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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.

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.

Up and down and up again.

If you’ve read here lately you know that I’m coming out of one of the longer depressions I’ve ever dealt with and although it’s still up and down I’m having more and more days when I’m myself again.   Those days are bright and warm, and coming back is like the first brilliant, life-saving breath after spending too much time underwater.  I’m writing this now to remind myself how wonderful it is to breathe and live and feel human, both because I need a reminder for next time depression lies to me and tells me it will never go away, and also because maybe you’re in the hole right now and need a reminder that it will get better.

It will.

And then maybe it will get bad again.  The ups and downs are always there for those of us with forever broken brains.  But that’s okay because you come back out.  The good is worth battling through the bad.  It’s so worth the meds and the therapy and the time and effort and the waiting.

There’s a park in my neighborhood that we go to sometimes.  There’s a playground at the edge of the park and the swings look out onto a cemetery, which I always thought was both strange and also a bittersweet type of poetry.  Small children laughing and playing as funerals pass.  Life beginning and ending and ending and beginning all at once in the same small space.

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Yesterday I stopped there and the playground was empty so I decided to swing, and I went so high I felt like I was flying.  And I flew, in between death and childhood, up and down and up again…in the place where I felt alive again.

jenny lawson

And it was beautiful.

All of it.

It was worth it.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!

Na na na na na na, YOU SAY IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY.

Na na na na na na, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TOO!

Na na na na na na, no, really…it’s my birthday.  Is it really your birthday?  Happy birthday!  Even if it isn’t your birthday you should say it is because everyone has at least one shitty birthday and you should get a do-over, so it’s now your birthday too.  EVERYONE WINS.  Especially me because I woke up to messages like this one from my sister:

bloggessbirthday

I got a crazy weird miracle birthday present in the form of three used copies of the exact same book but it’s way too long to explain and when I paused to say “ISN’T THAT INSANE?” you’d be like, “Um…I guess?  Is that the miracle?  ‘Cause it just sounds like you got too many copies of one book, weirdo” but in my head it’s a message from the universe that something good is out there and that’s exactly what I needed.

And I thought maybe it’s a sign that I should give back books so here’s what…the first ten people who leave a comment telling me they really need a copy of Furiously Happy but haven’t been able to afford it yet will get one.  Not a signed copy (because I’m lazy) but I’ll send you a gift card for the book through your email.  Just leave me a comment if you’re in a bad spot and need to read something to remind you that depression lies and that things will be okay.  Because they will be.  I promise.

And in lieu of birthday presents what I’d really like is for you to tell me something you’re happy about.  Something little.  Something big.  Videos of goats screaming.  Anything.

I love you guys.

meandhunter

Bonus birthday photo of me and Hunter S. Thomcat, who was named the king of photobombs last night.  CATOUFLAGE!  (That’ll make sense when you read the book.  Probably.)

UPDATED: Those first 10 copies went quickly, but I just got an email from someone who wants to anonymously gift another 10 copies.  More emails going out tonight.  I love y’all more than cake.

I’m having a hard time finding the words.

I wanted to announce this last night but I couldn’t find the words.  Last night I found out that this strange little book I wrote  (one I was sure would scare people away – one that I struggled with for years) made it on the NYT bestseller list its first week out.  I screamed and laughed and threw up and brushed my teeth and cried and then screamed again.  This was a shock, not just because I thought the subject matter might be too scary for a humor book, but also because we published this book in the fall even though that’s when all the big, important celebrity books come out and so I went in knowing that I’d almost certainly not be able to compete.  But last night I found out that Furiously Happy made it to #3 on the NYT list on its debut week!   And this in spite of the fact that so many of you weren’t able to buy it because it sold out so quickly some places.  In fact, it’s #2 in ebooks and was beaten only by Bill O’Reilly, which figures because that motherfucker ruins everything.  But I’m too happy to even let Bill O’Reilly get me down because the fact that so many of you supported this book means that now other stores will take notice and it can make it’s way to smaller towns and libraries and to people who might really need to read those words and to remember that depression lies and that there is joy in life and that there is an amazing tribe of intellectual misfits out here waiting for them.  That they aren’t alone.

That I’m not alone.

That none of us are.

I’m so honored and proud and I don’t have the words to say thank you for making this happen but I’ll have to just stick with “thank you”.  This book was written by all of us and I consider it an invitation reaching out across the world to people like us…strange, wonderful, broken in beautiful ways, haunted, and so much more important than they suspect.

Thank you.  Thank you for listening and helping.  Thank you for buying the book or reading here or putting it on your wish list or passing it on to others.  Thank you for making me believe that I’m worthy even when my brain tries to convince me I’m not.

I don’t have a good picture to share here because I’m on the road still (next stop, Miami!) but this photo I took during yesterday’s signing feels right…

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Thank you for sharing your stories and lives with me. Thank you for convincing me that mine is equally important.

You’ll get through this.

It might just be me but it seems like the last few weeks have been more hellish than usual regarding mental imbalances.  Friends and family who struggle occasionally are in deeper holes than normal.  Friends who almost never seem to struggle are suddenly feeling emotions they don’t understand.  I don’t know why this is.  Is it just a coincidence, or is it that my small world of people are affected by each other?  Is it that the planets are aligning in ways that make us all raw and exhausted?  Is it that we’ve seen such hard things in the news lately?  Is it that facebooks algorithms decides to send me mainly statuses of people who are angry or in pain or desperate or scared?  Or maybe it’s just me.  Maybe this circle of joy and angst is always here for all of us and I just notice it more when I’m in a deeper hole than usual.

I don’t know the answer.

But I do know this.  A week ago I was at one of the lowest points I’ve been all year.  I was at that point where you start to wonder if you’ll ever get better.  And you tell yourself that depression lies (because it does) and you remind yourself that it has always gotten better so it’s utterly irrational to believe otherwise and you keep breathing until it passes, but always with that little doubt in the back of your mind.  And the doubt becomes larger each day and you get more tired and you have to rely on others to watch over you and keep you going.  And yet you breathe.  And yet you live.  If not for yourself, for the thought that it will get better.  And if not for the thought that it will get better, for the people who need you even when you are at your most broken.

And then something happens.

It gets better.

For me, my depression comes with a physical sign…I lose my peripheral vision.  It quite literally becomes darker and I feel more alone.  And each day I wake up and look around and hope that the shadows surrounding me have passed.  Often it’s just for a few days.  Occasionally it’s a few weeks or longer.  And then – suddenly and without reason – my vision starts to clear.  The light comes back.  I laugh without having to force myself to.  I see such beauty and joy and I wonder how I could have ever doubted that this was worth living for.

A few days ago my darkness started to fade.  Slowly, but it’s fading.  I never know how long I’ll be in the hole or out of the hole but I know that I feel stronger today than I have in weeks.  I wish I could go back to the me of a week ago who was struggling and tell her it’s getting better.  Tell her that the drugs kicked in or my chemistry went back to normal or that bastard moon stopped fucking with me or whatever it was that caused this dip to be darker than usual.  But I can’t.

But I can tell you that if you are struggling right now you are not alone, and that you will be better.  It might take meds or therapy or time or possibly for us to destroy the moon with lasers, but it will happen.  I promise.  I promise you now and I also promise the me that will read this post again one day when she’s back in that hole.

There is sunlight.  There is joy.  There is a world of laughter you haven’t used up. There are people you haven’t even met waiting for you to make their life complete.  Keep going.  Keep breathing.  You’ll get through this.

PS. Sharing pain helps, but strangely enough sharing joy helps even more, so if you like, please share something that brings you joy in the comments.  Maybe it’s something you’re proud of or something you’ve accomplished or maybe it’s a quote that helps you through or maybe it’s a video of a screaming goats:

The one at 1:08 is pretty much exactly how I fight with Victor when I know he’s right.

Keep breathing, y’all.  The light is there.

There’s a moment.

Several weeks ago I had surgery to stitch up a hernia in my stomach.  It was supposed to be very simple but the recovery for me was horrific.  Worse than labor, or gallbladder surgery, or stepping on a floor made of loose LEGOs.  I had complications and developed a seroma, which is a “tumor-like collection of serum from damaged blood and lymphatic vessels after significant tissue disruption or trauma.”  It sounds worse than it is but it hurts like a bastard and I’d end each day exhausted and teary and unable to take complete breaths without flinching.  I might need more work done to fix it but they often go away on their own so my doctor decided to wait.  So we’ve been waiting.  And this weekend I was able to walk around and leave the house.  And Monday I could sit up from laying down without wanting to scream.  And Tuesday I felt almost normal for several minutes at a time.  And today, if I’m not moving, I feel good.  Really good.

The point is…today I feel okay for the first time in what feels like ages, because time – when coupled with pain – drags by so slowly.  I still hurt, but more like someone punched me, or like other people probably feel when they do too many sit-ups.  I can finally sleep without waking myself up thinking I’m being stabbed, and I can completely forget the pain for several minutes at a time.  That sounds small, but if you’ve ever pushed through pain that doesn’t stop for weeks at a time then you know the blinding relief that comes with a few minutes of peace that doesn’t accompany the nauseous dizziness of narcotics.  There’s a moment when you feel aware of the absence of pain, and that simple moment is such a wonder that it’s practically euphoric.  And you remember what it’s like to not hurt.  What it’s like to live.  And it is so beautiful there aren’t words for it.  It’s so incredibly easy to forget what it’s like to breathe when you’ve been holding your breath for so long.

It’s the same thing that happens when I come out of a rheumatoid arthritis flair-up that puts me in the hospital.  It’s the same relief I feel when I pull myself out of a depression that lasts longer than a week.  After a while you forget exactly what it’s like to feel good again, but then when you come out the other side, it’s dazzling.

I’m writing this to remind myself of the light.  Of the dazzle.  Of the fact that it’s worth trudging through the muck because the way out is so much better than you can remember.  It’s like the first shower after a week in the woods, or the sun on your skin after a month of night.  I’m writing this because I know I’ll be in dark places again and I’ll forget how wonderful it is to emerge.  I’m writing to remind you that if you’re struggling now, it will be good again.  It will be so much better than your lying, forgetful brain remembers.  And I’m writing to tell you that if – right this moment – you are healthy and well then you should stand up and do something wonderful to celebrate it.  Go walk barefoot on the grass.  Treat yourself to a good book.  Call or visit someone you love.  Make plans for a trip.  Eat a chocolate ice cream bar.  Enjoy the sun.

And if you don’t see the sun right now, keep trudging.  It’s there.  It’s blindingly magnificent.  And we’re waiting for you.  Promise.

Just remind me of this the next time pain or depression lies to me.

Deal?

Two years ago

Two years ago they hadn’t found a way to treat my rheumatoid arthritis.  Two years ago I was a usual visitor to the emergency room when my pain would get so bad that only narcotic injections would stop it.  Two years ago my vacations always ended in wheelchairs, I took drugs that made my face unrecognizable and made clumps of my hair fall out.  Two years ago I was obese, because my meds made me swell up and because just walking across the room made me want to scream.  Two years ago I thought that I was a burden on my family because I spent more time in bed than I did out of bed.

A year and a half ago my doctor got approval to start monthly injections.  They worked.  They don’t work for everyone.  I pray that they continue to work.  I was able to walk.  I was able to move.  I was able to live.  I lost 46 pounds.  I got rid of the steroids.  My hair started to grow back.  The pain that used to be a 9 is now a 2.

Yesterday my doctor looked at my x-rays and said that some of the deformation we thought would be permanent had healed.  And she said a lovely word.

“Remission.”

It’s a lovely word for two reasons.  One, because I remember the pain…and in the place where that pain was is a space left for gratitude.  And two, because it gives me hope.

10 years ago my mental illness got so bad that I finally got help.  At first it was worse, then it was better, then worse again.  Now I fluctuate, waiting out the darkness, reminding myself that depression lies and that it’s a medical condition that I never asked for, quietly battling with tiny demons in my head…until it suddenly passes and the drugs kick in or the seratonin settles or the demons get bored and then HALLELUJAH I’m alive again and things are good and I remind myself that this, this, THIS is real and this is worth waiting for each time.

One day I know that they’ll will find a cure for whatever it is in my head that randomly and unexpectedly clouds things up and makes life turn into a pale, cardboard imitation.  One day they’ll find a cure.  A drug that works.  A shot that makes the demons go away.

A remission.

And I cling to that.  Because that, my friends, is a beautiful word.

PS. I wrote a week ago about how I’d been diagnosed with a severe b12 deficiency that might be causing some of this depression.  I’m on pills and shots and massive amounts of other pills to help the b12 work and I feel okay today after a week of slight craziness.  14 pills a day isn’t ideal, but I’m worth trying every option.  You are too.  Keep breathing.

Hush now

PPS.  Back to silly, cat-focused ridiculousness tomorrow.  I just needed to write this.  Thank you for listening.

Something about September…

So, yeah.  This is a purposely disjointed post because it’s too heavy and triggering to stand alone so I’m going to add something light and (somewhat) lovely at the end.  For once, my disorganized posting is actually non-accidental.  This is cause for celebration, although the comment section might be incredibly confusing.

So here’s the first subject, and it’s not fun but it’s fucking important, so listen.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week.  I always appreciate that it comes in September because there’s something about September that wants to eat you.  I don’t know why.  I just know that depression lies and it lies the loudest and most convincingly in September.  That’s why today I’m reminding you that suicide hotlines are amazing and have saved me from self-harm on numerous occasions.  If you need someone to talk to, or if you’re someone who knows a person who needs help and you need advice on what to say or do, call.  That’s what they’re there for.

Also, because so many of us are online, this page about safety teams on social media sites can be crazy helpful.  (Not sure if there’s a non-American version of this.)

Here are some good numbers to have:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US)

Canadian Mental Health Association (Canada)

Befrienders Worldwide (International)

Also, To Write Love on Her Arms is doing a fabulous thing where they’re asking you to share why you can’t be replaced.  It’s a perfect reminder of why you’re important and it’s a bad-ass way to flip it around and tell other people why you think they can’t be replaced.  If you can’t think of anything to write on yours then ask your friends or family to fill it out for you.  You cannot be replaced.  Trust me on this one.

Here’s mine.

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Okay.  That was a little dark, but sometimes you have to visit the dark to appreciate the light.  And now for the light…

This month Hailey turns 9 and I wanted to bring cupcakes to her class but there are some severely allergic kids in there and I don’t want to accidentally kill them.  Instead I was considering just bringing all the kids a book.  Around age 9 was when I realized that books were slightly better than cupcakes, so I think it might go over vaguely well but now I can’t pick a book.  I wanted to do Magic Trixie or Coraline, but I’m afraid there are some uber-religious kids in the class who might not be allowed to read anything magical (and that made my heart hurt just writing it) and so now I’m not sure what to get since almost all of the books that Hailey and I read are a bit dark or objectionable-in-the-best-possible-way.  What was your favorite book when you were 9?  Any recommendations? (Ideally under $10 and good for any gender.)  I’m leaning toward Hank the Cowdog but is that one of those books that everyone already owns by age 9?  Help.

Updated (9-16): Holy crap, you people have some amazing suggestions and I’ve started a whole reading list for Hailey just based on these comments.  In the end I took your suggestions to talk to the teacher about ordering from Scholastic and she was crazy helpful and I was able to get about 100 fantastic books to give out to the kids and to be used as an impromptu lending library.  They had Bunnicula for a dollar so I bought dozens of those and I plan on buying more and handing them out on Halloween for All Hallow’s Read.  Also, I’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time, but so many of you suggested it that I bought it on Saturday and Hailey and I are already halfway through it.  It is spectacular.  Thank you.