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.

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Out of Sorts

Friday – what a weird day after a long week. I feel discombobulated today – out of sorts. Perhaps a culmination of the past few days.

Saw my psych doc on Monday – my emotional scale scored better than last month’s, so that’s good. I’m pretty stable in the psych world, so don’t need to see him for two months. That’s progress.

Feeling frumpy: saw an ear-nose-throat doc and audiologist on Tuesday – 40+% hearing loss in each ear – prime candidate for hearing aids. I’m only 54 years old! Have gained 5 pounds so my clothes don’t fit right. Can’t read anything without my glasses on. Feeling sorry for myself. Need to figure out how to accept these changes and move on without discouragement. As I’ve said before (last time with humor:) – getting older isn’t for sissies! Paul talks about being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) – not until today did I consider that might include ageing.

Got a haircut on Wednesday, but she didn’t listen and cut where I told her not to. Makes me miss Susie, who did my hair almost perfectly for 12+ years!

Had a good lunch with women from Book Club on Thursday – nice to be included. Took a relaxing nap during the afternoon thunderstorm. Reading a fantastic book for next month’s Book Club – I’m devouring The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Have had the book for 24 hours and am already on chapter 17!

Today is a lovely sunny day, but for some reason, it’s causing me to miss my Fort Myers house and pool and beach time. Sitting outside on my porch in Virginia is just not the same as on the lanai in Florida.

Leg pain has greatly abated – only hurts when I turn a certain way. So I won’t turn that direction! So glad to finally have relief, after weeks of severe pain.

Several friends going through really tough times. Have prayed hard for others all week, which is as it should be. Still, only one success story from them all – feels discouraging. So much pain and difficulty, and I am helpless to do anything. But praying is doing something – it’s allowing God to work. You go, God!

Missing my kids, my old friends. As always.

Need to remind myself that days like this happen to everyone. Just a funk. A week of ups and downs.

Tomorrow is Saturday – a lazy day, but includes dinner out with my husband to celebrate Mother’s Day. Then a new week. Glad this one is over soon.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

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I Googled Mental Health Awareness images, to find a new Facebook Profile picture to represent this month. There are lots of posters out there!

Imagine different colors and shades of green, different fonts and different pictures.

Here’s what some of them say:

 

 

 

Wear green!

Break the stigma. Break the silence.

1 in 5 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year.

1 in 4.

Not all pain is physical and not all wounds are visible.

You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell your friends you have the flu, so why do we stay quiet about mental health?

Inspired – Informed – Involved.

Be aware!

Keep talking about mental health.

About 900,000 people commit suicide every year…and mental disorders are one of the most prominent and treatable causes of suicide. (That number is now actually closer to a million per year worldwide.)

No Health without Mental Health.

Stand up against stigma.

You’re not alone.

Depression. Anxiety. Phobia. Panic. OCD. Schizophrenia. Eating Disorder. Self-harm. Post-traumatic stress. Bipolar Disorder.

Take care of your stress.

Let’s talk about it.

Silent no more.

Behind the mask.

Be the change.

You are safe here.

And one of my favorites, from Consolidated Agencies of Human Services in Hawthorne, NV (cahsnv.org):

[Encourage others to seek help. Raise awareness of mental illness and where to get help. Teach respect for the daily challenges of poor mental health. Advocate to expand availability of effective treatments and supports. Nurture understanding among all.]

 

I urge you to find out what’s happening in your community this month to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Learn about mental health. Attend a lecture. Participate in a walk. Reach out to a hurting friend. Seek help if you think you have a mental illness.

Let’s talk about this!

It’s Easy

The thing about depression is – it’s easy.

No, depression itself is not easy – it’s actually a very hard journey. But descending into depression is a cinch. Easy-peasy.

All it takes is several days of feeling alone, using first-person depression language or beating myself up, poor diet and/or sleep, ongoing physical pain. A few negative components, and depression is within reach.

Of course, wellness should be reaching toward the positive, toward mental health, not illness. But sometimes, mental illness feels closer to my grasp.

This should make me fearful, or at least cautious. The problem is, it all feels so familiar. So it’s not scary; it’s almost comforting.

Which makes me scared. And that’s healthy.

I’m realizing that I’m often so close to the edge of the cliff – to the precipice of depression’s chasm.

That means I need to fight really hard for mental health. For mental wellness.

I need to initiate my ladder – the steps my therapist told me to put into place to help me when I find myself in this darker place. Step one – sit with the tears. Well, I don’t have any of those right now. Just a familiar sadness.

Step two – Tell my husband and best friend. My husband will be home shortly, after having been out-of-town for a few days – I hate to admit that this probably contributed to my current emotions. I’m okay with him being gone until about day five – then it gets hard for me. So that piece will improve soon!

Ok, time to be really honest here. Let’s back up a few minutes. Drinking wine does not help depression. I suspect that if I hadn’t had a couple of glasses of wine – which is a depressant! – I wouldn’t be feeling so negative right now.

I’ll write more about my ladder of self-care another time. The steps really don’t matter for this particular post. What matters is to illustrate that depression can be only a few choices away.

So I need to make wise choices. Initiate my ladder of self-care. Get good sleep. Eat a healthy snack, healthy meals. (Too bad I had to throw away that salad mix due to the recall – that was my healthy meal!) Get regular exercise. Be careful with alcohol.

Ultimately, I must remind myself of God’s truth about me, because that’s what really matters. He loves me no matter what. I am a new creation, because of Jesus’ grace. Depression is not who I am; I am a precious daughter of the king of the universe, the king of all creation.

Reminding myself of these truths are keys to fighting the familiarity of depression. Keys to fighting the lies of the enemy. Keys to my mental health.

Adrift

Adrift.

This is the word I’ve used recently to describe how I feel.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several down days. Days of loneliness, days of insecurity, days of grayness.

Feeling untethered, unanchored. Bobbing up and down in choppy seas.

Not sure of my purpose. Not sure of my “why.” Not sure of what tasks to undertake next. Not sure of who I am or who I will be. Or even who I want to be.

Uncertain of relationships and commitments and activities.

Wondering what it might be to live in wholeness, instead of simply existing between depressive episodes. I’m going through a workbook to address that issue – living in fullness and wellness in spite of a mental health diagnosis (Fresh Hope). And I wonder what that feels like. I think I define myself as “a depressed person, currently in remission.” What would it be to call myself “healthy, with possible – occasional – bouts of depression?” Transition the focus to the positive. I’m hoping this workbook will help me in that mental shift.

In the meantime, I finish up my job. I’m excited about my trip to hang out with my daughter and best friend, and connect with other dear friends and a cousin, too. I anticipate future volunteer opportunities, yoga classes, starting a mental health support group. I’m praying about that last one in particular, that God would line up all those details.

And that I would no longer be assembling my boat in the middle of the ocean, adrift and bobbing up and down in the waves.

But then I remember:

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls...” Hebrews‬ ‭6:18-19‬ ‭NLT‬‬ (http://bible.com/116/heb.6.18-19.nlt)

I cry out to God for refuge, and then I am anchored in His love for me – His promise of eternity with Him, because of the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. He has a hold on me. I will trust Him for my future. I need to continue to assure myself that He won’t let me float away. He’s got a gracious grip on me and my future, and I am secure in His grasp.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT (biblegateway.com, Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.)

I have hope. He is an anchor for the soul. A safe harbor. A refuge. God’s got me, and I am fine.