Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Monster Part 2

If anything was going to be a catalyst for my monster to come back it was losing one of my best friends. After the instinct just to get through the few days following Randy’s death wore away, I became increasingly worried about going into another depression. Sure I was still on medication, but the types and dosages were already being decreased and my stability was better than ever. Over the years, I’ve learned one of the worst curses of clinical depression. Constantly asking yourself, is this reaction normal? When it comes to something as terrifying as watching a friend die, I don’t think there are normal or abnormal reactions. There are as many ways of handling it as there are people in the world. But nevertheless, an internal line needed to be drawn as to when my recovery was starting to look abnormal.

I took two approaches to dealing with this without my depression getting the best of me. One was to look at all the progress I had made and the prospect of six years of recovery down the drain was as overwhelming as my grief. As a grad student with deadlines looming and my entire career on the line, I realized letting myself get pulled under by the current lapping at my heels literally wasn’t an option. I decided I had better fight this thing or I’d let myself and Dean down as well.

Randy had his own monsters which were ironically under control when he was diagnosed with leukemia. We talked about depression and mental illness a lot and both took solace in the fact that a disproportionate amount of intelligent tend to suffer from this disease. He knew better than anyone what it was like to struggle with this. The second approach I took to making sure I didn’t spiral after he died was knowing that it would upset him if I did. He wouldn’t have wanted that for me and I like to think he would be proud of the strength and perseverance I found within myself to convince myself that yes, this reaction is normal.

So why am I suddenly telling you all this? There are a few reasons. The biggest reason is that I am finally free of prescription medication though I still take dietary supplements, get plenty of mental and physical exercise, and constantly assess my environment to help regulate my moods. I’ve noticed a lot of changes since I weaned myself off of my medication, the biggest one being this sense of being alive that I haven’t felt in a very long time. If the deepest part of my depression was a coma, the medication was still a general grogginess. Today, I am awake. The moods are there, the highs and the lows. I didn’t realize I had given up the highs to get rid of the lows and it’s good to have them back. I know I needed to take them six years ago when I started but I know even more now that I don’t and that is the best feeling.

I’m not really writing this to increase awareness about depression. As a society we are advanced enough to know that it is out there and that there is help. We are aware that psychotherapy and medication in some combination will get it under control. People will disagree as to the causes, the catalysts, the treatments, nature versus nurture and so on and so forth. What I don’t think we as a society are advanced enough to know is that it’s not something to be ashamed of. If you have this disease, it isn’t your fault. You aren’t an alien from another planet. People have high cholesterol, high blood sugar, lactose intolerance, etc etc and they are not looked down upon for being unable to regulate these human functions. Nor should we look be looked down upon for being unable to control moods and emotions. It is all apart of the collective human condition.


fermicat said...

You said, "I didn’t realize I had given up the highs to get rid of the lows and it’s good to have them back."

That was my experience as well. I went through a period of taking antidepressants, and they were a lifesaver at the time, but I was glad to finally be through with them. I've been off of the medication for about 4 years now and things seem under control. I think that there were some external factors contributing back then that do not apply now (i.e. a bad marriage that is over, and a move back to the land of sunshine and warm weather).

Scott said...

I think you just tapped into the power of the mind. Now don't take this the wrong way, because I fully recognize how chemical deficiencies cause depression, that no amount of positive thought can counteract. But...

I used to live in a state of constant... call it dread maybe. I was up and down. Relationships kept repeating themselves with different faces playing the exact same role, like a soap opera where suddenly a new actor appears (the role of Bo will now be played by...).

I went to a psychologist and explained what I was doing to sabotage every relationship I ever had. She looked me in the eye and told me that she would be more worried had I not protected myself, that I was doing the right thing.

Something clicked for me that day. I decided that I wasn't going to be depressed anymore, I wasn't going to hate my father or mother, and I wasn't going to blame my problems on any outside source. Quite a leap from a simple statement, but inside I knew it was the right thing.

It seems to me that Randy's passing had a similar impact on you. By living up to the expectations of his memory, your mind made a decision, enabling you to overcome the ghosts that haunt you, even if you don't understand why they have it out for you.

I'm probably way out of line here, but I truly believe that once we've made up our minds to be strong, that we have all the tools to make it happen.

Runner Girl FL said...

I know you have been decreasing the doses of the prescriptions for a long time. I'm glad you reached your goal of leaving them behind!!

e.b. said...

That was so well said. Strong, powerful and emotional. Really really well done. Thank you for sharing.

magnetbabe said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I really wasn't expecting to feel better after being off the antidepressants. I thought I might have to make adjustments that in the long run would be worth it. It sounds like you had a similar feeling. I'm encouraged by your 4 years of being under control.

I don't think you are out of line. But I do think you are simplifying things a bit. I honestly don't think I could have handled Randy's death the way I did if I hadn't been already correcting the underlying problem. I didn't use pure resolve to fend off depression, I used the knowledge that keeping active would help. Talking it out whenever I needed to would help. Getting plenty of rest and not overextending myself just to stop from thinking about it would help. It was a combination of resolve and knowing what would keep my moods (or chemistry if you prefer) in check. Something I wouldn't have known to do six years ago.

Thank you for sharing your story. Every person is different and I love hearing that you could turn it around without medication. Some people are built differently and need the boost that antidepressants can give. I was a little unhappy with my "high cholesterol" analogy yesterday, it didn't quite fit right to me. But now I see even more that it holds. If you go to the doctor and s/he tells you to make lifestyle changes it will often work. Sometimes diet and exercise alone won't do it. ;)

Three and a half weeks now. At first it was a rough go- even though I was weaning myself off I felt kinda crappy (dizzy, out of it, etc) which really had me worried. In the last 10 days or so I'm convinced it's completely out of my system and I'm doing great.

Thanks for your kind words. They mean so much to me.

Scott said...

I think you are right that I was oversimplifying. That worked in my case, and sometimes I think there are drugs that would really help me out a lot, because my mind works in certain ways that I wish it didn't, and conditions occur that draw it out. I have more personal experience too that supports the use of anti-depressants that I won't share, but suffice to say, I totally believe in their use. Sometimes they are misdiagnosed, and maybe sometimes when positive thinking would work, but sometimes they are just needed.

jenbeauty said...

So nice to hear that you have it under control and what you have to do to keep it that way.

I am sorry to hear about your friend, my deepest sympathy to you.

lefty_grrrl said...

I don't know what medications you were on, but I took Paxil and Lithium when I was a teen, and it was quite obvious to me that I was shut down. There were no highs, lows, or in betweens. It was a general nothingness that eased me into away from wanting to die to not caring, to wanting to live. I haven't taken medication in nearly 10 years. I'm glad I took it when I did, but I'm glad it was short-lived. I think all feelings are good, even the bad ones. Like you said, it's why we're human.

Jackie said...

so glad you choose to share this, what a powerful story.

magnetbabe said...

Welcome back and thank you for your kind words.

My meds didn't numb me quite so much. It's strange because even the lows are alright now because I'm enjoying having emotion back. It's when the lows are debilitating that you need them.

Thanks for the encouragement and for stopping by on your vacation (sorry it's such a downer over here...)

Hot4Teacha said...

I hope someday to be in a place where I can take good care of myself and live medication free. You inspire me, sweetie, you really do!