Most people hear the word depression and think “sadness.” They hear the word anxiety and think “fear” or “stress.” Well, that’ not the whole story. If it were, we would all be cured the moment we were happy or safe again. Here is my experience of these disorders.
Depression, for me, is mostly a feeling of being overwhelmed. It overlaps with anxiety that way. I am a very goal oriented, don’t like to ask for help, always do my best kind of person which often sets me up for failure or disappointment. The problem is, you see, that I am only human. I get tired, distracted, fed up, and/or hopeless. I set standards for myself and everything I do that are sky high. So, I start a project – write a paper, start exercising regularly, begin a daily meditation practice, eat healthy, be Green – it could be almost anything as long as it’s important to ME, and at some point I’ll look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and see everything that could be better. Of course, life rarely allows you to have only one such project/challenge going at a time, right? So there are multiple not-good-enough things happening at once. Suddenly you look around and go, “I’m buried under unfinished/not-good-enough projects! I have to fix this – without ANY outside help, of course – and OMG, where do I start? I better sit here and think about it, make a plan…” THEN I either feel the walls closing in and my heart racing and like I’m going to DIE, or I feel like I can’t possibly do all of this, I’m not good enough, what’s the point, I can’t move. When I’m in a better frame of mind in the same situation I may just pick one project from the pile and decide to work on that one, get some momentum going, one less thing to worry about. That just doesn’t seem possible when depression kicks in, though. Like now.
So, things pile up – laundry, dishes, books you mean to read, emails you meant to write, etc., etc. – all of which makes you feel worse, less powerful, more pathetic and useless, and now I REALLY don’t want to ask for help because then someone will see what a total disaster/useless mess I really am! I mean, really, how hard is it to sort the laundry and go get it done? It requires very little effort as far as physical activity and almost no mental work at all, and yet my bedroom floor is littered with dirty clothes and I’m almost out of clean underwear! That is depression for me most of the time.
I didn’t go to war, I wasn’t abused as a child, I didn’t lose a loved one recently, I’m not SAD. I’m just inert. I need to overcome inertia and it’s really hard because to the more healthy people in the world (and to myself most of the time) if just looks like laziness. That is the truly awful part because no one gets it and it looks like such an easy thing to fix – just get up and go! Then you’ll get something done and you’ll feel better and start a new life habit and you won’t be depressed anymore, right? WRONG. Yes, I am a total mess on the inside most of the time and on the outside a lot, too, but I am not lazy as a rule. On the contrary, I’m a perfectionist and I can do many things very well and all at once…for other people. Not lazy – out of balance.
I don’t have as clear a handle on the anxiety since it seems to be so closely related to the depression symptoms that it’s hard to see them separately. All through high school I had a “nervous stomach” – almost chronic diarrhea, nausea, etc. I just pushed through and kept going because no one else seemed to think this abnormal. It certainly didn’t keep my from showing my horse or joining the debate team or any other potentially stressful thing. I felt it, but no one else did. As I got older the stressors changed but I just kept pushing through it because I always had. I was so happy when, a little while after my first nervous breakdown and starting on Prozac, I had a normal bowel movement! I know, it’s gross and it’s a little thing, but it was a noticeable change in my life. Sad, right?
More recently, I had an anxiety attack at work – all alone with my dog for NO reason I could point to – and I ended up in the ER and back on medication for the first time in many years. This was new and terrifying. I really thought I was having a heart attack and I was going to die. I’m not in my twenties anymore and although I am a generally physically healthy person, these things happen just out of the blue to people sometimes, right? People just keel over dead. That’s how I felt that day….and then to a lesser degree for the rest of the weekend after that. You see, ER doctors (or maybe just this one, I really don’t know) don’t seem to be very good at dealing with “crazy” people. You’d think that would be part of their training as they are bound to see a lot of them….Anyway, he told me my EKG and blood work were normal and he gave me some beta-blockers, which he told me that heart attack patients take all the time, and told me to follow up with my doctor. That’s all. He didn’t say, “I think this was an anxiety attack.” He left that for me to figure out. I was unsure what had happened to me and I was wracking my brain, weighing all the possibilities, trying to figure it out, wondering if the head rush I felt was a stroke about to happen, wondering if the floaty feeling as I drifted to sleep was my soul leaving my body!!!! Yeah, it was ROUGH! Then I went and did something I love for a few hours (because if you’re going to die, you should, right?) and for a short time there, for the first time in days, I felt “normal.” I was OK when I was occupied doing this thing I love, but as soon as I got in the car to come home, the fear came back. It was that little break that made me see that the most likely explanation for my ER episode was an anxiety attack. GREAT! A new mental problem!! That’s awesome…
My GP agreed with my diagnosis when I finally saw her, put me back on antidepressants (Lexapro, this time), and the anxiety has become more manageable. I have had a few more “attacks” but now I see them for what they are more readily. That helps, but the fear of the attack is the worst. I can’t even read (or write_ about it without having a little mini-flashback and having to calm myself down. It’s been well over a year since the ER trip, and I’m still dealing with it.
As for the depression, well, like I said at the beginning, I’ve been here before. Intellectually I know of some coping mechanisms that will improve my state of mind – exercise, for example, or choosing a small project or a couple of little things from my enormous to-do list to complete – but I just can’t. I want to, but it’s so hard! And I’m so tired, and I have more bills to pay than money, and the laundry!! Back down the rabbit hole I go….I’ve tried to pick myself up and push through, I’m on medication…I’m just a mess right now.
I just saw my GP a few days ago for my annual exam, and I did a good thing – I asked for help! That’s how I know I’m a real mess because I generally don’t ask anyone for help ever. That means I know I can’t figure this one out alone. I’ts gone on too long and it’s gotten worse in the last few months (not that anyone who lives outside my brain would have really noticed a big change, but I do). So, new plan:
1. We increased my Lexapro dose to 30mg/day;
2. We’re adding 5-HTP supplementation daily; and
3. Mostly in hopes of a placebo effect, we’re messing with supplements for weight loss (another issue for me…told you I’m a mess!).
I really like my doctor, but she does tend to ask me a lot more than she tells me what to do…which is hard when I’m clearly asking for help. But, we’ll see how this stuff works. I started the higher dose of Lexapro 5 days ago, I started 200mg of 5-HTP once a day yesterday, and I’m planning to experiment with the weight loss supplement in a somewhat scientific manner. She suggested a few things to me Garcinia cambogia, Raspberry ketones, and Green Coffee Bean Extract. Other doctors who are her friends have recommended them to her and their own patients, she says. So, although I’m skeptical, I’ll give it a try. I’m starting with the least expensive option (because I’m poor) – Raspberry Ketones, 250mg/day. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Since today is a better day – it’s Saturday, I woke to rain on the roof, I’m not feeling rushed, I started a new self-help book which I’m loving (The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown) – for me, I’m starting this blog/journal thing and I’m going to do laundry…and maybe get a hair cut. Baby steps in the right direction with full knowledge that I am not a totally together person right now. I’ts a process, and I decided today that as long as I’m still here and working on it, I’m making progress. I hope you are, too.