When I grow up

Is anybody else struggling with who they wanna be when they grow up?

My kids are adults now. They live independently. Successfully. Without me. Which is as it’s supposed to be. If I did my job right, and I think I did, they are well equipped to live as responsible decent human beings. I continue to pray that they love God and follow Him as they did in their youth.

But I’m left with wondering what I should do next. Now that I’ve raised my kids, it’s time to find what’s on the agenda for me.

Most women my age – early in empty nesting – have gone back to work. Some have gone back to school. Many, including myself, are volunteering.

I’m excited about a new ministry that I am starting – a chapter of Fresh Hope at our church, which is a peer-led support group for folks who struggle with mental illness, and their loved ones. This is a ministry that I’m really excited about, and have dreamed of for years. It’s finally happening! Our training as facilitators is almost complete, and we’ll start meeting as a group at the beginning of January.

I’m quitting my job – again – right before Christmas – and will dedicate myself to this new ministry. But I wonder what I’ll do with my extra time, and am looking into becoming a peer support specialist. The training I’ve found doesn’t quite fit into my otherwise-free schedule, so I’ll explore continuing education as an option.

I’m also thinking about writing a book, which is something I think many bloggers consider. But I have a friend who has recommended a program that helped him publish his book, so it’s worth more review.

I considered all of these concerns in a previous blog post, so I’m not surprised that they are still issues I’m resolving. I probably need to discuss all of this with my therapist, since it seems to be a recurring theme!

But I think I’ve made her mad, or at least, I’ve introduced conflict into our relationship. That’s not a bad thing – just an issue to be addressed. I need to be honest with her as I consider my life and depression and all that it entails. She pointed out at our last appointment that I’m going to have my depression “in my face” if I write a book about it. That, along with the mental health support group, puts my depression front and center, and she cautioned me about balancing that with health so as not to be waylaid by it. Good point.

But I need some help navigating my next steps. I need clarification. I need her to say back to me what I’m saying, since I can’t seem to hear myself. What is it I want to do? What steps do I take to make “it” happen? What other commitments can I make that are healthy and feed my long-term goals? I need her to help me figure this out.

And if you have any insights, I’m listening! Please include your thoughts in the comments below!

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The trouble with medicine…

Ugh!

It’s almost 3am, and I’m sipping Sleepy Time tea and writing this blog. Because I’m wide awake! I’ve freaked myself out, and need to calm down before the Sandman might dare to reappear.

When I woke up this morning – I mean yesterday morning – I felt a little off. A little funny in my skin, but I didn’t really know how to describe it. But by bedtime, it was a raging all-over-body itch. Like I’d just rolled in long grass and my skin was tingly-itchy, even inside my mouth. No visible rash, but definitely needing a scratch. As we were going to bed, my husband said, “Maybe it’s a withdrawal symptom.”  And I’ve been freaking out ever since.

Last week, I discovered that I had missed the “expiration date” on one of my medication refills, but figured it wouldn’t matter, since I was seeing the doctor on Friday, and I would tell him then. I mentioned during the appointment that I was going to run out, but neither he nor I grasped the potential significance of that statement. As I knew he would, he wrote me a new prescription, then gave it to one of his staff to send in – I get my meds by mail. That was Friday.

I got a notice today – Thursday – almost a full week later – that the prescription-filling company has received the doctor’s order and they are processing it to be filled and sent on its way.

In the meantime – two or three nights ago – I ran out of those pills.

No biggie, they’re on their way. But wait, I’m heading out of town on Saturday for a week, so they’ll arrive while I’m gone. Again, probably no biggie – it’s just a med I take to help me sleep.

I’ve been on a very low dose of this med for 10 years.  Tonight I learn that it’s a benzodiazepine – a central nervous system depressant. (Shame on me for not exploring this sooner.) My original psych doc first prescribed it when I was struggling with the anxiety portion of my depression, and I was having trouble getting to and staying asleep. He assured me that there was no problem taking the med at such a low dose. And I needed the sleep in order for my brain to heal from the depression and serotonin toxicity.

That was 10 years ago. Two psych docs since, and I’m still on this med. No one ever mentioned any concerns with it. Over time, I’ve considered coming off of it, but why? It works so well, I’m sleepy within 20 minutes of taking it, and I rarely struggle with insomnia; I can usually get back to sleep pretty easily if I wake in the middle of the night. I have no ill effects in the morning – I can get up just fine without any residual tiredness. On a couple of occasions, I looked into the process of coming off the med – just reading “how to” on the web – and saw several stories of horrific troubles with reducing the dose. But I figured my dosage was so low, when it was time, it would be no problem.

But here I am. Itchy all over. Woke up after an hour’s snooze and can’t fall back to sleep. So I googled this medicine and withdrawal symptoms. And there are all those scary stories again. Itchy body is very mild, when you consider hallucinations, loss of appetite, return of depressive thoughts, panic attacks, insomnia, muscle tightness, headaches, seizures – I think pretty much everything that could happen, could happen! And the process for weaning off – with a doctor’s supervision – is very slow – like 6-12 months to get off 1 mg. And I’ve accidentally gone cold turkey!

I’m honestly not sure what to do, besides call my psych doc first thing in the morning. I’m not sure what he can do for me, as I already have a prescription in process. Will I be allowed to have a few pills to tide me over? Will he help me get off this horrible drug, weaning me off properly?

Will I sleep at all tonight? Can I pray and breathe my way through my increasing anxiety as I consider the potentials while I’m out of town next week, without this med?  The “what-ifs?” are so scary at night, anyway. And they just got more terrifying as I read all about this med on the web.

Fighting for Mental Health

I’ve had several down days in these past couple of weeks. I cried in my therapist’s office. I beat myself up about my past parenting. I’ve caught myself using self-deprecating words to myself, speaking negatively to me about me.

My husband has noticed – he’s very tuned in to my moods. In fact, he saw it before I did. But I’ve noticed a lower rating on my daily mood scale. So I’ve known something was going on.

We had a week or more of rainy days, so I was lacking in natural Vitamin D (I take a supplement anyway). I had some serious self-evaluation going on, and had to fight my own negative voices with God’s truth about how He sees me. My left leg is causing consistent shooting pain; it could be lumbar stenosis, which doesn’t really get better except with pain relievers and gentle stretching – when whatever inflammation exists subsides. Walking hurts, so exercise is hard(er) for me.

I realized today the foundational truth of Fresh Hope, the peer-led support group we’re starting at our church. Their mission is: To empower individuals with a mental health challenge, along with their loved ones, to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.

I can choose to live a life that is rich and faith-filled. I can choose mental health vs. mental illness.

I have a mental health diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder, Moderate to Severe, Recurrent. But that doesn’t mean I’m always depressed. Right now, my depression is in remission, and I’m relatively healthy (except for my leg pain).

It means, like I told my therapist today, that I realize that sometimes I can coast, and other times I have to fight for my mental wellness. So I’m fighting for it a bit right now. That’s ok.

Red Flags

Over ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder – Recurrent, which means that I’ve had multiple episodes of depression. It’s important for me to learn to recognize the symptoms of an episode quickly, because the faster it’s treated, the sooner it goes into remission.

According to psychiatry.org,

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

Given these symptoms, it’s critical for me to know my red flags – my warning signs – that an episode might be lurking. These are my indicators prior to actual depression symptoms – they tell me it might be coming.

Here are some I’ve noticed.

  • Listening to music loudly –
    • in an effort to drown out my negative or ruminating thoughts.
  • Desire to be alone, or in the dark.
  • Not wanting to go to my regularly scheduled activities – anhedonia.
  • Saying “I’m sorry” a lot.
  • Difficulty concentrating when reading a book or even watching a t.v. show.
  • Wanting to stay in bed, even if I’m not tired.
  • Feelings of self-pity.
  • Crying – maybe. Sometimes I can’t cry, which is also a red flag for me.

When I see several of these characteristics, or if someone close to me notices, it’s time for me to contact my psych doc and let him know that I might be headed into a depressive episode.

[Side note: even though I know these things about myself, I am always surprised. You’d think that after ten years, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover the journey back into depression. I guess it’s a good thing – I don’t ever want to get used to it. I need to accept it, and make every effort to be mentally healthy, but I don’t want to be resigned to a life of depression.]

Over the 10+ years that I’ve battled depression, I’ve gotten better at seeing these things quickly, which means we can modify my treatment and get me the help I need so that the episode doesn’t deepen. Maybe that means adjusting my meds. Maybe it’s increasing my therapy sessions.  Maybe it’s simply monitoring them, being self-aware.

It’s a call to pay attention.

“Start with where you are.”

A good friend gave me this piece of advice, and I’ve taken it to heart, especially in writing. I find that it keeps me honest, vulnerable, and hopefully relatable.

I remember when she said it. I had just arrived at church, getting ready to facilitate our depression support group. I told her that I had had a few rough days, and thought I might be descending into depression again. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to lead this group if I was depressed. She encouraged me to be honest with the group, to just share what I was experiencing. I followed her advice, and felt myself supported and encouraged, even as the “leader” of the group. Expressing my struggle was an example of vulnerability to the group, and they in turn opened up and shared with each other.

When learning about writing, authors are encouraged to write about what they already know. For one thing, it’s easier to write about something I have gone through. Secondly, no one can argue my own experience – it’s mine, and it’s true.

So I use this approach here in my blog. I start with where I am. I try to write about what I’m feeling, or what I’ve felt or experienced in the past. It’s my past – who can argue against what happened or what I felt? Or it’s my current situation. Not anybody else’s. It’s real for me.

My desire with this blog is two-fold. To help Christians who fight depression know they are not alone. While our specific experiences may be different, there’s definitely commonality among fellow sufferers.

My second hope is that I provide understanding to a reader who might not know what depression is, or what it feels like. Maybe that reader has a friend or family member who struggles with depression. Maybe someone in the church wants to reach out to the hurting, but isn’t sure what to say. I hope that what I write will ease that difficulty.

So I write from where I am, or where I’ve been. I hope I offer education, reduce stigma, and open doors for communication and understanding to those who suffer with this disease.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (italics mine)