Monday, September 22, 2014

Betcha thought I was done talking about depression...

It's now been several weeks since my depression coming out post.  The input from those close to me was overwhelmingly positive, but I received so many messages on Facebook from people I only know vaguely that it struck me in a powerful way.

Sharing my story is a little bit scary. For a variety of reasons.

Sometimes people don't know that talking about the feels one has when s/he is depressed is more about processing than actually intending any harm to oneself, and can result in the 'welfare checks,' those 'I'm suddenly totally interested in you because you kind of scare me but we're not super close so this is awkward' interactions that arise when depression talk raises red flags.  Such interactions, while well intended, can often leave a depressed person thinking, "Will I always be on psych watch?" and wondering if 'normal' will ever be attainable again.  A promising outlook, eh?

Other times, non-depressed people will try to relate, sharing a story from a grieving period or this situation or that, and then say, "But you know, it wasn't like I needed meds or anything!"  Tell me there is no stigma surrounding people with chronic mental illness.

But, I've weighed the options, and folks, there are so many people suffering in silence that all the generic advocacy and prevalence statistics in the world won't help.  No, it is the real stories that move people.

So, in bits and pieces I'm going to share my experience with depression.  If any of you out there have your own stories, I encourage you to pipe in and help in shining light on a grossly misunderstood health issue.

Anyway, up until this recent episode, I'd always brushed off my depression as situational.

That time I spent the whole night eyeing a bottle of Tylenol at age 13, knowing that overconsumption of acetaminophen would shut down my liver?  Surely that was due to the family turmoil going on - divorce, financial stresses, substance abuse, and absent father (just to name the big issues) - let alone the hormonal havoc of puberty.

The fall of my junior year at CSU when I just couldn't keep it together? I was certain that birth control pills (and the resulting 65 lbs I'd gained in just over a year on my newly recovering bulimic frame) were upsetting my neurochemistry, but as a newlywed was not willing to open myself up to the risk of a pregnancy.  So the menage of therapy, meds (Prozac this time) and I were introduced - and yes, my mood stabilized, but the side effects put a huge damper on the bedroom.  So, 6 months later, after much consultation, we decided I would go off birth control and Prozac, and other contraceptive methods were meticulously employed.  Except that one time.  Hello, Kelsey!

The following 6 years?  I blamed that largely on the Plan B turn my life had taken, dreams being ripped from my hands, a marriage that was fairly unhappy for various reasons, two post-partum periods, and a really bad financial outlook.  I figured if I couldn't change those things, what was the point of medicating?  All the depressing factors of life would still be there.

In 2006, I took a really bad turn.  Some of the hard issues we struggled with in our marriage resurfaced and I just couldn't deal.  A new job gave me the added bonus of an Employee Assistance Program, so the therapy I'd begged and pleaded for in the past was no longer "too expensive," and I re-enlisted.  I also sought medication, because the thoughts of ending my life had shown up again.  Knowing I had two small children that would be haunted forever if I took that route shook me enough that I started talking with my PCP again.

Due to the nature of our marital struggles, I was not willing to go back to Prozac and face the consequences of a nonexistent sex drive.  So Effexor and I began dating.  Again, my mood stabilized.  Seth and I started to deal with the marital wounds we had long inflicted upon one another, and things were looking up fairly quickly.  But then, I started getting these... brain hiccups?  I've no other way to describe them than that - it was like a physical sensation, that discomforting feeling of hard hiccups that hurt your ribs, only in my brain.  It also had an electrical feeling about it, like my brain was shorting out.  It scared the heck out of me, and after a year of medicating, I decided to wean off Effexor because I was scared of the long-term ramifications.

I was good for about a year.  In the same sense that Eeyore is ok.  I was living a flatlined normal that I truly thought was life.  Various interventions, such as a diet rich in B vitamins, daily sun exposure, St. John's Wort, adequate sleep, etc., helped manage but never totally eliminated my depression, keeping it to a dull roar that I could "talk" over and slog through the daily functioning of life.  Whenever a life event rocked me, I didn't hold tightly to my regimen, or for no apparent reason at all, my depression would come on stronger out of the blue.

In 2008, I crashed again.  This time, I'd noticed some pattern to my "episodes," and realized I was struggling most in the early spring.  That's it, Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It's the daylight, not anything long-term and chronic.  Nothing that made me totally defective, just seasonally so.  Back to a traditional SSRI, but not Prozac.  This time I went on Lexapro because my doc felt I would experience fewer side effects.  It was the same song, different verse as far as the side effects went, which resulted in me weaning off.  Again.

In 2009, my whole life changed.  I went from being a WOHM to a SAHM, had another baby, had a near fatal pneumonia with more complications than most people care to follow, the economy tanked, and our finances suffered greatly.  The depression was a slow, constant erosion in my mind.  Plus, the mental noise (the constant negative thinking) had new fodder; if I hadn't wracked up all that medical debt we wouldn't all be suffering so.  Unmedicated, I was stuck in a horrible cycle of avoiding the Hard Things (i.e. seemingly insurmountable debts, the isolation of SAHMotherhood, etc.), which made All the Things snowball out of control, which made me feel even worse about myself.

For 5 years I battled through this, unmedicated, again.  My circumstances camouflaged the evidence that I have chronic depression.  Again, I was slogging through, "passing" for functional but slowly starting to crumble from the steady wearing down inside.  It was during this time that I felt my cognitive functioning go downhill.  It seemed I couldn't remember anything, and I felt as if each day I dumbed down a little bit more.  This killed me as my early identified "bright" intellect has been part of my identity as long as I can remember; it was the thing about myself that garnered attention and made me feel special.  Without it, who was I?

This winter I went back to work and things were really looking up.  But even still, I found myself sinking lower.  I couldn't turn off my mental noise, and was battle-fatigue exhausted from the silent, constant combat in my mind every day.  Somehow, when I found myself thinking the Unthinkable Things more and more, and realized that I wasn't immediately shutting those thoughts down, my rational self knew it was time for help again.

Therapy.  Check.

Exercise.  Check.

Meds.  Check.

And I am saying hello to a stronger self in the mirror every day.  And the dumbing down?  So not an imagined occurrence.  Science proves my experience was very real.  (link is eluding me but I'll update when I find it.)

Now that I've found the right med, I am committed to lifelong treatment.  For this cloud has accompanied me all my life.  Upon initially arriving at that commitment, guilt sprang up as I worried about the damage to those I love that I incurred in my search for the right medicine.  But, I squashed that thought (with the newfound clarity Wellbutrin has afforded me) with this takeaway: I did the best I could with what I knew at the time, and that's all we can ask or expect from each other.

To those I love and who love me: thank you for your patience, concern, and grace.  They buoyed me throughout this journey more than you could ever possibly know.  Thank you for being my life support.  I love you all!

To those who are still looking for the best way to manage their demons - you are not alone!  Please reach out.  If not to a professional, to a friend who will get you hooked up with the help you need.  And if you are in the process of getting help, but just need the support of someone who gets it, I'm always hear to listen.

Don't suffer in silence.

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