Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Is this depression or am I just sad?

Depression is a sneaky little bitch. Pardon my language, but that is the best phrase I can think of to describe it. When you are depressed, the narrative that depression plays in your head is so convincing that you are the reason for all of your problems that the lines between reality and the depression become completely blurred.  The depression can’t figure out if you feel this way because of depression or are you just sad?  To make matters worse, the longer that the depression narrative plays, the worse the depressive episode gets and the harder it is to get out of.

Sometimes the way you are feeling it is not because of depression, sometimes life just kind of sucks and you are sad. But how do you determine if life or depression is to blame? If it isn’t just life and it is depression, the sooner you can identify it, the less time it can steal from you. The only way to learn if what you are feeling is a result of depression is to become keenly aware of your personal symptoms.

Symptoms of depression can be unique to each person but generally fall into the same categories.

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

Many of the symptoms described can be attributed to normal lows of life, but the severity and length of the symptoms is what indicates that someone is suffering from depression versus general sadness. If someone is feeling a combination of the symptoms listed above for 2-3 weeks or longer, it is recommended to seek medical consultation as it can be an indication of depression.  For someone who suffers from reoccurring depression, becoming familiar with your indicative symptoms can help identify and prevent an episode of depression before it becomes too serious. Unfortunately, it takes suffering through a few episodes of depression to learn your personal symptoms or signs.  See what I mean about depression being a sneaky little bitch? You have to suffer through it a few times before you can really learn to fight back.

I recently made a change in my medication to finally wean myself off an old drug, Effexor (the story of the actual withdrawal process is one I will share another time) and this change in medication has led me to that crossroad of thinking “is this depression or am I just sad?” After a week or two of “this is just life and I am sad” I took an inventory of my symptoms and realized this wasn’t life, this was that sneaky bitch (depression) rearing her ugly head again.

The first symptom that I notice is a lack of concentration. Knocking out projects at work becomes tedious and I can’t seem to get anything done.  This symptom doesn’t raise many red flags, because who doesn’t have a hard time concentrating from time to time? Next I notice that I have an extreme loss of interest in doing anything social. I bail out of every social event with any excuse I can think of just so I can spend my time in solitary confinement on my couch. This past weekend I stayed on my couch, weeping at the drop of a hat and feeling an extreme sense of loneliness. My head was telling me this was all my fault.  I wasn’t worthy of having people love me which was why I was so lonely. Realistically, I know this is not true, but depression is so convincing that I believe it to be true and the message becomes so convincing that it causes me to ignore the huge red flag that my depression was coming back.

For some reason, it is the change to my morning routine that finally caught my attention and made me start realizing that the depression was back. When I am depressed getting out of bed in the morning is a monumental feat. This isn’t your typical lazy mornings, this is feelings of immense exhaustion and hopelessness of the morning.  Now when this first starts happening I beat myself up for being so damn lazy. I think “you are 30 years old, grow up and get out of bed on time”. My whole day starts off on a negative thought and it tends to go downhill from there. The self-loathing narrative churns in my head all day and by the time I get home at night I am so exhausted from trying to fight back against the depression script running in my head that I have no energy to take care of normal activities like cooking dinner, doing laundry or cleaning the house. The exhaustion then leads to heading off to bed where I toss and turn all night and start the entire cycle over the next morning. Today I noticed that I was going on day 8 of the cycle and it was this fact that finally let me see that red flag flying and realized that the depression was coming back.

My first thought was how angry I was to be depressed now.  At this time of year, when you just want to have a warm and happy time celebrating with friends and family, I don’t want depression to ruin it. And let’s be honest, that idyllic happy time with family that we all wish for is usually a mess of uncomfortable situations and never lives up to the dream that a Publix holiday commercial portrays (if you don’t know what I am referring to, YouTube one of their commercials and I guarantee you will cry).  Adding depression to an already stressful time of the year is just dreadful and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep right through the holidays.

So what did I do? I called my Mother. Having a Mom who also suffers from depression means that she truly understands what I am going through and just having someone say “I understand how you feel” makes all the difference in the world. My next call was to my doctor so we can re-examine my medication and find the next solution. Then I came back here.  Sharing my experiences and my thoughts allows me to accept myself and there is something about putting my reality out into the world that feels like a relief.  I am grateful for those of you who listen, even more grateful for those of you who reach out with your words of encouragement and I hope that sharing my experience can help someone hear that “I understand how you feel”. 

How I Changed My Life

I can’t tell anyone how they can put change into motion in their lives, but I can share how I made it happen in mine.

When I was depressed my relationships with friends and family, my financial obligations, and my health had completely fallen to the wayside. Depression steals any energy that you have, so there is no energy left to take care of yourself and your life. I put what little energy I could into doing my best at work, so everything else outside of that fell to pieces.

I would come home from work and would be so exhausted and anxious to do anything. It would take hours to relax and release the tension from acting like I was fine all day, while trying to ignore the constant soundtrack in my head repeating how worthless I was. Once I was able to relax, all I wanted to do was sleep, then I would toss and turn all night and once the alarm went off in the morning, it would take an act of God to pull myself out of bed. I was lucky if I made it to work on time. I was even more lucky if I had time to get a shower and even more lucky if I had the time to walk my dog. I would then go through the motions at work, doing my best to cover up my depression and still trying to perform so I can advance in my career. The only way I could survive was to just keep repeating this same cycle, until the morning when I finally broke.

I realized that I was never going to be able to fix what was wrong until I stopped the cycle and took care of myself.  I drove home (after crying in my office’s parking lot) and was desperate to figure out what to do next. There is no how to guide on putting your life back together when you are depressed.The first step is to call a professional, but while you are waiting for that appointment, what are you supposed to do?

I was so overwhelmed that the only thing I could think of was to write it all down. I just started writing and every worry that had been plaguing me, everything that I was currently failing at and wanted to improve spilled out and filled the pages.

Here is what I wrote down that day…

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(Yes, I happened to have massive sticky poster board on hand.)

I am a little nervous showing this list to the world, but it feels good to be completely authentic about my experience. At the time it was every one of my deepest and darkest concerns that were plaguing me and I was embarrassed of them. Showing that I had goals like “Shower Daily” and “Become Financially Literate” aren’t easy skeletons to let out of the closet.

But the one that made me feel the most insecure was “Find someone to share experiences with – Stop being lonely”. Fact is that I am single and feel lonely sometimes, but I knew there was no way I was going to meet someone while I was depressed. If I didn’t like myself, how could I expect anyone to like me?

As I reviewed the list, I realized that I wasn’t desperate to just treat my depression, but I that I needed to change my life.

The first step I took was to get back to basics and to give myself something that I could accomplish. For the first couple days my goals were to do three things and three things only.

  1. Sleep
  2. Eat Well
  3. Exercise

These might sound so simple to you, but it was the first step to reset my life and stop the cycle that I was in. I knew there was no way that I could tackle everything on my list at once, but knowing that I had written them down allowed me to let them go and take them step by step, starting with step one.

There was one more thing that I had to take care during those first few days, I needed to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Sounds simple, but my old psychiatrist had a 10 week waiting list and I didn’t have 10 weeks to give up of my life. So I took to the phone book and started dialing and finally found a doctor that would see me in 2 weeks. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

While I waited to see my psychiatrist, I took baby steps and gave myself one new goal that I could achieve per day. Once I started achieving one goal, it empowered me to tackle another and by the time my appointment with my psychiatrist arrived, I was starting to feel like I was in control of my life again. The depression was still there, but without the pressures of work and keeping up the appearance that everything was just dandy, I was able to keep going.

My psychiatrist started me on new medication immediately and I started to see a change within 5-7 days. The better I felt, the more I wanted to tackle and I am happy to say that here is what my list looks like today…

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I was able to make some major changes in my life, including finding a new job and finding a medicine to treat the depression. I don’t know if it was timing or if it was my life re-boot that put the changes into motion or some combination of the two, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

Just because there is a check by the task doesn’t mean I am done with it. Many of the tasks on my list are ones that I will work at every single day, like “Be a good daughter” and “be nice to myself”. These aren’t one time tasks, but habits that you have to work at every day.

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I still have the list posted in my family room. It stays front and center (right next to the TV so I really can’t ignore it) and I am constantly reminded of where I have been, where I want to be and how I am going to get there.

If you want to make a change in your life, maybe you should try starting with a list. You never know what can happen until you give yourself a place to start.

This is Thirty.

 

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I recently hit that milestone that every twenty-something dreads, I turned THIRTY. I will admit, I was not looking forward to this birthday. Thirty felt like a looming deadline that you just keep trying to avoid, a clock ticking that the more you focus on it, the louder it gets and the faster the time passes.

For most of my twenty-ninth year I was dreading each month as they passed and inched me closer to thirty, but my attitude changed in July. It wasn’t the depression that was making me dread thirty (although I am sure that it wasn’t any help), it was the irrational view that society puts on this turning point. There seems to be a bucket list of accomplishments that you are supposed to have checked off during your twenties and if you haven’t, you feel like a failure and that your opportunity to achieve them has passed you by. As my new treatment for my depression started working, the dread of thirty started to seem more and more irrational and my excitement started to grow instead.

Instead of looking at turning thirty as an end, I started to recognize it as beginning to a whole new adventure. Instead of allowing myself to feel the pressure of society to meet their idea of what I should do before thirty, I decided to tune them out completely.  The only timeline in place to complete any bucket list is the one that you put on yourself and you get to determine what defines you as a success or failure.

I am so proud of all that I accomplished in my twenties! I moved to a city where I didn’t know a soul and today call this place home with many relationships, personally and professionally, that will carry me into my thirties. I spent much of my time in my twenties being introspective about myself and my relationships with others. What I learned about who I am and what I believe in is invaluable and I know that I will only continue to learn and grow in my thirties.

My viewpoint that turning thirty was the end was so immature and short sighted. It was so much more fulfilling to embrace thirty with open arms and excitement for all that it will bring. If there is one thing that I know for sure, it is that life is only getting better.

I am mentally healthier than I have ever been and I am ready to take the world by storm as a thirty year old woman. Watch out career, I am here to kick some ass. Family and friends, these relationships are only getting stronger.

I am ready for any adventure that thirty brings, but I won’t be sitting around waiting for them to knock on my door, I am going to make them happen.

Raise Your Voice Louder Than Depression

I don’t know where to begin. The news that Robin Williams has passed away from suicide is devastating and brings so many different feelings. I am outraged that such a precious human had to die because of depression. I am sadden that so many are shocked because Robin Williams hid it so well, because he shouldn’t have had to. And sadly, I am grateful because the only good thing that can come from such a tragedy is the awareness that it brings to this disease and maybe one person won’t suffer in silence any longer.

For anyone who has not experienced suicidal thoughts, it is so difficult to understand how things can get that bad. It’s not the “things” that you would expect, like losing a job or a break up,  that push you towards suicide, it is when the depression gets so loud that you can’t hear your rational thoughts any more. Depression manifests itself in so many ways but one of the worst ways is that it takes over your thoughts.  Your brain is taken hostage by a different voice than your own and this voice takes every thought you have and turns it negative. To make matters worse, it churns out these negative thoughts at a rapid pace so that you can’t correct the negative thoughts with rational ones.

Those with depression often suffer from sleeping disorders as well, so these negative thoughts take over 24/7. Imagine living like this for days, weeks and months, that is how long it can take to realize that you are in a depressive episode. You become exhausted at fighting and start to believe the negative thoughts and eventually, you just want it all to end. You’re exhausted and all you can think about is finding relief. It feels like the only option is to give up.

I have been there and it still feels shameful to admit it. I didn’t want anyone to look at me with that judgement that I was suicidal. I didn’t want them to use that word to describe me.  But why does it take using that word to get some people to understand the severity of depression?

We can each make a difference by removing the shame and judgement from our perception of depression and suicide. Talk about mental health openly and without reservations because you could be making a difference to someone who is silently suffering and not even know it. The more we talk, the louder our voices will become and we increase the chance that we can be heard over the depression that someone is silently fighting. Your voice does make a difference.

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”

Robin Williams

Thank you Robin for sharing your joy with us, I only wish we could have saved you from your pain.

Breaking the Gag Order on Mental Health

I have decided to break the gag order, the one that I believe keeps society from discussing mental illness. I am no longer going to lower my voice to a whisper when it comes to discussing mental illness, instead I am going to say it out loud and proud. Since I am saying this out loud for all to hear, let me be specific, I have major depressive disorder, reoccurring, also known as clinical depression, along with generalized anxiety disorder (these two are often companions).

A Little Bit of Background…

I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2009 and after about 6 months of trial and error, I found a medication that treated my symptoms.  This medication worked well until this past fall and over the past couple months, my symptoms had become so crippling that I found that I could not be effective at my job. Finally, the only thing I could do was take a step back to focus on taking care of myself.

When I called in sick to work, there were many opportunities presented to answer the seemingly simple question, “what is wrong?” from the people around me.  As I responded with the explanation that I have depression, I watched (or heard) their confusion and discomfort.  I don’t fit their expectation for what depression looks and acts like.

Do I look like someone who is depressed? 

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Most people who suffer from depression develop coping mechanisms so they can continue to function despite their symptoms. This is our way of fighting back. We fight with all we have so the depression doesn’t steal every moment of our lives.  We fake it until we make it. While there is a smile across my face in this photo, I felt completely worthless inside and I was barely hanging on to keep my head above water, when this was taken.

I can understand why people are confused when I tell them that I am depressed, how is anyone supposed to know what depression looks like when no one will discuss it. While I have grown more and more comfortable discussing my depression with my close family and friends, but very few of those closest to me understand what it really means.  It doesn’t mean I am just “feeling sad” or that it is a result of a situation that I am going through. My depression is clinical, it is a result of a chemical imbalance in my brain and when the chemicals are off balance, my life is thrown out of balance. When someone with asthma can’t breathe, they need to use their inhaler and when I am depressed, I need help balancing the chemicals in my brain to treat the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression vary for everyone. It is common to think that depression just means that someone is sad, withdrawn, and going through a rough time, but they can snap out of it if they tried.  I can’t speak for what others experience, but the cocktail of symptoms that I experience with depression are:

  • Irritability
  • Uncontrollable Negative Thoughts
  • Exhaustion
  • General Feelings of Worthlessness
  • Lack of Interest to Engage in Social Activities
  • Increased Anxiety
  • Feelings that there is no solution or resolution to these feelings
  • Desire to Give Up

Many of these symptoms can be invisible, which can make suffering from them even harder.

Something to Talk About 

Statistics show that 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression, so why aren’t we running 5Ks for depression? Our health is a private and personal matter, but without bringing attention and (and more importantly private funding) to an issue, how can we expect a change?

So let’s start talking.  I am making a vow to break the gag order and discuss mental health openly and honestly. I will raise awareness with my voice in person and here, on this blog. I ask that you consider taking the same vow. You may be surprised about what you learn once you start.