The Far End of Happy

*deep breath out*

It’s been awhile since a book has made me this emotional. If you are looking for a book that hits all of the feels–look no further than Kathryn Craft’s The Far End of Happy.

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Divorce, depression, and alcoholism combine into a Molotov cocktail ready to blow as soon as it hits the ground. This nightmare becomes reality one morning as Ronnie rushes to get her kids to school on the day her husband is supposed to move out. She had expected drama, but not the kind where he threatens her and the boys. The day becomes a roller coaster of agony as he holds himself and the community hostage.

As you can imagine from the description, The Far End of Happy is not an easy book to read–at least as far as content goes. The imagery is vivid and sucks you right into the action with the characters. I appreciate that Craft wrote the story from three different perspectives, and I like that there were memory flashbacks as well. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the unclear definitions between flashback and reality, but it made the narration purposefully unreliable and it worked in this very tense moment.

By the end, I could hardly set the book down because my nerves were stretched so thin, worrying what was going to happen with (or to) Jeff. It’s for that reason I am going to put a TRIGGER WARNING on this–this book is all about depression, alcoholism, and most importantly, suicide, so if any of those things are harmful to you, be aware that it is a very intense and anxiety-inducing book.

That said, Kathryn Craft has done a marvelous job with her novel. Ronnie is a fantastic character, someone who faces struggles head on, and does what she has to do to take care of her children, even if it’s not the easiest choice, and not what everyone else thinks is the right one. Add this to your TBR if it’s not there already, but make sure and bring some tissues!

 

Buy Here:

Taking on the World

First off, I just want to thank everyone for all their love and support after I posted My Journey Through Depression and Back. I was so nervous about putting it out there, because it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written, but the reception was amazing. I heard so many stories similar to mine–guys, you are NOT ALONE! Keep telling your stories, and reaching out.

Now that I am healthy, my brain is going in a thousand different directions. I want to take on EVERYTHING. I started this post to apologize for not having a review up today, but the reason I don’t have one, is because I am doing SO MUCH on the back end of the blog that you cannot see. I have a regular job that pays the bills, but when I am not doing that, my brain just doesn’t stop. It just continually sucks in information, and if I am not feeding it, it yells at me. It’s like a baby or a cat. I am so excited that I feel this way. I have never loved learning as much as I do right now.

Here’s just a taste of what I am working on right now:

Every day I read a chapter from The Ramayana, a section from The Treasury of Poems (which is usually 4-8 poems), and a chapter from whatever book adultbooklr has chosen for the month.

I am also taking a class on Coursera–The Psychology of Popularity–so I do a module of that.

I have a few Youtubers I make sure to catch up on at lunch.

And then of course there’s whatever book I am reading for me (and for you)! Right now it’s Les Miserables…which is why there is no review today. It is a bit of a monster and is taking me longer than I expected to get through. This is not a one day-er!

 

I just started a big project yesterday that I’m quite excited…and nervous…about. I’m hoping to have it completed by the beginning of next month, but I’m not going to make any promises. It’s a pretty large undertaking, and something I’ve never done before, so we’ll see! I’ll let you guys know when I have more information to give you 😉

 

Anyway, just wanted to give you something for today, and a little window into my daily life. Phew. It’s a lot. But, I’m loving it, absorbing it all. I’m sure I won’t be able to keep on this pace forever, but I’m going to take it all in as long as I can!

My Journey Through Depression and Back

I’ve wanted to share this post for a while now. I originally wrote it in May, but shortly after I did, my grandfather passed away and so my recovery took a pretty heavy hit. By now I’ve talked to a few of you about this, at least bits and pieces. I’ve even gotten closer to a few new friends who have or are going through similar things. I wrote this to cleanse my soul of the darkness, but I am sharing it so others can benefit from it. I want you to know that there is light at the end of it. It hasn’t been easy to get here, and I’m still working every day to stay in the light, but I’m here, and it’s beautiful.

I have depression. To be specific, I had a Major Depressive Episode in late February that tumbled me over the edge into darkness. There are a lot of factors that led to that episode—I am not going to discuss them all here.

I am going to start by telling you that I have had anxiety for several years. Mostly, I can deal with it, but around the holidays last year it started ramping up to uncontrollable levels. That was the first red flag that something was wrong, but I shrugged it off. It didn’t go away. It only got worse, and I started having some weird obsessive behaviors I’d never had before—racing thoughts that my body just couldn’t keep up with. If you’re a regular follower on this blog, you know that’s when I started pushing myself to read harder books, “study books,” I called them. That’s only a tip of the iceberg. I was trying to be better at everything. Full-on perfectionist mode. Lists EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t stop, and I was ramping up to a crash.

In February, my anxiety really hit a peak, along with a truck load of stress. And then, at the very end of the month, my cat Smokey, who I had raised from a kitten to 16, got very sick and I had to put her down. That was the tipping point. The grief of losing my best friend and furbaby just tore apart any last strength I had. As much as I love Dallas, I hadn’t built up much of a support system here yet, and without friends to reach out to, I just broke.

At first, it just felt like grief. I tried really hard to shrug it off. She was just a cat, right? Why do I feel this devastated? My husband and best friend (who lives several states away) tried to reassure me, but I couldn’t pull myself up. It just got worse instead of better. My motivation for work and yoga fell away. I slept a LOT. I work from home, so the obligation to get up and drag myself into the next room is all that kept me from calling in every day. Cleaning was impossible in any room but that one—where my almost contradictory manic anxiety kept me rearranging drawers and shelves daily. My normal multitasking focus was at a grinding halt—and I didn’t care. I was hardly even reading or blogging (even though my racing perfectionist brain was screaming FAILURE FAILURE!). I stared at my books and lists trying to find the motivation.

I read the first 20% of Moby-Dick three times. I watched a LOT of Gilmore Girls in bed eating pizza my friend ordered me (from Florida) so I would remember to eat something. I didn’t go to yoga for weeks at a time, or would skip classes regularly.

The thing was—there was still a part of me deep inside who wanted to be normal. She wanted to go to yoga with her favorite instructors. She wanted to read and review the books on the list she’d so carefully made for March. And since when is eating ever a problem? Not to mention the added stress of watching the problems at work and not being able to focus enough to fix them, and putting all the household duties on my husband.

But I couldn’t make myself care. And so the two parts of me were at war with each other. This fostered so much self-hatred and self-doubt that it consumed everything. This is the hardest part of my illness to conquer. Normal Haley is a fairly confident person. But I have been reduced to shreds of that now.

I was never actually suicidal. I am grateful that while the darkness consumed me, it could have been much worse. I did suffer from what I was told is “Passive Suicidal Thoughts”—which scared the living hell out of me, and is what led me to get help. These thoughts—like taking a couple of Advil for a headache and then thinking “What if I just took the whole bottle?”—were not a plan, and were never wanted. They popped into my head randomly and usually left me sobbing on the floor. I didn’t take that Advil by the way, headache be damned.

Scary as they were, I know those passive thoughts are a normal part of the monster. And those thoughts and feelings scared me into reaching out for help. With the encouragement and support of my husband, I contacted my work’s Employee Assistance Program for a counselor. My counselor was helpful in breaking down the cause of what I was going through and gave me the diagnosis of what is going on. She also included R in one of the sessions so he could more easily understand what I was going through.

We determined that medication would be helpful, both for my depression and anxiety. It took a couple of tries to find the right anti-depressant that worked for me, but thankfully I have a fantastic physician, and when we found the right one it was like turning on a light.

I still have a lot of work to do, and after several months most of my days are pretty great. Every once in a while I’ll have a few days where I wake up and go “oooooh no, ooooh no.” But for the most part, I’m doing much better. My yoga practice has strengthened again, and I’m reading enough that I can do blog posts most every day. I’m feeling much more organized, and I’m even taking a free psychology class online just because.


This is a very long post, I know, but I have just a few more things to say before I’m done.

I did leave some details out on purpose. I’m not going to disclose all of the original triggers for personal reasons, so please don’t ask. Keep in mind that while I am much stronger and am mostly out of depression, my anxiety is still a constant battle. Please be respectful of that.

I am not going to list the names of my medications, mostly because different meds work for different people. I don’t want you to make decisions based on what works for me—I think part of our problem today is everything is advertised now. Don’t just try what you see. Talk to your doctor, he/she may have ideas of what is best for your situation. Also, if something isn’t working for you after a few weeks, tell them. Don’t stay on a medication that makes you feel worse! My first AD made me want to sleep for 18+ hours a day, and the minute I walked in to my doctor’s office, he knew we needed to change it. When we did, suddenly the lights came on, almost to the point where I was disoriented because I didn’t know where all the energy came from and I overcorrected a bit. Things have levelled off now.

I have done a lot of reading on mental illness over the years—it is a personal interest/passion of mine. I have also had depression before, although I did not seek help at the time. Self-diagnosis can be a helpful thing when the symptoms are mild—you can find all sorts of resources online now. But there came a point when I couldn’t combat the monster myself anymore. Sometimes it’s just too big. And that is OK! Depression is an illness, just like the flu. Sometimes, we can defend ourselves. But other times, we need a doctor’s care and medicine, before we can fight it off. That doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.


 

How can you get help? There’s so many different ways!

I went through my Employee Assistance Program. Most larger companies have some sort of system like this through their benefits program, and usually they are set up so employees can get help without the HR and managers knowing about it.

Colleges also have similar programs set up. Depression and anxiety are so common where students are in unstructured, stressful environments away from home. I know mine had a whole counseling center for that purpose.

For those younger people, talk to your parents if you can. If not—find a mentor. Guys, I PROMISE there is an adult out there who has noticed a change in you, even if you don’t realize it. A teacher, a religious leader, your favorite librarian. Someone. Reach out to them. They can help.

Depression is SO hard. And everyone has their own monster to fight. There is pain, there is apathy, there is self-hatred, and there is all consuming darkness. But I promise, at the end, there is light. I know because I can see it. I’m not all the way out standing in it yet, but it’s there, and it’s getting closer. And so I reach for it, every day.

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I can’t do a post about depression without giving you the most important resources–where to go if you REALLY need help right away. Guys, there is absolutely no shame in admitting that you cannot do it alone anymore. *raises hand* I had to admit it. Below are some hotlines if you are in crisis, or know someone in crisis.

I’ve listed a lot of numbers below, but did you know there’s also now a chat set up? For people with anxiety, it’s pretty great. I don’t know about you, but I really hate calling people (pretty ironic for someone who talks on the phone all day, huh?)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

 

The Truth According to Us

R and I are on this fitness track. Both of us are trying to lose weight, so we bought Fitbits, and have been walking. I’ve upped my yoga game, and we’ve been cooking more (and healthier) at home. So far so good!

Something I’ve noticed though is that since we’ve started this, I have a really hard time sitting still! Relaxing has never been an issue for me, but lately, I’ve been pretty charged up. This means that settling into a book can be challenging. I read in shorter spurts, unless it is something that really holds my attention.

Normally, I can go through two books on a weekend, unless it is something really long. 500 pages doesn’t really scare me. It might take me a day and a half…but it doesn’t pose too much of a challenge. When it’s day 3 and I’m only halfway through, that usually means I’m not so interested.

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The thing about The Truth According to Us isn’t really the characters or the setting this time. I actually like the idea of the book itself–a senator wants to teach his daughter Layla some work ethic in the middle of the Depression, so he sends her to a tiny town in West Virginia to write its history for the WPA. Of course, she hates the idea, but the more stories she hears, the more she falls in love with the place and its people. There’s also a little girl (an almost Scout-like character) who follows her around, trying to figure out what she’s up to. At first, she worships her, then it because more suspicion.

Part of me really wants to know what happens, but I just can’t keep going. I am so incredibly frustrated with the writing. Actually…it’s not even that. It’s really just the narration. I can’t freaking figure out from page to page who is talking! One moment, it’ll be 1st person narrative from Willa’s (the little Scout personality) point of view. Then you’ll have a not even a chapter break, but just a section pause, and it’ll shift to third person narrative overlooking everyone. Then the chapter WILL break and there will be some letters between Layla and her friends, and it’ll be more third person, but more from her perspective…until you go back to Willa again with little warning. Oh my gosh. It’s so frustrating and confusing. I can’t keep straight what is going on.

I was seriously reading a chapter where Willa was talking in 1st person and a paragraph later “they” were all sitting in the kitchen, Willa included. HUH?

Nope. Trying to figure out who is in the frame and if the narrator is omnipresent is just making me crazy. That is why it is taking me so dang long to read this book. It’s giving me a headache, and it’s just not worth finishing. I hate quitting ARC reviews halfway through, but I just can’t do it!

The Truth According to Haley is…don’t read this one unless you have a LOT of patience.

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. It is being released today, June 9th, 2015.

Fulfills PopSugar #50:  A book you started but never finished

Hyperbole and a Half

Depression sucks.

Like literally sucks. It sucks the life out of you–feelings, desires, motivations, all of it. But the apathy is only the second part of depression. First comes the pain. Blinding, draining pain that does all the sucking.

For those of us who experience or have experienced the beast that this sickness is–because it is a real sickness–it can be really hard to put into words how depression feels. How it completely consumes everything. To anyone on the outside, those who have not experienced anything like this…it’s very hard to grasp what exactly is happening.

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Allie Brosh has found a way to bring her journey through the darkness to light not only through words but pictures. To say I related to her crude sarcastic sense of humor is an understatement, and I am pretty sure there are creases on the side of the book where I was grasping so tight at certain times because it just relates SO HARD.

Her book Hyperbole and a Half isn’t all about depression–there is quite a bit of comic relief about her dogs and her childhood. But the major chapters, which are taken from her blog (at least parts of them are…I know I’ve read pieces of them there), are very real and very poignant views into the mindset of someone suffering from clinical depression. The anxiety, the self-doubt, the rocky and sometimes nonsensical climb to recovery. It’s all there, in technicolor.

I will say that the book did not end as happily as I needed it to. There was no “YOU CAN DO IT!” mantra at the end. And maybe that’s fitting, because this isn’t exactly a self-help book. Still, the last chapter left me feeling a little…”But, I know I’m a shitty person. I FEEL SHITTY. TELL ME HOW TO MAKE MYSELF FEEL LESS SHITTY!” I dunno, I would have rather had another chapter about too much cake.

That’s my only criticism about the book. It’s a really really great book. It’s an important book–if you’ve ever suffered from depression, or know someone suffering from depression. If you are currently suffering…just be wary of that last chapter. It’s a little dangerous.

 

Because this post is all about depression…guys if you are suffering, please please please ask for help. It’s scary, TRUST ME I KNOW. But the other option leaves so many people without you in their life, and there will be a lot of people missing you, I promise.

If you need help, there are a lot of options, and a lot of people standing by waiting for you to ask:

 

Fulfills PopSugar #40:  A graphic novel

The Suicide Index

With a title like The Suicide Index, you know this isn’t going to be an easy review…

This isn’t a book I can just say, “Oh, I really liked this!” Because I didn’t really like reading it…although it was a very good, very well written book. It was a hard book to read, a very emotional book to read.

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First things first, this is nonfiction. Joan Wickersham is writing about the death of her father. More specifically, Joan Wickersham is writing about the suicide of her father. She calls herself a biographer many times during her story, but if anything, it’s more of a memoir about her own journey, than an actual biography of her father. The structure of The Suicide Index is unique–it is an actual index, with the chapter titles in alphabetical order. They all start with the word “suicide,” but then range on varying topics associated with the main.

It’s hard to say who the true audience of this book is. It is written out of the grief, anger, and healing of a surviving family member, so it is a very harsh reality of what it feels like to be left alive after a loved one kills themselves. It could be a rough read for those suffering from depression, but it could also be a big wake up call, for those who need one.

Joan says this:

“Did he know what it would do to us–my mother, my sister, and me?

If so, then he did something unforgiveable.

If not, then I wish he had known. But only if he really did have a choice, and only if knowing would have stopped him.”

 

I think this is a very important memoir. But tread carefully, if you do read it. There is a lot of pain here, so be prepared to open some wounds. Keep a journal nearby, or a friend if you need one.

And, if you do need real help, ask for it. I’ve posted helplines on the blog before, they can be found HERE.

 

(I’m not doing a separate Teaser Tuesday post today. Any quote I could have taken from this book would have been too raw without the context of the review.)

You Can’t Just “Shake Off” Depression

A link was shared with me today that raised my blood to full boiling point. You can check out the article by clicking HERE. (Oh, and the IUPUI’s Press Release, because it is being endorsed by the school:  HERE). Trust me, it’s not pretty.

A freshman at IUPUI decided it would be a fantastic project to pop a video camera in the schoolyard, play Taylor Swift’s peppy new song “Shake it Off,” and let people dance with clown hair and other props. All with the tag for suicide prevention.

Because people with depression can absolutely SHAKE OFF their sadness, emotions, and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.

 

 

My initial reaction when I saw who made the project was the typical excuse. “Oh, he’s a freshman, he has no maturity. He’s just some dumb kid with a video camera.” But you know what, no. That’s not an excuse. I have had brilliant conversations with 15 year olds who know exactly what depression is. They feel it. Every single day they battle with it. They know what it is like, to sit in a dark room, hiding under blankets, afraid to talk to anyone, not really caring even to open a book or turn on the TV, because nothing feels. Not even feels right, just nothing feels like…anything. They go to school because they have to, and no one understands why their work is “half-assed,” when they are really intelligent kids. It’s not because they aren’t trying on purpose, it’s because their brains just have no energy left. They have essentially run out of gas.

So all those excited, happy people dancing on the video? What we aren’t seeing are the depressed people sneaking by behind the camera. “Please don’t see me, I can’t dance today.” And that’s just those who are even walking on campus, trying to make it to class in the sunshine.

Sunshine. What a curse it is sometimes. Like dancing, it is a sign of happiness, joy, life. And for some, it’s the devil, nosing in the window to see if you’re ready to come out yet. Why can’t the world just leave well enough alone?

 

My depression was situational, not clinical, thankfully. There was a period of about 2 years where the darkness closed in and I really just didn’t know what to do. My life was broken, and so I felt erased, worthless, and so completely emotionally damaged that most of my strength was just gone. I didn’t ask for help, I was too proud, too ashamed. I was never suicidal, thankfully my world never got that black. But the monster that attacked was a very real thing.

That’s over now, and looking back, it’s so frightening to see the pit I had dug for myself. Sometimes you don’t realize how far down you have gone until you’re out of it. And mine was only one long moment. One chunk of life. My heart crushes at the thought of my friends who suffer from clinical depression–those that feel this way on a periodic or cyclical basis. I’ve had people close to me snuffed out too soon, and while their pain ends, it’s devastating to the family and friends who cared for them. We never really know the depth of the pain people are in.

Depression is a beast.  Sometimes, it grabs you all at once and sucks you under. Other times, it takes you like that frog in the slowly heating pot of water, warming you until you boil. And what is really, truly scary about it, is the entire time it’s taking you….you stop caring. It steals your feelings, it steals your ability to choose what happens to you. It becomes this big dark blanket that wraps around you, at first it is comfortable, soft, warm. Ok, it’s nice to be alone and quiet for a bit. And slowly, slowly, slowly…you suffocate. And by that point, you’ve isolate yourself so well, that no one recognizes that you’re drowning. And that is why everyone is always so surprised when someone commits suicide.

 

This is why the video and the article upset me so much. You can’t just “shake off” depression. It’s not just a bad day or an attitude that you can dance away. Even if there are depressed people in that video, and there might very well be–I don’t know their story–chances are…it’s a mask. We are really good at masks (another reason people get surprised).

I am sure Harris’s point was to raise awareness. I see that at it’s base, and I am sure that is why IUPUI is endorsing it. These things go viral so quickly. We saw what happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge. And while a lot of great awareness and money raising came out of that…I just don’t see a real benefit to this specific video. All I see is a really terrible catch phrase, and a whole bunch of hurting people being pushed further into the dark. I hope I am wrong. Or, that someone comes up with a twist to this that actually promotes suicide awareness in a different, more helpful light. It is so needed.

 


 

A Disclaimer, and some information:

  • I am clearly not an expert on depression and mental illness but it is something that interests me and is near to my heart, so I spend a lot of focus on it personally. I experienced it myself, and I’ve had a lot of discussions with my friends who have seen and experienced this. I’ve also done a lot of reading on the subject…because that’s what I do when I’m passionate about something.

If you need help, please please please, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed or scared to ask for help. There are SOOOOO many people out there who have gone through what you have gone through, or have been trained to help you. Tumblr now will even pop up and check on you if you type Suicide in the search box. Reach out to your people. Even online people. We are here. And there are more of us who love you than you think. Don’t let that monster take you under. We will notice. You will be missed, I promise you that.