Hello, Old Friends

I picked up a new prescription for Cipralex a few days ago. I’ve been keeping track of myself for a few months now, watching for red flags – foggy brain, lousy memory for details, irritability, fatigue, random appetite changes, dizzy spells, insomnia, and of course the hopeless/worthless/useless slew of thought patterns. I have ten main red flags; I decided that if I got up to 8 on a consistent basis (more than two months consecutively) I would talk to my doctor about going back on the magic pills.

I did, and so here I am. Sitting with a little bottle of meds beside my computer, looking all innocent and helpful (the pills, not me).

I filled the prescription today. I think I’ve been waiting for some feeling of failure, or guilt, or something to kick in, but all I can think when I look at this bottle of pills is oh thank god. There is no prize for living on the hard setting, far as I can tell.

That’s all, I guess. The funny thing about depression is, it’s hard to talk about it when you’re in it, so I feel doomed to always write this blog in the past tense. Ah, well. C’est la vie.

 

Generally and Vaguely Annoyed

I read an article on ‘15 things that emotionally strong people do‘ this morning, which I am linking to for reference but don’t actually think you should read. It contains such points as ‘They Don’t Lie in Bed Dreading the Day Ahead of Them’ and ‘They Don’t Forget That Happiness is a Decision’ which, I dunno, maybe is valid for people which shiny happy brain chemistry, but made me feel really angry. And simultaneously shitty. Oh, happiness is a decision! Jesus H., why didn’t anyone tell me? Here I’ve been going around deciding to feel like ass. I wish I’d known.

I’m also going through an annoying downswing, mood-wise, which I have only recently been able to identify as a brain chemistry fritz. This is because of the fun dizzy spells that have accompanied the past three days.

Anyway. I’m feeling exhausted and dark of thought. And I was going to write this whole point-by-point thing in response to the post about the Things Strong People Do or whatever the shit it’s called–I’m not re-reading it–but I can’t be arsed. So I’m going to reiterate: Understand that being strong means letting people see that you are vulnerable, because that’s the hard thing to do. It’s easier to splash cold water on your face, drop visine in your eyes and pretend, but it’s not strength. (I just realized that crying and smoking pot have the same effect on the face. Huh.)

And now I’m going to steal words from other people, because I’m tired and I need my brain for spaceships and aliens writing serious things.

This is what I want to say about depression to everyone:  Hyperbole and a Half on Depression

And likewise, about anxiety: Boggle the Owl on Anxiety

Sometimes I think everyone’s seen those, and then I am reminded that MAYBE NOT because people still seem to think that depression/anxiety=bad days, and everyone has bad days, so what’s the big deal? Anyhow. Reposting can’t hurt.

Just noticed this little set of comments when I linked to the article. This may be the only time that reading the comments has ever made anything better…

Capture

I don’t even know which of those two responses is my favourite.

Anyway, I’m going to go play with words now. Everybody try to play nice.

No, really. It’s not you.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

This photo belongs to Splityarn.

Haven’t been here in a while and was recently told to write something profound. I don’t really do profound, so I’m going to tell you a story.

The other day, as I was driving home from work, I stopped at a red light (as you do) at an intersection. An elderly lady was crossing the street in front of me, with a walker.  I watched the light in the other lanes for a minute to see if it turned yellow, but this intersection has long lights and I got bored. So I looked at the elderly lady for a few seconds, and then glanced up at the light. Then I yawned.

When I looked back, this woman was angrily WAVING HER WALKER at me and angrily mouthing, “I’m TRYING!” before angrily stomping forth. And I realized:

  1. She thought I was staring at her and yawning to show how bored I was with her crossing the street so slowly
  2. That must have happened to her at some point, right? Because who would just assume that otherwise? But what kind of an asshat would get impatient with a woman who was, approximately, four hundred and twenty years old?
  3. The world is full of asshats.

Really, sometimes a yawn is just a depleted level of oxygen in an overtired body. I actually take great comfort in the generally assumable level of selfishness in the average human body. The odds are pretty crap that the girls who just walked past me, giggling, are laughing at my hair. I mean, my hair is pretty silly right now, but they’re in a world that involves the two of them and they’re probably not reaching outside of that bubble to criticize me.

Most of the time, unless told otherwise…it’s probably not about you.

Was that profound enough?

Sad Fish is Sad

Apparently fish can also become depressed. Who knew? According to this Dr. Herwig Baier, “The [mutant] fish have mutation in a receptor that binds cortisol — they cannot dial down their brain’s stress response. Although there are a whole range of drugs available for depression, no one yet knows what the relationship is between their effect and the stress hormones. Our findings provide the first evidence of a possible connection.” Cool.

This checks ‘Find a way to identify with mutant zebrafish’ off the bucket list. THANK GOD.

Better science information lives here.

Plantar Fasciitis & The Beauty of Orange Shoes

A review of my bright orangey-coral shoes, because I know how much you care. 

Mizunos

They look pink. I swear they’re orange.

When I started running, I overdid it and ended up with plantar fasciitis. You can Google it, but the short version is that it’s bloody painful and the outcome is that I’ve been wearing these damned bright-orange-and-green-foot-holders for nearly three months solid. (Why yes, they DO smell awesome.) At this point I really feel like I should have named these shoes, we’ve spent so much time together. Have you ever put on shoes before you got out of bed? It’s really weird. I mean, first world problems, yeah, but it’s really weird. Two or three times a week I would have little whining fits where I JUST WANTED TO BE BAREFOOT DAMMIT. I’m really freaking lucky to work in an office where they do not associate my ability to do my job with my footwear or clothing. I’m lucky to have a boss who wore her blazing purple trainers so that I ‘wouldn’t feel lonely’. I’m lucky to have benefits that cover physiotherapy, and through no luck at all, I have worked hard at making sure my recovery period was as short as possible. This weekend I’m going to try my first real run!

Anyway. I love my terrifying little shoes, and since this bout of three-months-solid wear will make them lousy as runners when I start back up again, I’m probably going to buy another pair of the exact same shoes very soon. I’m even going to buy the same colour, because I have formed an almost-unnatural attachment to them, which has been wildly encouraged by this review on Amazon which, if none of that looks/sounds familiar (it did happen all the way down in Texas), is a good Google path to follow.

I did a fair bit of damage to my feet, because I sort of thought pain-upon-running was normal, until a friend on Twitter said that feeling like you’d been punched in the foot was not, in fact, a common running pain. Maybe running pain isn’t normal at all, in fact. Possibly pain is not normal? Is pain not normal? Did R.E.M. lie to me?

The price tag shocked the shit out of me when I first bought them, but (amusingly) I really wanted to learn to run ‘properly’ and I like to have the good gear. I am one of those people. So, fingers crossed for this weekend—and a big ol’ kudos to Mizuno for making such damn good shoes.

 

Of some note: I have another post in the works on the depression-Cipralex-withdrawal saga. Should be out shortly.

Tramp Stamped

I have a tattoo on my lower back.  I had it done when I was seventeen or eighteen to commemorate the loss of an aunt I loved dearly, after her long struggle with cancer; probably also to cement on my body my first real experience with death. I chose the location because I would be able to forever choose whether to hide or show it.

At seventeen, I’d never heard the term tramp stamp; or if I had I wouldn’t have made the association. I heard it when I was around 21, for the first time, and tried to laugh it off, and I’ve been trying to laugh it off for ten years. For some reason over the last two weeks, I’m hearing the term all over the place. Recently I thought about talking to a local artist about changing the tattoo so that it branches left or right or somehow exists less on my lower back, because I absolutely loathe the term ‘tramp stamp’ and all of the connotations that come with it. The thing is, until I heard it, I loved  this tattoo. It meant – means – a lot to me.

So in the grand new tradition of fight, fuck this. Let’s play with Google, shall we? Tramp stamp is not in my real-paper-dictionary quite yet, but it’s in Urban Dictionary (of course):

“Tramp Stamp” is a derogatory term referring to a tattoo which a women places on her lower back. It is especially popular among women born in the late 70’s, 80‘s, and even early 90’s. Fair or unfair, these tattoos have a socially constructed connotation associated with them. These women are labeled as tramps, whores, or other derogatory sexually promiscuous terms.

Well, I was born in 1982. I’ll give you that. There are several other definitions – they only get worse, but then, it is Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia?

Lower-back tattoos (pejoratively referred to as tramp stamps)[1] are a form of body art that became popular among women in the 2000s and gained a reputation as a feminine type of tattoo. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops, and are considered erotic by some.

Hmm. I would have gotten mine in 1999, I believe. So, unusually ahead of a trend by a few months, but otherwise factual. I mean, I’ll be long cold and dead before you catch me in low-rise jeans or crop tops, but I take your point. You could show it off with a judicious use of clothing. That was actually part of my rationale, in fact. But did I get the tattoo in an attempt to be erotic? Er … no. Very few men find it hot. Because the conversation goes like this: “Oh wow, hot tattoo.” “Thanks, I got it as a memorial when someone I loved, died.” “Oh.”

(Less hot, isn’t it?)

Let’s try the dictionary, just for fun:

TRAMP:

  1. vagrant
  2. a woman of loose morals; specifically : prostitute

I see. So when people refer to my tattoo as a tramp stamp, assuming they are fully conscious of the implications, they’re either calling me a vagrant (‘one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support’), or a whore.

Look, most of the time it’s innocuous, and said by people who would be unlikely to even use the word ‘whore’ but that’s sort of my point: language has power, and we each have a responsibility to be aware of what we’re saying.

Ugh. Okay, better. I really just needed to vent. And the next person who uses that term in front of me is going to have to explain why they think I’m a travelling prostitute-hobo.

Fat and happy, my ass

GwenCamping

Me in 2007, four months before Dad died.

When I saw him recently, my doctor asked how I was doing with the off-meds business (as is his wont, since that’s the only reason I see him). I gave him the 40/60% standard answer I’ve got going, and explained that I had no physical symptoms beyond the VERY occasional re-occurrence of The Spins. (Which is fun, I’ve decided, and allows me to pretend that I’m two-glasses-of-wine drunk while at work.) We got to chatting about how I am, ahem-hem, a truly model Cipralex patient (you know, because my BRAIN doesn’t ZAP ME) -

- Damn it all, the parentheses are back, hang on while I wrestle them down -

- and how I didn’t have any significant weight gain while I was on them. This is not a thing I talk about often, but I have actually had a significant weight gain over the past five and a half years. About 40lbs, which on a 5’3″ human, is a lot. Wait a minute – I’m imagining a grocery store cart full of 40lbs of butter – that’s a lot no matter how tall you are. Anyhow, it was something that Therapist warned me about before I started the Cipralex, in her very kind way, saying that she hoped I wouldn’t concern myself with it too much as it was one of the milder potential side effects.

I won’t lie. For a few minutes I was very concerned. I feel like I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life – though in reality up till ’07/’08 I was a healthy weight – and I didn’t want to add ‘Increased Arse’ to my list of reasons to loathe my entire self-hood at two am. What I realized over the three weeks between my appointment with Therapist and my ability to find a GP was this: in the pits of depression, spending time on the couch, never doing any of the active things I loved – Weight gain was in my future no matter what.

I’ve actually lost a bit of weight since going on the drugs and then coming off of them, mostly due to two things. The obvious one is that I am more inclined to be outside, active, and generally in motion; the slightly more complicated reason is that the foods I crave when I’m sad – because for a few moments, they generate something in my brain that simulates ‘happy’ – are not good for me. I believe in being healthy, and my body is remembering that along with my brain, and I’ll land on whatever-the-hell weight I’m supposed to be when I’m once again able to do every activity that pops into my head.

Regarding weight and depression, these are my new truths:

  1. Some antidepressants will make some people gain weight, but so will depression. (Or not, if you go the other way and stop eating. I hear that’s a thing. It sounds awful.)
  2. Food and exercise are the ways in which we tell ourselves that we matter.
  3. Health is not contained in a number, but in a capability to do all of the things that are important to you.

 

Guest Post Redux

Since it’s mental illness awareness month, and I have all these great guest posts about said illnesses scattered about the place, I thought I’d put up links to all the guest posts in one place. La voilà:

Fear and Writing - Ann Becker

Learning to Deal - Seamus Bayne

My Pet Depression - Spencer Ellesworth

Serenity through Iron-Fisted Control - Anon.

Shooting the Wild Duck - Bill Blais

Taming the Wild Voices - Chang

The Rules - Anon.

The Wee Hours - Anon.

What it looks like

May is mental illness awareness month. My own personal pet depression being somewhat under control (Fight. Fight. Fight.) I have been pretty quiet of late. Sometimes it’ll rear up and I’ll spend a day on the verge of tears, or having to journal the actual behaviour of people versus my perceptions of it lest I become convinced that the world hates my useless ass, and sometimes I have to go to bed at five. Sometimes I can only manage my job, and I suspect I’m not the friendliest gal in the office on those days. But I’d say those days are down to 40%, and my own awareness is what makes that 40% bearable. I know what I’m dealing with. Once I recognize, this isn’t me, this is pet depression, and also fuck you pet depression I can generally hold my own against it.

That’s five years of therapy, nearly two years of medication, countless hours of struggle and pain and just-managing. That’s what depression costs. I don’t think I would have responded oh-so-terribly-well if anyone had told me, back in the days of couches and missed showers, that I was depressed … but I wish I had known more about what it looks like.

So here’s what it looks like:

Depression is an angry, frightened, and above all else confused beast. It is never the same two days in a row.

I lived on the couch, and slept in for far too long. I gained weight and lost weight randomly and through no healthy initiatives in either direction. Some days I could go to the gym, or walk the dog, but mostly I didn’t.

I cried all the time. Anytime I was alone, I was crying. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The books I read, the television shows I liked, all became short and nonsensical. I couldn’t read the books I love because they were so involved, so dense. I was tired from looking at them, and I felt stupid and slow and like I wouldn’t be able to understand them even if I tried to read them.

I wasn’t interested in anything new. I didn’t want to learn. I was overcome by fear at the thought, and trying to make sure no one knew it. And everything was so blurry all the time. My head was stuffed with cotton.

Social occasions were a chore for which I needed at least a week to prepare. When plans inevitably descended, I hoped for some kind of random event to swoop down and save me from it. A massive thunderstorm that would knock a tree through the house. A car crash – nothing fatal, just enough to slow down the evening, and only if I was alone in the car. (These are the rules.)

Once, when making samosas in preparation for a potluck dinner with friends, I accidentally burnt my hands so badly I had to spend the night with them both wrapped in ice, and I was so grateful.

Anxiety was crippling me. 90% of my daily thoughts were directed to how I had failed, who thought what of me, and how I could fix it. I would come up with grand ideas, and fail at them, and start the process all over again. At night my heart would pound uncontrollably and, if I slept, I woke up with crescent-moons in my palms from clenching my fists.

Every word I said for four years about my hopes for the future was a lie. I had no hope. I laid awake at night and thought about each little lie, and how disappointing I was turning out to be.

Depression steals your self-worth, and your hope.

If I had been able to see all of that from the outside – if I had looked in on myself and seen this scared, tearful, isolated person with no future and no dreams – I would have known something was VERY wrong. Now I write it all down, so that I can be the objective observer to my own life; so that I can’t be dragged under when I’m not paying attention.

There is so much help available, and no one ever has to fight alone. It’s easy enough for me to say all of this right now, because of everything else I’ve done, but let me just say that without those little white pills I would still be crying on that couch thisminuterightnow. So whatever that little white pill is for anyone out there – medication, therapy, yoga or Friday night fight club – everyone deserves the chance to find it, and start working with it, and remember that their lives are worth fighting for.

“We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”

-Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

I hate self-help books

It’s the language that they all seem to have adopted; it’s weird and preachy and reminds me vaguely of Sunday School.* “Here! Play with this string and these two pieces of wood! It’s fun for kids! NOW EXAMINE YOUR FAILURES AS A PART OF THE HUMAN RACE.” Everything’s a damned metaphor. Preachy metaphors, even, which are worse.

But I’m going to try this ‘Feeling Good’ book, partly because it was assigned to me by Therapist and she is a level-headed, clever lady; partly so that I can report back; but mostly because it’s a workbook and, oh, man, do I ever love doing little exercises in books.

Plus, look at this dude. Look into his eyes. Doesn’t he just make you want to get better? And then maybe join a bunch of people? Out in the woods? Who wear robes a lot? And drink special cactus tea?

The-Feeling-Good-Handbook-9780452261747

*Actually, I really loved Sunday school until I turned about ten and started getting creeped out by all the crosses. It coincided with when I started sneaking my dad’s Dean Koontz books out of his briefcase and reading them at night, by flashlight, under my covers. I’m not entirely clear on how those two things are connected, but I’m sure they are.