25 March 2011

Vogue article about nutrient therapy for depression

by Nia
In the April 2011 issue of Vogue, the article "Bitter Pills" (doesn't seem to be online) mentions two U.S. clinics that focus on nutritional treatment for depression. (If you are not familiar with this magazine, rest assured that it features world-class journalists and writers. And, yes, articles on the history of the corset and why the future is fuchsia. Women are complicated creatures.)

The first is Recovery Systems Clinic in Mill Valley, California, which originally focused on treating drug addiction. I remember looking at it about 11 years ago when I was first starting my medical experiments to end my depression. I couldn't afford the trip out there, though. The founder is psychologist Julia Ross, M.A., who is the author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure, both of which I have found helpful.

The other is the National Center for Whole Psychiatry (on the website it's just Whole Psychiatry) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The author of the article uses the words food and nutrients interchangeably, which is annoying, but who's quibbling. I usually look askance at these types of articles because they end up touting the promise of some single, minor substance like blueberries or miso or cordyceps mushrooms, but here the author mentions many of the supplements/substances that I myself had the most success with.

Image: (Very minor) remix by M. Rhea of detail of Edgar Degas' "The Absinthe Drinker," 1876. {{PD-art}}.

24 March 2011

Handling appalling news when you weren't doing so well to begin with

by Nia

What a mess. Good grief.

If your ability to handle emotions has been compromised by blessed depth, the disasters/war can make you feel as if your humanness is distorted. You might not feel comfortable reflecting too much on your own mental state, though, either because you feel you should not be dwelling on personal problems when so many others are suffering so much worse, or because people around you are of that opinion and will not want to hear about it.

Soon after 9/11, Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation (a memoir of her struggles with depression at college), was quoted as saying about the terrorist attacks, "I just felt like everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me." (Toronto Globe and Mail 02/02/02)  That went over with the public like a lead balloon, and Miramax canceled the release of the movie version of her book.

In the spirit of creating a safe place to examine these mental conundrums without risk of relationship, fiscal, career or PR repercussions, I offer herewith:

Assorted permutations of possible reactions
of a blessedly deep person to unnerving headlines

(All entrées come with the option of a side dish of guilt for feeling better/focusing on material things/focusing on yourself in the face of this devastation. )

  • Your problems seem smaller by comparison and you are grateful. 
  • You feel significantly worse. The whole thing just adds to the godawfulness of the godawfulness. Fears of everything going to hell have been 99% realized.  
  • You feel worse because X% of your portfolio is GE stock (they made the reactors in question).  
  • You feel worse because the disasters underscore the fact that your life really isn't so crappy and yet you feel crappy anyway. 
  • You are depressed and irritated that people around you don't seem to be emotionally affected by the situation. Your friends are shallow and unfeeling.  
  • You feel that people around you are acting holier-than-thou in their concern. They are fake and probably don't even register what's really going on. 
  • You're irritated that you're expected to act a certain way and say certain platitudes and not complain about the decisions that made the nuclear disaster possible in the first place. More fake, shallow, etc.
  • You don't feel much of anything about it. Your normal numbness presides.
  • Ditto, but then you feel worse because because you can't feel an appropriate grief.  
  • You are frustrated because your brain is so scattered you can't sit and focus your brain long enough to pray for/contemplate/reflect on those affected. 

And then there's the fear and anxiety...

  • You worry that we're not being told the full extent of the damage and that radiation will be affecting the food supply, the water, our DNA... Energies we once devoted to the pursuit of happiness, automobiles and cable TV will now be diverted toward resources we once took for granted. (People suffering from night terrors might be especially familiar with this thinking.)
  • You worry that you're never going to get parts for your car again and you will eventually have to take public transportation and your commute time will triple. 
  • You worry that our economy will achieve a new level of tanked-ness and life will get even worse and more uncertain. 

So maybe the disaster puts the whole head mess on pause, or maybe it doesn't. That's the bitch of it. As a fellow depression-sufferer once said wonderingly, "Even if I wake up in the middle of the night, it's still there."

Illustration by M. Rhea.

19 March 2011

I spoke too soon...

by Nia

In my recent idol-worshipping entry about Salon's Cary Tennis, I mentioned his lack of references to possible nutrition/diet/medical reasons for depression, but voila! This was in his March 16 column:

"As long as you're not drinking, you've got a good chance of beating the depression. So please: Ask your doctor for a referral to a cognitive therapist, ask for some different medications, and consider other factors, dietary, chemical, hormonal, metabolic, what have you, may be at play. Recently I heard from someone who said that a Vitamin D deficiency was a factor in her depression. If you are a musician and you work at night and do not get much sun ... well, all I'm saying is, ask your doctors about everything: diet, vitamins, nutritional needs, hormonal changes, everything."

05 March 2011

Why Salon's Cary Tennis is the greatest

by Nia

Sometime in 2000, when I was about halfway through either the first or second most miserable time of my adult life -- I haven't finished my calculations yet -- I came across Garrison Keillor's "Ask Mr. Blue" advice column on salon.com (hereafter to be referred to as Salon). Whereupon I was immediately hooked, began reading it first thing every morning, and after a few days started reading the two years of archived columns I'd missed.

In his calm, gentle, meandering answers he meditated on life with what was for me the perfect balance of compassion and patience and get-your-head-out-of-your-keister. As he phrased it himself in his 9/4/01 farewell piece: "Mr. Blue's strongest advice has come down on the side of freedom in our personal lives, freedom from crushing obligation and overwork and family expectations and the freedom to walk our own walk and be who we are."

At the same time he refused to pander to the You're Perfect Just the Way You Are theology. In his responses to a few people who couldn't find anyone who would love them for THEM, he said, in his own sweet way: Dude, take a hint. It just might be that you are not be-withable. Take stock of yourself.

He ended his column in September of 2001, and about six weeks later it was started up again (as "Since You Asked") with one of Salon's editors, Cary Tennis. I was skeptical, afraid that I'd be disappointed. But three columns later I realized he was just as good. It was one of life's little victories.

Mr. Tennis has personal experience with depression and cluelessness and addiction and lousy family upbringing and therapy treatments, which he is very open about. (Like almost all such commentators, he never touches upon the possible nutritional aspects of depression, which continues to be a gaping hole in the Depressionsphere, but...some day.)

Some of my favorite quotes:

On how to get to know someone: 

"...you might have to use a different kind of intelligence that doesn't involve critical reasoning or empirical argument...And maybe you're not even specifically curious about these [suggested topics to talk about]; what you are doing is engaging him long enough to triangulate his position; you're sending sonar signals so you can plot the contour of his personality...You are trying to form a picture in your mind of the unique constellation of emotions and desires that is his spiritual signature." 1/13/2003 

As someone who grew up in a family that, to quote one relative, "communicates by monologue," I thought this was a great way to describe the power of conversation.

On dealing with life's disappointments:
"Those of us who were singled out as children for being exceptionally bright often go through this...we aren't taught how to accept being second best, how to be just one among many...learning humility, learning to be a worker among workers." 2/16/2005

You might also replace "were singled out...bright" with "grew up depressed". I had recently come across another quote, source forgotten, about how such people often assume their lives should be all corner windows and genius grants. Because to go through all this mental shit for a run-of-the-mill life is just too dang unfair.

On going through therapy:
"There may be much burning emptiness there. Welcome to the emptiness. Welcome to old hungers never fed. Welcome to the pain of existence." 5/20/05 
On leaving home and family when you are young:
"That's how dads get. They get settled and protective and forget how crucial it is to brush up against the world and get pollinated by mystery." 11/16/10

How many unpollinated-by-mystery people have you met and thought, "God, not another one; he is so —" but you couldn't put your finger on it? Now you can.

On dealing with needy people:
"...When you see her feeling sad, it's not like a regular person feeling sad...She's not synthesizing experience and consciously growing...You are just the representation of something that she wants and cannot have. Maybe that's wholeness, or authenticity, or acceptance...You are an interchangeable element in her disappointment. So don't be drawn in. Understand that her sadness is global and persistent, no matter who comes and goes in her orbit." 11/26/10

(If you're a writer, Mr. Tennis also has his own writing workshop/retreat/occasional-newsletter thing going in San Francisco -- see carytennis.com. I once emailed him a writing-related question and he replied two hours later.)