Befriending the Blahs
Lessons from Major Depressive Disorder
It’s Tuesday. I have to look at the calendar to know what day it is, because when I’m in the thick of it, the days blur one into the next and weeks can go by without my noticing. “It” is major depressive disorder.
My son was a baby when I was first diagnosed with it, though the symptoms go back years and years, well into my childhood. My son is 19 now; he’ll be 20 in October. Which means I have been living with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder for nearly that long.
It’s chronic, and it’s not going away. My brain is just wired a bit differently, the chemical balance is off, and treating it is difficult. I’ve tried various medications over the years, but for me, the side effects of those medications were worse than the depression itself. Neurontin made me suicidal. Effexor turned me into a lactating zombie, and the withdrawal was the most awful thing I’ve ever experienced.
My ability to find the right chemical cocktail to treat the depression is limited by my weird body chemistry and my slow heart rate. One of the lesser known side effects of many anti-depressants is slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, which would be great for those with high blood pressure, but if my heart gets any slower than it already is, it could forget to beat, and that would be bad. I already have problems with fainting spells from low blood pressure; I don’t want to make that any worse. After many attempts with pills that didn’t actually help, I gave up on pills.
Meditation helps, when I remember to meditate. I did great in January, only missing three days of meditation. I have not done so great in February, only meditating for three days.
Exercise helps, but it’s winter, and I don’t have room to work out inside and I can’t afford a gym membership, so I eagerly await the days when it’s warm and not wet so I can walk downtown or to the beach or just anywhere to get out of this room that I love and hate at the same time.
What I eat affects the depression as well. Don’t underestimate the brain gut connection; your gut has more neurons than your brain does.
These are things I know because I have to know them. They’re lessons I’ve been forced to learn by my major depressive disorder, because if I didn’t learn them, the depression would win.
Some days, I feel like giving up. Some days, I feel like I’ll never get my shit together, and I should just sit here alone in my room and fade away to nothing. This is the form my depression tends to take. I’m not suicidal; I just don’t want to exist in the world anymore. I have no motivation to do anything, not even take care of myself. I have a whiteboard calendar on my wall, and when I take a shower, I make a note on my calendar. A visual reminder, so I don’t go too long without, because when the depression creeps in and the days begin to blur, I just don’t care enough to do anything at all.
When I’m in it, my sleep changes.
When I’m coming out of it, my sleep changes.
When the depression is deepest, I stay awake all night, unable to sleep, plagued by insomnia, and then around 4:00 a.m., I finally pass out from exhaustion, and sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon. This repeats for days, sometimes weeks, before it shifts to a more “normal” sleep cycle, bed by 1:00 a.m. and awake by 9:00 a.m.
I used to try to fight it, to force my body to stick to the same schedule day after day after day. I’d set alarms. Multiple alarms, because the first one always got snoozed.
But I work for myself, why was I trying to force my body to do something it didn’t want to do? Why wasn’t I listening to my body? So now, when I want to sleep, I sleep, and when I’m ready to wake up, I wake up. I take naps when I feel like taking naps. I flow with my internal rhythm.
Time flows differently depending on how deep the depression is. Days go faster, blending together, when I’m deeply depressed. I never seem to have enough time to do anything when I’m depressed, no matter how much I try. Time moves faster and I move slower.
And then one day, I wake up, and I feel better. Not perfect, just better. The day goes a bit slower. Not so slow that it’s unbearable, but slow enough that I’m actually able to make a list and get things done. I like those days. I feel productive on those days. I’ve learned to take advantage of those days. Structure my projects so there is no deadline, I just moved forward as I’m able, and eventually, they get done and launched into the world. Whenever I set deadlines, I never make them anyway. Depression creeps back in and I forget what project I was excited about.
Today isn’t a bad day, but it’s not a good day, either. I was awake before 10:00 a.m., but the fog is still there, settled over my mind so I can’t really focus clearly on what it is I want to do.
I look at my notebook; I’m working on a course to teach people how to create magical lives, to incorporate enchantment into their day-to-day, and I’m not feeling very magical today. So instead, I do not much of anything. I’ll watch something on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I’ll read a book. I’ll take a nap. I’ll eat something that attempts to be healthy. And I’ll wait for the fog to lift.
Another hard learned lesson from depression: forcing myself to do something when my brain and body don’t want to do it doesn’t help. I end up exhausted, anxious, and the quality of work is shit anyway, so it all ends up getting tossed or redone, and the depression gets extended by ignoring what my body is telling me that I need.
Better to let myself rest. Healing comes in the rest.