depression

Depression and Me: A Conversation Told Through Email

From: Me

Subject: Just checking in

Hey,

Hope you’re doing well. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, what with the eight million things I’ve already given you to worry about. So don’t take this as me rushing you. If we can’t condense the timeline, we can’t, and that’s that.

I just wanted to check in and see if you had a timeline for when you were planning to head out.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having you around.

Well, “love” might be a strong word. “Gotten used to” might be more accurate. But I’m trying to be polite. I hope you can see that. I’m really trying.

It’s just that I’ve got a few things to take care of this weekend, so if you could just let me know what your plans are, I’ll plan accordingly.

Let me know either way.

I really appreciate it.


From: Depression

Subject: (No subject)

Cute.

I’m not a train. I don’t come on schedule.

Try again tomorrow.


From: Me

Subject: Hey, I’m serious

Maybe I wasn’t being clear. Sorry about that. I’ll try to be more direct — sorry if this comes off abrupt. I really do apologize. But I don’t know how else to make you listen.

Fuck off, OK?

I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. I’ve got a short story that needs writing. I need to clean the bathroom, put gas in my car, come up with a good Mother’s Day present.

I’d love to entertain you, but you’re heavy. You’re dense as a neutron star, solid as a ship’s anchor, and when you sit like that on my chest, you make my ribs ache. I’ve told you before how brittle my bones are, but I’m not sure you heard.

Oh, and I’m tired. 


From: Depression

Subject: Kid, please

You can stick it out. Be nice. I came all this way to be with you. The least you can do is make me up a bed on the couch. Maybe cook dinner. Paella sounds good. I don’t have anywhere else to go.


From: Me

Subject: What the ever-loving fuck

This isn’t what we agreed on, you fucker. You’re not in the running for the National Book Award. Keep the plot twists to yourself.

I don’t have the energy for you right now. There’s enough going on without this. Without the cramps twisting my stomach, the weak feeling in my knees after every muscle in my legs tensed past breaking while I was driving home on I-55. I don’t have the energy for these nightmares.

And I sure as shit don’t have the energy to worry about how much I weigh on top of all of this. I refuse to let you guilt-trip me for skipping the gym because I had a panic attack on the way there.

That is not. How. This. Works.


From: Depression

Subject: Yes it is

That’s exactly how this works. You know the drill.

Settle in, hombre. It’s gonna be a long night.


From: Me

Subject: Listen up

Here’s what you’re not getting. I’m gonna break it down for you. Listen good. I’m only gonna say this once.

My body is my sanctuary.

It is my temple.

It is the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment decorated with pages from my favorite books, paintings of owls looking quizzically in the distance as owls are wont to fucking do, my favorite de-stress playlist drifting through the hallways from my speakers.

It is my home, and you do not get to come in here uninvited.

So consider this your eviction notice. I’ll give you one night to get your things together. I’ll lend you some duct tape to shut up the boxes.

But I’m heading off to sleep tonight, and when I wake up in the morning, I want you fucking gone.

Am I clear?


[0 new messages]

6 Easy Ways to Do Something Kind for Yourself Today

Kindness

1. Compliment a Friend

I really do believe that most of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome.

We all have skills, talents, and unique ways of contributing to the world, but acknowledging and valuing them can feel immodest — like there’s something inherently sinful about acknowledging your worth.

So cut through the self-depricating voices in your friends’ heads, if even just for a second. They’re your loved ones for a reason. It doesn’t hurt to remind them why.

I’m still riding the high of a compliment I received this afternoon at the exact moment I needed it. And knowing you have the power to give someone else that feeling of value and importance is something to cherish — and something to be proud of.

2. Drink Some Water

Trust me. As a person prone to migraines — and a person who constantly forgets to drink water unless there’s a bottle directly in front of me at all times — this is a little thing that can make all the difference.

Stay hydrated, y’all.

3. Get One Thing Done

Not everything on your to-do list, mind. It can be overwhelming, looking at the list of personal, professional, interpersonal, financial, and whatever-else-have-you responsibilities piling up. And you don’t need to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d argue you probably shouldn’t.

But the satisfaction of knocking one thing off your list can create a strong sense of agency. No matter how overwhelmed or stressed I feel, at least I got that one thing done today.

It can be the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks. Calling a friend or family member. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Confirming your next session with a therapist. Actually doing the damned dishes for once.

(Why can’t I do my dishes in a reasonable span of time? The world may never know. *sheepishly sneaks off to do the dishes*)

4. Take 30 Minutes to Be

In our hundred-mile-an-hour society, productivity is king. And while there’s something to be said for activity to break through depression, it’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to be doing.

You can just be. It’s all right.

Whenever I can — and I admit, I’m not great at this yet — I try to set myself a 30-minute span to just do whatever my heart and brain want.

Sometimes it’s taking a shower, even though I already took one that morning.

Sometimes it’s calling a friend just to check in.

Sometimes it’s reading Game of Thrones fanfiction. (I make no apologies for my life or my choices.)

None of this means that you’re wasting time. You’re taking a moment to care for yourself mentally. And what’s more valuable than that?

5. Turn Daily Moments into Escapes

I’ve mentioned it before, but I swear by podcasts. I have a 2-hour roundtrip commute (hey, worst city for traffic in the continental United States), so I use podcasts to transform my commute into an escape from the world.

I’m not worrying about work or anything that’s gone wrong in my life. I’m catching up on the news, listening to stories from people I’ve never met, enjoying improv comedy. It’s a built-in time every day for me to get in touch with things I enjoy.

(Is this an opportunity for me to shamelessly plug my favorite podcasts? Absolutely. Try Welcome to Night Vale, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, Another Round, Snap Judgment, Judge John Hodgman, or The Bugle.)

Even if you don’t have a similar situation in your life, there are ways to turn your routines into daily moments of escape. Turn on your favorite music while you do household chores. Walk your dog a different route every day and enjoy getting out in nature. If you work from home, convert your workspace into a calming area of your house with scented candles, pictures of places that inspire you, or whatever makes you happy.

(Also, I’m fighting really hard not to make “Scented Candles” item number six on this list. You might not understand my thing for scented candles, but Buzzfeed does.)

6. Sleep

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the theme I’m harping on here: Productivity is great, but it should never come at the expense of your own personal welfare.

There will always be one more thing you could get done tonight. You could write two more pages. You could study for 30 more minutes. You could research for tomorrow’s presentation at the office for another hour.

Or you could curl up in bed, close your eyes, and give your body the rest it desperately needs.

The rest of the world will be there in the morning. But your body can’t be running on 11 all the time. Dial it back. Turn off the lights.

And don’t forget to breathe.

What do you think? Did I miss your No. 1 self-kindness tip? Let me know in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for new tips!

Thoughts on Vulnerability

SCULPTURE & ART (1)“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

At least according to professional pseudoscientist Sigmund Freud, who is maybe not the best person to turn to for proverbial wisdom.

Freud, I call bullshit.

Just as I call bullshit on your theory of hysteria and your theory of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a scientific case study, though the whole field of modern psychology is more or less behind me on those.

On this one, I feel like I stand more alone.

We work hard to transform vulnerability into a virtue. Knowing your feelings. Being open. Letting others know the real you. Having honest, two-way relationships with people who know you and care about you.

That’s one thing, but it’s not the kind of vulnerability I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the vulnerability of sitting alone at your kitchen table late on a Sunday night, wondering whether you should take a shower or let yourself have a 45-minute cry, because both of those things need to get done before you go to sleep.

It’s not a question of “if,” but “which first.”

This openness wins you no friends. It gains you no applause in therapy or treatment programs. Dr. Phil does not celebrate sitting alone in your bedroom admitting to yourself that the reason you still haven’t done your dinner dishes yet is that the thought of standing up and turning on the sink just makes you crushingly sad.

I mean, true, if Dr. Phil celebrates something, that’s one of the best reasons in the world you can find for doing exactly the opposite. But I digress.

Sitting with this openness to feeling, I do not sense strength.

Out of my vulnerability comes fear.

The kind of fear takes one misstep and magnifies it into a colossal moral failing.

That looks at a week’s worth of thoughts and actions and reactions and levels a stringent, damning judgment.

That transforms a bag of candy corn purchased at the grocery store into Original Sin itself.

That spends the day dreaming about returning to bed, because at least the world cannot point out my failures from beneath the covers.

Sitting with my feelings means I ruminate about the worst events of the day — not Greek tragedies by any stretch of the imagination, but in this state, too much. I sit and reminisce about a botched customer service phone call, a terse rejection letter, catching someone talking about me behind my back. I mix these memories well, shake them into a highball glass, and nurse a sharp cocktail of self-doubt until morning.

I write in metaphors because that is easier than writing the honest truth.

Playing with words is easier than admitting the dull pressure-pain over my ribs is not because I am getting over a cold. It is because I am afraid of never being a better person than I am tonight, and spending the day being disappointed in the person I am.

That kind of vulnerability does not feel strong. It feels like saying that of course there are happy people in the world, this is the kind of world that requires happiness, but I will never be one of those people.

I can tell myself hundreds of times that I don’t believe this.

I’m not always sure that I don’t believe it.

Some nights, I cannot believe anything else.

Do I feel stronger, having admitted my vulnerability? Honestly, no. But sometimes pouring the words onto the screen gets them out of my head. I can look at them, move commas around, delete passive construction, dissect them under a microscope until they present the distilled version of the pain in my chest.

Like a scientist examining a virus, I may not know the cure, but I know the arrangement of the proteins, the reproductive strategies.

(Do viruses have proteins? A question from your friendly neighborhood English major.)

And like a scientist, I cling to whatever knowledge I grasp, hoping someday to find a use for it.

Maybe from vulnerability comes knowledge. And knowledge is strength, or so a slightly twisted proverb tells me.

As far as proverbs go, I will take what I can get.

Good Days, Bad Days

Sometimes I think I’m over it.

That it doesn’t matter how I look, or what size I wear, or what I grabbed to go from Chipotle on my way home from work because I’ve been pulling 13-hour days a few too many times this month, and sometimes you don’t even care that guac is a dollar more.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve been lying to myself all that time.

It can be any number of things that set the feeling off.

A glance down when toweling off after a shower, which even after all this time I studiously refuse to do, because the wave of sadness I get from looking at my new Buddha belly hurts more than I usually feel comfortable admitting.

Another goddamn rejection letter, when for some reason I really thought we were going to get somewhere this time.

Another lunch break sacrificed to a meeting or a project I don’t feel like I understand, or that I’m good enough to do. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend.

Whatever it is, it usually ends the same. Lying flat on my living room floor, staring at my bookshelf without any intention of picking up a book, wondering why my current lifestyle refuses to let me lose weight.

Yes. Yes. I know.

I know that diet culture is a cruel cocktail mixed by capitalism and the patriarchy.

I know that before I chose recovery I was no happier, in fact much less happy.

I know that I still reap the benefits of thin privilege in about a million different ways, and that my health is not in any way connected to the way my body looks.

I can rationalize my way through that. Most of the time I do. I can hit you with a Health at Every Size–based rant at the drop of a hat, literally or figuratively. Like, if you actually throw a hat at me, I will catch it and say “$20 billion annual profits of the US weight loss industry” in the same breath.

But some nights I don’t want to.

Some nights I want to wallow a little in the self-pity I try not to allow myself too often.

I want to acknowledge the weight of a small creature perched on my chest, pressing the breath from me and keeping me here on the floor, this small creature that does not feel exactly the same as my eating disorder did, but is close.

Quieter.

More subtle.

It is the whisper in the back of my mind that says “You failed at being thin. Just exactly the way you fail at everything else.”

I wish I weren’t writing about this. I realize that it isn’t helpful. But maybe the admission that I don’t always have it all together, that I’m not always here to be helpful, maybe that’s worth something. I don’t know. I’m not convinced my thoughts make sense, and I think it might be important to admit that, and edit a little less. Radical honesty does not always make for lucid prose.

But that’s all theoretical. What matters is tonight.

Tonight, I will let these feelings hang there, for the amount of time it takes to write this blog post. Because they are real, and they matter.

And then, also tonight, I will stand up, close my computer, and go do something else. I don’t know what. Sing along loudly to the Sweeney Todd  original cast recording, or finally start the latest Toni Morrison novel, or watch the rest of Season Two of Orphan Black. Anything else.

Because my residual ED feelings are part of my life, but so are all these things.

And they are real.

And they matter, too.

The Taper-Down: Antidepressant Meds and Me

Yes, I know that's a tapir and not a "taper." But look how cute!

Yes, I know that’s a tapir and not a “taper.” But look how cute!

As you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I recently celebrated my one-year-in-recovery anniversary. Technically as of last week it’s been sixteen months, but I’m not going to do that thing new parents do and announce every month like it’s a birthday. Suffice it to say, I’ve been recovering for a little while now, and I’ve made more progress than I imagined I would during that time.

To wit, a few accomplishments I didn’t think I’d be typing so soon (I’d tag this #humblebrag, but it’s totally not. I’m not humble, I’m proud!):

1. I’ve re-discovered that pizza and French fries are God’s work and should be enjoyed as such.

2. I’ve started re-instating an exercise routine that’s flexible – I didn’t go to the gym this morning because it’s -11 degrees outside and I’m not about to walk there in that weather. Will I go when it’s warmer in Michigan than on Mars? Probably. Does it bother me that I didn’t go today? Not too much.

3. I went pants shopping and it wasn’t the most painful thing of all time. I actually found a pair that, in my rarely-generous opinion, looked good. Hats off to you, Old Navy. Your “short” pants are actually the right length for short people. It’s a good deal.

4. I’ve started tapering off my antidepressants.

Now, if that last one doesn’t sound exactly body-image related, let me assure you that it’s linked. I started taking generic Celexa about three and a half years ago, at the worst point in my eating disorder. I’ve always been an emotional person (I can tell you stories of crying in public for no reason until the cows come home), but with the added stress of an eating disorder, it got to the point where I wasn’t sure I could function without help. I was nervous about starting SSRIs at first – it felt like a cop-out, like I wasn’t strong enough, like I was too weak emotionally to behave like a normal person without drugs.

For anyone out there considering SSRIs, let me assure you, there’s nothing more wrong. Depression is a  legitimate and painful mental illness, and deserves to be treated that way. Would you say that someone with cancer shouldn’t start chemotherapy because that would mean they weren’t strong enough to stop their cells from multiplying on their own? Should people with diabetes not take their insulin because that means they’re weak?

Antidepressants, or any other prescription drug for mental illnesses, are legitimate medical tools, and mine worked wonders for me. It didn’t make me happy all the time, of course – that would be too easy. But what it did do was help me maintain an even keel. I would get sad, but I wouldn’t be so sad that I couldn’t function. It helped me climb back onto some kind of middle ground. It didn’t change my mind into something I didn’t recognize. Instead, I finally felt like myself again.

But sixteen months into recovery, I started to get the feeling that the stability and even-keeled-ness of my mind wasn’t coming from Celexa anymore. Don’t ask me to explain the difference, because I don’t really understand it objectively, but I could tell that what I was feeling was actually me. And I wanted to see if it would hold up without medication.

For anyone in a similar position, either now or at some point in the future, do not start tapering off of SSRIs or any other medication without speaking to a doctor first. I skipped one day about a year ago because I forgot to bring my meds with me when I left town, and the side effects of a sudden, cold-turkey approach (even an accidental one) were awful. But gradually, bringing down the dose little by little, can help you avoid most of those symptoms.

I still haven’t entirely stopped with my pills yet. The process is gradual: first half a dose every day, then half a dose every other day, then half a dose every three days until finally the bottle is empty and I don’t need to refill it again. Going at this slow, easy pace, I haven’t noticed any huge problems. There have been some side effects, sure, and if you experience similar things going off of SSRIs, you’re not the only one:

  • mild nausea (I also had the stomach flu at the same time, but I think the taper-down affected it as well)
  • mild headaches (ditto)
  • occasional depressed mood (like I said, I’m a cry-for-no-reason kind of person. But as long as I know that it’s a side effect of the taper-down and not me having a terrifying breakdown, it’s manageable with a few moments apart from other people and a few deep breaths)
  • “brain shivers.”

I know that last one sounds like something out of an HG Wells novel, and it was the one that freaked me out the most, so I’ll take a few seconds to explain. Coming off Celexa, I started feeling what I could best describe as my brain vibrating. It’s not like my brain is actually moving around in my head or anything. It’s not painful, and it’s not harmful in any way. Let’s describe it this way: imagine you’re sitting on top of a moving washing machine. Can you remember what it feels like for your body to kind of be buzzing, even though you know you’re not moving? Now isolate that feeling to only in your head. That’s a “brain shiver.”

Wikipedia (where I turn for all information nowadays) tells me that these are a result of a “down-regulation of serotonin receptors in the synaptic cleft.” Hearkening back to the glory days of Psychology 111, this means that the parts of my brain that have been receiving serotonin from the Celexa are no longer receiving this constant artificial supply of chemicals, and so it doesn’t need to work as hard anymore. Like a General Motors plant in Michigan, cutting off the third line because nobody wants to buy the Buick Rendezvous. (Because I think the Rendezvous is the ugliest car on the planet. But I digress.) Those “brain shivers” are my synapses getting used to accepting only chemicals I produce. I imagine after a few weeks, the adjustment period will be over and this particular symptom will stop.

If you’re currently on antidepressants, or are thinking about starting them and have talked about them with your doctor or psychiatrist, know that there’s nothing to stigmatize about them. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. You’re deciding to take control of your life.

And they don’t have to be forever. Maybe they will be, and that’s okay too. But I’ve reached a point where I no longer think I need them. I’m not in the same place I was when I started medication. It makes sense that a different place needs different tools.