Saturday, May 20, 2017

Treating Depression

About six months ago, I wrote Post-Thanksgiving Confession, in which I publicly shared my struggle with major depressive disorder. What I didn't write then that I should have was what I did to treat my depression:
  1. Take antidepressants.
    For some reason, lots of people don't like to take medicine for mental ailments, though they're fine with taking medicine for physical ones. One common attitude is that antidepressants dampen your personality. First, I would argue that depression dampens your personality; antidepressants don't. Second, antidepressants aren't magic; they don't make you happy right away. Third, if dampening your personality means that you don't kill yourself in the immediate future, then dampening your personality sounds pretty dang good.

    I have shared this with very few people––mainly because I realize that people don't know how to respond to such an account––but I'm sharing it now, in hopes that it will make a case for antidepressants . . . Last Spring, my depression was at an all-time low. I couldn't go an entire day without crying. I felt unloved and worthless. One Friday night, I sat on my bathroom floor and bawled my eyes out. I was convinced that no one would care if I was dead, and I thought about how I would kill myself, if I ever decided to. It scared me. I had never gone so far down that road before. I think it's common for people to wonder what the world would be like if they weren't in it, but it's not common for people to think about how they would actively exit it. The fact that I had was the straw. I never thought I would think such a thing, and yet there I was thinking about it. What if it was the same for actually committing suicide? Was that how it worked? You never think you'll do it until you actually do? I didn't want to find out. While I sat there, next to the toilet and all the tissues I had just used to wipe my face and blow my nose, I made up my mind to find a primary care physician and specifically ask for an antidepressant.

    The simple act of making the appointment was enough to empower me––to make me feel like I was making a good decision and taking control of this dark cloud that seemed to have taken over me. Within a month, I was taking duloxetine, and though it was physically difficult, I felt good about taking it. For the first month or so, I was light-headed and nauseated. I barely ate anything because the thought of food made me sick. I lost 15 pounds, which was a plus, but also, I was really hungry. Little by little, though, my appetite came back, and after a while, I realized that I had hope––hope that things would be okay. A friend described antidepressants to me this way: "It's not like you wake up one morning and feel happy. You wake up one morning and realize that it's been a while since you felt completely worthless and uninterested in everything around you." That's exactly how it was for me.

  2. Regularly see a counselor.
    This treatment was definitely more difficult for me and continues to be difficult. I can be pretty darn chatty, but when it comes down to it, I'm very private about my innermost feelings. I guess most of us are, but for me . . . Well, I'm so open about topical subjects that I suspect people think I'm open about everything I'm thinking and feeling, too. I tend to wait to share, though, until asked. If someone doesn't directly ask, "How are you?" I usually won't tell them. If someone doesn't ask, "What's been on your mind," I won't say. And I love to listen. I looove to listen. So some people talk and talk and talk and talk to me. After a while, our relationship becomes one of Sara-as-counselor. It's not a bad gig, usually, but sometimes . . . Sometimes you just need to tell people to shut up and listen to you for once.

    The nice thing about a counselor is that he's paid to listen to you. So if you want to get your money's worth, you have to talk. A lot. You have to remind yourself that this is about you. My counselor often has to remind me that I'm there to talk about myself. And it's hard. It's hard for me to be the non-listener. And quite honestly, I don't think he tells me things that I don't already know about myself, but it's just nice to have someone dedicated to paying attention to me. It's nice to be the center of somebody's attention for an hour.

    By far, though, the most important thing to seeing a counselor has been the mindfulness exercises he's taught me. I don't think the Western world pays enough attention to mindfulness, and I think I'm particularly bad at being mindful. So these exercises––they help me empty my mind of all the buzzing, nagging, negative thoughts that seem to so easily crowd my gray matter. They've helped remind me that I am of worth and my thoughts and feelings have value.

  3. Get more sleep!
    This has always been a tough one for me. I thrive at night. (See Time is Not On My Side.) But after decades of being A-OK on about six hours of sleep a night (sometimes five), my almost 36-year-old body is saying no. Eight hours is ideal, and if I get any less than that, I have a monster headache/migraine the next day––no thanks to that concussion from earlier this year. I think everyone knows about the importance of sleep, but because of the night owl in me, I constantly have to remind myself just how important it is, especially while I'm trying to recover from depression.

I'm still taking antidepressants, I'm still seeing a counselor, and it's a race against the clock every night as I try to get enough sleep time in. I imagine I'll be taking antidepressants for a while, too; in fact, I'm a little afraid to stop taking them . . . But I'm just rill glad that they're available. Of all the treatments, taking antidepressants has been the most beneficial. Sure, it's a quick fix, but when you're faced with thoughts of suicide, you need a quick fix. Quick fixes are okay sometimes––necessary, even.

So. That's my story. I hope it helps someone.

Thing I'm thankful for: phone conversations with kids

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Tonight I ate
  • 3 pieces of pork tenderloin
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 heap of sliced zucchini
  • 1/2 cup blood orange gelato
And I still felt a little hungry when I got home. So I made myself a half peanut butter sandwich. It was ridiculous. My eating today was ridiculous.

I really hope I turn into a beautiful butterfly tomorrow.

Thing I'm thankful for: brushing and braiding kids' hair

Friday, May 05, 2017

New Order

I don't know what happened to me this evening, but I found myself being angry or frustrated or just . . . altogether undone. I felt like running away from life, I guess––responsibilities and social pressure and slow drivers and physical pain and exhaustion. Lots of things. But that's not how the world works, of course.

So instead, I listened to New Order. Somehow, I feel better about things when I listen to New Order on high. Here are the songs I love the most:

What I love about these songs is their ability to make me feel cool and therefore confident in myself, which is rare. They're also full of energy––not the kind that builds and builds until the finale, but the kind that just constantly builds and bursts and builds and bursts over and over again, so that you're satisfied throughout. There's no waiting for that perfect moment at the end of the song or some kind of resolution in the chorus; it's just a sustained strength and vitality. I think that kind of energy lends itself well to thinking and wondering and exploring.

Give them a try, if you're feeling blue. Or angry. Or frustrated. Or anything, really.

Thing I'm thankful for: fathers

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Up First

I might get some flak for this, but . . . I think it's an obligation to keep up with current events and world news. I have several friends who ignore the news completely because it's depressing and/or difficult to keep up with, and while I understand their sentiment, I strongly disagree with it as a reason to be uninformed. We're living in a time when news it at our fingertips! It's so easy to follow at least the top stories! To be sure, it's not quite as easy to understand all of the top stories or to check the sources, but I think we should make an attempt––as we do for lots of difficult things in life, such as exercise, eating healthy, and flossing.

So with that, I want to share one of my favorite things of late: NPR's Up First. Every morning at 6am EST, Rachel Martin, David Greene, and Steve Inskeep talk about the top three news stories of the day, and they do it in 15 minutes or less. Fifteen minutes or less! Usually less! And you can subscribe to it on your phone's music app! And listen to it in the car on your way to work. Or while you're making breakfast. Or as you're getting dressed. Or flossing! It's so eeeeeeeasy.

Just try it for a while. It'll be good.

Thing I'm thankful for: Trustworthy journalists

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Mansion? No, thanks.

In Christian scripture, the reward for a life well-lived is often symbolized by a mansion in heaven. The Lord himself says, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." (See John 14:2.)

That's all well and good as a metaphor. But even as a metaphor, it still doesn't fit my taste. I'd rather have a cottage with lots of trees and a lovely garden than a huge house built from cold marble. Just look at the image results for a Google search of "mansion." Here, I'll post the most disgustingly immodest homes:

To be sure, mansions are beautiful, but I wouldn't want to live in one. I'd rather have something much smaller and cozy, like these:

Granted, that last one is a bit large, but I love the porch! Porches are important to have around when it rains. And that bungalow (third image) is the most perfect little house! Good grief––I really did find some of the best houses on the internet. I have great taste.

So. If I am ever able to cash in on a reward in heaven, I'll be showing God these pictures . . .

Thing I'm thankful for: Sunday naps

Monday, March 06, 2017

Urgent Care

And so my sad little life continues . . . Last month, I got rear-ended in a snowstorm and got a concussion, which, by the way, is much worse than simply feeling like you have a headache. (With a concussion, it literally hurts to think. But more on that another time.) Then last week, I slammed my thumb in my car door, and it has been giving me hell for the last three days. When I left work this evening, it was looking swollen and definitely not getting better.

Sunday morning, as I was contemplating how to handle the severe throbbing in my thumb and my inability to pick anything up with my right hand, I googled, "What do I do about blood under my nail?" and a myriad of how-to videos returned in answer to my question. Over and over again, I watched people drill or burn holes into the nails of their crushed fingers to drain blood and relieve pressure. I thought, "I can't do that; I'm right-handed!" I imagined what they might say if I went to urgent care: "Really? You came to us with a crushed finger? Honey, we have work to do. Take a tip from those crazies on the Internet, and take care of this yourself!" Was it silly for me to go to urgent care? I already tried once on Saturday, and the doctor I saw that night unfeelingly told me to take extra-strength Tylenol. Did I dare go back? Or did I have the . . . err, cojones . . . to burn a hole through my own body?

I did not. After work, I promptly went to urgent care and hoped they'd be understanding and try to fix my pain this time. Please bless I get a better doctor, tonight . . .

And that's just what happened. An unassuming, affable doctor shook my hand when he said hello, got quiet for a minute while he examined my thumb, and said, "It looks like it could be infected. The only way to tell is to cut the skin back from the base of the nail." I must've looked nervous when he came back into the room with a razor-sharp syringe because he assured me, "Don't worry; you're gonna love me after this is over." I certainly was doubtful, but when he sliced the skin away, out flowed deep red blood, and I was never so happy to see blood in my life.* The pressure immediately lessened, and I felt lighter somehow. I told him he was right: I did love him. And I thanked him profusely as I tapped my thumb over and over again with my finger, feeling delighted that I could actually do that without wanting to cry in pain.

I am astonished at the curiosity of the human mind and so impressed that people have learned how to heal the body when it can't heal itself. With a tiny incision, my happiness level today went from about a 2 to a 10. I'm just so delighted to have a thumb that works again. And with that pain relief, the headache from my concussion is no longer masked. I'm aware of the sharp sting between my eyes once again, but I don't even care. I don't even care because I have a working opposable thumb on my right hand! God bless everyone!

Thing I'm thankful for: Besides thumbs? And doctors? Friends.

*If it had been an infection, pus would've oozed out.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ways of Knowing, Or "How Can I Tell Whether Something is True?"

Let me start off by posting a couple of images.

First, we have this:

The combination of photo and caption suggests that Trump is a cold-hearted slimeball of a man because he left his wife to walk through the door of the Whitehouse all by herself.

Next, we have this:

The combination of photo and caption suggests that Obama is just as much of a slimeball––if not more––than Trump.

Both images are meant to indict these men––to paint them as awful human beings––and the thing about these images is that they both look real. But guess what? Neither of them give a complete picture. Here's what really happened:

But even then, we don't know what really happened because we weren't there ourselves.

People go on and on about how seeing is believing, and observing with our senses means that something is real. Empiricism is THE way to knowing in this day and time, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge, justification, and belief. It allows us to examine how people know, and according to epistemologists, there are several ways of knowing. Here are some:
  • Rationalism–the theory that reason is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Recall Rene Descartes, who said, "I think therefore I am." He didn't say, "I see myself and my surroundings, so I know I exist." He based reality on thought. In other words, "the mind comes pre-stocked with innate ideas." (Nagel 41)
  • Empiricism–the theory that sensory experience is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Our minds are blank until "sensation begins to mark it." (Nagel 41)
  • Testimony–the theory that knowledge can come to us second-hand. While testimony involves both rationalism and empiricism in that past experience and reasoning (about a person's reliability) informs the validity of second-hand knowledge, it is seen by some philosophers as a distinct way of knowing because for example, "the way you think when you understand what someone says is different from the way you think when you see something with your own eyes, and different again from the way you think when you are engaged in reasoning or puzzle-solving." (Nagel 80)
I could go on and on about this, and truth be told, I don't understand all of it. (Most of my knowledge about the study of knowledge comes from my Intro. to Philosophy course in college.) I do know this, though: Seeing is not believing. Seeing is seeing, and believing is believing. And it's becoming more and more critical to use lots of different epistemological approaches to truth-finding. Those images at the beginning of this post––those look real. I can see with my eyes that Trump ignored his wife and Obama put his hand on Mrs. Trump's butt. But reason tells me that these images cannot be true!

Conversely, reason tells me that it's daytime right now because I'm wide awake and ready with energy to do something fun. But my senses tell me that it is 8:00pm!

Truth-finding is confusing these days. News is often misleading (from liberal and conservative sources), people are sometimes unreliable, our memories are imperfect, and Photoshop allows people to change what we see. It's critical to use lots of different ways of knowing. Some people pray, and some people read as much as they can. Some people keep updated with social media, and some people listen to podcasts. None of those, though, in my opinion are enough in and of themselves. We've got to work hard to synthesize all of these sources and ways of knowing in order to figure out what is true. To be sure, it's exhausting, but I think it's an obligation.

(Source: Nagel, Jennifer. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2014.)

Thing I'm thankful for: modern medicine