Depression – The Silent War

I have really debated the past couple of days on whether to write this or not. It’s personal and deep, and involves taking a journey down a road that although familiar, isn’t a pleasant one to travel. But I am a traveling man, and not all roads are easy to travel down.

Depression. Depending on who you speak to, you will get different responses regarding this word. Even within the last decade, my own personal thoughts and opinions regarding depression have changed.

Why am I writing this? Don’t I usually choose topics that are a little easier and pleasant to absorb? Yes, but I also dedicate this blog site to impacting those near and far and trying to positively influence those who read it.

This particular topic and blog entry has been on my mind constantly for the past two days. For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2016, which led to my early retirement from the United States Air Force after sixteen years active duty. Part of having MS is trouble falling asleep. Because I have trouble sleeping, I was prescribed a sleeping medication recently. This particular medication has caused me to have extremely vivid dreams, none of which have been great dreams.

I will skip the details of the dream I had two mornings ago, but immediately upon waking, I took the contents and overall theme of the dream, as a prompt to write this and hopefully inspire others to share their own stories.

I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional. I have zero textbook experience on the subject of depression. What I do have however, is years of hands-on practical knowledge, experience, and coping mechanisms used to deal with this silent killer.

I call depression a silent killer for many reasons. Almost more times than not, those who deal with depression will keep silent about it. For different reasons, they’re ashamed, and don’t want it to become evident to those around them, let alone themselves. These silent victims walk through their daily routines, wearing masks and hiding the pain they feel inside.

I am no stranger to wearing masks. For years, I became an expert at changing them often, and creating different ones for various occasions in life. I have never been one that is talented in the area of hiding facial expressions. Those around me could usually tell how I felt inside by the way I looked on the outside. So I created masks. I portrayed a smile on the outside while my heart and soul screamed on the inside.

Many times over the past years, I’ve talked about silent warriors fighting silent battles, and the battlefield being hidden within the four walls of their home or within their minds. They’re fighting these silent battles in a silent war, and if they make it through the night and into the next day, they’re winning. I’ve talked about this often and it’s so true.

When I was in the military, depression wasn’t something people talked about very much. The perception was there, especially in my career field and carrying a weapon, that any sort of mental or emotional health problem was a career killer. So you ended up having so many kill themselves on the inside to save their careers. With a rise in mental health awareness programs to combat Post Traumatic Stress and Suicide, the stigma has started to be shunned out of most units. Those who were in positions that did nothing but support the stigma mentioned above, have found themselves either getting with the program and following suit with other leaders, or being hidden in places where they will have minimal influence and impact on others. Good!

It’s a hard place to be when you’re standing in a room full of people, only to feel completely and utterly alone. For those who have never been surrounded but feel an intense loneliness and emptiness, it’s hard to fathom. To be surrounded by happiness and light, but feel as though you’re standing in a dark corner, is excruciating. To want nothing more than to break and scream at the top of your lungs, but thinking you can’t because they’re depending on you to be the happy person you always present yourself to be, is nothing short of painful. It’s like being stung over and over by the same bee.

Many think that someone who is depressed is suicidal. Not true at all. Someone could be in such a state of loneliness, sadness, and emotional despair, they don’t want to continue. They lay down at night praying they won’t wake up, unable to fathom another day in pain. But they’re not suicidal. They just want their pain to go away. Imagine the most excruciating toothache. Everything you tried to do to make the pain go away, failed and you’re left walking around with this pain that no one can see but only you can feel. Wouldn’t you do anything, including the removal of the tooth, to make the pain subside?

If you’re reading this and can relate, I’m here to tell you there is hope. I can also tell you that you can think all the happy and positive thoughts in the world, and it isn’t going to work. Why? Because that’s not you and that’s not how you were wired. And you know what else? That is okay!

I started this post by telling you I am not a doctor and have zero professional experience in the case of mental and emotional health. But I have experience, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here writing this for you today. I’m going to talk about things I’ve done to help in my next entry. It might just save you hundreds of dollars or another long period of pain and darkness. Maybe you won’t have to wear that mask so much. If none of the above, at least you will know that there’s another person fighting alongside you and cheering for your victory.

What is, a “Traveling Man?”

“One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.”

Thomas Jefferson

I, like most people, enjoy traveling. Since my days in the military, I haven’t traveled to a foreign country; but I enjoy traveling within the United States, and even here at home within New York State. I enjoy traveling with my family, but there’s something about traveling alone that really clears the mind and refreshes the soul.

Most of the local traveling I do is during the months when snow and ice isn’t slowing me down and limiting me to distance. I enjoy driving up into the Adirondack Mountains, taking a scenic drive along Lake Champlain into Ticonderoga, along the back roads of Saratoga and Washington Counties, and occasionally crossing the border into neighboring Vermont. If it’s a nice cool day, I enjoy the windows down and breathing in the country air.

Many probably come to this site because they’re looking for travel photos and a blog about traveling to different destinations. Oh, but a man or woman can be a traveler, even if they never board a plane. You can be quite the extensive traveler and never leave your own home. Destinations don’t always have to be places that flash across a screen in an airport, or cities and towns printed on a sign on the side of a highway. They don’t have to be white, sandy beaches or snowcapped mountains.

I travel on a weekly basis and seldom leave my local area. Sometimes the most worthwhile trips are the ones where I’m alone. Many of my greatest trips where I discover the most, are done without leaving my house.

Like Thomas Jefferson stated, one who journey’s alone spends more time reflecting. I spend a lot of time in thought; thinking about the present and also the things to come. While I believe I have no control over tomorrow, I am convinced there are things I can do to help shape it. I can do my best this very moment to live a decent life, to love those around me, to be kind to both stranger and friend, show compassion, be humble, and more.

What is, a “traveling man?” In my case, it’s a person who is always exploring; not just the world around them, but also within themselves. It’s a person who is always moving forward, never desiring to go backwards and having to retrace their steps. It’s a person who is on a constant journey to be better tomorrow than they are today.

Travel wisely my friends.

The Things That Divide Us: Part I

There are things in this life that divide us and destroy us. In this entry I want to talk about something I’m all too familiar with, as I am sure many of you are as well. Lies.

As a child and growing up, I was always told the Bible verse that states the truth will set you free. I was punished as a child for lying and told that if I had only been honest, the punishment would have been much lighter. Sure, there would still be a punishment, but maybe there would be a little redemption due to my honesty.

I learned as an adult what my parents were trying to teach me about. The small lies about stealing a cookie or getting out of bed to play with toys when I should have been sleeping, are on a much grander scale as an adult. The lies as an adult carry much harsher penalties and there’s always so much more at stake.

I recall in a previous relationship I had, the amount of lies I was told. Each lie, as you know, compounded into another lie until eventually it snowballed out of control and there were so many lies just to bury the one simple lie in the beginning. There were so many lies that it became hard, even to the author, to determine where the truth ended and the lies began. For such people as this, their life ends up becoming one big lie. They lose the truth of themselves because they’ve had to fake things for so long.

Lies don’t just hurt the person telling them. Lies hurt the person on the receiving end as well. Lies sometimes have a ripple effect and can hurt people as the snowball rolls downhill out of control.

I know all this probably sounds simple, but if it is, why have you and I been hurt so much over a three letter word? If lying didn’t cost so much, why is the devil himself called, “the father of lies?” If lies didn’t sting so bad or have such hefty consequences, why are there broken families all over the world, because of something that started as a lie? If lying was the just thing to do, why are we punished as children for doing just that?

Lies destroy and lies divide. If you’re caught in that web and you’re struggling to get free, just start by telling the truth. It may mean you have to swallow your pride a bit, and others might be angry or hurt. But please stop the cycle before someone is destroyed.

What is Your Life’s Motto?

I have been thinking about this recently and asking myself this exact same question. Truthfully, everything I have written about up to this point, is straight from me and my thoughts. Continuing on with that trend, I must say that I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on life and the people in my life. How can I be a better husband, a better father, a son who makes his parents proud, a better friend, a better photographer, and an all around better person? These are all things I brainstorm quite often!

What is my life’s motto? What will be written, visibly or invisibly, on my tombstone? When I was in the military, we were always told to leave our current duty station “better than we found it.” It always sounded so cliche when I heard it, but it really has taken on a lot more meaning to me personally; more than it did the dozens of times I heard it in the past.

My goal in life is simple. Leave this earth better than I found it. Leave my small community better than I found it. Leave my friends and family better. Every single day, strive to end the day better than I started it. Is it that simple?

I stumble a lot. It happens. I mess up, fall into a ravine of self pity, and eventually climb and pull myself out. Of course it isn’t simple, but it’s not unattainable. I pick small things, like writing a blog or making a podcast, that somehow might impact someone else. I give a photo away that means a lot to me but more to others. I send a message to someone that might feel abandoned. We have all been there. I choose to respond with kindness to those who may not deserve it in that moment. We have all been there as well.

Bottom line, I make a conscious decision daily, despite my own shortcomings and failures, to make today better than yesterday. To be a better version of me than I was yesterday. To make those moments of reflection moments I can smile about and not moments I’m ashamed and afraid to confront.

I just try and be better and hold myself accountable to that.

America, Social Media, and Me – Part 3

A lot of times I begin writing and have a plan how something is supposed to go, but then part of the way through, decide to shift course and take it somewhere else. Therefore, what you’re reading 99% of the time is directly from the heart and not always something planned out. What was originally supposed to be a five-part series, I am going to conclude it today in the third segment.

In the second part of this series, I threw some statistics at you, both here in the United States and also internationally. Statistics regarding social media, numbers of users, active users, and time spent on social media. I concluded the segment by saying I would be the last person to tell you to spend less time on social media, although according to Apple, my screen time was down 23% this past week compared to the previous week. Not sure how that happened, but I am now under five hours a day staring at my screen. The majority of my time spent on my phone, computer, or iPad, is spent on social media. Facebook is my number one go to for social media, followed by Instagram, and then various other platforms I’m a member of. One of the main reasons for this is because my passion for photography. I spend the majority of my time, not necessarily scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing what everyone else is up to, but posting photos, looking at different analytics, and posting what I hope to be something encouraging for others to see. Which leads me to my next point and the point of this entire series.

Out of all the time we spend on social media, staring at a screen, scrolling, clicking the “like” button, or shaking our heads at some of the ridiculousness that is placed before our eyes, how much is spent with the intent of lifting others up? I am sure my newsfeed is no different than anyone else’s, not only here in America but around the world. We all have those acquaintances who feel it is their duty to mankind to voice their opinions. We all have those who, by the looks of it, are never wrong and make it a point to comment and contradict whatever it is they see. Maybe you fall into one of those categories. I know at one point in my life, I spent a lot of time on social media, airing my opinions and how I felt about different things going on here in America. It’s easy to do! It’s so incredibly easy to get on your phone at any given point throughout the day, and vent about what is frustrating you in that moment. Seriously, it takes little to no effort. I did it daily! After a couple years of doing that, I noticed a couple of things. You may have too if you fit into the above category. Your friends begin to dwindle. No, I am not talking about those who think exactly like you do. Rather, people as a whole. Furthermore, nobody really cares what my opinion is. I’m not an expert when it comes to religion, politics, finances, social skills, etc. Whenever you post on social media, regardless of who you are and how many friends or followers you have, there will always be someone who sees your post and can disagree or argue with you. Most find it almost impossible to keep scrolling without doing just that, and letting you know you’re wrong according to them.

Social media, while creating some avenues for us to be more social and intertwined than ever before, has really allowed us to be more narrow-minded, closed off, and more isolated than ever before. Think about it. Don’t like the way someone responds to your post? Delete their comment and block them. Want to find a group that caters to your way of thinking and your mindset? You can find hundreds of thousands of like-minded individuals to applaud everything you utter out of your mouth! Social media, while it gives us the ability to interact with people throughout the world, has limited and deteriorated our interpersonal skills along with the ability to communicate and compromise with people who don’t think, believe, and see things the same way we do. Social media has contributed to destroying our social skills. And we allow it to happen multiple times throughout the day. Every. Single. Day.

I decided to change my approach to social media. I actually had to retrain my social media habits and it took over two years, and I still have the occasional urge to fall back into some old negative behaviors. I decided I wanted/want my social media experience to be different. Instead of contributing to the arguments, looking for the next post to contradict, and isolating myself or others, I decided to make social media my platform to lift others up, to improve not only my life, but also the lives of others. I wanted my social media to be less about me and more about others. Rather than giving viewers something to argue about, to shake their head and scroll past, I wanted my social media platforms to be an avenue to reach people. I wanted people to see my post and it give them something to think about that day. Rather than incite fear and anger, I want to inspire hope and impact. Each time we open up our social media, whether we are scrolling through or posting something, we have that ability. We can go either direction and it’s an amazing thing to realize and take advantage of in a positive way.

I end this series today with a challenge. You have some on your social media platforms that view things differently than you. If you live in America, you know that our current political climate is a cause for extreme division; not only on social media, but within families and circles of friends. There are things that divide us. But thankfully, there are more things that unite us as people. My challenge to whoever reads this, is take a moment today on social media to build someone up other than yourself. Take a moment to set aside how knowledgeable you are, what degrees you have, or what you may think you’re an expert on, and just be a person who has the passion to see someone else be better. Make today about someone else besides yourself.