When Depression Ends

Today I’d like to share a positive post with you. I recently pulled out of my latest depressive episode. I have been feeling gradually better for the past month or so. I’m happy to say that the cloud has left for now. Depression always feels inescapable, it is a relief to be reminded that depression isn’t permanent. I have had many depressive episodes in my life and I know myself well enough to know that my depression will be back. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying this moment of respite.

A lot of changes occur when depression ends. In celebration of this return to myself, here are some of the positive changes I have noticed over the last few weeks.

The Big Changes

I’m optimistic about my future

When I’m depressed, I don’t always see recovery as an option. A future that looks any better seems impossible. I feel there are few things worth working towards, because life is what it is: depressing. When the depression lifts I’m reminded of all the things I have to live for and the things that keep me going. I’m able to acknowledge that there is a chance I can make lasting progress. I know that my depression is cyclical and it will come back, but I know that relief from the depression will too.

I feel better about myself

I’m very proud of myself and the progress I have made. I can see how much I have learned in my last couple of years in therapy. I can identify myself as strong and a fighter. I know that I’m a good person and am just doing my best. Conversely, when I’m depressed I feel like a burden. I feel like the worst person in the world and that my existence makes everyone else suffer. Suffice it to say, a break from this horrible self-concept is a gift. As a direct result of this, my self-talk is also much more positive and adaptive when I’m not depressed.

My anxiety is a bit easier to cope with

Since my depression ended I have been trying to leave the house and go for walks more often. I’m even slowly starting to see other people. My anxiety remains painful and debilitating, but I’m determined to try to cope with it when I can. Depression exacerbates my anxiety disorders by impacting my motivation, energy and desire to do things. My anxiety is all the more gruelling when depression robs me of any benefit that facing anxiety might otherwise yield. I’m less resigned to my anxiety when I’m not depressed.

I can feel fully happy

When I’m not depressed I can feel and sustain genuine happiness. When I’m depressed and good things are happening in my life, I can feel a fleeting sense of happiness about it, but rarely does that last. Anything happy is often quickly destroyed by my general sadness or lack of emotion. Or the happiness gets picked apart by unhealthy thoughts like, “I don’t deserve to feel this happiness” or “if I’m happy now it just means something terrible will happen soon.” Those thoughts occur infrequently when I’m not depressed, allowing me to more fully enjoy moments of joy.

I recognize the good things in my life

When I’m depressed, being reminded of the positive things in my life can actually make me feel worse. When my mood is incongruent with the things I “should” be happy about I tend to beat myself up about it. The guilt I feel over being sick is raised because I have so much to make me happy and live for. When I’m not depressed I’m able to appreciate my life and all the good that comes with it. I’m blessed in a lot of ways, chief amongst which is my loving and supportive network of family and friends.

The Smaller Changes

  • My internal alarm comes back. I wake up easily.
  • I sleep more regularly.
  • I make healthier food choices.
  • I want to spend time on my feet.
  • I’m able to play more board games. (When in a low it’s hard for me to focus and cope with unexpected changes so board games become hard to handle)
  • I use positive coping tools as a default.
  • My head doesn’t constantly hurt.
  • I dance and sing throughout the day.
  • I remember everything I have learned in therapy.
  • I drink water.
  • I play with my dog because I want to.
  • My body aches less.
  • I can make simple decisions more easily.
  • I’m able to read more comfortably (no repeating over lines, etc.).
  • I care more about my personal hygiene and self-care.
  • I’m not as easily tired.
  • I can contribute more by doing chores and volunteering.

All of these changes provide much needed light after months of darkness. They also highlight just how much my life is changed by depressive episodes. Depression can be a thief of joy, purpose, energy and self. Depression can make it seem like life isn’t worth living, but even a few short weeks out of depression can be enough to make months of struggling feel worthwhile. I hope that I’ll get a long break before my next low. I hope everyone who is experiencing depression right now will get some relief soon. I hope we all come to know more wellness and joy.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

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Good Morning, Depression

This post may be triggering to some individuals.

9am – My eyes open when I hear my husband rummaging around our bedroom, getting ready for work. It’s harder than usual for him to find clean clothes, our laundry is piling up precariously high in the hamper. My dog jumps on the bed and comes to greet me. My husband says, “good morning sleepy head”, while I unclip my CPAP mask and turn off the machine. He kindly avoids alluding to my break down last night. I know from him getting dressed already that I have slept-in past my goal time of 7:30am. One of my first thoughts is how disappointed my psychiatrist will be when she finds out I haven’t been keeping a consistent sleep schedule. I remind myself that’s irrational, she will know how hard I am trying.

I slowly pull myself up in to a sitting position, noticing a crick in my neck, no doubt the result of mounting tension in my shoulders from high anxiety. “Great”, I think to myself, “more pain”. I was supposed to go see a massage therapist to help with the muscle tension in my upper body but I still need to figure out if that treatment would be covered by my husband’s health insurance. That’s a problem for another day.

I reach for my phone while my husband brushes his teeth. Last night a fellow comrade on Twitter was in crisis, I am hoping to see good news. I fell asleep shaken with the possibility that he wasn’t safe. There is strength in connection over social media, but the distance can sometimes make me feel so hopeless to help. I don’t see any news, I hold out hope that he will check in to Twitter soon to say he is safe.

My husband is back from the bathroom. He comes and gives me a kiss, says he is on his way out and he’ll see me later. I can’t hold back the tears. I wish I could cry elegantly like the ladies in romantic comedies. For the next ten minutes he comforts me, reminds me he will be home soon enough and that he can call me on his lunch break. Every touch from my husband gives me strength and courage. Every time he lets go I begin to sob all over again. I feel horrible, the last thing I want is for him to worry about me while he is at work. I have dealt with many trials from mental illness, but perhaps none so terrible as the dread of waking up and having to survive another day. I try to hide how much I am hurting, but I fail miserably at this practice. I calm myself down as best as I can and give him a final kiss. I don’t want him to be late. I suppress my sobs as he walks down the stairs, grabs his lunch and closes the garage door behind him.

After a few minutes of seeking strength from cuddles with my dog who so intuitively is clinging a little closer to me this morning, I get up to go to the washroom. Passing the vanity mirror I notice my reflection. Its distorted features bear a resemblance to Quasimodo. I had forgotten that I plucked my eyebrows out yesterday when the urge to self-harm was overwhelming me. My eyes are puffy from crying and dehydration, I must remember to drink some water today. My CPAP has left a distinct ring around my nose and mouth. My whole affect is droopy, the feeling of being weighed down that I have been dealing with for weeks can be read all over my face. “Invisible illness”, I say to my dog, “not so invisible today”.

The washroom is brighter than the bedroom. I wince as I enter it. I’d say that depression makes me feel like a non-violent vampire, but my affection for garlic denies me that claim. I reach for a pill bottle, but I don’t have one anymore having come off of my last antidepressant just a few days ago. There have been many attempts to find a daily medication that works for me, so far, no luck on that score. My bathroom routine takes longer than usual, mental illness at its worst wreaks havoc on my digestion. I skip brushing my teeth and hair, they are a mess but I am already drained from the few minutes I have spent out of bed. On the way out of the washroom I check that our medicine cabinet is locked, it is. My husband holds the only key, a security measure we put in place at the urging of my psychiatrist after one of my suicide attempts last year. It has often crossed my mind that I could break the cabinet open if I really wanted to, but the superficial barrier of the lock gives me enough pause to remember that is a bad idea.

I change in to a fresh pair of pyjamas. I have steadily accrued a large array of sleepwear; my agoraphobia has been crippling for the last two years so I seldom leave the house. Being comfortably dressed in pyjamas just makes more sense. As I slip on my stained pyjama bottoms I remind myself that putting on day clothing might help me feel more put together; working from the outside in and yada yada. But truly, that’s a struggle for another day. I remember the counsel my psychiatrist gave me last week, “Your job for the next two weeks is to wake up at the same time every morning, eat all three meals and stay out of your bedroom during the day. The rest is gravy.” This is sage advice, focussing on anything else right now might stop me from meeting those seemingly meagre goals.

Pyjamas on, I succumb to the will to crawl back in to bed. My head is pounding and my breath quickening. I figure I’ll relax for a while to ready myself to walk downstairs. On a better day the walk downstairs would be nothing to me, but today it is daunting. In bed I scroll through world news, frequently thinking how messed up our current political climate is. I consider texting my friends, but really who wants to hear from me? I spot that thought distortion, my friends routinely try to reach out to me. Nevertheless, that sentiment feels real today. My dog whines, he wants to play – I respond by snapping at him. I lower my head in shame, am I really irritable enough to take it out on my dog today? I gather him up in my arms and show him love. I fall into a slumber.

Waking back up, I resolve to make my way downstairs. I can’t bring myself to prepare breakfast. Instead, I find my usual place on the couch, allow my dog to jump up on my lap and begin watching the same TV show I have watched over ten times in the past couple of years. The familiar story helps distract me from the agony of my own thoughts. It’s now just past 11:30am, two and a half hours down, far too many more to go.


Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Alex Boyd on Unsplash

Everything seems further away when I am depressed

Do you ever have one of those days, weeks, months when everything feels further away than usual?

Suddenly reaching the remote control on your bedside table feels akin to doing a long jump.

Your bottle of water might as well be across a football field.

You hold off going to the bathroom for as long as physically possible because you aren’t ready to run that marathon.

The kitchen? Forget it, you aren’t going there today.

Some of us face this a lot. Sometimes for days, weeks or even months at a time. It may feel differently to different people or depending on the day. I sometimes feel like I am in slow motion, like every movement of my finger on the keyboard takes minutes to execute. Other times I feel gravity’s pull on the weight of my body far more than usual. Sometimes I ache, feeling like I will never recover from the sheer act of sitting up in bed to reach that remote control. But in all of these sensations, things feel far from me.

I wish I could say it was just the objects that feel far from me. People and the things that are important to me often feel distant, guarded by an unbreakable barrier. While my husband is at work it feels like he is gone on an overseas trip from which he might never return. My mom being away on vacation feels like I will never see her or feel her support again. And anyone who unlike my husband and mom doesn’t live with me or within a few minutes from me, they feel so removed I might as well have dreamt them up. Who knows, maybe they are imaginary friends. And even when those people try to breach the great divide for me; they make plans to come visit, they are driving to me, they are at my doorstep, I have to send them away. Because the physical distance isn’t really the problem, even an inch away from their face I would feel like they were on another planet. I’m just an alien and whether they realize it or not, they truly don’t want to see me. I’m doing them a service by cancelling their visit. Just like I am doing the world a service by staying in my bedroom all day.

Thought distortions… fun things, huh?

Part of my hope with this blog is to help fill the space between me and those things that matter to me. Part of my hope with this blog is to help others who experience this sensation know that there are other people living on their planet. Somehow, I can write things here knowing they will be read by people to whom I could never directly express these feelings so candidly and yet be glad that perhaps they are reading them. Maybe the best friends will know they are still so important to me. Maybe my mom will know just how much I miss her when she is on vacation. Maybe someone else caught on their own planet of depression will feel as though someone has understood a little part of them.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

The Reason

There is nothing more discouraging, to my mind, than experiencing pain without understanding its cause. A belly ache is somehow more tolerable when you know you are bloated up from PMS. A papercut stings less when you remember getting it while filling out paperwork. Similarly, a depressive low, spike in anxiety or other huge shift in mood are far easier to bear when I can tie them to a cause. A source. A reason, or set of reasons.

Unfortunately, much of my experience with mental illness and recovery is accepting that there isn’t always an identifiable reason for my plight; apart from the reliably mundane, “because you have (insert diagnosis here).” I believe a lot of people can relate. That is why, when introspection, conversation or experience uncover a reason, it feels something akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

This evening, while talking with Tom, shortly after meeting with my inpatient psychiatrist, I figured it out. I realized the reason why the last two weeks have seen me return to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I told him the reason, as though I knew it all along. (Cue references to Glinda the good witch from Wizard of Oz)

Usually, it takes me much longer to figure out what has triggered my mood shift. That is, if it isn’t readily apparent (i.e. losing a loved one, etc.). For instance, I am only just beginning to piece together why the last two years have been such a challenge for me.

But today, I’ll celebrate my victory. I understand myself a bit better and am that much closer to passing this hurdle. And I will also celebrate that it appears as though I may get to go home on Friday morning!

Take care,

Fiona

Somehow, I can be both happy and depressed

The strange thing is, I am happy.

Three weeks ago, I married the love of my life. We just got back from our honeymoon. I have an adorable puppy who brings me joy. I love my family and friends. Yet, as I am writing this, I am in a low. I haven’t been sleeping well for weeks, I feel drained, I feel lonely, I feel hopeless, I feel like curling up in a ball in a dark room and waiting for this unwarranted feeling of dread to pass.

If you take mental illness out of the picture, things are going exceedingly well for me. That’s the thing that people so often don’t understand, it is possible to be happy with the things going on in your life and to still be suffering. I think that more often than not in my experience, I’m not able to pinpoint why I am in a depressive period or why my anxiety is through the roof.

Earlier this year I was hospitalized a couple of times when I was feeling particularly hopeless, empty and anxious. During those hospital stays everyone from well-meaning family members to friends and even mental health professionals were drilling me with questions:

“Why are you depressed? You have an amazing fiancé, aren’t you excited to get married?”

“Why are you so anxious? There’s nothing to be scared of!”

“How could you be suicidal when you move in to your new house in a couple of weeks!?”

“What do you mean you feel alone and empty? You have had so many visitors here every day!”

I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I had an answer to satisfy not only the questions of my family, friends and doctors, but my own questions of the same nature. The best I can say is that my mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on my current life experiences. It doesn’t only rear its ugly head when I am expecting it. It shows up when it wants to, it stays for however long it chooses to.

I often beat myself up over experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic when things are otherwise going so well in my life. Few things are more demoralizing to me than knowing how fortunate and privileged I am and yet experiencing emotional hell at the same time. I often think to myself, “You have it so good! Stop being such a baby! Grow up and get over this!” I compare myself to people in worse situations, people who are facing so much and stay so strong. It’s a comparison I would be better off ignoring for the shred of sanity I have left.

Don’t get me wrong, I experience bouts of depression and heightened anxiety during the rough times in my life. That’s a given. But those aren’t the only times when I am affected by my depression and anxiety. I don’t get to decide when they pop up. They are unwanted visitors at any time. They are akin to distant family members that you don’t really like who announce that they are coming for a quick visit and show up with giant suitcases and take over your house. I hate them, I resent them, I want them out of here.

When you are happy but depressed or anxious, it doesn’t feel like normal happiness. Depression is literally the opposite of happiness, so it’s very confusing. All I can say is that it is totally possible to be so excited to move in to your new house, so thankful to be marrying your best friend, so giddy to play with your puppy, but have all of those feelings of joy and happiness feel blurry and distant. You experience them, but only through the thick fog of depression. They are blurred, they are abstract. But they are nonetheless there.

This strange co-existence of happiness and depression, joy and anxiety is something I have had to come to terms with. It still nags at me, but accepting it makes it a lot easier to handle. I will never fully comprehend why I have had the worst depressive periods and highest anxiety of my life while I was engaged to my best friend, the love of my life. I will always resent my depression and anxiety for robbing me of the joy and celebration of this time in my life. But I can’t fixate on that, I have to focus on recovery.

To all my fellow sufferers out there. Whether things are going well in your life or not, I feel you. I cannot pretend to own your experience; we are all different. But I am with you. You are not alone.

Take care,

Fiona