Depression in my life

So much has happened in my life in the past year or so. Not a lot of it has been happy. Sure there have been some bright spots every now and then. But for the most part, I have been struggling with depression and anxiety. It’s been a lifelong struggle but this year has been particularly difficult. I know about mental illness and have blogged about it in the past. I have tried to be an advocate for mental health awareness. I’ve been outspoken and open about my depression. But when I found myself drowning in darkness that included suicidal thoughts, I also felt unbelievable shame. Maybe it’s my upbringing; maybe it’s my own values; maybe it’s how society views suicide as a taboo subject; probably it’s a combination of all of the above.

My therapist describes my depression as dysthymia. According to WebMD.com, dysthymia is a type of chronic depression that is less severe than major depression. It can also last for years. Dysthymia may not disable a person, but it prevents one from functioning normally or feeling well. Major depression, which is described as the medical diagnosis for depression that lasts for at least two weeks and interferes with daily life. It causes symptoms like low energy, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness. That sums it up. I’ve depressed for years but in the recent past, the symptoms are significantly more pronounced.

Over the years, I’ve tried every antidepressant to no avail. I’ve even started adding medications like antipsychotics and mood stabilizers with minimal improvement. The meds may dull the emotions but underneath, the depression remains. It hangs over my head and colors my world in shades of grey. Even though I’m functioning (if you can call it that), it takes a good deal of energy to keep up appearances.  I find myself too exhausted to do the things I would like to. I would much rather pull the covers over my head and hide in the darkness. Sometimes I wonder if anyone would really miss me if I didn’t show up. If I feel this horrible about myself, how do others view me?

When I said, I only have dysthymia, my psychiatric nurse practitioner brought to my attention that thoughts of suicide are to be taken seriously. When I brought up the subject of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), she didn’t dismiss me. Is a life without depression even possible? I cannot imagine it. I’m tired, so very tired and need some relief and soon. So desperate, I’m willing to try ECT. I know it’s controversial and filled with stigma of its own. Has anyone tried it? I would like to hear your thoughts.

Spring

I haven’t been very active in blogland lately. I have been so busy. I won’t go into all the details but life can be overwhelming at times. I try to pare down when needed and unfortunately, one of the things that gets bumped on my priority list is writing. Besides that, I haven’t been feeling very creative lately… I think it’s called Oregon Winter-Funk Syndrome. But days are getting longer, my daffodils are on the verge of blooming, and the sound of birds singing announces that spring is finally here. I am so glad!

Hmmm…

I wandered into this new age-y bookstore while I was in Seattle. They happened to be having a psychic fair so I decided to have a reading. I know, I know… it goes against everything I was taught at Catholic school. I am a skeptic but what if it is true? What if some people are psychic? Maybe these so-called psychics are just more intuitive about others. I know I must give off a certain vibe or aura. My depression and anxiety often precedes me and I believe certain people pick up on that whether they do it consciously or not. Some people are not at all aware of other people’s energy. I think I have a good sense of people but I don’t always pay attention to my impressions. Anyway, the psychic I met with told me that I need to play more; have more fun. I need to quit always being the grown-up. I think she hit it right on. I don’t have enough joy lately. I know if Spring ever arrives, my mood will pick up. I can’t wait for the warmer, sunnier days.

She also recommended looking into a different type of therapeutic program. Has anyone ever heard of The Hoffman Process? Would like to know more about it but not sure if it’s for me. Seems like it’s pricey and not insurance covered. I’ve had a therapist for a long time but not sure if a different type of therapy would be more impactful for me.

Values

Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of introspective evaluation. I have been depressed and anxious and can’t seem to rid myself of pessimism and cynicism. It’s not for lack of trying. I feel worst when unable to control my life. That’s part of the reason my morale has been suffering. I don’t feel secure and that’s important to me. I have lost confidence in my abilities, not to mention what the depression & anxiety have done to my abilities to focus and analyze things. Unfortunately, analysis is a pretty big part of my job. So it’s a viscous cycle. I worry that my job could be swept out from under me at any moment. I worry about everything. I tried to make a list but it’s much too long… I worry about everything.

Nothing I do or think or feel is worry-free. It is so overwhelming I am jumpy and on the verge of a panic attack always. It’s not humanly possible to switch it off and on at will (my manager doesn’t believe me). If it were possible, I would do it. It is not fun to always be ON. All my senses are hyper-sensitive and it’s draining; it’s physically and emotionally draining.

How do I cope? I have some healthy coping skills but I also have some unhealthy ones. Luckily, I don’t rely on drinking or drugs. The two unhealthy things I use are eating and shopping. Both have obvious negative impacts but are socially acceptable which technically doesn’t make it any better but at least there’s not a lot of judgment about my behavior.

I do do some positive things too. I am taking some time off this week. I enjoy my art. Thursday, I’m attending Sherri Haab‘s PMC class at the Portland Bead Expo. Friday I’m getting a massage. I am meeting with some of my art-friends on Sunday. Next week, I have a therapy appointment and I try to attend a support group meeting on a regular basis. The class I taught at NAMI is about over but it was a good way to help others who also have mental illness in their family which in turn helped me. I’m really happy my volunteer time is being matched by my employer, Intel.

I am working on some new healthy skills too. I am working on healthier eating habits. As the weather improves, I am determined to get more exercise. Last year I bought a new bike that doesn’t have more than ten miles on it yet.
I also have some longer term goals. I would like to write a book. I would like to simplify my life (I know that’s kind of broad).
In the meantime, I need to do some thinking about my career. Luckily, Intel is throwing new resources toward development. I have read a couple articles and have seen a trend toward matching your personal values to your career goals. I think this excerpt from the book Finding Square Holes: Discover Who You Really Are and Find the Perfect Career by Anita Houghton sums up my situation well and I realize I have a lot more reflection to do about my life and my career.

Knowing what is important to you will also, by default, help you to clarify what is not. Being more aware, more alert to the values by which you live your life, you start to question your actions, question your motives, question your feelings, and gradually the important things in your life float gently to the top, while the less important ones sink slowly to the bottom.

And when that happens, the result is… happiness.

Source: Finding Square Holes: Discover Who You Really Are and Find the Perfect Career by Anita Houghton

Well being

I wrote the following for my work blog but thought I’d repost here because it’s good info for all:

In the US there are pretty strict privacy (HIPAA) laws regarding health records. In addition, a diagnosis of of clinical mental illness would afford you protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So there shouldn’t really be any fear of your manager or the company finding out you are seeking mental health treatment.

I understand there is stigma attached to a mental health diagnosis but until we speak out and advocate otherwise, it will not change. Whatever your condition, whether cancer, clinical depression, diabetes, bipolar disorder, there should be no shame. And there should be no shame in seeking treatment.

I see a psychologist on a regular basis. It took several interviews to find the right therapist. Don’t settle for seeing someone who doesn’t share your values and with whom you don’t make a connection. You have every right to shop around for the health care provider who works for you.

And it shouldn’t be an expensive privilege to seek counseling. It is covered much the same as an office visit to the doctor (co-pay, deductible, etc.). In addition, if you participate in the flexible spending account deduction, you can use that reimbursement for those costs.

I am active in National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). This resource is a wealth of support and information. They can help you navigate the system if you’re struggling. I co-teach a class called Family-to-Family which educates families with loved ones affected by mental illness. It helped me immensely and I would highly recommend it. No one should feel alone. There are people out there who can help. For those of you in Oregon, the Washington County affiliate is very active and has many programs that you may find helpful.

I have also found the following online resources to be very helpful:

National Institute of Mental Health
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the largest scientific organization in the world dedicated to research focused on the understanding, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders and the promotion of mental health.

Mental Health Network
Information and tools to help you manage your stress, depression, anxiety and more.

WebMD
MayoClinic

I’ve been dealing with this for a long time and it comes and goes depending on many factors. The past year at my company has had a huge impact on my sense of well being but it’s much easier to manage stress and/or depression with the support of others. You can’t just will it away… it takes positive action!

Support?

I went to a support group meeting tonight for parents and family members with kids like mine. I cannot go into details because I don’t want to break confidentiality but honestly, I left feeling very sad. Someone made a comment about my daughter and I was sort of taken aback. The more I think about it, the worse I feel. Sometimes I tend to read more into things than I should. I know when I do that. This is different. It didn’t really hit me full force until later. I was feeling kind of optimistic about Amber because last time we talked, she sounded happier than I have heard her sound in a long time. She was actually thinking about her future and what she wanted to do in life. To me, that’s a significant shift. Normally, she doesn’t even plan ahead an hour from now. Someone sparked something inside her and actually for a fleeting moment she believed she could reach that goal. I have always tried to impress upon her that she was smart and quite capable of accomplishing anything she wanted if she worked at it. I always hope that stuck with her. I hope that she matures into a confident woman. She’s already got the beautiful part down. I just want her to feel happy and proud of herself. I don’t want her to have to defend herself, her behavior, her choices… because I want her to be healthy and strong and make smart decisions. I don’t know if I’ll go back to the support group or not. I don’t know if I was really getting a lot of benefit from it. I think I need a new support group so I can develop all those positive traits I wish for Amber in myself.

Anxiety

When you were young, did you worry about fitting in?  Or were you one of the popular kids?  Did you wear the right clothes, listen to the right music, and have cool parents?  Did you get bullied but were unable to defend yourself?

As an adult, have you ever offered someone encouragement only to be left wondering whether they appreciated your sincerity?  Have you ever disclosed something personal to someone only to feel a sense of panic afterwards?  Have you felt uncomfortable around others because you weren’t sure about fitting in?

I was so painfully shy growing up.  I still suffer from social anxiety.  Logically, I know I shouldn’t feel this way but I can’t help it.  It’s the emotions I can’t control sometimes.  It’s the worry and fear.  It’s a feeling of insecurity.  Everyone else is more qualified.  Everyone is more experienced.  Everyone is more intelligent.  And everyone is more deserving.  Any second everyone will see through me as if they have faker-vision (x-ray vision for phonies).

When the anxiety takes hold, it starts out as a strong feeling that something bad is going to happen.  I can’t tell you what I think will happen but it feels like impending doom.  The fight or flight instinct wants to take over and make me run far, far away from the danger.  Goodness knows, I am not a fighter so that isn’t an option.  Nowhere is safe from anxiety; the panic takes over and the physical feelings intensify even more.  Breathe deeply.  Close your eyes for a few minutes.  Relax your body.  It’ll go away… it’ll go away.  It may subside but it never goes away.  I’m always on alert.  Always ready for that doom to actually take place.  It takes every bit of energy from me.  It sucks out the life from my body and leaves me exhausted.  You’d think sleep would offer a reprieve… but my brain cannot slow down.  It races with worry and won’t stop.  It takes hours to finally fall asleep.  Waking doesn’t offer any sense of renewal.  After so much deprivation, I’m a walking zombie.  Each of my senses is on overdrive.  Noise is overwhelming and physically painful.  Light is too intense.  My body aches and no touch is soothing.  Even taste and smell are often too pungent and bitter.  I long for solitude and quiet.  If only I could cry and release some of the pressure but experience tells me that crying is too painful and doesn’t offer relief.  My tolerance is non-existent and I distrust everyone and everything.  Life this way is not fun at all.  I am too tired to concentrate and I worry that my work is suffering. 

And the cycle repeats itself.