24 April 2007

Never Was A Cornflake Girl

This post has sat in my queue for a while, as I've spent some time contemplating if I am going to share it with teh internets. I've edited, edited, edited, revised, changed, and generally obsessed over it. This is perhaps the most honest thing I've ever penned, and is without a doubt the most difficult thing I've ever tried to commit to words. It may also take the prize for Longest. Blogpost. Ever.

The title refers to a Tori Amos song, with lyrics that have almost never made sense to me. I'm a big fan of Tori's music, but that doesn't mean that I always know what the heck she's talking about.

It seems an appropriate title to use when I'm going to talk about something else I barely understand.

Once upon a time, I had the blues. Summer, 2004. Not depressed, just down. The blahs, the out-of-sorts feeling. My sisters had moved far away, my job sucked, and I lived in an apartment that I despised. I put some effort into finding another job, and when I finally left the big ol' bank, I thought I'd left the blues behind too. For a while, things were great. My new job was infinitely more fulfilling, we moved, my sisters came back to Ohio.

Fast forward almost three years. Things are better. And worse. I have a beautiful home that I love, I've discovered that I am a writer, but my sisters are far away again, things on the job front have deteriorated, and I feel the weight of so many things on my shoulders that it is hard to move sometimes. Literally. I feel like I'm dragging myself around, every step a monumental effort. This isn't a case of the blues. This is clinical depression.

If I could pinpoint an instant when things changed, that would be lovely. But it isn't just one thing. In a way, it is a fairly standard issue mid-life crisis kind of thing, albeit about 20 years early. Because while I feel old, even ancient some days, I'm not really in the proper age bracket for a mid-life.

I'm wondering what the hell I'm doing here, that existential question of why we're all here on this earth. What's my purpose? I'm wondering what happened to that rebellious , spirited, loud, I'm-going-to-change-the-world 17 year old who I used to be, and why I can't go back to being her. Someone invent time travel, and I'll be happy. Riiight. But it is also part self-realization, that I don't like where I am. In my career, geographically, emotionally. I'm not sure if I like who I am at all. I'm having trouble envisioning a future when I don't feel this way. Hell, I'm having trouble envisioning a day when I'm not a complete train-wreck of a mess. Days have become something to be endured, a waiting time between when I can escape to sleep.

I was able to admit to myself that something was really wrong when I had a conversation with my mother while sitting in a busy restaurant, and I burst into tears at something she said. It isn't like me to burst into tears in public. It isn't like me to not have 36,000 things going at once. It isn't like me to not be reading 3 books, working on a myriad of projects. I'm not the lay in bed and do nada type. I can't focus at all on any one thing long enough to fix what the major problems are. I feel twitchy, like I need to jump out of my own skin. There are things spinning around and around in my head, endless loops of things that are far beyond my control, and yet I worry about them, worry at them like a dog with a big treat bone.

Back in 2004 when I had the blues, I was on a whole boatload of meds, including a very small daily dosage of a common anti-depressant called Elavil. I had extensive stomach problems at the time, acid reflux, esophageal damage, crippling heartburn. My gastroenterologist, aka the tummy doctor, had prescribed about 3 of the meds I was taking. I objected, strenuously, to 'an anti-psychotic' (my words) when he told me he was going to prescribe Elavil, but he convinced me to take it by explaining that it was an experimental off-label usage, trying to ease some of the pain I was having with the acid reflux. And it worked. Like a charm. Helped with the pain, which was a minor miracle. {It is sort of beside the point that what he should have done is told me to lose some weight and the heartburn would disappear.}

I had far too many prescriptions in my 20s. Besides the 3 from the tummy doctor, I had allergy meds, asthma meds, the Pill, more crap than most 70 year olds take every day. When I came to my current job, at about 29 years old, I trashed everything except the birth control pill, and that was it for meds in my 30s until recently, when I started taking Singulair for the allergy/asthma crap and Ambien for my sleeping trouble.

So I didn't want to go on an anti-depressant, because I thought it wouldn't really change anything. I don't particularly like the idea that there's a little pill to fix every single ill. I know I've got some problems. I know that I need some help. This time is much more than the blues that I had before. More intense, more debilitating, more suffocating. Sure, going on an anti-depressant will help the chemical imbalance in my brain that makes me depressed, but it won't change the rest of my issues. Which are myriad.

I spent some time talking to Dr. Hottie, (you remember Dr. Hottie, my family doctor, right?) who explained to me that within two weeks of beginning an anti-depressant, I'd feel 'better'. And that most people who take them end up being on them for six to nine months, that they're able to move off of them, get things back under control. He told me that the Elavil that I'd taken previously at the dosage I took it was not the same as taking an anti-depressant for depression. He told me that at the proper dosage, anti-depressants can change things. He also agreed with me that treating what's going on with me with medication alone is not the best answer. I love it when he agrees with me. Do it my way, doc, it is so much easier.

He gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant, at 150 mg/day. I agreed to give it a shot. I've been taking it for about ten days. It seems to be helping a little bit. I'm not sure that it will be the final med that I end up on, so I'm not going to mention it by name until I've been on it for a while longer. We're messing with brain chemistry here, scary stuff, kids. What works for me may not work for you, your mileage may vary, et cetera. It gives me a headache, every afternoon, like clockwork. I don't know how long I'll be able to handle a daily headache. I really dislike needing to take an over-the-counter pain reliever to counteract the side effects of a prescription.

I've always been a 'fixer', I want to 'fix' everything. So this bleak outlook I've developed requires some tinkering, some adjustment.

I have decided to get some therapy. No, seriously. To work with a psychotherapist, doing some talking about the things that are problems. And the reason that I'm posting this in my blog? I mean, seriously, girl, why would you want to share this with the whole wide world? There are a couple of reasons.

One, I'm not ashamed of having a mental illness. My maternal grandmother suffered from depression, suffered in silence, never getting any treatment for it. I wonder who she might have been if she had gotten some help. I wonder who I might be if this giant suck wasn't weighing me down. Gram suffered in silence because that's what you did in her day. You didn't talk about it, there was a huge stigma attached to any mental disorder which then reflected poorly back on the family, was a sign of weakness. I reject that.

Two, I'm hopeful that by adding my voice to the chorus of those sharing their struggles with mental illness (Dooce, among many others) that it will help with the destigmatization of all mental illnesses, not just depression. I am certainly not the first blogger to ever talk about depression. Far from it. I truly believe that this is a disease like any other chronic condition, and should be treated just as diabetes, or cancer is treated. Don't get me started on the insurance companies, and what they will or will not cover when it come to mental health issues, because that's a rant for another time and place. I'm talking about society in general, and things have come a very long way since my Gran's day, but we're not there yet.

So going forward, occasionally, I am going to post something that relates to what I'm working on in therapy, what I think about it, and if the meds are working. I'll stick the tags 'depression' and 'cornflake girl' on them for identification purposes, and because everything must be compartmentalized and organized. (hee! My inner geek is showing.) Having a label of 'cornflake girl' entertains me a whole lot. Don't ask me why. I just find it really funny.

This sharing of my depression and general miserable-ness isn't a desperate bid for attention, merely a simple statement of fact. I don't want pity. I'm having enough of a pity-party for one without help from anyone else, and feeling guilty for feeling sorry for myself. So spare me the sympathy. I'm only one of millions who is depressed in the US, and depression diagnoses are handed out every day, all over the world. While for me, this started as a deep sadness, and I think maybe partly stems from grief over a death in my family, true clinical depression rarely has anything to do with being sad or just having the blues. The clinical symptoms are more about that huge dragging suck I was talking about earlier, and not having enough energy to do things that normally give you pleasure.

I can't tell you when the last time was that I picked up my knitting needles. Or made up a recipe for something yummy to eat. Or worked for more than an hour or so on my novel writing. Daily posts here can sometimes take me as long as 3 days to write. Those are all things that I love to do, and can't focus on. I don't want to do anything, other than lay in bed, watch TV, and when I'm feeling really 'good', then I want to read or randomly surf the net. I don't want to do much else. I have to FORCE myself out of bed to the gym in the morning, force myself to get to work, and it is a major struggle to do things like laundry or errand running. Minor problems become major hurdles. "Catastrophes," like not being able to find something, become reasons to climb back into bed. Or sob, you know, whichever is more convenient. Unlike lethargy, where you just don't want to do something, depression kind of makes you unable. Makes you feel that nothing matters, so why bother.

The Swedes have a saying, Jag örkar inte. Like many things, something gets lost in the translation. Literally, it is "I go not". But it means both that you don't have the energy or the will to do something, anything. And that adequately sums up how I feel.

I'm hopeful that I'll be able to 'fix' my depression. I am a little frightened of what I'll discover about myself on this voyage. But I'm taking that vital first step, bravely, tentatively, even a little defiantly. I invite you to share the journey with me.


Dawna said...

... you go no further and your thoughts do nothing but circle in endless cycles of stupidity.

Depression is like a migraine- when it is finally gone it feels SO GOOD, like you can walk on air. The problem is, its gotta get worse before it gets better.

Lucy Arin said...

Hi Dawna!

You're so right. The idiocy has no limits. I catch myself in horrible, awful "what-if" thought cycles that make me feel even more nuts than I already know I am.

I'm worried about just what I might find out about myself in therapy, but excited, too, that maybe if I do this incredibly painful thing, I can leave the depression behind forever. It will no doubt be an interesting ride.

Thanks for commenting! Hope to "talk" to you soon,