Healing – Day 5: Down With Depression

When did you first “come down” with depression? Was it like the time you came down with the flu, or a cold? Does it happen as often as coming down with a cold? More often than the flu? Or do you “suffer” from it? Is it chronic, like back pain?

How do you treat it?

• With drugs? Anti-depression-drugsBetter living through chemistry?

• Eating more healthily?

images• Exercising more? Getting those endorphins pumping?

• With therapy? CBT? EMDR? IFS? Narrative?

Some outrageous percentage of us live with depression and/or other mental illnesses. Do we suffer? Yes. But I dislike that descriptor – it makes me feel like a victim, and I abhor being seen as, or feeling like, a victim. I like to think of myself as one who is in charge of my destiny. Who can change things by working hard on them and having a mindset of “mind over matter.”

The problem is, it doesn’t work. Not for a whole heck of a lot of us. Is there an over-diagnosis of depression in America? I’d wager that there is. Are too many people handed drugs and expected to “get over it?” Are they not told of side effects, of the weaning difficulties, of long-term effects? I’m sure there are, and they are.

I have depression. I had it before I had a name for it. Coupled with anxiety, it’s a real challenge. I have thought about suicide more times than I can count. Before I even knew I was doing so. Before I knew the term “suicidal ideation.” I was not diagnosed with depression until sometime around 2003 or 2004, when a therapist I trusted told me I was chronically depressed. I began taking Effexor within a year, and have been on it ever since.

I will not kill myself, because of a very wise and wonderful therapist who –
when for the first and only time, I had a plan in place – dissuaded me by pointing me to myriad studies showing that the children of parents who have committed suicide are at higher risk of being suicidal later in their lives.

I had my first and only child – my miracle child, who has changed my life for the better in so many ways – a month shy of my 43rd birthday. I knew, and know, that I did not bring a life into this world only to be complicit in snuffing it out because of my actions. No. Never. It cured me. (Not happily – here’s what I wrote the day my therapist shared this factoid.)

Over the last six months, I’ve been trying to wean off my meds, with the help of my psychiatrist. It’s been a real bear. My head has been foggy for over a month each time we reduce the dose, even though the reduction is quite small. It generally takes me two months for my brain and body to adjust completely. Until that happens, my life is not “normal” (whatever that means).

I am determined, though, to get off the drugs, and do whatever else I need to do to manage my depression. I really don’t think it’s possible to “heal” from it, you see. Chemicals are chemicals. My brain has issues. For good and for bad. For better and for worse. I’m married to it. I accept the limitations I have, and have worked hard to figure out ways to cope.

These days, I do a few things:

• Mostly, I’m able to notice when depression is coming to bite me (and my loved ones) in the butt. Sometimes, my now-15 year old daughter knows before I do. She tells me that before a bout of depression hits, I usually am quite irritable, and have a short fuse. That insight has been tremendously helpful. Before the worst of it comes, I try to run, or walk, or do some other form of aerobic exercise, until the endorphins kick in.

• I refuse to lay down and die. If I start having suicidal thoughts, I promise myself to wait at least three days before I think about acting. I have never had to wait more than two before the complexities of life ease a bit, and sanity and stability return.

• I remind myself regularly that it will pass. I remember that sometimes, especially when depression is kicking in, I have a young child’s view of time. That things feel like they will last forever. I have to tell myself that they don’t. If the depression is bad, I remind myself on an hourly basis. It’s incredibly helpful to me, and grounds me in the fact that I’m an adult, not the traumatized three-year-old who didn’t have the developmental ability to discern the difference.

• I call my therapist. We talk things through. She reminds me of the times I’ve been through this before, and how I came through them.

• I practice bilateral tapping, which I learned when I was doing EMDR. Doing this can help me stave of a depressive episode that is triggered by my trauma. It’s an amazing gift.

I’m sure many of you have other tools at your disposal. I’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, I’m here, I’m surviving and sometimes even thriving. You can too. Trust me. I know.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my story of healing from childhood trauma – “F*ck the Flashbacks.”

About armsakimbobook

I'm a mother, a lawyer, a feminist, a writer, a potter, and an inveterate and unapologetic New Yorker. My book, Arms Akimbo: A Journey of Healing, tells of my journey of healing over a number of years, learning to live a full life after I was molested by my father at a very young age. I live in Medford, MA, part time with my 11 year-old daughter and full time with our dog, Toast, and our cats, Samson and Hercules.
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