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Depression lies

I’ve had a lot more emails than usual about depression/anxiety, which I think means a full moon is coming or possibly that we’re all on the same psychotic cycle because I’ve fought my share of demons this month myself.  In fact, today I had a monster of a panic attack that made me think I’d never come back out.  It’s not so fun to write about so I made a video to send to people asking me about it and I thought I’d share it here in case you needed it. It’s long and unedited so feel free to skip it if you don’t have mental issues.

On a related note, you can make a free DEPRESSION LIES bracelet by clicking here (video instructions included).  Make one for yourself or a friend.

We’re all in this together, y’all.

On finding the cure for depression

So. If you read here you already know that I’ve been getting stabbed in the brain by magnets every day for an hour for the last few months.  (Click here to read the whole TMS story if you’re new here.)  And yesterday?  Was my last session.

Overall, it was uncomfortable, weird, a reminder that insurance companies are satan, expensive and time-consuming.

It was also totally worth it.

I am not one of the lucky third of people who went into full remission with transcranial magnetic stimulation.  I’m also not one of the unlucky third who the treatment didn’t work for.  I’m in that middle ground…better, but not perfect.

But better is so good.  I’ve tracked my moods every day these last few months and (other than a short dip halfway through treatment) I’ve steadily gotten better.  I even had 5 seemingly random days over the last month where I felt what I imagine most people think of as normal.  I haven’t had days like that in so long I’d literally forgotten I could feel that way.

I know some of you are looking at the process yourself and every single person is different but here’s how it helped (or didn’t help) me:

Depression:  When I started treatment I was in a deep and very long-lasting depression that I’ve been battling for well over a year.  I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I started coming out of it.  I think I was operating at 10-25% when I started treatment.  I’d say I’m between 60-75% now.  I’m still have depression.  I’m still medicated.  But this treatment was like a soft reset…like turning your phone off and on again when it gets laggy and broken.

Concentration:  This is still a struggle for me but I have seen a little improvement.  Not much, but a little.

Sleep: My sleep patterns changed the very first week.  I still struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep but most nights I’m asleep around midnight rather than angrily tweeting about insomnia at 4am.  I’m less likely to feel like I’ve been drugged and hit by a truck in the morning.

Anxiety: TMS treats depression on the left side of your brain but I also did treatment on the right side of my brain for anxiety.  This isn’t always standard so ask your doctor about it if you’re having TMS.  This is where I felt the most improvement.  When I started TMS I was having severe anxiety and massive problems with agoraphobia.  I had a hard time leaving the house and I didn’t answer my phone. I struggled with even emailing people.  Right now I feel almost normal.  Tomorrow I’m leaving to see Europe for the first time in my life and I would never have imagined I’d agree to on this trip if you’d asked me a few months ago.  And I’m scared about traveling but I’m excited, and that’s something that I haven’t felt in a long time.  My family actually noticed these changes in me before I did.

OCD and ICD:  Unfortunately TMS didn’t really improve this a ton.  I still feel irrational OCD and ICD thoughts but slightly less.

I don’t know if this will keep working but if I fall into the deep depression again I qualify to get follow-up treatments in the future and it’s nice to have hope.  In fact, hope is the best thing that came from this treatment.  This treatment is still new and strange and we don’t know exactly why it works for some or why it doesn’t for others but the fact that it does work for some people means that there’s hope for all of us…that things are getting better and slowly we’re figuring out how these wonderful and terrible engines that run us work.  I have hope that I will get better.  Because I did.  And that’s a good reminder to keep close when things get bad again and my depression starts telling me lies.

I will get better.  So will you.  Each day more and more people understand the struggle and more treatments become available.  One day there will be a cure.    We’re getting closer every day.  And I’ll be here for it.

PS. I did embroidery every day as I got treatment and a friend (Laura Bundesen) sent me a pattern that I could concentrate on while in the chair.

Finished:

Stabbing a brain thousands of times while getting stabbed in the brain thousands of times. It’s almost too fitting.

Hi.

If you are reading this it’s because I am a mess and can’t be trusted to respond appropriately. I get a lot of email and it gets overwhelming so I have family help me when things get hard but I feel bad about not responding so instead I wrote you this. It is a poor excuse for a hand-written letter but I hope you will understand that setting limits is important to keep me upright.

So first, hello.

If you are here it means that 1) you sent me a lovely letter sharing how something I shared may have helped. If this is you then I cannot thank you enough. These emails get printed out and when I’m feeling more stable I read them and I can’t thank you enough for sharing. For real, thank you.

Or it means that 2) you sent me an email because you are struggling and need help. If this is you then I hope you know how unalone you are. Depression lies in impossibly strong ways and I know that. First off, I’m proud of you for reaching out. I wish I was strong enough to answer every single email but I can’t without falling into that hole myself so instead I’m going to tell you here something very important…you are needed. Even if you doubt it, I swear it is true. If you are struggling, reach out to a friend or family member. Reach out to a doctor. If you get a shitty doctor, fuck them and find another one. Keep fighting. I know you’re tired. I know the world seem impossible. I promise you will get through this if you keep fighting. Reach out to the crisis hotline in your area. They have saved me so many times. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I love you even if we’ve never met.

Never doubt how incredibly important you are.

Working the program

Dealing with chronic mental illness is hard.  A few months ago I finished TMS to treat my depression and anxiety and it helped but I still struggle.  I have a friend who is in AA who talks about working the program…doing the steps you continually need to do to stay healthy…and I realized how much I relate to that right now.

TMS gave me a reset button but I still have bad days.  I still feel myself dip back into that dark place.  I have more tools now than ever and that helps but sometimes the only thing that I accomplish in a day is just surviving.  It’s both an amazing achievement while also tinged with shame as you see others who seem to whiz past you as you barely tread water.  Maybe they’re treading water too.  You can’t tell.  You’re just trying to breathe.

Today is one of those days for me.  I think it’s the weather.  It’s dreary and rainy and my joints hurt and it makes me not want to get out even though my doctor prescribed walking 30 minutes a day to keep my depression at bay.  It’s part of my program.  Today I took Hailey to school and then I went back to bed and stayed there until noon.  I didn’t enjoy it.  People without depression won’t understand that, but the fatigue of mental illness makes your very body a prison.  The bed smelled sour.  I couldn’t concentrate on reading.  Victor is out of town so I have no one to make me get up.

But I have to work the program.  So I got up.  I walked in the cold for 10 minutes.  Then I did another 10.  Then I hit 30.  I brushed my teeth and took a shower.  I brought my light therapy lamp out of storage.  I wrote this post.

This is a good day.  As far as mental illness is concerned, that is.  I got out of bed.  That in itself is pretty amazing.  It doesn’t always happen.  But today it did and I’m proud of that.  I will continue to work my program.

It’s a program I add to all the time, finding tools that work for me.  I share them with others.  Others share them with me.  We get along.  Together.  And alone.

So today I’m sharing some of my steps.  I’m not sharp enough to think of them all but for now I’m writing them down to remind myself that I’m worth following them.  If you have steps that help you please share them.

  1.  Follow your doctors orders.  For me that means antidepressants and behavioral therapy.
  2. Exercise 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week.
  3. Get sunlight, or if you can’t, use light therapy.  Do not over use even though you want to.
  4. Treat yourself like you would your favorite pet.  Plenty of fresh water, lots of rest, snuggles as needed, allow yourself naps.
  5. Avoid negativity.  That means the news, people, movies.  It will all be there when you’re healthy again.  The world will get on without you seeing it.
  6. Forgive yourself.  For being broken.  For being you.  For thinking those are thing that you need forgiveness for.
  7. Those terrible things you tell yourself?  Can you imagine if the person you love most was telling themselves those things?  You’d think they were crazy.  And wrong.  They think the same about you.  Those negative things you are thinking are not rational.  Remember that depression lies and your brain is not trustworthy.
  8. Give yourself permission to recover.  I’m lucky that I can work odd hours and take mental health days but I still feel shitty for taking them.  Realize that sometimes these slow days are necessary and healthy and utterly responsible.
  9. Watch Doctor Who.
  10. Love on an animal.  Go adopt a rescue or if you can’t go to the shelter and just snuggle a kitten.  Then realize that that same little kitten that you’re cradling isn’t going to accomplish shit but is still wonderful and lovely and so important.  You are that kitten.
  11. Get up.  Go brush your teeth.  Go take a hot shower.  If you do nothing else today just change into a new pair of pajamas.  It helps.
  12. Remember that you are not alone.  There are crisis lines filled with people who want to help.  There are people who love you more than you know.  There are people who can’t wait to meet you because you will teach them how unalone they are.  You are so worthy of happiness and it will come.

One day when I’m in a better place I will come back to this and fix the typos and add all the things I’ve forgotten but today I know that if I don’t publish it I will delete it and hate myself for not finishing it.  So I’m publishing it.  And I suppose that’s another step.  Trust in your words, even when you second-guess them.

Sorry this is so rambly.  It’s the best I can do.

Goddammit, Chris.

I’m sitting here at my computer, crying on my dog who is very confused about what has happened.  What has happened is that Chris Cornell has died.  It seems crazy to cry about someone you never met but he affected my life with his music and words from the time I was a struggling teenager until this very day.

I was lucky enough to see him in concert half a lifetime ago and it was worth the anxiety of being around so many people because when he started singing I could feel him reach into my heart and everything else fell away.  I cried as he sang, as I almost always do when someone sings the words you thought only you felt.  I was luckier still when we became internet friends…that weird sort of friendship that mainly exists in following each other on twitter and in “hearting” things each other had written.

When I heard this morning that he died my first thought was that I couldn’t remember if I ever told him how much he’d meant to me, so I looked through my DM’s.  And I found this:

.

And it made me feel a tiny bit better.  I’m sure I’m one of millions of people he touched but I was relieved that I had told him.

I will miss him and the music he will never make again.  But I’m glad I said thank you before it was too late.  And tomorrow I will turn my hand at making sure that I’ve reached out to others that have helped shape me in ways they never know.  Because too late comes too soon.

Thank you, Chris, for everything.

 

PS. Depression lies. Do not go gently. We need you.  The crisis chatline has helped me before so I’m leaving it here if you need it: http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx  Or google “suicide prevention” and your local hotline should pop up.

I’m still alive in here.

The last year has been hard for me.  I have glimmers of myself.  I have hours each day when I can smile.  Some days I come out of the fog and feel the terrific relief from coming out of the underwater of depression or whatever it is that haunts me.

I struggle through the day until sunshine comes back.  Sometimes I get my child off to school and then go back to bed until she comes home.  When my husband travels I feel relief that I can hide without shame, but the shame is still there.  But I know a part of me remains because I miss them when they’re gone, and if I can feel that then I know I’m still alive.

It seems strange.  How sometimes I can be normal and functional and my head and body will let me live like people are supposed to live, and then the next day I’ll plunge back into that halfway space where I’m asleep, either physically or emotionally.  I remind myself that depression lies…that I’ll come back again.  That the hollowness is temporary and could disappear any moment.  I kill the day with sleep.  I struggle to write, feeling such incredible relief on those days when my head works again and can put words together in a way that makes sense to anyone other than me.  I write small notes to myself for the book I’ll finish when the hungry ghost that lives inside me is full, or spent…whatever she needs to do to leave.

And when I can’t write my words on the paper I draw them by hand…symbols and images and strange things from dreams.  I draw and erase and draw and erase, and make and unmake myself.  I hunch over my sketch book and find myself leaving images to prove I was here…even when I’m scared that I’ve gone missing.

I’m still here, even when I’m not me.  I’m still me even when I come out of this spell.  I’m me.  And I am unpredictable even to myself.

I’m still alive in here.

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