Change in Location!!

hey everyone.  I’ve built a new website that has my new blog on it.  Check it out!!   Would love to see some conversation started there.  Cheers!  

The Faces of Depression 

Lee

Drained

I don’t have a picture that has inspired me to write this blog today.  Instead, I’ve been provoked to rant for a second.  Last night I found a TED Talk that talked about a therapy called Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment Resistant Depression, which is the condition that I have.

I don’t know which emotion to feel first.  Anger, confusion, excitement, exhaustion, and tentativeness are all welling up against the dam at the same time.  In short, the treatment has been approved for OCD, but has shown remarkable results in TRD (my problem), as well as Parkinson’s.  You can see the differences in people in the TED talk itself, which I will post the link in a second.

If this is available, and works like the research has shown, I don’t know why they would let people feel the way I have for so long.  I know that when I am not in a “low”, I forget exactly what it’s like to be in the middle of the all-consuming black hole that lets no light in called depression.  If I can lose perspective of what it’s really like during a “bad day”, then I can only assume that people can not possibly understand unless they have been there themselves.  That is the only reason I can think if that would allow these doctors and government to be ok with the way I, and so many, feel so much of our lives.  At least I hope that is the reason.  Along with depression comes a conspiracy theory way of looking at the world, thinking that the cards are stacked against you no matter what you try or which way you turn.

Parkinson’s, depression and the switch that might … – TED.com

Warped Fog

969

I named this photograph “Warped Fog”. I named it that because of the odd sense that something is wrong with the scene when you look at it. Obviously it is a landscape reflection that isn’t in focus, which is something I don’t usually do, but there is something wrong that is hard to place.

Much like this part of my life, I am in a bit of a fog concerning where things are headed. Using “Things” is a bit in descript. Last year, my life was devoted mostly to the corporate world (again), and further helped me realize the path I needed to follow was not going to be found there. Don’t get me wrong; there are several things that I enjoyed about my 21-ish years in the corporate world. Being in Operations, more specifically, in retail and fast-casual food had its perks. It meant that I was a jack-of-all-trades. I knew a little about everything, but not a lot about anything. I can do enough to get by negotiating a commercial real estate deal (lease or purchase); I know how your balance sheet and cash flow statements should look and sound the alarm bells if they don’t; I can “keep the books” well enough to get by in a small corporation; I can write HR and Operation manuals, and policy and procedures; I can structure budgets for labor costs and hours , COGS, and EBITDA  (or EDITDAR if you needed it), with realistic goals since I am the one that wrote the manual on how to accomplish each, etc…. But I am left with too little knowledge of each to go into those worlds and work at any level other than the ground floor due to my lack of intimate knowledge and schooling. Makes me laugh when I say “schooling”.  It sounds like the Clampetts and Jethro knowing his gazidas.  (look it up)

But what did I enjoy about my corporate career? And for that matter what drove me away from it? I enjoyed being the leader of people that needed guidance in their lives. Most of my friends and colleagues aren’t the people I would prefer to lead. They already have a planned life, most of which were pretty much born into, and are following and adjusting course easily as needed. The younger group of employees I worked with, along with people that have started much like I did in life and hadn’t been exposed to the fact that there is a world outside of 20 miles of their house, are the people I enjoyed leading the most. I have been in their shoes and I know the path to get them out…….kinda. They are the people that I have the opportunity to change the direction of their lives and make sure they end up in a better financial and mental state when I leave them. As an example, I was able to help a young man with enormous potential, who would have been something great in the world had he not been born so far behind the eight-ball. Howard, let’s call him, had the charisma of a politician, the athletic skills of a super star college player (football and baseball), the drive and tenaciousness of Bill Gates, the high standards of Steve Jobs, and incredible street intelligence that would allow him to maneuver in and out of any circle of people he chose in life to be associated with. He, unfortunately, was born “on the wrong side of the tracks”, literally. Don’t get me wrong, by his family’s standards he is that super star I described, but I saw a real leader of people that could have taken him around the world and knew he had the key to any door he chose to go through.

I was able to leave “Howard” better off. As an example, I showed him a simple Excel spreadsheet showing how compound interest and modest deposits could allow him to retire by the time he was 50 with more money than he could really grasp, (he was only 22 at the time) and some basic leadership gave him a push in the right direction to further his career in the food world to as far as he wanted it to go (or more likely believed it could go).

This is what brings me to the part that drove me away from the corporate world. I, as I have said time and time again, have problems with depression and anxiety, and have throughout my life.   I’m not saying that I’m an empath, but I clearly take on the emotions of people around me, as well as, empathize with the futures that I know they are destined to have. All around me was negativity. I saw their futures, and I saw the misery most of them lived in without thinking twice about any other options. And many times there were no other options; by the sum of their actions or not. My job as a leader was exciting, but my job as a manger was awful. I can sum up a manager’s entire job quite succinctly. First, draw the company box (set the rules and regulations), then put the people inside the company box and explain to them that they are not supposed to go outside of that box, and lastly, constantly say “No, get back in the box.” That’s all I said 99% of the time. Over and over and over again. Finally, I realized that the reason I had to continuously say that was because they didn’t want to be in the company’s box. They wanted to be in their own box (lives and rules). The problem is, that the business they worked for did not belong to them, and in order to maximize efficiencies and therefore profits for someone else, they had to ….take a guess……..(drum roll)…….. Stay in the Company’s Box!!

So, I knew that I could no longer take the daily grind of say no, no, no, no, no, no, all day everyday. It was too negative to do, and it was depressing to see so much potential in people that life was never going to allow to bloom into.

So, I left. That took care of the cause of some of my depression, or at least allowed me the room to work on it. Now for the anxiety.  A new question….What the hell do I do now? As of now, I see Warped Fog in front of me. I kind of recognize the picture/future, but something is off and I can’t put my finger on what it is.

Perspective

902

I named this photo Perspective. Not only because of the obvious enormity of these trees in California, but also because it reflects how I think everyday.

I call the day-to-day grind a life-tornado. When you’re in the middle of it all, you can’t possibly have perspective. There are flying debris, blinding dust storms of problems that must be solved yesterday, and sometimes pieces of your barn that is being destroyed comes along and kicks you in the ass.

How do you rise above the storm to see the blue sky and sun? Well, if you find the answer, bottle it, patent it, and hide from relatives that will want money, because you would be the wealthiest person on the planet; at least by monetary standards anyway.

It would like nice to think that I can rise above every now and then and take a 50,000-foot view (sorry to use a BS business cliché). Some people do have that ability. I have never heard of, nor seen a person that actually can do both well. Either they are totally narcissistic and can only see from the 9.4696969-foot mile view. (yes that equals 50,000 ft), or they are like most of us and sit in the storm everyday just trying to make it long enough to see the eye of the storm for a bit of peace and a rest, or to make it through and get to the calmness that awaits us.

Is there really such a thing as the promised calmness on the other side of the storm? Is the idea of that awaiting serenity, is actually a part of the narcissist’s way of keeping us from wondering what it’s like to be happy with ourselves and know that our life doesn’t have to revolve around making them more money, feel better about themselves, or fill the love-void they have with ours until we are totally depleted and they move on?

I’m no conspiracy theorist that thinks there is some secret meeting spot where these issues are discussed, but I do think it is possible that many people do it without realizing. I have worked for and been fiends with a few of really big ones. I honestly don’t think they realize that use people as commodities, for both business and personal benefits, and then cast them aside in a heap of confusion wondering what they did wrong.

I take it as my responsibility to smell the stench they give off, which is usually masked by some heavy charm and charisma, and push them away. That is what I consider perspective. Not only being able to see “the big picture” (sorry for another motivational poster cliché you see hanging in your boss’s office), but to see that there are people in the world that I don’t have to associate with, or have to feel the need to please, or even recognize as existing. I only need to look up and see the blue skies, treetops, and beauty that is all around, and not just the storms of life that we allow ourselves to be sucked into.

Unknown

907

What does “unknown” mean? Like most other words, it has multiple meanings. Of course, the blanket meaning is that something is not known, but what are the hidden definitions and implications?

When something is unknown, it is scary to some and exhilarating to others. For example, I didn’t know what it would be like to skydive before I took the leap. (take time to snicker at the juvenile play on words) It excited me to find out. I had butterflies in my stomach beforehand, and a little nausea, but mostly I felt the need to “feel” something without the depression condom engulfing me, and adrenaline gives that to me.

Growing up in rural Alabama (USA), I was not exposed to many cultures, customs, ethnicities, or life possibilities. Unknown (or different than one’s own if you will) ethnicities and religions may result in bigotry and false truths that are believed to be true. Unknown possibilities have the same result around the world. You can see it in North Korea, the Mississippi Delta in the USA, or in various parts of Africa just to name a few. None of them are aware that the lid has been removed and they can jump out of the jar now.

Going through life with depression and anxiety problems have similar results. Look at the photo above. Depression will keep you walking through life in a thick fog, and not allow you to see ahead until you just happen upon them. It’s funny, or maybe ironic, that depression keeps you from seeing that you actually have depression; at least in the beginning. Then you have a feeling that you aren’t like others and you eventually find out why. Hopefully you find out earlier in life than later. I see plenty of people that are “on in years”, but still don’t know.

I can see examples of what I want to see in myself. Aside form the warm and fuzzy stuff like tolerance, genuinely nice, and giving, I want to be able to go to a party without having so much anxiety that I can’t participate in socializing. My mind gets cloudy, the fog sets in, and I can no longer see the path. It usually ends up with me in a sweaty mess hiding from everyone.  Afterwards, it makes me sick that I had opportunities to make new connections (both professional and private), and couldn’t capitalize. A few drinks or a Xanax may take the edge off, but that’s clearly not an answer; only a temporary bridge, and a dangerous one at that.

The good news is that the older I get, the more I can see the fog has lifted; at least a bit. I can see myself and my interaction with the world better now than I could twenty years ago. Hopefully it will lift enough for me to enjoy being the person I was meant to be before it’s too late, and I take that really really really long nap….

Help from strangers…. and others. /helpful or not/

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 7.32.37 AM

Obviously this is not a photo of mine.  It’s from a website.  Credit to Vox.com,

I’ve been writing speeches for my project, TheFacesOfDeprssion.org (go check it out 🙂  If I am going to change the stigmas attached to depression and anxiety problems, I have to get my message out there and talk to people face to face. I start with the usual speech writing techniques; 1 Tell them what you are going to tell them, 2 Tell them, 3 Tell them what you told them, and a call to action.

Number 1 needs some refinement.  This part is basically my elevator speech to explain why I’m here.  The overall message is that I am attempting to de-stigmatize depression and anxiety, so that others may live life openly instead of hiding behind their Face that they must put on for the world to see, since their real Face is too embarrassing to let be seen the light of day.  I also want to convey this is not only is tolerance talk, but an also and educational one of sorts. This part still needs work.  It’s not succinct or clear enough.  It’s hard to verbalize what I feel.  I can feel what I want to say, but it comes out….kind of…clinical and non descriptive.  And definitely not entertaining,

Number 2 is off to a great start.  Tell them stories, the Captain says!!  I have three stories that I’m working on. I just need to be more descriptive and draw a mental picture for them. One enough for people to be able to stand in my shoes and see the world the way I did/do. An easy example; in High School, I was going lunch with the cool kids for the first time and had an anxiety attack (only realized much later in life that is was an anxiety attack), and totally lost my hearing, or at least the ability to understand words. Everything was moving in slow motion and ttttthhhhhhhheeeeee wwwwwwwoooooorrrrrrdddddssssss wwwwwweeeeerrrrreeee ssssssooooouuuuunnddddddiiiinngggg….you get the point. I couldn’t hear, understand what was going on around me, or respond. I was totally frozen and unable to function.  That should be easy fodder for someone to draw a clear picture of, and make it entertaining at the same time. Maybe I should call John Hughes. I will think about that one for a while.  I mean, who hasn’t had some incredibly awkward moments in high school.  Your body and mind are a total mess at 16.

Number 3 is more difficult.  I need to sum it all up, and call them to action, and leave them in a state of wanting more and excited.  Definitely not leaving them depressed or feeling sorry for “us poor souls”, or “the ones that can’t hack it in the real world that need to just buckle down and rub some dirt on it”.  FYI-Rubbing dirt in a wound was a childhood coach’s way of saying get over it and get back in the game!

I keep backing myself into the corner of “we (the sufferers) are different and you can’t understand, but want to be treated as equals”.  That message makes as much sense as an elevator in an outhouse.  I want to leave them thinking more along the lines of, ” we all go through depressive and anxious times at one time or another.  Some people just don’t come out of that.”  We live that way everyday, and it’s ok, because we are fighting our lives, and don’t need any more barriers like the stigmas. It’s already hard enough. In some cases we are literally fighting to live as who we are and stop carrying the burden of living multiple lives, and some are fighting to really stay alive. There are comparisons to those fighting for their life the same way they would if they had cancer.  No one chose to have Treatment Resistant Depression, or overwhelming anxiety that keeps an emotional condom on you at all time.  (I like that visual :).  But I do want the audience to see that we are dealing with the same crap they do, just on a different scale, so don’t act crazy if we decide to take off our Face and live our lives who were are; our genuine selves.

The cartoon above shows some funny comparisons. They make me laugh because of the side of the fence that I’m on, but I wonder if it is insulting to the other side, or is it informative?

Perseverance and the Circle of Confusion

900

To me, this photo represents Perseverance. I actually named it that. (see LeeVannPhotography.com ) ***cheap plug alert***

Perseverance means different things to different people. There is a whole a spectrum of personal meanings. To some, it means to never be satisfied with what, or how much you have; “Always persevere for more.” To some, it means to keep on the right track for your plan and never veer off course no matter how hard it gets, so that you can make it to retirement and then, and only then, enjoy your life. For some, it means just trying to survive, mentally or physically. Literally trying to stay alive in some cases.

My definition deals with my depression and the “Circle of Confusion” that works against me. For me, Perseverance means to keep exploring myself internally to see the whys and hows of what makes me feel different ways, instead of sitting in my comfort zone. I spend an enormous amount of time inside my own head. I assume that comes from being an extreme introvert. I am super-happy (actual medical term ….not!) sitting on the sidelines, watching what’s going on, trying to figure out what people are saying, and even more importantly, what they really mean while they are saying it. People’s intentions and actions rarely seem to match.

Being introverted has left me with a keen sense of who is full of shit. I can smell it within 2 minutes of meeting someone, or upon fist site from across the room. It’s almost a feeling of repulsion they give me. It makes me almost gag and I have to walk away before I am self-forced to tell them that I see them for what they are. I can also sense when people have a “Face” on and are hiding their depression, anxieties of life, or other problems. I may not be able to identify which particular problem they are dealing with, but I can easily see something is definitely there. It’s almost like a rhythm of actions, mannerisms and vibes that people give off that shout at me and tell me where their head is. I say shout, because I can’t turn it off if I wanted to. Of course after seeing something in someone, my depression then tells me to look in the mirror to see how those things apply to me.   (And usually will WAY over exaggerate the extent to which they do)

That’s the circle I live in. Spending a vast majority of time inside my own head, identifying things in others, then mirroring it to myself; therefore back inside my head I go. That circle keep me occupied, or distracted, to the point that I miss the small things that matter most to my loved ones, like a simple thank you or bringing home some flowers to brighten my wife’s day. It’s not that I don’t have manners or am being rude on purpose, it simply doesn’t occur to me. My mind is actually full of other things at the time. I wonder if that is the point of anti-depressants and therapy? To calm the whirling circle-dance, or tornado, long enough to make sense of what is going on, or has gone on in my life. I am diligent in my Perseverance to pursue a balance between the satisfaction I get from comfortably sitting inside myself, and being aware that there are others in my life that I can simply enjoy being around without constantly evaluating motive and thought perspectives. If I can reach that balance, I will have accomplished something that seemed insurmountable in my life jus a couple of years ago. I will keep on, keeping on!  Lee

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “A Moment in Time.”

IMG_1255

This is a quick iPhone pic of this year’s Vision Board. that I shot a few days ago  Sorry for the quality of the image.  It was never meant to be seen in public….

My wife and I make visions board after the first of the each year.  We compose them using tear-outs of magazines that have piled up throughout the year. Usually vision boards represent what you want to happen in the coming year, and it’s supposed to help guide you toward those goals all year long.  This year’s board was very different.

I wasn’t going for a Picasso look, but it did kind of turn out with a similar feel.  Instead of only showing my hopes and wishes for the coming year, it ended up also reflecting this past year’s mental beatings.

Believe it or not, there is a semblance of organization to it.  It’s composed of three parts.  The middle oval is a portrait. The body is the woman with overalls on, and her head is assembled using various parts from different people, using men’s, as well as women’s features. There are two statements I wanted to convey with that.  First, I want to shoot more portraiture in the coming year.  I usually do landscape (which is still my first love). The second reflects the confusion of the past year and the feelings of being torn in different directions.

There are two parts that make up the edges.  Some of the outer ring is simply textures that I like.  That represents my frame. The rest of the space around the edge is where I reflected on how I feel this past year treated me.  I feel very banged up and bruised as 2014 makes its exit.  It was a rough and confusing year that am very glad is gone.

I’ll reflect on this all year long, hoping its magical powers show me a path through the maze.  My hope is that I do more artistic portraiture work and get better with my lighting skills.  Lighting is such and art on its own.  The subtleties of how it falls on a person’s face and body is really remarkable when you sit and study an ad or any photo and really see how the light reveals each part of a person’s skin.  Sometimes it has harsh beginnings and endings, yet other times it seems to gently wrap around the small features that make our bodies unique and make them pop with depth and richness.  I will leave the fashion to someone else.  If you could see how I dress most of the time, you would see that fashion doesn’t hold a priority in my life.

Lastly, the board will serve a reminder that past year has exited, never to return.  Instead of letting the memories live in my head, whisper in my ear, and drag me down for the coming year, I plucked them out (even though they went kicking and screaming), and I glued them on this board so they are never to escape.  They will be held here in perpetuity.  Which, I  must say, is a light sentence for the crimes they have committed. Lee

Self Medication for my Depression

950

I have tried some self-medicating, and seen others’ as well.  Most are pretty destructive.  Drinking, drugs, sex (illicit sex, not the good kind), being adrenaline junkies, exercising to excess, or maybe hermitting (staying cooped up and not interacting with the world). Some of those definitely have applied to me at some point in my life, and some haven’t.

This past fall, I went to Tennessee to photo the fall leaf scene.  I did some of my best work ever!  I’ve known for a while now that photography is a way for me to self-medicate.  With photography, there are two parts to the medication process.  The first of the two is mental solitude.  I don’t mean being alone. I can be with others while I’m shooting, but I usually end up getting lost in myself and focusing on small details. I like to watch how they interact with each other and light and how they move, and how they change so quickly as the day wears on.  The second, is simply being outdoors.  Even thought my depression tells me to stay inside and watch tv or sleep all day, being outdoors injects some non-artificial anti-depressant directly into my brain that has an immediately effect.

Here is an example that illustrates both.  This past fall in the Smokies, I was watching how water washed over this particular rock in the middle of a stream; which is the photo above. ( see others at: http://leevannphotography.com/fall-in-the-smokies for more ).  It had a point, or a horn that stuck out of the stream and kept the water from easily washing directly over the top.  Instead, the water would wash to one side or the other, depending on how big the wave was that was trying to envelop it.  I was mesmerized watching ebbs and flows and trying to time the photo just right so that the end of the rock had a “lacquered” look, instead of just looking like water was rushing over it. There was nothing making the water act differently each time it gained enough momentum to get to the top of the horn, yet it each time, i saw it climb to a different height or fall to a different side.

You can see from the photo that there is a kind of hole just below the horn. That hole would suck water down like a whirlpool in the ocean. It seemed as if it were trying to keep water from ever reaching the top of the horn.  It looked like there was a battle raging between the hole and the stream.  The hole was fighting the stream for the honor of the horn’s tip.  If the horn were to be washed over, the hole would lose, but if it could suck the water down fast enough, it would be victorious.

Winning what prize I don’t know.  It just made me laugh standing in the middle of this stream, watching a make-believe war going on between two inanimate objects with no real prize to be had, other that the glory of victory itself.

With all of that drama playing out inside my head, at that moment there wasn’t room enough for the battle and anxiety or depression.  Hopefully, some of that carries over and keeps me feeling good for a while.

897In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

This photo was a bit of a long exposure, so it “smoothed” out a rough ocean, but you can still see the undercurrent of movement and waves.  Is it the same in life with problems?  If you stare, or study, or expose yourself to them long enough, that they will just calm down and smooth out?