Sense of Loss

A friend of mine came to visit this past week, one I’d met while at the Menninger Clinic. While we were catching up, I learned that he had been great since our six-week stint at the psychiatric facility. I was happy, for sure. When you suffer with a mental disorder, you wish only happiness on your brethren going through the same. But something started to nag at me. I heard him say that he’s off some of the medication the hospital had prescribed and doesn’t need to go to therapy any longer….and there it was. A sense of loss.

I’m so happy that things are going well for my friend but damn I get upset thinking how the doctors told me my diagnoses — yes, there was more than one (more than five actually) — were likely to be lifelong. And even after having more than 30 ECT treatments, I still need them on a regular basis, whereas most people only do a couple of maintenance treatments a year, if that.

I still need to be monitored closely by a psychiatrist and will need to do weekly therapy for God knows how long. I don’t pretend to know what my friend goes through, if things are ever hard for him, but they sure as shit are still hard for me. I know I’m better than I was, that I’ve made improvements, but I feel so much loss when contemplating my depression and anxiety. It has taken so much from me.

And it’s OK for me to say that. It’s OK for me to think that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t compare my life to others’ anyway. But it’s OK to feel — and even mourn — that loss. As a mother, I’ll always have limitations. Hell, as a human being, I have limitations — we all do. I’ve lost so many memories (thanks to ECT). I’ve lost time to my illness. No matter what I might’ve gained from having depression, I’ve still lost so much.

But no worries. I still subscribe to sunshine and good thoughts in the grand scheme of things. But I believe in being honest with myself, too. And stewing. Sometimes it can give you new perspective when you stew in negativity or just realistic thoughts. You tend to grow more too, which I’m all about. There’s no growth if you can’t get uncomfortable from time to time.

And even though I’m constantly trying to avoid being uncomfortable, I end up feeling that more than anything else which gives me hope that I’ll outgrow it all. And maybe I will.

Maybe it’ll be OK if I don’t.

Signs That I’m Slipping Into a Depressive Episode

Up until a couple years ago I thought that if you were depressed it meant being sad all the time. Now, I know that if you have major depressive disorder, your depression comes in waves or depressive episodes. Like right now, I’m not experiencing one but I’m still depressed because it’s a chronic condition. It can be confusing but below you’ll find out what it’s like (for me) to experience a depressive episode.

  1. My anxiety manifests as anger — I recently discovered that anxiety can be masked by anger, or in some cases, rage. Sometimes, it’s not apparent that I’m anxious, even to me, but I realize my “check engine light” is coming on when I snap at the kids or my husband. Other times, I see red and want to throw or kick something. Regardless, I now know that anxiety is most likely the culprit and I need to resolve whatever it is I’m feeling. When this happens repeatedly, I know a depressive episode could be on the horizon.
  2. I overeat and binge — When I’m upset, I purposely overeat or binge. Unfortunately, this is my go-to coping mechanism and not a very good one. I think that by overeating I’ll forget whatever pain I’m experience, but the relief is only temporary (the weight gain often is not). It takes a lot of strength for me to bypass this behavior and choose something healthier, something that will actually be helpful.
  3. I sleep more — Usually, I wake up from 5 to 6 a.m. and go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m. If I’m adding a nap during the day or going to bed before 9 p.m., that usually means something is up. Sometimes I have to force myself to go to bed on time because I’ll want to stay up in the name of alone time. I know I’m headed for trouble when I’m in so much pain that I can’t stay awake any longer than necessary.
  4. My temper is shorter — I have two small children, so patience is critical for my mental health. But there are times, when I lost it easily over seemingly innocuous things, such as the kids being too loud. See no. 5 below, lol.
  5. Loud noises freak me out — When I’m in the “danger zone” of a panic attack or depressive episode, loud and unexpected sounds (such as the kids dropping something) make me angry, scared and out of control. Going somewhere that’s usually loud is out of the question, too. I suspect that I have Misophonia, a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. But I already have enough diagnoses, so I haven’t checked into it.
  6. I want to crawl into bed after I take the kids to school — Sometimes I need a nap during the day, and that’s OK, but I try not to make it a habit anymore; it just reminds me of when I was super depressed before going to psychiatric hospital. If I’m crawling into bed more than usual during the day, say more than once a week, I know to assess what’s going on.
  7. I cry more — This is pretty straight forward. I’m a crier anyway, but I start to cry like every day, then something’s up.
  8. I don’t do my favorite activities and hobbies — This is one of the most annoying part of depression but a good barometer on what’s going on in my head. Typically, I like to write, sing, read, sew, etc. but when I’m depressed I watch more TV than usual and all my other hobbies fall to the wayside.
  9. My anxiety is through the roof — Also straight forward. When I’m anxious there’s an uptick in my anxiety medication, and I tend to be very jumpy and short tempered.
  10. I stop wearing “real” clothes — I”m started to waver on this one. By real clothes, I mean a nice bra, jeans, a blouse, etc. — anything that’s not leggings, basically. BUT we are in a pandemic and I just don’t see that many people so I’ve been wearing more loungewear than normal. But usually when I’m depressed, I’m in oversized sweats and my hair is dirty.

If you have some tell-tale signs of entering into a depressive episode, I’d like to hear them. Drop them in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

10 Benefits of Having Depression

Don’t let the title of this blog fool you — depression definitely sucks. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; however, there are some things that having severe depression (and anxiety) have taught me. If I’m going to deal with these disorder for the rest of my life, I better make hay when the sun shines.

1. I’m empathetic – Depression is a chronic disease, an invisible one, and so many people misunderstand just how bad it can be. A lot of people put on a happy face while they go to work and in front of their friends even when inside they feel like they are slowly dying a painful death. I have learned not to judge others as much, because we truly don’t know what’s going on with someone unless they confide in us. And those who are suffering from a chronic or invisible illness, I have so much more empathy toward. I know what it’s like — the pain, the judgement from others, etc. Having depression has taught me to respect other people’s health journey, no matter what that may be.

2. I’m also resilient – I’ve been through a lot, and even though it’s still painful at times, I fight. I bounce back. I shake it off.

3. I’m able to help others – I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was about 12 years old. I’ve taken tons of different medications, I’ve been hospitalized at a psychiatric facility, I’ve abused my anxiety meds, I’ve self harmed and I have an eating disorder. These experiences help me relate to others and I can share what I’ve gone through, hopefully so they don’t repeat my mistakes.

4. I have lots of patience – During a depressive episode, I can get so frustrated with my brain for not working correctly, but I’ve learned that if I just stick it out, the sun will shine again and my pain will fade. I just have to be patient — with my brain, with my medications, the ECTs (electroconvulsive therapy), etc. With the right combination of therapy, medication and coping skills, life gets better. It will always get better.

5. I appreciate the little things in life – This is hard to do during a depressive episode, because everything feels like hard work. (See my spoons blog). It’s hard to shower, eat, sleep and take care of my family, etc. That’s why I have to force myself to appreciate the little things — a cold Diet Coke, fresh flowers, painting my nails, playing with my kids and binge watching TV shows with David. “Indulging” in these things helps me to remember that life is good, despite what my brain is telling me and that I have to continue to take care of myself to experience the good.

6. I’m confident I can handle anything – I’ve battled severe postpartum depression, I’ve fought off suicidal thoughts more times than I can count, I’ve been hospitalized for six weeks and I continue to fight my major depression on a daily basis. These are not easy feats. It’s especially hard when you’re fighting a disease in which your own brain tells you to kill yourself or you’re not worthy. Yet, here I am despite it all. I’m strong, and I know I can handle anything that comes my way.

7. It’s taught me who I am – I kept quiet about my depression, anxiety and eating disorder because I learned somewhere along the way that these things were character flaws. I thought I was broken and flawed and didn’t get the help I needed. That’s the stigma of mental health talking. Depression is just a disease I fight — it’s not who I am. I’m the strong, resilient, loving woman who kicks depression’s ass everyday. Everything I went through was a major gut check, and even though I hate what depression has done to me, it’s made me a better, stronger version of myself and I can’t hate that. I’m proud of my journey and I’m proud that I can be so open about it. My hope is that others will read my blogs and feel free to share their journey as well.

8. I’m brave – It wasn’t easy being honest about my mental disorders and sharing that I’ve been hospitalized and suicidal. Although it was freeing later in the process, it was really painful when I initially shared everything because so many people don’t understand mental health. But that just means we have to work harder at normalizing it and sharing factual information about it. I’m brave for putting it all out there, I’m brave for doing ECTs every eight weeks and I’m brave for getting up every morning and fighting for my life.

9. It’s shown me who my real friends are – Being depressed is a real drag. I cancel plans with my friends quite a bit, and I know that gets annoying hearing that I’m depressed every. single. day. I get it. When you’re dealing with such a debilitating illness, you find out real quick who will stick by you and support you. It ain’t for sissies. I’m thankful for my girlfriends who continue to stick by me and give me unlimited support, no matter what’s going on with me.

10. It’s forced me to be more mindful – I have to keep very close tabs on my emotions and actions so I don’t slip into a depressive episode. I have to make sure I’m getting enough sleep, water, alone time, vitamins and more so I can be as healthy as possible. Monitoring my emotions is no different — I have to make sure that I’m processing and dealing with my feelings, especially if it’s a negative emotion. For example, if I’m feeling uncertainty or fear, I have to cope with that in a positive way and not a negative way, such as binge eating. It’s very easy to turn the feelings monitor off and try to fill that void with food or other unhealthy coping skills. So, I’m mindful of how I feel and in dealing with how I feel.

Any benefits I missed? Drop ’em in the comments. Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

What Would Make This Better?

I remember when I was much, much younger and was dating an older boy. We were picnicking at the park, and it was a beautiful day. It was one of those moments I thought that I would remember forever; however, now I remember it for the wrong reasons.

As I was enjoying the day and our time together, my boyfriend asked, “Do you know what would make this better?” Fully expecting him to say, “Nothing!” I asked what. Then he said, “Alcohol!”

Now, I don’t drink and am not against it at all, but I was so annoyed. We didn’t need alcohol to make anything better — it was perfect as it was. He then said, “Or maybe smoking a joint.” I was really pissed after that, even though I’m not against marijuana either.

I didn’t understand my boyfriend. He was always trying to drink or smoke, and I didn’t realize why until I began abusing my anxiety pills several years ago — he was trying to escape pain. He had many problems that he never dealt with and unfortunately never really got a chance to because he died in a suspected drunk driving accident. He was in his 20s, a kid almost.

When I was severely depressed and suicidal, I started abusing benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive. I was still dealing with postpartum depression, although I didn’t realize it until things got dire for me. I remember thinking to myself that the pills made everything better, and I’d take them every chance I got, eventually working my way up on the dosage. Even when I wasn’t anxious, I’d take them. I too was trying to escape. And even though I thought the pills were helping me and making me happier, they weren’t. They were just numbing me to the pain. Whatever relief I got from those tiny little pills was temporary, and I was doing much more harm than good.

I was lucky; I could’ve easily overdosed on those pills and died. So many people do but when I went to the psychiatric hospital for my depression, I was encouraged to take the addiction classes and deal with my demons there, too. Even though I don’t miss the pills, I still get the desire to escape in some form. That has never gone away and because of that it’s wise that I avoid drinking, benzodiazepines and other mood altering substances.

This is such an important topic. I have everything I’ve ever wanted — great family/friends, a wonderful husband, great kids, beautiful home — so why do I need to escape? My therapist asks me that all the time and for the life of me, I just can’t think of an answer.

That’s the thing about depression, even when you’re happy with your life it still drags you down like a ball and chain. I can fight it with positivity all I want, but it will still be there, lurking in the dark corners of my fragile mind. So I embrace it — the good days and the bad. I know that when things get gloomy, it’s only temporary, and it will always get better. I’ll keep fighting the good fight and when someone asks me, “What could make this better?” my answer will be, “Nothing.”

Nothing at all.