Being Brave (In A Cowardly World)


Selfish: having or showing concern for only yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people. 

Coward: 1.) someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected 2.) someone who is not at all brave or courageous. 

Fox News analyst Shepard Smith was recently put under fire for insulting comments regarding the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The 63 years old man committed suicide on August 11, 2014. Smith referred to William’s death as “cowardly” in a recent news segment. 

One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight. Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.

Rightfully so, his comments were not well received. Criticism has come from people who know how it feels to live with severe Depression. Many have actually contemplated or attempted suicide. They know how it feels to reach that point where you feel like there is no hope. They are left with two choices. Do I end it all or do I face my fears and find the help I need? I live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of the neurological disorder known as Autism. I still find it difficult to connect with people, even though I try so hard to do so. Whether I like it or not, I have to do it if I want to survive on my own. This condition has made me especially vulnerable to Depression and Social Anxiety. I am also a gay man. I love men! It has taken me a long time to find the confidence to say that. I am this complex person who nobody else will even care to understand or even get to know. (At least that is what I hear from the occasional troll who loves to comment on my blog.) The truth is, Depression is a very difficult topic for me to explain. It is mainly because the condition affects people in many ways. Australian writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone described his journey towards overcoming Depression in his book “I Had a Black Dog (And his Name Was Depression.)” As the title suggests, the black dog was used as a metaphorical alternative to the word depression. 

I had a black dog and his name was Depression. Whenever the black dog made an appearance, I felt empty and life just seemed to slow down. He would surprise me with a visit for no reason or occasion. The black dog made me look and feel older than my years. When the rest of the world seemed to enjoy life, I could only see it through the black dog. Activities that used to bring me pleasure, suddenly ceased to. He liked to ruin my appetite. 

I have learned not to beat myself up and try to figure out the exact cause of my symptoms. Personally, I don’t care if it is directly because of my Asperger’s, obliviousness to my sexuality or just biology and genetics. I was shy, socially challenged and closeted kid who insisted he was “just going through a phase.” If I were to suddenly find out the cause of all my problems, I can guarantee that my symptoms would worsen. I would be this miserable, unhappy guy who constantly focused on everything that is wrong in my life. They could even push me to the breaking point. I know that I have to stop it from going there if I want to survive in this world. It’s very hard to do, but life is not always a walk in the park. 

He chewed up my memory and my ability to concentrate. Doing anything, or going anywhere with the black dog required superhuman strength. At social occasions, he would sniff out what confidence I had and chase it away. My biggest fear was being found out. I worried that people would judge me. Because of the shame and stigma of the black dog, I was constantly worried about being found out. So, I invested vast amounts of energy into covering him up. Keeping up and emotional lie, is exhausting. Black dog could make me think and say negative things. He could make me irritable and difficult to be around. He would take my love, and bury mine to the sea. He loved nothing more than to wake me up with highly repetitive and negative thinking. He also loved to remind me how exhausted I was going to be the next day.

Having a black dog in your life isn’t so much about being a bit down, sad or blue. At its worst, it’s about being devoid of feeling all together. As I got older, the black dog got bigger and he started hanging around all the time. I’d chase him off with whatever I thought might send him running, but more often than not, he’d come out on top. Going down became easier than getting up again. So, I became really good at self medication, which never really helped. Eventually, I felt totally isolated from everything and everyone. The black dog had finally succeeded in hijacking my life. When you lose all joy in life, you can begin to question what the point of it is. 

Thankfully, this was the time that I sought professional help. This was my first step towards recovery and a major turning point in my life. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, the black dog affects millions and millions of people. It is an equal opportunity mongrel. I also learned there is no silver bullet or magic pill. Medication may help some, but others need a difficult approach altogether. I also learned that being emotionally genuine and authentic towards those close to you can be an absolute game changer. Most importantly, I learned not to be afraid of the black dog and I taught him a few new tricks of my own. The more tired and stressed you are, the louder he barks. So, it’s important to learn how to quiet your mind. It’s been clinically proven that regular exercise can be as effective to treating mild to moderate depression as anti depressants. So, go for a walk or a run and leave the mutt behind.  Keep a mood journal! Getting your thoughts on paper can be cathartic and often insightful. Also, keep track of the things that you have to be grateful for.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how bad it gets, if you take the right steps, if you talk to the right people, black dog days will pass! I wouldn’t say that I am grateful for the black dog, but he has been an incredible teacher. He forced me to reevaluate and simplify my life. I learned that rather than running away from my problems, it’s better to embrace them. The black dog will always be a part of my life, but he will never be the beast that he was! We have an understanding! I’ve learned through knowledge, patience, discipline and humor, the worst black dog can be made to heal. If you’re in difficulty, never be afraid to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. The only shame is missing out on life!

Matthew Johnstone “I Had A Black Dog (And His Name Was Depression) 

If there is anything that Depression has taught me, it is that none of my differences entitle me to sympathy from other people. When I meet a new person, you will never hear me say anything like this. “Hi! I’m Derek! I’m gay, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m Depressed! Woe is me!” The only way I will ever believe that someone genuinely respects me is if they chose to look beyond all of those things that make me appear “different” from the rest of society. I do not care if people know that I am gay. I have grown used to the fact that people are going to find out sooner or later. However, I have a very different expectation for disclosing my diagnosis. Should I ever tell any person I meet, they must not disclose it to anyone else without my explicit permission. I know that people can be very judgmental when they find out someone has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. They believe the stereotypes portrayed in fictional television shows and by news media outlets. (For example: Dr. Virginia Dixon on Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Temprence Brennan on Bones.) I wrote that heartfelt letter to Steve Grand because I was confident in the belief that he was actually willing to listen. I hate to be this way, but most people could care less. I am greatly improving in my ability to “hide” my symptoms at times and places when it is necessary to do so. I must admit, it can be very overwhelming! Society does not think “high functioning Autism” is a “legitimate disability.” Regardless, it is “legitimate” to me! 

There is one thing I have learned about the tragic death of Robin Williams. When the world overwhelms, frustrates and saddens me, there still is hope. I am not selfish. I am not a coward. I am just someone who needs help coping with the world. It took me a long time to realize that. I often wonder if Robin would still be here if someone would have told him those words. Even if it cannot bring him back, it can still help people who feel like they have lost hope. That is one of the many reasons why I write the way I do! 

 

 

My experiences with Social Anxiety


Gossip, rumors and labels are the things that all teenagers have to deal with. Most of the gossip and rumors about people are not even true, and the people spreading them usually don’t know what they are talking about. The labels I get are extremely hurtful as well, such as loner and reject. If you think what you have been going through during your teenage years is bad, try putting yourself in the shoes of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, Depression and Social Anxiety. In school, people have always given me the nasty labels such as “loner” and “outsider”. People seem to think that I don’t want social interaction with people and that I want to be alone, when that is not true at all. I really do want social interaction with people, but people don’t want social interaction with me because of the labels and gossip people have that spread about me.

My social anxiety started when I was in seventh grade at the Freeport area Junior High School. Everyone in the school grew up from the adorable little kids they were in elementary school to snobbish, immature junior high students. This was the year “social cliques” started to develop and gossip, and it seemed like gossip and rumors spread even more than any cold or flu bug. As soon as a person got detention or suspension, it spread around the entire school. The reason for why this gossip spread around so much is because of how small the junior high really is, it can only fit about 200 students total. Those were also the years that people started to notice that I was different than everybody else, I had odd interests in things like fire drills and school buses, and I did not have the confidence or the skills to reach out to people and talk to them. Because of this, I was one of the most frequent targets of bullying and gossip. When I would try to reach out to people, they would either sit there and ignore me or speak to me rudely and tell me not to sit with them. It seemed like anytime I would try to open up to somebody, they would avoid me and make fun of me for no reason. Most of the social cliques in junior high were only into making crude adult humor jokes and making fun of people that did not act just like them. One particular incident was in eighth grade at our end of the year field trip. If you remember the student name Eric who I mentioned in my other blogs, this was the incident that really triggered my social anxiety when interacting with my peers in school. We went on a cruise on one of the Gateway Clipper fleets in Pittsburgh, and it was a dinner and dance that was held in the evening. Since I didn’t really have a group of friends to sit with, I sat alone. I remember I got up to get my food for the dinner, then I sat down to eat. Right after I sat down I heard Eric say a real nasty comment about me. I heard it loud and clear over the loud music that was playing, and that comment really upset me for the rest of the night. I am not going to mention what he said on here, but it was a very ignorant thing for somebody to say to a person that he was a classmate with. I got so upset by the comment that I couldn’t really focus on eating my food, then I just got up and sat on a chair outside and cried about it. I figured that telling on him would cause him to talk rudely about me even more or he could even start saying rude things directly to me,

My social anxiety worsened when I finished eighth grade and became a freshman in high school. Because I was no longer the highest grade in the school and didn’t really know anybody there, I became so tense and nervous. It was very intimidating for me because everybody was older than  me, and they were all in their own social clique of friends. Most of the upperclassmen were your typical freshman haters, and they all had absolutely no interest in associating with people like me because they were in their own “little group” of friends. I knew that Freeport is a rather small high school, but it seemed a lot bigger to me because it was a new environment with new people. In junior high I had a difficulty understanding who was my friend and who was not. I was “set up” and tricked by people many times. When I started high school it was very difficult for me to move on from those experiences and make a fresh new start. I had this generalization that everybody was bad and that everybody has something against me, which I still do now. I am working on getting rid of it, but it is very difficult for me because of all of my past experiences with people. Many people tend to think that social anxiety and depression is something that you can just “snap out” of, when it is not. People who suffer with it now will suffer with it for the rest of their lives. Yes, there are medications they can take, but they can sometimes worsen their symptoms.

I have gotten help for my symptoms, but social interaction with people is still a very difficult thing for me. I am not one for talking on the phone with people, even when they are close friends. In the rare times that I have called my friends, I feel that they will have something against me and try to avoid me. When I give them invitations over the phone, I tend to fear that they will not want to be around me and make excuses for why they want nothing to do with me. I especially have difficulty dealing with that, being avoided by people really hurts someone that has been through it countless times. I also worry that it might be the wrong time to call and they will get angry at me and avoid me in the future. Yes, I realize the phone etiquette rules, such as don’t call after nine o’clock, and two call attempts during the day is enough.

I also used to fear being around peers in public places other than school. I have seen my enemies in public places like the mall and the local grocery store before, and I try to avoid talking to them as much as I can. I don’t really have a problem around adults, but its peers that I really get uncomfortable around. When I see other teenagers whispering to their friends, even when they are people I don’t even know, I tend to fear that they are whispering about me, even though that most likely is not true. I still have the tendency to worry about things like this even though a few people in my high school have started rumors about me. When I talk to someone that I consider close friends, I tend to worry and think that they change and all of a sudden have something against me. I realize that change in a person is something that occurs overtime, and it doesn’t happen in just a few days or weeks.

I disagree with a lot of the therapists that work with people with depression and anxiety who think that pushing them to the limit and shoving therapy down their throat will cause them to magically “come out of their shell”. I have mentioned such a person before, and his name was Mike. I don’t think that he is bad at what he does for a living, but I disagree that overwhelming them and trying to change who they are will cause them to learn social skills and get through their depression and Anxiety. I think that his therapy would work for some people, but not for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome and Social Anxiety.

One thing I wish is that people were not so judgmental about me when they first met me, I don’t try to avoid new people when I meet them, I just tense up and get nervous. Because of this people tend to think that I am stuck up and don’t really want to be around them. I have also been around ignorant people who make rude jokes about people with these kind of mental disorders, and that is totally uncalled for. I think the world needs a zero tolerance policy towards that, but unfortunately that is not going to happen. Individuals with these disorders are teased all the time, and it sadly is not going to stop. But when you are around me I will not stand for it. To me, making fun of somebody for something they can’t control is totally inappropriate in any situation. You can bet that I will tell you that I don’t like what you are doing, and that it is uncalled for and needs to stop. I get very angry when I see comedy shows on TV make fun of people like this, even if it is “just a joke”. It is sad that there are ignorant people in this world that do things like this, but unfortunately it happens everywhere. I hope you got some idea of the things I experienced with my Anxiety, and I hope that you will take this into consideration when you see someone who may exhibit some of these behaviors. The next time you think about judging somebody, think about some of the things that this person may be going through. Be helpful to them instead of making fun of them and judging them.