The Letdown

Let’s talk about some mental health shall we?

One of the things that really bothers me is what I like to call “the letdown.” I’ve been feeling this emotion quite a bit lately, so I’d like to talk about it with you. Now, we all know, or at least the common reader does, that I live with obsessive compulsive disorder, severe anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. That’s a lot of disorders – and I have written about all of them. But something I have only ever touched on is the letdown. The letdown comes after any attack from those three foes of mine. Yesterday, all three were at play, ergo all three caused a letdown situation.

First, there is the general depression that I am feeling which has been heightened by recent traumas regarding the death of my mother. I started the day already feeling depressed about my circumstance, which immediately led to a mild letdown, and caused me to sit on the sofa for several hours feeling frozen and angry at myself. I used my coping mechanisms to push myself to do something that would make me happy-so I decided to make pancakes. When I got to the kitchen, I discovered I have three boxes of pancake mix and they were all past their expiration date. When I got to the refrigerator, I found that the milk had spoiled. I then spilled rotten milk and pancake mix all over the floor. That is when the OCD part of me jumped out and stormed out of the room. I had to sit down and take deep breaths in an effort not to launch into a panic attack. When I did finally call myself down, I had a mess to clean up and a lot of regret for yelling at my husband.  The letdown, again.

Then I went to work, which was a good day, and I would have thought I’d have been fine- until I got to the car after and started to cry. I don’t know why, probably my mother, but whatever it was caused a large amount of anxiety to well up inside me. I really wanted to go to that workshop, but I couldn’t. Instead, I drove to my sister’s house and sat on her futon and tried not to cry more. Then, came the letdown. This one was worse than the others, because this one affected my life in a way that I do not have control over. Yes, I could have forced myself at work to go do that workshop, but I might not have absorbed anything since I was not in my right frame of mind. Instead, I chose the self-care option, which is what I know I am supposed to do. Still, I have regrets. I am disappointed. I have a feeling like I am not good enough, like I am broken in some way and unable to do the things I want to do. This, this is the letdown. So how does one get out of it? Earlier, I tried to make pancakes. When that didn’t work, I tried meditation and deep breathing. And then, like building blocks, I found myself feeling even more let down at the end of the day, unsure how to rattle myself out of these feelings. Now it is the next morning, and I am still feeling disappointed in myself, even though my logical brain knows I made the right choice for me at the time. But sometimes the right choice is not the choice we wish to make. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Sometimes it means it definitely should. So I tell myself that I made the right decision, and I hope that my feeling of failure fades. Maybe by tomorrow.

Anyhoo. The big workshop starts next week. I will start psyching myself up for that one now. Happy Thursday.

S.A.D.

My first depression-related diagnosis was Dysthymia, which is like a low-grade depression that lasts over an extended period of time.  Then I was upgraded to Major Depressive Disorder, which pretty much means depression is my baseline and anything else is an improvement.  Now, there are all kinds of depression, but today I am talking about one that I have not been officially diagnosed with, because it is a sort of depression offshoot: Seasonal Affect Disorder, or SAD.  (The acronym is hilarious.)

Because I have MDD, I haven’t been diagnosed with SAD, despite the obvious symptoms of it.  I recall once many years ago when I went to a new doctor and they did a full blood panel, and discovered that I had low Vitamin D.  My doctor literally said “but then, so does all of Western New York.”  Which is true, because despite our beautiful summers, we don’t get much sunlight ‘round these parts, especially in winter.  Winter is cold and snowy and dark.  Spring is rainy and gray.  Even our Autumn carries with it clouds and potential for snow.  It’s just generally “blah” around here sometimes.

My husband suffers greater in the winter.  He spends a lot of spare time sleeping, and always packs on a few extra pounds. However, once the sun starts arriving daily, he is up and about and moving and exercising and everything you would expect a healthy, cheerful individual to do.  It is entirely dependent on weather for him sometimes, and I saw that yesterday.

It was beautiful here, over 60 degrees and sunny.  There was a lot of wind, but that didn’t stop him from waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to go.  We planned on going on a hike but that fell through, so inste4ad he did some things around the house for me.  We were both in very chipper moods and had a lovely day, opening the windows wide to let in the sunshine and fresh air. 

Now, it is morning.  It’s 37 degrees, and raining.  The sky is a cloudy gray, and there is no hope for sun or warmth in the forecast for the next few days.  Yesterday was a blip, and today is more of the usual.

It’s hard to fight SAD.  I know some folks take extra Vitamin D, and others use sunlamps and such.  I don’t think I need those things, because while the weather can get me down, as I said, depression is my baseline.  I have my meds and my coping mechanisms and my therapy…I can manage.  Others need that extra boost come wintertime, however, and it for them that I write today, as we stare down the end of a long and chaotic darkness…spring starts in a couple weeks, but not for us, not really.  For me, it’s not until after Easter, when the sun finally makes an appearance and the flowers start to bloom.  For now, I will drag myself through the next month, pray for more 60-degree days, and hope for sunlight to stream through my office window soon.

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Hibernation

Hi!

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been out for a week and a half.  Usually when I miss a day in my blog it’s because I am in the hospital, but this was not the case this week.  I was home, and my stomach was calm.  My brain was not.  It’s still not great.  It’s kind of like when you have the flu, and you start to feel a little better each day.  I’m on day three of feeling a little bit better. 

I was kicking myself this time last week, mad that I hadn’t updated the previous Monday and had nothing to write about then.  I gave myself that Monday “off,” because I felt pretty down, and I wanted to take some time for myself.  So I watched some movies and made soup for lunch and snuggled with my blanket on the couch.  I thought I would feel better Tuesday.  I didn’t.

So last Thursday, I came back to the blog, feeling even lower, because it had been four days and I hadn’t written A THING.  Not my blog, not my WIP, not a poem.  Not so much as a sentence.

I felt slightly better while the kids were here this past weekend, but that all fell apart again Monday morning.  I felt worse than I had the previous Monday.  Blogging was out of the question.

So for the past week and a half, I have pretty much been hibernating in my living room, watching Pretty Little Liars and eating cereal.

I don’t know what my problem was.  It felt almost like I wasn’t taking my meds, even though I was.  And it left as quickly as it came, too.  I told my therapist and she told me not to worry about it unless it happens again, so I won’t.  But I always try to solve the little puzzles and figure out why my brain does what it does, so I tried to solve this mystery.  The best I can come up with is stress.  I handle stress so poorly…it just builds up and then drowns me.  I have been very stressed the past few weeks, and it is compounded stress; months of worries toppling down on me.  I wasn’t taking care of my stress levels like I’m supposed to, and I think it caused me to spiral a little.

After a week or so of self-care, I feel better.  I feel normal.  Maybe even positive, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  What I need to remember is to take the time for self-care regularly, and not have my stress get so bad that I implode.

Anyway, I’m here and I’m alive and well.  I still haven’t gotten to my WIP, but I just updated my blog, so that’s something.

World Mental Health Day

I’ve got a few prepared blogs ready to go, and I should definitely be using one today as I spent yesterday at Mercy hospital puking my guts out.  However, I also had a special topic to post about today, as it is World Mental Health Day, and while my physical health is kicking my butt I will try to expound on the other side of wellness.

I started my journey with mental illness at a young age, but wasn’t diagnosed with anything until I was nineteen.  Then they decided that I was Bipolar and loaded me up with medications.  Never mind that I was NOT Bipolar, and did NOT need those meds.  I became a zombie.  Everything somehow got worse instead of better, and I lost whole chunks of time from being so heavily medicated.  Eventually, my mother got me to a clinic where a doctor told me I did not have Bipolar Disorder, and gave me one pill.  One little miracle pill that lasted me very well for a very long time, until my insurance pulled it out from under me.  I went on its sister drug, Celexa, and yes, I do have a couple of backup singers now, but it is nowhere near the fourteen pill a day diet I used to be on.

My diagnoses have changed many times as well.  Now I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Severe Anxiety, Trichotillomania, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These feel the most accurate, I must say, and are much better than calling it all Bipolar and moving along.  It took the time and energy of many medical professionals to figure out what was really going on with me, and I am forever grateful to them.

I tell you these things in the same way I talk about diabetes or gastroparesis, because to me they are no different.  Yes, my pancreas is sick and therefore I have diabetes.  Well, my brain is also sick and therefore I have depression.  I do not believe in the stigma of mental health, so I treat its discussion no differently than that of my physical health.  Sometimes this really surprises people.  There have been many moments when I have received messages from both friends and strangers telling me that they are proud of what I have done, just talking about mental health.  I don’t know that it’s something to feel proud about, because it’s just a piece of myself that I express to the world, just like the other pieces.  I’ve had people write me with “me too.”  This is when they realize that they have the same condition, but couldn’t put a name to it.  Or when they’ve been diagnosed as well, but afraid to tell anyone.  These little messages make me feel special, because my words on mental health are breaking a stigma for them.

It’s the stigma that is the worst bit, in my opinion.  It’s the fear that we have, that someone else might think we’re wrong in some way.  We’re scared of the reactions of other people, and that forces mental illness into hiding.  It shouldn’t be hiding.  It should be worn loud and proud.  If you have a mental illness, you battle with that monster daily, and no one sees it.  You fight wars against your demons constantly, even when you’re wearing a smile on your face.  You know pain in a sense where physical pain would almost be a relief.  And still, we hide this debilitating bastard behind so many veils of self-doubt that we become another person, almost.  There’s the person you present to the world, and the person you are on the inside.  I say no.  I refuse to be two people, living half my life in shadow.  I would rather throw it in your face and if you don’t like it, the problem lies with your own fears and neuroses.  Mental illness is not contagious.  In my experience, it really only scares those that already have it, and are doing nothing to help themselves.  So, shout it out!  Scare those people into getting help.  Scare the people who think mental illness isn’t real-be their proof!  Stop letting stigma hold you back.  Other people do not dictate the course of your healing, you do.  Talk about it.  Laugh about it.  Just don’t let others tell you your experience.  As my father would say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

So, on World Mental Health Day, I will be taking care of my physical health, by lying on the sofa and watching Parks and Rec and drinking a smoothie.  It’s not what I had planned, but it’s what needs to be done, so that my mental health can realign as well.  The two are very connected for me.  When I’m in the hospital I become instantly depressed, and it takes time for that feeling to fade away.  So today, I will do all I can to make myself feel better, inside and out.  I will also, as always, continue my fight against the stigma of mental illness and tell you, my reader, that if you ever need an ally in this battle, you have one right here.

Stay safe, stay sane, and have a good Thursday.

World Suicide Prevention Day

I know I just updated yesterday, but today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so here we are.

In case you’re new and don’t know me, I am almost constantly trying to raise funds for suicide prevention through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Right now, I am on a 4-month hiatus, but be sure that come January sign-up I will be back, begging for your pocket change.  In the meantime, let’s talk about suicide, shall we?

Some people are scared of that word, due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness in pretty much all forms.  Suicide is scary, especially when you consider the fact that literally everyone has a chance of dying from it.  It has no requirements and can affect anyone at any time.  There are many reasons people commit suicide, but I’m not going to delve into speculation about the lives of other people.  I can only speak to myself. 

For me, suicide is the final and most tragic symptom of depression.  People who aren’t depressed simply do not kill themselves.  You may argue “what if said person has a terminal illness and decides to go out on their own terms?”  That person is depressed, fool.  You don’t get a terminal illness without a healthy dose of depression.  “What if said person was a drug addict and overdosed and didn’t MEAN to kill themselves?”  Drug addiction is a sign of depression.  Happy people don’t do drugs. 

Moral of the story?  Depression kills.

Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.  That’s a body every 40 seconds.  Every 40 seconds, someone on the planet decided they have had enough, and ends it.  It’s a sad statistic, but one I remember.

Recently, I spoke to a friend who has had some suicidal moments in her life.  We both have Major Depressive Disorder and often talk frankly and openly about such things.  I asked her about fears, for my previous blog, and she couldn’t come up with anything that fit the scope of the article, but she did mention large bodies of water.  She fears them because she doesn’t trust herself.  I can understand that-I fear the bottle of Xanax I keep on the top shelf in the bathroom.  It’s the reason I don’t have guns in the house, for chrissake-fear that we will snap, and end it, is real and with us every day.

Many years ago, I went to the beach.  There was a pier that everyone was jumping off, maybe a 25-foot drop.  I’m a fairly strong swimmer and I don’t fear heights so I literally leapt at the chance to jump off this pier.  The problem is, as soon as I hit the water, the tide went out.  I started swimming back to shore, but felt my arms and legs get heavier.  I noticed that I wasn’t making much headway, and was drifting further out.  I tried to grab hold of the pier but only bashed my side against it as the waves picked up.  Finally, I was underwater, sinking, thinking “Gee, this is peaceful.  This would be a good way to go.  If I die right now, this isn’t so bad.”

But I didn’t die.  Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me up, and I saw my friend Mike, red-faced and huffing, dragging me up and out of the water. Eventually he got me back to shore, where I threw up a bunch of lake water and sputtered for air.  I remember thinking “Thank God he was here!” and, also, “So close.  So close to quiet.”  I wasn’t necessarily suicidal, but I was looking for a relief that seemed illuminated by possible death.  That’s not to say suicidal thoughts haven’t entered my mind.  In high school I was pretty much at my worst, and considering the easy way out, but a friend stopped me, showing me how much I had to live for.  In college, I spent twenty minutes standing on a bridge trying to decide if jumping was a good plan, until my mother showed up and the idea floated away.  So yes, these thoughts come to me, but they also leave, and I am happy to see them go.  The sad part is when they come for others. 

Not that there isn’t help, because there is.  There are suicide hotlines, counseling, medication, and all sorts of emotional tools to keep you from getting to that point.  Most people find the situation hopeless, and don’t look for help.  Well, it’s here, guys.  It exists.  And it’s worth it.

Do I know you?  Are you feeling depressed or suicidal?  Do you need to talk?  Get in touch.  Are you a stranger who needs help, but doesn’t know where to turn?  I don’t care.  Get in touch.  There are no judgments on my end, I assure you.  I can raise all the money in the world and write a million blog posts about it, but the only thing that really is going to stop suicide is people coming together and standing up to it, and being a support for those facing such unfathomable decisions.  It is my hope that all the depressed people in the world choose one more day, every day, because things do change.  Things do get better. Maybe not easier, but better.  I promise.

I don’t wanna be here, and I don’t wanna do this…

…is pretty much the theme of my past month or so.  Every Monday I sit at my computer and think about what I want to write about.  I look through the notes I made that week.  I scour the internet for articles that really get my goat.  When desperate, I look for writing prompts.  Then some days I just go on and on about depression and slowly find myself getting more…depressed.

Shocking.

Today I am mostly paralyzed, emotionally.  I am trying very hard to keep my chin up, so to speak, but am finding it difficult.  I am doing everything I am supposed to be doing, and so it really doesn’t look like I’m depressed right now, but I am.  It’s called High Functioning Depression, sometimes Dysthymia, and it is the first diagnosis I ever received.  Eventually that changed to Major Depressive Disorder, as I started suffering from days when I couldn’t get out of bed, which is not what HFD is.  It means you can go about your daily activities, but are still gripped by anxiety, unwelcome thoughts, and feelings of hopelessness and sadness.  Some say that people with HFD are just better at hiding their illness.  That’s crap in my opinion, as I have experienced both kinds of depression.  Today I would say is a high-functioning day.  A couple of weeks ago, when I skipped writing altogether, it was not.  It was definitely a clinical depression day.

Now, since I am trying to get myself into a better mood, I am going to step away from the internet and go outside into the world.  I’m not thrilled about it, but I have to do it.  I’ll spend time with a friend, then go to my doctor’s appointment, then pick my husband and father up from work.  I will do these things and I will be glad to accomplish them, because some days the little achievements are all you can hold onto.

Stuck.

Monday came and went, and not once did I think to update my blog.  This is because of my old foe, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD.)  It decided to make an appearance yesterday, which left me mostly useless and pretty much frozen in place.  I spent the greater part of the day lying on the couch under a blanket and watching television.  At one point, Hubs came and played my character on Red Dead 2 for me.  I didn’t even have the desire to do it myself, despite it being the best video game I have ever played.  Today wasn’t much better, as I had a fitful sleep and ended up napping for much of the afternoon.  I hate the way depression drains you of everything-joy, energy, feelings of most varieties…it would be depressing if it weren’t already.

I have had MDD since I was a child, so I am pretty good at dealing with it on a daily basis.  Most days I would say my depression is “passable,” in that I can put a smile on my face and carry on with my day like nothing is amiss.  Other times it becomes all-encompassing, and that’s when it is most difficult to live with.  Something circumstantial, say, needing to pay a bill on time, can be nothing to me one day and everything to me the next.  It is this switch from one state to another that often throws me for a loop.  I find it difficult to deal with the problem when I am depressed, which often leads to a whole host of other problems.  I can deal fine on a daily basis, but sometimes, the darkness gets in and there is no light bright enough to banish it.

My depression has been a part of me for so long that I truly do not know what life would be like without it.  I am a natural pessimist because of it, and have never seen the glass as half full.  It speaks in sarcasm and dry wit.  It lurks in my bones, waiting to pounce on my chest and knock the wind out of me.  It is something I have dealt with forever, and no matter how many strides I make, it remains.

Somedays it just gives me a little anxiety.  Some days it shuts me down completely.  Most days I persevere.

I like most days.  Most days I try to find the “happy” in things.  Most days I do what needs to be done despite nagging thoughts in my brain.  Most days I am ok.  Some days I am not.  Some days I cry for no reason, or rage for no reason, or do any number of things “for no reason,” but the reason is always going to be messed-up chemicals in my brain.  Most days my meds do their job and I am a delight.  Other days, not so much.

I don’t know if it’s that I just didn’t realize it was Monday, or that I deeply did not want to sit at the computer, but whatever it was that made me forget yesterday only made me sadder today.  I felt disappointment in myself for blowing my deadline, especially after writing about how I hoped to update more often just last week.  That may be why it’s hard to get out of a depressive episode.  You do things when you’re depressed that make you feel bad later on, and so the cycle continues.

Right now, I’m going to go make a cup of tea and relax a little.  I still don’t feel great, but I’m better than yesterday, and tomorrow is still in front of me.  Every day is a different battle, and I remain a fighter, no matter what.

Depression does not care about your plans.

I sat down to write a blog that had been ruminating in my mind for maybe a week now, and when I tried to get it into words, it fell apart.   Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes the words just aren’t there, or the thought isn’t cohesive enough, and I just can’t make it sound the way I want it to in my head.

I’ve had a few rough days.  On Friday, I went to a sunflower field.  It was lovely to stand surrounded by my favorite flower, looking at all the varieties and watching the bees hard at work, but my depression was creeping in and I could feel it.  By evening, when I found myself at the Irish Festival with my parents and husband, it was starting to manifest itself into a panic no Guinness could cure.   On Saturday, Mark suggested a long drive to take my mind off of things, and that worked for a bit but when I came home I sunk into my sofa, and had to drag myself to the kitchen to make dinner.  Sunday was no better.  Today I feel a little cheerier, but I certainly don’t have the energy and concentration to pen the long blog I had been planning on earlier in the week.

Somedays depression kicks my ass.  Somedays it doesn’t.  Just gotta keep pushing on.

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Breaking the Stigma, Part 2

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 2 is about Major Depressive Disorder.

When I was eight, my grandmother died.  I was the one that found her as she took her last breath, and to say it messed me up a little is an understatement.  I don’t remember much of the year after she died, though I have vague memories of my mother having me see the school shrink.  I don’t know what the results of that were, but at the end she gave me some stickers and a pencil, so I was satiated.  I don’t feel that talking to that woman helped me at all.  I don’t think it was anything but time, really.

Lots and lots of time.

If you asked my friends growing up, they would tell you that I was a pessimist.  This was true.  They would also say I was a cynic.  Also, true.  These things I took as personality traits, however, were something else.  They were the grips of a depression I did not understand.  For a long time, I thought the way I saw the world was normal for a child.  Every eleven-year-old thinks graphically about the death of their family and peers, right?  Every fifteen-year-old spends morbid amounts of time lamenting over injustices both big and small.  Absolutely fine to obsess about death. Totally ok to avoid people and activities I enjoy because alone time is good for you.  It’s perfectly normal not to smile, because what is there to smile about?  What, exactly, does happy even feel like?

I was seventeen when I realized that the thoughts in my head were not normal, nor was my outlook on the world.   It was still two years before I got help, and I was originally diagnosed with Dysthymia, a long term mild depression.  It was some time before I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in outside stimuli.  My meds take care of this problem most days, though sometimes I find those sad thoughts creeping in, and it makes life difficult.  Particularly on days when I have prior engagements.  There are somethings I see that have changed exponentially.   I no longer think of tragic scenarios, and if they tiptoe in my head I can usually push them away.  I force myself to participate in things I enjoy doing, even when I don’t feel like it, and I find myself always pleased that I put forth the effort.  I try to control my worries and concerns (a topic for another entry, Break the Stigma Pt. 3.)  In desperate situations, I review a list I made of people, places, and things I love that I read to remind myself of all the good there is in the world, because sometimes there are bad days.

But I soldier on.  Sure, it still takes a lot to get me excited, and I am the queen of jumping to the worst possible conclusion, but I work each day to battle my depression, and most days I succeed.  Most days I kick its ass.

Depression is understood much better than Trichotillomania, which I wrote about previously, but still comes with its own stigma.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say something like “well I get depressed sometimes but I don’t need medication for it.”  That’s because getting depressed and having depression are two different things.  You get depressed when you lose your job, or your cat dies.  Depression is a pattern of these depressed feelings over a period of time.  In my case, I’ve been mostly depressed since I was eight years old.  After a while that depressed feeling can cause a whole host of issues in your mind and body.  It stays inside you, not healing, the way it would for someone who does not suffer from it.  That is why your depression passes, and mine sticks around.  Being depressed is a natural reaction to upsetting stimuli.  Depression is a misfire in the brain that causes one to be unable to shake with that depressed feeling.

But, as said, I soldier on, because that’s what it feels like sometimes, that I am a solider in a war for my mind.  I fight daily, and I will continue to fight, because I am not my depression.

Again, as before, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with MDD, please feel free to drop a line.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.

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