Katie, I remember a time one of our mutual friends asked if you’d seen me around and you said something like, “You experience Maria in spurts.” Remember that? I guess it’s no surprise this is how I blog, too. You don’t hear from me for a week and then I write two posts in less than 24 hours.
But I thought I would update you and our readers about the most recent cloud of depression to cover my sun. Everyone has been so encouraging and understanding. It’s made a difficult thing to write about and address feel more welcome in the public forum. Here is the concrete: the depression has lifted. It lifted sometime during the early morning hours of Monday, April 23rd, to be exact. I waited about a week to confirm, just to be on the safe side, but sure enough, I woke that morning suddenly feeling like my “self” again and wondered what in the word was ever wrong. I’ve been fine since.
What had changed overnight? I have no idea. Depression is a mystery.
But I want to write about coming out of it soon after because, like most experiences, the details get fuzzy after too much time goes by. Here are, from what I can tell, some things that helped me through this most recent bout more quickly (about 3 weeks) than I have before:
- already taking my antidepressants on a daily basis, which kept the bottom under me from dropping even lower
- taking my anti-anxiety med after the FIRST NIGHT I couldn’t sleep. Not-sleeping begets more not-sleeping and pretty soon the insomniac fears that death is the only respite s/he will have from her/his mind….
- voicing to my circle of friends and fam (and, of course, my therapist) that I was not doing well
- FORCING myself, sometimes through tears, to be mindful of my self-care: good nutrition, running, yoga, therapy, meditating, little pick-me-ups: getting my hair trimmed, getting a pedicure…
- reminding myself what I’ve learned through the years: that though this feels real, it’s not really real; that there is always an end; that I’m not alone…
I remember the first time I saw a professional for help. It was when the boys were 18 months old (they just turned 7) and she had me take the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. The Inventory lists cognitive distortions a person experiences depending on the severity of his/her depression. You compile a score based on the severity of 21 symptoms like:
- (0) I do not feel sad.
- (1) I feel sad.
- (2) I am sad all the time and I can’t snap out of it.
- (3) I am so sad or unhappy that I can’t stand it.
I don’t remember what my original score was, but needless to say, it was very high. I was severely depressed and had been for so long, I thought the way I walked through and experienced life was totally normal. Within 72 hours of starting antidepressants, I began to feel better. (It’s not usual to feel results this quickly, but indicates a level of bi-polarity.) I literally saw things differently: the sky was a sharper blue and shapes were more in focus; also, the wind sounded different through the trees; food had more flavor; I looked like a different person in the mirror to myself. After adjusting to this “new” normal, I realized that I had accepted a way of being that I didn’t have to accept anymore. After a year, I took the BDI again, and scored as most people do. I had a new normal.
Brain chemistry is a mysterious thing and it’s hard to understand. This is clear to me after reading comments left after my last post on depression. One person offered advice with the best intentions—advice commonly heard from people suffering depression. It followed these lines: distract yourself; do things you enjoy; recognize that other people have it worse than you; define purpose for your life; your children need you….
Of course, this advice is offered with the best intentions and is very common advice. I appreciate ALL comments left on the blog, whether I agree with them or not. (As long as they are nice. People need to be nice.) Unfortunately, this type of advice, which seems so obvious, can also be the most dangerous for someone experiencing depression. These ideas feed into the very fears and insecurities she is struggling with. There is no distracting; she doesn’t enjoy anything; she knows people have it worse; she can’t remember her purpose; she can’t be there for her children…The problem is that using logic and addressing someone as if s/he is functioning on a normal cognitive level will not work.
Forgive me for quoting The Backyardigans, but I’ve been listening to their songs non-stop for three years. In Viking Voyage, they sing this song: If you wanna be a viking/ go sailing ‘stead of hiking. Brilliant, right? It makes so much sense. But a person whose brain isn’t functioning the way it would if they were well—a person who is clinically depressed—wants so desperately to be a viking, but can’t go sailing. So she hikes and hikes into further isolation and despair and knows no one wants to go with her.
Finally, another comment left by someone who has turned his pain into art for me:
Once, I tried to describe to some friends those little things that make me want to cry. They’ve always known me as a funny person…There were a variety of reactions that I got, but one stuck with me. I was told that I was being depressing and I should stop being like that. As if it were that easy. Later that night, I cried. I didn’t want to be that person, but didn’t know how to stop being him either.
Thank you all, for hanging with me and being the compassionate people you are. This seems like a miniscule gesture, but I’d like to dedicate this post, in memoriam, to Aimee Elizabeth Ziegler. She is a woman I never met, though my heart grieves tremendously for her and her family. There are no words.