Today I felt ENERGY for the first time in what seems like years. I worked up a sweat and got that good tired-- that endorphin boost from exertion. I have not felt that in a long while.
Typically I have felt EXHAUSTION. With all caps. Fatigue. Mild effort (doing a load of laundry) followed by swift collapse. Ridiculous. But true.
And one more reason why Depression can feel like a character flaw. Everyday activities become so exhaustively difficult.
I think that I should be up to speed by now since I have identified the problem. I have a hard time being kind to myself. It feels like making excuses for bad behavior. Laziness. Slovenliness.
Spoke with a neighbor today who is going through some situational depression and life stress and facing a lot of similar challenges. We are going to make an effort to support one another-- set goals and check in.
My goal for the evening: laundry room garbage and recycling. If I can get a baseline of non-disgustingness going in the basement I will be much more inclined to accept help. And I really do need help. Because getting better is hard and having not been well for a long time had a profound impact on my home and my family. I need allies. And I suck at asking for them. Stupid Scandinavian work ethic.
Also: learned that bupropion can cause dehydration especially at the onset. So doubly and triply important for me to get more water. Exerting myself more, hotter weather, new medication and my disinclination to consume beverages. All these things make it easy to slip into water deficit.
I feel hopeful today. The return of normal energy was the first thing I noticed when I first went on medication and my Depression was properly controlled. I remember wondering what normal people found to do with all this extra energy. I was used to having to spend every ounce of my physical reserves just to remain upright for eight hours. There was nothing left.
I don't like to drink. And I'm not talking about alcohol, although that too. I just don't like imbibing liquids.
If I have someone constantly pouring water for me (like at a restaurant) I probably get enough. Because drinking the water is something to do while I am waiting for the food. Or after I am done and waiting for the check. Drinking from sheer boredom.
I have also found that if I carry around a large hot-pink water bottle I will fill it several times a day. If I lose it, I just forget to drink.
Now I find out that not drinking enough water not only probably causes my headaches but has a big impact on Depression symptoms. Great. Shouldn't be a surprise, I guess. The brain being such a water hog-- gray matter actually shrinking if it doesn't get enough water, affecting cognitive functioning.
So in addition to making sure I take my medication, I will need to track my water consumption (since it doesn't cross my mind until I have a whopper of a headache and by then it is too late.)
I didn't do much work on kicking Depression's Ass today. I worked very hard with my brother on cleaning up after a flooded basement at my mom's house.
Made me realize that I really need to clean up my own basement. I too have a lot of cardboard boxes full of stuff on the floor. If we got water in the basement it would become a HUGE job to clean up. An even huger job, I should say.
I think I need help with it, but it is unlikely that I will recruit anyone to help. Because I am not ready for anyone to see how bad I let the basement get. Mostly clothes that are waiting for people to fit into them; toys waiting for people to play with them and craft supplies waiting to become something new. But a lot of these things are mixed together in boxes and bags. Combined with completely useless things that we should get rid of.
Naturally since things are so poorly stored, they take up all the useful storage space that could hold things we would like to put away from upstairs. Which means our small living space is not cleanable. It is not that the space is too small. I am committed to the small space. We just have too much stuff and haven't stored items well.
I once saw an episode of CSI in which some woman had died and they looked around her cluttered home and said, "Clearly she was not mentally well for some time." I looked at my house and thought: crap. I'd better not die today.
The best comeback I heard for this was from a mom of twins who said, "What the CSI investigators didn't realize is it probably only took 30 minutes!" This made me feel slightly better.
I must not look at it as "the basement project," as if it is something that I can reasonably tackle in a weekend. I must break it into doable chunks. I must start at one corner and work my way across. That way I will have some storage space and a sense of accomplishment too.
At left is a self-portrait of me taken after a few hours on a hot day. (It is not a turnip that we carved as a jack-o-lantern because we forgot to get pumpkins before they were sold out one Halloween.)
I don't deal well with the heat.
I get quickly irritated in high heat. Irrationally snappy. Quickly exhausted. And I have noticed that I also get fuzzy-headed, dizzy and confused especially when the humidity is high.
Turns out that intolerance to heat may be exacerbated by certain drugs including anti-depressant medications. Following is a list of medications from an article on Heat Stroke: Risk Factors from the Mayo Clinic's website:
Other sites made some mention of antihistamines also contributing to a greater intolerance of heat, particularly in humid conditions when the body already has trouble cooling itself.
So the fuzzy-head confusion I felt in the hot car yesterday may not have been unrelated to medication. I will have to be more careful in the heat. I will need to carefully consider when I can drive on long, hot, car trips. I feel like I am still trying to bounce back from overheating. I've never been drunk, but this is what I imagine a hangover feels like.
I had no physical or mental energy to do anything useful today. Bought some plants. Hope to plant them tomorrow. Need to make sure I get out in the morning before the heat. Whatever the cause, my body does not handle high temp and humidity.
I was looking at camera lenses today. I found out that the old SLR lenses change when you put them on a digital SLR because they have a different image sensor size. (I may not be using correct photographic terms.) So what may be a wide angle lens on my old camera has a much narrower field of view on my new/old camera.
This fit really well with an image I have been having lately: a metaphor for Depression as the shrinking field of view. A narrowing of vision.
When things are going well I do great at the big picture. I can juggle lots of ideas in my head and see how they all fit together.
When things are going less well, there is a narrowing of attention. I lose the periphery. At first this is hardly noticeable. I don't see my friends so often as I used to. I miss going to meeting more often. I find excuses not to go out. I take longer to return phone calls.
Then the field of view becomes so narrow that it only encompasses what is right in front of me. I don't charge my phone or log in to my email account. I only talk to my immediate family.
I can drive, but I forget where I am going. I know vaguely what needs to be done, but I can't do it. I have difficulty holding on to my thoughts. They become slippery.
I am afraid that if I go for a walk I will stand too long at a corner wondering where I am going and people will stop to stare and point. Or maybe they will pull over and try to give me some coins or a bus card. I realize the relationship between me and the many homeless people with untreated mental illness.
The big picture is gone. I am left with a tiny point of light surrounded by darkness.
I feel like I fell down on the job a little today. Didn't do much but pop pills. The heat defeated me. I drove in the hottest part of the day, then sucked down a litre of water and collapsed into comatose sleep.
I was having a lot of trouble focusing on tasks I was attempting, but I am pretty sure it was just the heat and not Depression or a reaction to the meds. I have not noticed any negative side-effects on the new medication. I haven't noticed any changes yet, but it's only day 2.
Also, I stayed up way too late last night.
I am entering new territory. Uncharted waters. A change in perspective.
For the first time, really, I am looking at this as a chronic condition. Not something that I will get over. Treatable, rather than curable. It is surprisingly liberating and much less-- depressing than I thought it would be to think that I just have this condition that will always require my attention.
Some people only require a short (or long) span of time on anti-depressants before their brain chemistry is able to self-regulate. I am not one of those people, but I held on to that idea that I might be. I so badly wanted to pass for "normal." And I can sometimes. Maybe even a lot.
[And now a little side-track...]
When I practiced Aikido in college we had a tradition of slapping a piece of duct tape on our gi if we had an injury. That way all of our partners would know to be gentle with that spot as we practiced falling again and again.
There are days that I wish I could slap a piece of duct tape on my forehead just to make people aware that I am having a bad day. That I need to be treated gently. I have a friend who makes duct-tape roses and the like. Maybe I could have some sort of hair clip with a duct tape rose and it could be a secret symbol. Maybe we could spread the word. Maybe it would become a movement to make Depression more visible, more accepted, more willingly treated...
[...back to regularly scheduled program]
I had delightful lunch with a F/friend today who has an identifiable and obvious health problem that affects everything that she does. At times she has been in a wheelchair. Now she relies on the use of a walker. She pointed out with great clarity that when she tells people she is having a bad day they can see it. My bad days are invisible, but no less real. Duct tape would really do the trick.
I am glad that I am able to connect with people again. I forgot how much I like people. Don't get me wrong: I am still an introvert and I will not be inviting all y'all over to my house for a giant shindig. But I might agree to meet you for a cup of tea. One at a time.
I didn't used to be hooked on drugs. What I mean is that in high school I refused to take anything for headaches even. And now I take 7 pills every morning. ]
I didn't think it was bad for other people to rely on pharmaceuticals. I was just very skeptical about the whole thing in relation to me.
How could you tell if the medicine was working?
If you took ibuprofin and your headache went away, was it because the medicine worked or because the headache went away? I wanted to know if my headache was still there or if it had dissipated.
The same thing holds true for Depression. I go through bouts (and have conversations with people who eschew drugs for their Depression) of thinking that if I were really a strong enough person I would be finding a way to get better without medication.
I have heard anti-depressants referred to as a "crutch." People don't want to go on them because they have heard that after a while the medications are not as effective and they might need to figure out a new one some day. People don't want to use them because they fear the side effects or because if they are taking medication it makes their problem more real...
When I am feeling well I do not think of my Depression as a character flaw. I think of it as a brain chemistry imbalance. One that is relatively easily corrected by proper medication.
When I am Depressed, I do view my mental illness as a deficiency in my moral fiber. And now a word from my Depression:
What do I have to be depressed about, after all. I should just get over it. Other people do. I work with immigrants who fled their country with nothing and they don't know the language and have no money and went through terrible trauma... they could be depressed. I am a privileged white girl who married the boy next door, has three beautiful children, a roof over my head and a job that I adore. So if I am Depressed it must be because I am an entitled prima donna who doesn't know when she's got it good.
I am making a commitment to stick with medication and get the balance right. I am not making a moral judgment on anyone who chooses not to take medication. If you know that you positively will not take medication, then relying on the full bottle of pills in your cabinet to solve your problem is probably not smart.
Today (yesterday-- backdated post) I met with the psychiatric nurse practitioner who is helping me get a handle on the meds situation. I talked a good talk about how much better I feel now than I did a month ago. This is true. But it was at the very end of the visit when she asked if I was happy with what this level and type of medication was doing for me that I had to stop myself from putting on a good show.
Well... I mentioned that I was still coming out as "moderately depressed" when I did the questionnaire. This is a common problem among people with chronic, long-term depression. We get used to being depressed. So our "normal" is really nowhere near what we should be aiming for.
For the first time I am taking two different drugs at once. We have added some bupropion to the mix, which should address some of the energy deficit issues.
So I went to meeting today and realized that being able to make it through an hour of unprogrammed Quaker worship without constant weeping ought to be the norm.
Back in February when I pretty much just wept the every time I was sitting in the meeting room, that should have been a clue to me that my depression was not well controlled.
I thought I was just sad. Little "s" sad, not big "D" Depressed. In retrospect it seems obvious. That's how it is when your brain is unreliable. You still have to rely on it.
Today I didn't cry. And that seemed oddly normal.
What do you do when you notice that someone is weeping? Do you approach them? Do you ask them what is wrong? Or do you pretend that you don't see because you don't want to embarrass them? Not want to get involved? Hope someone else noticed and will step in?
I will tell you that had I not been approached by one of the members of my community while I was sitting alone in the pews after the rise of meeting, softly weeping to myself, I would never have returned. Just having someone notice that something was wrong helped immensely.
I talked to someone else today who went through a bout of Depression where she couldn't go to meeting because all she could do was cry. And she desperately wanted someone-- anyone-- to come up and talk to her. And they didn't. Are tears just considered a normal response to Quaker worship? Do I just not see? Now this F/friend makes a point of noticing when people are in tears and approaches them.
I will too.
And I will always be thankful when people notice that I am distressed. I might not have any reasons for crying that make any sense to them... because the weeping just starts and then I can't stop. The tears call out to all the other tears that have been waiting to fall. And they slide down my cheeks in thick, cold trails. And maybe I will just say, "I"m having a hard time right now. Thank you for your concern."
There are a bunch of trees down in our neighborhood. Lightening struck a neighbor's tree, cracked it in half and this hundred-year-old tree-half fell toward their house. Not a single leaf touched the house, but there was only a breath of clearance.
A friend called this morning to check on me and make sure I was okay. I was walking through the post-storm wreckage at the time and I still had no idea what she was talking about.
Oh, right. Yes. We are fine.
I should say that I was walking to our neighborhood coffee shop to have lunch. Because I don't walk well without a purpose. What is our destination? What is our distance goal? What is our mission for this particular outing? Just taking a walk? This causes me great and inexplicable angst.
I took an audio self-guided walking tour of Quebec city with my spouse a number of years ago. It was when we first realized how very different our travel styles are.
My travel partner kept lingering at a site long after the audio description was over. I was on to the next thing. It was not long before I started fast-forwarding through the narration to find out what was coming next so we could keep moving. I think he had something more relaxing in mind.
This, I realized, is a reason that my having a manual-focus camera again will be a good, good, thing. Because I can have a purpose of looking for images. I can go for a walk to find trees and flowers and take pictures of my children playing. And unlike my other crafty hobbies it gets me up and moving. And I am a control freak who has always been skeptical of point-and-shoot cameras (how do they know what I want to take a picture of?)
Took a tour of the yard today and captured this charming wildflower. Saw neighbors out with chainsaws. I guess the one that was split by lightening caught fire and went up like a torch before the rain put it out and it split toward the house. Yikes. So, thanks for checking. I am fine.
This morning I heard an interview with an author who suggested that the line between creativity and mental illness is so blurry that it is nonexistent. She herself did not identify as a creative person.
I get... well, I get furious when people conflate depression and creativity. This pervasive idea that artists and writers are more prone to depression. Or that depressed people produce better art.
It may be true that there are a number of artists who have suffered from depression. There are also a number of CPAs, royal monarchs, stay-at-home parents and air traffic controllers who have suffered from depression.
And the artists, might I say, are not producing their finest art when they are at their sickest. Instead they are cutting off body parts (Van Gogh), wasting away in asylums (Robert Schumann) or wandering into a river with pockets full of stones (Virginia Woolf).
I am sure that there are any number of people who can produce anecdotal cases of artists doing amazing things while they are out of their minds with mental illness. Bully for them. Happenstance. Luck. Not The Way Things Usually Are.
Why is there the persistent myth of depression fueling creativity? Because art speaks to us in a way that air traffic controlling does not. Because artists who live through major depression and come out on the other side might find a way to give voice to their experiences. Because when we are sad we can find art that speaks to our condition.
Being mentally ill means that you have a mental illness. It does not mean that you are creative or have an artistic temperament. It does not mean you are hip and cool and self-reflective. It does not mean that you are an introvert who just needs to get out of your shell. It means that your brain is not getting what it needs.
We need a different set of words to talk about Depression. So very frustrated with the baseline level of knowledge on this issue.
Now I will engage in some meditation for 5 minutes and calm down from this rant.
Note: super-exhausted today. Little sleep last night. Comatose nap with daughter. Feeling sinus-infectiony too.
Quaker, teacher, parent,