Posted in sqt

{sqt} – seven quick thoughts from a quick week

I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today – head over and read some more!

  1. I’ve been tapering off my antidepressants over the past month and a half (my doctor recommended trying it after a year, and I waited until warm sunny weather would give me some help), and I think it’s going well! I have noticed some old thought patterns re-emerging, but they aren’t strong and all-consuming, and I’m equipped to process them effectively thanks to therapy. I should be completely off by the end of August, and probably due to my long and slow journey away from them I’ve avoided the unpleasant symptoms one can experience when abruptly messing with one’s serotonin pathways ūüėČ
  2. Aubade had yet another dermatology appointment this week and we finally had good news: it appears that her mysterious rash is gone for now (or at least controlled without continued daily use of heavy steroids), and her skin is healthy. We’ll keep an eye on it in case it was triggered by some allergen or environmental factor that might be an issue again next spring, but at least for now she should be comfortable and unmedicated except for moisturizing cream.
  3. In case anyone else needs allergen-free lotion, we’ve been using Vanicream and I like it a lot. It doesn’t have lanolin in it, which can apparently irritate or trigger some people, and it’s probably all completely artificial, but it has a good feel and has definitely helped Aubade’s rash of mysterious origin.
  4. In non-medical news, I got a new camera!! My old DSLR was 8.5 years old and still working great, but there have been some advances since then ūüôā and it is nice to have the added pixels in the sensor especially in low-light settings. The boys have even posed for a me a few times (or at least, smiled at the camera and then asked to see themselves).IMG_0174
  5. It has been hot here, and humid since we’re in between waves of the monsoon, but we have to get out of the house so we’ve been playing a lot out back with the hose. We’ve rigged things so the hose will spray on the slides and the large wading pool will tuck underneath the slides, so the boys can go up and down the slides endlessly to much splashing underneath the mist.
  6. I’m attempting to babysit two little girls from church a few days a week, Limerick and Aubade’s ages; we had our first afternoon together this week and it went so well (despite my bone-crushing anxiety the night before)! All five kids played together well, in kind of a parallel play sort of way, and there was only one instance of quarreling the entire time. I’m sure it won’t always be that smooth and easy, but it was a good start, and left the boys anticipating the next playdate rather than dreading it. From the other mom’s perspective, it’s a chance for her to work and pay off debt; from my perspective, it’s a chance for my boys to make friends and practice social skills in a low-stress environment, and an opportunity for me to contribute monetarily a bit more to the household. Maybe I wouldn’t care about that so much if I were an excellent homemaker… but I’m really not ūüėõ In fact it’s tempting to use some of the extra income to pay someone to clean the house every other week or so…
  7. We qualified for ESA funds for Rondel for the year! In Arizona, if a “special needs” student (one who would have an IEP) isn’t enrolled in a public school, they are eligible for a certain amount of money to use for curriculum and therapeutic services. Since we’re homeschooling, we can use some of it for some good books and manipulatives, and since health insurance can be finicky about approving therapy, we can also use it for his speech therapy. It’s not a huge sum of money, but it’s enough to be very helpful with things. The eligibility criteria are very specific, but if you meet them the application process is very simple and straightforward, so I would encourage any homeschooler in Arizona with a developmentally delayed child to look into it.

How has your week been? What do you do to cope with the summer heat? What resources have you found in your state/country to support the needs of differently wired students, especially outside the public education system?

Posted in musings

coping with chronic depression

I’ve been listening to some podcast archives from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and in one heard a man tell the interviewing doctor, about depression, “I don’t think you’re ever cured – it’s like alcoholism, it will always be there.” (I paraphrased).

That’s a reality I’m coming to terms with, as I have a new and more normal mood thanks to the medicine and therapy, but still feel the old out-of-sync emotions and unhelpful habits of thought there in my mind, popping up at tiny triggers or for no apparent reason at all. When the Zoloft started working – when I felt that first incredible lightening of the burden of depression on my mind and body – I suddenly had these amazing hopes and even expectations for my continuing treatment: that I would be completely cured, completely rid of the shaming voices, the heavy dragging slowness of thought, the spirals into despair, the frantic panic of seeing and fearing the darkness and irrationality closing in. I knew I would be sad, frustrated, and angry, of course, but those are normal emotions, a healthy part of life; I felt sad a few weeks back when the bikes were stolen and was surprised that I was able to feel simply sad without all the depressive corollaries. It was a clean and cleansing feeling. So sadness is beautiful, and even frustration and anger can be helpful and are certainly normal! But I thought the depression would be completely, utterly, totally, eradicated.

But there I was at work, feeling down. There were some triggers (a failed experiment, though no one was at fault), but nothing major, and still I felt the old familiar emotions, the whispers that I wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough; still I was weighed down with the weariness of continuing on when everything is pointless; still the voices tempted me with suggestions of sleep or drink or death to blot out the world and the pain of inadequacy and shame, to finally find peace from the tormenting emotions. Depression and anxiety have this irritating tendency to build on themselves; one begins to feel down about feeling down, or anxious about feeling anxious; and that’s what happened here as well. And then on the podcast came the line from a fellow sufferer: “I don’t think you’re ever cured.”

Suddenly it all made sense. It wasn’t a happy revelation, but it was a fortifying one. Just as it might never be safe for a recovered alcoholic to have a drink, so it might never be safe for this recovered depressive to let down her mental guard, to relax her mental vigilance. Into the breach, when the sentry is sleeping, the depression can attack or silently infiltrate. Oddly enough the thought¬†tasted hopeful on my tongue: if the unhelpful thoughts and destructive emotions return, it doesn’t mean I’ve relapsed and can never hope to be cured – it just means I need to repair the walls and increase the guard. But what is the most hopeful thought of all is that now I have experienced genuine happiness, abundance of joy, and everyday normal emotions. I know what they feel like, and I know I am capable of them: so when I do feel depressed, I can remind myself that the depression need not last forever. I have overcome before, and I can overcome again.

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – seven things I’ve learned about depression and antidepressants

Now that I’ve been on antidepressants for seven whole days, I can consider myself quite the expert, right? (please note the sarcasm)

Please take this list with a grain of salt, and remember that I speak from my own very limited experience. I’m just trying to share from that experience, not replace the very thorough informational guides that come with the medicine, or the more personally-tailored knowledge you can get from your doctor.

  1. I was a proud and arrogant fool not to have sought help and started taking an antidepressant earlier in my life. Well, that’s probably too harsh, since depression does its best to talk you out of asking for help. But a lot of things in¬†high school, marriage, and parenting would have been significantly easier if I wasn’t simultaneously trying to manage dysfunctional emotions and deal with faulty cognitive processes along the way – and it was my fear of appearing weak or insufficient or incapable that kept me from opening up or seeking medical guidance.
  2. The mental health system is incredibly challenging to navigate. It seems like every doctor who is liked and respected doesn’t take insurance… and every doctor who does take insurance either works for an inpatient clinic or has horrible reviews. And because of the personal nature of therapy and psychiatry, the doctor or therapist you try first may clash with you pretty badly – and when you’re feeling overwhelmed by everyday life, the thought of having to try multiple doctors and therapists is enough to shut the process down. If I didn’t have access to my Employee Assistance Office I probably would still be avoiding calling people.
  3. Antidepressants come with a pretty intense and rather scary list of side effects. I think what’s worth remembering is that they are¬†potential side effects, not guaranteed side effects, and that the more serious ones are very rare – they just have to be mentioned because they are so potentially dangerous. I’ve had several different side effects that have come and gone already but mostly just headaches, and I would take a bad headache over depression any day. But¬†I didn’t realize that before I started the medicine. I was so scared of the side effects that I held onto the prescription for a whole week before getting it filled (classic case of taking the evil you know over the evil you fear) – and I had been depressed for so long that I didn’t realize the extent to which it was draining my life of energy and joy.
  4. The Internet is full of all the worst-case scenario stories. I know those stories are true (they are more likely if psychiatric medication is prescribed by a general practitioner as opposed to an actual psychiatrist, by the way), but they are not the only part of the picture. If you have depression, an anti-depressant can help restore your energy, your hope, your light, and your life. In general I think it is better to find a good psychiatrist and take his or her advice instead of amping up your feelings of anxiety and hopelessness by endlessly scouring the Internet.
  5. Antidepressants DO NOT turn you into someone you are not. They will allow you to be ¬†more yourself by removing some of the darkness and despair that have infiltrated your soul.¬†I read, back¬†in high school, an article in a Christian magazine arguing against the use of antidepressants, claiming that they dulled one’s sensitivity, empathy, and personality. From what I have experienced, I would agree that antidepressants may make you less sensitive and empathetic. But if you are sensitive to the point that a casual¬†conversation brings you to tears, or empathetic to the point that you cannot help your crying child because his tears fill you with so much guilt and anxiety, you would be well served by having those qualities reduced to a functional level. Sensitivity and empathy are not virtues: it is the actions to which they typically lead, when they are healthy, which are virtuous.
  6. Depression makes virtue more of a challenge. I was amazed at how easy it was to be patient and gentle with the boys when I felt peaceful and happy inside! I suppose the silver lining of the depression is that I’ve gotten to practice pursuing virtue in the midst of challenge and even suffering (although that word always seems so extreme).
  7. I’ll reference that article from high school again to remark that, although antidepressants may be overprescribed (I would have no way of knowing), they are most definitely stigmatized. I have only told one person (besides my husband) in real life that I am now taking an antidepressant, and she is a friend who has been by my side through every episode of depression and every dark moment I’ve had. Frankly, I’m afraid of the reaction I might get, the responses I’ve read in comment sections as educated as that of the New York Times, that tell me what the depression said through all these years: if you only had more faith, if you prayed more, if you served/volunteered more to get your mind off of yourself, if you exercised more, if you ate this food or avoided this other food, if you stopped whining and moping about life, if you focused on the positive, if you practiced gratitude, and so on, you wouldn’t need that medication. It’s just a scam by Big Pharma anyway. It won’t help you much and you’ll do long-term damage to your mind and body. Just pull yourself out of that pit on your own – why are you acting like it’s so hard? And I can’t explain to everyone that I have tried all those things, that sometimes faith and prayer have been¬†about the only things keeping me from suicide, that biking 60 miles a week and cutting out refined sugar didn’t cure my PPD the first time through it, that parenting three children 3 and under doesn’t exactly give a person much time to navel-gaze. Most people wouldn’t care to hear it anyway, because their opinion is already formed. In a way, I’m still the proud and arrogant fool I was for all those years, because I want this to be my dark secret, my shameful crutch; I don’t want anybody to know my weakness, as if it were something sinful. Revealing my hypothyroidism doesn’t change the way anybody thinks of me; revealing my depression (and the way I’ve chosen to treat it) might, and I’m too proud to want to risk lowering myself in their judgment.

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the link-up!

Posted in musings

presence and PPD

Back in January I decided that my word for 2017 would be “presence”, with the goal of being more present with my family, community, church, and job, instead of being disconnected or lost in daydreams. It’s not that I think daydreams or introversion are a bad thing – I just don’t want to regret the time I wasted or the things I did half-heartedly because I was distracted with meaningless things. And so I did my best, through the worst of my PPD, to be present with my family. When I could barely make myself get out of bed, I would try to play games and read books in the bedroom.¬†I would try to fill the days with fun activities to keep us going so that the depression and anxiety wouldn’t drag me down and away from them. But I still felt so disconnected, so far away from them and from our life together. I spent hours reading just to escape my emotions, and in the process isolated myself from the people around me. I would watch my children laughing without feeling any corresponding happiness; I would sit with Aubade smiling at me and ache with heart-wrenching sadness. Look at these children, so happy and beautiful, the depression whispered, and look at you, so miserable, so unable to laugh and play with them and appreciate their silliness.

Getting an official diagnosis and some outside, objective perspective helped me see that this inability to feel present was¬†not a moral failing or a character flaw, but a symptom of a disease, and that in itself was encouraging and reassuring; it didn’t solve the problem, but it gave me more strength to fight it. It was a shield against the barbed lies that are, for me, a hallmark¬†of the experience of depression. And at each step, as I sought help and as the depression tried to convince me not to ask for help – that the risks of vulnerability or the potential of getting a bad therapist or the side effects of medication were too great – it was my goal of presence that kept pushing me forward. Because I could tell that I was not capable of being fully present in that state, and because I wanted to be fully present, I knew that I needed something to change.

I never thought that I would take an antidepressant. Those are for weak people, the depression had always told me, and I don’t really like the idea of taking a daily pill (I’m still slightly resentful of my daily thyroid hormone replacement, to be honest, to the point where I once tried going off it cold turkey to see if I’d be ok without it… let’s just say that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had). And yet, for this past week when I’ve been taking it, I’ve had more internal peace and happiness than I’ve had for a long time. I’ve watched my baby sleeping or cooing up at me and been filled with deep, deep love instead of the ache of inconsolable sadness; I’ve sat with my boys at the table and laughed at their silly antics instead of ignoring or snapping at them. I’ve planned and cooked¬†healthy meals and cleaned up the kitchen every night, and helped my husband with the laundry, and packed diaper bags and taken the kids out without feeling scared or overwhelmed. I feel like I’m living my life again, instead of just observing it through a dim and melancholy glass: I am present. I hope it lasts but I’m not going to waste time worrying about that; I’m going to enjoy this while I can.