a quiet and productive, albeit brief, time for me to move the needle on a couple things.
If I can take 40-75 minutes recording a couple guitar tracks, that’s good enough. It’s good enough because it is the time I have.
After that we have kids to work with, work to kid with, and the other sundries of life. Plus, if we can take 15 to 30 minutes to check in with each other at the end of the day before I drop off to sleep, that’s good too.
Usually, that 15 to 30 minutes is us looking at each other with wild eyes and then breaking into WTF, maniacal laughter.
Laughter is good… Am I right?
Thanks for reading.
May 16, 2023
We are still creating materials for my crowdfunding campaign. Might be IndieGoGo, might be Kickstarter.
I’m booked to play Barclays Coffee in Northridge on June 3, 2023 at 5pm. The link takes you to the Facebook event.
I’m supposed to get a date or two at Leashless Brewing in Ventura in June & July. When I know, you’ll know.
The Photo below is from last month’s performance at Leashless Brewing. Deb finally got her photography Instagram started. Go follow her. Thank her for making me look as good as one is able… that’s talent, for sure.
She tells me not to take on the burden of others but that I still need to cook for her and bring her coffee in bed. So… there is that.
Two more books for you :-). “The Untethered Soul” by Michael S Singer, and “The Road Less Traveled” by M Scott Peck. They teach about subjective perception, our stubborn mental maps and expectations of how things and others should be, and that annoying antagonist bossy “voice in our head”. And some other cool stuff. I wouldn’t say either of these are spiritual, they’re more scientific and psychological. Very practical. And once you read them, it makes it nearly impossible not to be aware of where our feelings and emotions are really coming from. That knowledge is incredibly helpful in maintaining inner calm and control of our own happiness. I still suck at it sometimes, stubborn human that I am :-). But I expect that over time I’ll get better at remaining conscious of all the tricks our minds play on us. Perhaps these two books will give you insight into where your dissatisfaction with life stems from? Is it your life(?) that needs changes, is it your mind(?) that needs it, is it a combination of both?
I don't want to appear insufficiently sensitive, bu you do not strike me as having the slightest scintilla of depresson. Indeed, I am very envious of you because I consider you a member of an elect congregation: The well-adjusted.
First an introductory semi-joke which illustrates the farcical nature of our thoughts re depression and emotional problems:
Consider this hypothetical:
A) John's house is on fire
B) This prompts John to be anxious and makes his heart beat faster
C) John is exhibiting the classic signs of an anxiety disorder (Formerly called anxiety neurosis, but the term neurosis was dropped from the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual becasue of its specific Freudian meanings)
D) Should we give John valium. OF COURSE NOT.
There is a song, a saying and a movie about schizophrenics entitled,
"I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN."
The human condition is not one of eternal edenic joy.
A feeling of anger or sadness or dismay is not necessarily a sign of emotional derangment.
Sometimes, unpleasant feelings tell us to wake up and get rid of the rabid rats in our basement.
The more one learns about psychodiagnostics, the more one learns to mistrust it
Compare and contrast with the diagnosis of physical ailments:
We can feel, see and often smell (it has a cruddy fecal sort of smell) an infected appendix
No one has ever seen, felt let alone quantified the ego or the superego.
Psychodiagnostics is filled with ambiguities, confusion, and arbitrariness.
The percentage of children with a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder has surged.
In prior years, they were GETTING DIFFERENT DIAGNOSES BECASUSE PSYCHIATRIC INTERESTS MAY HABE BEEN DIFFERENT.
Years ago, one of the most common diagnoses for middle aged women and young men was NEUROSTHENIA, a sort of withdrawal from the world characterized by complaints of exhaustion and disinterest. Are they getting the diagnosis of depressoin today.
Sometimes, a diagnose depends on what a doctor is looking for and where his ideological committments lie:
Compare and Contrast:
Many male homosexuals complained, both in turn of the century Vienna and contemporary New York, of diarrhea and gastro intestinal disturbances:
A) Shortly befoire World War One, Freud hypthesized that this was a manifestation of GUILT as homosexual sex involved the end point of the GI tract, the anus.
B) In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article entited "Manhattan, The Tropical Isle." The article noted that many gay men had GI problems from intestinal parasites more commonly seen in tropical climates.