Tag Archives: mental illness

The Brain Fight

dt_150501_depression_brain_dna_800x600.jpgThings change, whether you want them to or not. A method you use for years can slowly stop working. You may start to like slightly sour candy over sweet. The road you’ve driven down for years will suddenly have a new speed bump. How we react to the changes often leaves a mark on us as individuals. But as I’m constantly reminded change will come, whether I’m happy about it or not. Just like it has now.

I deal with major clinical depression. For a good portion of the last four or five months, it has been knocking my ass to the ground and dancing an Irish jig on my face. So I am now in the process of changing around my medications. The process of trying to wean myself off one prescription and figure out if the new one is working, I will say, is exactly as fun as you imagine it to be. I’ve encountered one drawback so far and we’re back to my previous baseline. Those of you that have personal experience with mental illness can likely relate. I went back to read some of my other blog posts, in particular the ones where I discuss my own depression. I realize that I’ve given a recap of the road to diagnosis and a brief piece about going to therapy. But what I haven’t really done is attempt to explain to you just what it feels like when this disease hits me. I’m going to try to do that. Let me emphasize that this is specific to myself, not anyone else with mental illness. The brain is complicated and we all have different battles with it. I’m going to do my best to try to describe mine.

There really isn’t any fixed situation that sets it off. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can already tell it’s not going to be an easy day. I may go to bed when suddenly, something will hit me and then I’ll be up all night with insomnia. Or I can go days being perfectly functional and then, suddenly, I want to climb in bed and stay there for the rest of time. So if you think that I can plan ahead for a bout of depression, sorry but it doesn’t care what my plans are. It just waltzes up to my brain, punches it a few times, and say it’s in charge now.

Sometimes it shows up as exhaustion and apathy. I don’t want to get out of bed or interact with anyone. My body can be sore for no reason. I flat our just stop caring. To put it mildly, it sucks. With very few exceptions, I don’t want to be unproductive everyday. It gets boring and I have kids to take care of.  So it’s a fight with myself to get anything done and sometimes I don’t win.

Sometimes I’ll become anxious and irritable. I’m already prone to worrying and things just get intensified. I become angry for no reason and my heart can race. My mind will over-think everything. I have trouble clarifying my thoughts and stumble over words. I  have to try not to snap at everyone. This makes things more difficult when it comes to my kids. They’re too young to understand what’s going on in my head and I don’t want them to think of their dad as just an angry asshole. So I have to try to stop my depression from parenting for me.

Things have been really bad on those times when it all hits me at once. This is despair. There isn’t another word I can use for it. Full, cold despair. I have been suicidal. I do not and have not harmed myself, but it has gotten close. This is one of the reasons we are looking at a medication change. When my mind starts going to that place, I know something isn’t working. This is also why I will never let myself purchase a gun. I’m not making a political stance here. I’m pointing out that, for my own health, I think a having a gun in my home is a bad idea. If you know me outside of the internet and ever hear that I’ve bought one, consider that a HUGE red flag. Let me say again that I am currently safe. I’m not planning anything and I’m not a danger. But my mind has gone to that place. I’ve thought about how maybe my wife can do better than me and I’m ruining her life. I’ve thought about how I must be damaging my children and they’d be better off without me. Yes, I’ve shaken these thoughts off but they come back. Medication helps. Therapy helps. But the facts remain that this is something that can’t be completely cured. This is my brain. I can’t hire an Igor to transplant a new one. This is what I’ve got to work with, so I will do the work.

Interactions with other people can be a coin flip regarding my depression. They can help bring me back or make things worse. Being an introvert can make it harder, since big party situations exhaust rather than energize me. But I will tell you it’s worth making the attempt. I will try my best to reach out to others, but when most of my brain says no one wants to talk to me it makes that a struggle. I very much count on others to make an effort. In fact, I encourage all of you who know someone struggling to do the same. Reach out to them. Don’t just say you’re there for us. Come to us. I know it isn’t easy and we don’t always respond. Being the friend/spouse/child or any close relationship with a person in my situation is hard. But if you can do it you’re being an amazing person. I can’t express enough how helpful it is when friends at least try to hear you. You probably won’t understand everything. But this is not something we’re trying to use as an excuse or a way to manipulate you. We don’t want to be this way and we’re trying. We’re fighting. So don’t give up on us.

Don’t give up on me. I am 38 years old and have been dealing with this monster for longer than I knew what it was. If I could just clap my hands together and change everything I would. This would also mean I’m an all-powerful wizard, which would rock. But this isn’t my reality. My reality is depression is a part of my life that I have to deal with. And whenever I see other people lose their battle, it terrifies me. It makes me wonder how much longer I can keep this up. So I remind myself that I’m stubborn. I can fight. Mental illness may be a huge venomous snake that slithers around my mind, so I need to show it that the brain it’s picking on is a mongoose. It can’t win. I won’t let it. Claws out and we’ll go another round.

Back on the couch

I am going to say something that should shock no one, particularly anyone that knows me or has followed me on this site. I am not perfect. I am extremely imperfect. I more or less accept that. There. We can all move on.

Now, awhile back I wrote a piece about my experience with clinical depression. I’ve mentioned it a bit more in other posts. What I wanted to talk about now is a specific part of my, for lack of a better term, treatment. That would be therapy. Yay! One of the last things people ever want to admit they need!

Before I got the official diagnosis, I had actually already started seeing a therapist after a discussion with my regular doctor. Admitting you need help sucks. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but we get conditioned to think it should be. Much like having any kind of mental illness. So, basically we get kind of screwed. You can’t admit something is wrong and, if you do, then you can’t get help because it’s shameful. Fucked up, right? And of course my attempt was a little late in the game. I still had a breakdown, still ended up in an outpatient program, and had to admit a few things to myself. And one of those was that I needed to be in therapy AND needed to be medicated. Not one or the other. They go together. Much like the comedy stylings of Bert and Ernie.

I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I have had good experiences with therapy. I’ve been able to find people whom I can click with fairly quickly. Some people have to go through a few therapists before they find one that works for them. I’ve only had to change because of moving from one state to another. I have, however, had to stop therapy do to conflicts with jobs or a loss of insurance that would cover it. It was never something I wanted but it had to happen. And each time, I’ve noticed that things just get a little harder to manage. There have been points when I’ve needed to have weekly sessions. Then there have been times when I have been able to go weeks in between seeing my therapist. I stay on the medication and use the things I’ve learned to help myself in my day-to-day. Is it an exact process? No, and it probably never will be.

Let me say that I don’t think I’ve met a single person, mentally ill or not, who couldn’t benefit from some form of therapy. Talking does help and sometimes it isn’t an option to go to your friends or family. They are likely just too attached to the issue you’re dealing with. I’m not saying that you should never go to these people, but sometimes therapy turns in to a venting session. Friends and family have this idea of who you are and are not always ready to accept something different. A trained professional can. They can also help you find better ways to talk to the people close to you that probably never even crossed your mind. Am I making sense? Probably not, but then I am not a trained therapist. What I am is someone who very much advocates how important treating mental illness is. What I am is a guy who is happy to have a great family and might not have made it here without getting help. If anything I say removes the stigma someone has in their head when it comes to therapy or mental illness in general, then that is awesome. But if this has merely bored you, fear not. I’ll get back to talking about things like cat barf the next time a post. Everyone wins.

A real disease

When I started this blog, I knew there where certain things I would want to address at some point. Some topics are easier to talk about than others. A few days ago Robin Williams, an actor and comedian who I and many people loved, took his own life. He had battled both substance abuse and depression, losing his fight with the second. This has prompted a lot of people to call attention to the topic of mental illness. It’s a topic a lot of people try to avoid in conversation, much like religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.

I suffer from depression. My official medical diagnosis is major depression with moderate severity. This isn’t something that I’m ashamed of but I also don’t open conversations with it. However, if you’re reading this I can only assume you’re somewhat interested in what I have to say. Let me continue.

I have dealt with depression for a very long time, starting back when I was twelve. I am now thirty-five. I didn’t start getting treatment for this until I was thirty. I now take medication. I have been in and out of therapy over the last few years, really only stopping when insurance/money issues forced me to. I have very good days and days that are really hard to get through. I have been suicidal and have, in the past, come very close to following through on it.

So why, if this started so long ago, did I only recently seek treatment? A few reasons. One was that for quite some time I never felt that anyone would take me seriously. The few times I had tried to really talk to people about it weren’t very successful. I did speak to a doctor once who decided to try me on samples of a medication. It did nothing for me so the  conclusion was that there wasn’t a problem. It actually got to a point where my stubborn streak kicked in. I really started to think that if no one thought I had a problem, then I didn’t need any help. I had made it this far on my own and could continue to do so. Also, there was a certain level of feeling that I was weak if I asked for help. Part of me felt that I was broken but I couldn’t let anyone else know it. I would deal with it alone.

How did that work out? Not well. The turning point was when I took a job that made my depression worse to the point where I also started getting panic attacks. Eventually, I had a nervous breakdown. Fortunately, I had already started seeking help. My wife encouraged me to talk to my doctor and I started seeing a therapist. When I fell apart, I called both individually and they both recommended I go to a local mental hospital for evaluation. That was when I got officially diagnosed and I spent a little over a week in out-patient psychiatric care. I’ve been on medication since.

It’s weird to look back on my life prior to those events and after. I’ve had a few friends point out that I had changed once I started getting help. I wonder if parts of my life would have been better had I done something sooner, but that isn’t something I dwell on. It isn’t a perfect fix. Like I said, I do have days that are harder than others. And one thing that the whole Robin Williams thing has done is scare me. It makes me worried that one day I will lose my fight too. Will the steps I’ve taken, the progress I think I’ve made, ultimately mean nothing? I know I can’t dwell on it, but it’s a genuine fear. All I know is if I do lose, it won’t be because I didn’t fight.

I also worry that I will pass this on to my kids. My depression is the chemical kind, connected to my brain not producing the right happy juice. That makes it part of my genetics. Will Phoebe develop it? Will Zoe? Will I be able to tell if they do?

Depression, like other forms of mental illness, is a real disease. It’s not something that happens because you did something wrong. It’s not something you chose to be. It’s not something you can just “get over” like some people still think. You don’t just get over skin cancer or lupus. You don’t tell someone with asthma that they should just stop having asthma. It doesn’t make someone weak or stupid if they lose their battle with mental illness. When that happens, it’s just sad because it didn’t have to end that way. I refuse to let it end that way. I want to be here. I will be here.

All right. Let me wrap this up. I honestly feel I have made progress as a person, and part of that was dealing with my depression. It is not, however, something I could do alone. No one can. I know we don’t always like to hear the problems of other people. I’m like that too. But try to listen. When you do, you can tell if someone is genuinely asking for help. It sounds different from someone who is just whining or bitching. Take it seriously. And if you are someone dealing with mental illness, don’t be stubborn about it. Talk to someone. If they won’t listen, find someone who will.

Do everything you can to be here.