Wise Words from Jim C. Hines

Over at SFSignal, Jim C. Hines has written a great little post about his upcoming book, Unbound, in which his main character (Isaac) struggles with depression. The post addresses the issue of writing with depression, and applies nicely to doing anything with depression. In particular, these bits stood out to me:

Looking back, I’ve been dealing with depression off and on for much of my life. I just never really labeled it as such until 2012. I still made it to school and to work. I still met my writing deadlines. I was functional.

We tend to associate being clinically depressed with non-functionality. That’s never been true for me–at my very worst, I have always managed to do my job. Something about our society elevates that to the status of ‘functional’, like that’s all there is, like that’s how you pay back the world for all that oxygen you’re using up. But since I’m going to be using up all that oxygen anyway, I figure I might as well aim for something higher than ‘functional’. Like ‘happy’.

For people who believe mental illness helps your creativity, or that medication will ruin you as an artist, I’ll note that the past two years have been the best of my career. 

Yes. This. I worried about this, and I know a lot of other writers and creative folks who believe that you need your demons scratching at the inside of your skull in order to foster creativity. And who knows, maybe I was wildly creative when massively depressed, but the point is that no one would ever have known because I Could. Not. Write. (It wasn’t my job.) Since the slaughter of my own skull-demons, I’ve been writing regularly, I’ve published a few things, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the craft of writing and finding ways to call on creativity when it’s being a pissy little kid who won’t come out of their pillow-fort to work. There may be medications out there that kill creativity, but they don’t comprise the whole shelf of options. Cipralex certainly isn’t one of ’em.

Isaac’s depression is truer to my struggle. I worry that he’ll be too unlikeable…because that’s how I felt at the time. I worry people will say he’s too weak, that this character should just man up and get over it, because that’s how I felt. That’s what I expected to hear if I talked about it. I worry about readers who don’t understand that depression isn’t something you just snap out of.

Honestly, sometimes I still feel like I need to man up and get over it. But that’s just … that’s other people’s voices, in my head. That’s grandparents who didn’t understand, generations of people who thought depression was just a weakness of spirit (or something that could be fixed with leeches). And because I know those things to be untrue, I can turn them away, and remember that I’m dealing with a real issue, and I’m doing it well. And I hope that others can do the same. In that way, we slowly change things for the generations to follow.

 

Variables

The problem with going on meds–this time, because I wasn’t in the life-has-stalled-completely mode–is that there are too many variables for me to feel that I can properly assess the effect the drugs are having. I’m happier, more energetic, it’s easier to focus. I’m working out more, I’m more inclined to be outside, I want to go for walks. I am eating healthier food, I don’t have weird/stupid cravings. I don’t keep wishing that I were asleep.

But.

It’s sunny outside these days in the Pacific Northwest, and the days are longer. Am I working out and going outside more because I’m on meds, or because it’s sunny out and I can? And if so, is that catalyzing the rest of it – the healthier food, the energy, the focus?

The answer, of course, is ‘probably not’ and likely it’s a combination of the two. It’s just that I’m never going to be SURE, which bugs me. Still, it’s nice to be happy. It’s REALLY nice to be able to focus.

The closest I can come to describing what it’s like to go on antidepressants is that it’s like getting over a long, bad cold. You know that first morning when you wake up and you’re not sick? And you’re suddenly full of a ridiculous amount of energy, which is likely your normal amount of energy, except that you’ve been drained of it for a long time? It’s like that. Except that instead of new-found energy, you’re suffused with what previously seemed to be an impossible amount of clarity, happiness, and hope. It’s … well, it’s damned good, is what it is.

 

Hello, Old Friends

I picked up a new prescription for Cipralex a few days ago. I’ve been keeping track of myself for a few months now, watching for red flags – foggy brain, lousy memory for details, irritability, fatigue, random appetite changes, dizzy spells, insomnia, and of course the hopeless/worthless/useless slew of thought patterns. I have ten main red flags; I decided that if I got up to 8 on a consistent basis (more than two months consecutively) I would talk to my doctor about going back on the magic pills.

I did, and so here I am. Sitting with a little bottle of meds beside my computer, looking all innocent and helpful (the pills, not me).

I filled the prescription today. I think I’ve been waiting for some feeling of failure, or guilt, or something to kick in, but all I can think when I look at this bottle of pills is oh thank god. There is no prize for living on the hard setting, far as I can tell.

That’s all, I guess. The funny thing about depression is, it’s hard to talk about it when you’re in it, so I feel doomed to always write this blog in the past tense. Ah, well. C’est la vie.

 

Sad Fish is Sad

Apparently fish can also become depressed. Who knew? According to this Dr. Herwig Baier, “The [mutant] fish have mutation in a receptor that binds cortisol — they cannot dial down their brain’s stress response. Although there are a whole range of drugs available for depression, no one yet knows what the relationship is between their effect and the stress hormones. Our findings provide the first evidence of a possible connection.” Cool.

This checks ‘Find a way to identify with mutant zebrafish’ off the bucket list. THANK GOD.

Better science information lives here.

What it looks like

May is mental illness awareness month. My own personal pet depression being somewhat under control (Fight. Fight. Fight.) I have been pretty quiet of late. Sometimes it’ll rear up and I’ll spend a day on the verge of tears, or having to journal the actual behaviour of people versus my perceptions of it lest I become convinced that the world hates my useless ass, and sometimes I have to go to bed at five. Sometimes I can only manage my job, and I suspect I’m not the friendliest gal in the office on those days. But I’d say those days are down to 40%, and my own awareness is what makes that 40% bearable. I know what I’m dealing with. Once I recognize, this isn’t me, this is pet depression, and also fuck you pet depression I can generally hold my own against it.

That’s five years of therapy, nearly two years of medication, countless hours of struggle and pain and just-managing. That’s what depression costs. I don’t think I would have responded oh-so-terribly-well if anyone had told me, back in the days of couches and missed showers, that I was depressed … but I wish I had known more about what it looks like.

So here’s what it looks like:

Depression is an angry, frightened, and above all else confused beast. It is never the same two days in a row.

I lived on the couch, and slept in for far too long. I gained weight and lost weight randomly and through no healthy initiatives in either direction. Some days I could go to the gym, or walk the dog, but mostly I didn’t.

I cried all the time. Anytime I was alone, I was crying. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The books I read, the television shows I liked, all became short and nonsensical. I couldn’t read the books I love because they were so involved, so dense. I was tired from looking at them, and I felt stupid and slow and like I wouldn’t be able to understand them even if I tried to read them.

I wasn’t interested in anything new. I didn’t want to learn. I was overcome by fear at the thought, and trying to make sure no one knew it. And everything was so blurry all the time. My head was stuffed with cotton.

Social occasions were a chore for which I needed at least a week to prepare. When plans inevitably descended, I hoped for some kind of random event to swoop down and save me from it. A massive thunderstorm that would knock a tree through the house. A car crash – nothing fatal, just enough to slow down the evening, and only if I was alone in the car. (These are the rules.)

Once, when making samosas in preparation for a potluck dinner with friends, I accidentally burnt my hands so badly I had to spend the night with them both wrapped in ice, and I was so grateful.

Anxiety was crippling me. 90% of my daily thoughts were directed to how I had failed, who thought what of me, and how I could fix it. I would come up with grand ideas, and fail at them, and start the process all over again. At night my heart would pound uncontrollably and, if I slept, I woke up with crescent-moons in my palms from clenching my fists.

Every word I said for four years about my hopes for the future was a lie. I had no hope. I laid awake at night and thought about each little lie, and how disappointing I was turning out to be.

Depression steals your self-worth, and your hope.

If I had been able to see all of that from the outside – if I had looked in on myself and seen this scared, tearful, isolated person with no future and no dreams – I would have known something was VERY wrong. Now I write it all down, so that I can be the objective observer to my own life; so that I can’t be dragged under when I’m not paying attention.

There is so much help available, and no one ever has to fight alone. It’s easy enough for me to say all of this right now, because of everything else I’ve done, but let me just say that without those little white pills I would still be crying on that couch thisminuterightnow. So whatever that little white pill is for anyone out there – medication, therapy, yoga or Friday night fight club – everyone deserves the chance to find it, and start working with it, and remember that their lives are worth fighting for.

“We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”

-Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

I hate self-help books

It’s the language that they all seem to have adopted; it’s weird and preachy and reminds me vaguely of Sunday School.* “Here! Play with this string and these two pieces of wood! It’s fun for kids! NOW EXAMINE YOUR FAILURES AS A PART OF THE HUMAN RACE.” Everything’s a damned metaphor. Preachy metaphors, even, which are worse.

But I’m going to try this ‘Feeling Good’ book, partly because it was assigned to me by Therapist and she is a level-headed, clever lady; partly so that I can report back; but mostly because it’s a workbook and, oh, man, do I ever love doing little exercises in books.

Plus, look at this dude. Look into his eyes. Doesn’t he just make you want to get better? And then maybe join a bunch of people? Out in the woods? Who wear robes a lot? And drink special cactus tea?

The-Feeling-Good-Handbook-9780452261747

*Actually, I really loved Sunday school until I turned about ten and started getting creeped out by all the crosses. It coincided with when I started sneaking my dad’s Dean Koontz books out of his briefcase and reading them at night, by flashlight, under my covers. I’m not entirely clear on how those two things are connected, but I’m sure they are.

My Hill To Die On

So last night, I saw my therapist. I talked for a while, rambling on about trying to do things and managing a couple and then generally feeling lousy and going to bed; waking up exhausted, doing it over again. I told her I had felt really well, for a week or two, and now seemed to be backsliding. It felt like one of our old sessions, with me fighting back tears and trying to talk through the lump in my throat – and feeling incredibly frustrated with the familiarity. And, okay, horrified at the thought of going back on the meds. No matter what I know, it would feel like a failure to me.

She said, “I think you’re tired. I think everything that you have done in terms of coping with your depression – living with it, starting to see me, the medication, the last few months – has led you to this point. This is the part where you have to fight. This is your hill to die on.”

Holy fuck, I forgot to fight.

I’ve been learning all this gentle self-talk and care and healing and I forgot to fight.

Well fuuuuuck you, depression, I am a good fighter. This is my body and my mind and I have worked goddamn hard for them and you can’t have them.  I am not going through the last five fucking years all over again because you’re a bully and you don’t know when to piss offI’ll tell you who’s hill this is to die on: Yours.

Last night I realized that I almost lost, because I neglected some fundamental parts of to who I am: The tenacious, the aggressive and the determined. Suddenly, I’m feeling better. Fucking depression. Horseshit. Other swear words. I’m mad now.

p.s. First person to make a pun about my last name…will actually be the second person. Muahaha.

I Miss My Drugs

– so why don’t I go back on them?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Especially today, because someone asked me that very question.

When I was <insert random age that I don’t remember; late teens>, I dated this guy. Who was wonderful. He was really nice, and funny, and open hearted. We had a great time together. He was good in bed. There was literally nothing wrong with him, and nothing wrong with me, but we were going nowhere – and he wanted to be, and I ended up breaking it off because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a giant waste of his time the relationship was. He wasn’t a bad guy. In fact, he was really awesome. He  just wasn’t the right guy, and I knew he was never going to be. And I missed him, because (understandably) he didn’t want to be friends with me after I couldn’t give him a reason for the breakup beyond ‘It’s just – there’s no – I’m not.” (Teenagers are articulate.)

It would have been really easy to stay with him. I didn’t, because it wasn’t right for me (or, I think, him). The years between that relationship and the one I’m in now were full of relationship-shit, which means I earned the one I have now, dammit. And it’s worth not having taken the easy route, a hundred times over.

In case that metaphor isn’t painfully obvious, that’s how I feel about cipralex. I miss it. It was wonderful and easy and uncomplicated. It would have been easier to stay on for the rest of my life, but it wouldn’t have been right. Now I’m going through those ‘shit years’ (except they will not last YEARS, dammit) and at the end, I get the ‘great relationship’ – the goal for that one being a healthy whole human who’s not having to remember to take the (lovely wonderful) little white pill every day.

Anyway.

I miss my pills.

Shit years are shitty.

Therapy tonight. Also, I’m going to go and see a nutritionist about eating-for-brain. (Please note distinction: not eating brains. I hope.) Onward, forward.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
-Robert Frost

Regression

I guess this is stage two, if you consider the week of cold turkey fun to be stage zero.

This week brings with it some fun new things. Stage one was all about the sad. Weird random sad. Genuine-reason-sad (‘My dog is getting older and will one day die’) with far-reaching overreactions (‘and thus I will drink a bottle of wine and lie on the floor crying for an hour or two’).

This week is anger. I’m just kind of low-level pissed off all the time. It’s entertaining! Because there are things that might actually, genuinely piss me off going on in my life right now – or would they? How much? This much?

The Is-This-Normal game is my constant companion. I feel like a teenager again, and not in a sexy fun way; more in the way of ‘Duude, nobody understands me and everything is soooooharddddd and I just wanna smoke gross cigarettes and listen to rage against the machine.’

(Bo

So….er. My brain is full of angry self-pity. Keeping a grip on it is a constant job, one that I’d say that I’m doing with about 80% success.

To those with whom I have failed: My apologies. Really.

To the headhunter from my previous job who asked if they could have me back: THANK YOU for giving me an outlet for all this pissy anger! Super appreciated.

To those with whom I have succeeded: Look, don’t be scared of me just because I’ve got this cloud of pissed off living in my head. I’ve got this. Mostly. And IF I drop it, it will not be your fault, and I will later apologize profusely and take any abuse you care to hurl in response.

But mostly, I feel fairly capable of being objective and keeping everything under wraps. It’s actually pretty cool. If it’s legitimate-angry, I can just talk to people using my grown-up voice. (Again. Mostly.)

Bye kidlets. Maybe next week’s stage will be all about flowers and sparkly dragons.