Tag Archives: depression

Depression is a deadly illness

As I am sure everyone knows by now, Robin Williams died from depression yesterday. The internet is abuzz. I feel some need to contribute, but everyone is so articulate already, but by the time I would have the words to be articulate myself everyone will have moved on to the next thing. So I am going to try to say something, even though I don’t have the words yet.

I have thoughts. Thoughts about how depression is a deadly illness that we need to take seriously.

Thoughts about how I am heartened and surprised by the outpouring of compassion I am seeing, when I am so used to seeing the opposite when it comes to dying of depression.

Thoughts about the problems inherent in our “battle” metaphor of illness, and how those problems can be really thrown into sharp relief when it comes to mental illness, depression, and dying of depression.

Which leads into thoughts about the words I don’t want to use, like “losing his battle with depression.” The metaphor is all wrong, but I can’t articulate it yet.

Thoughts about death and grief and the nature of loss, and how public loss and private loss are different but not really.

Plus a smattering of frustration that it really does take me a while to find the proper words to express my thoughts, and everyone else seems so much faster than I am.

Maybe some of these thoughts will turn into blog posts eventually, who knows. Right now, this is the best I can do.

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“Just Feel”

Time for more on journeys in chemically-induced emotional changes!

Several weeks ago I was talking to my psychiatrist about how it’s actually the negative feelings that I’m having trouble adjusting to. I mean, they’re better. Lots better. Tons better. Holy CRAP better. They are also, however, different, in a fairly fundamental way. I find it throws me a bit for a loop.

My metaphor for my strong emotional states tended to be either a river or a sea. Basically, a raging torrent of water threatening to carry me away or drown me, or both. These emotional states were dangerous to me on a number of levels, and I had to be careful.

So my coping methods were largely about staying above them, or staying grounded, and creating barriers between myself and my depression or my fear so that I could stay sane and at least partially functional.

Letting those barriers down so that I could just feel what I was feeling was always a risky proposition. If things were bad, it meant losing at least a day in overwhelming feels, and simply accepting that until it passed I would not be able to function beyond the very basics of survival, and even those were really difficult. As such, “just feel” was not a thing I did very often. It was very low on my coping method list (probably just one or two items above self injury, actually), and even when I did use it, I usually tried it in mitigated forms first. To extend my metaphor (my emotional metaphor got really quite involved), I did a lot of “riding the wave.” Tread water, keep my head up, wait until it passes but don’t let myself drown.

Now, though, it’s all different. I don’t seem to have that depression river anymore. Now it’s more like a fog, and it’s so different that it’s really quite confusing. The river was dangerous. When it flooded its banks and tried to wash me away, I had to be careful. However, the river also had direction. I knew where it was going and where I would end up if it swallowed me. I also knew that if I could get to high ground and wait it out, things would be really rough but ultimately I’d be ok.

The fog is different. I can’t make a barrier between myself and my feelings anymore. It’s also no longer threatening to wash me away. It’s just sorta… there, and I find myself wondering what the heck to do with it when it shows up. The things that used to be high on my list – barriers, higher ground, cling to something solid, ride the wave – all no longer apply. My psychiatrist reminded me of the “just feel” option, and I was actually a little amused. The option that had always been dangerous and scary and better avoided if possible is suddenly supposed to be at the top of my list. So basically, this is yet another type of change that I totally didn’t anticipate – the nature of some of my emotions have changed, and the basics of how I should deal with them have changed as well.

Here’s hoping I get used to this “just feel” thing being a primary, go-to technique.

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Adjusting to my new emotional range

Ok, there’s probably going to be a lot more in here than just talk of my adjusted emotional range. Since I process via writing and I have a blog about mental illness (among other things) apparently there will be posts about this strange anti-depressant, anti-anxiety journey I’m on.

I’ll confess, when I first started these, I really wasn’t sure what they were going to do to me. I was hopeful, but also leery. Sometimes I see people talking about changes in lifelong depression as changes in personality, in “self,” and that was alarming. All over the internet, I see people claiming that “some people just have melancholy personalities” as a way of claiming that we shouldn’t be using antidepressants. And I wondered if maybe that was just me. If those terrible, dark times I had, complete with scary levels of suicidal ideation and severe amounts of self hatred and other horrible nasties, was just my “melancholy personality” that I should just learn to live with.

Only, as I’ve blogged about already, I did try to live with it. I really tried. And in return, my brain tried to kill me, until in the midst of one of the worst depressions that I can remember I finally decided to try something in pill form.

So, leery or not, personality changes or not, I’m trying it.

A big thing I wasn’t sure of was how it would impact feelings of sadness or anxiety that were externally caused. I was worried about it masking my emotions or making it so that I just didn’t feel. Would my sads still be sad? Would I still get nervous on a horse?

It’s tricky because many things were kind of intertwined with my depression. Or maybe it’s more that my depression reached out with it’s icky depression tentacles and wound its way around everything it could touch. What would it be like with that gone?

Well for a while, it just felt empty and echo-y. I used to have to fight for the space I took up in my own head, constantly pushing back against the nastiness in my head that wanted to get rid of me (and at this point, I feel no qualms phrasing it that way). Suddenly, nearly overnight when they finally started working, I didn’t have to push back anymore. It was weird. Like there was all this space in my head with nothing in it. I’ve slowly been expanding into my own head, testing new boundaries of thought and feeling, and it’s interesting.

Anyway, as per the title of this post, I feel like my emotional range has shifted. I can still feel intense emotional pain, but it no longer triggers the intense self-hatred that it used to. I can still get nervous, but it no longer taps into wall of terror. Also, I find my capacity for enjoyment is suddenly immensely increased. My happyfeels are far closer to the surface and have a much easier time showing up and sticking around. One thing that’s really made me notice the change is actually my cat.

See, my cat likes to spend a lot of time napping in my lap. He and I know each other quite well by now, and he’s used to how I breathe and move and talk. Well suddenly, I can laugh. I can laugh easily. Even in my good times, laughing used to be difficult. My feelings of amusement were all smushed way deep inside, and getting to the surface where they could show involved a bit of a journey, and they had to be strong to get there. Now they’re right here on the surface. I watch TV and see something funny, and I laugh. And my cat, poor guy, has no idea what is going on. Luckily, he seems to like it and mostly responds by trying to rub his face against mine, rather than getting offended or anything like that.

I do, however, think that a lifetime of depression, and depressed ways of thinking, have left neurological effects on me that I need to deal with. My brain finds it very easy to go down pathways of unhappy thoughts, even without The Voice egging me on and adding its special brand of hate and pain. Travelling along happy thoughts is still strange and new and unknown, and is kind of scary simply due to that unknown status. I don’t always quite know what to do with myself or my thoughts or my feelings.

Oh, another thing I’ve found. My emotions change more easily than they used to. Well… sort of. Used to be, I could get unhappy very quickly and very easily. One stray, careless thought, and The Voice would latch on and take me on a journey of self hatred. Breaking out of those cycles, though, was incredibly difficult. So my emotional state could very rapidly go bad, but getting to anything positive again was a very different thing. Now I find that those unhappy states do not cling to me the way they used to. I can bounce back up far more easily. This is also strange and new, and I feel like I’m needing to find a whole new emotional equilibrium and I’m not really there yet.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I am definitely adjusting in ways I was not entirely prepared for. Maybe I could never really be prepared, I just had to be willing to take the plunge and see what happens.

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Talking to sad people

Sometimes people are sad. There can be all sorts of reasons why a person might be sad, ranging from intense personal loss to an imbalance in one’s brain chemicals and all sorts of other things. I don’t mean this to be targeted to any specific type of sadness, but more just sadness in general.

I’ve been running into an increasing number of people wondering about how to talk to or interact with loved ones who are sad, and I’ve also had a lot of experiences with times I have been sad, and people who care about me not knowing how to react or what to say. I know, the internet already has guides for talking to depressed people and whatnot out there, but I figured I might as well throw another one into the mix.

Now, I am not an authority on sadness, or on talking to sad people. The most I can claim is a whole lot of experience being sad, and experience with people saying helpful things and unhelpful things. However, people are individuals and no one answer will work for everyone. The best I can offer is general guidelines and directions to go when talking to someone you love who is sad. Ultimately, though, your best bet is to ask them what they need, and then believe them.

All that said, the first thing I want to address is a really big no-no; a mistake I see far too often. Never ever try to fix it. I think, when faced with someone who is extremely sad, people get uncomfortable. You may want to help but not know how, so you go into “fix it” mode. This is a Very Bad Idea.

With most of the types of sadness that I know about, there really is no fix. And even if there is a possible path to fixing it, the path is almost certainly long and stressful and fraught with difficulty, and the sad person will have to do most or all of the work themselves. If they are sad due to loss or mean brain chemicals or something, there really is no fixing it. There is only going through it. Trying to fix, while you may be trying to be helpful, can actually just come across as belittling. Don’t do it.

So what can you do instead?

Well, it may seem like a useless, not-helping thing to do, but you can offer comfort, acknowledge their pain and sadness, and be willing to sit with them and love them anyway.

YES. DO THIS. image by the fabulous robot-hugs

I know that when I am sad, these are the things that people can offer that help me the most. These are the things I crave. These are the things that are surprisingly hard to come by because people are too busy either not knowing what to say, or trying to fix that which they cannot fix.

It’s like that Hyperbole and a Half metaphor with the dead fish. People kept (metaphorically) trying to help her find her fish or reassure her that her fish weren’t dead or otherwise try to fix the problem but these were ultimately completely useless things. Just acknowledging the very dead state of the fish, and telling her that you like her anyway was all she wanted, but people were too busy trying to look on the bright side or be cheerful or fix things to do that.

Sometimes a person will be sad because they are dealing with something in their life that is very stressful. I’ve seen people feel guilty for spending time with a friend who is dealing with Stressful Thing, or wish they could help but felt helpless to do so. So I just want to say – if a friend of yours is dealing with a Stressful Thing, time with you can be time off from The Thing. Maybe they’ll want to talk about being sad, or maybe they’ll want distraction and someone cheerful to be around, or maybe something else entirely. I don’t know. The point is, you can be very helpful just by being a friend, even if you aren’t doing anything extraordinary. So if you want to help a sad friend, be willing to do that.

Feeling helpless or useless or uncomfortable when someone you love is sad is fairly normal. It can be hard to deal with. Also normal but BAD – don’t do this – is dumping all those feels onto the sad person that you want to help. Never, ever put the person you should be comforting into a position where they feel the need to comfort you. If you need to talk about your feels in this context, go to your own support network. Or as Susan Silk and Barry Goldman say, comfort in, dump out.

You may have seen this. I love this diagram. Wherever you are in those circles, send comfort IN, do your dumping OUT.

Finally, always take care of yourself. It’s really awesome if you want to be supportive to someone you love, even if they are very sad, and I congratulate your for it most heartily. The world needs more people like you. An important step in this process is making sure you are stable and ok; if you sometimes need to take a step back to breathe and recover, then do so.

If I was going to try to sum this up, I’d say let go of trying to do big gestures, and remember that the small gestures are a lot bigger than you might think.

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Better living through chemicals (initial impressions)

Ok, on Thursday I talked about the impact depression has had on me. Today, I am going to talk a little bit about my attempted journey away from that.

So, as I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, I have quite a history with both depression and anxiety. The earliest concrete memory I have of anxiety is from when I was four or five – my very first experiences with gym class and my refusal to even enter the gymnasium. I was too scared. The earliest I can concretely say I had depression is from when I was eight – when I first started to self injure. Suffice it to say, these have been very long struggles for me, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that they have been with me my whole life.

In my adult life I’ve had people push me towards medications and I always resisted. I had a number of different reasons that I imagine getting into would call for a blog post all it’s own. Suffice it to say, I am a little leery of brain-altering chemicals. I am also leery of people who push brain altering chemicals on others. I still think my reasons were good ones and I intend to continue to respect my decision to try everything I could to manage myself without meds.

However, eventually I reached a point where I realized that I had gone as far as I could on my own, and I really needed help. The depression and anxiety were impacting my life in serious ways and I really could not continue to live like that. So, I finally decided to try a med that would act as both an antidepressant and antianxiety.

I haven’t been on it for long – a little over a month – but I am definitely feeling the effects and it’s kind of amazing.

Part of my depression was The Voice. The Voice was a constant in my life, screaming if it could, whispering if it could not, flinging a constant stream of hate at me. It would latch onto anything it could use to hurt me and would twist events around to insist that everything was my fault. Depression is a jerk, and The Voice was well and truly horrible. However, I had gotten used to it. If I could keep it to a whisper and lock it off into a corner of my brain, I figured I was doing good. When I couldn’t do that well… that sucked. But it happened.

However, lately The Voice has been gone, almost entirely. Once in a while I’ll get a second or two resurgence, a faint whisper of some of the things it used to say, and then it fades away again. I am able to go about my daily life without that Voice constantly telling me how awful I am, and I don’t even know how to describe the difference. My head feels so different. It’s kind of weird, honestly. So quiet. So still. I try not to think about it too much because I have some trouble wrapping my brain around the change. It’s such a relief, though. I actually, physically, feel like a weight that I’ve been dragging around for years has been lifted or taken away. I literally feel lighter on my feet.

The anxiety is dramatically improved as well. Talking to people is no longer a point of terror that requires working up to even ask “what’s your name” or something. I feel it significantly in my horseback riding – an activity that is legitimately nervous-making, but used to cause me intense amounts of anxiety. The past few weeks I still get nervous, but the level of nerves is, as far as I can tell, far more typical of your average person. Something I can easily manage, rather than needing to dedicate enormous resources to controlling. I like this change. I hope it continues.

Sometimes I hear antidepressants referred to derogatorily as “happy pills.” In my case, at least, that would be a serious misnomer. These pills do not make me happy. They do, however, allow me to experience happiness and joy and contentment in a way I never could before. They take away the constant background drag that had been trying it’s hardest to bring me down. They allow me to feel a healthier range of emotions, without the constant struggle that I had grown so accustomed to. I still have sads and I still feel nervous sometimes – but I don’t feel them ALL the time, and I am able to feel them in a cleaner way.

This is an interesting change. It’s a change I like and I’m glad I was able to reach a point where I could try it. I guess we’ll see where I go with it.

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Depression isn’t fair

I’m going to be a little contrary today. When I see people talking about depression, sometimes I see people say things that, while I’m sure they are true for them, are not at all true for me. They sound to me like things people say to feel better about depression, or make depression less threatening. The two basic categories seem to be people saying depression lets them appreciate their happiness more, and people saying that their depression is just the other side of the highs they get – that their extreme lows just means they also get extreme highs.

Neither of those things are true for me. For one, my lows can be very low indeed. When depression hits it can essentially be my brain trying to kill me, and it can be utterly, entirely awful. The highest of my highs, though, do not even come close to matching the extremes of my lows. Also, the highest of my highs are always fairly brief. My lowest of lows can last for months at a time before I get any relief.

Years ago someone introduced me to the concept of a “time horizon” which has been very useful in dealing with my depression. Basically, one’s time horizon is one’s ability to “see” forward or backward in time. When not depressed, a person’s time horizon is usually fairly long. We can remember into the past and reasonably project the future. It shrinks our perception of the now and makes it easy to see that things change over time. Depression tends to shrink our time horizon. This means that whatever we are feeling right now will seem like it’s what we’ve felt forever, and what we will feel forever. Our perception of the right now becomes huge, and not in a healthy way.

End result? The dark clouds of depression loom over me a disproportionate amount of time, while the times of happiness are disproportionately shrunken. I am *always* aware of depression, but not always aware of happiness. That is just not cool.

In addition, I have recently noticed that I do not think of my various times as “happy” and “depressed.” No, I am either “depressed” or “not depressed.” My lifetime of depression has effectively eaten up my life, so that now I define myself by it even when I’m doing ok. And why not? I can always see those dark clouds, whether they are directly overhead or looming on the horizon. Depression’s impact on me never goes away.

I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me to really enjoy happiness when I am always aware that it will go away and things will get bad again. I don’t feel like I appreciate my happiness more, I just feel like my happiness is lessened (or ‘tainted’ if I’m feeling particularly grumpy about it) due to my recurring depression. I cannot give any kind of feel-good sound bite about how depression has added something good to my life. It’s just been a badness, one that I’d much rather simply get rid of.

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Anxiety

If only panic always had a convenient button.

 

Along with being on the autism spectrum, I deal with both depression and anxiety.

I have found that depression mostly feels like a void. Depression comes in different flavors (sads and nothings being the two I hear of most often), but regardless of which flavor I am feeling at the time, it always feels like a void. Like some part of myself has just quietly ceased to exist and now there’s just a sucking void where it used to be, trying to pull the rest of me in.

Anxiety, on the other hand, feels more like an attack. I feel it almost like a presence, lodged somewhere in my chest and causing trouble. When it gets bad I sort of liken it to a giant bird claw, wrapped around or embedded in my chest, squeezing and stabbing and making it so I can’t breathe.

I can’t really objectively rate how bad my anxiety is. I was going to say it’s not that bad, but then I realized that there’s a good chance that anxiety has been a huge barrier in keeping me not-so-terribly functional, in certain socially expected ways. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if I got on proper meds to deal with it. Or, well, I’m sure it would be better. Maybe it’s more that I wonder how much better it could get, and what that would look like. Hard to say, really.

Anyway. One thing about anxiety that I want to talk about is that it does not always look the way people seem to think it should look. I have found that if I talk about panic attacks, people will immediately assume that means screaming and flailing and running mindlessly down the street or something. Of course, I don’t know much about what panic attacks look like in other people so maybe that assumption is often true and I just don’t know it. However, it is really not true for me. I have, on more than one occasion, had a panic attack whilst astride a horse, during a horseback riding lesson.

Now, panicking while on a horse is really not the best thing to be doing. Horses are very sensitive to their riders, and pick up on even a little bit of tension. This isn’t a huge thing on a therapy horse, or even a horse for beginners. Therapy horses are chosen for being very very calm, and really not caring a whole lot if their rider is tense or moving in odd ways.

However, I hardly ever ride therapy horses anymore. I ride horses that are supposed to be very sensitive to what you’re doing, so that they will respond to subtle commands. A panic attack on one of these horses can be maybe not such a good thing. However, I panic quietly. Sufficiently quietly that my riding instructor, who is a special ed teacher, will not know that I’m having a panic attack unless I tell her. The horses I have been on, while certainly knowing that something was up, were always willing to let me take a break without causing trouble.

Because my panic attacks don’t look the way people seem to think panic attacks should.

I have found that people interpret my anxiety in all sorts of interesting ways. It’s fairly well known that shyness can look like snobbiness to people who don’t know what’s going on. What seems to be less known is that anxiety can also look like anger. When I was young, there were occasional incidents where I was very very scared. Not of anything in particular, just of lights or noise or having trouble processing what was happening around me – that sort of thing. Sometimes afterwards, people would tell me that I was angry. I, apparently, looked angry, sounded angry, and acted angry. This was very frustrating for me, because if I tried to explain that no, I’m not angry, I’m scared, the people around me would simply dismiss what I was saying and insist that no, it was anger. Sometimes people assumed that I was lying for some reason, and sometimes people assumed that I must not be self-aware enough to know what I was feeling.

The general assumption was clearly that whatever it looks like I’m feeling must reflect what I am actually feeling. Except that what you see is not always what you get, and what you see on my face does not necessarily reflect what’s going on inside. And anxiety does not necessarily look the way people expect it to.

Do you get anxiety? Does it look like what you’d expect to see on TV?

 

 

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Suicide

trigger warningTrigger warning for obvious reasons. The rest of this is behind the cut. Please read with care.
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I am not weak

This really quite blurry image just so happened to be taken right at a moment when we were taking a stumble. We kept on going anyway.

I originally wrote this several weeks ago when I was having a wibbly day. I’ve been feeling not so good again lately, so I figured it would be a good time to post it.

I’m a little odd.

Sometimes I’m very odd.

I struggle with things that many people find easy.

I have to think my way through things that many people find intuitive.

I have to be analytical in situations where people usually think it’s best to “go with the flow.”

I’m anxious. Very anxious. Often.

Know what I’m not?

I’m not weak.

People sometimes treat me like I’m a fragile little flower. They see the ways I struggle and just assume that I must be delicate – they don’t bother to look any farther. They see how I am weak in ways that they are strong, and assume that must mean I am weak all over. The world may cater to the strengths of neurotypicals, and especially the strengths of extroverts, but that does not mean that my strengths don’t exist. Nor does it mean they don’t matter.

I’m afraid a lot. I’m even afraid of cantering during my horseback riding lessons.

Know what?

I canter anyway.

I’m afraid of talking on the phone. When I need to, I talk on the phone anyway.

I am afraid of being honest about when there are ooky things going on inside my head.

I talk about them anyway.

There are lot of things I’m afraid of or that are overwhelming that I do anyway.

I learn, I grow, I challenge myself, I do things.

Yes, I need things. Things like accommodation, people to meet me part-way, understanding that I am not like most people and I don’t work the way they work.

What I don’t need is pity, or condescending pats on the head, or assumptions that I just can’t handle anything difficult.

Why?

Because I’m strong, that’s why. I’m stronger than I think I am, I’m stronger than many other people think I am, and I am darned well stronger than my fear.

Do you ever feel weak?
In what ways are you strong?

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