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

Posts tagged ‘Depression’

It’s Been a While…


It has been quite some time since my last post. For over a year, I have been in suspended animation. Little was accomplished day to day, and I avoided going outside of my new home. Driving was almost a non-existent activity–one full tank on my gas guzzler was lasting three or four months (yes, months; not weeks or days!). I felt trapped by my own anxiety and increasing depression. 

In December of 2015, my husband underwent a surgery to remove a kidney with a tumor so large that it caused the organ to cease functioning and begin to die. Christmas dinner was in hospital, and we barely made it back to the island to welcome in the 2016. 

At the end of January, I called my mother for her birthday, only to be frustrated by days of her not charging her phone. That was the last time I talked to her–she died shortly after from complications brought on by congestive heart failure that no one knew she had. She was 88. She must have suspected it would be our last conversation because she asked for forgiveness for all the wrongs she had done against me. To be honest, I had no idea which of her many transgressions she was apologizing for–there were so many. Neither my sister nor I would ever have nominated her for mother of the year. That people liked her amazed us; but they didn’t live with her. Despite everything, she was my mother, and I felt a loss and hollowness at her passing. 

After the funeral, I flew to Texas to visit with my son and daughter-in-law. R helped me get a new TX driver license since my old CA one had expired. R and my son had bought a beautiful new home since my visit a year and a half earlier, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet during my stay. Next, I was off to the Miami area to stay with a friend during my cataract surgeries. Neither of us anticipated that I would be there three weeks, but it turned into the loveliest of visits! 

Finally, back home to the island, where we were in the middle of purchasing an older condo across the street from the one we were renting. Packing, painting, moving, arguing with banks ensued. Finally we were moved in. And almost immediately we needed an air conditioner replaced. Then we got the word that both the solar heater on top of the house and the roof around it–the entire roof, actually–needed replacement. We did away with the solar heater and had the roof replaced and some minor repairs around the house made. In between were hassles with internet and cable connections–i.e., my means of communication with the outside world–which took four months to iron out, in part due to my husband’s refusal to deviate from his desires, even though he could not get them met. 

So, yeah. A happy move turned into a mire of gloom. Even though most things improved and resolved themselves, I found I was sinking into anxiety and despair. It took until last month to recognize both my depression and its depth. More than a year had passed since my mother’s depth, but I was feeling more gloomy than ever. Even a highly anticipated trip to become a certified Zentangle teacher became just another requirement that would take me from the relative safety of my home. Time for action.

My doctor prescribed an antidepressant that should have kicked in about two to three weeks later, on the outside allowing me to travel to Providence RI in better spirits. The Seminar was amazing, but still no improvement in my mood. Just as I was leaving Providence, I sensed a change. The meds finally kicked in! Better late than never, and in just the right time for my return trip home. What should have been a nightmare of delayed take-offs and missed connections–not to mention TSA search of my carry-on–I found amusing. I didn’t get too excited about the plane problems in Charlotte that would make me miss the last flight home out of Miami. Instead, I got to stay overnight in NC instead of Miami. I also got a seat on a direct flight from Charlotte to SXM instead of having to fly to Miami first. 

Of course, I got home while my luggage waited for me in Miami. I knew the minute that I went to the baggage carousel and my suitcase wasn’t waiting from an earlier Miami flight that my bag was still in the US. But I had to wait until all the luggage from my flight was unloaded before I could have my bag traced. Except for the fact that I knew my husband was waiting for me with a friend, I didn’t mind the waiting too much–despite really really craving a cigarette, that is. As expected, I left the airport with only my carry-on, and promises that my suitcase would be delivered as soon as it arrived. It was kind of nice to not worry about unpacking that night. I did miss the materials I purchased for anticipated classes, though. Those and my husband’s gifts were in the suitcase. But it didn’t hurt to wait a day. Actually, my suitcase arrived after I had gone to bed. But I didn’t know that until the next day.

That last leg of the trip would have been disastrous before the meds kicked in. It was uproariously funny after. One of the highlights of the messed up return was watching a TSA agent thumb through every one of my 1000+ Zentangle artist tiles that were in their original boxes from the seminar store–bubble wrap was removed, tiles were inspected, bubble wrap was less than perfectly replaced. An unsealed kit of class supplies was opened and a bag of tortillions was removed from the box, clearly stymieing the officer by the look on his face. The bullet-shaped paper blending tools were definitely outside his experience. The contents of my jacket pockets yielded nothing interesting to him, and the sealed box of kids’ art supplies was sealed in plastic and labeled clearly with the contents, so those were left alone, too. With a sigh of relief, he replaced my belongings as closely as possible to the way they were originally packed, and waved me through with a sheepish grin. He was probably surprised by the amused look on my face instead of the expected scowl. Had he only known how hard I was trying not to laugh, he probably would have had me detained on general principles. The poor TSA agents are not known for a sense of humor. But then, they usually deal with people indignant over having their belongings pawed rather than a little old lady indulgently looking on. Gotta love traveling in this age of distrust! 

So I have been back home for over a week. I have not chastised myself for getting little done. Instead, I have been enjoying the new-found artistry of my tangling. If you want to know what that is, scoot on over to my Zentangle-related blog site at TangleSXM.com here on WordPress. No sense in repeating myself here. 

If you want to know more about my journey out of depression, read this post. In it, I talk about the combination of meds and tangling that got my head straightened out a bit. 

Until next time!

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