Tag Archive | healing

Depression Remission?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I mentioned that I’m supposed to go off my antidepressants this spring. Her reaction? “Oh, that’s good!” And that’s a pretty normal reaction; I’ve the same reaction in the same situation. Why? Why is that good? Because it’s supposed to indicate that I’m “all better now”? Because I’m supposed to be able to handle my emotions on my own? And maybe that is/should be the goal of happy meds: help you get over the hump of depression, when they can, so you can get back to living a happy life without them. I suppose it’s no different than blood pressure meds, or meds for diabetes. If you can get your body to a point where it’s healthy enough without them, it’s a good thing to be able to stop taking them. I’m just sensitive to the subject of meds for mental health, and when the reaction to going off them is “Good!”, then I start thinking, “Wait, does that mean it’s bad that I was on them?” And the answer to that is always NO, it’s not bad. If you struggle with depression and can’t manage it on your own, and your doctor has prescribed them, and you take them properly, and they HELP? That’s not bad, that’s great.

Am I all better now? Who knows, right? I believe my depression was caused (for lack of a better word) by a lot of stressful, crappy things going on in my life at the same time, and my mind/body sort of collapsed. So now that I’m past the worst of the stress/grief/pain/anger, I am in a much better place emotionally. I feel happy these days. I worried about my broken foot bringing me down again, and it did, but I didn’t realize how much until it was healed. It’s like you don’t know how much something hurts until it stops, right? I’m back to my calm, peaceful, content place again. THAT’S what’s good, whether it’s with meds or without. And I *think* I’ll be fine to stop the meds, I really do. But it’s still scary. I don’t want to go back to where I was before I started taking them. And if I do, I’ll have no reservations about going back on them.

So it’s not “good” that I’m going off my meds; it’s “I’m glad you’re doing well!” Just like it’s not “bad” if someone starts taking meds; it’s “I’m sorry you’re struggling.”

I know what my friend meant; that part is fine. But it just got me thinking, and I want to be aware of the effects of my words. Maybe I’m overthinking this, maybe I’m too sensitive. The most important thing when dealing with depression is finding something that works for YOU, be it exercise, diet, therapy, meds, or any combination of things. For me, it’s been my meds, and my knitting. (I’m going to start exercising soon. I think. I mean, I am. Sighhhh.) The meds may go away, but the knitting will be here forever. IMG_5007

Thoughts on Recovery: Warning, I’m Whining

Not so long ago, on most “normal” days, all I wanted to do was hang out at home. If I could rest on the couch, watch TV, and play with yarn, it was a really good day. I loved the solitude, the silence. But now, I have all those things each and every day. I’ve had lots of solitude, lots of couch/TV/yarn time, and to be honest, I’m sick of it. I want to go to a yarn store, a bead store, Target, even the grocery store! It’s only been nine days since I broke my foot, and the orthopedist wants me in the boot and non-weight-bearing for at least another four weeks. What the heck am I going to do with myself?

I know: I have people who would come visit, who would run errands for/with me if I needed. Many people have told me, “Just let me know if you need anything!” And I’m extremely grateful for them. But it’s not the same. They can’t help me with what’s really bothering me: the 15 stairs I have to hop up and down, trying to shower while standing on one leg, dealing with the lip on the floor going into the kitchen that forces me to stand up, drag my chair over, and then sit back down EVERY SINGLE TIME I go into the kitchen. To go anywhere means hopping down the eight or nine stairs outside, and then hopping back up when I come home. What I want, what I need, is to be self-sufficient, independent. I’m frustrated, missing the ability to just get up and walk/drive wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go.

And I know, I’m extremely lucky. It could be worse. I could be without that foot permanently. I could be facing surgery, a longer healing time, permanent walking aides. In the grand scheme of things, five weeks of downtime for a broken bone is nothing. I keep telling myself that, and sometimes it works. It helps that I’m feeling a little better. The foot doesn’t hurt too much most of the time, and when it does I have meds that help a little. When I’m sitting in a normal chair or walking for too long, it swells up, but I can elevate it and ice it, and that helps. Using the crutches aggravated the tendonitis in my elbow, but I have a knee scooter now, so hopefully that will ease up soon.

It sounds so great, doesn’t it? A good excuse to sit around, be lazy and watch TV. But in reality, it sucks most of the time. I feel guilty that my husband has to work full-time and then come home to drive kids around, run errands, wash the dinner dishes. I feel useless right now. I’m not able to do anything for the family that I was doing before. I’m just dead weight. I dread getting up every morning, dread the struggle of getting around with the heavy boot. In bed, nothing hurts. I can pretend that everything is still okay.

Wow. I didn’t realize it was so dark in my head today. Sorry about that. I think I’m going to take my tea and my crafty stuff and go sit in the dining room for a while, at a table, on a chair that’s not a couch. I’m going to enjoy the sunshine coming in the bay windows and listen to music, leave the TV off for a while. I’m going to try to hop up to the craft room and prep for the craft show I’m doing next week. (Thank goodness for my Knitting SIL, who will be my arms and legs that day!!) I’m going to try to rein in this feeling-sorry-for-myself thing I’ve got going, focus on what I can still do and accept help for the things I can’t.

I almost don’t want to hit publish on this post. Maybe it’s too self-indulgent. I’m really not looking for people to fawn over me and say, “Oh, poor you!” But it feels good to be honest here. And I think my feelings aren’t that uncommon: people do get hurt and people do get frustrated and people do feel sorry for themselves. And then they take a deep breath and move forward. So that’s what I’m going to try to do today. I will appreciate the beautiful sunny day, even if I have to do it from inside.

Better Living Through Drugs

“I tried so hard to do it without medication.” “Don’t let them put you on those crazy pills!” “Antidepressants are just the easy way out.” And just today, “Antidepressants are causing an epidemic of violence.”

I’ve seen or heard all of those, and today I want to call Bullsh*t.

Antidepressants are NOT the enemy. Antidepressants are nothing to be scared of or ashamed of. There is a hashtag going around right now, #MedicatedandMighty, that was started to combat the shame associated with treating mental health issues with medication. If you want to read how it started, click here.

But at the same time, there are articles like this one that claim antidepressants cause violence, despite counterarguments like this one. Are crimes committed by people struggling with mental illness? Hell yes! The fact that some of them are on or have been on meds does not mean the antidepressants are causing the violence. It’s more likely that the mental illness is causing the violence. It’s more likely that either the meds weren’t the right ones for them, and thus weren’t working properly, or that they stopped taking the meds against medical advice.

ALL drugs can have side effects, and that’s why they should all be taken under the supervision of a medical professional.

Medication is not the right avenue for everyone. But it does help a vast majority of people, help they couldn’t get otherwise. And that’s why it’s dangerous to proclaim that “antidepressants are bad, they’re the enemy”, shaming people into thinking they’re not an acceptable solution.

Does proper diet and exercise help your mental health? Absolutely. Do people suffering through clinical depression have the ability to fight the depression enough to eat the right foods and force themselves onto the treadmill? In my experience, nope, not at all. Sure, that’s the easy answer: “Oh, just exercise more, then you’ll feel better!” I confess, I have been guilty of that thought in that past. But then I went through it myself and it made me realize how stupid that can be. Now, I can’t help but wonder if anyone who says that has any idea what kind of hold clinical depression can have on your motivation, your self-esteem, your ability to do ANYTHING. I certainly didn’t, until I was smack-dab in the middle of it. I had to find a way to get through that dark cloud before I could even see the benefit of exercise.

I have been on an anti-depressant for two years, and should have been on it for longer. I was a mother working full-time in a stressful job (is there any other kind, really?), I’d recently switched locations at work so I’d left all my friends and was working with new people. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, my FIL was diagnosed with congestive heart disease. My FIL died suddenly. I decided to quit my job to spend more time with my family, but before I could even give notice, my father died. Three weeks later, I left my job and became a stay-at-home mom. And for the summer, it was great. My kids kept me busy, taking care of my dad’s dog kept me busy, doing all the “running a home” stuff kept me busy.

Then the kids went back to school. Suddenly I was alone all day, with nothing to distract my brain from the stress and grief. I cried. A lot. I was short-tempered and snappish with my kids and husband. I had no desire to do ANYTHING. For quite a while, I thought it was normal, and it probably was. I’d been through a lot, was still dealing with the losses as well as being a part-time caregiver for my non-driving mom. And then there was the big question of “What now? Who am I now that I’m not a full-time retail manager?” And I didn’t have an answer.

Time didn’t heal me. It didn’t get any better. I spent many months on the couch endlessly watching Grey’s Anatomy, pretending I was crying because the story lines were sad or moving. They were, they are, but not to that extent. I cried at everything, at the drop of the hat. I was constantly on the verge of tears. And I was defensive about it, arguing with my husband when he started suggesting I go see a therapist. I fought hard to put up a good front around other people, but it was exhausting. I slept hard and long, and still felt tired all day long. I ate like crap because I wanted *something* that brought me pleasure, and I love junk food. Exercise was hard, too hard. I couldn’t get my brain to take the thought that “exercise might help”–which I totally knew–and force my body to take action. And something new for me: social anxiety. I’m an introvert, always have been, but I had always enjoyed going out with friends. Until I didn’t. I obsessed about it ahead of time, wishing I could just stay home where it was quiet and safe. It made my stomach hurt to think about having to socialize and talk to people and pretend to be happy.

That was the breaking point actually. I had dinner plans with a couple of old friends, and all day I was literally sobbing at the thought of it. I cried ALL DAY LONG. I was a knot of anxiety. I texted my friend, explained the situation and apologized but said I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t do it. She was great, very understanding and supportive. Then, still sitting on the stairs, hunched over, I texted my husband and said I was ready, I needed help. I called the therapist the same day and made an appointment. Those few small steps were a huge release for me. For the first time in many months, I felt the tiniest sliver of hope.

At my first appointment, I cried through my whole story, answering all her questions about my feelings and behavior. And at the end, she said, “I really think you’re suffering from clinical depression, my friend. I want to keep seeing you. But how do you feel about maybe trying some medication?”

Yes, please. I needed help, and I knew it. I knew people who had been on meds, had seen how it helped them, and I was more than willing to try. Something had to help because I couldn’t do it alone. And as loving and supportive as my husband had been, that wasn’t fixing it either.

I started a low dose and it helped almost immediately. Like my therapist said, the meds ideally should still let you feel the emotions without letting them cripple you, and that’s what they did for me. I was still grieving, but I could feel joy again too. I felt so much better, it was astounding. I wish I’d done it ages ago.

And guess what? I started exercising and eating better. And yep, that felt good. But would it be enough to keep me going?

Winter came. My husband’s grandfather, who we all loved dearly, passed away. Then my dad’s dog died. And for some reason, that was the thing that knocked my feet out from under me again. I was devastated. And I knew it wasn’t about the dog as much as it was about him being a link to my dad, but I just couldn’t seem to get past it. My days were dark again. It was horrible, especially since I had so recently been reminded of what happy was like, and I couldn’t find my way back there. I was back to crying, sad TV, and skipping my workouts.

I went back to my therapist for several more sessions. They helped some, but not enough. She suggesting upping my dose, which meant an appointment with my doctor for approval. My crying, my fatigue, my helplessness, all of those things were preventing me from living a full life. It could be better. *I* could be better, and with the increased dose, I started to get there.

A few months later, at a checkup, my doctor ordered bloodwork. It revealed hypothyroidism, or low thyroid levels. I would need medication to even that out, and here’s the kicker: hypothyroidism can cause depression and fatigue. Now, does that mean this was my problem all along? There’s no way to know for sure, but I doubt it. Certainly not that first bout with depression that hit me like a ton of bricks, when bad things were happening left and right. My brain had struggled to cope for so long that finally it was like, “Dude. Stop. I can’t even.” But the second round, after my dog died and I was still struggling months later? I think it’s possible, because once we got the dose adjusted and my thyroid levels were normal again, I felt like a new person.

I FEEL like a new person. My brain isn’t foggy anymore. The world is clear and bright again. I find joy in little things. I am content in my small, quiet everyday life. I still don’t have an answer to the question of “Who am I, and what will I do with my life?” but it doesn’t cripple me anymore. It’s a big question mark that I get to explore and discover.

I am still on my antidepressants. At my last therapy session, my therapist recommended I try going off the meds in the spring. Knowing that winter months are hard for me (as they are for most people), she didn’t want me to stop then. But come next spring, I’ll be cutting back. It’s scary, because I don’t want to go back to how I felt before. But I also don’t want to keep taking them just because of fear. My meds did their job: they helped me, held me up while I was healing.

So here’s the bottom line, what I hope you take from my story: antidepressants were a tool for me, one tool in my fight against depression. They weren’t the only thing, but they were absolutely a key ingredient. I was lucky that the first med we tried worked for me. Sometimes you have to try several to get the right med at the right dose. And yes, absolutely talk to your primary care physician. Get yourself checked out, do that bloodwork if s/he orders it, because there might be something else going on.

But if that’s all clear and meds are recommended, don’t be afraid of them. And PLEASE, don’t be ashamed of them. It is so hard to ask for help; believe me, I know. I suffered for many long months because I wouldn’t ask for help. But I am living a new life since I did. I suffered no adverse side effects from my med, and I know many people with the same experience. You want your life to be happy, right? Why would you deny yourself something that might help? If it doesn’t work, fine, quit them. If you want to try diet and exercise, go for it, and if it works, wonderful! That’s the goal. But don’t assume that there is one answer for everyone, and don’t judge someone for taking a different road than you. Antidepressants have helped many, many people live a happy life. And there is nothing shameful in that.

Happy Yarniversary to Me!

That’s right, it’s been two years this month since Yarn and I fell in love, and I wanted to take a moment to celebrate our relationship. We’re very close now, but it wasn’t always that way. Another title for this post might be “Why did you learn to crochet/knit?”

In March of 2012, we lost my father-in-law. The next month, my father. The month after that, I left my full-time job to stay at home. My mother would be moving home from Arizona and I wanted to be there for her, and my kids were increasingly busy and I wanted to be there for them too. Mostly I simply couldn’t handle the job anymore, or didn’t want to put in the effort. You might say I had a wee breakdown, or whatever. In any case, after seven years I suddenly had A LOT of free time.

That first summer was delightful. We’d adopted my father’s dog, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with him and the kids and just being quiet and peaceful, trying to process all the crap going on in my head. There was little stress; I truly enjoyed having so much time to spend with my family.

Then the kids went back to school, my mother was settled into her new house, and it was just the dog and me. Samson was older, quiet, didn’t need much interaction throughout the day. What was I supposed to do? Sure, I did grocery shopping, started cooking dinner. I cleaned (occasionally) and I ran errands. But none of those things filled all my time.

I read a lot, of course. Lots of light, fluffy novels because I couldn’t handle the darkness in the mysteries I used to love. I shared book ideas with my mothers and my sisters. My daughter takes piano lessons from my BIL, so I’d sit there once a week and chat with Pam, my SIL, about books and her homeschooling and whatnot. In one conversation, we were talking about the struggle to find challenging, age-appropriate books for our kids, who are gifted readers. She mentioned a series she’d recently found called Chicks with Sticks by Elizabeth Lenhard, about a group of high school girls who start a knitting group. I love YA books so I read them first, and loved them. But more than the stories or the characters, I was entranced by the descriptions of the yarn, the yarn stores, the act of knitting, and most of all, the soothing, healing quality it had for the main character.

I wanted that. I wanted all of it. The yarn, the beauty, the healing. Soon after I finished the books, I went to a used-book sale with my mom. Laying there faceup in the crafts section was a book called The Cool Girl’s Guide to Crochet. I’m not a superstitious person by nature, but this had to be a sign. I bought the book. The next day I went to Joann and bought a learn-to-crochet set and two skeins of cheap yarn and set about teaching myself to crochet.

I did a lot of little squares as I learned each stitch and how to change colors. Then I learned tunisian crochet so I could make the cutest project in the book: a cell phone cozy with a long strap. This was for my daughter for Christmas.60728_10151172999095918_1005085249_nAfter that I was on a roll, whipping up presents left and right. I won’t say they looked good, even though I thought so at the time. I made several scarves, a baby blanket, and a Kindle cozy. I was a woman obsessed. My stash grew quickly as I discovered the benefits of yarns beyond the cheapest, scratchiest acrylic. I branched out into purses and shawls and baby bibs. I craved the challenge of new stitches and harder patterns. I spent hours with an F hook making this multicolor wave scarf.IMG_3187Within a few months, I’d finished my first yarn garment, the Chevron Lace Cardigan.IMG_2029The yarn was a wonderful distraction from my grief. I still felt it, but it was muted. As soon as I mastered something, though, it didn’t distract me anymore. That wasn’t okay. So eventually crochet wasn’t enough. No, I watched my SIL wield those two needles and I wanted that. Knitting produced a softer, squishier fabric than crochet. I loved the feel of it. So during one piano lesson, I sat down with my SIL and she taught me the knit stitch and got me going on my first knitting project. She was a great teacher, patient and thorough, and soon I had a completed cup cozy.IMG_1875Impatient to wait for another lesson, I taught myself the purl stitch and boy, was that awkward. I remember sitting there trying to knit a dishcloth and it was going SO SLOWLY and it was SO HARD to get my needle into the stitches. I was frustrated but I was determined to master this knitting thing, and hey, you can bet I wasn’t thinking about being sad!

Over time my tension eased and the purling came smoothly. In fact, I love to purl. I love seed stitch, switching from knit to purl and back again. Yarn fills my life now, even as I’m coming back from that deep valley of grief. I’m learning to consider myself a fiber artist, though it’s hard. My yarn has been with me on hard days when all I could do was watch TV and crochet. My yarn has been with me on happy days, when I’ve gone to family parties and chatted while knitting. I’ve made things that my family loves (I think) and things that strangers love and are willing to pay money for. I’ve petted alpaca and angora, mink and merino, bamboo and cotton. I’ve got a large, enviable yarn stash and a diverse collection of hooks and needles, but it’s never enough. I still want more!

I know all you other yarn-lovers have seen the articles proclaiming the health benefits of knitting and crocheting. I can’t say much about the physical benefits, because my wrist definitely lets me know when I’ve been crocheting too much. But the emotional benefits are huge. Yarn cushioned my fall and helped my pull myself back up. I’m not at the top yet (are we ever really at the top?) but I’m so much closer than I was two years ago. So thank you, Yarn. I owe you a lot.IMG_3443