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.

18 comments:

  1. What a brave post.

    Depression runs in my family, although we didn't really find out exactly how much until my cousin took his own life a few years ago. That's when we found out our grandfather would have days where he struggled to get out of bed,as did his mother apparently. Why is it seemingly taboo to discuss mental health issues? My generation of cousins, which has lost two already due to mental illness, has two others that have been diagnosed as bipolar.

    In the last few years, I've wrestled with anxiety - I know that it's entirely hormone related and tends to be worse during the summer months. It usually passes fairly quickly, but while in it, it's absolute hell. I want to crawl out of my own skin and I know I'm pretty awful to be around. I cannot imagine living with it as long as you did. I'm glad you finally got help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, hormones are another factor! So we've got environment, situational stress, genetics, and hormones all conspiring to make us miserable. No wonder depression is so hard to beat.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to much of it, and like you, I have always eschewed anti-depressants. I may have to rethink that stand. Now that I'm in a season of life between kids and aging parents, death and divorce, I don't foresee circumstances getting better, but maybe I don't need to suffer so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, even though intellectually, I understood that antidepressants help people, and I certainly didn't judge others for taking them, I still felt reluctant to try them myself.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for sharing. We're dealing with these issues in my home as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you find a light at the end of the tunnel.

      Delete
  4. Love this post. I think there is some undiagnosed depression in my family but it's so hard to tell if it could be improved by circumstances. So many people have obstacles and hardship in their lives that depression and anxiety seem almost inevitable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, and people can't control a lot of what happens to them.

      Delete
  5. Thank you so much for this. I have struggled with depression since high school. I had all sorts of tricks and crutches from high school until about 2002. 2002 was when the tricks stopped working and I sought help. I spent 2002-2007 going through the shit by going through the shit. Therapy, as well as different drugs to treat the depression and the anxiety. There were times when I was so furious about having to fix my fucked up brain *with* my fucked up brain. But when things lifted, it was mind blowing. All that brain space that was occupied by depression, anger and anxiety was MINE again. I am still under a psychiatrist's care and will probably be for life (my depression was that severe) but having the help is huge for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you've been able to help yourself. You're so right about using a messed up brain to fix a messed up brain. It is not easy.

      Delete
  6. I'm glad you feel better. Depression/anxiety have chipped away at too much of my life. Medication and counseling is (knock wood) keeping it at bay. Hope you continue feeling better and triumph through April.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for dropping by Mrs. G! I often think of you and I hope you're doing well.

      Delete
  7. It's like depression is some hand-waving, gaslighting asshole-boyfriend, saying, "Oh yeah, anything unpefect in any way is so very much ALL YOU. You do not see that, because you are such a . It's is NOT because I, Depression, am a sadistic hiding lying asshole. And never ever look directly at me, because if you dare study me, all your important things like your family and friends and intellect and soul will explode, and if you should question this world view, your children will go hungry waiting in the line to get a much better mother. Also, I am driving them to that line in my windowless van full of poisoned candy and lost puppies. Yeah, see? What a nervous Nellie you are! Are we fully anxious yet, or shall I go on? BWAHAHAH!" I fucking hate that guy. Dump him. Dump him over and over, as many times as it takes. Everybody knows that asshole and everybody's got your back. (This is Danielle btw, I can't remember my old google password...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a great analogy! And I suspected this comment was from you before I read the last sentence!

      Delete
  8. There is a blank space where my lame humor must've conflicted with the html. It was supposed to say: You do not see that because you are such a *random cutting insult generator plug-in*. Humor and code fail complete.

    ReplyDelete
  9. We got one of those lamps. They do make a difference. Your honest reflection on this topic really clarifies what a struggle depression can be. Danielle's analogy is spot on.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for this post; I needed to read this today as I am feeling the effects of losing my much loved husband.

    ReplyDelete