Race for the cure

Hello…Okay I know.  I guess my” final farewell” to this blog wasn’t completely final.  I had an itch to write, so here I am.

After a couple years of constant ups and downs I think I finally got things mostly figured out.  I have hashimoto’s disease (thyroiditis) and I deal with depression.  I have the right doctors and the right meds, I feel blessed.

This summer (well it was still summer on Monday when I started this post…) has been the best of my life.  My body is in balance and I feel happy.  I feel on track in every aspect of my life.  It has felt amazing to wake up every morning from a truly good nights sleep and to feel excited to exercise.  “Feeling” and “Good Sleep” are a sign that depression is being managed well.  Most nights have been that good.  Most mornings were that good. Lesson learned:  by being willing to get help, my illness can be VERY manageable.

At the start of the summer I decided to set a goal to run the Bear Lake Brawl triathlon in August.  I signed up and started training.

Sometimes during a morning run I would think back to the last time I raced.  Three years ago, summer of 2008.   I had just signed up for the LOTOJA bike race (bike race from Logan UT to Jackson Hole WY).  Ever since I did my first century ride in 2003, competing in LOTOJA was a dream of mine, LOTOJA was something I REALLY wanted to do.

Earlier that spring 2008, I had started having panic attacks and bouts of depression.  I hadn’t sought out help mostly because I didn’t really understand what was happening to me.   The anxiety was getting worse and was starting to control my life.  I had to quit my job, I was afraid to leave my house, I fought with my husband daily because neither of us knew why I couldn’t just snap out of it.  I felt like a monster, like I was losing my mind.  It felt like my brain wasn’t working right.  I could hardly function, how in the world was I supposed to do a 200 mile bike race when I could hardly get out of bed.  I dreaded the race and wished that I could break my leg or something so I’d have an excuse to get out of it. I was too ashamed to admit that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want others to know how bad I was struggling.  I didn’t want to admit to myself that something serious was going on.

September 8th, 2008, LOTOJA race day, I felt sick.  I was weak mentally and emotionally.  I was overwhelmed and embarrassed about how little I had trained.

I felt discouraged while other riders passed me.  I felt unprepared. Most of all I felt extremely frustrated that my anxiety was controlling my life. As I biked, I kept going over this one thought over and over in my head, I just couldn’t understand what had changed. Why had my brain all of the sudden freaked out?  Why did I feel this constant nagging of despair?

At 8:30pm it got dark and I wasn’t able to even finish.  It felt more like a day of defeat than it did a day of accomplishment.  My dream was ruined and on the way home I cried and cried.   My perspective on life narrowed.  Negative thoughts poured down and drowned out my mind.

LOTOJA 2008)

HOWEVER, I’m happy to say that after LOTOJA I began to gain some understanding into what I was dealing with.  Did that make things better?  Yes.  But it would be 2 1/2 more years of treatment and diagnosis, and hell basically before I would consider racing again.  Here’s the happy part.

Fast forward to this summer.  August 27th, 2011. Bear Lake Brawl triathlon day.  I honestly was so excited.  It was such a different feeling to that of how I felt the day of LOTOJA.   I was super anxious but it was because I knew I could well.  I was happy anxious. I’d been timing myself and knew that there was a chance I could place in at least the top 20.  That was my goal.  I was prepared, I felt on top of the world and the race hadn’t even started.

THREE… TWO…. ONE…. GO!!!!

The whole race I just couldn’t stop smiling.  I felt so good.  I felt full of energy and motivation.  I felt empowered. I felt prepared.  I felt grateful that because I was able to get things figured out, I had the energy to train and be prepared.   I could feel all the systems of my body working together.  I knew my thyroid function and brain function were normal and active.  I don’t really have the right words to explain what that felt like.  To feel my body working.  My mind to be clear.  I felt like I had my old self back again.  I felt like me.  I was doing a triathlon and I was having fun.  I felt confident and like I could do anything.

Near the end of the race I started to cry.  I just couldn’t help it.  It had only been a year before that I had reached my very lowest point ever and now here I was doing a triathlon.  I ended up in 8th place, I accomplished my goal of the top 20.

(Bear Lake Brawl, 2011)

Nobody does a “Race for the cure” for mental illness.  It’s a shame I think, since so many suffer with it.  But this race was my race for the cure.  It was me saying to myself and others out there we can beat this.

To me, “beating” a mental illness is really enjoying the ups and being prepared for the downs.  It means accepting and learning about symptoms and treatment and following through with it.  It isn’t like chemo where you go through treatment and then they take a picture and say oh, we can see the cancer is gone, you’re cured, you’ve beat it!  It’s a thing that has to constantly be managed.  For some, they find a therapist and a medication and they’re good for a few years.  In my case, I’ve had to change things up several times to stay on top of it.  Staying on top of it, for me, this is “beating” it.


 

y I   I s ” l ” o s g t y . I d n h o , o e I r a e s f t s d s I k I y t s y d . I e s e ) d I l h . I e e t s d e t , I l s r l t s l r n y n I d s ) s n e t f y . y y s n e d I l . I l n k n y t f y . t s t g o e p y g m a s p d d o   ” d d ” e a n t n s g d   t s e n t   t s e t . n : y g g o t , y s n e Y t e t f e r I d o t a l o n e r e l n n . I p d d s g a g n I d k k o e t e I . e s , r f .   I d t d p r e A e e e e m n T o n e . r e I d y t y e n , g n A s a m f , A s g I Y d o r t g , I d d g c s d s f . I t t t y e I t y d t s g o   e y s g e d s g o l y . I d o t y , I s d o e y , I t h y d y e r f s w y I t t p t f . I t e a , e I s g y . t t e y n t g . I d y , w n e d s I d o o a 0 e e e n I d y t t f . I d e e d d t I d k y g r g o d e n e o t t f . I s o d o t t I t o . I t t s o w w d I s . I t t o t o f t g s s g r , , A e I t . I s k y d . I s d d d t w e I d I t d e r s d   I t . t f l I t y d t y y s g y . s I , I t g r s e t r d r n y , I t t d t d y d y n l f e n d ? y d I l s t g f t m t t k d I t e o n   t t e e a y f t n t d a y f . y m s d d n e y e I d d . y e n e . e s d n d d t y A , m y o y t r A I n o n e g o t I s g . d t e s ? . t t d e 2 2 e s f t d , d l y e I d r g . s e y t d o s   t , . r e l n   I y s o   t s h a t g o t f w I t e y f .   I s r s t t s e I w I d   I s y . d n g f d w t e s a e I d e n t t e p   t s y   I s , I t n p f e d d e e t n . . . e e e I t t p . I t o . I t l f y d . I t . I t . I t l t e I s e o t s d , I d e y o n d e .   I d l l e s f y y g . I w y d n d n n e l d . I t y e e t s o n t t t . o l y y . y d o e . I t e I d y d f k . I t e . I s g a n d I s g . I t t d e I d o r e d f e e I d o . I t t p . t d y n a r e t I d d y y t t r d w e I s g a . I d p n h , I d y l f e p . r e , y s a e r e ” r l . s a e I , e o y r h . t s e s y e r e . t s e g o f d s t e e n t o , ” a l s s y g e s d g d r e . t s g d g t s d t d g h h . t t e o e u o h t d n y e a e d y , e n e e r s , e , e t ! s a g t s o y e . r , y d a t d a n d e d r a w . n y , e d o e s p l s o y n p f . g n p f , r , s s ” .
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A good place

It’s been a while.  Trust me, that’s a good thing.  I’m in a much better place now.  A safe place.

However, I have been feeling bad about neglecting this blog.

When I started writing nine months ago, things would just flow and come naturally.  It was therapeutic to write and put into words the darkness I was going through.  As I’ve been feeling better day by day, I’ve felt less and less the desire to write.  I’d sit down and realize that I didn’t want to conjure up old memories for the sake of trying to relate to my depressed self anymore.

The last year seems like a dream to me sometimes, nightmare is actually a better word for it.  It feels like another life, a life that I learned so much from but hope I never have to go back to, at least not to the extent that I did.  I understand that this will most likely be a life-long battle, but have the hope that with the help of doctors and family never will it get as bad as it did before.

I thought about trying to move this blog in a more positive direction as I, myself was feeling better,  however, of all the five posts I’ve been working on in the past, oh let me think… 3 months maybe, each one of them felt forced as I wrote them. It just feels like for now I need to give it a rest, I need to stop thinking all the time, ” I need to blog, I should blog tonight”.

I just need to give it a break for now.  It’s my body’s way of coping.  Trying to move on and leave the hurt behind.

I don’t want any readers to feel like I’m sending the message of, “Oh, I’m happy now, so forget trying to relate to someone with depression, I’ve got it all figured out so I’m moving on.”   I hope that if you find yourself grappling with the darkness of depression that you can read back on my posts and find hope and understanding.

As for me, I haven’t left it all behind.  I understand so much more than I used to. I think about my experiences daily.  My compassion for those that struggle with depression and any other emotional instability will remain the same, I will always be there to listen and talk about it.  It isn’t a topic that is easy to bring up.  It isn’t a topic that you can casually mention and hope someone will listen.  Finding that one person that understands is priceless!  It’s so healing!  I can remember each one of the people that was willing to be open about their struggle with me.  Each one of them was an answer to a desperate cry for help!  It was so comforting to know that, oh my gosh, I’m not crazy!  Someone has felt the way I have!

I know it’s not over yet.  I still have to do a lot to maintain where I’m at.  I’m so grateful for the people that have helped me heal.  Mainly, my husband, my doctors and my Heavenly Father.  My husband has (and is) so understanding through all of the ups and downs.  He himself has experienced a great deal of pain because of what I have dealt with.  As I’ve started to come out of this depression, I’ve fallen in love with him all over again.  My heart is so touched every time I think about how he treated me at my worst and how he really did take care of me.  I have been so blessed to have found him! For those that live with a loved one with a mental illness, you are a hero.  You are fighting one of life’s greatest battles.  I know you often feel confused and helpless.  Sometime you feel like there has been so much progress made, only to be sent 20 steps backwards in just a short meltdown.   God has made you an angel on earth to your loved one.

God has been really kind to me.  I have asked why so much.  I have doubted and been angry with him.  I would pray sometimes and just be angry, yet I never felt shunned for that.  In fact, I felt compelled to let it all out and let the Savior take it away.  I didn’t know that at the time, but looking back, I certainly do.  Has my faith been shaken?  Yes, more than it ever has before.  Do I still have faith?  Yes.  I trust God.  I believe in Christ.  I’m still working on understanding pain and suffering.  I have a new understanding of Christ’s teachings to “Mourn with those that mourn”.  I can’t explain how important that principle has become to me.

Even though most of the time you might now feel like you can’t feel God’s love because of the dullness that comes with depression, you can trust that he does because of what you’ve felt in the past.  You can observe it today in children, in nature and any other beautiful thing on earth.

HOLD ON!

YOU ARE LOVED AND YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO GOD AND TO THOSE AROUND YOU.

Be diligent in getting help and the light will come.

It did for me.

“No woman no cry”

My title comes from a Bob Marley favorite of mine.  Ok so I’m a bit of a hippie.

Tonight, my yoga teacher had it on her playlist.  As we went through the different poses, I continued to sing it in my head even as other music was playing.

I drove home, pulled in the driveway, gave my husband a hug for forcing me to go to yoga tonight and then sat down here to look up the meaning of the song.  This was the first answer that came up from my google search.

“he is tellin women not to cry. No women dont cry.”

Umm, okay?  I’ll spare you the other “deep” interpretations and tell you what I got out of it tonight as I tried to balance in tree pose.

Tonight my thoughts drifted through the events of the day, things I need to do tomorrow and things I need to do better.  After going through all of those thoughts my mind began to go a bit deeper.  Tonight as Bob Marley sang “No woman no cry” I just about starting crying.

Why?

Things have been really good lately.  I feel like for the first time in a year I am in a good place, a really really good place.  Our family life has been functional and normal.  My marriage is good, I’m settling into being a mom and I like where we live. I have a great support system.  I have good friends.  I have a wonderful family.   I have an understanding and loving husband.  I have a good team of doctors.  I feel hopeful.  So why the cry?

I wonder sometimes how long it will last.  I think about the possibility of crashing again into a deep depression and I feel extreme anxiety.  I feel like as long as things can stay just the way they are now I’ll be ok.  But take away my medications, therapy and the routine we’ve established and I’m afraid I’ll crumble.

As I listened to Bob Marley calmly hum his song in a peaceful voice, I felt that fear, the one I just mentioned surface in my mind.  I let my mind explore it and asked myself what if?  What if I feel myself start to go down again?  What if things change and we move and I deal with post-partum every time we have a baby?

Well….

No woman no cry.  I don’t need to cry.  If the worst case senario happens I’ve got people in my corner to back me up.  I’ve got doctors that know what they’re doing and I can call them up anytime.  I’m open with my friends and family about my struggles and don’t feel embarrassed going to them.  My husband is on my side and stuck it out with me when I was at my worst.  I have faith in God in directing me to the best possible resources that there are.

I reached the bottom and I came back up.  The most important part is that it humbled me enough to realize that having faith to get over this meant finding the angels on earth that could be God’s hands in helping me battle my depression.  It didn’t mean having an attitude change or praying fervent enough and serving enough that my depression would be healed.  It meant asking in faith for direction, recognizing my depression as a disease, just like any other disease and realizing that just like cancer, I needed the help of others to get better.  People with cancer don’t say a prayer of “bless it to go away”.  They pray for help to find the best treatments and that the chemo will work properly.  Establishing a good support system has been vital in reducing the fear of the ups and downs of depression.  Knowing that I won’t have to go through it again feeling completely isolated and misunderstood is SO reassuring.

There’s hope.  I’m going to bed and I don’t feel like crying.  I feel like as Bob Marley says “everything’s going to be alright”.

What can I say, I’m human!

If I had to pick my least favorite chores they would be:  Dusting, folding laundry, and picking up random pieces of food off the floor.  It’s funny looking back through past posts and seeing how inspiration came when I was doing the chores I like the least.  hmmm I wonder why?   It’s a way of meditating I guess?  I don’t really know.  I started this post in my head as I tried to pick dried cheese off of the rug.

It requires a lot of patience to take care of a home.  I find it particularly frustrating to finish cleaning everything up; dishes, laundry, garbage, high chair, toys, knowing that in t minus 8 hours it will be all undone and I’ll have to do it all over again.  The same thing over and over again.  Dealing with depression or not dealing with depression, this can be a depressing thought.  It can seem so mundane can’t it?  And the weather certainly isn’t helping at all is it!  Ok so you’re probably thinking, STOP whining already!  Well if you’re looking for some landmark positive statement this won’t be it.

I didn’t do so well today.  On a scale from 1-10 on being proactive about treating depression, I’d give myself a 1.2.   I went to bed super late last night, woke up tired, didn’t get ready for the day, and ate crappy all day long.  Ya remember my goolosh smoothie idea from my last post?  Scrap that today.  I ate lots of hershey’s hard shell easter chocolate eggs, a snickers, and some other junk.  I just felt like sleeping all day.  It seems I’m in a bit of a slump.  So why am I writing today?  To let you know that it’s ok to have down days!  You can have a day where you’re lazy and grumpy and off once in a while.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

I remember one time in therapy telling my therapist how frustrated I was with myself.  I had felt like I was right on track for a month.  However, just few days prior to coming to therapy, I woke up and just couldn’t get out of bed.  I just laid there and cried and cried and just wanted to sleep and cry. ” I’ve taken 10 steps backwards!” I said.  “I can’t believe I let myself do that, I mean I had been doing so good!” I started to cry.  My therapist then said,”So what you’re saying is that unless you are productive and happy everyday you’re not on track?  That’s just not realistic.  Depression or not we all should allow ourselves at least 2-3 days a month to be off the hook.  It’s just as important to be un-productive as it is productive and allow yourself those times.  Nobody can or should expect 100% productivity everyday”.  At first I resisted the idea.  Why can’t I?  Why can’t I have the high expectation of being 100% productive 100% of the time?

Well here I am tonight writing and I’ve decided that my therapist was right.  Accepting that it’s ok to have 2-3 (or whatever # feels right for you for your situation) off days can make dealing with the off days a lot easier.  Why?  Well for example after a day like today I can go to sleep and say, “that’s ok, I’m allowed a down day, I do a great job most days and I’m normal.  This is normal”.  And I actually feel that that statement is true!  Before I thought that a statement like that might just be a way to encourage more off days.  But right now I don’t feel that way.  I feel calm.  I’m not freaking out at myself for being negative and unproductive today.  Saying that helps me realize that it really is ok.

Please don’t misunderstand this as saying that you can just lay in bed everyday and try and convince yourself that you need it.  That really doesn’t help, I’ve tried that before.  You decide what is best for you and what you feel is honestly going to help you.   I know that “allowing” myself a couple of down days has made them a bit easier to deal with in a way, maybe because I’m not beating myself up inside all daywhen they come?  I’m not sure, but I think that’s partly why.

Now I’m not just saying this to reassure myself (although this post may seem like that) but I really do feel that tomorrow will be better.  There you go, a positive statement.  I’m human what can I say 🙂

Goolosh smoothie

 

I’ve been around the block a time or two.  Okay really?  Not like that.

In regards to my eating habits.  Remember the 90’s?  The days of “as long as it’s fat free” you should be golden?  Not so I found out.  Eating loads of carbs that are “fat free” yet loaded with sugar is definitely not the way to go.  I couldn’t figure out why the heck I couldn’t loose any weight?  I was eating all fat free?  I remember I would grab a low-fat bagel and a fat free yogurt everyday from the ala cart line at school.  That was it.  Oh man…

My dad would always harp on us about eating healthy.  He’d come home from work to find us snacking on a box of twinkies and ho-ho’s.  He would pick up the box and read to us all of the ingredients.  “You see this?  Partially hydrogenated oil?  That’s one of the worst things for you.”  He would get so bugged.  All we would hear is blah blah blah. How could it be bad for us when it tasted so good?  They had added 6 essential vitamins and minerals!  It said so on the box!

It finally hit me in my first nutrition class in college.  I remember thinking this is what healthy eating is! I realized my Dad was right.  Twinkies and ho-ho’s will kill you off if you eat them everyday.  Why didn’t I see this before?

I’ll tell you why.  Largely because of what all of us are fed by the media.  As kids, we watch commercials that tell us that “Trix are for kids!”.  Then as teens all of our friend’s think Wendy’s is the place to be.  Once we’re adults we’re fed the message of “You don’t have time to eat!  Grab an energy shake and you’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you need for the day!”  It can be very confusing.

After my realization of  what “true healthiness” was I went a little crazy.  I spent a whole year buying only very expensive organic food, eating strictly vegetarian and dumping flax seed into everything.  I got burned out, it was too extreme for me.

As I said I’ve been around the block.  I went from carb-crazy in high school to strictly vegetarian then my third year in college, I felt like I had found my balance.  I found what worked for me and I was proud of my eating habits.  I bought a few organic things here and there but my diet consisted mainly of fruits and vegetables.  I was proud of my knowledge and felt good about treating my body so well.  I identified myself as a “healthy person” and loved the fact that that was a large part of who I was.

Fast forward.  When anxiety and depression came into the picture a couple years ago I lost my appetite completely.  I had buying healthy food down to a science.  I knew what power foods were, I knew a bunch of healthy recipes and my fridge was always full of fruits and vegetables.  I know healthy I thought.  The only problem is that I didn’t much if any of  it.  I would nibble here and there on a carrot or an apple, but it was so hard to do.  Slowly I lost my balance and didn’t even realize it.

You see, not only have I been around the block with my eating habits, but with treating my depression as well.  I’ve tried just therapy, no medication.   I’ve tried just medication.  I tried just eating healthy and exercising, no therapy and no medication and it worked… for a while.  I felt like I had conquered it, I felt like that was the answer.  I could control it.

Then I had a baby.  I got so tied up in taking care of a screaming baby that I fell into thinking “I just don’t have time to eat, I just don’t have time”.  It wasn’t a priority for me anymore.  However when my therapist asked me about my eating habits.  I was confident in telling her that I was doing great!  I didn’t drink soda, I drank lots of water and I told her about my weekly shopping list.  She was impressed.  I’ve got that part under control I thought.  But truth was I didn’t.

Here I am now and I’m happy to say that I’m getting on track.  I owe a lot to my aunt.  We went and stayed with her last month.  She knows healthy and being around her made me realize that I didn’t anymore.  How long had it been that I had a healthy breakfast?  How long had it been since I’d even eaten breakfast?  She makes eating a priority.  After eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with her for a couple days I realized that I had lost that part of me and I wanted it back.

In dealing with post-partum I know that the best option for me at this point is to use therapy and medication.  Do I want to rely on that forever?  If I can help it, no.  Taking medication is actually one of the hardest things for me to swallow.  I still struggle on a daily basis to come to terms with it.  For now, it’s working and it’s improved the quality of my life significantly.  I’m grateful for it.  Do I wish that eating healthy and exercising was a cure-all for me like it is for some people?  Yes!  I’ve tried it and it didn’t work for me.  I had to humbly accept that maybe I needed to be open to other things.  That maybe I needed more help, that maybe I couldn’t manage it on my own.

But I also believe that eating healthy is something you should always make a priority.  ESPECIALLY if you’re dealing with any sort of illness!  Like I said, I’m not saying it’s a cure all.  I don’t believe that.  However I also know that completely relying on medication and doctors isn’t the best way to treat depression  either.  Coupling them together with exercise has made a HUGE difference for me.  Am I turning into a fin-attic again?  Have I gone completely organic?  No.  But slowly but surely I am making small improvements that are making a huge difference in the way I feel.

I usually start my day out with what I call a “goolosh smoothie”.  Prepare yourself this is going to sound a little weird but trust me, it’s good.  My aunt showed me this.  First put a half cup or so of milk in a blender.  Next shred up some kale, chard or spinach, or all three if you’re up to it.  Next put in a handful of frozen blueberries, strawberries or raspberries.  Throw half a banana and some yogurt and turn er on!  You can also add a bit of honey if you’d like.  I LOVE THIS!  Why?  Because you get five fruits and veggies at once!  Bam!  Two minutes (I timed it this morning) and you’ve started your day off right.  It’s my new favorite thing.  I promise, you can’t hardly taste any of the veggies.  Don’t get me wrong I love veggies but chard and kale are not something I particularly enjoy by themselves.

I’m still working on being more healthy throughout the day.  Slowly but surely right?

It feels so good to say that being healthy is something that is becoming part of who I am again.

Prove it

“We women have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives.  We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us.  We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove something.  We have to learn to be content with what we are.”

-Marjorie Hinkley

Tonight I finished up my day on my hands and knees wiping up my kitchen floor with a clorox wipe.  Kind of a sissy way of cleaning up but I was too tired and unmotivated to really clean it.  Afterwards I made my way upstairs to clean up the tub water my son had dumped out during his bath.  I got down on my hands and knees again and cleaned up the floor, picked up the toys, hung up the bath towels and picked up a couple of diapers to be thrown away on my way out of the bathroom.  To not drag this out, I counted four different times that I was on my hands and knees crawling, wiping, picking up, folding.  I finally stopped to look in the mirror.  Wow.  My hair looked greasy, I had what looked like three new zits forming, my breath stunk and I in general stunk.  “I’m sure my husband will be so excited to be with me when he gets home”…what a humble place to be.

I never pictured this stage of my life like this.  I remember as a child watching my mom and thinking, “Man, is she lucky, she gets to stay home ALL DAY LONG!  What does she do all day?  I cannot wait till I get to do that.”  One particular time I remember asking her to take me to a friend’s house after school and she said she couldn’t because she “had a million things to do”.  Really?  Really?  I thought.  How could that be true.  “Like what mom?”.  Oh did she get mad.  “One day Sarah, you just wait, one day”.  I had no idea.

That’s what brings me to now.  Here I am, a stay at home mom.  A mother, a wife.  And I now get it mom.  This has been a very difficult transition for me!  I don’t know if it’s because I was so socially involved before becoming a mom or what, but being at home full time has been rough.  I love it one minute and then something happens I get frustrated.  My son poops in the tub and I get super frustrated and not to mention sick too!  I get it all cleaned up and feel good about things again.  I read him a story and I’m in heaven.  Then he screams for an hour because he’s tired, yet doesn’t want to sleep and I’m frustrated again.  I sneak in a quick shower and rush around the house during his nap and trying to get a couple things done feeling rushed and stressed.  Up and down.  Up and down.  All day long up and down.  I’ve definitely gotten better at handling the ups and downs as my son’s gotten older, but on days like today I just don’t feel too excited about going through it all over again tomorrow.  The routine.

I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’m not really sure if it’s “woman thing” or a “just the way my parents were” thing, or “just the way I am” sorta thing, but I’ve always sought validation from sources outside of myself.  I think maybe it’s a little of all of three “my parents, woman in general, and just the way I am” thing.  Growing up I always felt that in order to be worthwhile I had to BE something.  I had to be busy and super involved in everything.  I wasn’t enough just me by myself.  I had to earn my keep.  In high school I worked like crazy to get good grades and special recognition.  I eventually became student body president of my high school.  Ironically, I think had the votes been determined on self-confidence and healthy self-image there is no way I would have had a chance.  I don’t want to totally discount myself however, I was and am a very social person so being in leadership definitely was my niche, but it would be foolish for me not to recognize that eventually I relied on it to feel like I was worth something.  I know now that having some validation is important.  It’s just about finding a healthy balance.

It’s taken a lot of self-introspection and experience (namely depression) to really help me see that I’m important because of who I am, not because of what I do.  When you given an experience that sends you hitting rock bottom, all you have left is yourself.  Depression prevented me from running at the pace I was used to.  I had little motivation to do anything.  I was so easily overwhelmed.  I couldn’t hide behind a busy schedule or a list of titles.  All I had was me.  That was a tough realization for me.  But I’m so glad that it happened, because now I feel like I’m really getting in touch with me, just me, not the titles or the lists of things I do, but just me.  I’m learning what I like and what I want to change.

What defines me the most right now is my family.  My husband and son are the most important things to me.  They are my family, they are my life.  When I say that I realize that most of what I do is about them.  That’s pretty cool.  However, there’s been many times where I open up to my husband and tell him that I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job.  I didn’t clean up, the laundry isn’t done, I look like crap, I’m not very good at this I tell him.  You don’t have to be perfect he says.  Well I know that I say.  I’m not trying to be perfect I say.  But wait, is that true?  When I take a step back I’m realizing that maybe my expectations of myself are a little high.

As a mom I’m trying to find balance.  Balance between being a good mom and devoting myself to my family and still keeping my identity.  I ask myself, why am I doing this?  Is it because I don’t feel good enough about myself that I need something to make me feel important?  Or am I doing it because I’m genuinely interested in it, I have a passion for it, the opportunity presents itself and I’m taking it!  Classic example.  I have a lot of friends that have chosen to be stay at home moms that also have a little side jobs.  Whether it’s going back to school, doing online classes, photography, etsy shops, make-up, decorating, hair, sewing and selling, the list goes on and on.  Whenever I hear about a new “side thing” one of my friends is doing, I get all insecure.  What’s my “side thing”?  I’m JUST a mom I begin to think.  It makes me want to rush out and start doing a little something extra so when people ask me what I’m doing I’ll have more to say than “I’m at home with my son”.

This is the part I’m working on.  The problem isn’t having “side things” as a mom.  The problem is why am I doing them?  Why do I want to do them?  Is it to make me feel important?  Do I need it to feel good about myself?  Am I embarrassed of the path I’ve chosen to stay at home?  Do I feel like what I’m doing is important?  There’s lots to ask myself.  I’m learning that having “side things” is vital as a mom.  You need to feel passionate about something.  Otherwise the daily routine will take over and you’ll soon become frustrated. But stop and ask yourself why you want to do something before you get into it.  The honest truth is if we’re always seeking something to fill our self-confidence cup we will always be hungry for something, it will always be a temporary fix.   I know that I’m still in the process.  I’m working on feeling good about myself.  Of not being afraid to give myself praise for the little things I do daily that nobody sees.  Of being confident in saying “Yes, I’m a stay at home mom” and not feeling like I need to add anything else on to the end of that statement.  Of finding and keeping little hobbies I’m passionate about that help me discover more about myself and feel excited about life yet at the same time not using them to define my worth.

People

I‘ve appreciated getting e-mails and facebook messages from readers, thank you.  It’s taken a lot of courage to be so open about my struggles.  The response has been for the most part VERY positive.   I’m glad that there are people learning from my experiences and advice.  That’s the whole reason I started this here blog. So with that said…

People.  Whether they’re our spouses, children, co-workers, brothers, sisters, mom, dad, neighbors, friends, cousins, roommates, hairdressers, bosses.  These are the people we joke around with, hang out with, go to dinner with, work with, gossip on the phone with and live with.  These are the people that shape us and make us who we are.

Recently I was e-mailed by two readers of this blog a similar and very specific question regarding people.  It was something to the effect of the following:

“I’m confused.  In my darkest hour of depression I reached out to the people that I consider to be closest to me and surprisingly I felt little support from them.  I felt like they minimized my depression as something that I could change on my own.  They say that they want to be there for me and are willing to do anything to help me, yet I feel like they deny the reality of how difficult depression is and leave me feeling empty, how can I make them understand?”

I also have asked myself this same question and I’m still working on figuring it out.

The feelings I had in my most serious bouts of depression were literally so painful that I felt like somebody had died, that I had cancer, that my husband had lost his job and that everything in my life had been completely destroyed.  Completely hopeless.  I like what this columnist has to say about it:

I have dealt with unipolar depression and I take medication daily to treat it. Over the past seven years, I’ve had two episodes that were severe… I did not eat much and lost weight during these episodes. I couldn’t sleep at all…and had constant diarrhea. It was also accompanied by a constant, thrumming pain that I felt through my whole body. I describe the physical symptoms because it helps to understand that real depression isn’t just a “mood.” These two episodes were the most difficult experiences of my life, by a wide margin, and I did not know if I would make it through them. To illustrate how horrible it was, being in jail in a wheelchair with four broken limbs after the car accident that prompted me to get sober eight years ago was much, much easier and less painful. That isn’t an exxageration and I hope it helps people understand clinical depression better; I’m saying that I would rather be in jail in a wheelchair with a body that doesn’t work than experience a severe episode of depression. (Robert Delaney ” On Depression And Getting Help” Feb, 26 2010)


Sounds terrible doesn’t it?  It is.  When we’re faced with things like this, we reach out to those we trust most.   We go to them having high hopes and expectations that in pouring out our hearts to the people that we love that we’ll feel strengthened, supported and most importantly in my book: Understood.

If you’re a religious person you might turn to God when nobody understands you.  This has been key in helping me deal with depression, God can help fix problems no matter how complicated, no matter how deep and dark.  However, it’s also my personal belief that most times God answers our pleas for help with people.

WE NEED PEOPLE.

Here’s three things that I’ve learned in this past year:

#1.   Depression is real, that’s a fact.  It is a very debilitating and frightening battle and you need       support of others to get through it.
#2.   You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) try to prove how difficult it is to people who don’t understand .
#3.   Because of the nature of depression, people need people that can validate them and make them feel understood.

You don’t have to prove it to everyone you know.

You can’t make it your mission statement  in life to make all people in your life understand depression.  Don’t get me wrong, that can seem all backwards.  You want people to understand.  You want those closest to you to fill your needs and validate your struggles.  It’s painful opening up to a loved one and then be left feeling empty and completely misunderstood.  It may leave you confused and asking yourself, “Maybe I am just making this up, maybe it isn’t as big of a deal as I feel it is”.  I’ve felt that.  But there couldn’t be anything further from the truth, it is VERY real and VERY hard.  Some people are just scared.  Some people just don’t want to understand it and maybe never will want to.  And many just don’t understand.  It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they’re scared it’s just that they don’t.

You’ll get some people who try and give you advice on how to fix it.  Things like, “Well just be positive and have faith and things will work out”, ouch.  Which can feel a lot like, “Your problem is simple and doesn’t really measure up to the “harder” problems  in life that people go through, so just put a smile on your face, set some goals, say your prayers and get going!”

I can’t think of a more un-motivating statement for a person struggling with clinical depression.  There are many more reasons why some people act like it isn’t a big deal.  My advice?  Work on not holding it against them. Know in your heart that this person still loves you and if they really understood what you were going through they would be there for you.  It’s hard not to become bitter and distance yourself when someone you love reacts in a way that hurts you.  Suddenly you start questioning your relationship.  Your automatic response is, man, I thought he/she would for sure be there for me!  Now when I need them most, they just don’t understand me or my situation.  What good is our relationship then if they can’t help me now?

However, just as it would be foolishness, when you are thirsting to death, to go to an empty well, crank as hard as you can just to get nothing out, and then return the next day to the same thing.  It would not be wise to keep opening up to people that don’t understand it.  It’s too harmful to you.  Like I said before, don’t assume these types of reactions mean people don’t care about you or what you’re going through, but they don’t know how to handle it and they just don’t understand.  BUT, you need people who can validate you and understand you when it comes to a problem like this.

Identify people in your life that can support you or go find people that can

I used to think that in order to maintain a close and healthy relationship with people you had to know EVERYTHING about each other.  You share every detail all the time.  Well sometimes it’s healthier not to, ESPECIALLY when it comes to depression.

This is what I’m working on understanding:

Identify the strengths of the people you rely on the most, and turn to them for the things they are best at.  Some are listeners, some understand things really well, some are open-minded.  Focus on their strengths and don’t hold their weaknesses against them (E.G. not understanding why you are feeling the things you are feeling right now).  My advice, don’t cut yourself off from the people in your support system that don’t seem to understand what depression is like.   You love these people and they love you.  They can be a gold mine of laughter or a diamond cave uplifting your thoughts when it comes to other aspects of your relationship.

HOWEVER, like I said before, it may be the case that when it comes to depression they don’t really know how to help so don’t keep going back expecting them to understand.  It will probably end up being a frustrating experience for both of you.

Well here we are back to the question of what if I keep hitting dead ends?  What if I’ve gone to every person I consider close to me and still feel misunderstood?  Then my friend, you’ve got to reach out.  It’s not easy, it wasn’t easy for me, but having people in my life that truly understood and validated what I was going through made all the difference.  So who might some of these people be you might ask?   It’s been my experience that counseling with a professional is a REALLY good idea and a really important person to include in your support system.   They do a fantastic job of making you feel understood.  Like what you’re facing is real.  The best part isn’t that they just listen, they give you more understanding and skills in facing it effectively.  It took me a couple different therapists to find the right fit for me, but I finally did and she’s taught me so much and brought so much peace and understanding into my life.  It’s not scary, I promise.  After you go you’ll wonder why you didn’t go sooner.  Give it a chance, I’m SO grateful I did.  I’m a huge fan.

One drawback to therapy is that it can be a little expensive.  NAMI, The National Alliance for Mental Illness is a wonderful resource that offers community classes and group therapy in many if not most communities.  Best part, it’s free.  Go to this link to find out more.  Someone else that might be helpful would be a clergyman that you trust, not necessarily for counseling per say, but he’ll likely know of some good resources and will be able to point you in the right direction.

There are people that can understand you if you don’t already have them in your life right now.  I know it!  I went for a couple years feeling so separated from everyone else.  It can be very destructive to you and to the people in your life.  Be good to yourself, you’re doing the best that you can.  Come to terms with where you are and what you’re facing and humbly accept that you need help.  You’ll be so thankful that you did.  Be mindful of who you talk to about the things you’re experiencing with depression and remember that the people that don’t understand it love you very much.  Appreciate what they offer and don’t cut them out of your life.  I know at times depression can take over your world.  I’ve had times where I’ve had an insatiable need for feeling understood with my depression and when people didn’t get it I felt frustrated with them and very disappointed. Then the time came when things got a little easier, when the depression lightened and I felt sad that I held it against them.

Love those currently in your life for all the wonderful qualities they possess.  You need them and they need you. If you don’t currently have someone that understands what depression is like, reach out and make a new friend or find a professional that can help lighten the load of depression and go to them for comfort.

Two of my favorite quotes to end on.

“Old friends is always best, lest you catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of”-author unknown

“The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” -Dinah Craik

The Best Job


Recently a friend wrote me and asked about postpartum depression. She’s expecting her first baby and as a reader of this blog, knew of my experience with depression. She politely asked me if I would share with her my experience specifically with postpartum.  She opened up about not knowing who to talk to about all of it, that her family didn’t quite understand how to help, and she didn’t feel like her friends would be able to much either.  I’d been feeling for some time that I needed to share a bit of what I went through with postpartum, but I wanted to wait till I felt like the right time to share, well I want to say thanks to my friend for giving me the go ahead on this post.

You want to know the truth?


I was about two months into motherhood and I felt like something was terribly wrong with me. Every time I heard or read something to the effect of …”Being a mom is the best job in the world”, “I love being a mom”, “I just love to hold my baby and be at home with him/her all day long”… this frustrated me.  I was confused because I didn’t feel that way at all.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion and judge me as a cold-hearted ingrate for not appreciating the privilege it is to be a mother… please let me explain.

I remember when we found out I was expecting Logan. We were both incredibly in awe and happy.  I felt real joy knowing that I was, for lack of a better word, fertile.  I was amazed and almost shocked that there was a real LIVE person inside of  me.  I almost couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  I felt so privileged to be carrying a baby, it amazed me that I was actually going to be a mom. It amazed me that I, ME was actually in the “mom” phase of life.  For the first time it hit me, wow we can actually GROW humans, crazy!  Ok, so maybe for some of you it isn’t that mind boggling, but it was for me.

It took ME being pregnant to realize what a miracle it is that we can actually create human life.

Pregnancy proved to be challenging for me. Morning sickness wreaked havoc on my body for about five months. I think that’s when post-partum depression started for me.  Ya weird, I didn’t know until then that you could get “post” partum depression before you actually have your baby, but I did.  I was miserable.  I wasn’t productive.  I couldn’t cook or eat much and felt like such a drag to my husband.  I tried to read but it made me sick.  I tried little hobbies and crafts but mostly just felt like sleeping.  It was really rough physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I felt worthless.  I had specific goals before getting pregnant to eat only the healthiest of foods and exercise hardcore daily, but ended up relying on top ramen and soltaire to get me through.  I felt like a failure because I couldn’t be the best pregnant woman that I had imagined myself being.  Truth was, I was one sick girl and I did the best I could.

 

Towards the third trimester things started looking up.   I could eat.  I could go do things with my husband.  I could walk into a grocery store and not throw up because of all the weird smells. I was feeling great emotionally and physically.  I felt better about myself and my confidence in myself and the future improved.
About three weeks before being full term, I remember there laying in bed with overwhelming anxiousness and fear about being a mom.  I was feeling depression and anxiety start to creep  their way back in.  I got up and decided to take a shower hoping to be reassured by the warmth and wash away the coldness and confusion. I sobbed and sobbed there for a while.  I knew I needed to talk to my doctor.



My doctor talked to me about starting therapy again and maybe trying an anti-depressant.  I agreed.  I frantically started trying to get things in order, but therapists have long waiting lists and anti-depressants take a few weeks to really get in your system and take effect.


When my son was born I wasn’t prepared emotionally for the positive or the negative.  I felt what people had described to me as, “An instant and overwhelming love” as I held him for the first time.  Yet again, Ryan and I were both amazed that all over the world every single day hundreds of babies are born, because to us this felt like the grandest and most personal miracle either of us had ever experienced.  I was so filled with love for my son and my husband. I felt the depression that had found it’s way back in a few weeks prior, literally wash away.  I was elated and felt safe again.
The first month was a whirlwind.  I think I was just running off of adrenalin.  I felt great actually.  Was I overwhlemed?  Yes.  Was I depressed?  Not yet.  In fact about a month into parenthood my husband looked at me and said, “Wow you’re doing great!  Maybe we’re going to be alright, I think postpartum would have hit by now?”  Ya maybe you’re right I thought, inside though I wasn’t really sure.  First of all  my son was a REALLY colicky baby.  He cried NON-STOP for the first 5 months of his life.  And because we had just moved down into our neighborhood less than 6 months prior to him being born I didn’t feel comfortable asking for help. People offered, they were very kind.  But I was paranoid, I felt like I HAD TO DO IT.  I was the mom and I had to be strong, my son needed me.

After two months of no sleep and constantly listening to crying all day, I started to lose it.  I became severely anxious to the point that I couldn’t even sleep even if my son was sleeping.  I had to watch him to make sure he didn’t stop breathing.  I had to check on him every few minutes in the night and readjust his blankets so he didn’t die of sids.

It was like being hit by a huge wave in the ocean.  Has that ever happened to you?  I remember being amazed at the force of the wave as it pushed me down under and smacked me down to the sandy bottom. I  felt disoriented by the swirling of the water and the salt in my nose and mouth and before I knew it, WHAM another knocked me back down to the bottom and came up gasping for air.   WHAM!  Again and again.  This is what it was like.  Here I was as a new mom trying and wanting so much to enjoy this special time.  But I was drowning.  I’m not a stranger to depression, so I knew what it was when it hit.  But I had never EVER experienced it to the degree that I experienced after having a baby.  There was so much going on.  I had other health problems as well.  I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease which partially explained some of my emotional state.  I had a very difficult baby.  Some of it makes sense in a way.  But the specifics of why and how I don’t know, all I know was that it was really bad.  I was plagued with guilt by one thought.  I HATED being a mom.  I loved my son, but I hated my role as a mother.  I wanted so badly to like it.  I had always wanted to be a mother, I never wanted a career, all I wanted was to be at home with my children.  Yet I found myself with a dark dark cloud over my mind and heart that left me feeling desperate for something, anything but being at home. It ripped me apart to talk to other new moms that were loving it and were confused when I opened up a little bit about the horror I was experiencing.  What was wrong with me?  Was it just because I was some selfish weirdo that I couldn’t be happy?  Why couldn’t I just be happy?  It just didn’t make sense.


It started to take a tole on our marriage.  I would call my husband and sob and tell him that I hated my life and I hated that I hated it.  He would reassure me that I didn’t need to feel guilty, he knew it was hard.  More than once he came home from work to help me, telling his boss that I was sick. And I really was just that, sick.   It was so hard for him.  Here I was drowning in this dark sea of depression and sometimes he just got frustrated with it all.  That was one of the hardest parts, feeling so much pain and emptiness that I just couldn’t explain, that he couldn’t feel.  On the outside, we were a happy newlywed couple experiencing the joys of being parents for the first time.  We had a beautiful, healthy son.  We had really good days, but the bad days were really bad.  I don’t think anybody really knows how much we suffered, it was hell.


A few months passed and I was still on a waiting list for a therapist and a psychiatrist who could prescribe an anti-depressant.  My endocrinologist reassured me that once my thyroid was in order, my depression should clear up.  It didn’t.  I waited for four months for my thyroid meds to do the trick, instead I just kept getting worse and worse.  I don’t want to and can’t blame anyone for it.  Not doctors, not waiting lists, not God, not my son, not my husband, nobody.  What happened, happened.  I got lost through the cracks and spiraled out of control, and 6 months into motherhood I had a nervous breakdown.


For personal reasons I don’t want to get into all the details.  Maybe someday but not now.  It was really bad, you can trust me on that one.  I had really hit rock bottom like I never thought I could.  I was angry with God.  I had been a really good kid growing up.  I was nice.  I tried really hard to do what was right and to help others. I chose being a mother over pursuing a career.  I was accomplished and well-liked.  “Optimistic” is what most people described me as. How could this have happened?  I wanted to and was trying to be a great mom, It blew my mind.


But I guess the old adage is, “The good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only place to go is up”.  And I did start going up.  I did get the help I needed.  I have people that have helped me get things back on track.  The puzzle isn’t completely solved, but I’ll take 50% over negative -100% any day.  I’m really grateful to be where I’m at.  I can see a light in the distance.  There’s a lighthouse in my sea of darkness, I’m not out of the sea yet, and I don’t know how long that will take to be free, but light is a powerful thing.  Even if it’s a little pinprick, it can reach through the darkness.  Sometimes I get all motivated and try to rush my progess.  I try to run to the light.  I’m reminded that it’s like I’m pulling a semi-truck behind me, and so while I’m moving towards the light and making progress daily, I have to be patient with myself and congratulate myself for even the smallest improvements.  If you’re pulling a semi-truck you’re only going to be able to go a centimeter at a time.  Other people run past you to accomplish their goals and sometimes you get frustrated with yourself, how come I can’t go faster?  Just remember you’re pulling a semi-truck that no one else can see, what matters is that you focus on the light, no matter how dim it may be and keep moving towards the light.  God will help you, he’s making all the difference for me.  It’s my belief that God helps those that have depression through therapists, psychiatrists and other professionals.
My advice?  Don’t feel embarrassed to utilize them. I’ve heard countless people say they wish they had gone to therapy sooner instead of waiting till they were really off.  If you’ve dealt depression in the past, then there’s a high chance that you’ll also deal with postpartum. However, there’s also those that never experience depression until they become mothers.  Whatever the case, try to get your cards in line the best you can BEFORE.  That meaning, talk to your OB about it.  Express your concerns.   Ask what medications that are safest to use and get recommendations of a good therapist.   Be proactive in finding a therapist that you LIKE before your baby is born (get on the phone, call them, talk to them a bit and see if they’re a good fit for you). Make appointments and get on waiting lists before your due date, because once the baby comes there won’t be any “you” time for the first couple months.  I’m not saying worry about it, just be prepared. You may be one of the lucky ones that escapes it, but don’t wait till it’s bad before you seek help.  If you’re not sleeping when your baby is sleeping through the night, if you’re crying A LOT weeks after your baby is born and you worry incessantly about your baby dying, it’s past time to get help.


It wasn’t just until about a month ago that it happened.  I was chasing my son up the stairs, he was laughing and trying to go as fast as he could, struggling because his pants were too long, it was really funny.  The thought, “I love being a mom” came effortlessly.  Oh my gosh I thought. I wanted to cry.  wow.  People weren’t lying about the joy they felt being a mother.  I’m thankful that I can honestly say that I’m beginning to truly feel that way about it.  I’m not saying that the depression ended and  that I don’t still struggle, I do, yes that’s for sure.  Daily actually. BUT, there’s hope and love in my heart that wasn’t there before.  Our marriage was put through the fire and we felt so punished, we felt so weak as a couple.  However, our experience forged us together.  We literally are one.  The depth of our relationship is deeper and truer.  When we say, “I love you,” we really mean I love you unconditionally.  It’s a beautiful thing.  I’m beginning to see the beauty and grandeur of God’s plan, families.  Families bring joy.  Our son brings us joy.  We’re better because of what we went through.  We’re still going through it I guess, but the load has been lightened significantly.


A blogger that went through something like I did, sums up perfectly why there’s hope for postpartum sufferers.
“I will always remember how hard it was the first time, and I will always sympathize with women who struggle they way that I did. But now I feel like I can understand the others who beamed when talking about life with an infant. I get it now. Yes, I know this makes me some droning mommyblogger, but I also hope that this, from the perspective of someone who has lived through the blinding demons of sadness and hopelessness, might give someone out there a glimpse of what it can be, and maybe they’ll go for it.”


And you most definitely should.





 

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Hell And Back



(Hey reader, this is Sarah… so I found this column online and just HAD to share it.  Having been a skeptic of depression myself, I totally related to this guy and his experience of denial, darkness, eventual accepting that he had a “disease” and then realizing that he couldn’t handle it by himself anymore.  He totally gets it!  I love how he describes so eloquently what it’s really like but at the end sums what it’s like to “get back” again which is what I really like about it, let me know what you think!  One more thing I want to stress what he also stresses, that if you are dealing with anything like this, GET HELP!  Don’t wait till you’re super bad off like he was, do it for yourself and your loved ones today!  You may not choose the same route of treatment as he did, but for your sake do SOMETHING!)
A chronicler of the storm is crushed by its sorrows. A skeptic on depression is consumed by a disease he doesn’t believe in. A man teetering on the cliff finds his salvation in an unexpected place: modern medicine.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Chris Rose
I pulled into the Shell station on Magazine Street, my car running on fumes. I turned off the motor. And then I just sat there.

There were other people pumping gas at the island I had pulled into and I didn’t want them to see me, didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to nod hello, didn’t want to interact in any fashion.

Outside the window, they looked like characters in a movie. But not my movie.
I tried to wait them out, but others would follow, get out of their cars and pump and pay and drive off, always followed by more cars, more people. How can they do this, like everything is normal, I wondered. Where do they go? What do they do?
It was early August and two minutes in my car with the windows up and the air conditioner off was insufferable. I was trapped, in my car and in my head.
So I drove off with an empty tank rather than face strangers at a gas station.
. . . . . . .
Before I continue this story, I should make a confession. For all of my adult life, when I gave it thought — which wasn’t very often — I regarded the concepts of depression and anxiety as pretty much a load of hooey.
I never accorded any credibility to the idea that such conditions were medical in nature. Nothing scientific about it. You get sick, get fired, fall in love, buy a new pair of shoes, join a gym, get religion, seasons change — whatever; you go with the flow, dust yourself off, get back in the game. I thought anti-depressants were for desperate housewives and fragile poets.

I no longer feel that way. Not since I fell down the rabbit hole myself and enough hands reached down to pull me out.
One of those hands belonged to a psychiatrist holding a prescription for anti-depressants. I took it. And it changed my life.
Maybe saved my life.
This is the story of one journey — my journey — to the edge of the post-Katrina abyss, and back again. It is a story with a happy ending — at least so far.
. . . . . . .
I had already stopped going to the grocery store weeks before the Shell station meltdown. I had made every excuse possible to avoid going to my office because I didn’t want to see anyone, didn’t want to engage in small talk, hey, how’s the family?
My hands shook. I had to look down when I walked down the steps, holding the banister to keep steady. I was at risk every time I got behind the wheel of a car; I couldn’t pay attention.
I lost 15 pounds and it’s safe to say I didn’t have a lot to give. I stopped talking to Kelly, my wife. She loathed me, my silences, my distance, my inertia.
I stopped walking my dog, so she hated me, too. The grass and weeds in my yard just grew and grew.
I stopped talking to my family and my friends. I stopped answering phone calls and e-mails. I maintained limited communication with my editors to keep my job but I started missing deadlines anyway.
My editors, they were kind. They cut me slack. There’s a lot of slack being cut in this town now. A lot of legroom, empathy and forgiveness.
I tried to keep an open line of communication with my kids to keep my sanity, but it was still slipping away. My two oldest, 7 and 5, began asking: “What are you looking at, Daddy?”
The thousand-yard stare. I couldn’t shake it. Boring holes into the house behind my back yard. Daddy is a zombie. That was my movie: Night of the Living Dead. Followed by Morning of the Living Dead, followed by Afternoon . . .
. . . . . . .
My own darkness first became visible last fall. As the days of covering the Aftermath turned into weeks which turned into months, I began taking long walks, miles and miles, late at night, one arm pinned to my side, the other waving in stride. I became one of those guys you see coming down the street and you cross over to get out of the way.
I had crying jags and fetal positionings and other “episodes.” One day last fall, while the city was still mostly abandoned, I passed out on the job, fell face first into a tree, snapped my glasses in half, gouged a hole in my forehead and lay unconscious on the side of the road for an entire afternoon.
You might think that would have been a wake-up call, but it wasn’t. Instead, like everything else happening to me, I wrote a column about it, trying to make it all sound so funny.
It probably didn’t help that my wife and kids spent the last four months of 2005 at my parents’ home in Maryland. Until Christmas I worked, and lived, completely alone.
Even when my family finally returned, I spent the next several months driving endlessly through bombed-out neighborhoods. I met legions of people who appeared to be dying from sadness, and I wrote about them.
I was receiving thousands of e-mails in reaction to my stories in the paper, and most of them were more accounts of death, destruction and despondency by people from around south Louisiana. I am pretty sure I possess the largest archive of personal Katrina stories, little histories that would break your heart.
I guess they broke mine.
I am an audience for other people’s pain. But I never considered seeking treatment. I was afraid that medication would alter my emotions to a point of insensitivity, lower my antenna to where I would no longer feel the acute grip that Katrina and the flood have on the city’s psyche.
I thought, I must bleed into the pages for my art. Talk about “embedded” journalism; this was the real deal.
Worse than chronicling a region’s lamentation, I thought, would be walking around like an ambassador from Happy Town telling everybody that everything is just fine, carry on, chin up, let a smile be your umbrella.
As time wore on, the toll at home worsened. I declined all dinner invitations that my wife wanted desperately to accept, something to get me out of the house, get my feet moving. I let the lawn and weeds overgrow and didn’t pick up my dog’s waste. I rarely shaved or even bathed. I stayed in bed as long as I could, as often as I could. What a charmer I had become.
I don’t drink anymore, so the nightly self-narcolepsy that so many in this community employ was not an option. And I don’t watch TV. So I developed an infinite capacity to just sit and stare. I’d noodle around on the piano, read weightless fiction and reach for my kids, always, trying to hold them, touch them, kiss them.
Tell them I was still here.
But I was disappearing fast, slogging through winter and spring and grinding to a halt by summer. I was a dead man walking.
I had never been so scared in my life.
. . . . . . .
Early this summer, with the darkness clinging to me like my own personal humidity, my stories in the newspaper moved from gray to brown to black. Readers wanted stories of hope, inspiration and triumph, something to cling to; I gave them anger and sadness and gloom. They started e-mailing me, telling me I was bringing them down when they were already down enough.
This one, Aug. 21, from a reader named Molly: “I recently became worried about you. I read your column and you seemed so sad. And not in a fakey-columnist kind of way.”
This one, Aug. 19, from Debbie Koppman: “I’m a big fan. But I gotta tell ya — I can’t read your columns anymore. They are depressing. I wish you’d write about something positive.”
There were scores of e-mails like this, maybe hundreds. I lost count. Most were kind — solicitous, even; strangers invited me over for a warm meal.
But this one, on Aug. 14, from a reader named Johnny Culpepper, stuck out: “Your stories are played out Rose. Why don’t you just leave the city, you’re not happy, you bitch and moan all the time. Just leave or pull the trigger and get it over with.”
I’m sure he didn’t mean it literally — or maybe he did, I don’t know — but truthfully, I thought it was funny. I showed it around to my wife and editors.
Three friends of mine have, in fact, killed themselves in the past year and I have wondered what that was like. I rejected it. But, for the first time, I understood why they did it.

Hopeless, helpless and unable to function. A mind shutting down and taking the body with it. A pain not physical but not of my comprehension and always there, a buzzing fluorescent light that you can’t turn off.
No way out, I thought. Except there was.
. . . . . . .
I don’t need to replay the early days of trauma for you here. You know what I’m talking about.
Whether you were in south Louisiana or somewhere far away, in a shelter or at your sister’s house, whether you lost everything or nothing, you know what I mean.
My case might be more extreme than some because I immersed myself fully into the horror and became a full-time chronicler of sorrowful tales. I live it every day and there is no such thing as leaving it behind at the office when a whole city takes the dive.
Then again, my case is less extreme than the first responders, the doctors and nurses and EMTs, and certainly anyone who got trapped in the Dome or the Convention Center or worse — in the water, in their attics and on their rooftops. In some cases, stuck in trees.
I’ve got nothing on them. How the hell do they sleep at night?

So none of this made sense. My personality has always been marked by insouciance and laughter, the seeking of adventure and new experiences. I am the class clown, the life of the party, the bon vivant.
I have always felt like I was more alert and alive than anyone in the room.
In the measure of how one made out in the storm, my life was cake. My house, my job and my family were all fine. My career was gangbusters; all manner of prestigious awards and attention. A book with great reviews and stunning sales, full auditoriums everywhere I was invited to speak, appearances on TV and radio, and the overwhelming support of readers who left gifts, flowers and cards on my doorstep, thanking me for my stories.
I had become a star of a bizarre constellation. No doubt about it, disasters are great career moves for a man in my line of work. So why was I so miserable? This is the time of my life, I told myself. I am a success. I have done good things.
To no avail.
I changed the message on my phone to say: “This is Chris Rose. I am emotionally unavailable at the moment. Please leave a message.”
I thought this was hilarious. Most of my friends picked it up as a classic cry for help.
My editor, my wife, my dad, my friends and just strangers on the street who recognized me from my picture in the paper had been telling me for a long time: You need to get help.
I didn’t want help. I didn’t want medicine. And I sure as hell didn’t want to sit on a couch and tell some guy with glasses, a beard and a psych degree from Dartmouth all about my troubles.
Everybody’s got troubles. I needed to stay the course, keep on writing, keep on telling the story of this city. I needed to do what I had to do and what I had to do was dig further and further into what has happened around here — to the people, my friends, my city, the region.
Lord, what an insufferable mess it all is.
I’m not going to get better, I thought. I’m in too deep.
. . . . . . .
In his book “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” — the best literary guide to the disease that I have found — the writer William Styron recounted his own descent into and recovery from depression, and one of the biggest obstacles, he said, was the term itself, what he calls “a true wimp of a word.”
He traces the medical use of the word “depression” to a Swiss psychiatrist named Adolf Meyer, who, Styron said, “had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the damage he had inflicted by offering ‘depression’ as a descriptive noun for such a dreadful and raging disease.
“Nonetheless, for over 75 years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”
He continued: “As one who has suffered from the malady in extremis yet returned to tell the tale, I would lobby for a truly arresting designation. ‘Brainstorm,’ for instance, has unfortunately been preempted to describe, somewhat jocularly, intellectual inspiration. But something along these lines is needed.
“Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storma veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else — even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that ‘depression’ evokes, something akin to ‘So what?’ or ‘You’ll pull out of it’ or ‘We all have bad days.’ ”
Styron is a hell of a writer. His words were my life. I was having one serious brainstorm. Hell, it was a brain hurricane, Category 5. But what happens when your own personal despair starts bleeding over into the lives of those around you?
What happens when you can’t get out of your car at the gas station even when you’re out of gas? Man, talk about the perfect metaphor.
Then this summer, a colleague of mine at the newspaper took a bad mix of medications and went on a violent driving spree Uptown, an episode that ended with his pleading with the cops who surrounded him with guns drawn to shoot him.
He had gone over the cliff. And I thought to myself: If I don’t do something, I’m next.
. . . . . . .
My psychiatrist asked me not to identify him in this story and I am abiding by that request.
I was referred to him by my family doctor. My first visit was Aug. 15. I told him I had doubts about his ability to make me feel better. I pled guilty to skepticism about the confessional applications of his profession and its dependency medications.
I’m no Tom Cruise; psychiatry is fine, I thought. For other people.
My very first exchange with my doctor had a morbidly comic element to it; at least, I thought so, but my sense of humor was in delicate balance to be sure.
While approaching his office, I had noticed a dead cat in his yard. Freshly dead, with flies just beginning to gather around the eyes. My initial worry was that some kid who loves this cat might see it, so I said to him: “Before we start, do you know about the cat?”
Yes, he told me. It was being taken care of. Then he paused and said: “Well, you’re still noticing the environment around you. That’s a good sign.”
The analyst in him had already kicked in. But the patient in me was still resisting. In my lifelong habit of dampening down any serious discussion with sarcasm, I said to him: “Yeah, but what if the dead cat was the only thing I saw? What if I didn’t see or hear the traffic or the trees or the birds or anything else?”
I crack myself up. I see dead things. Get it?
Yeah, neither did he.
We talked for an hour that first appointment. He told me he wanted to talk to me three or four times before he made a diagnosis and prescribed an antidote. When I came home from that first visit without a prescription, my wife was despondent and my editor enraged. To them, it was plain to see I needed something, anything, and fast.
Unbeknownst to me, my wife immediately wrote a letter to my doctor, pleading with him to put me on medication. Midway through my second session, I must have convinced him as well because he reached into a drawer and pulled out some samples of a drug called Cymbalta.
He said it could take a few weeks to kick in. Best case, he said, would be four days. He also said that its reaction time would depend on how much body fat I had; the more I had, the longer it would take. That was a good sign for me. By August, far from putting on the Katrina 15, I had become a skeletal version of my pre-K self.
And before I left that second session, he told me to change the message on my phone, that “emotionally unavailable” thing. Not funny, he said.
. . . . . . .
I began taking Cymbalta on Aug. 24, a Thursday. With practically no body fat to speak of, the drug kicked in immediately. That whole weekend, I felt like I was in the throes of a drug rush. Mildly euphoric, but also leery of what was happening inside of me. I felt off balance. But I felt better, too.
I told my wife this but she was guarded. I’ve always heard that everyone else notices changes in a person who takes an anti-depressant before the patient does, but that was not the case with me.
“I feel better,” I told Kelly but my long-standing gloom had cast such a pall over our relationship that she took a wait-and-see attitude.
By Monday, I was settled in. The dark curtain had lifted almost entirely. The despondency and incapacitation vanished, just like that, and I was who I used to be: energetic, sarcastic, playful, affectionate and alive.
I started talking to Kelly about plans — a word lacking from my vocabulary for months. Plans for the kids at school, extracurricular activities, weekend vacations. I had not realized until that moment that while stuck in my malaise, I had had no vision of the future whatsoever.
I wasn’t planning anything. It was almost like not living.
Kelly came around to believing. We became husband and wife again. We became friends.
It all felt like a Come to Jesus experience. It felt like a miracle. But it was just medicine, plain and simple.
. . . . . . .
I asked my doctor to tell me exactly what was wrong with me so I could explain it in this story. I will be candid and tell you I still don’t really understand it, the science of depression, the actions of synapses, transmitters, blockers and stimulants.
I’ve never been much at science. I guess I’m just a fragile poet after all.
The diagnoses and treatments for depression and anxiety are still a developing science. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — psychiatry’s chief handbook — practically doubles in size every time it’s reprinted, filled with newer and clearer clinical trials, research and explanations.
Does that mean more people are getting depressed? Or that science is just compiling more data? I don’t know.
Measuring depression is not like measuring blood sugar. You don’t hit a specified danger level on a test and then you’re pronounced depressed. It is nuance and interpretation and there is still a lot of guesswork involved.
But here’s my doctor’s take: The amount of cortisol in my brain increased to dangerous levels. The overproduction, in turn, was blocking the transmission of serotonin and norepinephrine.
Some definitions: Cortisol is the hormone produced in response to chronic stress. Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters — chemical messengers — that mediate messages between nerves in the brain, and this communication system is the basic source of all mood and behavior.
The chemistry department at the University of Bristol in England has a massive Web database for serotonin, titled, appropriately: “The Molecule of Happiness.”
And I wasn’t getting enough. My brain was literally shorting out. The cells were not properly communicating. Chemical imbalances, likely caused by increased stress hormones — cortisol, to be precise — were dogging the work of my neurotransmitters, my electrical wiring. A real and true physiological deterioration had begun.
I had a disease.
This I was willing to accept. Grudgingly, for it ran against my lifelong philosophy of self-determination.
I pressed my doctor: What is the difference between sad and depressed? How do you know when you’ve crossed over?
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is bandied about as a common diagnosis in this community, but I think that’s probably not the case,” he told me. “What people are suffering from here is what I call Katrina Syndrome — marked by sleep disturbance, recent memory impairment and increased irritability.
“Much of this is totally normal. Sadness is normal. The people around here who are bouncing around and giddy, saying that everything is all right — they have more of a mental illness than someone who says, ‘I’m pretty washed out.’
“But when you have the thousand-yard stare, when your ability to function is impaired, then you have gone from ‘discomfort’ to ‘pathologic.’ If you don’t feel like you can go anywhere or do anything — or sometimes, even move — then you are sick.”
And that was me.
And if that is you, let me offer some unsolicited advice, something that you’ve already been told a thousand times by people who love you, something you really ought to consider listening to this time: Get help.
. . . . . . .
I hate being dependent on a drug. Hate it more than I can say. But if the alternative is a proud stoicism in the face of sorrow accompanied by prolonged and unspeakable despair — well, I’ll take dependency.
I can live with it. I can live with anything, I guess. For now.
Cymbalta is a new generation of anti-depressant, a combination of both selective serotonin and norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors — SSRIs and SNRIs — the two common drugs for anxiety and depression.
I asked my doctor why he selected it over, say, Prozac or Wellbutrin or any of the myriad anti-depressants whose brand names have become as familiar as aspirin in our community.
He replied: “It’s a roll of the dice.” He listened to my story, observed me and made an educated guess. If it didn’t work, he said, we’d try something else.
But it worked.
Today, I can bring my kids to school in the morning and mingle effortlessly with the other parents. Crowds don’t freak me out. I’m not tired all day, every day. I love going to the grocery store. I can pump gas. I notice the smell of night-blooming jasmine and I play with my kids and I clean up after my dog and the simplest things, man — how had they ever gotten so hard?
The only effect I have noticed on my writing is that the darkness lifted. I can still channel anger, humor and irony — the three speeds I need on my editorial stick shift.
And I’m not the only one who senses the change. Everyone tells me they can see the difference, even readers. I’m not gaunt. I make eye contact. I can talk about the weather, the Saints, whatever; it doesn’t have to be so dire, every word and motion.
Strange thing is this: I never cry anymore. Ever.
I tell you truthfully that I cried every day from Aug. 29 last year until Aug. 24 this year, 360 days straight. And then I stopped. I guess the extremes of emotion have been smoothed over but, truthfully, I have shed enough tears for two lifetimes.
Even at the Saints’ “Monday Night Football” game, a moment that weeks earlier would have sent me reeling into spasms of open weeping, I held it together. A lump in my throat, to be sure, but no prostration anymore.
The warning labels on anti-depressants are loaded with ominous portent, everything from nausea to sexual dysfunction and, without going into more detail than I have already poured out here, let’s just say that I’m doing quite well, thank you.
It’s my movie now. I am part of the flow of humanity that clogs our streets and sidewalks, taking part in and being part of the community and its growth. I have clarity and oh, what a vision it is.
But I am not cured, not by any means. Clinical trials show Cymbalta has an 80-percent success rate after six months and I’m just two months in. I felt a backwards tilt recently — the long stare, the pacing, it crept in one weekend — and it scared me so badly that I went to my doctor and we agreed immediately to increase the strength of my medication.
Before Katrina, I would have called somebody like me a wuss. Not to my face. But it’s what I would have thought, this talk of mood swings and loss of control, all this psychobabble and hope-dope.
What a load of crap. Get a grip, I would have said.
And that’s exactly what I did, through a door that was hidden from me, but that I was finally able to see.
I have a disease. Medicine saved me. I am living proof.
Emphasis on living.
. . . . . . .
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at chris.rose@timespicayune.com, or (504) 826-3309, or (504) 352-2535.

 

“Well I was sitting, waiting, wishing…”
It’s been a little while since I’ve really talked about what’s going on.  Like really opened up and talked on this good old blog.
Today is one of those days that my mind is spinning with ideas and thoughts and I just can’t put off posting on here any longer yet I’m still trying to organize those thoughts even as I’m writing now.
So here I sit on the couch, the laundry, clean (yes I feel proud of myself that at least it’s clean) sits in a pile, a HUGE pile, on the other couch. There’s a couple dirty diapers that need to be taken outside upstairs.  The kitchen is pretty cluttered.  I don’t really feel compelled to clean any of it up or even guilty that I’m doing this instead.  I’m feeling inspired, happier than I’ve been in a while yet bothered and a little self conscious at the same time.
I think it’s the fact that I’m bothered and self consciousness that is motivating me the most right now, sad to me, but true.  I’ll try and keep this insightful and not just a “vent fest”.
When I decided to start this blog I knew there would be mixed reactions from people. I hoped that most of them would be positive reactions and at the same time I tried to prepare myself for the maybe not so good ones.
Well I’m happy to report that for the first little while the response was EXTREMELY positive.  I received e-mails and texts almost daily (most decided not to post a “comment” for personal reasons) about how people were grateful for my openness.  They told me that I described exactly what they went through or are currently experiencing.  This was definitely fuel for me to keep posting.
And then there were a few nosy people that I’ve maybe said three words to in my life that called or talked to me “out of concern”, so they said
well meaning person: “are you ok Sarah?”
me: “ya, I am.  I’ve been through hell, but yes I’m doing better.”
well meaning person: “I don’t believe you. You’re just saying that, I think you’re lying.”
me: (inside I’m thinking ok I don’t even know you…)  “Oh well I don’t know how to convince you that I’m not lying.  I feel like I’ve been pretty OPEN and CLEAR on my blog about the fact that I’m getting PROFESSIONAL help.  No this blog is not my means of therapy.  No I’m not trying to be a therapist to anyone else.  No I’m not an incapable mother.  No I don’t just cry all the time.  No I don’t just shut myself up in my house and do nothing. (and more and more explaining…)
After a couple of conversations like that I was seriously considering ending this blog all together. I felt so courageous and proud of myself for opening up.  It has not been easy to do!  However I felt that if I could have given myself the advice and education that I have now FIVE years ago when this all started for me, it would have been so reassuring and comforting!!  After having my baby post-partum depression broadsided me I was desperate to find a mom, someone that had experienced it!  What the crap was happening to me and would it ever end?  As soon as things started getting better for me I wanted to give people that same glimpse of hope that things can and will get better!
So……..I did a bunch of thinking and I guess even if it means people treating me like I’m crazy, or that if I’m happy then I must be faking it, I think I still want to continue to do this.
A WORD TO THE WISE:  If a depressed person is acting happy, then they probably are in the moment!  Don’t always do that “turn your head to the side thing” and say “are you ok?” EVERYTIME you see them.  Treat them like the are normal.  Trust them when they tell you how they are feeling.  And if they don’t open up and tell you about everything, then DON’T worry about it!  MOST of the time, people that deal with depression turn to those that have been through it or those whom they are closest to.  They turn to those that can fill their needs, fill the void.  If you aren’t close with them then don’t dive right in and ask them about it, it’s none of your business if they don’t bring it up themselves.  It’s a sensitive subject.  The only time you should “worry” about a depressed person is if you don’t feel like they have a good support network and they may harm themselves.  If they have no family and no friends. Then you can step in and ask them about it.
BUT MOST OF THE TIME depressed people just need to be treated normally.  You shouldn’t make them feel like they have to explain everything just so “you know what’s going on” and can talk about it with other people or to satisfy your own curiosity.
I WANT TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR TO MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO ARE READING THIS, DON’T WORRY I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU! I appreciate all of your love and support and prayers.  The people I’m talking about in this post probably won’t even read this since I barely know them anyways…