When Depression Meets Compassion

DISCLAIMER: The following blog post may be triggering to those who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts. If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or send a text message to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

We all have good days and bad days. For some of us, our bad days are worse than for others, and for those individuals living with Major Depressive Disorder, those bad days can run into each other, stretching on and on until all hope feels lost. Our society carries a lot of stigma around being open about mental illness, but it is essential that we work to #EndTheStigma. According to the NIMH, an estimated 16.1 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2015 alone, accounting for 6.7% of the adult population in the United States (Source), making Major Depressive Disorder the leading cause of disability for individuals aged 15-44. It is also important to remember that major depressive episodes often include intense suicidal thoughts, and according to the CDC, in 2015 alone, suicide took the lives of over 44,000 people in the US, making it the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 34 (source). With data like this, it seems well past time to step up and have an open conversation about the topic. Today (11/27/2017) is World Compassion Day, and in the spirit of that day, I would like to share a personal experience that involves depression and compassion.

Not long ago, I had been having a particularly bad day. This bad day was preceded by many prior bad days, and I had reached an all-time low. Thoughts of abandonment and feelings of being both unwanted and unloved were high, not to mention feelings of being overworked and underappreciated. Things were volatile, and I had put a lot of stock into the need to have a pleasant and peaceful day. Instead of peace and calm, an argument broke out between myself and my partner, and any remaining threads of hope were severed. Not knowing where to go or who to turn to, and being overwhelmed with feelings of terror, pain, rejection, and panic, I found somewhere to sit down, knowing that standing much longer would probably lead to collapsing and further injuring myself.

I sat out of the way, trying to hide from the world that had turned itself against me, doing everything I could to hold myself and grasping for some thread of hope or some light in the darkness. To my surprise, that light came in the form of a stranger. I had no idea who she was, or even what she looked like (my vision was a blur from the intensity of my tears), but her voice spoke kind words and she held my hand with a gentleness that can only come from someone with a giant heart. Those soft words and that caring touch reminded me that there is indeed some good in the world, even when it’s hard to see it. She was, in that moment, the beacon of light that I needed in a sea of darkness.

At some point in this, another individual appeared to help as well, although my memory of how he got involved is very fuzzy. I gave both of them my number, and we discussed briefly the need to make new friends. I am still waiting to hear back from the second kind individual, but both of them took a few moments out of their day to show kindness to a complete stranger in a time of intense emotional pain, and for that, they are both the greatest kind of hero in my book — heroes of the heart. The first person that came to my aid called me and left a voicemail checking on me later that day, and then she texted me as well. In our first few text messages back and forth, she said to me, “you’re allowed to fall apart, you’re only human.” And that is the key that I always need to try to remember: that we are all fully human in all of the best and worst ways — and that I am allowed to be that. That moment of kindness didn’t magically make everything in my world better, but it did, for just a moment, give a small reminder that it is okay to be human.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Love and compassion are essential for humanity, but they are just as essential for the survival of each of us as individual humans, and indeed, our capacity for love and compassion are the greatest qualities we can have as one that is fully human. To use this quality for just a moment can make a bad day just a little better, or maybe, it could even save a life.

NW Noggin at Neuroscience 2017

Last April, my partner Alison and I got involved with NW Noggin through volunteering at the Portland March for Science. We had been exposed to NW Noggin by co-founders Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake while taking their courses at Portland State University. Since April, both of us have been active with the nonprofit, volunteering to visit schools throughout Oregon and Washington, and participating in events that blend neuroscience and the arts.

Our neuroscience outreach efforts — almost always coupled with Noggin’s signature pipe cleaner neurons — earned us a chance to be a part of a poster presentation about Noggin and how it has influenced us, alongside Noggineers Rebekah Hough, Thomas Madison, and Jessica Patching-Bunch. This poster was to be presented at this year’s meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2017, which is taking place 11/11-11/15 in Washington, DC. I am honored to have been a part of this poster presentation, although I was unfortunately unable to physically attend the conference due to financial limitations. Alison, Rebekah, Thomas, and Jessica are all in Washington, DC right now, and they will be taking the opportunity to not only present our poster at Neuroscience 2017, but to visit schools in Washington, DC to do outreach, and to present to the STEM Caucus in Congress.

Having had a chance to design the poster, with the help of Alison Mack — who provided the pipe cleaner neuron artwork — will be something I will always remember. If you would like to see a full-sized .pdf of our poster, you can download it here.

Walktober 2017

Walktober is an event put on by the Campus Rec at Portland State University. It’s basically a one-month challenge to get you to attempt to walk at least an average of 10,000 steps a day — or at least 310,000 steps for the month of October. I set out to participate in this, which I didn’t think would be too hard. I had a health blow in the very beginning of October, however, and had to undergo a painful surgery and recovery which left me in a place of not walking much for the first 11 days of October. In spite of this, I doubled down my efforts and went on regular long walks to compensate for the lost time. At the end of the day on October 31st, I had averaged 11,919 steps a day for the month of October, according to Apple Health.

A couple of years ago I was regularly walking 15,000-20,000 steps a day, and I felt the best I ever have in my adult life. Walktober has allowed me to show myself that I can do that sort of thing again, and so much more. October is now over, and Walktober with it, but I am not going to stop trying to exceed my step goal every day. I am also not going to stop adding other small activities into my daily life (for November I am FINALLY going to set out to achieve my goal of completing a 30-day yoga challenge! I’m even considering blogging about it as I go).

For my final walk of October, I found myself journeying from my home on the PSU campus in downtown Portland, up to the OHSU campus and back. As I arrived at OHSU I found it fitting because in many ways it marks the beginning of several journeys, because I would love to go to school or do research at OHSU one day, and it is a center of health at the top of the city. Also fitting because this blog post is — I hope — going to be the first of many that touch on health and wellness.

Friday I will be attending the closing ceremony for Walktober, and next year I am going to plan on performing even better than I did this year. In the meantime, I will take things one step at a time.

Returning to the Blogosphere

Earlier this week I marked 35 years since the night I was born. Perhaps related, and perhaps not, I’ve been feeling a strong pull lately to return to blogging, so why not use this milestone as a catalyst for making the change and returning to blogging? What kinds of things do I plan to write about? Whatever I’m interested in writing about, really. Topics could range between psychology and neuroscience, physical and mental health, mindfulness and meditation, comparative religions and spirituality, nonviolence, social justice, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics), and much more. I hope you will join me in this endeavor to once again reclaim my voice in the blogosphere.