31 December 2011

Sayonara!


We will no longer be posting on Blessed Depth. We just don't have the time to post often enough or in-depth enough to make the blog a place where a community can build. Instead, we're going to switch to a more frequent tweeting schedule (@blesseddepth) to share depression-related articles, research, blogs, and videos that we find worthy of note. (We're on tweet hiatus as of August 2012.)

But it's been real and we've gotten a lot out of the 47 posts we let loose upon the world in 2011. Some of our favorites:

Nia's:
-Damn the DNA (by Soledad)
- Which of your traits made your life easier than it might've been?

Pastor Jayne's:
- Whaddya mean by depression?
- What comments or assumptions about depression really get your goat?

Soledad's:
- Discuss: "Depression makes you more creative."
- How has your depression affected your spirituality?
- Is there anything good about depression?

At the risk of having Ms. Kali file a restraining order against me for linking to Beyond Meds so often, I suggest you check out her blog roll if you're looking for other blogs on mental health/illness, written either by sufferers themselves or by practitioners who understand their patients' struggles and actually know what they're talking about when it comes to the state of mental health care in the US.

All the best to you.

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea

27 December 2011

What did you get out of contributing to this blog?

by Nia, Soledad, and Pastor Jayne

This is our penultimate post. Our last post will be on December 31st. After that, we'll just be a-tweetin'.

Nia: My experience with this blog has not been what I thought it would be. I started it as a place to vent my anger about the depression that started in junior high and ended about 12 years ago, both for my sake and just in case there's someone else out there searching for some affirmation of their experiences. I worked the anger out pretty quickly, what with all the writing and reading myriad perspectives of hundreds of other bloggers who have gone through similar crap.

Unfortunately that anger was replaced with another one. I found myself drawn to writers like those at Beyond Meds who are deeply troubled by the scattershot, inept, and uninformed approach to mental health care of the average practitioner encountered by the average depressed person. These doctors think they're healers when they're just nodes in a distribution system of anemic ideas about how the mind and brain function, ideas that in practice have a sucky record at easing suffering and that are based on a research process warped and distorted by the influence of pharmaceutical companies.

I was more content with the world back when all those thoughts were just vague suspicions. Confirmation was not comforting.

But except for that...

For the first few months I found myself building up a weird, resentful-nervous-bitter-paranoid jitteriness that would keep me from writing. I'd manage to clear my head and write a post, but then the whole thing would start again. Finally I figured out that I was trying to frame my thoughts the way my favorite popular bloggers do, who write for audiences of approximately 5 trillion on subjects that make their readers happy, like Parisian fashion and life on a (seemingly highly profitable) Oklahoma ranch. That voice didn't work for my topic. Am I the only blogger to go through that?

Working with Pastor Jayne and Soledad was by far the most enjoyable aspect of this enterprise. I am proud of myself for managing to con talk two such articulate and compassionate people into participating in this little folly, which was in danger of becoming a seething cesspool of sarcasm otherwise. I hope their experiences have made Blessed Depth that much more helpful.

********

Pastor Jayne: (Editor's note: one of our Twitter followers is a gluten-free pastry chef. I'm assuming we caught her attention because I mentioned the gluten-free diet in one of my posts.)

Other than hoping to get a following that included a pastry chef, Justin Bieber and prominent members of the Mormon tabernacle choir (1 out of 3 ain't bad!), I was jazzed to reconnect with my college roomie once again, about something which deeply changed both of us. I remember our original e-mails about coming up with another term for "depression" which would take away some of the pain and stigma. "Blessed depth" was the result of many great e-conversations.

In addition, it was good to be reminded of how far we've both come. I hope it gives the same hope to anyone else who reads our musings. This too shall pass. And even if it doesn't ever go away completely, there are blessings in the depth.

Fond aloha to our favorite pastry chef. And Justin, you missed out. To my Blessed Depth blog-mates: be blessed.

********

Soledad: I have enjoyed writing for this blog over the past year. It was very interesting to see how three very different people, who happen to be friends, see depression, its causes, and its fixes.

Nia's posts were light and funny, not something you'd ever expect to see in a blog about depression. Her wit, intellect, and humor make it hard to believe that she has ever suffered from the Big D. Her humor reminds me of something I read not so long ago about the irony of comedians. Their depth and intellect and insights into human nature are what make them funny, but a large number of them suffer from D. I call it being passionate. They're passionate when they're happy, and they're passionate when they're sad. They never do anything half-assed. It's that depth and that sixth sense that allows them to view the world so precisely, that leads to some great comedy and also some very low places.

The world ain't a kind place sometimes. And comedians are sharp enough to see the doom that threatens us. But they also know how to make it immediately humorous, a skill that brings intense happiness to so many. It counterbalances the negative in the world and helps make the journey more worthwhile for all of us. I tip my hat to everyone like you, Nia, with the gift of comic insight.

Writing for this blog has also helped me revisit many of the notions I have arrived at that help me continue to survive in a world that is often unfair at best. I know my creativity comes from the dark, blessed space where D also resides. That depth has been the blessing that brought me a wonderful writing career and awards and recognition from readers of my work. I was never a superficial type; I always looked further into every subject than many others would. And it's made me who I am, for better or worse.

Thanks to Nia for starting this blog. And to Pastor Jayne for adding her unique perspectives to round out this study of experiences. I salute you both for your courage and wish you more success in everything you seek.

21 December 2011

Damn the DNA

by Soledad

Realizing that I might be a little different from the average child was a gradual experience. I remember not being included in some neighborhood social activities and wondering, why was everyone else invited but me? So, like a normal child, I asked my mother: why would they exclude me? And like a normal mother, she called the people involved and asked them to include me, which they did.

The experience got my thinking started: why don't people want to hang out with me? It was the beginning of a deeply ingrained attitude I have as an adult, of hating social contact purely for the sake of social contact. There are some people whose company I always enjoy and I seek them out when I need a social fix. But there are just as many people I avoid like the plague. To hang out with them is nothing but torture. (This applies to every work function I've ever been forced to attend, even my husband's).

I realized that my mom spending all day in bed, every day, was not normal. And I began mimicking her behavior on a smaller scale. She discovered she was hypothyroid, as was her mother and her mother's mother. This condition can be accompanied by depression. And of course we've had a long history of depression and suicide in our family. The chemical makeup that's in our DNA predisposes us to depression. It doesn't take much to start a landslide of emotion, so when things get particularly tough...

It's amazing that as many of us have survived as we have. I think the key is realizing that the cards were stacked against you from the beginning, but also realizing that only the toughest among us survive and thrive. So damn the DNA. I am going to beat this. And that is the purpose for living, to rise above what I was handed and give it my best shot. And better yet: to help others in the same situation by telling my story.

We can all survive and thrive. It's like a diet: you just have to stick to it, while remembering to also be kind to yourself along the way. You are not the enemy. The depression that steals your happiness like a cloaked intruder in the night is. A positive attitude is the poison he will breathe when he breaks into your mind, and he will die, and you will emerge victorious.

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea

20 December 2011

Do/did the holidays make your depression worse or better?

By Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I always enjoyed the holidays during all the years I was depressed. I liked my family, I loved the snow, I enjoyed seeing relatives who came in to visit from other states, I liked hearing old family stories, I liked getting loot, and I even liked the fruitcake. The only thing I hated, and still hate, is the turkey. Turkey was originally eaten by people who lived in log cabins, had no dental care, and bathed in buckets. I rest my case.

A few factors made it easier for me to enjoy the holidays than it might be for others: 1) I was never pressured by an employer to attend office parties held after hours. I declined every one and thus avoided having to watch idiots get drunk. 2) I never had to go to more than one house. One friend had to go to three different gatherings every Thanksgiving and Christmas until he finally moved out of state to escape the ordeal. 3) I never had to cook for anyone. 4) I'm not a big food or baked-goods person, so no diet worries. 5) We got a TON of presents every year.

Now that my depression is 12 years in the past, I consider the holidays something to minimize. I plan my schedule so that I don't have to go anywhere near a shopping mall from November to early January, and I only give presents to very small people. To me the holidays are just three hours of shopping, three hours on Thanksgiving for a meal someone else cooks, three hours of tree decorating, and three hours on Christmas for a meal someone else cooks. I am happy to see those people for that time, and am very grateful that they serve non-turkey dishes, but I do not particularly care otherwise, and if I were ever asked to host these events myself I would leave town and change my name.

My former acupuncturist Needleman (not his real name) pointed out that in winter you're supposed to sloooowwwww doooowwwwwn. So I do. I watch DVDs until my brain oozes out my ears, I ponder deep thoughts, I ponder shallow thoughts, I read, I walk. I do not run around like a crazed fool.

********

Pastor Jayne: The first year of my depression the holidays made it worse, because it was as yet undiagnosed and I was overcommitted to many events, a job hazard when you're a pastor. In the years following my diagnosis I learned to anticipate how fewer sunlight hours, missing my parents (who died in the years just prior to my depression), and the expected busy-ness for me as a pastor might combine to produce disaster if I did not leave margins in my daily schedule. I gave up sending out our Christmas cards. Did you know Chinese New Year is a great excuse for sending out those annual greetings in late January? I also exercised more, said "no" to more things, and spent more time with my kids and hubby -- ALWAYS healing.

Merry Christmas everyone!

********

Soledad: The holidays always made my depression worse. Having to see people you haven't seen in awhile and having them ask the dreaded "How have you been?" was always the worst feeling. If I told the truth, it would wreck the whole gathering. If I fibbed and said, "Everything's fine," it's an obvious lie. Being the honest soul that I am, I have ventured somewhere in between. That way I'm not lying, but I'm not laying out all the details either. Some people say, "Pretend to be happy and then you will be." The simple act of smiling or laughing joins you with the "happy" world, they reason. There is at least some truth to that, so I will take the "fake it until you make it" route for now. It beats sitting and stewing in my own juices.

I think seeing happy people over the holidays can generate one of two reactions in those of us who don't find themselves currently in a happy place. Either you get jealous that the lives of others are somehow working out so swimmingly -- and this is generally the route my mind has taken over the years -- or you join the merriment. It's a lot easier to be happy for someone's victories if you've also seen them endure the hard work it can take to get to that happy place. No one likes to see someone get everything they want effortlessly, especially if you are having a much harder time of it.

So bring on the holidays. I resolve to take the Buddhist view and not look too far into the past and to focus only on the present. How can I improve the life I have right now? Starting with a reality check -- having realistic expectations and taking baby steps towards new successes -- is an excellent start on a new year of more smiles and fewer tears.

Happy holidays everyone!

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea.

30 November 2011

2011 holiday gift guide

Embrace your meds!

Except for #1, I found these items by searching for "pills" on Etsy. The studs in #1 were featured recently in a Tomboy Style post.




Clockwise from top left:

1. 14K gold Alprazolam Rx pill studs by Loren Stewart $205.00.

2. Bronze pill necklace by LostApostle $55.00.

3. Red and blue pill Matrix-inspired earrings by cosplaycraft $3.00.

4. Yellow resin stud earrings by greeneyedgirl $10.00 (also available in blue).

5. Xanax cameo stretch bracelet by joolzhayworth $56.00.

6. Dog tag-style abstract pill necklace by spexton $84.00.

7. Amethyst and silver pill container/prayer box/perfume bottle pendant by MegaBeadStore $41.99

8. Especially handy at family gatherings:
Balinese poison ring by Telur $39.99.

29 November 2011

Are you able to filter out the good memories from your depressed periods and enjoy them? How long did it take before you were able to do that?

by Nia and Soledad

Nia: I can now but it took a long time. For high school, which was the worst period, maybe 15 years. Later periods did not take as long.

A possible factor in this long delay might be that after high school I rarely spoke with any of my friends from that time, so had no one with whom to relive and strengthen the positive, shenanigans-related memories and thus create some counter-balance to my Extra-Large-Sledgehammer-of-Mental-Doom memories.

But eventually they lost their hold over me and I could recount amusing stories like normal people do. There was the otherwise prim-and-proper friend who made up obscene lyrics to the theme from "MASH" and sang them on the bus, and the time I was set up on a blind double date with the closest thing to a feral human being I've ever seen.

A while ago I realized that I've loved perfume since grade school and can remember every scent I've worn at any given time in my life, but strangely I had never registered this before. I just considered it a necessity, like bathing regularly or Oreos. I had the same experience with science-fiction movies. I saw almost every one that came out, back when they were considered two steps above zombie movies, but never thought of it as a hobby until a lot later.

Maybe that's normal? Or maybe it's due to a blunting of emotions early on by the depression, or because none of my friends have ever shared these interests so I had no one to talk with about them, except for a guy in college who could name every perfume I wore. (Which should've been a tip-off.)

********

Soledad: I find that I am able to filter out the good memories from bad when the bad times are several years past.

Lately I often tell terrible tales from my dating days. Thankfully they are from long ago and I can laugh about them now! But at the time they really depressed me. It was incredible to me how many morally bankrupt people I encountered, and how many people just didn't seem to care.

When you can look back at a terrible time and laugh, it means you're moving forward, feeling good about where your life is headed, and yet still aware of the lessons learned from those darker times. I think it often takes a few years, sometimes longer, depending on the nature and cause of a person's depressed periods, to really be able to look back and say, "Hey, it sucked at the time, but I learned a lot about myself and what not to do. And it now all seems so ridiculous because I am a different person now, and I'd never do what I did back then that contributed to my sadness."

You just have to arrive at a place where you give yourself a lot of credit for everything you've been through, and give yourself a pat on the back for staying strong, surviving, and emerging victorious despite all the bad crap that seems to fall into every life at various times. Crap happens. So you may as well learn to live with it and laugh at it when you can.

Here's to happy living and laughing despite the crap. Happy holidays!

____________________
Photo: detail of "William H. Egberts examining trepanned skulls in the anthropology laboratory at the National Museum," 1926, photographer unknown, National Photo Collection, Library of Congress. No known restrictions on publication.

19 November 2011

Discuss: "Depression makes you more creative." and/or "Depressives are more creative."

By Nia and Soledad


Nia: I've heard this discussion several times over the years but when I start to think about it I just come up with more questions.

When people say more creative, do they mean more talented? Capable of producing better quality art?

I have found that introverts assume extroverts are shallow and I think depressives have the same feelings about non-depressives, especially if they (the mood-challenged) are saddled with depression early in life. They want to find some meaning or payoff in all the misery. They tell themselves they are more sensitive or smarter or that they see the world more clearly or that they're the true conscience of the universe.

In college I met a performing arts major who had obviously never had a low moment in her life. She once said, "I'm used to being ecstatic every minute of the day." She made my teeth grind, but I figured the universe would even out the score and make her a mediocre actress. Of course she turned out to be perfectly fine. That was an education.

If you're depressed you'll often be drawn more to the darkest music/literature/art, which is often produced by people who have known dark moods. Is the darker stuff more creative or better? Are depressed creatives more creative than non-depressed creatives? Can you compare with the same criteria the creations of two people with radically different moods/worldviews/outlooks?

Would an otherwise non-creative person become a creative one if he developed depression and was encouraged to express it through some form of art therapy? (Here we must imagine an alternate reality in which the mental health care community is competent and enlightened.)

Finally, are creative people better than non-creative people? That's silly: of course we are. In fact those dimwit f---ktards are lucky we don't put them on a reservation.

********

Soledad: I think depression does inspire creativity. More songs have been penned in depressive states than in jolly ones, that's for sure. That depressed feeling can put you in touch with your inner reserves of creativity.

I always think of Gwen Stefani of No Doubt writing the song "Don't Speak" in her room, after breaking up with her bandmate Tony, who never really loved her back. I just love that song; it's haunting and beautiful. Sara McLachlan's songs touch me the same way. It's obvious she writes from the very deep recesses of the heart.

I have written poetry when depressed and come up with some deep, jarring verse myself. The Beatles used to say that pot made them creative. I think being "contemplative" (as I prefer to refer to depression) gives you the same access to create resonating stories and lyrics that touch people with slices of real life -- real "I've been there" stories.

Do I think that people who are contemplative are far more creative than people whose minds simply aren't wired this way? Without a doubt. A recent entry on the blog The Universe expresses this:

Usually the most beautiful people, the most popular and loved, the "in" and chic, cool and hip, are the last ones to ever wonder about life, how it really works, manifesting change, and making a difference. . . You beat the system.

I love that, as it refers to the extra gift we have. We have a sixth sense for seeing life's real power that superficial people just don't have. It's what inspires writers, artists, and musicians to create some of the great artistic wonders of the world. We use our power to help others feel, relax, learn, love and endure. Artists like Sara McLachlan and Gwen Stefani are rich for a reason: because they have used their powers for good, and the world has "hugged" them back for their gifts to humanity. Karma is a beautiful thing.

_____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea.

10 November 2011

Things I'm thankful for, and a few I wish would disappear

by Nia

YAY:

1. The blogosphere. Here you can find people who like anything you like, discussing it in an articulate, meaningful way even if it's as niche and irrelevant to the fate of the universe as 1930s toasters or velour tracksuits or the topic that hooked me: perfume. I secretly suspect that blogging's reputation as pathetic and sad was started by professional writers who stumbled online and found that lots of people who do not write for a living are perfectly good at it. It put a perspective on their widdle talents that they just can't handle-wandle.

2. My apartment's plumbing. Whoever decided to install institutional-strength toilets in this crumbling edifice was a saint. It makes the loo look like a federal facility, and flushes like an F-14 taking off, but in ten years the toilet has not backed up once, which happens to be a phobia of mine.

3. TV on DVD.
Remember when TV was a joke? When it was considered career death for a movie actor to appear on TV? Now you can sort through decades of dross and find the good stuff and watch it whenever you want and as long as you want without a single word from our sponsor.

4. Wheels on suitcases. I for one have never taken this for granted. Years of lugging my family's vinyl behemoths through airports scarred me permanently. Every time I get my little rolling backpack out, I send a prayer of thanks to the luggage gods.

5. Sign language for toddlers. Small people in the pre-language phase tend to blame you for your failure to understand their babbling, screeching, and eyebrow waggling. I was on the receiving end of a lot of soul-destroying "You are an amateur" looks until I finally mastered the signs my younger relatives were learning in nursery school. It turned out they were just hitting me up for food.

GO AWAY:

1. The blogosphere. The legions of mouth-breathing blogging cretins out there can be divided into three camps: juvenile/offensive, arrogant/ignorant, and mind-numbingly-boring/smiley-face-super-positive. The latter is over-represented on women's networking sites, where 99% of the members have that Hi!!!!! tone that makes it impossible to tell them apart. Shouldn't these people be regulated? Or at least required to register in a central database somewhere?

2. Four- and five-inch heels in everyday, mid-priced shoe collections.
Remember when only designer labels or Frederick's of Hollywood sold the super-high heels? Now you can't get away from them. Even TV and movie actresses have developed a lurching, pitched-forward walk to accommodate them. And as other commentators have observed about high heels in general, why would you willingly hobble yourself? When archaeologists dig them up in 2,000 years they'll figure they were some sort of livestock restraint.

3. TV characters who have a new outfit every day. (FYI: women continue to catalog other females' wardrobes long after we leave high school.) The girl on "Veronica Mars" lived in a converted motel but had at least three leather jackets. Compare "I Love Lucy," in which Mrs. Ricardo wore the same 15 ensembles for five years.

31 October 2011

How I ended my depression


Here's a list of everything that led to the end of my 20-year depression that started in junior high. I've already posted this on my other blog about nutritional therapy.

But first a few notes about nutritional therapy. If you are not deficient in a vitamin or mineral, taking more of it in the form of supplements will not help. However, few people in American are NOT deficient. Unfortunately, except for ferritin and vitamin D and a few other tests, it is not possible to accurately test for deficiencies. Any doctor who tells you otherwise is just wrong. When there is a reliable test, the doctor often won't know about, or won't order it or even mention it because it's too expensive. (Most of them don't even know the proper thyroid tests or the ideal ranges for results.) You have to do a lot of research and a lot of experimenting.

Another thing: don't confuse maintenance doses with therapeutic doses. If you are in fact deficient, and you go around trying to address the symptoms of that deficiency with the US RDA of a vitamin or mineral -- the amount established by the government as necessary to keep an already-healthy person from becoming deficient -- you won't get anywhere. You're too far behind already.

So...

At about age 30 I tried antidepressants for the first time. After 18 months I realized they were a disaster for me and I looked elsewhere for solutions. A few months later, and after two years of unemployment due to my mental state, I found success with a gluten-free diet. At first I thought that all my problems had been solved, and it truly was the end of my despair, but if I had to go back to my mood in those early "I'm cured!" days, it would terrify me. But at the time, it was so much better than my norm that it was a miracle.

It took about two more years of tinkering with my diet and supplements before I realized I was normal. And with no help from any doctor, thank you very much, although they occasionally were of use on other issues. Just a lot of internet searching and a few alternative health books.

Following the logic that since celiac disease (for which a gluten-free diet is the solution) results in malabsorption and thus nutritional deficiencies, that my health problems were caused by nutritional deficiencies, I went in that direction, and with a few exceptions stayed on that road.

Here's a list of the supplements/treatments/practices that definitely had an effect on my depression, which is about one-tenth of what I actually tried. Mind you, I never took ALL of these at the same time, and only take a few of them now, on occasion.

  • Quit gluten.

  • Quit dairy. Resumed when corrected zinc deficiency.

  • Calcium/magnesium: 1000/500 per day at first? Maybe more.

  • Zinc: 50 mg/day for about a year, then cut back. This had the most noticeable effect of all the supplements. After a few months on it, I could eat dairy again without it lowering my mood. (The casein in dairy binds with zinc.)

  • Iron: Varying amounts.

  • B-complex: Started with B-50 3x/day.

  • Plus more of the following B vitamins, which B-complex doesn't have enough of, as they are too expensive for the manufacturer. Compare the various RDA percentages on the B-complex label to get an idea of the different amounts.
    -- Biotin: 1-2,000 mcg
    -- Folic acid: 400-800 mcg. Methylated versions are also available now.
    -- B12: 1-2,000 mcg. Methylated versions are also available.

  • Vitamin D3: 2,000 IU/day. Helped mood a bit, but mostly sleep. I should've tried a lot more but at the time the "experts" said that amount was pushing it.

  • Omega-3 EFAs. I took a lot of these for several years.

  • Treated for hypothyroidism. Zinc helped this, as did low-goitrogen diet, Armour thyroid for 18 months, and acupuncture, which I tried after I got tired of being slave to a prescription. After about 15 treatments in nine weeks with an M.D./D.O.M., I was able to stop the Rx.

  • Light therapy in winter for 30 minutes in morning. For me it prevents plummeting mood, insane carb cravings, zombie brain, and near-total insomnia.
Still affecting my mood:
  • Winter (seasonal affective disorder / SAD): I am assuming that lots of vitamin D3 will eventually fix this, but I developed a reaction to vitamin D3 supplements and can't get my levels high enough. (Still trying to figure that out.) Ideal results for the 25(OH)D test are supposedly 50-80 nmol/L, but I can't get above 20 nmol/L. Also, I have noticed that light therapy no longer works if I do it after 8 a.m., whereas for years it worked as long as I did it by 9 a.m.

  • Vicodin. (Demerol, however, is lovely.)

  • If I take a whole lot of something that competes with zinc and/or B vitamins -- for example, my recent experiments with huge doses of Ca/Mg for energy -- I'll have to take those supplements to keep my mood from falling.

  • Not getting enough calories. I'll feel it two days later.

____________________

Illustration by M. Rhea.

29 October 2011

Which of your traits made your life easier than it might've been?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: Life would've been trickier if I had been born with a bigger dose of that group-mind hormone thing that makes some young girls and women so annoying. About two years ago I read Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain and finally got a good explanation for why girls are like that: originally that trait compelled lady cave-dwellers to stick together to fight off marauding animals, raiding tribes, unwanted suitors, etc. Somehow it translates to contemporary life as talking constantly on the phone and making insincere compliments.

I never sensed that bond at all and was bored out of my mind anyway so I left and went to a succession of big cities. While I was off getting lost on strange freeways, the extra dopamine that new experiences generate counteracted the depression somewhat. If I had stayed at home, which was not exactly an international mecca, who knows what I would've ended up doing to battle the depression.

I ended up meeting people from cultures with different ways of looking at the world and at life, things as basic as sitting on the floor instead of on a piece of furniture, or peeling and serving a grapefruit among your guests instead of beer and pretzels. It made me question things more than I had before.

If I'd had more of that Stone Age clannish drive, social expectations would've been more important to me and I might have married some poor guy early on and made him miserable. I doubt I ever would've abandoned traditional medicine approaches to my health problems, in which case I'd be nuts or dead or in thrall to some nefarious shrink or on seven different prescriptions by now.

********

Pastor Jayne: Without a doubt my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior put my experience of clinical depression into a larger context that gave it meaning beyond my feelings. If I hadn't had faith that there was a purpose for my suffering, and a possibility of healing, I would have lost hope.

The other personality trait, which is very much tied to my faith, is that I am a giver. Receiving is a little harder for me. Continuing to serve others during my clinical depression helped me get outside myself for some meaningful moments. It got my eyes off me, and that is not easy to do when one has clinical depression.

********

Soledad: The quality I am most thankful for in myself is my down-to-earth nature. I think it has helped me accept my social aversion, because I don't feel that I'm missing that much by being less social than others. Like most introverts, being around people is too often a chore. It has also made me a good judge of like-minded people, whose company I do enjoy. As a result, I don't count how many friends I have, but how many who really add to my life, and I to theirs.

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea.

14 October 2011

Beliefs we don't notice we believe in:
an introduction to metaprogramming

by Nia

A recent internet search on melatonin landed me on erowid.com, a website about psychoactive drugs, where I came across this article about a concept I'd never heard of before: metaprogramming.

(Before you start snickering, let me point out that 1) technically, many perfumes can be classified as psychoactive, and 2) the site features careful observations by articulate people about how various substances affect their minds. Most of those substances just happen to be the type that will create a lot of work for your attorney if they are found on your person.)

The basic idea of metaprogramming is that we are all operating under a set of almost-invisible beliefs which are not necessarily the most efficient guidelines for moving through life. Once you recognize what they are, you can eliminate them and replace them with your own. Some writers refer to it as "creative reality selection." In KGB-talk, it's like de-programming yourself and then brainwashing yourself the way you want.

The author, James Kent, says that the metaprogram he is most conscious of is "work hard; buy more stuff." I started trying to think of other examples and came up with this list. Feel free to add to it.

1. "Work hard; buy more stuff." (James Kent)
2. Live in a residence you own.
3. Have a partner.
4. Don't be alone a lot.
5. Be happy.
6. Show how different or individual you are.
7. Show how smart you are.
8. Have strong opinions.
9. Show that you are sophisticated.
10. Rebel / question authority (James Kent)
11. Be the one who is right.
12. Appear wealthy.
13. Earn a profit.
14. Look young. Or maybe, Don't be easily identifiable with a specific age group (once you're past a certain age).
15. Live in the same place for a long time.
16. Socialize often and with lots of people.

I tried to phrase the entries as neutrally as possible and to find ideas that change over time or from culture to culture. For example, nos. 6, 7, and 8 would be strange to my parents and grandparents but normal to twenty- and thirty-somethings. In my family at least, older generations were raised not to talk about or draw attention to themselves, never mind brag.

They were also raised not to mention recent purchases or how much they spent on something. Back then people simply didn't shop as much as we do now, but you also didn't want to make people feel bad if you had more money to spend than they did. In the age before easy credit, people had finite spending limits.

Their strong belief in 2 and 3 often causes friction with the younger generations, who feel pressured to do something they don't value as much and/or simply can't afford.

I started thinking about 4 when I realized that my mental state improved my senior year in college when for the first time in my life I was able to be completely alone, for days at a time, in a nearly-empty dorm wing.

No. 5 might make me sound like a wet blanket but I think of "happy" as a very American idea and a sort of transitory giddiness. Sustaining it all the time takes a lot of energy. What about the other options: being content, at peace, joyful, calm . . . ?

In much of China, 6, 7, and 8 would not be on the list, but 3 and 4 would be. From what I've heard from my Bangalore coworkers, in India being alone (no. 4) is rarely even an option.

No. 10 is only, what, 60 years old? Or maybe it started in the 1920s with the flappers?

Those are the deepest thoughts I've managed in a long time. I need a Pepsi.

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea.

10 October 2011

What energy-sucking relationships or situations do you feel you have to maintain?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: For me these tend to be work relationships. During a few jobs that became emotionally draining because of difficult personalities we didn't really have any control over, I lost patience with and ended my more challenging personal friendships. I had to make adjustments in my emotional-energy allocations to meet the new demand from my work life. Of course part of my reaction was due to stress making everything seem more irritating than it actually was.

My domicile is also a source of annoyance, namely my apartment building's structural and occasionally olfactory resemblance to a Victorian tenement. DSL will not work for 24 hours after a storm, the smell after it rains is similar to fermented papier-mâché, and there's a mad man in the attic. However it has a huge, sanity-saving, east-facing window that looks out over a park, and I couldn't find that much light exposure elsewhere if I paid three times as much. Plus the idea of moving is exhausting.

********

Pastor Jayne: Believe it or not, it's no one close to me (haha). In the age of Facebook, there is ample opportunity to practice healthy boundaries. (Can you "just say no"?) But for some reason I feel compelled to accept friend requests from people I haven't seen since high school and hardly knew then anyway. Which means more trivia and silly photos on the news feed. Which means more time spent on the computer if you feel at all compelled to keep up with people on Facebook whom you've friended. Which I do. When one has clinical depression, I daresay face-to-face is far better for your mental health than facebooking, tweeting and linking-in. (THERE! I SAID IT!)

********
Soledad: I think all relationships are energy zappers to some degree -- this is coming from an introvert who would have very few were it possible to go through life that way.

They are also changeable things based on what is going on in the lives of the people involved. If your life isn't going so well, it tends to make you jealous of those who don't share the specific problems you have encountered. And a lot of those folks may not see your situation with a kind eye, and instead of bestowing a little extra kindness, they lash out. I've seen this selfish model far too often in my own life.

Because I tend to be a deeply empathetic person, which I think is part of the introvert nature, I tend to be very aware of individuals who need that extra understanding, and I try hard to accommodate it.

____________________
Illustration by M. Rhea.

30 September 2011

Reflections on nine months of blogging: Meh.

by Nia

I started this blog in January 2011 as a place to capture my thinking about my decades-long depression that ended about 12 years ago. About two years ago I started getting angry about how little support I had had, how you weren't supposed to talk about it, how you weren't supposed to acknowledge how much it cost. In a blog I figured I could express my frustration and categorize my ideas neatly and make them easy to find for someone going through that same shit who needs some validation about his/her emotions. However, after a few posts I realized I was in danger of boring myself to death, so I roped in my friends Pastor Jayne and Soledad for their perspectives on their own experiences with depression. Their thoughtfulness and enthusiasm have added exponentially to Blessed Depth.

We tried to recruit four different guys to join us, to balance out the hormones, but struck out with all of them and gave up. That was an important lesson: don't bother approaching someone about contributing to your blog if they don't read blogs. They'll think you're pathetic. The blogging and non-blogging worlds are a galaxy apart. And I understand perfectly: the vast majority of the blogosphere has all the grace of a strip mall, staffed by people who don't get enough attention at home. It took me five years of ruthless culling of my RSS reader feed list before I started to think that maybe it would be cool to join these blogger people.

After a few months of regular posts I started researching how to get the blog noticed by . . . well, anyone. I read Blogging for Dummies and blogging websites and how-to-blog posts by Mommy Wants Vodka and the mega-successful Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond. Everyone said the same thing: leave comments on other blogs in your area of interest until you're blue in the face. (The second most important thing to promote a blog is to post a lot, which I just can't do.)

This was a problem. I had never read blogs about depression. Perfume, astronomy, and product design, yes. Mood disorders, no. I started going through a list of about 180 mental-health blogs from the American Psychological Association's Your Mind Your Body blog. Maybe 30 of them I'd be willing to comment on. I was hindered by several things:

  • For some people this is natural. For me it is like having teeth pulled.

  • I no longer belong to the community I'm writing for. I feel a bit like an imposter. "Mercenary, stalking creep" might be a bit strong.

  • I ignore anything written for content farms.

  • I have no tolerance for padding and fluff like inspirational quotes and lists of links. Posting a lot is REALLY overrated.

  • I find it too stressful to read about abuse, a subject of many mental-health bloggers. I have to manage my stress level carefully. I'm pretty sure that watching "The Wire" gave me PTSD. Band Back Together almost killed me. They should consider a DEFCON warning system for their posts.

  • Many bloggers use a daily journal format to ruminate about their mental state. I need more distillation of the relevant points, as it were. I just don't have that kind of time.

  • For many mood-disordered bloggers, connecting with other bloggers is not on their list of priorities. They've got bigger battles.

As I continued my exploration I became increasingly pissed-off by the tendency of almost all the so-called "experts" -- practitioners, researchers -- to discuss the different types of depression as one and the same. They should be specified, separated out: depression caused by events, by biochemistry, by other medications, by thinking habits learned while depressed, by thinking habits learned just from being alive in the 21st century -- or as Cary Tennis called them in this post, "little linguistic machines of death."

People who've had their moods swoop up and down for 20 years are looking online for help and being told to "think positive thoughts." It's like spitting on a prairie fire. We need some way to categorize and describe the different levels of depression so that people are not left in despair by experts quoting cognitive behavioral tricks that might very well help someone at a different level of mood disorder, but which for other people are no more than moronic platitudes. This disconnect also has the potential to reinforce a misconception that a lot of sufferers hear all their lives, that their depression is their fault and that they're not trying hard enough, when that might not be the speaker's intent at all.

And don't even get me started on the lack of information about the blatantly obvious nutritional link to depression. At the rate the American medical establishment is going, it'll be 50 years before nutritional therapy becomes common practice for mood disorders.

Anyway, I finally abandoned the list and instead visited umbrella organizations of bloggers and writers and designers such as BlogHer and SheWrites and Technorati. I was more successful in connecting to other bloggers, but not to other mental-health bloggers, and not to other mental-health blog readers.

At the moment we have between scores and hundreds of visitors a day, including a dozen Russian spyware sites and an odd Jakarta resident who copies every single post to his non-English-language blog.

Anyone who finds us will do so through search engines and are at the mercy of my SEO keywording and categorizing and tagging. Kind of like the buried Monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," Blessed Depth's signal is beeping under the static of a million thrice-a-day bloggers.

____________________

Image: detail of still photo of Elsa Lanchester from "Bride of Frankenstein," copyright 1935, renewed 1998 by Universal Studios. And I'm guessing there's some trademark thingamajig with that Apple product photo. Remix by M. Rhea.

22 September 2011

Has anyone ever said anything that made you feel better during your depression?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I originally posed this question to demonstrate the stupidity of assuming you can cheer up a depressed person or talk them out of it. It has since occurred to me that a friend's comment years ago, long before depression became a common topic in the media or in conversation, did make me feel less isolated and cursed. She snapped, "Do you think it makes you special? Why do you think so many people do drugs?" It had the effect of separating the depression out from my body chemistry just a bit, as if with a centrifuge. It gave me a new, albeit very limited, ability to stand back and look at it more objectively and dispassionately.

********

Pastor Jayne: I was always shocked when people said, "I didn't know you have depression." I guess I assumed it was written all over my face (puffy from crying, red from insomnia), house (messy) and cooking (motivation-less and wholly uncreative). It was nice to hear that people couldn't always tell.

********

Soledad: I was watching a British drama on PBS called "Downton Abbey" last winter. It's about the trials and tribulations of a wealthy (and struggling to stay so) British family living in a large country home in England. In one episode, one of the butlers tries to treat his limp with a "leg straightener," a giant leg brace that nearly causes gangrene on his leg. As he and the head maid stand at the edge of the pond ready to throw the monstrous device into the depths, the butler laments that he just wants to "be normal." To which the maid replies, "We all have our scars, inside and out."

How very true that statement is. It made me feel better because it emphasizes that although we each struggle with different debacles in our lives, we are never really alone. Each person has his cross to bear, so to speak. It makes me think of another saying that I believe has a lot of truth to it: "Most fears are born of fatigue and loneliness." What that says to me is that if we are each a little less tired and lonely, we really will fear less, and enjoy this life more. I try to keep these things in mind as I live mine.

____________________
Image: detail of "The Seven Trumpets of Jericho," ca. 1902, James Tissot (1836-1902). {{PD-art}}.

13 September 2011

Have you had any eureka moments or revelations about your depression?

by Pastor Jayne and Soledad. Read Nia's earlier answer.

Pastor Jayne: Probably the most helpful insight into the cause of depression came when I read Undoing Depression (see our earlier post on helpful books we've read). It said that depression is "anger turned inward." Previously, I had (mostly) healthy, measured reactions to situations that should produce anger. But then my parents died, and my sister and aunts "disowned" me in the process of handling my parents' estate. With so many losses in such a short period of time, I found myself no longer able to express my anger. I just cried constantly. "Anger turned inward" made immediate sense to me when I read it. In order to heal from depression, one of my tasks in therapy was to learn once again to express ALL of my emotions in a healthy, measured way...especially anger.

********

Soledad: Eureka! I have had sudden realizations about depression that have led to gold nuggets of wisdom to live by. They are:

1. Sometimes you really are making things worse in your head than they actually are. Case in point: I had surgery to remove bags under my eyes. Several years later, a vein appeared underneath one eye. In my mind, everyone was staring at the horrific vein, and it was zapping my self-confidence. A head plastic surgeon at a leading clinic told me, "I assure you, not as many people as you think actually even notice it."

2. Everybody gets depressed. Just not everyone is comfortable sharing that information. So you're a sharer. That's okay. It's bound to lead to people offering you solutions they've tried that worked.

3. You can get stuck in sadness if you don't try to develop positive thinking habits. Ever hear someone offer up the lighter side to a tough situation? Like the comedian with cancer who listed the ten top things about having the disease: number one -- "I can stand as close to the microwave as I want."

So yeah, no matter how bad it is, it is all a matter of perspective. In every bad week one good thing will always come...Friday!

____________________
Illustration by Kris Barnes. Fun!

04 September 2011

Another JDID* survivor's story

*jaw-droppingly irresponsible diagnosis

In our 8/9/11 post on our responses to anti-depressants I mentioned that I had once been diagnosed as bipolar based on the fact that my ability to concentrate and my insomnia both worsened considerably on Zoloft, which I had been taking for depression.

I just came across Beyond Meds' Gianna's story of being diagnosed as bipolar following several manic episodes brought on by hallucinogens. Apparently the diagnosis "reacts really badly to hallucinogens" didn't occur to anyone who was treating her. She was on six prescriptions when she undiagnosed herself 23 years later.

28 August 2011

What's REALLY behind the depression epidemic

From the 8/28/11 New York Times obituary for Budd Hopkins, an abstract expressionist artist and one of the first UFO abduction researchers:

"Many [abduction victims] who shared their stories with Mr. Hopkins had no conscious memory of their abductions at first. But they had lived for years, he said, with the nagging feeling that somewhere, something in their lives had gone horribly wrong.

...By his reckoning, 1 in 50 Americans has been abducted by an alien and simply does not know it."

23 August 2011

What other mental weirdnesses accompanied your depression?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: In junior high I was given a diary for a gift and realized that I would feel jittery and distracted until I wrote the day's entry, even if I had nothing to say. I would feel compelled to write in it, even if didn't want to. Is that OCD? After about a month of that nonsense I decided to avoid the practice entirely and never took it up again.

The paranoia about personal safety I thought was just part of living in a high-crime area, but later I realized that it came and went separately from external circumstances. Being nervous about pulling into a parking garage got really old, as did replaying friends' third-hand accounts of violent crimes in my head.

The post-apocalyptic nightmares were the weirdest. If I had any other kind of nightmare, I don't remember them. There were two or three a year and the setting was always one in which the population had been reduced to about 1 in 1,000. The dreams were almost banal in their detail and it was more like experiencing a different reality than dreaming. Nothing horrible happened except for the constant sense of dread: you didn't know if you should go toward sounds of habitation or away. You'd think it would be entertaining, but over the years the dread crept into my waking life.

It did make me more tolerant of L.A. traffic. I could sit patiently without moving on the freeway for 20 minutes, thinking, "better this than no traffic at all."

I read later that feelings of doom, gloom and dread are classic signs of vitamin B deficiencies, which I think of whenever I see those homeless end-of-the-world crazy people downtown. The nightmares ended some time in the three-year period after I started taking a multi-vitamin every day but before the depression ended. I can't remember exactly when, though.

****************

Pastor Jayne: Prior to going on medication, my primary co-morbid condition (trichotillomania: chronic, repetitive hair-pulling disorder) was noticeably exacerbated by my blessed depth. Once the right dosage was achieved, I noticed a corresponding waning of my trich. Interestingly, though, once I got off the medication three years later, my trich got very loud. It was as if my body and mind were trying to figure out how to communicate again without a mediator (i.e., medication). I'm happy to say they are getting along very well these days. I still pull hair, but not to the ridiculous degree I did in the year prior and year post-medication.

****************

Soledad: Mental weirdness is a very appropriate technical term and excellent descriptor for the wackiness most of us find accompanies depression; when you don't feel right, everything just seems off. For me, depression was accompanied most definitely by anxiety. And when you think about it, that makes perfect sense. You're feeling badly about your life and yourself, and boom -- you start feeling nervous about a lot of things that may not have made you nervous before. It's sort of like the positive reinforcement you used to get has turned into negative reinforcement. So you start fearing situations that didn't bother you before. Before you were successful in those situations, so you had nothing to fear. Post-anxiety, you fear everything, even ridiculous things. I never had a fear of heights pre-depression. Then, post-, I was exceedingly afraid of heights, even in lofts or office buildings with dramatic drop-offs. These breathtakingly beautiful spaces actually did take my breath away and made me irrationally afraid of falling, even though I was nowhere near the edge of the drop-off. So depression and anxiety seem inextricably linked.

Paranoia in its most extreme form is something I never experienced. But certainly in milder ways I did. When speaking in meetings I became unbelievably self-conscious, as if I might have a heart attack. I began to fear the speaking more than an actual heart attack, as strange as that may sound. I couldn't accept any more negative reinforcement, and my flight response kicked in. It's a terrible feeling -- that your life is essentially free-falling, and no one is there to support you, or keep you from falling, not even yourself.

I guess the answer is to seek out positive reinforcement to help instill confidence. But how to do this in environments where positive reinforcement is not there for the taking? That is the quest, my friends. And I'd love to hear others' suggestions on how they have overcome it.

____________________
Illustration: 19th-century phrenology chart. {{PD-old}}. Remix by M. Rhea.

17 August 2011

Debauchery: an unsung approach to depression

by Nia

In The Sun King, her history of Louis XIV, Nancy Mitford spends a chapter on Francois Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti (1664-1709), one of Louis' young cousins. When it became clear that the brilliant Prince was going to outshine the King's son and heir in every way, the King got jealous and threw roadblocks in his career for the rest of his life:

"...as the years dragged on uselessly and his hopeful youth was succeeded by a disillusioned middle age, the Prince de Conti became embittered and gave himself up to debauchery."

Why was I never told about this treatment option for my depression? I was asked by various therapists if I used a controlled substance or found myself hiding any personal habits from friends and family members, but I don't remember any doctor specifically saying, "We've found that wallowing in all the vices at once has had promising results. Do give that a go."

Is it considered too expensive? Debauchery has historically been the realm of those with limitless funds. But have you priced transcranial magnetic stimulation lately? Is a season of gambling, whoring, drinking, and opium- ...whatever one does with opium all that much more?

Is it a class thing? Am I too far removed from the French nobility? I for one am damned if I'm going to be judged less worthy than a bunch of inbred sots in satin pants who didn't bathe for weeks at a time. And those were the ones who weren't depressed.

And don't tell me it's a question of how much I've suffered. Excuse me for never being denied a regimental command or the governorship of a province. I spent a decade in a cubicle farm. I'd like to see Mr. Buckles-on-his-Shoes make it through just one week there.

I am willing to concede, however, that translating debauchery to modern-day life is not without challenges:

1. The illusion of wealth is still required. Depressives who stock their larders with Budweiser or complain about Netflix fees whilst entertaining visa-less Estonian strippers in the name of self-medication do not qualify as debauched. They are simply filthy pigs.

2. Without coachmen, it is much easier to inadvertently kill people. The debauchery game has changed significantly now that one is expected to drive one's own conveyance home after evenings spent in dissipation and depravity.

3. Strangers will butt in. Where in simpler times a family member might entreat the local minister to intervene in one's carousing, now more often attorneys, judges, and Child Services are involved.

4. There is the matter of wench identification and procurement. In the Prince's day the respectable debauchee found his wenches at taverns or the cheaper seats at theaters. I am not sure what the current approximation is: perhaps it is the type of gal who shows up at the bar of whatever hotel the Yankees are staying at.

5. The template for the female debauchee has, alas, yet to be perfected. The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) came close: she strolled through Venice stark naked, served opium at tarot-readings, painted her house servants gold, and fished the occasional dead party guest out of her fountain. But she was also rather obviously off her rocker. Perhaps the great appeal of Angelina Jolie in her single days was the whisper of a hint of a secret hope that she was debauched.

6. Guilt is not an option. The debauchee's commitment to perversity, turpitude, and sin must not waver. One cannot succumb to feelings of shame or regret for mortifying one's family, scandalizing one's neighbors, and appalling one's friends. There is no crying in debasement.

____________________
Image: portrait of François Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, Anon., French school, 17th century. {{PD-art}}.

09 August 2011

How did you respond to anti-depressants?

by Soledad (short), Pastor Jayne, and Nia (long)

Soledad: Anti-depressants, strangely enough, did more to mess up my system than to help it. I tried just about every one (the serotonin re-uptake inhibitor types). And they all left me sleepless, like I had drunk an entire pot of coffee. When I asked the doctor about this strange phenomenon, she said that she had never heard of that reaction before. Yet I have two personal friends that report the same sleeplessness on these drugs.

I know that sleeplessness, or any break in my normal routine, does more to dash my mood than anything. I am a nice person on sleep, and am more of a devil on a less than optimum amount. So you can imagine that living with me during the brief time I took these pills was less fun than a barrel of monkeys.

I don't recall feeling any less depressed, just less rested and lousier.

****************

Pastor Jayne: I did a lot of research before getting on an anti-depressant. It helped that my husband's friend was a psychiatric pharmacist. One of my main concerns was that I not gain 15-20 pounds as I'd heard can happen. (I was finally getting my body back now that the kids were 5 and 7!) Also, I'd heard that anti-depressants could affect your sex drive, and I didn't want my hubby to end up depressed so I wanted to avoid that renowned side effect as well. I eventually chose Celexa (Lexapro) because I learned it was a cleaner drug: (1) fewer side effects, (2) effective at a lower dosage, and (3) a shorter on-ramp. I found all of that to be true. The first two weeks I was incredibly sleepy, but after that I slept more normally than I had in a year, and felt much more like my old self. The fountain of tears also (mostly) turned off -- I no longer cried during Swiffer commercials.

One piece of critical advice my husband's friend (the pharmacist) gave me: even if the doctor suggests a certain dosage as you titrate up, if you are simply too drowsy to function, then titrate up more slowly. So I cut the pills in half and titrated up at half the dosages the doctor recommended. For my body type, weight, medication tolerance, etc. it worked better for me that way. TGFAD! (Thank God For Anti-Depressants!)

****************

Nia: I started Zoloft in May of 1996, two months after quitting my job in Los Angeles to avoid being fired for my deteriorating performance. I also quit because I'd run out of ideas for solving my 15-odd years of depression, and was basically saying screw it, universe, you take over. As my friend Dennis phrased it, I was looking for a paradigm shift, but I had no clue how to go about it.

In May I picked up Listening to Prozac, recognized myself in the patients the author described, grabbed the Yellow Pages and called the closest psychologist I could find in my neighborhood. After a 20-minute appointment, I had a prescription for 50 mg of Zoloft. The doctor told me to start at 25 and to not expect much for six weeks. I took my first dose when I got home. When I woke up the next morning, I felt different. And anyone who wants to tell me that was the placebo effect, let me kick you in the shins.

That thing they warn you about where strangers approach you for directions -- that happened a few days later on the sidewalk. Soon after that, I was asking a hardware store clerk about stepladders when an actor on the other side of the store called out to tell me where I could find them. Admittedly, actors are not the best gauge of normal human interaction, but still, that sort of thing never happened to me. I looked forward to waking up in the morning, talked more, went outside more, accepted more social invitations, started drawing again for the first time since junior high. It was an effing miracle. I experienced for the first time since I was in grade school what it is to be normal. I told everyone how much better I was feeling, and for a while thought my problems were over.

My sleep immediately fell to two hours a night from my usual three, and my already-terrible ability to concentrate got even worse. Upping the dose made it even more so, so I never went past 25 mg. But I was so happy I didn't care. However, after three job interviews on the Rx I realized I couldn't function well enough to work. I concluded that my life was the problem, that I was in the wrong place with the wrong friends, and I moved to Seattle. Sadly, the only change was in sun exposure, which tanked my mood and made me eat a lot more, and my weight increased 15% in 40 days.

A new doctor suggested my response to the Zoloft indicated I might be bipolar and that a different type of drug might be more helpful. (This sounds moronic to me now.) After 18 months of upheaval, with resumption of a normal life nowhere in sight, I asked my parents if they could take care of me until I figured this out.

At my parents' house, I saw two different doctors, got an Rx that made my eyebrows fall out, and stopped it, but continued to investigate the bipolar angle. One night I visited a local support group, professional adults with careers and families, plus two high-school students, who were gracious and welcoming and shared their experiences and histories. They were also the most wretched group of people I'd ever met -- and I'd met refugees from Argentina and Iran whose relatives had been tortured and murdered. They were not getting better; they just got a new prescription when their symptoms or side effects became unbearable. One woman, who rocked in her chair incessantly and talked like a machine gun, was on five different prescriptions. May Whoever Is Up There forgive me, but I thought I'd rather die than identify with them. I decided to exit that path of inquiry, and lost whatever faith I had in doctors who prescribed psychiatric medication.

I think it was around that time that I started tapering off my Rx, which I think was still Zoloft at the end. I had had a growing sense for several months that the meds were a Plexiglas-like bridge over the huge chasm of my mood, that the chasm was getting deeper and deeper, and that if I didn't get down to ground level, no matter how bad it felt, I would never be able to...something. Stop it from distintegrating completely, maybe, or figure out what the cause was.

It might have been during the tapering off, or soon after, that I experienced the sensation that Elizabeth Wurtzel describes in Prozac Nation, where she lay in bed screaming from the mental pain. Picture your brain as a NASA photo of the world at night, and all the lights are your neurons doing their neuron-y thing. North Korea, with no electricity, is that part of your brain that is depressed. Or causes depression. Or whatever. Somehow what is a void becomes a solid, energy-sucking, space-warping mass. In your brain. Or, alternatively, it's like having a faceless, shadowy, hooded wraith pinning your mind to the floor in a wrestling hold.

So that was fun.

Eventually I read an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer describing celiac disease and listing depression as a symptom, which sent me down another road that finally paid off (despite the fact that I had tested negative for it back in Seattle). Without that Zoloft, though, I really doubt I'd have made it that far. For all the side effects, at least I got an idea of what life could be like.

____________________
Image: photo of Chewbacca is copyright Lucasfilm Ltd. who I can say with a fair degree of certainty will never give me permission to use it but let's just see what happens shall we? Remix by M. Rhea.

28 July 2011

Six depression-related articles and research studies

by Nia

1. "In Defense of Antidepressants," Peter D. Kramer, The New York Times, July 9, 2011.

The author of Listening to Prozac disputes recent findings that antidepressants are no better than placebos and discusses the research design flaws in the studies.

Reflection on Depression also has a few posts on the issues involved in the debate.

2. "New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test," Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, July 10, 2011.

Apparently there is a move afoot among medical schools, such as Virginia Tech Carilion, to train new doctors how not to be arrogant assholes.

3. "Digestive problems early in life may increase risk for depression, study suggests," Stanford University Medical Center. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2011.

If you are a celiac, this will explain a lot.

4. "Gut bacteria linked to behavior: That anxiety may be in your gut, not in your head," McMaster University. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2011.

Interesting enough, but then there's this downright eerie bit:

"...when germ-free mice with a genetic background associated with passive behaviour were colonized with [intestinal] bacteria from mice with higher exploratory behaviour, they became more active and daring. Similarly, normally active mice became more passive after receiving bacteria from mice whose genetic background is associated with passive behaviour."

Proving what you've always suspected: we are nothing but automatons controlled by hordes of single-celled micro-fiends!

Bonus content: research by morons!

5. "People with depression get stuck on bad thoughts, unable to turn their attention away, study suggests," Association for Psychological Science. ScienceDaily, 3 Jun. 2011.

This article was harmless enough until the last line: "[The researcher] hopes that these findings point towards a way to help people with depression, by training them to turn their minds away from negative thoughts."

If my tax money went to fund that jackass' work, I am going to kick someone.

6. "Depression saps endurance of the brain's reward circuitry," University of Wisconsin-Madison. ScienceDaily, 22 Dec. 2009.

First sentence: "A new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that depressed patients are unable to sustain activity in brain areas related to positive emotion."

Like effing duh.

22 July 2011

How long did it take for you to recognize your depression for what it was/is?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I knew early on what my depression was, but I can't recall when exactly I learned it. My mother told me, because she had grown up with it herself. It was ninth grade at the latest. I do remember sitting in study hall in tenth grade and wondering, "Why do I feel this way, if nothing bad has ever happened to me?"

For a long time I assumed that people who were depressed without knowing it were dumb, or assholes, or both. When I read a magazine interview with a fairly articulate man who said he hadn't realized he was depressed until his wife suggested the possibility, I started to wonder if it was unusual for anyone to be able to identify depression in themselves. Maybe it has to do with what your baseline mood usually is.

Even though I felt like a freak because of the depression, and felt it was at least partly my fault, I imagine that feeling would've been a whole lot more destructive if I hadn't known it was depression. I'd probably have ended up an alcoholic, glue-sniffing cult member. Or at least surrounded by people who treated me like crap. Or, God forbid, musicians.

Pastor Jayne: Although my father had clinical depression for most of my childhood, he was not diagnosed until I was in my 20's. So you think I would've been on the lookout for early signs of blessed depth in myself. The combination of risk factors (complicated grief process, major move to another state, career change and especially decrease in exposure to sunlight) should have put me on alert. However, I only gradually realized that my inability to sleep or eat, and my stream of regular tears at sundown daily, were due to something other than my bad cooking.

From what I can remember, it was about six months from onset of symptoms to diagnosis. By the time I saw a psychiatrist, it had progressed to what she described as major clinical depression. So digging out took longer than it might have. I am now depression-free, but also much more educated about what to look for to prevent relapse.

By the way, my cooking has gotten better, too.

Soledad: I think I've always realized that I suffered from depression more than most others around me. The summer after fourth grade I remember laying on the couch all summer -- no idea why -- just didn't want to interact with anyone. At the time, I don't think I had the capacity to psychoanalyze myself enough to discover what was happening. But I suspect I was mimicking my mother's behavior.

Many people think depression is just a pile of neurons misfiring based on chemical imbalances. Or that it's caused by watching family members display similar behavior. And these things certainly could be root causes of depression.

At this point in my life, I can say that I recognize the D monster for what it is -- regardless of its causes, it's something that can destroy all my relationships if I let it. And it's also something that makes me a great friend -- because I recognize it in others -- enough to do positive things for them -- gestures, cards, emails, calls, get-togethers -- whatever works for that particular friend. It allows me to be a better writer as I revel in telling people's stories of triumph over their particular demons.

I now recognize depression as a way of looking at my circumstances in a pessimistic way. I had had to clear a lot of negatives out of my life -- toxic people mostly. The rest of my own personal negatives I try to work with as best I can -- and look at things optimistically even when they're looking dour. It isn't easy, especially when you feel that others may have it easier than you do. But, I've learned you can't compare yourself to others -- as they have different skills and circumstances. You can only look at yourself and work to make yourself the best you that you can be. Sounds simple. And simple is good I've found. It lets the brain rest awhile. And a rested brain is a creative one, and that leads to a happy heart.

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Illustration by Kris Barnes.

14 July 2011

A mood-lifting psychoactive you can use in public and not get arrested for

by Nia

Marla at Perfume-Smellin' Things recently blogged about perfumes featuring frankincense, a component of incense which, according to a 2008 research study that somehow completely missed me, is a psychoactive agent that can affect depression and anxiety.

Apparently history is full of censer-swinging dope fiends: the use of frankincense, aka oliban or olibanum, goes back all the way to the ancient Egyptians. In addition to the usual religious ceremonial uses, it has been used to "benumb the senses" of condemned prisoners, among other applications. We will ignore the research paper's reference to an ancient Greek rumor about it causing madness.

As I read the discussion between Marla and her commenters about their favorite frankincense or incense scents, I realized that most of my favorite perfumes are of this type. Here's a list of the ones they mention:

Avignon, Kyoto, and Cardinal (that's three different scents) by Comme des Garcons
Encens Flamboyant by Annick Goutal
Encens et Lavande by Serge Lutens
Incense Pure by Sonoma Scent Studio
L'air du Desert Morocain by Tauer Perfumes
Oliban by Keiko Mecheri
Om by Miller et Bertaux
Messe de Minuit by Etro
Passage d'Enfer by L'Artisan

And here are two of my favorites:
Shaal Nur by Etro
Eau de Gloire by Parfum d'Empire

To my nose, incense scents are more unisex, so if you are or know an adventuresome male, you might want to give them a try. You can get small, inexpensive samples of most of the ones mentioned here at the Perfumed Court, a perfume decant seller. Samples average about $6 and come in wee little vials. Shipping is around $6 per order. YMMV. Larger-sized samples are also available, in case you find a perfume you like but don't want to shell out $150 on a new bottle you won't use up anyway.

I did not find Oliban or Incense Pure at the Perfumed Court. For the latter, go to Sonoma Scent Studio for a $3.25 or $8 sample.

The Perfumed Court also has a frankincense sampler set, or if you're feeling independent you can do a site search for frankincense and/or incense and do your own exploring.

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Illustration: remix by M. Rhea of 1950s Coty ad found at Collection2al1 blog.

07 July 2011

How has your depression affected your spirituality?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I was raised without religion, and my depression arrived after grade school, and these factors no doubt contributed to the cannot-be-bothered agnostic bent I had until my senior year in college. My family members never said anything bad about any religion but I absorbed enough media bias to develop the notion that "religious" people were a bit deficient mentally. What I learned in history classes about the Crusades didn't win me over, either. Mostly though I saw no point in a deity who couldn't protect you from a mental torture that tainted just about everything in life that should be fun.

However, I had enough decent, intelligent friends and relatives who were mildly religious that I kept my opinion to myself and figured it was a quality you had to overlook, like bad fashion sense or being a Kenny Loggins fan. In college I befriended a few people who turned out to be even more religious and my thinking changed again: two people can have radically different religious/spiritual beliefs without one of them being deluded. But in general I found the whole question of the existence of a higher power to be tiresome.

The depression death grip eased up just a bit my senior year, possibly because I had a lighter schedule and more time to be alone. That year I experienced several incidents of awe that made me think there might be something mysterious out there...nothing more concrete than that. One was the way the mountains outside Phoenix looked like big sleeping cats right before sunset. Another happened while listening to Van Morrison's album "Moondance."

Was that feeling caused by my unfamiliarity with the sensation of awe, which had been dampened by the depression? Was I just awed at awe and misinterpreting it? I dunno. It didn't seem that way. Anyway, I just left it at that: there's a mystery out there. I find life supremely dull without a mystery.

****************

Pastor Jayne: The lyrics to this song, which I heard for the first time on my CD player as I was about to ascend the final peak of Half Dome via the cables, completely illustrated my life: my attempts to "do life" on my own, my descent into blessed depth, my face plant, and my new identity as a daughter of grace. My fave line: " 'til she knelt beneath a wall that will could never scale". Blessed depth was that wall. Hence the name "blessed."

Daughter of Grace by Twila Paris

    She went down so low, thought she'd never ever find the surface again
    Went so far astray thought she'd never find her way back home

    Hated to think about the past almost as much as she hated to think about the future
    She sat down inside to wait, to rest her mind a while
    No use trying to fight with fate or fake a smile

    There she found the end of herself
    Heard a small voice crying for help and she was

    [CHORUS:]
      Carried in the arms of love and mercy Breathing in a second wind Shining with the light of each new morning Looking into hope again Unable to take another step Finally ready to begin Born for a second time in a brand new place Daughter of grace
    She spent half her life working hard
    to be someone you had to admire
    Met the expectations and added something of her own
    So proud of all that she had done
    Where was the glory?
    So proud at all she had not done
    'Til she knelt beneath a wall that will could never scale
    Broken and discovering that she could fail

    There she found the end of herself
    Heard her own voice crying for help and she was (CHORUS)...

    Grace is there for everyone
    Grace is always free
    We must all depend on grace
    Especially me, especially me, I have been (CHORUS)...

    ****************

    Soledad: Being surrounded by people who worship God throughout my life, I never "got it." Despite signing up for Bible study numerous times as a child and as an adult, I didn't subscribe to this "believe and ye shall receive" mentality. It seems too much like buying a vote to me. I want to believe in things, people, and ideas because they work well and I admire them. Not because they tell me I'll go to hell if I don't.

    I am actually surprised this sort of thinking "works" for so many. And I think it's mainly due to how people are raised. You tend to trust things/people/ideas that remind you of the security of your family, and your childhood. Instead, I believe in the value of good works and a benevolent society. These things are reflected in Buddhism and Taoism, and certainly also in Christianity. So, for me at least, I believe in "Do unto others..." and all the other tenets of most organized religions, it's just that I don't believe you should have to worship a being in order to behave that way. I will serve others in my life because it's the right thing to do and because I want to, not because someone told me I must do it.

    It is unclear to me whether being an introvert and a realist (with what some might call a pessimistic bent) has influenced my spiritual choices in life. But I suspect if I were not such a realist, an unseen, unprovable deity might hold more weight with me. Maybe I need to move to Missouri, the "Show Me State." Things that are unprovable don't make it very far into my life.

    And I suspect that being a realist and an agnostic has increased my sense of isolation in the world, and thus contributed to some loneliness. And what spikes depression better than loneliness?! When I feel everyone is doing something I cannot do with a clear conscience, it tends to make me feel a little left out and in search of more like-minded people, of which there are too few.

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    Illustration by M. Rhea.

    30 June 2011

    What books have helped you deal with your depression?

    by Nia and Pastor Jayne

    Nia: I had no success with most mainstream books about depression — Undoing Depression by Richard O'Connor was one that I looked at — because so many of them assumed an event-based depression and were about changing thinking habits, which for me simply was not the problem. I had to go the physiologically-based route. The Mood Cure by Dr. Julia Ross (slightly optimistic title) was much more useful to me in explaining what's going on up there.

    Fifteen years ago, Listening to Prozac by Peter D. Kramer was the first thing I read that presented depression in a neutral, non-judgmental tone. Shadow Syndromes by John J. Ratey made me realize that you didn't have to be a suicidal screaming banshee to qualify for anti-depressants (also 15 years ago), and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel left me relieved that someone with a seriously out-of-whack brain could still be articulate and accomplished. I had the same reaction years later to Karen Armstrong's memoir The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, about her epilepsy and her life in and out of a convent and at Oxford.

    Pastor Jayne: I too have read Undoing Depression but other than that I have not read other secular books on the topic. The ones that helped me get through, however, were: Get Out of that Pit by Beth Moore, Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud, Depression: The Way Up When You Are Down by Edward T. Welch, and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer.

    ____________________
    Photo by M. Rhea.

    24 June 2011

    What have you cut out of your life for the sake of your mental health?

    by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

    Nia: (Read her earlier, longer answer.) For years, back when my mood was totally unreliable, I turned down most social invitations, since I had no idea how I'd feel the day of the party. I have several times distanced myself from friends, sometimes entire groups of friends, in order to create a vacuum to be filled by someone more suitable for that new "life season." I stopped watching sports a long time ago because it was a bummer to be reminded that I wasn't an athlete anymore. And I never watch the news.

    As for plain old stress reduction, I hate shopping, so I've stopped giving gifts to friends and relatives, except for very young ones. About three years ago, following Carolina Herrera's example, I bought ten white Gap tailored shirts and got rid of all my other work clothes (well, not the trou or the shoes). The dry cleaner launders them. Mornings are so much easier that way.

    Pastor Jayne: My list:

    • Facebook. More face-to-face instead. Social networking is ironically isolating — you think you're connecting, but you're actually sitting alone in a room, which for me personally was not helpful with my depression.

    • Relationships that drain. You know the ones I'm talking about.

    • "Fluff" on the calendar. Everyone has things they've committed to which they shouldn't have. As I've learned to leave wider "margins" in our family schedule, depressive tendencies (and pity parties) have happened less and less frequently.

    Soledad: This is a good topic. Because I think everyone does this to some degree to keep themselves going. I saw some of my cousins start avoiding family events as young adults. At the time, I'm not sure I understood why. But after having a rough time of things myself, now I get it. No sane person wants to spend time with people who are doing well and, whether they realize it or not, flaunting that fact through what they have. Even if they are aware that you don't have what they do... they have little understanding of what it's like to want something very much, not be able to have it, and then have to face everyone else who is enjoying what you cannot.

    I see this in my life constantly. I have begun avoiding family — and many friend events — because many people do not know how to empathize. I do not have children, and cannot have children, as I married late in life. I didn't have a wedding so that I could afford fertility treatments that failed. This is a very sore subject with me. In addition, I became unemployed at the same time. So triple whammy. Instead of sending us wedding wishes, cards, gifts — we were completely ignored by my family. At the same time, my brother got engaged. So there was an engagement party, showers, wedding, bachelor/bachelorette parties that we were expected to attend — even though no one from my immediate family sent us so much as a card when we got married. So I expect we'll be invited to baby showers and other things...expected to bring a gift...once again...no one thinking of how tough it must be for us to attend those functions after spending $30K on treatments that failed. And then they will think I am the rude one for not coming.

    Well, to preserve my own sanity...it is what I will probably do. I am tired of people who do not think of others' situation first before they do or say things. My mother loves to talk about when she was pregnant. How in the heck does she think this makes me feel? That's the problem. She doesn't think at all. So, for the most part, I am divorcing my family. And they deserve it.

    Avoiding people who bring you down is not only human, it's necessary for self-preservation.