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

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!

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.

The Update

Doc’s response: The worst of it is over, and there’s no point in going on a low dose and weaning off now. Don’t do it again. You did not ‘break your brain,’ as you put it; your brain will be fine.

He said that the human body basically doesn’t like things that happen quickly. Quick force being applied generally results in a broken bone; quick withdrawal generally confuses the little receptors. They will adjust. A three-month period should be long enough for me to know whether or not I’m now a naturally happy gal.

And really, the worst of it does seem to be over.

And that’s all I really have to say on that topic, so . . . world’s shortest blog post? Sylvia’s guest post should have gone up two days ago and didn’t, so this will be a two-post-day. 🙂

Withdrawal: The Dumbass Edition

Aaargh.

Right, so, I went cold-turkey off of my meds. I’ve been avoiding writing a blog post because, well, that is just such a stupid thing to do. I felt like my options were either to pretend I hadn’t done it (very tempting) or admit it (urgh, shame, you useless bitch).

Anyway, I’ve come up with a third option: Pretend I did it all in the name of science! Yes! I was testing all things. For you. And so I can now say with absolute certainty: Going cold turkey off of an anti-depressant is one of the dumbest, most harmful things I could have done. It was awful. And you know the worst bit? It wasn’t planned. I didn’t even have the ego to think to myself, ‘Ah, whatever. I’m sure I’ll be fine.’ It just…sort of….happened. I ran out of cipralex. I couldn’t get in to see my doctor. It was Christmas. Shit got busy, and I forgot to take care of my, well, brain. Because I could have gone to a clinic, or, probably, a pharmacist. I honest-to-God just. Didn’t.

Anyway, having done it, I shall now recount the experience. First and foremost, though, I’m fine and generally expect no lasting effects. I am (finally) seeing my doctor tonight, and an hour after that, my therapist.

So!

The first few days were fine. This is like the first few hours or days after a car accident, when your body feels okay, and then you try to pick up a piece of paper and your shoulder is suddenly welded to your ear. For me, the piece-of-paper moment was just outside of a bookstore (this is important, because buying books generally makes me happy). I was suddenly overwhelmed with that punch-to-the-gut grief – you know that one? It’s the morning-after-a-loved-one-dies grief. As internal dialogue, it goes like this:

*wakes up* mmpfs’morning.
psst
coffeeisathinghrmmmph
Psst. Hey.
should get up. mm. pjs are comfy.
Your dad just died.
Oh fucking hell.

– it’s what I shall elegantly describe as the ‘Fucking hell’ moment. Anyway, it’s kind of overwhelming. It’s hard to breathe (due to having just been punched) and, for me, when it’s uncontrollable it means I’m going to cry rightnow and if I’m not somewhere that’s okay, I’d better get there fast.

So there I was, crying in a bathroom and trying to breathe and thinking, nope, this ain’t normal.

Thus began the funtimes game I like to call, “Is This Normal?”. If, while driving home from work, I find myself replaying various conversations from throughout the day, finding places in them where people might have meant something as an insult, and then trying to determine whether or not it was, and if it was? Is it true? Am I really lazy/incompetent/stupid? -And suddenly, I’m home, which means I’ve spent nearly half an hour thinking about a slight inflection in someone’s voice. That’s when it’s time to play Is This Normal?

And no. It’s not. I mean, I’m sure it is for someone, but not for me.

So, for three weeks I’ve been playing Is This Normal and, if it’s not, trying to control it or at least isolate myself from potentially taking out these imaginary feelings on loved ones. (Because depression sometimes = ‘HEY my feelings are HURT and so YOU must have done it!!!’ which is mean.) That’s okay, I can do that.

Christmas was great – having my family around was really nice, and it was low-key, fun and distracting. After that, I started having plenty of time in my head, which isn’t a great place to be when said-head has just gone cold turkey.

OH. And the DIZZY. Jaysus, the spins were/are so weird. It actually took me a long time to realize that it was probably a withdrawal symptom and not low blood sugar/dehydration/lack of sleep. At least I didn’t get ‘brain zaps’ which sound like the worst and weirdest thing ever. Anybody else? Brain zaps? Sounds super.

About five days ago the full-frontal emotional crazy started to recede. And I’m told that on the outside, nothing changed, which is terrifying because I feel like I’ve been living in a weird tunnel of fucked-up, but I guess that’s what coping skills are for. My partner certainly noticed the change, since he got to witness a lot of the random crying jags and was probably the lucky recipient of a few “I feel badly and thus so should you” moments before I figured out what was going on. (Sorry, honey.) Plus, the dizzy means that I occasionally fall over. (Er…it’s possible no one noticed that. I trip a lot.)

The whole problem with depression in the first place is that if you’re like me, and you’re relatively functional as a friend and employee, all of your depression gets stuck in your home. And that affects all of the poor bastards who have to live there. I’m not really sure what my point is here except to maybe say that at least if you’re depressed all over the place, then your home isn’t a haven for it. It shouldn’t be. There shouldn’t be a haven. If it’s all over your life, then probably, eventually, someone who doesn’t have to sleep next to you every night will say “Hey, dude. You’re kind of a mess.”

The night-stuff came back. That free-floating anxiety that pops up just as I’m about to fall asleep and says “Hey! -” (This is an actual example) “- What if your coworkers’ dog died over Christmas? LET’S THINK ABOUT THAT.” My heart would beat a little too fast and I’d find myself staring at the darkness – not a metaphor – with very wide eyes. Eventually, a few nights in a row, I just got up.

Then I was tired. How many people are more emotionally stable when they’re tired?

I feel like I’m starting to ramble a bit, so in summary, going cold turkey for me meant an emotional roller-coaster, nighttime anxiety, dizzy spells and exhaustion. Experiment over. The last little while has been okay, though I’ve had a bad cold so it’s easy to get lots of sleep (yay cough syrup!) and take care of myself.  The dizziness is gone, which must mean something, right? And I haven’t had that punch-to-the-gut in over a week. What I don’t know is, am I meant to have the anxiety back? Is this something I have to learn to manage? I suspect I can, as long as I don’t have to manage all of it.

I have no idea what my doctor will say – whether, at this point, I may as well just keep going along, or if I should go on the half-dose I was meant to be taking in the first place and wean ‘off’ of it properly. I’m happy with my use of the coping skills that I’ve learned (which include the Is This Normal game) but I don’t want to mess with my brain chemistry (any more than I already have). Between my two doctors and myself, I imagine I’ll have a proper plan tonight.

Conclusion: Cold Turkey = bad idea. (Except in a sandwich.) In a completely different context (think more along the lines of cold-turkey-when-it’s-good, like quitting smoking) this is a pretty great little post:  http://thequestforwellness.blogspot.ca/2012/06/why-going-cold-turkey-doesnt-work.html (h/t to Bayne)

In entirely unrelated news, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley will soon be visiting to talk about her awesome new project, Submitomancy! In the interim, you can check it out on Indiegogo. And you should.

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