How to Know You’re Depressed and What to Do About It

wpid-20141029_2047422.jpg.jpegThe subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.

Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed

  1. You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
  2. You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
  3. You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
  4. Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
  5. All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
  6. You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
  7. You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
  8. You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.

Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)

  1. Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
  2. Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
  3. Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
  5. Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
  6. Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
  8. Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.

Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.

Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.

How One Gets Called “Dirt”

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Here is a silly thing I am anxious about. My name… Miss Dirt… the one I chose, not the one I was given. I’ve been called some variation of “dirt” for the past 12 years, it’s part of who I am, and I love it. I also use that name for my blog which is just a silly digital thing I’m very attached to. However, I also decided to use the same name for derby, and I worry that it’s weird and confusing to people who don’t know me from my gaming and early blogging days. Am I just thinking too hard? Very likely.

In the event that I’m not, let me tell you where the name Miss Dirt came from so you will understand. Even if it doesn’t make you think I’m any less crazy, maybe you’ll get my brand of crazy and just, you know … not judge too harshly.

Or not. Whatever.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called Quakecon. Actually, it still exists, but it’s really different now. Quakecon was a video game convention for fans of the game Quake and really, anything Id Software made. It was held in Mesquite, TX (later in Grapevine and Dallas, and probably some other towns since I last attended). It was held in August every year, and it was free to attend. I was part of the Quakecon family for five years while I lived in Texas. I started as a general attendee, quickly saw the value of volunteering, and eventually wound up as part of the media staff, although I never felt that I accomplished much in that role. Anyway, everyone at Quakecon went by their gamer handles, and everyone took a certain amount of pride in their handle. Some were funny, some were faux intimidating, and some were just weird. I chose the name dirt (always with a small “d” back then) because I thought it was funny. I liked that people couldn’t tell my gender by the name I chose, so I got treated better by the community than if I’d had a recognizably feminine name. That was 2002, and I’ve been known as “dirt” to my best friends ever since then. When I first started dating my husband, his family even called me dirt to avoid confusing me with another Mary he dated before.

Over time, the name has come to mean something to me. I like the name dirt because it’s earthy and a weird mix of cocky and humble. It takes a joyful combination of nerve and stupidity to call yourself dirt and expect people to be cool with it. At the same time, dirt is as low as it gets without switching to less family friendly language. And yet, where would we be without dirt? Dirt, to me, is pretty much what life is made of. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust … in other words, we’re all made of dirt. I like the absurdity of the name because I think life is absurd and this helps me remember not to take anything too seriously.

As for adding the word Miss to it and using capital letters, I guess you could say I felt like growing up, but not enough to give up the name. My husband and I ran gaming events together for years and, as a result, found ourselves at the center of a pretty amazing little gaming community. However, when you hang out with gamers, who are mostly male and younger than me, sometimes it’s necessary to remind them who the grownup in the room is. However, MsDirt was taken on Twitter, and I loathe the abbreviation Mrs. as well as what it stands for (let’s save that explanation for another day). So, despite being married and as grown up as I’ll ever get, I became Miss Dirt.

When I started playing derby, I thought long and hard about what to call myself. Should I pick a new name? Should I invent some new variation on the old one? Would it be weird if I kept blogging as Miss Dirt? Would it confuse people? Is the name derby enough? In the end, I never reached a satisfactory answer for any of that, but I decided that I really don’t want to have a new name. Some skaters use their given names on the track, presumably because they like what they’re called and don’t really want to be anyone but themselves. Personally, I never really identified with my given name (Mary), but I feel like the name Dirt somehow describes the person I’ve chosen to be.

A Path and a Goal

Wildflowers by the B&A Trail, photo by Dion Hinchcliffe

I never expected to be the type of person who exercises on her own just because she wants to, but that has come to pass. I’ve been wanting to improve my endurance in general, and I always feel better when I get a good workout, so I’ve been taking advantage of this perfect fall weather to get outside and enjoy the sun before winter comes. Last week, I skated about 3 miles on the B&A Trail just to test it out, but I didn’t track my time. Yesterday, I skated 5.4 miles and averaged 9  minutes and 30 seconds per mile (total 49 minutes), and today I did 3.9 miles and averaged 8 minutes and 2 seconds per mile (total 31 minutes).

I’m not sure if my speed is good, bad, average, or what. I asked the league via Facebook what pace they would aim for, but Ela Trick said I should just figure out my own starting pace and focus on improving that. Of course, she’s right. I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone else or set any expectations to beat myself up about. However, I also really want to be able to keep up with the big kids at practice. So, my goal for now is to maintain an average of 8 minutes per mile for an hour of skating. Once I feel comfortable with that, then I’ll think about going faster.

The trail is beautiful, but some parts are pretty poorly maintained. Folks on bikes don’t seem to notice, but when your wheels are smaller than your fists, every crack in the pavement is a little bit terrifying. Oh, and crossing the street on skates? Not my idea of a good time. On the bright side, the trail goes right past several cool local businesses including a coffee shop with outdoor seating where you can watch people walk, run, skate and bike past while you take a break. Plus, everyone on the trail tends to be in a good mood, and why wouldn’t they be? We’re all outside, soaking up the sun, enjoying nature and doing something that makes us feel good. Most people at least say hi, and occasionally people actually cheer you on as you pass each other. It’s a day-brightener, for sure.

I wonder how long this trail skating business will last and how far I’ll get before the weather turns too cold for it to be fun. Nimby and I are talking about getting an elliptical machine for the basement because some form of indoor exercise is going to be necessary to get through this winter. But until that comes through, I’m looking into the smaller investment of a jump rope.

Sometimes Progress Hurts

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Last Wednesday was my first time jamming during a scrimmage, and more than 24 hours later, I was still on an energy high. I didn’t score any points, and I got a few penalties, but the fact that I finally did it meant something to me. That and hearing someone cheering for me from the bench … the other team’s bench … that was a good moment. I love how the vets are so supportive. When they see you making progress they cheer for you so damn hard. Probably because they remember what it felt like when they had that moment — first assessment, first scrimmage, first jam, first time making it out of the pack. It just feels so damn good.

I don’t remember most of scrimmage. It’s always a blur so far in my experience, but it took on an extra special “what the fuck is going on” quality the moment Roxy asked whose turn it was to jam and Cash grinned and pointed at me. I think I actually made the Tina Belcher noise.

The good news is, I don’t remember anything hurting. The bad news is, I feel like my upper rib cage has been in a vice, and I actually have boob bruises. I did go to the box on a couple of track cuts and an illegal star pass (I was desperate to get it out of my hands, and I tossed it instead of handing it off properly). Oh, and I crashed into a referee. Again. It happened once before. I hope this is common for new skaters and I am not just uniquely stupid.

There were a few sharp moments in the blur, such as the realization that I had escaped the pack somehow, followed by the realization that I now must skate around the track as quickly as possible and do that again. To be clear, in my first jam, Pain was my pivot and Murda was one of the blockers. Do you know how many skaters would love to be able to say that? With those two on your side, anyone could get through the pack. Ok, and let’s be honest, the defense probably felt a little bad for the newbie openly admitting, “I’m so scared right now,” on the jam line.

There’s no deep message to this post. Just, “Wow, that happened!” I’m in a weird kind of happy pain. I wanna do it again, and I’m scared of saying that out loud because I’m terrified of doing it again. So you know, about normal for me.

I got home that night absolutely glowing and fully prepared to declare my unending love for every last member of CCRG, even the ref who caught me on that poorly thought out star pass. I know they say there will be good days and bad days in derby, and days when I wonder why I do it at all. I hope when those days come I can remember this.

Aches and Pains, Breaks and Sprains

We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.

We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.

This week, one of my favorite skaters fell hard during a drill. She’s just coming back from a long illness, and I know it’s discouraging to take a fall like that just as you’re getting your strength back. There was an audible pop as she went down, and she seemed to be in a lot of pain, but after some rest, she was able to get out on the track again. I was glad she came back out, yet worried about her safety. This got me wondering about pain, how we deal with it in derby and elsewhere in life.

“No pain, no gain” was a major reason I avoided the gym and any form of strenuous exercise for most of my life up to this point. Yoga was the first form of exercise I encountered where the motto was, “No pain? Great!” I believe pain is your body’s alarm system, a way of telling you where your limits are. If you learn to respect those boundaries and work with them gradually, you end up with a rich practice and a healthy relationship with your body. That’s why I prefer a slow and mindful practice and also why yogis emphasize the importance of good alignment to avoid potentially painful situations.

But it’s not quite the same in sports, especially derby. We talk a lot about safety, wear pads and helmets, and learn how to fall safely. Still, every time we put skates on, we take a pretty big risk. Great skaters fall all the time, and despite all their conditioning, good form, and constant practice, sometimes injury is a matter of chance. But we keep taking that chance practice after practice, game after game, because we gain something from the sport that outweighs our fear of pain.

On the other hand, there are the everyday pains of derby. Personally, my feet hurt. My low back and hips are sore pretty much all the time. My hamstrings are tight, and even my neck and shoulders get cranky sometimes. I’m trying to improve this situation by (a) skating better, (b) practicing more, and (c) doing at least a little yoga every day. I think this pain is temporary, and if I treat it right, it’s just a stepping stone on my derby journey. Again, I gain something from the sport that outweighs not just the threat of pain but the reality of it.

And finally, there are the bruises. If you’ve ever hung out with derby players, you’ve probably taken part in a conversation about bruises. There’s always a bit of pride involved, and usually a story about how we acquired said bruise. I currently have a nasty one on my shoulder from my first scrimmage. It’s two weeks old and still makes people ask, “Holy cow, what did you do to yourself?” Getting it hurt, but I’m proud of it because it’s proof that I went out and did something scary and survived.

I still don’t like pain, but I no longer believe it’s to be avoided at all costs. A certain amount of pain on a day-to-day basis is acceptable to me as long as I feel I’m gaining something from it. As for those unpredictable injuries, broken bones, dislocated joints, and even concussions are risks I accept while simply hoping I can dodge them. It’s hard for me to say why I’m willing to take those risks for derby. I still don’t believe in the “no pain, no gain” slogan, but I’m starting to understand that without a certain amount of risk involved, life just isn’t nearly as fun.