Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

Feeling Ancient

The years are slipping by, and I have accomplished nothing in my life. Not one single thing I can look back to and feel proud of–as though I have left not the slightest mark on the desert sands of time. 

Of course, that is not entirely true. I have two children and eight grandchildren, and two wonderful “in-law” children of whom I am very proud. There is an estranged sister and her family, including two wonderful nieces and three nephews. And I love my sister-in-law and her daughter and husband. But, aside from my own children and their progeny (part of my peso al genetic pool) there is nothing personal–no personal accomplishment or contribution–I will leave to the world. 

My husband, a work-preoccupied professor, does not understand how I feel. He does not understand how and why I have plunged into an agoraphobic state. He does not understand how our move to this island paradise to which we moved over three years ago when he took this job has left me feeling alone and isolated, feeling homeless and homelandless, and insecure and scared–very, very scared. I am too old to get a job on this island, so I did not even bother to apply for a work permit on this island. When we moved here, I was just beginning to build up students in an online program; I had to give that up because the university does not allow even online tutoring of their American students from a foreign country. So I arrived on this island feeling resentful and irritable, and promptly made a mess of any further possibility of making a mark even on this small island. 

Although I did some volunteer work, I was beginning to feel the stress of the cross-island traffic problems. Thus, I failed in my obligation to both the program I volunteered for and the kids I was working or help. What I did was hide. I burrowed into my home–especially the “new” one we were buying–and have not come up (or out) for air. 

To be fair to myself, many things happened at once between mid-December of 2015 and early May (2016). In December, my husband underwent unanticipated surgery for the removal of a kidney. Shortly after our return from the Mayo Clinic, I late January–I received word that my mother was hospitalized directly from her physician’s office, then that she was going to hospice care. In my mind, “hospice” was synonymous with rehabilitation, and my broth-in-law’s words of “resting comfortably” meant recovery. I was shocked when I received a call in early February that my mother had died. I was angry with my mother for allowing herself to get so I’ll so quickly. I was angry that she had left my parentless. Even though I am in my mid-sixties, I still relied on her to offer advice or words of reassurance. I changed my flight reservations from Miami for scheduled cataract surgery to New Jersey, and arrived in my East Brunswick hotel alone and weary. The flights to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, had maxed out our credit cards, and I was hard-pressed to come up with money for one ticket to Newark International, much less two. Thus, I arrived alone, letting my husband continue his recuperation from surgery and getting back to work in Sint Maarten. Alone. Truly, now, alone. 

My drivers license had expired, so that I was left isolated at the hotel during the funeral proceedings, even though my son and daughter-in-law flew out from Texas to New Jersey for the funeral and provided transportation as needed. Josh and Raven were staying in Pennsylvania with my former husband, and were going out of their way to support me during this time of stress. Although I already held both in high esteem, their acts of kindness raised them to saint-like status. I next spent 2 weeks at their Texas home, setting up my retirement and going through all the necessities of obtaining a new drivers license, including a road test which made me feel like the 17-year-old I had been the last time I was tested while behind the wheel. I felt very sheltered in my son and daughter-in-law’s home, very much at peace with all except my mother’s death. 

Next, I flew to Miami and and took a train to Delray Beach where I stayed with an old friend and her husband while undergoing cataract surgery and it’s after-care. Spending almost three weeks in my friend’s very gracious company, I arrived home at the very end of March to chaos in regards to the purchase of the condo from which I write this passage. My husband was suddenly too busy at work to help with the financial end of things. I found it necessary to fly back to Miami for a day trip to transfer funds. I was feeling tired and put-upon, as I had still not recovered from Mom’s death ( although I don’t think I knew that at the time). 

Slowly, I began to realize the finality of my mother’s passing, and the sense of isolation bore down on me harder than ever–my son’s family in Texas, my daughter still under the misimpression that I do not care for her mate and his family, my husband once again deeply entrenched in his work. I withdrew further into myself and my new home (photos above are views from the patio). And that I am growing older–ancient, in fact–and more frightened of the future to which we have mortgaged our retirement. Literally. 

This passage marks my decline into agoraphobia. I still go out to pay bills, sometimes to pick up items from the grocery that my husband cannot get from the little store he passes on his walk from work. Occasionally I make phone calls–locally because we still do not have adequate Internet access to use the Vonage phone with our US number. Mostly, I am finding consolation and solace in writing one blog or another, but that has been recently, as I have burrowed into learning more about oil painting and Zentangle. That I am blogging again and sharing my “art” may be an indication that I am slowly emerging from my inner-facing world. That I am sharing my attempts at artistic endeavors, written and graphic, may indicate more that I am trying to leave a mark on the world than that I am emerging into that sunlight almost ever-present here on the island. 

It is my hope that this post also marks the beginning of the end of the decline into the lonely world of agoraphobia. It seems so important that I emerge back into the world, although I am not certain why. 

Only more time will tell.

#educ_dr

So Much Life Happening Right Now

Yes, life is happening all around me right now.  Some are good, some not so good.  Some…well, who knows.

Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.

Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital.  We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him.  You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them.  But you have to know my mother.  She’s a real handful at the best of times.  At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary.  And she doesn’t like being “in the way.”  She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home.  I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is.  So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.  Easton Hospital

Until about a week ago, that is.

That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs.  She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home.  When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up.  She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household.  As I said, she’s a handful.

Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated.  She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask.  As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.

And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house.  This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work.  If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70.  Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.

So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer.  And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.

I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time.  But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night.  And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.

And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years?  Probably not, but who knows?

So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again?  Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…

No good dwelling on that too long.  What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires.  As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…

 

#educ_dr

Feeling Good!

It is amazing how much power a little pill can have. Pritiq

About five weeks ago, I recognized that I was depressed. The next day, I went to see my doctor to discuss antidepressants. He prescribed Pristiq. For almost twenty-two years (since 1990), I was on one antidepressant after another, many of which just made me more depressed. A bit more than three years ago, my doctor took me off antidepressants and put me on Adderall for hyperactivity, since I hadn’t been able to keep my mind on one thing since I was a kid. And back then, hyperactivity wasn’t even a diagnosed problem–it may not even have been recognized as a medical issue.

In my early twenties, a doctor put me on Valium because he thought I was, in his words, “burning the candle at both ends.” The medication calmed me down enough so that I could increase my focus and do even more. What can I say? I tend to have paradoxical reactions to a lot of medications.

Anyway, the Adderall really helped with my concentration and focus more than the antidepressants ever had. But when I came here to St Maarten, the doctor sent me to a psychiatrist, since only they can diagnose and prescribe medications for hyperactivity here. And she does not believe I’m hyperactive. But then, she didn’t seem to notice how deep into depression I had sunk, either, so…

Whether or not I had ever used Pristiq in the past, I can’t remember–I had been on so many different antidepressants during those 22 years that I’ve lost track of which I had used, which helped a bit for a little while before depressing me again, which took me further into the abyss from the start. However, my response to this drug, this time was nothing short of amazing. Within two and a half weeks of starting it, I realized that I am happy and feeling like “the real me” for the first time in forever. So how have I marked this amazing transformation? I’ve thrown myself into all sorts of tasks, of course, with glee and the feeling that I might actually complete some of them.

For the past few weeks, I have been concentrating (well, on and off) on building a web store–not an easy task when one is not as computer savvy as one believes she ought to be, and is clueless about how to set up an e-commerce site even with tremendous tutorials. But I’m learning a lot as I’m building it, and will hopefully soon have it open for business. This was so much easier to do 20 years ago when I designed and set up my first web site for a friend of mine. Computing was so much more straightforward back then. Now I have to learn brand new stuff, as though I had never worked with computing before. (sigh)

In the meantime, I am still trying to focus some time each day on my art–drawing and oil painting–but having difficulty with that because the web store is constantly in my mind and nagging me to finish it. It may take some time for me to get back into the swing of daily art sessions, especially since my instructor is vacationing in France through the month of October, and there are no weekly “homework assignments” for me to meet. So you might say that I am trying to throw some “artistic endeavor” into the web site. I’ll write more about my store when I finally get it set up. Interestingly, since the theme comes with a blog attached to it, I also wonder if I’ll have enough hours in the day to keep up with all my blogging–that one and my two main blogs here at WordPress which I’ve been neglecting. It’s been weeks since I posted anything serious on my Write of Passage blog, and I’m way too far behind in the current plans I have for it. But I’ll be getting back to it soon enough, and hopefully feeling more of a sense of accomplishment as I actually complete one task at a time.

[Hmm. Maybe that’s the key–completing one thing at a time. I’ve never been able to do that in the past, but I can try again.]

Life is good. All thanks to that little pill.

Well, back to work on my shopping site!

…Or maybe I’ll take the time to do a painting lesson from a book I have first…

#educ_dr

Sneaky Depression

Depression must have been following me around for a long time. I’m not sure when it caught up with me–I didn’t even know it had. It’s not like one day I woke up with Depression snoring next to me. There was no lightning bolt marking its sudden appearance. I wasn’t feeling particularly sad or seeing everything in black. I’m not sure if I was feeling hopeless or particularly morose. Days didn’t drag or fly by; they just blended into one another. I hadn’t been feeling particularly energetic, but I blamed the fatigue in part on the hot and humid tropical weather. When the pets napped during the mid-day heat, I often found myself joining them, even though the air conditioner kept me comfortable so I wasn’t being directly impacted by the weather. Arthritic back pain has been my steady companion, and I blamed most of the fatigue on the constant struggle with Pain. I miss being able to take my Naproxen to keep Pain at bay. It had worked really well for me, but it also was complicit in a near-fatal bleeding ulcer incident nearly a year ago, and I’ve had to stay away from it ever since. So I blamed my lack of awareness of Depression on Pain. Pain kept me distracted while Depression slowly permeated my body and my soul.

That I became aware of Depression’s presence was sudden. It was about two weeks after my last visit to my psychotherapist. I was thinking about how I don’t really like her, and that I don’t know why she insists on continuing to see me. The session wasn’t terribly productive, and I realized that her voice had taken on tones of dislike and condescension. She was telling me that I am a selfish bitch (not in those words) who turns away from any group or individual who doesn’t agree with me–that it’s my way or the highway. This took me by surprise. It had taken me most of my 65 years to work up the nerve to simply be able to say to myself, “This is not how I think or feel or see things. I can walk away from this.” I wasn’t feeling bad about this type of thinking and subsequent actions, and I didn’t understand what brought on this tirade from her. For the year or so that I’ve been seeing her–generally once a month, with a three or four month lag recently–we’ve discussed my issues with family and my husband. I rarely talked to her about my social life or activities. Yet she was talking as though we have known each other well for years and shared a circle of friends. The thought going through my mind was, “Is this professional behavior in a therapist?” In the US, I had never experienced this type of reaction from a professional therapist–some insurance plans won’t pay for antidepressants without a prescription from a psychiatrist. I started wondering whether she had been trained in The Netherlands or elsewhere, and if this was professional behavior there. Granted, the country of Sint Maarten is more like a mid-sized US town, with its population of roughly 45,000. Adding the 40,000 or so residents of the French side of the island, the whole island takes on the proportions of a small city, with each side having its own culture within the greater culture of the Caribbean. My next question to myself was, “Has she been talking to other people about me? If so, whom would we know in common?” And again, thoughts of professional behavior went through my mind. I had pretty much made up my mind that I would be cancelling my next appointment (coming up next week), but decided to let it stand and re-assess during or after.

As I continued to ponder the strange session, I started thinking about my activities as symptoms and how likely it might be that Depression had caught up with me again. I started thinking about my life over the past year. I had taken a vacation from my husband and ended up overstaying my welcome with my children. I came home to discuss separation with my husband, but then bleeding ulcers almost killed me in the middle of the night–twice within two weeks–and how instrumental he had been in getting an ambulance here quickly. He visited me more in the hospital during my two five-day stays than he ever visited me during major surgeries back home when he worked a block or less away. Since he doesn’t drive, and since the hospital is almost on the other side of the island, that took a major effort on his part. Life on a small Caribbean island is vastly different than the conveniences associated with large urban areas in the US. He had to rely either on friends or on taxi services to visit me, since buses don’t run near enough to the hospital for easy access in the tropical heat, and visiting hours are extremely limited.

The night I returned from the hospital after my second stay, I noticed that one of our two cats was acting strangely listless. Over the next three and a half months, she spent more time at the veterinary clinic than at home, first for a pancreatic infection, and later for feline diabetes. The male cat missed her, and started to jump into the car whenever I had the tailgate open, possibly hoping she was in the car. He did that late one night when my husband was unloading the car from my earlier grocery trip. My husband doesn’t always notice things at the best of times, and I had forgotten to tell him of this cat’s new habit. I didn’t go anywhere the next day, and the car was sitting in the tropical winter sun all day, with me wondering why the cat hadn’t yeowled to come in. My hunt for the cat ended when I found him the following day, when I needed to run to the pharmacy. I would never have to hunt for him again.

A few weeks later, I began to notice that I was losing stamina instead of gaining it during my exercise sessions in the community pool. At first, I thought it was emotional stress from losing one cat and having an ill one. I drove to the doctor’s office to discuss the condition and was sent for a blood draw because the doctor thought I looked somewhat anemic. Because of local holidays, it would take longer to get results than usual, and we had been scheduled to visit a neighboring island for a conference my husband needed to attend. I was feeling weaker and weaker and tried to beg off, but my husband seemed more concerned about the fact that we had already paid for my fare and a rental car, and insisted that I would feel better from a change of scenery. By the time we returned, I was feeling much weaker and took the first opportunity possible to visit the doctor for bloodwork results. My blood count was so low that the doctor could not believe I drove to the office. I was not even allowed to drive the half kilometer home to pick up pajamas and other hospital stay essentials (locally, you provide your own pajamas, toothbrush, soap, towels, etc.) before I was whisked away to the hospital.

During the five days I spent at the local hospital, the staff doctors managed to scare me to death about the condition of my colon (since the ulcers had healed quite well, it had to be my colon, they reasoned), saying that I would need to have half of it removed and that I was taking a chance that I would bleed out from a burst sac in my colon at any time. I was not about to have surgery on the island, so we scheduled a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Florida for a consult and possible surgery. It turned out that my colon was fine and that my problem with anemia was because–after a total of eight units of blood transfused into me during my three island hospital stays–the hospital doctors had never thought about prescribing high dosage iron supplements. In essence, my body had shut down blood cell production after the two bleeding ulcer episodes, and that was the cause of the anemia, not internal bleeding from my colon. Much relieved, we returned to our island condo on Christmas Eve, with no pets to greet us and several days of no pet distractions. When I was finally able to bring home the dog and ailing cat, it was like celebrating Christmas a few days late.

Shortly after the New Year–on my birthday, in fact–I had to take the ailing cat back to the clinic, as she was refusing food and water, even from hand-feeding and forced hydration from an eyedropper. For the next nine days, the clinic tried to order various insulin types for her, trying anything to get her to come around. On the tenth day, I received a call from the veterinarian asking us to consider her suffering, as nothing was working on her. Before we were able to get there, and much to staff’s surprise, the cat had chosen her own time to die, and we said goodbye to her inert body. Both cats were just five years old when we lost them. I mentioned that we were interested in any stray or unwanted kittens that might be dropped off there. Surprisingly, we were able to adopt a kitten the same evening–not to replace the cats we lost, but because neither my husband nor I were ready to have a no-cat home–and we were hoping to distract the dog, who seemed depressed with both cats disappearing from home. The kitten was to be euthanized after closing, but my cat’s death allowed this kitten to retain her life. I suspect that the kitten was still alive just in case we were thinking of adopting a new one.

Shortly after I was told I needed colon surgery, and feeling a little down, I began to read books that always made me feel good and made me laugh. During our two-week stay near the Mayo Clinic, I began to download all the books by my favorite author, Terry Pratchett. It had taken several years before the first volumes of his Discworld Series were available electronically. I decided I wanted to read all the books from the first to the last because they made me laugh (and more than half of my Pratchett library was in a storage facility in Glendale, California). In an effort to cheer myself up, I read all 40 books of the series in roughly six weeks. The day after I finished the most recent book, Terry Pratchett died, leaving me jarred from the coincidence. In the meanwhile, I made a new friend here in the community, and she pulled me out of a good deal of my funk. She had me going to the beach and helping her find things to stock her new store at the Jersey shore, and I was finding myself perking up quite a bit. When she returned to the US, I began to sink again, the only thing saving me was the drawing lessons I started taking, thanks in large part to my friend’s chatting up a gallery owner on the French side of the island. My instructor also got me interested in oil painting. In addition, I got involved with a business that forced me out of the house. So I had a few new activities to throw myself into so that I could avoid seeing Depression sneaking up on me.

That day when I was pondering my last therapy session made me realize that Depression had grabbed me in its clutches and wasn’t letting me go, accounting for my ups and (mostly) downs.  Why hadn’t my therapist seen this, or why hadn’t she suggested the possibility that I might be depressed? My husband, who notices so little about me (think Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory), was preparing himself to broach the subject with me, but had some hesitations about how to begin. When I told him I thought I was depressed, he was relieved, and confessed that he thought so, too. So why did the therapist not notice two weeks earlier? It’s not like she didn’t know about all the events that had transpired over the past year. Why didn’t she see that many of my newer activities were an effort to pull myself out of a dark pit?

Fortunately, I am not a person who believes that there is ever a time when no hope exists. The idea of a purposeless life crosses my mind on occasion–like when Depression is stalking me–but I never really believe that things will never get better. I don’t always make lemonade when life sucks, but I tend to take a proactive approach to my existence. So…

The following day, I went to see my doctor. I told him I was pretty sure I am depressed. I explained my fatigue, my inability to motivate myself to perform even the easiest of tasks or my favorite activities, the hours of extra sleep, the restlessness, the inability to concentrate on anything. He agreed that I was probably depressed and prescribed some medication. In general, antidepressants take anywhere from two to four weeks before any improvement in mood or attitude is noticed. I’ve been on enough of them in my life to know. But when they kick in, the world takes on a whole new meaning. I’m almost three weeks into the antidepressants, and I’m feeling better every day.

Depression, you may take your sweet time taking over body and soul, but you’re not unbeatable. You are not a permanent fixture in my life. It may have taken me a while to notice that you have sneaked up on me again, taking the color from my world, and damping down the moments of joy that pass almost unnoticed because of your presence. Depression, you are being pushed out much more rapidly than you have entered, and I’m feeling good that I recognized you even when a psychiatrist did not. So yeah, maybe I do turn my back on situations that I deem immature or demoralizing or just plain stupid. But how is that bad? There are a lot of people I know who have some strange qualities–whether stranger than mine, I don’t know; I can’t judge–but it doesn’t mean I don’t like them despite their quirks. I don’t assess people on whether they agree with me or not, but on whether they are good-hearted and caring people. They can be self-centered, annoyingly upbeat, frustrating, flighty, overly single-minded, funny, klutzy, cute, ugly…but if they’re “good people,” I can usually set all those things aside and like them for who they are. Heaven only knows why some people continue to like me enough to call me Friend, even after they have gotten to know me and understand where I’m coming from. They don’t even have to understand me, as long as they still believe I’m good enough company to hang out with once in a while, or that my heart is in the right place. So yes, sometimes it takes a pill to help me see how many people make up my world. Sometimes, Depression, you can obscure the fact that I am not alone in this world. But you can never make my subconscious believe you because, deep inside, I know better.

Depression, you have been part of my recent life for too long, and you’ve made me blind to many of the little joys in life. It’s time to banish you. There may be a time when I’m off medication and life comes down on me again like a ton of bricks. At some point in the future, you may think you will win. But don’t delude yourself. Even if a therapist isn’t correctly analyzing me, I do a lot of my own self-assessment. I can turn and walk away from situations that will never change. Depression, you may get in and obfuscate, but you will never obliterate. Go away now. I’m turning away and leaving you behind.

#educ_dr