No reason why

This conversation happened more than a year ago now and I’ve just remembered it this week. Something prompted me I guess; I’m not sure. I was just sitting eating my tangelo outside in the weather on my tea break and it popped into my head.

This person was very well meaning. I’ve stripped back the conversation to those parts that are relevant to the point I want to make, which is that there is a difference between being sad, and having a disease called depression. This person offered several lovely and kind offers of sympathy and best wishes, and in the end we understood each other perfectly well, which is a satisfying and lovely point to come to between two people.

I don’t bear them any ill will, either now or at the time. I just understood then and now that when they said these things, they were meaning well and just didn’t understand what depression was and how it worked. So I explained my point of view, they understood that and asked several questions to help them get the facts straight, and we parted better friends. I’ve given the pertinent parts of the conversation below. At no time do I intend to reveal the identity of my friend. Honestly, the reason this conversation stands out to me is less because of who it was that said it, than that it wasn’t the first or last time I’ve been asked about sadness, or the cause of my depression, or had interesting versions of depression presented to me.

This post is to add clarity to what is depression, what is sadness or grieving or emotion, and why the difference is of any interest to you and me.

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Person, via text: “Danika, why are you so sad? Are you ok?”

Me: Yes I’m okay. I’m not sad, I have anxiety disorder and manic depression, or bipolar disorder.

Person: “You have everything a girl could wish for! A job. A loving husband. A place of work. A faith and I’m sure you have friendships and family. You have more than most. You have more than me. I don’t quite understand the reason for your depression”.

Me: There is no reason!

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This post is about you. And me. And everyone we know. It’s about how we think about mental illness. I’m not going to even go into the issues of stigma, discrimination, fear etc. There are many places where you can read about that. I just want to talk about how you, and I, and the next person think about, and talk about mental illness. I’ll narrow it down even further to my area of “expertise” which is depression, and manic depression or bipolar.

No one has more right or claim than anyone else to suffer from the medical condition that is depression. Depression just occurs. Like coeliac disease, or asthma, or cancer. There are people that are predisposed by genes or environment but at the end of the day, stuff just happens! We all know this about medical disorders but we tend to think differently about mental illness.

The opposite is true also. No one has less claim than anyone else when it comes to what diseases they get lumped with; their environment may be better but maybe their genes are worse or there may be life events that induce so much stress that the disease pathway is triggered. We don’t have to and don’t want to be competing for who should and shouldn’t have depression. Let’s just take it at face value and focus our efforts on supporting and caring for our friends who have depression.

Depression is not choosing to be sad. Depression is not a choice, just like grief and sorrow are not choices. Depression is feeling sad, mostly without a cause, and being bewildered by how extremely awful you feel in a situation where 5 minutes ago you were fine.

Bad things, very bad things happen in people’s lives. And the badness that they bring causes great sadness, grief, stress, sorrow, pain, hurt. When the badness can’t be removed or goes on for a long time or is so very hurtful that a person is under constant stress, mental illness can follow including post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. I don’t dismiss or belittle any of the emotions caused by bad events. Like I don’t belittle mental illness. People suffering from either need our kindness and sympathy.

But I do believe they are two different things. And I do believe that knowing they are separate things, and talking about them in different ways will help the people suffering to know that you are trying to understand, and help them. And this is an extremely valuable thing when you are suffering; knowing you have people on your side who are trying to help as much as they can.

As far as I can see, there’s a) direct pain and suffering from specific situations, then there’s b) random pain and suffering from mental illness. I seem to suffer from random pain, for whatever the “reason”; but of course randomness doesn’t have a reason, it’s random!

At all times I have been very well aware of how blessed I am in life. That makes suffering depression worse in my view. Not easier.

I used to run this checklist over and over to find a source of why I felt so awful and like life was unbearable: a fabulous supportive amazing husband, a really nice house that we used to live in and now rent out, a satisfying career that pays well, a rented apartment in a great part of the city much closer to our families. Our lives looked picture perfect from the outside.

But looks can deceiving. Many people didn’t know then that I was depressed, my husband included to an extent. I don’t know what your life is like right now. I can look and see, but what does that really tell me? You’re smiling, wearing nice clothes, visiting your folks for the weekend and playing happy families.

I know that I don’t know you, or what’s going on with you unless I ask. Unless we have a chat, a bit of a delve into the goings on in each others lives.

So I try not to judge from the outside; easier said than done! It’s just impossible to know what’s under the skin of a person. You can try to figure it out, but there’s only one tried and tested method. Just ask.

So why am I sad? Or why was I seen to be sad at that time?

No reason. Absolutely no reason.

No fight, no situation, no happening.

I was happy, contented in my married life, satisfied with my new job, safely housed, no stress, no worry, no issues.

Believe me I have scoured my life for something to show me why.

I had the lovely-turned-awful awful ex job, the horrid horrid ex-commute of my husband’s and his very unsatisfying ex job, and the commute of mine turned solo for the part year plus not seeing each other apart from after 8pm at night. Those had brought a lot of strain over a year couple of years, but we’d fixed it, it was better now!

We both changed jobs, we both moved closer to work and to family support, we were getting on famously and then this! Just out of the semi-blue and into my head.

Crying, anxious, panic attacks, tired, exhausted, famished. .. Just spent! Barely surviving, hardly keeping on going, struggling!

And why?

There is no why.

This is my favorite saying about depression. There is no why!

I was and am well aware that apart from my mental health, I lead a charmed life. I consider myself very lucky, very blessed.

But that don’t stop those tears a falling!!! Doesn’t stop the hurt, the pain, the anguish, the struggle with to-live-or-not-to-live. Although of course it’s not really living to live with full blown depression.

It’s like this: you’ve gone to the seaside for a weekend getaway. You look at the sea. You know logically from experience, from knowledge, by other ways that the sea is beautiful. You love the sea. It’s your favorite place to be.

But. You. Can’t. Feel. It!

You can’t feel it. You stare and look and look again. You touch it, you taste it, you smell it. Everything you do increases your certainty that you should love it, you should be happy here, you should enjoy this moment.

But you can’t.

You try to put yourself through the motions. You walk barefoot on the sand like you used to love to. You let the waves wash over your feet. You breathe deeply and take in the salty, seaweedy smell. Something inside of you should be rejoicing at this moment; thrilling, embracing it, loving it, loving life.

But it isn’t.

Why?

Because. There is no why. That’s depression, that mental illness.

Just like you can’t change your thyroid function, your heart beat or the pain in your toe by wishing it, you can’t will your mind to work differently. It will happen eventually. Medications, counselling, mindfulness, GP consultations, psychiatrist consultations in my case, and simply time.

But it can’t be rushed, it won’t be hastened, and then one day you will feel something more, a bit of excitement, some happiness, some joy and it will be amazing, and you will know you’re starting up the path to regular emotions and a regular life. What a moment!!

I should explain one more thing. Depression is a lack of feeling, feeling awful, pain and hurt. But not every minute of the day. Sometimes in a bad day there are still moments that remind you of your previous life, that just work, and feel good. These can help to disguise and abate some of the depression. But going back to depression feels a little worse after that.

I think this is what throws people off, including me at the start. Did you know that the night before I went to the emergency department because I thought I might die, I went with my husband to our good friends house for dinner and we laughed for 3 hours straight until my belly ached, my face muscles went into spasms and I was completely exhausted? In hindsight it is possible that I was on a high that night, but it’s still a point worth making, that depression doesn’t take up every minute of every day, but when you’re in it, it certainly feels that way because you can’t remember happiness or the good times. So if you can, remember the good times. Write them down on your wall, set up reminders in your phone; anything to remind you that it’s not all bad, and maybe that will help you get through to the day when some of your feeling comes back, and you can see the light!

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Serendipity

I had been looking forward to this past Saturday all week!

It was going to be my very first bird watching outing with BirdLife Australia, a group that I have recently joined as they seem to perfectly fit my need for like-minded people who are just as excited by finding birds as I am! They are a bird watching, photographing and conserving group and there are a bunch of great benefits to being a member! Exciting times!

So far all of my bird watching has been fairly ad hoc, on the run and just as I happen upon it. I’ve been fortunate to have wandered into many excellent birding locations by chance and happenstance, and a few excellent recommendations from friends have definitely given me a helping hand in the right direction. We are very blessed in Australia with birdlife, and Victoria is no exception. Luckily many varieties of birds still happily inhabit our backyards and local parks so that often we don’t need to make an effort at all to see many birds of all colours and sizes and sounds.

I joined this group a little while back and mostly for their regular birding outings as I still have a fair amount of caution about diving into thickly wooded areas alone! I’ve been testing out my nerves lately about going out alone into nature, and I’ve found out about myself that I’m okay walking around grassy open parks, okay with going into thicker wooded areas if it’s just a short section of the park, happy in any parks near a busy road and occasionally with full mobile reception and fully charged battery I’ll brave further off road. And so far I’ve been perfectly fine, so I’m gradually getting less jumpy and wide-eyed 🙂

My generalised anxiety has mostly abated with the treatment that I’m on for bipolar and depression but being a female alone in a area where no-one can see me, probably no-one can hear me scream and where I could potentially although quite unlikely but still scarily be attacked is one residual fear that I can’t quite shake off. I’m getting a lot better but I guess it probably is a safe and self-preserving habit to have. Especially since I’m taking most of my excursions during the middle of the day, which isn’t a peak time for other people to be walking through parks and gardens. Anywho, point being, I’d rather go with a bunch of strangers that I’ve never met than by myself 🙂 Especially when every one of the strangers is as interested or more in birding as me, and probably not so much in the other people around them.

Having said that, if I can coerce my husband or one of my friends to go with me, and they’re available during the same non-working hours as me, I’d definitely take that over the stranger business!

Moving on. My other motivation for joining a bird watching group was their expertise in identifying and locating birds and their intimate knowledge of birds and where to go and what to find when.

The particular sub group who had organised this bird watching trip are especially interested in photography which is perfect for me!

I’ve taken the opportunity while I am off work and free during the day to take an eight week course in photography. I saw a flyer for the course when I was out on a bird watching walk at Blackburn Lakes and it looked like exactly what I’d been needing.

The poster asked if I had a digital SLR camera but was still using it on auto? Why yes I was. It asked if I was frustrated with my photos and wanted to learn how to master my camera? Absolutely! So I signed up and started the classes. And I have learned a LOT! Still more to go but I’ve done five classes and I have already been able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned to my photography but I need to practice, practice, practice. I’m also learning the imperfections of my camera as I go along, and my list of what I need is growing…I can see that an upgrade will be in the cards some day but in the meantime I’m just enjoying being able to take better photos than what I could before 🙂

So, bird watching group found and joined; photography course turned up at the right time with the needed skill set; and now I’m all set for a day out enjoying the best of both! Yay for me!

So Saturday morning, Serendip Sanctuary, somewhere short of the You Yangs. I woke up to a good going fog and it was consistent all the way along highway and kept up to some degree most of the day. It was interesting to see how the fog showed up in photos taken at long zoom.

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands, gum tree, green grass, water

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands

A good drive with no traffic later, I pull into the car park. High excitement! Followed by a few moments of oh my goodness I am way out of my league! when I saw all the tripods, enormous camera lenses, binoculars, camouflage, neutral toned clothing and vibe of general expertise! Oh no I’m the amateur surrounded by experts! But everyone was very reassuring and helpful and in fact very keen to teach and show me the ropes.

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me! lens, camera, camouflage, tripod

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me!

Before I even got into the park I had seen several emus grazing in the paddock next to the sanctuary! Awesome! I’ve hardly ever seen emus in the wild; how exhilarating!

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!, grassland, bushland

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!

It turned out to be the most amazing day out! I think one day back a few months ago around Kialla Lakes I counted 25 species of birds in one day. Someone else is the group was counting on Saturday and I heard that they got over 50! Of course some we can’t take much credit for; some sections of the park were enclosures of captive birds, so that was easy game but that didn’t take any of the enjoyment out of seeing birds that I haven’t seen before.

Fun fun fun! I highly recommend this beautiful sanctuary; I find it absolutely astonishing that so many beautiful birds and animals can be accessed for nothing at all! Zero charge; amazing! There are enclosures, open park land, paddocks, waterways and wetlands, hides walking tracks; everything you need for bird watching.

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands, gum trees, swamp

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands

So of course I have to add some photos, but I promise only to post birds I have seen/posted ever before. I’m a bit disappointed with my photos, a lot had annoying camera shake which has me warming to the idea of a tripod but still not sure how it’ll work for me. I’ll have to keep thinking about it…

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!, wooden post, trees

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!

Overall I think my shutter speed was too slow for a lot of photos so I ended up with a lot of blurry shaky photos; but at least I know how to improve my shots next time.

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happt to take other opinions, gum tree, branch

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happy to take other opinions

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure, bird wire, bird feeder

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!, green grass, dew

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second, wooden post

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second

Okay I officially take back my statement that I will only post new birds; I just can’t stick to it!

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures, green grass, paddock

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance, green grass

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites, gum tree, blossoms

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!, gum trees

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked; reeds, water

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass, swamp, window sill

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go, swamp, wetland

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways, wetland, swamp

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around, leaves, dirt

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!, drinking, dish of water

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!

Another new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot, grasses, red nose

A new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together, branches

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery, green grass

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!, rocks, green grass

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater - none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater – none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure, grey, brown

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure

Red-Cheeked Honeyeater, very common but still a fun shot, eucalypt

Red-Cheeked Wattlebird; very common but still a fun shot

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!, fences, gates, green grass

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!, dead tree

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!

I have an amendment to make to a previous post from Lake Drysdale where I wrote that I saw and photographed Masked Lapwing plover chicks. I was mistaken; they are in fact their own species, the Red-Kneed Dotterels.

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline, bushes, march

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline

One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird…ah well, I still made use of their expertise and knowledge so no complaining 🙂

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird...ah well, gum tree

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. 

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline, water, reflection,

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!, bushes, green grass

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window