Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Depression is NOT a 4-Letter Word

Mental health has as much to do with phyical health and fitness as a healthy diet and exercise regimen do.  Therefore, you get to read my thoughts on depression:
Ok, this is a serious issue for many people, so there will be no funny pictures or "making light of" in this post. (Well, who knows, I might try to lighten the mood halfway through, but probably not.)

Depression is an illness. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is usually a lack of enough seratonin, or lack of enough seratonin receptors. (source: www.webmd.com)

Why am I writing about this?  Well, for a long time I thought there was something wrong with "me."  Why can't I just be happy?  Why do I let everything get to me?  Why am I so mad, sad, upset, etc. all the time? And then I would be fine for  months.  Sometimes I thought I was going crazy (and I had a friend who used to say that about me when I was younger.)  Well, he was kind of right, I was a little crazy, but I didn't know it.  And, it took me a long time to figure out that it wasn't my fault.

All my life I have had mood swings.  And sometimes the downswings lasted for a while.  I didn't know what they were because as far as I can remember, they started when I was 11 yrs old.  Most of the time I was a regular kid, teenager, and then young adult.  I was happy.  I had a bunch of friends.  I had a loving family.  I went out and did fun things.  But every once in a while, something would set off "the mood."  Sometimes I didn't even know it was coming on.  In high school I remember that there were quite a few times when one of my friends would look at me and ask me what was wrong.  I would say nothing, and I meant it.  They would tell me I just looked sad.  So I would shrug my shoulders and move on with my day.  However, usually by the end of the day, 3 or 4 other friends would have asked the same thing, and then of course I was sad. Who wants a bunch of people telling them that they look sad when they think they are in a good mood all day?

There were many times that I would hit these low points.  And it's hard to explain unless you've been there.  But you feel kind of blah, kind of stuck, and you feel like no one really understands you. So you tend to pull away, and then you feel isolated.  I remember that there were a few of these times that it just seemed easier to end things.  I never really decided to do that, and I'm really glad that I never did.  But this is one of those things that comes along with the downswings, so I thought it important to mention.

Anyway, I didn't get officially diagnosed until I was 31 yrs old.  I had my first child the year before.  It was rough.  I had a rough C-section recovery.  My baby did not like to sleep, and he definitely did not like to nap.  But this is some normal new parent stuff.  You get used to it and you move on.  Well, at around 9 months old he stopped nursing.  Well, I was not ready for that.  And it wasn't gradual.  He just stopped in the middle of the day.  WHAT!?!  I didn't know what to do...well, he pretty much stopped eating anything else the next day.  Long story short, he ended up being fine.  He was diagnosed with Silent Reflux and treated, but that is a whole other story.
I spent the next 2-3 months pumping all the time and watching the amount go down, down, down.  I tried everything I could think of to get him to nurse again, but it didn't happen.  This is when the BIG DEPRESSION set in.  I kind of think it was like I had post-partum depression 9 months later, but who knows.
I basically spent the next 6 months going deeper and deeper into this depression.  I was sad all the time.  I was apathetic.  I would cry for no reason.  I would just sit and stare at nothing.  Basically I felt like I was in this deep hole with no way out.  I asked a friend of mine if she thought I was depressed.  She said she'd been telling me for months to go talk to the doctor about it.  You see, I didn't even remember her telling me that.  So that was it.  I went to my doc and was diagnosed right away.  I came home with medicine and noticed a huge difference by the end of the week.

The story doesn't really end here though, but I'll go through the rest more quickly.
- I got pregnant with baby #2 a month later and stopped my meds.
- I had baby #2 8.5 months later.
- I was nursing baby #2 for 3 months when I realized I was starting to lose it again.
- I got a lot of conflicting info about nursing mothers and anti-depressants
- I decided to suck it up so I could finish nursing without possibly hurting my baby. 
But this time I was more aware of what I was facing.  And I went to talk therapy so I could get out all the crap with an unbiased outside person.  So I made it through, but it wasn't pretty.  Good thing my husband is a saint!

Basically after all that, I had a number of months that were good, but eventually I realized that all the talk therapy in the world wasn't going to fix the depression.  So I went back to the doctor and went back on medication.  I have been on "meds" for 6+ years now.  And I have been able to work on finding better coping mechanisms, be more aware of my moods and what may be causing them, and work with my doctor to modify my dose to what works for me.  I've even had to switch medicines a few times. 

Anyway, the biggest reason for posting this here on my blog was to explain that depression is NOT a four letter word.  But I get it.  You've read my story now and you know what I've been through.  You probably now know a lot more about me than most of my friends did for years.  Because I also thought of depression as something I should have been able to control.  I was embarrassed that I had to go on medication to be able to be happy.  I mean, why can't I just be happy?  Because my brain just doesn't work that way.  And no matter how hard I try, or what I do, I CAN NOT make my brain create more seratonin just because I want it to.

So I'm not embarrassed any more.  But it took a long time to realize that it was nothing to be embarrassed about.  Diabetics need insulin, should they be embarrassed?  No, and depression is the same.

I've included a list of symptoms and some quotes from other sites.  I hope you found this helpful, and if you think you or someone you know is dealing with this, please consult a physician about it.
And remember, DEPRESSION is NOT a 4-letter word.

"The signs and symptoms of depression include
loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, including sex;
loss of appetite, with weight loss, or overeating, with weight gain;
loss of emotional expression (flat affect);
a persistently sad, anxious, or empty mood;
feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness;
social withdrawal;
unusual fatigue, low energy level, a feeling of being slowed down;
sleep disturbance and insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping;
trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions;
unusual restlessness or irritability;
persistent physical problems such as headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain that do not respond to treatment,
and thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts."
(source: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2947)

"Mental illness is frequently seen as a moral issue or an issue of weakness," Arias explained. "It is a condition no different from cancer or other chronic diseases. People need to accept the difficulties they are having and avail themselves of the resources that are available."
(source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/medical/health/medical/mentalhealth/story/2011-09-05/CDC-Half-of-Americans-will-suffer-from-mental-health-woes/50250702/1)

"Clinical depression is not a temporary case of the "blues." People with depression may experience recurrent episodes of depression that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months."
(source: http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=050CDCA2-C158-FBAC-16ACCE9DC8B7026C)

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