Friday, March 21, 2008

Depresssion and Anxiety: two peas in a pod

It has been a long winter, and a fairly dark one, as well. So, I have struggled with my two longtime friends - depression and anxiety.

I hate to even use the word "struggle" because it is so wonderfully manageable post-treatment and diagnosis. Yet, as I learned long ago from a friend, antidepressants are not happy pills, and they do not somehow give you a free pass from facing the difficulties in life and growing as a person. My antidepressant balances a glitch in my brain, that directly affects things that deal with emotions and feelings. However, crap still happens, and I still feel.

I could post for months on all of the possible reasons that we see more neurological issues now, and food allergies, and, and, and ... I would love to think that there is just one thing we've done as a human race that got us out of kilter, and we could just stop doing it and be freed from some of our own plagues. Yeah ... that's gonna' happen.

In the meantime, I'm one of those people who have a medical condition that directly affects feelings and emotions. I have always been highly functioning, which is why it took me so long to seek help. I wasn't staying in bed all day or suicidal - so I didn't have depression, right? I didn't scream at my kids all day or withdraw in public venues - so no anxiety disorder there, huh?

What I did know is that I had some days and some things that I did that I hid from everyone, including my husband. Sadly, for a long time I thought it was a spiritual problem (which is complete and utter crap). It's very confusing when you have neurological stuff and when you're also religious. I heard sermons where pastors were going off on doctors who were passing out Prozac like candy. I also heard that they could totally kill your libido. That's all I knew: if you so much as mentioned you were sad they would force-feed you a prescription and you would never want to have sex again.

So, I waited.

Hind sight is painful. When you're in the middle of it, things are so hard to see. When something affects your brain, it is rarely cut-and-dry and simple. Usually, it affects everyone in slightly different ways. For me, I have this balance, of sorts, of depression AND anxiety.

What I was able to see was that I was allowing my extremely strong feelings to dictate my decisions. I was reacting to normal circumstances in very abnormal ways. I had also become very talented at hiding these things from the people around me. I never told my husband that the reason I crumbled into tears when one of our kids was sick was because vomiting made my heart pound through my chest, and the room would swirl and the thought of being alone with one of my sick children brought on (what I now know to be) a panic attack. Yet, I don't remember ever thinking, "I'm going to die!" which is what I had heard about panic attacks. So, it wasn't really THAT?! I was just a bad mom. When one of my kids had a belch that was just a little too wet, I had such a surge of adrenaline and fear that I would get the runs.


I would pray and pray and pray and I would read scripture, and I would lay hands on the door of the bedroom (because I was too afraid to touch them too much when they had a stomach bug), and I never experienced peace ... much less any amount of emotional control. I felt like I just wasn't having enough faith. Ohhhh, still turns my stomach to this day to think I ever believed such a thing.

For some reason, I hit a new phase of my "stuff" several years ago. I would sit for hours, usually at the computer. I wasn't really doing anything at the computer. Just sitting. When my husband came home, I'd grab a laundry basket and walk through the house like I was "doing something." Yet, the kids were getting older and it wouldn't be much longer before they could rat me out.

Around that same time, I started to have waves of weepiness. I never actually cried, but I would have several minutes at a time when I felt on the verge of a huge sob. It just never came. I would wait it out, and it would finally subside. If it happened in public, all I wanted to do was leave - right then - run! I didn't know why. It made no sense at all, but I felt it very strongly.

I could write for days on all of the many, many experiences I have had due to my disorders. I can see the threads now that connect them all, but at the time it was all just so jumbled and so confusing.

So, you take some neurological glitches, and you mix in some changing hormones in a woman's body and the natural changes that occur as you age ... and it was with the changes and the stories from friends that I decided to very gingerly mention it to my OBGYN ... who did the right thing and sent me to a psychiatrist!

How do you determine if you are the kind of person that hits a point when you need to seek some help? Well, everyone is different (I know, that's not what you wanted to hear!). Yet, it's true. It affects us all differently. Some people find that keeping stress to a minimum and implementing more exercise makes all the difference. I tried St. John's Wort initially, which left me feeling like I was living on Nyquil. I now use a very low dose of antidepressant, I eat natural foods and cook a lot so I know what's going into my body, I avoid processed sugars, I take a fish oil pill every day. While I cannot avoid the many environmental toxins around me, I do have complete control over what I put in my body. However, it won't hurt to just find a therapist (recommended by someone you know and trust) and spend an hour talking to them. Just talk. Do it, already. It won't hurt anything.

It's kind of a Catch-22. The things that help depression and anxiety the most - personal/emotional growth, eating healthy, physical activity, pushing yourself to get up and get going - are the very things that are the absolute most difficult to do when you suffer from depression and anxiety!! So, it is small baby steps toward "better." Each small step gives you a bit more of a push to be able to make the next small step.

The more I found healing, the more I could implement those personal disciplines that helped keep some of this extremely manageable.

I'm still not perfect, but no one is! I'm better, and I can now see the big picture of what happens each day.

(photo by Kathryn McCallum)


CandiceM said...

you described many, many of the feelings I bad been going through. I started on prozac 6 months ago. After going back and forth over whether I really needed it, or if that's what 'America' wanted me to think. Anyways, once I finally got on it, I took the steps to help me feel better, eating healthy and exercising I am now soooo much better!!

I really think too many people take them expecting them to be 'happy pills' and wonder why they do not work when they have a 'down day'!! I also wish more people would use them as a 'step' to getting better, by including exercise and healthy food!! But most people will never do this :(

Heather said...

I think too one of the hardest things with suffering from anxiety or depression, and a friend and I were just talking about this the other day, is when you do react to something that deserves a strong reaction, people tend to view your reaction differently because they know you suffer from anxiety and depression. Does that make sense? It's like you're being watched just a little closer by those around you - whether for good or bad. If for instance, I wig out about something I'm concerned about, it must be my anxiety and I must be having a panic attack, instead of it just being something that I should be reacting over strongly - even if others don't react the same way. My faith though has helped me immensely. My anxiety is ALWAYS brought on by my need to be in control. When I hand it all over to God and realize I don't have control anyhow, HE does, that makes all the difference in my world. Thanks for the great posting!

Grace, Every Day said...

Wonderful post, Christine. Insightful and healing, particularly for me today.


Cammie said...

Great post! I am so glad you put it all out there! People need to know that others are expericencing what they experience...and to learn how to make things better!

Thanks for being an open book!

Buffy said...

I stumbled across your blog about a week ago. You are amazing. Thank you for your words. I needed to hear them today. I am going to call my doctor Monday. God has given you a gift....Thank you!

lana said...

It is hard to know if some feelings are situational are chemical or the chemical imbalance makes the situation that much more unbearable. I have done my fair share of suffering with IBS and Cholitis related to "stess" as the doctor called it. Lord knows the best thing I ever did was take a year off from school and get in some serious counseling. Being able to talk to someone "professionally" can give clarity to so much.

Thanks Christine...never stop sharing this stuff.

Rose said...

THANKS for sharing from your heart on living with mental health challenges. I too suffer with anxiety and depression and somedays just get plain tired of it all. And, i am taking meds - don't think I could go without them even though they certainly do not make life perfect.

Topsy-Techie said...

I know all about the high-functioning should-I-or-shouldn't I dilemma. Faced it for years. Finally our son's TS hit high gear and my own health issues spiraled out of control, and high-functioning quickly disentigrated into non-functioning. What should have been just a bump in the road, became a concrete wall I had to hit before I could hear that still small voice saying "Get help already." Thanks for sharing your struggles. It is always great to know you aren't alone in your neuroses! :-) Blessings!

Llama Momma said...

Thank you for this.

Kelly said...

How many people find a new blog and read every single archive, you ask? Um. Me. I sure hope my employers don't check my Internet history, or I'm going to lose my job! I break it down for myself: "Ok, just finish up this project, and then you can go back and read another month of Christine's blog!"

I'm not a Christian anymore, but I might be if more Christians were like you. If I lived near you, I would immediately force my friendship upon you!

March of 2008... I'm slowly catching up!

lish said...

Thank you for this....honesty.
I have been off antidepressants for almost 6 years and I think I'm in the place of needing them again. I just never know the line for me and this post was a good reminder to figure it out.

Suzy said...

Thank you, THANK you for this. I wish the whole world could read this post. I struggle hugely with the God thing and depression thing, especially that verse about casting anxiety on God and the peace that passes understanding will guard your hearts... etc etc. This is a huge faith-shaker (and faith-breaker, I come and go, to be honest) for me. I appreciate your validation on the possibility of having both a faith, and a disabling anxiety disorder. I wish I could hug you or something. Thank you.