Depression ~ my experience

I've found this a difficult subject to write about and decided that the only valid way to do so is to relate my own experience.

But first, for those looking for general points of reference, here are the links to:
And on the other side of the equation, here is the link to:
  • Anne Sheffield's website.  This woman has written a number of books about  surviving the depression of loved ones.  One of her books comes to my attention with a particularly high recommendation: 
  • "How You Can Survive When They're Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout"
There are no easy answers to the difficulties of managing depression.  It requires patience, staying power and insight.  Medication and understanding all have the potential to help, but still leave us with our own choices to make and lives to live.  What works for some may not work for others.  It's a very individual thing and good solutions are likely to take some time to work out.  All the best with it. 

Regarding my own situation I had always thought that the main symptoms of depression were an absence of feeling, a sort of paralytic numbness and lethargy, and a general loss of interest in life.  Although I've experienced this at times it certainly didn't fit what was going on for me when I was sick: my interests and motivation remained high and my level of feeling was at the other end of the scale - too much and a lot of it destructive, although not towards myself, I must add.  I contained all this only with considerable effort.  I knew I was suffering from shock, grief and anger, but depression, no.  Or so I thought.  No one talked to me properly about this.

One of the difficulties about defining depression is that it is a very general term which is used to cover a wide range of emotional difficulties and states of mind.  A measure I've since found much more useful is loss of pleasure.  Medical people these days have charts and weighted questionnaires from which they are able to deduce this sort of thing by totting up the resulting scores.  That approach has its place: the difficulty with measuring an emotional state is that there is no laboratory test for it - it cannot be seen under a microscope.

As I've said elsewhere I realise now that anxiety has been a really big issue for me, and as with any chronic condition we can become so inured to it that it feels normal.  However, when I was most ill I did know I was anxious and would have been much more responsive to the idea of treatment for that than for depression, even if the treatment for both had been the same.

But to put it most simply, I needed some kind of buffer zone between myself and the pain I was in to save my frayed nervous system and teetering sanity from further wear and tear.  As it was I refused antidepressants.  Looking back I can see it could have helped if a suitable sort could have been found; possibly I would have emerged from that acute phase sooner.  It's very difficult to recover if one is constantly stretched out like a high tension wire.  Relaxing was practically impossible - so I stayed stuck for a very long time.  To some extent I still am, although in a different sort of way.  It's frustrating.

Finally, a year or so ago, I did try a very mild antidepressant on the lowest possible dose.  It was not successful: in the week after I started taking it I found it harder and harder to get out of bed, to climb the stairs, to do anything.  After about a week I really did have raging depression: I was disoriented, had no idea why I had moved house a year previously, or why I had chosen the house where we now live.  I had no idea why I had ever decided to live with my partner and considered separating.  (He wasn't that keen on me just then either, although he was too kind to say so!)  I felt absolutely awful.

Fortunately, I had enough brain to get to the chemist and have a proper talk about the medication, which helped me decide to stop taking it.  The pharmacist expressed puzzlement as to why I had been prescribed that medication when I already had a serious fatigue problem...  Also fortunately, on the way home I came across a second-hand collection of some of Georgette Heyer's novels.  These two things saved the day: I got myself home, climbed into bed and enveloped myself in those stories, blocking everything else out.  I did not take my pill that evening.

The next morning I woke up feeling fine.  It was as if a switch had been flipped - I felt better than I had for a very long time, cheerful without trying in the least.  It was such an abrupt change that if I hadn't experienced it I wouldn't have believed it possible.  Probably the direct physical effect was accentuated by my relief but I did realise I had relaxed - fantastic!  I also knew that that particular medication was not right for me at all.  I realised more fully that anxiety and tension were areas I needed to become much more vigilant about addressing and / or discarding.  A psychotherapist I was seeing at the time added weight to my decision not to pursue trying other antidepressants saying "they are completely ineffective for those with M.E."  I accepted that pronouncement then because it chimed with my own decision.  Now I wouldn't do that so readily.

It wasn't until I was writing the earlier passage about adverse reactions that I thought more seriously again about depression for this reason: when I counted up the adverse reactions I'd had to therapeutic treatments four out of five resulted in raging depression - which lifted after I stopped the treatments.  I thought to myself that this must be more than a coincidence.

So I think that yes, I probably do suffer from depression, but it must be trapped underneath what I'm usually aware of.  If this is so it would explain why it surfaces when I'm receiving various treatments and I start relaxing.  Oh dear.  But why the depression?  I'm still looking for answers.  At present what I've experienced seems too large and shapeless to even begin.  I have no idea what it's about even, although I can think of reasons.  One can always think of reasons...  Fortunately I am currently seeing a psychotherapist with whom I'm comfortable and we are starting to look into this.  I definitely do need to have someone skilled to walk through this with me.

A few days ago when I sat down to begin work on this article I couldn't get started at all.  Sometimes if I'm stuck I find it helps to write just whatever comes to mind, so I did that and wrote the following passage - and abandoned the project for the day!  I'm pleased to be able to report that the next morning I felt much more normal, cheerful even, but it was a stark reminder of what it can be like.  I was interested to see that it centred around problems with fatigue, noise, tension and lack of sleep.  All of these factors seem to be triggers.  Here it is:
It's an odd coincidence, maybe, that in the few hours leading up to beginning work on this article I find I am feeling quite distinctly depressed.  I'm not often like this.  But now I am.  Feeling heavy and awkward, neglected and listless.  Not about anything in particular although I can always find a reason.
Good things have happened today, I remind myself: we did the shopping, paid a bill, collected this and that.  That's our weekly shop done now and out of the way.  Good.  Tired now.  Tired when we got home.  Bone tired.  Lay down but couldn't sleep.  Lay there, rested anyway for an hour or so, then decided nothing further gained by continuing horizontal and something further to be gained by getting up and doing a bit more to tidy the garage.  Energy will come with action, hopefully.  All the sound, sound louder, clatter ricochets in my head and out through my nerve endings, rattling me, again and again.  I'm shaking inside my feelings too, crashing about.  I just want to be still and sink down, sink down, sink down, silent, silently, silence.  But no, more rattling about.  No use complaining or shushing.  Just go on, first move, second move, third move.  Small gains.  Dishes washed up and put away; one more corner, one more side of the garage clean and tidy.  Colder now.  Lonely though not alone.  Lonely.  Inside television on.  Stupid people making stupid noise.  Stupid.  Tired again, tired.  Feel flat and empty.  Sit starring.  At nothing. 
My attempt to get some kind of line into starting this isn't working tonight.  Bed.
So it's an on-going story...  And a lot more of it still to be worked out.

More about those adverse reactions:
The other treatments that triggered me into serious depression those other times were: transcendental meditation, a homoeopathic remedy I was not told the name of, and Ayervedic self-massage.  These would seem harmless enough for most people but were clearly unsuitable for me.  (The homeopath was in fact delighted: "A classical response!" was her cheerful pronouncement, which was all very well for her, but potentially dangerous for me!)  These episodes were widely spaced over three decades and were not preceded by anything that might have suggested this response.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I do caution readers to exercise self-care before any other consideration in pursuing therapeutic options.  If they make you feel worse it may be wise to discontinue them, at least for a time.  An adverse reaction is our body's way of giving us important information.  Everything in the right time and place - don't push yourself.  Go gently.

Those interested in reading more about the possible adverse reactions that can arise from meditation may wish to read:
"Meditation, delusion and deception", by David J. Bardin and is about general problems which can occur.
"Warning: meditating may be hazardous to your health" by Sandy Brundage and is about transcendental meditation in particular.

More about medications I've tried:  (This passage added 29th August 2011)
Please note that what I say here is not medical advice, but the sharing of my own experiences.  I wish someone had talked to me about this sort of thing when I was making these choices myself.  As with so much of what I was coping with when my difficulties were most severe, no one talked to me about it in the way that I could take in or identify with - so here you are: this is the path that I took:
     Lacking knowledge of better choices, there were a number of years when I took Ibuprofen (also known as Nurofen) regularly, which I found helpful for settling what I call 'a bad head', when my head ached or I couldn't think straight or see clearly.  And when my nerves felt completely out on stalks or I simply couldn't sleep I found that Panadeine helped.  Both can be bought over the counter here in New Zealand, but I had mine prescribed by my doctor.  For a long time he was happy for me to take them as long as I stuck to the recommended dose.  (Exceeding that can have dire results so care is important.)
     More recently my doctor expressed concern that my regular usage of painkillers could be contributing to my lowered state. He said that research now shows that use of painkillers on more than ten days a month can actually cause headaches and suggested I try a different strategy.  As a result I drastically reduced the amount I was taking, and did feel considerably clearer as a result, and surprise - experienced fewer headaches.
     Having established what was something approximating normal for me I then started on the mildest possible dose of Citalopram, an SSRI medication used for treating depression and anxiety. This has turned out to be much more effective.  Although there were some side effects initially, they did fade in about a week, and an almost immediate benefit was that I am now able to get to sleep relatively easily most nights.
     I have never accepted that my main problem was depression, but could identify that I suffered from chronic anxiety and nervous tension.  The major benefit from the new medication has been that I now feel more relaxed generally and have a bit more ease in my nervous system.  I wish I'd tried this out years ago.  It hasn't magically set everything to rights or blotted out my 'issues' but it has helped, and I've needed that.
     It's important to be clear that medications work very differently on different people, so what has worked for me may not work for others the same way, and having a bad experience can be very off-putting.  For example, my system can't tolerate Amitriptyline at all, an older style of medication, and the appalling reaction I had to that totally put me off trying anything else, which in hindsight is a pity.
     So one more time, I'll say firmly: Do get adequate medical support when making these choices and do not hesitate to phone up your doctor, and / or consult your pharmacist if you have any concerns at all once you've started trialling any new medicine.  Let them help you.  Keep that support close at hand and improvement will hopefully become evident with time. 

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Trauma ~ comments and links

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