18 November 2013

Q&A With A Depressed Blogger

Do you feel like this? You might be depressed.
| via the awesome Hyperbole and a Half |

I've fallen down the rabbit hole again.

These past few weeks have been challenging ones. My status quo has been disrupted, and bumped me off emotional course. What began as a much-needed (and thoroughly enjoyable) vacation following the end of my Business of Design contract has slowly become too much time and too little structure. There have been some family tragedies - not within our little nucleus but within the wider cell, and still impactful - and a return to our blazingly hectic schedule, which is good and familiar but also completely exhausting.

Unlike most folks, my brain doesn't "coast" very well. It makes a conscious effort to maintain equilibrium at the best of times, in the most optimum conditions. When conditions are tested - by fatigue, by stress, by external forces (all negative or positive) - my brain is not as resilient. I don't bounce back as easily as I once did. Shifting momentum, changing perspective, regulating and processing emotions, recovering from setbacks and revving the engine of internal motivation.... all make my poor wee brain go, Woah. Hold on. You want to what? No, I'm sorry. That department is closed until further notice. Time for a nap.

True story.

I said a long time ago that I would acknowledge/talk about clinical depression only once on this blog, and you guys were super-supportive and awesome (like you always are, about everything.) Believe me, I felt the love. Now, I'm totally making a liar of myself by talking about it again, but since the Money Pit is a little slice of online diary for me, I'm writing this as much for me (to read again and again and again) as for you. You're really just along for the ride, if that's cool?

With that in mind, I decided to dispel a few myths about depression. I also decided this would best be accomplished in an interview/Q&A format because.... why? I don't know. Maybe because I haven't been interviewed in a while ever and I'm dying to be. So I'm interviewing myself, and maybe some of you out there who are struggling with similar issues can find a little nugget to take away that makes your journey just a little bit easier, too.

Q - Doesn't being depressed mean that you're unhappy with some aspects of your life, or all of it?

A - No, not at all.

I can't stress this enough: NO. NOT AT ALL.

Clinical depression is not a mood or a feeling; is not as simple as simply being unhappy. The circumstances of life impact my mood, without question, as they do for everyone. But depression is more than a feeling. It's a chemical imbalance in my brain that frequently manifests itself on an emotional level, but doesn't originate from it.

I am more than blessed in my life; I have personal riches beyond what I ever hoped for. My husband is my very best friend and partner in crime - we have a strong, happy marriage that gets better with age. It didn't come easily; we've worked our asses off for it, and continue to make our relationship health a primary focus in our lives.

The attention we pay it pays off: not only are we strong together, but we are raising two happy, confident, well-adjusted children. There are hiccups - with kids, when aren't there? - but they are socially skilled, achieve excellent marks in school, are well-liked by adults and their peers alike, are engaged in activities that they love and are successful in those activities, have great senses of humor and are poised to be wonderful adults. They're plain old nice kids and I expect at the end of the day they'll be plain old nice grown-ups, due in large part to how we're raising them and the example we're setting for them.

I live in lovely home. I make a lot of effort - like, a lot - to take good care of my family and friends, and to build connections with people. I dedicate time to things that are important to me; this blog, for instance, and blogging communities, and to pursuing personal interests like design and d├ęcor. Maybe not all the time that I'd like or would ideally wish for, but enough that it's satisfying.

So yeah.... I'm happy. Beyond happy, actually, with nearly every aspect of my life (my career trajectory could use some work but that, too, will clarify with time and effort.) Which makes it especially frustrating when my brain shuts down, takes a little vacay in the middle of a life I love living. A chemical imbalance can and does exist outside of your actual life, though one definitely impacts the other. I'm perfectly happy otherwise.

Q - Does everyone experience depression in the same way?

A - Again, not at all. And each time I fall down the rabbit hole, I fall down it differently. Really, describing clinical depression is like trying to shoot a moving target, or nail Jell-O to the wall (or insert your own equally difficult/impossible analogy here.)

When I was first diagnosed, my symptoms included mood swings as wide as the Grand Freaking Canyon. I lived on a spectrum that ran from hysterical crying at one end, to uncontrollable rages at the other. Most of my life was spent screaming - at Daryn, at the kids, at the dog - coupled with violent urges to throw things. I was never inclined to hurt people physically (thank gawd) but emotionally, I did more than my fair share of damage.

[UPDATE: See? Even here I shy away from the complete truth, because I judge myself so harshly for it. I absolutely WAS inclined to hurt people; my rages were overwhelming and out-of-control. It took a supreme amount of self-control and a fucking ton of love for those same people I wanted to smash in the face, for me to walk away. I wanted to physically hurt people all the time, so I could get whatever was swallowing me up whole inside, out of me. I'm ashamed to admit that, but it's the truth. Even now it makes me feel dirty; so much so that I didn't want to write it to the first time. It's taking every ounce of control I have not to delete this, actually. And what I'm thankful for is not that I never had those urges, but that I never acted on them. For that, I'll be eternally grateful to the Universe.]

Coupled with chronic fatigue but plagued with insomnia, I was a disastrous mess and next to impossible to live with. Becoming medicated (which was the best decision Daryn ever helped me make) made me feel like a rubber chicken most of the time, but alleviated the wild mood swings and let my brain re-adjust to better emotional regulation.

This time, my moods are generally fine (though I do cry more often, and more spontaneously, than usual) but I'm fuzzy. My brain is slow, like I've got a head full of soup. You know when you've set your dial to a certain radio station, and then you accidentally bump the tuner, like, one notch? From 99.9 to 99.8? And how you can hear the station still, but through a ton of static and interference? Right. So that's what living in my brain is like right now. I had been managing pretty well until recently, and my hope is that new medication (which I wasn't on, and now am) will help clear up that static and get me back to my snappy self. And cut out the chronic fatigue and ridiculous crying already.

Q - What does this mean for the Money Pit?

A - Well, it means that despite my best intentions (and sometimes, best efforts) I'm more sporadic that I want to be. You might have noticed that my posts have dropped off, and that I'm not engaging as much on social media. Some of you might have wondered why.

It's not for lack of interest, you guys. There's nothing I'd like more than to jump on Twitter or Facebook and chat it up. But my brain has created an almost insurmountable hurdle that takes incredible effort, energy and discipline to overcome (perfect example? This post has taken me about six hours to write. SIX HOURS. No kidding.) I'm not always able to overcome it, especially when I'm mired in trying to get through each day meeting my most important obligations: my family. So I'll take a forced break, wherein I probably won't post as much.

PS - This is reverse psychology, sort of. I'm giving myself permission to not be around as much, which means I'll feel more free (and less pressured) to post. Which means I'll probably post more. It's a crazy circle.

Q - Do you want to talk about it?

A - Only all the time, but not really. I chase my mental tail a lot, so Daryn endures some very circular conversations about depression in general and my coping strategies specifically. Let it be known here and now that my husband is pretty much a saint when it comes to this kind of thing. He puts with a lot of crap - like, A LOT - and loves me all the same. I'm one lucky chickadee.

So yes, I want to talk about it. But I don't want to be defined by it. Does that make sense? At the risk of sounding like a braggy-braggerson, I'm really smart. Not Mensa or anything; I'm no Sheldon Cooper. But I can hold my own, generally (I'm not just saying this. My mother had me tested.) So it makes me mad-mad-mad that I can't think as well as I know I know how to. Get that? I don't write as well, either, and it pisses me off. All of which I'd LOVE to talk about ad nauseum, and also NEVER want to talk about.

Q - How long will this episode last? When will is recur again?

A - I honestly don't know. My hope is that my current prescription is exactly the right medication at exactly the right dose on the very first try, but I can't tell you how rarely that happens. Usually it takes some fiddling and farting around - especially with dosage - to find the right balance and get the train back on track. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be soon; our lives are extremely busy and the sooner I'm back into fighting shape, the better.

As for recurrence, again, I honestly can't say. I had hoped I had it licked after the first round but it would seem not. A diagnosis can last a month, a year or a lifetime; each person is affected differently and recovers differently. I'm taking the necessary steps to manage my diagnosis: it's not a weakness to medicate against depression, it's the way I've chosen to manage it. Meds are not for everyone, but they are right for me, right now. Each episode dictates its own response, but how soon that will happen again after recovery is anyone's guess.

Q - Why are you posting about depression again? You said you wouldn't.

A - I know. I'm now a known liar. I can't be trusted.

I just wanted to explain a bit more, especially for all the new friends I've made through BlogPodium and similar, who may feel a little abandoned now that I've dropped off the grid. It's not you; it's definitely me. But it's not all of me - not the only thing about me - and it's important for me to say that I'll be back. I just need a break to reset my recovery path.

Also, and this is an important point so take note: I'm trying to let go of the shame of my diagnosis.

I spend a lot of time denying that I have a diagnosis; to myself, and to others. I feel.... weak. I feel like if I were stronger, or more resilient, or more intelligent or... whatever... that I would be able to manage my life without support. Sometimes I convince myself that I am just sad, and that's all my fault and that I'm choosing to disengage from my life. This is totally a lie, but I hate feeling out of control and sometimes it's better to blame myself than to admit my brain drives the bus and I'm just a passenger in my own head. If my body was a movie it would be Speed, and I'm Sandra Bullock. See that? NO CONTROL. It sucks.

So I'm ashamed, and I'm embarrassed, and opening about it - really owning it - is my next step in letting go of that shame and embarrassment. I don't blame others who are depressed, so why do I blame myself? I accept that it's a medical condition like asthma or diabetes; I'm taking the necessary medical steps to control it. I wouldn't be embarrassed to say I'm asthmatic, so it's time to let go of the stigma of depression.


Sometimes, my brain is an asshole. I'm dealing with it.

Q - So.... what's next?

A - Well, nothing much, really. Like I said, my presence around these here parts (and everywhere else on social media) might continue to be sporadic. If I need a break, I'll take one. You'll see some posts come up that have a decidedly cheerful feeling to them. That's for two reasons:

1) Some of those were written a few weeks back, and have been waiting in queue, and
2) When I wrote them, I was cheerful.

It's not all doom-and-gloom. I'm OK, just working hard. Sometimes that hard work wears me out and leaves me very little time for fun stuff like the blog. But I'll be back, and I'm looking forward to re-connecting with all y'all when I am.

xo April