Getting better 

I’ve been on my increased dosage of new meds for one week, but I think I’m seeing a difference. I think they’re working! I went from tears to apathy to caring a little bit. I’d say that’s improvement.

The doctors will say that a person won’t see any progress with meds for 4-6 weeks, but I know I often respond more quickly. I think I’ve seen improvement in just 7 days. My husband thinks so too.

I’ve had a busy week with work and the start of Bible study, and I managed it all well. I “put myself out there” at Bible study, initiating some conversations and welcoming others. I went to a friend’s Open House. I had another friend over for breakfast and socializing. I struck up a conversation with a stranger. I’m reaching out, and that’s a definite improvement over the isolation that depression brings.

I don’t see my new therapist for another week and a half, but I scheduled a distance-therapy session with my old therapist for Monday. I’m really looking forward to that. And there’s another improvement – looking forward to something.

When I’m in the midst of depression, it feels like it “will always be this way.” And that’s a very familiar feeling, like a comfortable sweater which I can wrap around me and cozy into. There’s no real desire to get better, because the illness feels familiar, and it’s easy. Getting better requires an effort. And effort takes energy, which I don’t have when I’m depressed. It takes energy to get out of bed, to shower, to care about the day. It takes lots of energy to engage in conversation, to be interested in what another person is sharing. It’s easier to isolate, to stay home in silence. To listen to sad music or nothing at all. To sleep and hide away from the day and its demands. To refuse invitations, to be alone. Those are all features of depression in my life.

But it’s worth the effort. It’s good to reach out, toward wellness. I’m a more complete person when I’m mentally healthy. I’m more interesting, and certainly more interested in others. I care about them, which is my real nature. Depression steals the real me away, and makes it seem like it’s ok. But it’s better to be the real me, to be invested in others, to pray for them and care about them and want to be with them.

I’m thanking God for these small improvements, knowing they will lead to bigger ones. Thanking God for medications. For my psych doctor who cares and keeps track of me. For friends who reach out to me even when I’m less than myself. For my husband who stands with me through mental illness and health. To Jesus, for understanding and loving me anyway.

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New versus old

I met with a therapist today, on the recommendation of my psych doc. It was just intake, so it’s hard to judge how we’ll get along.

I miss my old therapist. The one who knows me better than I know myself. I want to talk to him and have him explain the thoughts in my head that I don’t understand, the thoughts that I don’t even realize I’m having. The thoughts that come with depression but I don’t recognize. I was with him for eight years – to say he understands me is a gross understatement.

I miss my other therapist – the woman who loved Jesus and let that flow from her onto me. The counselor who always gave Godly counsel, who pointed me to Christ each time we met. I only worked with her for a year, but she, too, was a huge help as I went through the transition of moving to Florida, and then a depressive episode.

I don’t want to start over with someone new. I don’t want to go through this depression with a stranger.

I had a phone call from a friend today, and she gave good advice to not compare. Not compare what I have here with what I had before. We were talking about churches, but the same probably applies to everything in my current life. I need to live in the present, and simply be grateful for the past, instead of constantly measuring everything by what used to be.

That’s so hard to do. I don’t have much in the way of friends here – one, really – though I’ve lived here for over a year now. I didn’t connect with women in Bible Study last Spring, but I’m going to try it again. Not having a church home is very distressing – leaves a huge hole in my life. I haven’t been in any kind of leadership role for over two years now – I really miss facilitating a small group.

So I look back at my friendships with longing. I miss my old churches. My old jobs. My old activity level. I don’t need to be going a thousand miles an hour, but anything is better than hours alone, which is what I face now.

I feel like these posts keep saying the same thing, so I can tell I’m processing this idea of living mindfully. Fully invested in here and now. So so hard to do!

It’s baaack.

I spoke too soon in July. Depression is back.

It shouldn’t surprise me that much. The doctor and I reduced one of my medications a while back, and I am very susceptible to changes in my meds. As it was, I felt like I had been on the cusp of a depressive episode ever since we moved to Virginia over a year ago. So that change was probably enough to send me into the depressive spiral again, just over these past 4-6 weeks.

I didn’t admit it to anyone, until my psychiatrist asked me at today’s appointment how I was doing. Then I burst into tears.

I’ve been hiding it from everyone, even from myself. Felt ashamed, really.  Which is part of the depression. But I kept thinking I could fight it off, that the symptoms weren’t really there. The doctor added them up and said “It’s back.” And there’s relief in not trying to fight it anymore, but just give in and let the new medicine do it’s work, stop living in denial and accept that I’ve relapsed. I have depression. I’ve had it before and gotten better. I’ll get better again.

The past several weeks, I’ve cried a lot. Been incredibly lonely. Going through the motions of stuff, but not really wanting to do anything. The biggest red flag, though, was increased sleep. I’d go to bed in the middle of the day, for hours, just to escape. And I’d still sleep fine at night. Would stay in bed as long as I could because there was nothing to get up for. Same with sleeping in the day – why not, since there was no reason to be up. I’ve got nothing going on. No one needs me. No one will miss me. I can stay in bed and no one is the wiser.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this lonely, if ever. And that’s been true since we moved here. The only bright spot in my day is time with my husband. The rest is drudgery.

I haven’t felt like doing anything, though I go through the daily motions of work and errands. I felt pretty good on the friends and family camping trip, even read a couple of books. But here at home, I’d rather sleep than read. It’s hard to concentrate (another symptom of depression) so even mindless TV is difficult. Sleep is the easiest.

That was my biggest clue that something was wrong. I’ve never done the sleep thing before, though I’d known it to be a symptom of depression. That, along with the loss of interest in normal things, the loneliness and teariness. The negative self-talk, especially shaming talk. I’m not proud that I go to bed. I’m embarrassed. I kept thinking if I would just look on the bright side, count my blessings, work on gratitude and pray for contentment. But those things weren’t enough, and I was ashamed they weren’t working.

And all of this is part of depression. I told my psychiatrist, who pointed out the signs and told me I’d relapsed. He says we’ll get a handle on it. I hope so. I always have gotten better before.

 

Not depressed

I haven’t been depressed for a while. But I said it out loud today. “I’m not depressed.”

The move to Virginia certainly brought up feelings like depression – loneliness, fatigue, a little hopelessness. For me, that’s different from depression, which is lots of hopelessness.  But the transition of moving was hard, like a mild depression without all the full-on depression characteristics. I wondered if the feelings would intensify and change to depression. I think I lived with some fear that it would come back due to the move.

But today, in my psychiatrist’s office, I told him that I’m not depressed.

We’re going to reduce one of my meds, which makes me a little nervous, because it’s the med that brought me out of depression in the first place. But it has a weird side-effect – chewing. I chew my teeth together all the time; I’m grinding my teeth all day. In an effort to keep this from becoming a permanent motion, we’re cutting that anti-depressant in half. I’m a little nervous about it, about the depression returning without the full medication to keep it at bay. But I think I’m in a better place emotionally, and so I’m willing to give the reduction a try.

It’s nice to not be depressed. My days are full of light, not grayness.  I can hear when birds chirp – the finches found my feeder, and seeing them flit around gives me a brief joy. I don’t dread each day, which I had been doing after the move here. I have energy, and am seriously considering adding exercise back into my routine. This was never a workable plan when I was depressed: I knew I should exercise, but couldn’t work up the energy to do it. I still probably sleep too much – I nap almost every day because I have nothing better to do. But I’m sleeping well at night, so I’m not worried about it – I’m napping from boredom, not depression.  I’m eating and sleeping well. I look forward to seeing people. Looking forward – that’s not depression.

I still have brief bouts of sadness or anxiety, but can usually recover pretty quickly with prayer. Getting my eyes off myself and back onto the Lord – who He is, how He sees me and loves me – eases those emotions. When I was depressed, I couldn’t lift my eyes from my misery, and sure couldn’t see God in it.  I had to trust He was there, because I didn’t feel Him at all.  I depended on the truths I knew from Scripture about God’s goodness, because I didn’t sense it, didn’t believe it with my emotions. I had great friends reminding me of His presence and companionship, His faithfulness and care. That’s the emptiness of depression – so self-focused that I was unable to see God with me. Those negative emotions have lessened. Now it’s just occasional – normal – feelings.

It’s nice to feel normal.

How am I doing with what I’m supposed to be doing? part two

As I mentioned before, there are things that I can do, even with depression, to help ease its symptoms. If I’m in remission, those tasks are much easier to carry out. Here are some more thoughts on the steps, and how I do (or don’t do) them with depression in remission versus when it’s full-blown.

  1. It’s important not to isolate myself – to keep up social interaction and positive supportive relationships. This is near to impossible when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, since all I want to do is be alone, preferably in the dark with the covers pulled over my head. I’ve learned to lean on the folks who know about my struggles, and admit to these friends that I’m having a tough time. They know what to say and when, and how to gently push me to reach out or when to leave me alone.
  2. If I’ve learned anything in my years in and out of depression, I’ve learned the importance of making space in my day, and not pushing myself too hard. It’s critical that I reduce my stress, make my to-do list shorter, and pace myself. I am already my harshest critic (that comes naturally to me, and is amplified with depression) and it’s easy to beat myself up about the things I should do that I don’t get done. But I’m learning to cut myself some slack, practice some relaxation techniques, and even nap if I need to.
  3. A piece that is very important to fighting depression is adopting an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s been proven in studies that folks who practice daily gratitude, perhaps writing things to be thankful for in a journal, have reduced depression and anxiety. It’s impossible to thank God for blessings and be anxious at the same time! Gratefulness also combats negative thinking, which is a huge issue for me when I’m depressed. I ruminate, mull, dwell and judge myself very harshly, and the negative thinking spirals quickly downward. But if I can stop myself, take the negative thoughts captive to Christ (from 2 Corinthians 10:5), and focus on His blessings right now, living in the moment with gratitude, I can slow the negative thinking and self-condemning thoughts before they get too far gone.
  4. I’m told repeatedly by my therapists and doctors to do the things that I used to enjoy, even though depression means that I don’t want to do anything. This is actually a diagnosing symptom of depression – not wanting to do things that used to be enjoyable. Other ways to combat this inertia are to reach out to others – recognize someone else’s need and offer help, maybe even volunteer in a serving capacity. I’ve found it true – thinking about someone else takes my mind off myself, and I can be distracted from depressive thoughts as I try to meet someone else’s needs.
  5. Maintaining an active faith life is critical in my fight against depression. I have to regularly remind myself that Jesus knows and understands how I feel, and He loves me completely, unconditionally, anyway. I’m not always able to concentrate well enough to read my Bible, so I have several other tools that help. I have a couple of books that are simply Bible verses to read “when you feel … (sad, anxious, depressed, lonely, etc.).” I listen to a lot of praise and worship music, and even have made some playlists appropriate for my moods. Lastly, the Holy Spirit will bring Bible verses to mind that I have read or memorized over the years. I may not be able to find and read them from the Bible, though, so this is a reminder to me to hide God’s Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) – I never know when I might need it!
  6. It’s important to continue to take my medications as prescribed, and to avoid alcohol (a depressant). There’s really only been one time when I really wanted to quit taking my medicine – I think I felt like it was all useless (that’s the depression talking). It’s important, too, to follow my treatment plan and meet with my doctor and therapist – they will encourage me to keep taking these steps. It’s important to have their help to stay on track.
  7. Finally, I need to really listen to myself, and have those closest to me help me identify if I need immediate help. If I feel like hurting myself, if my mood worsens quickly, if I descend and can’t get back up, I need to get professional help. My therapist has been great to be available when I need help quickly – I am grateful for her!

So, that’s a lot to do to keep healthy – a total of 10 steps to take when including the top three from my earlier post (sleep, healthy diet, exercise). And it’s a lot to be intentional about, so it is helpful to form these habits when I’m in good mental health, so they aren’t completely impossible when I’m fighting a depressive episode.

What are some steps that you take to fight depression? What advice do you have to others who struggle?