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.

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.

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

      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.

    Illustration by M. Rhea.