Monday, February 13, 2017

A Pity Party About Depression

It's difficult to be objective about your mental health. Thus, for years, I believed that my main mental issue was anxiety. And certainly, I was anxious. Since childhood, I worried like I was getting paid for it.  I've been aware that I felt depressed at times, but the depression seemed more transient - would last for a few weeks and then lift - but the anxiety was ever-present. Indeed, I was convinced that my anxiety caused me to be depressed.

I lived like that for over forty years, with my anxiety becoming markedly worse when I started my nursing career. I felt some relief when I quit bedside nursing, but then a series of family crises that occurred between 2011 - 2015 left me in a shattered state. I was "functioning" in the sense that I went to work every day, and attended to my household responsibilities, and in public maintained a cheerful face at least some of the time, but all that time I was crushed under a black cloud of dread. As with any illness, there are good days and bad days, so I felt OK for some periods during that time, but I never fully escaped the black cloud.

Late in 2015, I moved to a new position in my department - a more technical job with a steep learning curve. With my mental state being what it was, trying to master the skills of my new job was too much and I broke down. I still went to work every day, but I couldn't handle even the slightest mishap.  Once, dropping a spoon between the stove and the wall reduced me to tears.  I cried when I walked the dog, indeed, I cried nearly every day. I felt disassociated from myself - like I was protectively carrying the most vulnerable part of myself in a teacup because I literally could not stand even the smallest crisis. And still, I thought my main problem was anxiety.

My panic about a minor difficulty related to cosigning my younger daughter's lease led her to make me promise to see a doctor. I didn't want to see a doctor because I was afraid of being put on anti-depressants, which I was convinced would make me fat and I knew I'd rather be miserable than be fat but I kept my promise and I saw my PCP in June. That day started out badly because I'd tried to work from home before the appointment and had been unable to connect to the work network, which of course made me cry - not crying because computer failures are annoying, crying because I felt I was literally too stupid to work from home. That is the thought trough my brain was stuck in. These are the lies that depression tells you.

I'd rehearsed in my head what I would say, "I'm only here because my daughter made me promise," but I did give him an accurate picture of how awful I felt. The doctor listened sympathetically and prescribed citalopram, an SSRI, which I agreed to take. Despite my fear of weight gain, I knew I couldn't go on like I had been. He also gave me a list of therapists and advised me to shop around for the one who felt right.

An SSRI is a relatively new type of anti-depressant. I believe the first one available was Prozac. Since then, newer, more selective SSRIs like citalopram have been developed. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Our brains have receptors that mop up any excess serotonin (because GOD FORBID anyone become too happy) so SSRIs help prevent these receptors from eating your serotonin, so you feel happier.

They say it takes three to four weeks before you feel the effects of an SSRI, but I swear I started to feel a tiny bit better on day two. After a couple of weeks, Jon - who I didn't know I was taking an antidepressant - commented that I seemed happier and less anxious.

The first month or so on citalopram was like a honeymoon period. I felt great and I lost weight, which boosted my mood even more. Naturally, the dramatic lessening of a pain that you've lived with for years will make you feel pretty good. Then you adjust to the absence of pain and you have to start working on what was making you sad in the first place. Antidepressants don't solve your problems, but they do help you gain the strength to deal with them.

I found a therapist and it has been helpful to have an objective listener. I have a lot to work on and some serious decisions to make as to how I want to proceed with the rest of my life. I've also realized that my main problem was depression, and that depression made me anxious, which is the opposite of what I'd believed all along.

After the honeymoon period ended, I continued to feel better. This was the first Christmas in nearly twenty years that I didn't have a sobbing meltdown at some point.  I saw my doctor in early January and told him I felt fine. And then the depression came back. Not as bad as it had been, but suddenly the old "I'm stupid" thoughts were popping into my head. I was profoundly irritated with everyone, and I cried over nothing for the first time in months. I had an idea it was related to the winter lack of light (I've always known I had a touch of SAD) but I couldn't understand why it was affecting me now, when the days are markedly longer than they are around the holidays.

I told my therapist and she said seasonal depression worsens with the cumulative exposure to darkness, and that there are the most suicides in April because that's when people tend to feel worst. Hearing that was an epiphany. For as long as I can remember, I've hated and dreaded spring, and April is when my anxiety seems to peak. (I impulsively bought my solo ticket to Iceland in April because I felt so strongly that I had to get away from everyone.)  The cumulative effect seems to work in reverse as well. I've always had the greatest feeling of well-being in the fall - now, I realize because from the effect of months of summer light.

My therapist suggested that I buy a full spectrum lamp, which I did. All of this is a recent development and I've only had the light for a few days, but I did feel happier and more energized this weekend after having used it. I lived for years with depression, thinking that if this was how I was, I didn't want to change, but now, after experiencing life without depression, I don't want to go back to it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Women's March on Washington

My daughter Brigid at the mach - photo credit to my daughter Grace

The Women's March on Washington turned out to be just as wonderful and life-fulfilling as I'd hoped. I admit, I got a little scared on Friday, after hearing about violent protests and pepper spraying in Washington on Friday. Still, we decided to go ahead with our plans, and my daughters, Brigid and Grace and I boarded a bus at 6:00 am, and arrived in Washington a couple of hours later.

Everyone we encountered throughout the entire day was beaming with good will. Even the Washington DC security, who lined the route to the march, cheered us on and gave us high fives.  At most of the houses on the route to the March, up Capital Ave, supporters waved or cheered from their front porches. One house had a live band. One resident of the street handed out soup. Except for one lonely house with a pro-Trump sign in the window, almost every house along the two-mile avenue had a sign that expressed solidarity with the march.

Also awesome was the sea of pink hats, the result of the Pussy Hat Project. From our bus on the way to the march, we saw a long line of pink-hatted people waiting to get into one of the metro stations. We saw trains crammed with pink hats, and the crowd around us, walking to the march was an endless expanse of pink hats. Now I wish I'd knit one for myself, but I used all my knitting energy making anti-Trump yarn bombs, which I secured to trees on Capitol Hill and in other spots around Washington. I will knit a few now. I'm sure I'll find some places to put them. :)

Friday was a sad day. Trump's inaugural speech was disturbing, to say the least. After speaking grandly about returning wealth that had been "ripped" from American homes, Trump's VERY FIRST action in office was to screw the middle class by suspending indefinitely an initiative that would have lowered PMI premiums. He then went on to scrub the White House web site of any mention of climate change. The new "America First Energy Plan" is a truly terrifying document and I urge you all to read it, unless you're OK with the total destruction of our national parks. After this, what I needed was to be with other people who agreed that this is fucked up and un-American; that we need to fight Trump and his policies.

Trump is unbearable

I was thrilled to attend the march with my daughters, and experience the largest protest in American history with them. My mother was an activist - I have memories of being pushed in a stroller while she canvassed door-to-door for liberal political candidates. She died twenty years ago, but I know that she, along with my aunts and grandmother, were with us in spirit. I hope that Brigid and Grace and I will carry on my mother's practice of activism.

Of course we had some funny little incidents, the main one being the drama caused by Brigid's coat. She got a free fur coat from a thrift shop, and using other thrifted textiles, stitched the word NASTY on the back and appliqued an assortment of female anatomy. Wooden sign posts were forbidden, but Brigid found a thrifted baby toy and fashioned it into a long, albeit droopy sign post. People freaked out a bit We hadn't even boarded our bus in Charlottesville and I spotted someone photographing Brigid and her coat. And so it went, for the whole march, people asking to photograph the coat or to have their picture taken with her. Eventually we ran into the press. A journalist from Montreal interviewed her, and later, another journalist chased her down and said, "Do you know how many people are chasing after you, trying to get a picture of your coat?" She took a lot of pictures, and then another journalist took more.  Also, as we approached some police officers who were watching the crowd, I overheard one of them say to the other, "We've got a vagina coat over here." But when we walked past and he saw the "Nasty" on the back, he said, "That's awesome." I guess it's pretty cool if the D.C. police admire your protest wear. Have you seen her coat in your feeds?

We ran into the woman pictured below and of course had to have a chat and some photographs. The hilarious thing was that a little girl, as she approached us, screamed, "That is NOT a hot dog!"
The "hot dog lady"

Brigid's coat turned out to be useful in addition to being decorative. There were tight bag restrictions at the march, so we put most of what we needed into our pockets. Brigid's coat pocket was large enough to hold a partial roll of toilet paper, which came in handy at the port-a-potties at the end of the march.

Finally, one of the most personally heartwarming things about the march was that I hung a small "NO TRUMP" yarn bomb on a tree in Lincoln Park on the way to the march. Hours later, as we were walking back to our bus, I checked to see if it was still there. It was, only someone had embellished it with a solidarity pin. We also noticed that the tree I'd randomly selected was a pussywillow!

I hope that everyone had a great marching experience on Saturday. It was a historic moment and if we continue to stand together, we can defeat this man.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts on Gaslighting and the Women's March

Just posting briefly to prove (mostly to myself) that this blog is still alive. Lately, I feel like my relationship with my blog is like that scene in Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett whips her horse until it collapses. The intellectual demands of my job seem to have taken up all the space in my brain that used to come up with things to write about.

Also, any remaining brain space has been taken over by panic/rage at Donald Trump and his team. HOW can anyone observe this man without realizing that he is deeply disturbed and not in any way able to carry out the duties of the president of the United States? During the campaign, even I thought that a lot of his bluster was just shtick and that if he were actually elected, he might be able to pull it together and behave more or less like a rational human.  But that has been proven not to be the case. Clearly.

And now it is the eve of the inauguration and nothing can save us. I am attending the Women’s March on Washington, along with Brigid and Grace. I know it is going to be a long, grueling, and uncomfortable day, but I am looking forward to it. One unexpected (to me) thing that came out of the election was the large-scale emotional abuse perpetrated by Donald Trump and his team (*cough* Kellyanne Conway *cough*).  They are manipulating the meaning of truth itself, so that we are perpetually confused and doubting. Their insistence of the rightness of Trump’s actions, in the face of facts that prove the nearly everything he says is a lie is a type of abuse known as gaslighting, which causes its victims to question their own perceptions and even their sanity. To me, attending the Women’s March is a way of combating this abuse. To say that those of us who find Trump’s actions abhorrent are real and that we won’t be gaslit. How will Trump explain away over 100,000 people marching in protest, with sister marches occurring all around the world?  I’m sure he and his people will find multiple demeaning ways to dismiss us, but being present in these marches is a weapon against his abuse.

Are you planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, or a local march in your own area? If so, let me know in the comments. I wish us all a safe and affirming march.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on