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.

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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.

This time around…

I think the last time I was in depression was almost two years ago.  That’s what it looks like from my blog posts and medication history (the last time we had to do a major med change).

Not bad. A full year of change and transition, including moving across the country, but it’s only just now depression. Up until now, it’s been loneliness and adjustment. The difference is that depression, as a diagnosis, requires a certain number of particular symptoms. Things like anhedonia, changes in sleeping or eating patterns (too much or too little), isolating, excessive feelings of guilt or hopelessness, irritability,

I met with my psych doc yesterday, and was in a much better state than at our previous appointment, where I broke down. But I’m glad that happened last month, and I told him yesterday how relieved I am to have a diagnosis. To know it’s depression again. He complimented me. Said I was a smart woman, and very self-aware. But depression from the inside is hard to identify, including for someone like me who has been through it before, even so many times.

He asked if the new med was helping. I told him I wasn’t sure. But I’ve moved from crying spells to apathy and he told me that was improvement. He upped the dosage on the new med. This new med is actually one I was taking two years ago, but it had stopped working so I came off of it. We’ll see if the break from it is enough for it to be effective once again.

I told him that I met with the new therapist. He said she’s very experienced and very good. We’ll see. I also told him that I contacted my old therapist. He thought it was great that I was reaching out for help.

In chatting with my sister, I told her that my new therapist has a group – I’d forgotten about that. I may look into group therapy – might be just what I need. I was in a group before, and found it very helpful. The people were welcoming, and I didn’t have to explain myself because everybody already “got it.” Maybe I’ll ask about the therapist’s groups when I see her next time, which is three weeks away (long time).

I just finished a devotional on my You Version Bible app, all about depression. It was really good. Depression: A Devotional for the Wounded Spirit by heartsupport.com.  I think I might repeat it – lots of great Scripture to remind me that I am loved by God, even in my current state.

Lamentations 3:19-24, NIV:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

    Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is with me. I’m taking steps. I’ll get through this.

 

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!

My First Panic Attack

The morning sun was shining out from behind an occasional cloud. The air was cool – it was a typical Wisconsin Springtime day. The indirect sunlight meant I wore sunglasses, but the sun wasn’t glaring, just a little hazy.

The men were meeting at the north side Perkins to carpool to the airport, which was closer than all those days I drove him there. He’d been traveling a lot lately, but I was used to it. No big deal.

After he got into their car, I pulled out of the parking lot. I turned right instead of left and headed toward the water. My heart was beating a bit fast, and my stomach felt a little funny. “What if something happens?” I drove in a circle and back around into the parking lot. Now my hands were shaking, so I clutched the steering wheel a little more tightly. “What if something happens to the plane?” “Nothing will happen!” “But what will you do if something does?  What will you do? Who will you call first? What if..? What about..?”

The thoughts came suddenly, not even distinctly. They were more like a flash across my brain – in and out, here and gone. But they were enough to start the panic process.

I suddenly needed to walk, somewhere, anywhere, and fast. Walk fast. I pulled back out of the parking lot, and my hands shook harder. I drove down to Riverside Park and looked for a parking spot at the end of the walkway. Now my chest felt like it was shaking, like my whole body was going to convulse from the center.

I got out of the car, dropped the keys in my pocket, and grabbed my phone. The sun came out from behind the clouds, and I could feel it heating my skin. It shone down on my face, and reflected off the water and back up into my eyes. I squinted, even with my sunglasses on. The water was beautiful with the sparkle of the sun shining, with pinpricks of very bright light as it hit the river’s ripples. I hardly noticed.

My head was pounding, my hands were shaking, my heart was thumping hard and my breathing was getting shallow, as if there was a weight on my chest. I tried to dial my therapist’s office, but my fingers were too fat for the correct numbers. I tried again, and got his voice mail. I was desperate to hear his voice, to talk to him and have him talk me down off the ledge I was clinging to. His voice mail message helped – I could at least hear him. I stumbled over words. “I’m not sure what’s wrong. Please call me. I can’t think. I can’t breathe.” I hung up, dialed again, and hung up again.

Now my hands were shaking almost too much to hold the phone, my eyes were filling with tears, and I couldn’t catch my breath. My thoughts were coming too quickly to stop them, all negative. All ridiculous. Of course nothing was going to happen. No reason to plan for it. Stop that. Actually, it was more like, “Nothing…plan for it..stop.” all in one thought. No individual words or coherent ideas.

I remember praying, but the prayers were like my thoughts – arrows shot towards heaven with no clear-cut thought other than “Father God, please help me!” Later, I remembered how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26), and I was thankful for that.

There were other people in the park and walking on the path. I couldn’t really hear them, though, and hardly saw them. It’s as if they were muffled and fuzzy, and their words were unintelligible over the sound of my heartbeat in my ears.

And then all of a sudden, it was gone. The panic, the racing heart, the sweating – stopped. I was better. Exhausted, but better.

I went back to my car and sat in the driver’s seat, trying to figure out what had just happened.  How had I lost the abililty to reason? Why did my body and thoughts go spiraling? I had been trying to breathe, to focus, but there was no way – I was out of control.

I sat in the car, trying to sort out my first panic attack, but not realizing that’s what it was. The sun continued to warm the dark seats, and I got hot from sitting there, so I drove to work, a little shaky yet. I was very tired and my legs were heavy, like I had just run a great distance. I slowly entered the elevator – there was no way I could walk the stairs to my office. Once I sat at the desk, I typed “Panic Attack” in the Google Search Bar, and read all about what had just happened. Sure enough.