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Depression: It’s the Little Things


Thank you to everyone who has contacted me in recent months, asking me how I am doing, health-wise. Hopefully, this post will catch everyone up on my current status. Not a cheerful, “ain’t life grand” post, but I do try to be honest and forthright about my health.

I have suffered from depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia in1997.

Over the past three decades, not only have I had to contend with fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with osteoarthritis and neurological problems (peripheral neuropathy) that are ever so slowly robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days — most days — are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days — days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, it is that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy or time for others.

Every day is a pain day for me. Some days, the pain is manageable and tolerable, and it fades into the background as I write or focus on other things. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic, suicidal man. Most days, are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain medications and muscle relaxers, try the best I can to function, hoping to live for another day.

Along with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis. neurological problems, and chronic pain, I’ve had three bouts with skin cancer, my gallbladder removed several months ago, a labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, severe lower back and hip pain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Oh, and now, my red blood cell counts are low — very low. I have been on iron supplementation for the past month. I had bloodwork done today, and I have two doctors’ appointments tomorrow. One appointment is with the orthopedic doctor to see if the problem with my lower back — the disc space at L5 — has worsened, and then an appointment with my primary care doctor. If my red blood cell counts have not improved, I will have to have a colonoscopy and an endoscopy to check for internal bleeding. Since having surgery, I have had nausea, loss of appetite, and dull headaches. I have my eyes checked, nothing abnormal there. All told, since last Thanksgiving, I have lost 70 pounds. And not because I was trying to do so.

Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in pursuit of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but closer inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.

All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live my life on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are, provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man — a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will — I tried to see things as they are.

Having my father die at age forty-nine and my mother commit suicide at age fifty-four tend to give me a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital reminded me that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life, and I know the path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not Hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.

My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain. Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again (though thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I have not seen him in nine months).

As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain . . . it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things such as:

  • Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
  • Constipation
  • Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
  • Emails and texts to friends who never respond
  • Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
  • People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that . . .
  • Dropping a dish on my foot
  • Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be; something left on the floor by one of my grandchildren
  • Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
  • No Internet
  • The printers running out of ink or toner
  • Microsoft screwing my desktop computer with an update, and now I have to spend precious time “fixing” it
  • Needing a quarter for a shopping cart at Aldi and not having one
  • The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my recliner or bed
  • Making an error in the checkbook
  • Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease, or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
  • Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
  • The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
  • No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
  • People not wearing face masks
  • One of my children borrowing my tools one month, one year, five years ago, not returning them, and NOW that I need them, they are nowhere to be found
  • Looking out the back window at our wild, overgrown yard, hearing the taunts of the trees, bushes, and weeds, saying, WE WIN!

Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illnesses. It’s often all they can do to just get out of bed and live another day. So, when small insignificant things are thrown on top of their overload, it can and does bring them crashing down.

Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Susannah Anderson

    There was a time, some years back, when I was struggling with health issues, including vertigo and constant pain from arthritis and bursitis, plus the responsibility for a large household and a rapidly failing aunt. I was somehow “coping”, I thought; just plugging away, putting one foot in front of the other, counting my spoons, as they say.

    One afternoon, just before I started cooking supper for 7 or 8, one of the residents came in with a big smile and a bag of freshly-cut corn on the cob. I was furious! How dare he! I already had the menu planned, and here he was with more work to do, husking corn and dropping it in a pot! Just who did he think he was, imposing on me like that! I fumed all through supper and dishes.

    Sometime that night, I realized what an idiot I had been.

    (Item: I love corn on the cob.)

  2. Avatar

    So true. The little things. Holding a grandchild while feeling like your muscles are tearing and you might drop them but hell would freeze over before you ever did. You don’t let on, not one bit. On the way home your back and body react. Spasms arch through your body. You can’t crawl out of your skin, out of the vehicle, you cry, crying hurts more. Your significant other sees your pain and can’t do a damn thing about it but wants too and you are so tired of him baring this . . . what seems a burden to us . . . and you reach for a song in your head, you look out the window and tell yourself to breathe. You tell yourself this too will pass after you take a week or so to recover from the outing. You think of jumping out of the car. You reach for the Tramadol.

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    Erin Word

    While my experiences haven’t been the same as yours, I can relate. It’s like that thing that goes around Facebook every so often; “Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

    In my opinion, it’s especially true when a person (including myself) experiences so-called “invisible illnesses”; mental health concerns, fibromyalgia, diabetes, autism spectrum, etc. Even when a person also experiences a “visible” illness, the “invisible” ones are often discounted. I don’t know if that is true for you, it’s just what I’ve experienced.

  4. Avatar

    So sorry for you, Bruce. Thank you for keeping us aware of the insensitive things we could be doing, whether carelessly, selfishly, or just out of ignorance. Actually I do relate to your list of things that get you down. While I don’t have your health issues, those same frustrations get to me also, maybe because it’s the little things that seem to count the most in life. I think the most poignant ones were,”Emails and texts to friends who never respond,” and “Store clerks that treat like I have a disease or worse yet treat me like I don’t exist.” I’m sure that makes you feel very alone, but remember, we care about you. I love your blog so much and I hope you continue writing forever.

  5. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    People seem to think that fibromyalgia is a disease that can be cured by eating right, exercising, and taking supplements. Well…I’ve met some people who had it mildly and mild things helped. But I have found that once it passes moderate to severe fibromyalgia, I need drugs. Strong drugs. And even strong drugs don’t always help, depending on how acclimated your body gets.

    So, I do want to smack these people. Often!

  6. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Ah, Bruce,so glad to see you are still with us ! I have most of the same things you have. My mother died of melanoma,she was never told by any doctor that it’s inherited from one or more parents. She had bad sunburns as a kid, and never could tan, only turned red. My father gave me his olive skin and dark hair, little else. My mother tried to treat her odd moles with aloe vera gel, the cheap, heated kind. Huge mistake. I do get mole checks yearly, plus I look them over now and again. Anemia was informed by the doctor assigned to me, and she wouldn’t give me the B-12 and B-1 shots people with autoimmune conditions are supposed to get — ” just eat eggs and yogurt, she tells me ! I bought Jarrow Methylcobalamin, instead of the usual version of B-12. I even offered to pay for the shots, still she refused, saying ” it’s against AMA guidelines. Well F that, I bought the chewables. Looking for B-1 in that form. I was dropping things, not told that I needed to be tested for neuropathy, I had to go behind her back for everything, even leg braces ! Ugh ! I get so frustrated with American medicine, as do some doctors themselves. And I absolutely believe there is a connection to the years of massive stress taking its toll, since learning genes can be switched on and off, by foods, supplements, and serious levels of stress. I found out through online support groups for my conditions. It shouldn’t cost $45 for a vitamin shot. So, $13 for my lozenges. Most docs just say the U.S. diet has all you need. For me, I want both standard and alternative medicine. I’m now getting the passports and visas ready. Had my grandmother been honest with my mother, telling her what her father looked like as well as the other details, her life might have been better. Keeping his facts secret was part of her revenge campaign against my mother for being born. Her “sperm donor” wouldn’t give Grandma money to get the abortion, it took six months to earn the price, which in 1934, was $1,000 or more, and she was too far along to abort safely. As long as pain- killers are used for the fetus, I have no problem with abortion. The fetus should be knocked out and unaware of the procedure to make it humane. No time here at the moment, but that’s one subject I know real well. Until 1973, famous people,rich people got abortions all the time. You just paid a lot of money to the doctors, and hush-money to the Vice Squad to look elsewhere. Tied in with the Black Dahlia killing and all. There’s a lot to be depressed about lately. Setbacks stack up. That’s what I was thinking of when reading this post tonight. It gets overwhelming. My current situation is pretty grim, because I believed one lie too many. It ties into the summer of 2018. I got mad at my fingers for dropping my new phone twice in one day. No feeling in the tips, but the bones and joints sure can feel ! I often wish my parents could have had genetic counseling or at least, Roe v. Wade. My mother never heard about Planned Parenthood. Long story short, starting to to do damage control from the above, on a shoestring budget. Navigating idiotic beaurocracies is so hard, all the politics and corruption involved. You may have heard about my state’s ( CA) homeless problem. More than anything, it’s the rents. Then comes addictions and mental health. Reagan started a lot of this when he slashed the affordable housing programs, claiming homeless are that way by choice. Some are, Most, no way ! Having 40 years and endless funds to fix it, leaders chose pet projects instead, like our ‘Train to Nowhere’, Jerry Brown’s baby, costing trillions by now. No one wants that thing. The money needs to go for housing getting built. Such high stakes this year . Not hard to understand why one gets hit with the weight of all this. I brood daily. So, it’s a relief you posted today, Bruce. You know how bad my own predicament is, lol.

  7. Avatar

    After reading all your physical problems, I have no excuse for not doing a bunch of stuff that I need to do. Like exercise. Like getting to bed at a decent time instead of reading email….

  8. Avatar

    I’m sorry Bruce. And it can be especially rough in the middle of the night, depression and sleeplessness sure go together. <3

    I think I’m more on the exhaustion side of the scale than you, as yes I have pain, but somewhat managed. But I just had to turn down a part-time job that would’ve suited me not that long ago…but I had to admit that I couldn’t physically manage it. Really sucked as we could have used the income.

    Anyway, if you emailed or texted ME, I would answer. Yes, I would! (I don’t always text immediately but I do check phone.)

  9. Avatar

    I am sorry, Bruce. It’s good that you have things in life you really enjoy, and you’re living it all with your best friend. We, your readers, love your writing, the ideas you express, learning more about you as a person, and we hope you are able to hang with us a long time, preferably with minimal discomfort. As I get older, I am ever more thankful (not to a deity) for my health, which based on my parents who both died in their 70s, I am lucky to have. And a lot of people out in public are asses.

  10. Avatar

    Although I don’t have your problems, I can empathize with you.

    I also believe you when you talk about the little things adding up. I know, for myself, that there are days when I’m one dropped pen away from snapping. People ask what’s wrong, and I can’t point to any one thing.

    I’ve never gone in and been diagnosed with depression, but I have days when everything seems glum. Sometimes it’s just for an hour or two, sometimes it’s for most of the day. On those days, the smallest thing seems like a great mountain. I used to try and “happy thought” my was past it. Now, I recognize those feelings for what they are and allow myself to experience the emotions. When I get past the glum feeling, I feel better than when I would “happy thought” it away.

    Bruce, I’m so glad you’re still here, writing for us. I love your honesty, even though I don’t always agree with you. You make me think, which is important.

    • Avatar

      Ian, thank you. I learned that technique for dealing with anger and irritation and upset, to let myself experience them. But for some reason I’ve never thought to use it for feeling down. Maybe because feeling down was more bearable, and I don’t usually have it for long. But still can be difficult.

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