Things not to say to people with depression. Part One.

Part one, because I keep thinking of these things, and then forgetting, so I assume I’ll want to add to it later. 

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1. “But everyone has bad days, right?”
Congratulations! You have displayed a common and fundamental lack of understanding of what depression is. Yes, everyone had bad days. What everyone does NOT have is a series of bad days lasting months and years; a crushing inability to see hope in the future, and a detrimental despair that infects everything they see and hear. (I was going to write ‘see and do’ but let’s face it, people with depression have a hard time with action verbs outside of ‘crying’ and ‘running the self-hate gauntlet’.)

2. “Have you tried St. John’s wort/vitamin D/powdered red mushroom/licking your shoes/what-the-fuck-ever?”
Unless this is preceded by the person in question asking “have you heard about or read about anything you think I could try?” Just. Don’t. For one thing, everyone else is doing the same thing. For another, it’s hard enough to be engaging with the outside world, let alone plastering an expression of polite interest on your face.

3. “What happened to you?”
This is a tough one. Sometimes there is a precipitating event that causes clinical or situational depression and your brain can’t recover, but often there isn’t anything. It’s a stupid, mean, uncompromising disease and being made to feel like there should have been something that caused it – or gods forbid, something that you did – sucks. Don’t do that to people.

An easy solution for this: if someone tells you they are depressed, just take a breath and in your mind, replace ‘depressed’ with ‘diabetes’ or something similarly shitty and uncontrollable, and then don’t say anything that you wouldn’t in that situation.

If that’s too hard, the following phrases are good and has plenty of uses: “That sucks. I’m sorry.” You can add “what can I do to help?” If you’re so inclined. Those things are nice.

YMMV. 

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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.

 

No, really. It’s not you.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

This photo belongs to Splityarn.

Haven’t been here in a while and was recently told to write something profound. I don’t really do profound, so I’m going to tell you a story.

The other day, as I was driving home from work, I stopped at a red light (as you do) at an intersection. An elderly lady was crossing the street in front of me, with a walker.  I watched the light in the other lanes for a minute to see if it turned yellow, but this intersection has long lights and I got bored. So I looked at the elderly lady for a few seconds, and then glanced up at the light. Then I yawned.

When I looked back, this woman was angrily WAVING HER WALKER at me and angrily mouthing, “I’m TRYING!” before angrily stomping forth. And I realized:

  1. She thought I was staring at her and yawning to show how bored I was with her crossing the street so slowly
  2. That must have happened to her at some point, right? Because who would just assume that otherwise? But what kind of an asshat would get impatient with a woman who was, approximately, four hundred and twenty years old?
  3. The world is full of asshats.

Really, sometimes a yawn is just a depleted level of oxygen in an overtired body. I actually take great comfort in the generally assumable level of selfishness in the average human body. The odds are pretty crap that the girls who just walked past me, giggling, are laughing at my hair. I mean, my hair is pretty silly right now, but they’re in a world that involves the two of them and they’re probably not reaching outside of that bubble to criticize me.

Most of the time, unless told otherwise…it’s probably not about you.

Was that profound enough?

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.

Plantar Fasciitis & The Beauty of Orange Shoes

A review of my bright orangey-coral shoes, because I know how much you care. 

Mizunos

They look pink. I swear they’re orange.

When I started running, I overdid it and ended up with plantar fasciitis. You can Google it, but the short version is that it’s bloody painful and the outcome is that I’ve been wearing these damned bright-orange-and-green-foot-holders for nearly three months solid. (Why yes, they DO smell awesome.) At this point I really feel like I should have named these shoes, we’ve spent so much time together. Have you ever put on shoes before you got out of bed? It’s really weird. I mean, first world problems, yeah, but it’s really weird. Two or three times a week I would have little whining fits where I JUST WANTED TO BE BAREFOOT DAMMIT. I’m really freaking lucky to work in an office where they do not associate my ability to do my job with my footwear or clothing. I’m lucky to have a boss who wore her blazing purple trainers so that I ‘wouldn’t feel lonely’. I’m lucky to have benefits that cover physiotherapy, and through no luck at all, I have worked hard at making sure my recovery period was as short as possible. This weekend I’m going to try my first real run!

Anyway. I love my terrifying little shoes, and since this bout of three-months-solid wear will make them lousy as runners when I start back up again, I’m probably going to buy another pair of the exact same shoes very soon. I’m even going to buy the same colour, because I have formed an almost-unnatural attachment to them, which has been wildly encouraged by this review on Amazon which, if none of that looks/sounds familiar (it did happen all the way down in Texas), is a good Google path to follow.

I did a fair bit of damage to my feet, because I sort of thought pain-upon-running was normal, until a friend on Twitter said that feeling like you’d been punched in the foot was not, in fact, a common running pain. Maybe running pain isn’t normal at all, in fact. Possibly pain is not normal? Is pain not normal? Did R.E.M. lie to me?

The price tag shocked the shit out of me when I first bought them, but (amusingly) I really wanted to learn to run ‘properly’ and I like to have the good gear. I am one of those people. So, fingers crossed for this weekend—and a big ol’ kudos to Mizuno for making such damn good shoes.

 

Of some note: I have another post in the works on the depression-Cipralex-withdrawal saga. Should be out shortly.

Tramp Stamped

I have a tattoo on my lower back.  I had it done when I was seventeen or eighteen to commemorate the loss of an aunt I loved dearly, after her long struggle with cancer; probably also to cement on my body my first real experience with death. I chose the location because I would be able to forever choose whether to hide or show it.

At seventeen, I’d never heard the term tramp stamp; or if I had I wouldn’t have made the association. I heard it when I was around 21, for the first time, and tried to laugh it off, and I’ve been trying to laugh it off for ten years. For some reason over the last two weeks, I’m hearing the term all over the place. Recently I thought about talking to a local artist about changing the tattoo so that it branches left or right or somehow exists less on my lower back, because I absolutely loathe the term ‘tramp stamp’ and all of the connotations that come with it. The thing is, until I heard it, I loved  this tattoo. It meant – means – a lot to me.

So in the grand new tradition of fight, fuck this. Let’s play with Google, shall we? Tramp stamp is not in my real-paper-dictionary quite yet, but it’s in Urban Dictionary (of course):

“Tramp Stamp” is a derogatory term referring to a tattoo which a women places on her lower back. It is especially popular among women born in the late 70’s, 80‘s, and even early 90’s. Fair or unfair, these tattoos have a socially constructed connotation associated with them. These women are labeled as tramps, whores, or other derogatory sexually promiscuous terms.

Well, I was born in 1982. I’ll give you that. There are several other definitions – they only get worse, but then, it is Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia?

Lower-back tattoos (pejoratively referred to as tramp stamps)[1] are a form of body art that became popular among women in the 2000s and gained a reputation as a feminine type of tattoo. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops, and are considered erotic by some.

Hmm. I would have gotten mine in 1999, I believe. So, unusually ahead of a trend by a few months, but otherwise factual. I mean, I’ll be long cold and dead before you catch me in low-rise jeans or crop tops, but I take your point. You could show it off with a judicious use of clothing. That was actually part of my rationale, in fact. But did I get the tattoo in an attempt to be erotic? Er … no. Very few men find it hot. Because the conversation goes like this: “Oh wow, hot tattoo.” “Thanks, I got it as a memorial when someone I loved, died.” “Oh.”

(Less hot, isn’t it?)

Let’s try the dictionary, just for fun:

TRAMP:

  1. vagrant
  2. a woman of loose morals; specifically : prostitute

I see. So when people refer to my tattoo as a tramp stamp, assuming they are fully conscious of the implications, they’re either calling me a vagrant (‘one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support’), or a whore.

Look, most of the time it’s innocuous, and said by people who would be unlikely to even use the word ‘whore’ but that’s sort of my point: language has power, and we each have a responsibility to be aware of what we’re saying.

Ugh. Okay, better. I really just needed to vent. And the next person who uses that term in front of me is going to have to explain why they think I’m a travelling prostitute-hobo.

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

I need a hobby

The benefits of hobbies:

1. You do them just for fun. (Usually) there is no financial profit, thus alleviating any obligations
2. They are relaxing. If not, you may be doing it wrong.
3. They generally force you to remove yourself from a prone position.

My hobbies as they currently stand, according to those three points, are: Driving to work, which is debatable under point #1; reading, debatable under point #3; soapmaking, which I don’t really feel like doing as I end up with rubbermaid bins full of lovely bars of soap and no idea what to do with them all, and finally, crocheting. Which I don’t really do because it’s boring and aggravates my wrists and I only know how to make ever-enlarging squares. Writing…writing is a little bit like a job, in that I commit to it, and in that I do hope to sell the product of it some day.

I need a (new) hobby.

I have so far come up with woodworking and/or refinishing things that already exist. The latter is more appealing because I wouldn’t have to drive to my friend’s house all the time, and I think that would be a barrier to me actually doing anything. I like working on things, making them new. I used to like working on my car, but now I have a newish truck and a)it rarely breaks, b) I don’t want to fix it myself, when it does.

What I want to do, really, is buy a bunch of oil paints and sit in front of an easel and paint with Bob Ross, because his voice is so soothing and I’m quite sure that under his tutelage I could learn to paint happy little trees everywhere. It’s just that I can’t fully commit to the concept of a hobby that doesn’t produce anything useful.

I’m going to try refinishing my kitchen table and see how I like that. I’m spending a lot of time watching TV lately, and while it’s lovely to know ALL OF THE FRINGE ALL OF THE TIME, it’s not making me feel happy. It’s making me feel like someone who goes to work, comes home, watches TV, goes to bed stupid-early, has a shitty sleep, and wakes up feeling rather maudlin about doing the whole dog-and-pony show all over again. All of those things are red flags for me.

It’s been two months today since I went off the meds. I feel like I’m settling in to a dysthemic pattern, and I am hoping to settle at a slightly higher level. I realize that to achieve that, I have to do certain things – eat well, be social, exercise, have hobbies. But I have trouble, in the midst of feeling like there are clouds in my brain, actually doing any of these things.

So I’m going to pick a hobby and start small. It doesn’t feel like a big committment; if I refinish the table and I hate it, I just won’t do things like that anymore. It’s not like having to actually talk to my friends, which is clearly a mountain I don’t wanna climb.

Yet.

Anyway. In conclusion: Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Ross!