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.

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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.

20 June 2011

Taking a closer look at your depression's constituent weirdnesses

by Nia
Here is an incomplete list of the different aspects of my mental state that I occasionally monitor. I have found it useful both as a way to gauge how various factors affect my mood, and because thinking in terms of these more objective, neutral components helps to weaken the power of a less-than-ideal state.

I couldn't do this sort of exercise until my depression had improved a lot. When it was still in the Mariana Trench of doom, looking at it this hard would've been like poking a stick in a gunshot wound. But you might be into that kind of thing.

  • anxiety/panic
  • appetite
  • articulateness (it's a word if I say it is): the ability to express a thought
  • attention span/ability to concentrate
  • body image
  • cravings
  • fatigue
  • impulsive behavior
  • intrusive thoughts: however this manifests itself for you. Not the same as difficulty concentrating.
  • irritability
  • optimism/pessimism
  • self-esteem: this might be too general for this list
  • sleep pattern
  • stress tolerance
  • thinking process: the ability to do math problems, for example
  • mood stability: the rate or ease with which it changes
  • restlessness or listlessness
  • sociability: the desire to interact with people
  • social skills: the ability to wield conversational skills

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Image: still of John Barrymore in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," 1920. Film is in the public domain. {{PD-1923}}. Found on the Internet Archive's Silent Films site.

10 June 2011

Is there anything good about depression?

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


Pastor Jayne: Yes, hence the term "blessed depth." Before depression, I never had occasion to look deep within and let God heal me from the inside out. I simply moved too fast for Him to catch up with me (or for me to realize that He was trying to say something). I firmly believe He allowed depression into my life in order to slow me down and begin to heal me from everything that led up to depression.

We humans (I daresay especially women) are good at masking pain. But we can only do it for so long. If depression is the unmasking, then bring it on! I was unmasked, raw, and forced to deal with my "junk" for really the first time. I see my three-year bout with clinical depression as a turning point in my life: it meant looking backwards for awhile (in therapy, in my times of prayer) in order to move forward as a healthier person.

I'm not saying all this to minimize the debilitating effects of clinical depression — it wasn't fun. In fact it sucked. I'm a sunshine girl — grew up in Hawai'i. Need. Sun. So the grey skies of Portland (where I lived at the time) portrayed what was going on inside of me. But I came to see that clouds aren't all that bad — they bring protection from the heat of the day. (And God traveled with the Israelites in the desert via a cloud during the day, by the way, so they were never alone). Once I embraced the cloud of depression as the protective hand of God I needed, guiding me to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, I daresay I found blessings in the depth.

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Soledad: I think there are good things about depression. One thing I have learned is that I would not have won the acclaim and awards that I have as a writer if it were not for my depression. Because of the condition, I am very empathetic and attuned to others' struggles. And one of my favorite things to write about is how people have conquered their obstacles and achieved their dreams. I thank depression for tuning me in to others in a way that I see many others unable to do. It allows me to ask the right questions to get at the core of their experience. I am always astounded when I see someone having a difficult time, and others just ignoring that person and not offering any help or understanding. Or worse — they actually criticize the person for being weak, rather than trying to help them see a way around their obstacles.

I have always found it an interesting irony that many comedians suffer from depression. You have Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson, and many others. So the art of comedy is their triumph over darkness. And it's a triumph they may have never had if the darkness had not presented itself as an obstacle to be overcome in the first place. Jim Carrey is one of the best comedians on the planet, and I think if you ask him, he will tell you that his depression is what made him who he is today. It was his way of connecting with people. And he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.