Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: Love Thyself

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: Love Thyself: Depression Survival: Love Thyself “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.” Mark Twain How can someo...

Depression Survival: Love Thyself

Depression Survival: Love Thyself

“The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”
Mark Twain

How can someone not love himself? The Bible has passages that relate to loving oneself. Like in Mark 12:31 where it states to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

I’m not referring to arrogance, bragging or boastful behavior. Those characteristics are wrong. I am referring to the basic human understanding that we love ourselves and don’t want any harm to come to our minds, bodies or spirits.

Someone who has never lived with the disease of depression would have a difficult time understanding how a person could not love himself. Some people who have the disease actually hate themselves. Yes, there are times when the negative self-image roars to the surface and self-hatred is a dominant theme. It may last a few days or it could possibly last a lifetime.

Take eight-year Krame in my book, The Shade Tree Choir. During his formative years from that tender age until he escaped from his home, he hated himself. He was continuously told he was a bad person, a son-of-a-bitch and was no good. He believed it because his alcoholic parents and mentally ill mother told him so. After all, to a child, parents don’t lie. Parents set the belief system at a young age in their children. If they said it was true then it surely must have been. Children have no methods to understand what alcoholism does to the family. All they know is that physical beatings and constant verbal abuse reinforce what the parents have said.

Krame thought he was bad. Each time he was kicked with steel-toed work boots, slapped across the face, whipped with both ends of a belt or locked away in a darkened closet, he just knew he was a bad person. Many children of alcoholic parents learn not to love themselves. They learn nothing is ever good enough and no matter what they do, they are destined to be “bad” people.

They may grow with a belief system of, “If my own parents don’t love me then how can anyone else ever love me?” That is why many have difficulty with personal relationships. Sometimes when they get emotionally attached and fall in love with another person, the old feelings of negative self-worth rise to the top and they sabotage the relationship. By destroying the relationship, they re-affirm what they were taught as children. “I am bad, therefore you must go away.”

This can add more fuel to the fire of depression. I have written about the physiological changes that occur with depression in my blog, “I’m In The Mood For Music” dated April 17, 2016. Is depression rooted only in our physical beings? Is depression rooted in learned behavior as children? I suspect it is both.

However, somewhere deep inside the spirit of a child lies the belief that he is not bad. This creates conflict. That inner belief of the child versus what abusive parents may say about the child can be total opposites. It requires tremendous energy to survive in such an environment.

His friends knew Krame as the Thinker. He analyzed every action to be certain he would never be caught and beaten again by his dad. There was no childhood for him. It was physical and emotional survival. Child abuse does that to a kid. It takes away childhood experiences and sets up a lifetime of conflict, trying to “love thyself.” Too often, however, even that adult fails and does not love himself.

The depressive person then goes into a familiar cycle of sadness, self-hatred and other negative thoughts. I wonder how many suicides have occurred because people were in that thought process. I also wonder how many suicide victims felt a sense of being exhausted trying to find answers and felt overwhelmed. I suspect many – if not most.

Krame struggled his entire life trying to counteract the ghosts of his past. He did become a high achiever like many others who suffer clinical depression. I read that my idol, Mark Twain suffered from severe depression and used to experience bouts of rage and melancholy. I understand. Why? Because I am Krame. The Shade Tree Choir is a book about my childhood. I too have moments of rage, severe melancholy and inability to function. I too sometimes have to withdraw inside myself to nurture that little boy in me. This is all part of the disease.

I have no idea if my disease comes from my genetic make-up, my childhood or other learned behaviors in my life. I suspect it is a combination. For me, what is important is to recognize when I’m about to be smacked again with an episode. It is then I have to reach inside my bag of survival tools and get to work.

Any depressive person who read Twain’s quote at the beginning of my blog would nod in agreement that, “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”

There are times I am that way. I pull in emotionally to heal and try to let it pass. I may sleep more, may become quiet and withdrawn and find an activity that requires significant concentration. I intentionally stop giving to others because I need all my energy for myself.

Many years ago I was a Board member for several groups. I was hit with a stressful situation and knew I needed to pull in to heal. I resigned that day from all the organizations and felt immediate relief knowing I had time to help myself.

Here are some survival tools I use. I hope you find one or two that may help you to love yourself.

·      I write. I either write poems or short stories. Sometimes my best creative juices flow the best when I am in a funk.
·      I sit alone and fish. Sometimes watching a bobber shuts down negative chatter.
·      I refuse to volunteer in my community and help others. I spend the time needed on me instead.
·      If depression isn’t severe, then I go to the gym. If it is severe I avoid exercises because I know as a retired physical therapist that injuries can occur if one isn’t focused. I don’t like walking, but it can be good for people who are in a negative state.
·      Sometimes I list the reasons that I am a good person. That exercise helps bring positive energy to me.
·      I apologize to those I may have harmed with my behavior.
·      I share my feelings. Like I have done here in this week’s blog.

Here are some links you may find helpful

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: I'm In The Mood For Music

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: I'm In The Mood For Music: I’m In The Mood For Music “Your brain lights up like a Christmas Tree when you listen to music.” Kimberly Sena Moore ...

Depression Survival: I'm In The Mood For Music

I’m In The Mood For Music

“Your brain lights up like a Christmas Tree when you listen to music.”
Kimberly Sena Moore
Neurologic Music Therapist

There are three factors that differentiate depression from normal feelings of sadness or pessimism. They are the duration, severity and symptoms. If they last longer than two weeks one might want to consult with a physician. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 9.5% of Americans experience mood disorders like depression and bipolar moods. 18.1% experience anxiety.

I fall into both of those categories and have since a child. My book, “The Shade Tree Choir” tells a story of an eight-year old boy physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic parents and mentally ill mother. The abuse continued until he left home at age seventeen. That child used to stop and vomit when he saw his dad’s car parked in front of the house when he ran home to make it into the door in time for supper. That boy lived in a constant state of readiness wondering when the next slap, kick or punch might come his way. That boy learned a raw definition of anxiety, stress, sadness and depression. I was that boy. I’ve been a high-functioning member of society despite being clinically depressed.

My childhood and subsequent training as a physical therapist give credence to my blog. For many years I taught professionals and the general community throughout Florida about stress management. The techniques I used were explained in my book, “Stress Management: Does Anyone in Chicago Know About it.” That book is now out of print, but I continue to follow my own advice given so long ago.

In my book I reported about a study performed by the U. of California that compared physiological changes that occur because of our moods. Clinicians divided drama students into two groups. Blood levels of “happy and sad” hormones were tested in each group prior to the activity. Each drama student was then told to go away and play a part. Some played the role of a “Happy Oh” and the other half played a “Sad Oh.” 

The “Happy Oh” exaggerated happiness. Arms were extended, smiles were stretched across their faces, posture was erect and the danced and played. The “Sad Oh” people had collapsed posture, withdrawn, rolled into a ball and frowned faces. All returned after a set time limit and blood was once again tested. The results were elevated dopamine and serotonin levels increased in the “Happy Oh” participants. These are known as “happy hormones.” The test was done several times to be certain of validity.

The result of the study was that the body reacts to the costume we wear. I say to you, if you are feeling down – fake it. Pretend to be happy. If you are feeling sad – fake it. Pretend to be in a good mood. Eventually your negative feelings will be replaced with positive ones. Did you know your mood is contagious? Yep, it is. Did you know that the older we get, the more we tend to accentuate the positive? One exercise you might try on the way to work is to pretend you are a “Happy Oh” and exaggerate your positive feelings. Your mood may change and co-workers might enjoy being around you. Change your costume.

Another exercise to try when you’re down is to sing. Yes, singing alone has been shown to increase another “happy hormone” called oxytocin. Singing in a group has proven to make people happier because vibrations are sent throughout the body that lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and increases endorphins (hormone that makes us feel content). Be sure to read my previous blog about the negative impact that cortisol has on the body.

As a footnote, I don’t think I would recommend listening and singing, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by the great George Jones if you just broke up with someone. Pick a happy tune.

Listening to some music has been shown to lower the levels of cortisol, reduce pain and improve positive emotions. Listening to songs popular in your youth can be nostalgic and maybe bring back happier times for you and change your mood. Mozart has been a proven choice for me when I want to lighten my load.

Learning to play a musical instrument can sharpen memory and protect the mind from ravages of old age. You are never too old to learn new tricks and techniques. Several years ago I could not read music nor play an instrument. I took five lessons to play my alto sax. My passion led me to use this new activity to combat the blues of depression. One of my patients at the time was the Maestro for a local symphony. He told me to slow down the tempo and I could play any song I wanted and then gradually I would improve. It worked. There are now fewer dogs howling down the gravel road where I live when I play my sax. I guess I’m getting better.

Here is a link to a video on You Tube that will show you the benefit music has with a patient who has dementia. Please take six minutes to watch this jaw-dropping video.

Next time you are feeling depressed or anxious, try singing, listening to music or learn to play an instrument. Change your costume and you will change your mood.

Please like, share and comment on my blog.

“The Shade Tree Choir”


Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: It's All In Your Head

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: It's All In Your Head: Depression Survival Depression – It’s All In Your Head I unfolded the thick stack of papers, poured a cup of coffee and b...

Depression Survival: It's All In Your Head

Depression Survival

Depression – It’s All In Your Head

I unfolded the thick stack of papers, poured a cup of coffee and began reading. As a retried physical therapist with extensive training and experience, I knew the most important section to read first was the precautions with all new medications.

“POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS: headache, trouble focusing, memory loss, change in thinking clearly and with logic, weakness, seizures, change in balance. Other effects may include bleeding, shortness of breath, chest pains, anxiety, weight loss, bad dreams, thoughts of killing yourself, dangerous impulses, violent behavior.”

That was the first of ten pages of precautions. The last one read, “New or worse depression.”

I shook my head and tossed the unopened bottle of pills into a bag I keep for expired medications. A couple times a year there are places in my community where the public can drop off old medicines and then be disposed of properly.

The event started earlier that day when I had my annual physical. I told my physician I had two fleeting moments in the past year of suicide ideations from my clinical depression. Such thoughts are not unusual for the nineteen million people who suffer from the disease. Should you ever experience this, I recommend you go immediately to an emergency room.

My physician meant well when he prescribed the medicine. But after reading the list of precautions, I knew for certain I was not about to take it. I would do what I have done for nearly six decades of coping with the disease. My preferred method of choice is self-treatment. Research has shown that depression can be effectively treated in 80% of the cases using medicine; talk therapy or a combination – along with years of self-improvement techniques.

Emotional symptoms of depression can include: Sad mood, loss of interest in life, loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, sense of worthlessness, lack of hope, thoughts of death or suicide, anxiety, and empty feeling. Some physical signs may include: fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, significant weight loss or gain, restlessness, irritability and decreased energy.

Should you have a desire to kill yourself here are two valuable suicide hotline numbers to call immediately. Again, I stress the need to go directly to the E-R department at your nearest hospital. 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255

Because of my training and regular reading of scientific articles about the disease, I am well aware of brain function and depression. Research has shown that there are centers deep inside the brain that show changes in depressed people. These areas are responsible for our moods, emotions such as anger, pleasure, sorrow and fear. They also control our perceptions of reality. Other reactions controlled include how we react to stress, appetite and ability to sleep.

Billions of messages are sent throughout the brain by neurotransmitters. These messages are passed along via chemical and electrical impulses and then back to chemical. Some of the more common chemicals required to transmit messages include serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Research has proven there are significant changes in the production – or lack of production - of these neurotransmitters with depressed people. Parts of the brain shrink in some patients with depression and PET scans show impressive electrical changes during depression.

Despite the research, scientists still do not know if the brain changes cause the depression or if the depression causes the changes in neurotransmitters. Genetic researchers have discovered some links among family members having depression. The areas of how we react to stress, child abuse and mood change have all been linked to specific genes.

Depression is one puzzle piece with diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, kidney dysfunction, heart disorders, immune diseases and high cholesterol. Medications to treat depression can be powerful tools. Most have significant side effects.

Talk therapy, exercise and decades of self-inspection have assisted me with my disease. There are other forms of treatment that have pros and cons. I haven’t tried any of these, but simply report them here for you. Some of these include: phototherapy (light therapy), nerve stimulation implants, electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. There is no one magical cure for depression. Each person, working in conjunction with the physician has to find what works best.

It does no good to tell a person hit with a wave of depression to pull themselves out it, to forget about it, try to feel better and so on. I have no control when a wave of depression crashes over me. I don’t choose to live that way. I have no say in the matter. I realize I am about to run away emotionally and shut down. I refuse to share my feelings when I am in that state. I become less active and have no energy. I sleep deeper. I don’t shave or shower and I don’t care. I exist. I hold on for the ride knowing it will pass. Sometimes I get hit a couple times a year. Occasionally, I am hit many times in a year. My inner strength has allowed me to reach deep inside and still function as valuable member of society.

Depression has been reported in many high functioning people. Some of these have included: Mark Twain, Sir Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Barbara Bush, Tipper Gore, President John Adams and even President Abraham Lincoln.  It’s sad, and yet understandable, to remember those who lost their battles. Robyn Williams, Heath Ledger and NFL athletes Andre Waters and Dave Duerson are some well-known people who committed suicide. Depression is a serious disease. If you are not seeking help, I encourage you to do so.

I have found hobbies to be a valuable tool. Hobbies build a sense of self-worth, take my mind away from negative thoughts and improve my ability to focus. Writing, drawing, fishing, creating stained glass artwork and even squawking away with my saxophone are some of my tools. I try to go to the gym three to four times a week, I meditate and I share my feelings.

Whatever method you choose I wish you well in your journey. Remember, you are not alone.

To learn more of my life story I refer you to my books at

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival

The Shade Tree Choir: Depression Survival: Depression Survival The Empty Easel This is my inaugural blog about “Depression Survival.” It’s not intended to replace any medic...

Depression Survival

Depression Survival

The Empty Easel

This is my inaugural blog about “Depression Survival.” It’s not intended to replace any medical advice from heath practitioners. “Depression Survival” is based on my experience as one who was physically and emotionally abused as a child and on my education and forty-year career as a physical therapist.

Both of my parents were alcoholics and Mom was mentally ill. As a child I was whipped from both ends of my dad’s belt. I was kicked with steel-toed boots, punched and slapped – often several times a week. There was no emotional support, protection or love from my mother.

I was locked away for over sixteen hours in a darkened, hot area of our house with only cockroaches and spiders to keep me company. I sat on wooden steps above a dirt floor. The stairs once led to the outside from the cellar of our 150 year-old home. The top of my tomb had been cemented over years prior. Dad locked the door and left me abandoned in total darkness. That was the day my childhood ended. I was about eight-years old. The full story is in my book, “The Shade Tree Choir.”

My childhood consisted of learning to survive – physically and emotionally. The constant state of tension and anxiety probably led to my lifelong depression. But, I am a survivor. Hence the name of this blog – “Depression Survival.”

I have lived with clinical depression for decades and, like many others, have been fortunate in business, in my career and in my personal life. I know one never outgrows the disease and that waves may hit at any moment. I will share with you what I do to try to keep those waves away and what I do when they splash upon me.

In upcoming issues I shall address what I consider four components to “Depression Survival.” These include physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs. You will learn my coping skills in each of these four puzzle pieces.

Our journey together begins here. It’s the prologue from my book “The Shade Tree Choir.”

“I struggled for air and could only whimper for him to stop hurting me. I could feel my ribs being crushed against the floor by his heavy weight on my upper back. The sheer force of his hand stung my wrist as he pulled my arm behind my back and yanked it sharply upward. I thought he was going to break it off. The shag carpet ground against my face like sandpaper and I could feel the tearing of my skin. My nose pushed into the fibers and I could barely breathe through the burning sensation of pain. I gagged at the smell of the filthy tattered carpet, at the stench of a decade’s worth of dog waste and urine. As I struggled weakly against his grip, I choked on the odor of unwashed feet, mud, grime, and ground-in food. My stomach heaved at the sickly scent of bourbon and beer and hopelessly, my tears and sweat mingled into the carpet beneath me.

Why was my dad doing this awful thing to me? What had I done to deserve such treatment?

I was eight years old.”

For some sixty years since that beating described above, I have analyzed, synthesized and realized that I have control. I have grown in life and I have succeeded. I remain vigilant to the disease.

My dad also grew along the way. As reported in “The Shade Tree Choir”, one night after a confrontation with one of my younger brothers, he apparently poured the remaining Jim Beam down the drain and told Mom that it all ends now. They stopped drinking at that instant and as long as he lived he never had another drop to drink. Neither did my mother. I had long before left the house when that happened.

Dad read books about positive thinking; he consciously changed his behavior and became a different man. In that cellar where I was entombed in the stairwell, where I was beaten hundreds of times, he taught himself to paint. He remolded the area including new lights and a sound system that played classical music while he painted. I suspect he found his soul centered with his artwork. His works were impressive. When he died at a young age of fifty-three years I was given three of his paintings.

Six months ago I stumbled onto a You Tube video about drawing a tree. For an unknown reason, it caught my eye and I started drawing different scenes after that original tree. Part of my constant effort to keep depression at bay is to learn new hobbies. Like my dad, I have learned how to draw using a variety of mediums. I am in the process of developing a coffee table book displaying my new passion. Hobbies can be a method to combat depression. One can become focused and negative thinking disappears.

Recently my older brother presented me with a gift. It was Dad’s box of art tools and supplies. My brother was given these memories when Dad died. I opened that box and floated my fingers across the paints of many colors. I reflected on the days his hand dropped the belt and grasped the brush. That box has travelled far from the place where I was tortured as a kid to where it now now sits next to me as an old man.

Days when my soul is centered far outnumber negative times of turmoil. Art gives me peace, as do many other activities. I smile thinking of the irony between my dad and me. I shall fill his empty easel with own colorful blends. Forgiveness allows that to happen.

                                                           Dad’s box of art tools

One of Dad’s paintings

One of my drawings

Be sure to visit my web site at


The Shade Tree Choir Book Trailer