Flat

In depression, between descending into the dark or coming up into the light, there is flat.

Flat affect. Flat enthusiasm (an oxymoron). Flat attitude. Flat outlook. Flat energy.

For me, it usually happens when the meds aren’t quite right.

A month ago, I had been on the edge of a depressive episode, so the psych doc and I increased one med and I’ve been using my blue light. He said that I’d feel better in 7 to 10 days.

It’s been a month. I don’t feel better. I don’t feel worse, either. I feel flat.

Flat is a lot like depression – indeed, it’s part of it, but I tend to feel it more distinctly – as its own symptom – on the way out of depression. Even though the effects are similar, depression has a downward pull, where flat is flat, not down.

Like I could take it or leave it. All of it. Nothing really matters. I don’t have strong feelings of sadness or anxiety, nor do I feel excitement or joy. I don’t really want to do anything. I eat because I’m supposed to; I’m not usually hungry. I’m able to do the things I need to do, be around the people I need to be with, can even overcome the apathy to run errands or attend the ladies’ Bible study. I don’t really want to, but I will.

In depression, the desire to stay home in my pajamas, is so strong! In flat, I can go out and do. In all truthfulness, I go out and do during depression, too. But it’s way harder; I really have to fight myself. In flat, there’s just the barest speck of desire to go and do, so it’s just a hint easier. I can hardly tell the difference myself.

Last week, I accompanied my husband on a business trip, and got to hang out with my kids while he worked. I wanted to go, but wasn’t overly excited like I’d think I would be normally.  I trusted that I would have fun once I got there. And I had a wonderful visit with my kids – was able to live in and enjoy the moments. Our entire family laughed a lot, especially on a relaxed Friday night. But those feelings didn’t stay with me, nor can I reach back to retrieve them. They simply were. And now they’re not.

This flatness happens on my journey up and down with depression. It’s often a first indicator that something is wrong, that depression is threatening to return and wreak its havoc. That’s flatness with a downward pull.  And it comes back when I’m recovering, emerging from the darkness and into God’s light of hope and expectancy.

Usually a tweak in meds will do the trick, and I can bounce the rest of the way up. So I’ll tell my psych doc on Friday that I’m not where I thought I’d be in my recovery, and see if a small adjustment will fix it.

And I’ll remind myself, yet again, that God is with me through my depression. He has not abandoned me, even when I descend into the dark thoughts of depression.  He’s with me in the flat.  And He rejoices with me when I emerge on the other side. He’s my constant companion – I am never alone.

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10 Days and counting…and gratitude

So it’s been 10 days since the doctor’s appointment and I don’t feel any better. The depression is not lighter.

I realize that 7-10 Days is kind of arbitrary. Feeling the effects of a change in meds can take longer. But I had really hoped…

I wasn’t planning to go to my small group today – was going to text the leader and say I wasn’t coming. But then one of my daily devotionals talked about fellowship. And since I had just asked God to make it clear if it was okay that I skip, I felt like He answered me directly – “Go!” So I went.

And I was blessed for going. We spent time in worship – just listening to praise songs and entering prayer and the Presence of the Lord. I always have my journal, and I wrote down some of the words to the worship songs, as well as praise to some names of God. Redeemer. King of kings. Lord. Holy God. Father. Creator. God of All. Protector. Provider.

I’m glad I went. I realized – again – that I’m not the only one struggling with loneliness. And Jesus knows my feelings, and I can feel Him draw near to me to comfort me.

He knows I’m not better after 10 days of the increased meds. But He loves me in the middle of my mess. He is acquainted with sorrow. He’s not surprised by my sadness. He sits with me in my isolation. He tells me that He is with me – I am not alone.

And as my therapist reminded me the other day, I am more than my depression symptoms. I may not feel like it, but I am greater than my depression.

I am working on thanksgiving. Having a grateful heart. It seems to me that gratitude will build contentment, which will fight bitterness. I want a thankful heart. One of gratitude for my daily blessings, large and small. I’m writing them down, to make them concrete. I desire to fight depression with gratitude. Oh Lord God, help me to make it so!

🎶 Give thanks, with a grateful heart.

Give thanks, to the Holy One.

Give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now, let the weak say “I am strong.”

Let the poor say “I am rich,

because of what the Lord has done, for us.” 🎶

So it’s been 10 days. And it may be 10 more. Or longer. Until the depression lifts. But in the meantime, I will continue to praise and thank God for His blessings. Friends who know me and love me anyway. A husband who supports me always. My kids. My work. My home. Medications. Moments of sunshine. New friends who want to get to know me better. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lover of My Soul, the Giver of Grace. May He receive all the glory. Amen.

Doctor’s Appointment

Today, I am grateful to my psych doc for our appointment yesterday.

I had wondered how I was going to describe what I’d been feeling. I couldn’t understand the emotions myself, so how was I going to express it so that he would get it? I prayed several times that God would give me just the right words to describe these vague feelings of down-ness.  Not just the specific days where I really struggled, but the funk I’ve felt for a couple of weeks.

When I got to the office for my appointment, I was given my med list, and a short  questionnaire.  It asked me, on a scale of 0-3, about  the last two weeks, exactly how long I’ve been feeling a little down.

On the questionnaire, zero stands for “not at all,” one is “several days,” two is “more than half of the days,” and three is “nearly every day.” The questions were:

  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things.
  • Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much.
  • Feeling tired or having little energy.
  • Poor appetite or overeating.
  • Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down.
  • Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television.
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed.
  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself. 

Turns out, it’s based on the Goldberg Depression Test, used by NIMH. It’s a standard in the field, a quick assessment tool to help doctors determine the severity of depression in a person. I scored 8.  Not bad, but not a 0, either.

And it allowed me to express myself and what I’ve been feeling lately.

So when I entered the doctor’s office, he asked me how I was. I said I really didn’t know, but the quiz sure helped. I told him I’d been in a funk for a couple of weeks, even before my husband went on a 10-day business trip, which I was sure didn’t help my mood. I told him that I’d been feeling down, but not hopeless.  He asked some of the questions I’d already answered on the questionnaire, for clarification.

He said I’m right on the edge of when these issues become a concern – two weeks.  He told me that for a person who has recurrent depression, and has had it as long as I have, he likes to be a little aggressive in treatment. He’s glad we caught it early, because waiting could make it worse – depression gets deeper and harder to get out of.  I told him that I just recently pulled out my light box and had begun using it.  We also agreed to increase one of my meds; it’s one that I’ve been on for a couple of years, seems to have been working well for me.

He said he sees a lot of this mood at this time of year – the onset of winter, the holiday season, the longer darker days.  He thinks that I should be feeling better in 7-10 days.

I’m relieved. It was good that he understood me, and that the questionnaire helped put into words what I had been unable to express. I’m looking forward to feeling better soon.

Rough Day

Here’s the thing about living in the shadow of depression. It’s always there, lurking, waiting to take over.  Some days, I have to fight hard to not give up any ground.

I’ve been in a funk for a week or two, but today is worse. Lots of tears. Feeling unwanted, unimportant, unnecessary, unneeded. Very alone.  These are lies from the enemy, but they still feel true. I have to remind myself, again, that I am loved and cherished and valued by Jesus. Feelings are just feelings, not truth. God’s Word is truth, and He declares me His beloved child.

I’ve written the funk off to:

a) upcoming winter, including longer cold days

b) less sunshine

c) husband gone on 10-day business trip

d) hormones

But I’m afraid I’m spiraling again. Or could descend into depression if I’m not careful. I see my psych doc this week, so you can be sure I’ll tell him.

I tried a therapist here a few times – just didn’t click with her.

I’ve joined a couple of ladies’ groups. One through our church – I’m the youngest by 15+ years. Was hoping to find something more my age. But they’re all very nice, and I enjoy the conversation. The other group is sort of a Bible Study/book club. A friend and I are the outsiders to this group that seems to know each other pretty well. Hard to “break in.” But in both cases, I’m trying to reach out and connect.

Work is fine, though my already part-time hours are diminishing. It’s ok – I’m working to give myself something to do. I was hoping to connect with co-workers, but the job doesn’t really lend itself to that. Still, I like my students, and think I’m helping them.

I know that I have the power to make changes in my life – add volunteering or regular exercise – I also know that I’ve said these things before. I could pick up my knitting, but I made a mistake in the scarf I started and don’t know how to fix it. So the project stays in my knitting bag, where it’s been for several months. Even though part of me wants to knit again.

The problem is that I don’t have the desire to change. Apathy has a-hold of me. It’s easier to stay in my isolation, my long lonely days, than it is to try another new thing. So days like today, where I only have one late afternoon commitment, can drone on.

Brief sunshine, then the sun disappeared behind the clouds again. Literally and figuratively.

5 a.m. Musings

I woke at 4 a.m., laid in bed for an hour. These were the things going through my head:

  • Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes song (just the words I know)
  • Does Starbucks have pumpkin bread or muffins? I have to take the car in this morning for a front end alignment; maybe I’ll stop first and treat myself to a mocha and pumpkin bread.
  • What should I take to S’s on Saturday? Brownies? Something pumpkin? (back to thinking about Starbucks)

Then I decided to focus my thoughts on times during depression when I felt relief:

  • Taking a nap at B’s house – I remember laying down on her couch, a throw pillow under my head, her blue chenille-weave blanket over me. I felt so safe and sleepy.  I must have made her whole family, including her two teenage boys, tiptoe around, because I didn’t wake for over an hour. I remember B doing dishes at the sink as I sat up. Her smile at me – just the best thing a weary friend could see. Do you remember that, B?
  • My husband’s arms wrapped around me. Standing in the kitchen with my back up against the counter, and he pulled me towards him. I tucked my arms next to my sides, so he was completely around me, and I put my head down on his chest, under his chin. I felt safe, supported, enclosed. I knew he was with me through this thing called depression – his hug, and holding me, proved I wasn’t alone. I still like that position of a hug, with me wrapped completely up in his strong arms. I feel so safe there.
  • Walking into Ted‘s office (my therapist) – the stillness of the room; the sensation of taking off the invisible heavy backpack with the weight and cares of the world, and laying it beside my purse; sinking into the cushions, usually clasping a throw pillow to my chest (part comfort, part protection of my vulnerabilities that I will be sharing). He sits across from me. He smiles and I can feel the tension of the world leave my shoulders. For a few times, I sat in the rocking chair with the cream-colored fluffy blanket – the rocking motion is still soothing to me. But I prefer the couch, where I can sink down into the cushions, put my head against the back, and slouch behind my pillow. Soft glow from the lamps. A candy dish on the table. Kleenex within reach. I look up to the windows at the top of the wall – stare out at the clouds and branches. The quiet is almost tangible, like the room is doubly insulated against the terrors and pressures of the outside world, where my depression has me in its grip. But this is a safe place, and I can talk about my fears and sadness here.
  • Later, walking into Elizabeth‘s office (my therapist when I moved to FL) – the beauty of the room, the cheerful patterns.  Though my need wasn’t as strong, she had throw pillows for me to clasp, to hide behind. Her gentle voice. Her soft words of encouragement and prayer.

Now, it’s almost 4:45 a.m., and I start thinking about my previous post on Scripture, particularly Philippians 4:6-7, NIV:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I think more on this verse, and how it has helped me, just not when I was in my deepest depression.  In my “lighter” versions of illness, I can quote these verses and feel some relief. But I’ve also come to realize that the second part of this – the promise of God’s peace – isn’t necessarily an immediate response to the first part – the praying and petitioning. The peace comes eventually, but not necessarily immediately. This in itself is comforting to me, since I felt like I was failing somehow, when I didn’t sense God’s peace after begging Him to help me not be anxious, even after thanking Him for depression and all it was teaching me. To realize that I didn’t immediately feel peace, the peace promised in verse 7, I felt like I was failing at trusting God for my relief and His peace. But now, to realize that the peace of God, which is beyond my understanding, will come and take its place in my heart eventually, is great relief.

Now it’s 5 a.m. I think I’ll get up and write this all down.