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.

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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.

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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.

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