August 20, 2018

And still I was broken...

I'm nervous about writing this blog post for a few reasons.  For one thing, I don't want my family, especially the family mentioned in the story, to be hurt or to worry.  For another thing, I don't talk much about suicidality or self-injury urges.  There are a lot of reasons for that; one reason is that I manage both issues pretty well, and I don't want anyone to call the cops on me and have me committed.  It's a really scary thought, and once something like this is out there, it can't be taken back.  But the thought of this post has been rolling around in my brain for over a week.  I can't make it go away any other way than by putting it out there.  So here it is:  let me tell you about our fabulous SoCal vacation!  My husband's parents flew us down for a week for his brother's wedding.  The weather was hot, but we had so much fun!

The first night we were there, my husband played in a softball game and helped the team to a healthy victory.  I love watching him play, and he played well.  And I wished over and over that the game would end so I could go back to the house and go to bed.  I wasn't that sleepy, I just couldn't abide the thought of existing while conscious any more for that day.

The next day, we woke up early and went to the beach.  The waves were small and the water was warm.  And I needed a nap right away after only an hour at the beach.  It wasn't a bodily exhaustion as much as it was an exhaustion of the soul.  Next we went for pedicures and acai bowls.  And I needed another nap.  Then we went to the San Diego Zoo.  We saw baby animals and my favorite elephants, and there was a zebra braying like a donkey that had me laughing so hard I was almost in tears.  And I thought about ways I could die there.  It was an idle thought, not a plan, but that's not something normal for your brain to dwell on over and over and over when you're having fun.

The day of the wedding itself was long, but it was a super neat day!  The ceremony was incredible, and it happened to have been performed by someone I hadn't seen in years but who is very important to me.  We went from the ceremony to a delicious Chinese restaurant.  And I was so tired I could barely hold a conversation.  All I wanted to do was come home and nap before the reception.  We ended up having to leave the luncheon early so I could rest. The reception was one of the loveliest I've ever been to.  There was live music, a photo booth, crepes, and an entire table of different gourmet cakes!  And I had thoughts of harming myself over and over throughout the evening.  They came unbidden like robbers to steal the magic of the moment.

All in all, there were no moments of drama, no moments where plans went wrong.  We did a lot of fun family activities and rested a lot, too.  There were a million awesome moments.  And still I was in pain.  Still I had moments where I longed for the pain to stop.  I almost couldn't wait to go home to where my boring reality more accurately matches the inner turmoil and pain and exhaustion.  But I had so much fun there!  I am so grateful for in-laws who are patient with my limitations and let me rest, but who also provide incredibly fun diversions to keep me out of my own head.  But it didn't fix me.  It didn't make me somehow whole.

The reason this post is important is that it's important to me that you know that getting out and having fun, being in the sun, doing things you love, none of that cures depression.  Depression requires treatment.  I'm not depressed because I'm not trying hard enough.  I'm not depressed because I'm not getting out enough.  I'm doing absolutely everything I can.  And still it seems like almost all I think about is dying or hurting myself or sleeping half the day away.  The world is so overwhelming that I can hardly stand it.  But still I fight.  I have another doctor's appointment tomorrow, and I head back to therapy next week.  And as soon as I get the insurance kinks worked out, I start ECT.  I think life is worth fighting for, even when I can barely do just that.  I hope you'll get the help you need or help someone else get the help they need, because this battle is EXHAUSTING.

August 4, 2018

Depression is...

Depression is sobbing to your husband because you have a toothache but no energy to make a dentist's appointment.

Depression is sitting at home watching Netflix all day, bored out of your mind, but knowing that you don't have the ability to focus on anything else.

Depression is showering once a week because the exhaustion brought on by the thought of all of the steps it takes to shower outweighs your disgust with yourself.

Depression is 71 unanswered texts and 20 unanswered voicemails.

Depression is overdrawing your bank account because you don't have the energy to make sure that your bills get paid.

Depression is not talking to your friends because you're sick of saying, "No, it's worse again, not better."

Depression is gaining tons of weight because you don't have the energy or motivation to exercise and cook healthy food.

Depression is only brushing your hair when you actually have to leave the house (and not always then) because you don't care what people think anymore.

Depression is not leaving your house unless you absolutely have to.

Depression is constantly checking the clock during an activity you should enjoy because you're out of energy and you wish it was over already.

Depression is eating uncooked macaroni out of the box because you know you need to eat something, but you don't have the energy to actually make anything.

Depression is dreading going to the zoo, an activity you've looked forward to for months, because you're afraid there won't be enough places to sit and rest.

Depression is all this and so much more, this is just how I've been feeling lately.

December 7, 2017

Medication Journey Update ~ Good News and Bad News

I got the results of my genetic tests, and unfortunately they were not particularly helpful.  The medications I was on were genetically compatible, as have been the two I've tried since.  Now let me stress that the genetic testing has been a God-send for a lot of people I know, so don't discount it.  It just happens not to have revealed any useful information in my case.  So here's the deal:

One of the medications I was on was causing the intense brain fog I was experiencing (complete inability to follow conversations, do basic math, etc.).  It is apparently a known side-effect, but my old doctor told me I probably just needed to sleep more.  Not cool, doc.  Moral #1:  Trust your instincts.  If what a doctor is telling you doesn't feel right, dig deeper.  Now that I'm off that medication, the brain fog is slowly dissipating.  

The other main medication I was on for my depression is known to cause anxiety and is a fairly wimpy antidepressant.  My new doctor said that she doesn't know why anyone prescribes it to people with anxiety.  Yes, this is anecdotal, but the same exact thing happened with the same exact drug to someone close to me, and her doctor told here the same thing.  Moral #2:  If you are taking Wellbutrin and experiencing a lot of anxiety, talk to your doctor (or maybe even find a new doctor).  I think I've had one anxiety attack in the 2+ months since I went off Wellbutrin, where I was experiencing 1-5 a WEEK on Wellbutrin.

All the medications I was going off and on two months ago in all their various doses

So there's the good news:  The challenging symptoms I was experiencing were caused by my medications, and now that I'm off those medications, those symptoms are largely subsiding.  (Now, I need to stress that these medications worked very well for me for several years.  They enabled me to finish my degree and do a lot of cool things.  But they eventually quit being effective.  Read here for more details.)

But that's where the good news ends.  I spent six weeks going off two medications and on a different one, but it didn't work.  Like I said, the problems I had been having subsided, but they were replaced by a deep apathy, one that made it hard to stay alive.  If breathing weren't autonomic, I swear I would have died because I just couldn't make myself do what I needed to.  It took me 45 minutes to eat a pancake because it just felt like too much work.  Obviously that was not the medication for me.

When I went back in to the doctor, it was honestly kind of discouraging to see her reaction.  She was expecting me to be doing better, but I had just made a sideways slide into a new awful, and she was kind of scrambling to find something else to try.  Well, I spent four more weeks going off one medication and onto another, and honestly?  I'm not doing any better.  I'm a little less apathetic, but it's a real struggle to perform basic functions because I just don't care.  I showered today and truly it had probably been over a week.  I racked my brain and couldn't figure out the last time I had showered.  And I only did it today because I told a friend it was my goal for the day.

Basically, I need to go back to the doctor.  But I don't have a lot of hope right now.  I don't know what the next step is.  I'm kind of afraid there isn't one, at least not a medication-related option.  But I'm going to call tomorrow (technically today since it's almost 5:00 am, but I haven't slept yet) and make an appointment.  Wish me luck.

September 17, 2017

Keeping Track...

Recently I decided to make a list.  It's a list of all the little things I might accomplish on any given day, and each task is worth one point.  This list doesn't include to-do's that need to get done, it's more like this:

  • Take a shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Work 1 hour
  • Leave the house
  • Return a text
  • Make a phone call
  • Trim fingernails
  • Trim toenails
  • You get the idea...
Simple things, you know?  And each day I tally up how many things I've done.  It's not to see if I've done enough- that's important to note.  It's to give myself an idea of how I'm doing mentally and emotionally.  I don't usually count every day, but since I'm seeing a brand new doctor on Wednesday (FINALLY), I've been trying to keep notes on how I've been doing for the last couple of weeks so I can more accurately describe my situation to her.  In the last two weeks, I've averaged a score of six points per day (low of four, high of nine).  That means I've accomplished around six things a day.  For instance, last Monday this was my list of accomplishments:
  • Worked one hour
  • Dried a batch of apples (with help, 20 minutes' work)
  • Went to pharmacy
  • Emailed doctor
That's it.  That's all I could do.  Four points.  And it exhausted me.  That's all I had in me.  The average Joe's list probably looks more like:
  • Shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Style hair
  • Do makeup (ok, this is more of an average Jill than an average Joe usually)
  • Leave house for work
  • Work 8 hours (8 points)
  • Text multiple friends
  • Cook dinner 
  • Clean kitchen
  • etc.
That fairly minimal list there is worth at least 17 points.  And many people also exercise and go out with friends and have kids and run errands.  But just writing that list tired me out.  I'm not using hyperbole, I legitimately couldn't write for a minute or two because concentrating is hard lately.  That fairly 'minimal' list is literally three days' worth of points for me.  

I guess the reason I'm saying all this is that I want you to know that it's been good for me to keep track.  It's been good for me to think about what I'm accomplishing and to think about whether or not I can accomplish more.  The answer is, I can't.  It's good to really know where I am in terms of my health.  Once I tally up my points each day, I realize that I really am doing my best.  I really can't do more.

What about you?  How many points are you averaging?  Remember, don't compare yourself to me, compare yourself to you.  Are you doing ok?  Is your 'score' consistently under ten?  Do you need help?  I know I do.  That's why I spent a lot of points last week calling and emailing doctors and trying to get an appointment to get some help.  That's why I'm going to the doctor Wednesday.  I need help.  I need to get better.  I want my life back.  Do you?

Do you know someone who needs encouragement?  Ideas for recovery?  Just to know they're not alone?  Please share.  It's hard feeling alone.  It's better to know you're not!

August 28, 2017

Skeptical about trigger warnings?

For those of you who don't know what a trigger warning is, it's a statement at the beginning of an article (or movie or book or college course) that warns vulnerable consumers of content within it that may cause them distress.  That vulnerable consumer can then choose whether or not to proceed.  Over the last few weeks I've heard a lot of people making fun of "trigger warnings" and ridicule those who advocate for them.  People scoff saying that life is not a "safe space" and that the world will always present triggers that can't be avoided, so people should just suck it up and deal with it.  But before you dismiss trigger warnings as millennial snowflake garbage, I want you to hear a part of my story.  I can't speak for many of the kinds of trigger warnings people advocate for, but I can speak of one from very personal experience, and I am actually going to preface it with a trigger warning: 

TRIGGER WARNING: The following story has to do with self-injury.  If you are feeling vulnerable, you may not want to proceed.  If you need immediate help, you can call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or you can text 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor.  Even if you're not suicidal, they can sometimes help talk you through urges to hurt yourself.

From about age 15 to age 25, I struggled with self-injury.  If you don't know what that means, the Mayo Clinic describes it this way:  "Nonsuicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It's typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration."

From personal experience I can tell you that self-injury (specifically cutting in my case) is an addictive behavior, and because it is so visceral, seeing images of other people's cuts, self-inflicted or otherwise, often triggered a deep emotional response in me.  I'll tell you a story.

I had been in remission from self-injury for several months.  One day I was having a hard day, but I was keeping things under control, when suddenly one of my coworkers accidentally cut his finger.  It was a deep cut, and it took a lot more time and effort than it should have to stop the bleeding.  I was deeply triggered, and the combination of an already stressful day and the intense visual stimulus put me over the edge, causing a relapse that lasted several weeks.  I tell you this story so you'll understand the power of visceral visual stimuli.

Another time I was watching a movie and suddenly one of the main characters grabbed another character's arm and forced her sleeve up, exposing dozens of self-inflicted cuts.  Again, it affected me deeply.  If there had been a trigger warning at the beginning of the movie warning me of the self-injury-related content, I could have A) mentally prepared myself for the scene, or B) chosen not to watch the movie at all.  Either option would have resulted in fewer scars that remain on my body to this day. 

I'm not saying that everyone should be legally required to warn of every type of potentially triggering content in every situation they're in.  I'm actually an advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  What I am saying is that I am so grateful when people do use trigger warnings.  I have no problem with a college professor using a text that has intense content in it.  I am grateful when they warn their students of said content and let them make an informed choice as to how to proceed.  I don't mind at all when authors choose to write about sensitive subjects.  I'm grateful when they warn us that they're going to do so.  I'm ok with people choosing to portray graphic content in movies and television.  I have personally benefitted from the times when they've prefaced the content with a trigger warning.

I understand that it's not possible (or even desirable) to sanitize the world, and that people will always come across triggering situations that can't be anticipated.  But why wouldn't we want to offer support in the places where we can anticipate the trigger?  Why wouldn't we want to prevent suffering when we can?  Why do we ridicule people who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and who are begging for our help?

I hope the next time you want to make fun of people asking for help, you'll remember my story,  remember the scars I bear.  I am not ashamed of them.  I want to use them to make the world a more compassionate place.

August 1, 2017

Learning to let go

I'm just going to be real for this post, no warm and fuzzy advice.  I feel like I've had to let go of a lot of things over the years.

When I was younger, my dream was to be an actress.  I had enough talent to get into a top acting school in New York City on a partial scholarship, but it wasn't meant to be.  I had to do something more 'realistic.'  Even though it was my dream.  I let that go. 

When I was in high school, I was one of the 'smartest' kids around.  My test scores were always high, and I never had to work for it.  I got into a great college, but my mental health tanked and took my plans of finishing a degree in four years with it.  I let that go. 

In fact, to a large degree I've had to let all that super-intelligence go.  I'm pretty average these days. It's part of the price I have to pay to stay sane.  My medication slows my brain down a little.  But I'd die without it, so I let that go. 

I have a great job with a company that I love.  I was a top-notch full-time employee, I was good at my job, and I loved doing it.  But I had a bit of a breakdown and I can only work part time now.  I loved my job.  But I let that go. 

And I have been blessed with so many wonderful friends and family members I can hardly believe it.  But I'm not functioning well enough to stay in touch with all of them.  I have a few good hours a day, but I get exhausted so easily.  I don't get depressed per-se, but I'm just still not capable of doing a lot.  I want to be a best friend, cousin, sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, and wife to all the people I love.  But I can't juggle it all right now.  I've made peace with a lot of letting-go, but I don't want to let that go.  I just don't know how to hang onto it.

The only pic I could come up with that felt real.

July 24, 2017

My Medication Journey ~ Worth It!

I've been on psychiatric medication off and on for over half my life. I have treatment-resistant depression, which means that it takes a LOT of work to stay on top of things. Medication is a journey, and it doesn't feel like there is really a destination, only the journey and making that journey as easy as possible.

A story:
When I was a teenager, I wasn't self-aware enough to really pay attention to how my meds were affecting me. I just knew when I was miserable and when I was a little better. My psychiatrist was kind of awful, but he was the only one in town. We tried a few different medications. One day I was reading in the DSM and thought a particular paragraph in the bipolar section might describe something I experienced from time to time. I told him about it and he didn't even ask me more questions, he just let me diagnose myself (at age 14 or so) and gave me a medication for it. That medication caused me to sleep away a couple of years of my life. My record was 22 hours straight, awake for two hours, and then asleep for 13 more. And it was a medication that required regular blood tests to make sure my liver was still functioning. Every single mental health professional I've talked to since then (and there have been upwards of a dozen) has said that there was absolutely no way I have bipolar disorder. Eventually I quit seeing that psychiatrist and quit taking my medication and I was fine for a while. Until I wasn't. 

A story:
My next psychiatrist was fantastic. I had come home from an awful first semester of college and was really devastated, but she really listened to me and talked to me and worked through all my medication concerns with me. By this time I was around 18 and quite a bit more able to monitor how I was feeling and what was helping. I ended up on a combination of two antidepressants (the first one alone made me anxious, but both of them together were a perfect combo), and I took them for a couple of years. They worked pretty well. Until they didn't. 

After that, I don't even remember how the journey worked out. Over the course of the years, I tried a LOT of different medications in a lot of different combos. Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Depakote, Adderall, Stratera, Lamictal, Xanax, Clonazapam, Gabapentin, Remiron, Ambien, and Abilify. And I've probably forgotten some. There have been a lot of times where things were great. Until they weren't.

See, what you need to know is that the medication journey will never end for me. We find something that works for a few years, and then it becomes less and less effective until some sort of major stress hits and I'm back at square one. But I can not survive without medication. I need you to understand that. I need you to understand that I would be dead without medication. I am being completely serious and very literal here. My brain has a disease, and it just doesn't function without treatment. It's like how a diabetic needs insulin to stay alive. I need medication to stay alive. And I'm ok with that. 

It can be a really frustrating journey. It is devastating every time my medication stops working, because I know how long it takes to get back on track. It is weeks, sometimes months before things get better. And I'm always scared that we won't find the next magic combo. At one point a few years ago my doctor told me that we were on our last option. You see, there are only so many classes of drugs and combinations you can try and we have tried them all. We're still on that final option with dosage tweaks and supporting medications along the way. It's really scary. But it's worth the fight. 

The moral of the story is this: medication is hard. It's not the magic fix you hope it's going to be, and it can get discouraging when it takes a long time to find what works. But it's so worth it. It's worth the struggle every time I hear my nieces laugh or share a dorky moment with my husband. I'm writing this for me too, because it really doesn't feel like it's worth it sometimes and I need a reminder. Looking back from a healthier place, I assure you; it's worth it.

Thank you for coming. I hope you get something out of this. I hope you learn about yourself. I hope you get help if you need it or give it if you can.