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

6 Comments:

Blogger Lauren Barnes said...

Oh, Sara, I love you. Thank you for opening up about this. I'm so glad that you sought out help. The world would suck without you in it.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Summer Wood said...

I love, love, love you! I'm glad you are still here :) I am sorry you've had to deal with depression and health problems related to the dumb drunk driver and your most recent car accident. Chronic health problems cause unnecessary depression. You can do it!

12:11 AM  
Blogger Nikki Bybee said...

Sara,

Thanks for sharing. I'm sorry it's difficult to perhaps recognize that you're not as open as it seems. I love your intelligence and wit, glad things are progressing to a place of happier-ness. Love ya.

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did you pick a counselor?

9:15 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

I have to admit I had a very black and white stance on depression prior to me taking an Intro to Psychology class. And then something traumatic happened that changed the way I had coped with my stress thus far in life, and started taking medication for anxiety. PTSD is no joke, but I can finally focus enough energy on a chore or project long enough to finish it without feeling overwhelmed or avoiding it, which I still do sometimes. Thanks for sharing Sara! Love you!

11:49 PM  
Blogger Ezra said...

I know someone going though something similar right now. This is good to read. Thanks for sharing. You're always a good read, and a better person.

6:49 AM  

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