I'm on the verge of adulthood, womanhood, self-discovery, creativity, and sometimes a whole lot of emotions! Feel free to follow my journey!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Depression Part 2: Pushing Through

Dysthymia - a mood disorder consisting of chronic depression, with less severe but longer lasting symptoms than major depressive disorder. As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, sufferers may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members, or friends.

I'm not a doctor or a psychologist, but I have been in my body for the past 23 1/2 years and I'm pretty sure I've had dysthymia for the last 11 or so of those years. The last two sentences in the above definition ring most true for me. For a really long time I just thought I wasn't a positive person. I wasn't an energetic person. That was just me, who I was, who I'd always be. I would have good days/weeks/months but the "meh" feeling was pervasive throughout my teens and beyond. 

One of my main symptoms has been fatigue. In high school I was a huge perfectionist so I often pushed past the fatigue just to do what I had to do. But in retrospect, what normal 18 year old goes to bed every night at 9:30? When I got to college, I realized that no matter how hard I pushed myself I would never feel like I was doing well enough, so I pushed less and less. By senior year it was tough to get myself to go to classes, even though I was on medication and wasn't feeling particularly horrible.

Now I have jobs, which changes the game a lot. If I don't work, I don't get paid (for the most part). So I push myself for work and often forgo everything else. I haven't kept in touch with friends or made new ones the way I had hoped I would. This creates a cycle where I'm lonely, so I'm bummed out, so I don't make an effort, so I'm lonely - rinse and repeat several times a month.

I had the easiest time making friends in college that I've ever had in my life. Now I feel like I'm spoiled. I'm like a desperate single woman (pardon the sexist metaphor) looking for "Mr. Right" but being super picky. I want someone who I instantly *click* with and I want it right now, damnit.

My roommate and I have been talking quite a lot about "pushing past the tiredness" - which in my case also includes pushing past the depression. Doing things - both with people and by myself - that I may not feel like doing immediately but end up being worth it afterwards.

This afternoon, after a full workday, I sat outside in my backyard working on voice stuff, spent some quality time with the BF, went for a drink and dinner with my roommate and took a scooter ride with the BF. Oh, and wrote this riveting blog, haha. And you know what? I feel good. Still tired, but in a satisfied way. This is sort of a novel feeling for me, but maybe its the way people without dysthmia feel after most days. And that's something I could definitely get used to.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Depression: The Insider's Stigma

So I had this whole post planned on gender-roles/stereotypes in my relationship and blah, blah and it was partially typed and I never finished it because, honestly, I just don't care about that right now. And since this blog is turning more therapeutic than political, here's what I do care about right now:

Here's the thing. I've had low grade depression (aka dysthymia) for probably the last 11 years. It's only been diagnosed and treated with medication and semi-regular therapy for the past 2.

I talk a really good game about acceptance of mental illness, supporting people getting help, etc. I tell people about it, and about the eating disorder I had in HS that I feel was a symptom of it. I want to go into Music Therapy to help people through mental illnesses (among other things). I like to look at my past through rose colored glasses and say that the things I went through in HS and college made me who I am today and that's a good thing. Depression was a learning experience. I rail against stigmas against mental illnesses.

But the real truth is, when I look at my own depression, I mirror all the "ridiculous stigmas" right back to myself. I don't really have depression, I'm just weak. I shouldn't need a pill to be able to deal with my life - what's so difficult about it? I don't want outside chemicals controlling my body. When I'm on ADs I feel fine, so do I really need it? I'll talk about my depression to friends or people my own age, but no one in my extended family has a clue because I don't want them to think I'm weak or crazy.

Guess what though - I'm realizing that's not my voice. That's my dad's voice. He thinks mental illnesses are BS. Nonexistent, fake problems. Furthermore, he thinks doctors and medicine is a waste of time. Sound familiar?

No one who has been close to me for 5 years or more will argue that I'm not a different person than I was before medication, not even my dad. I know without a doubt that I'm a different person on medication. After being on ADs for about 6 months I looked back at pictures of myself as a little kid and could finally feel and remember what it actually felt like to be that happy, carefree, pre-puberty person.

I love the days and lately weeks where I don't have to think about my depression. It's so easy to forget about it - forget what it feels like to be sinking into an emotional hole that you can't see the way out of. It's deceptively easy to start to think maybe it was all a bad dream. Maybe you don't have depression, not really. You were just having a hard year (or 10). Things are better now and so you don't need therapy. Maybe you only need half your medication every day. Maybe you don't need any!

I do this every few months, and it always has the same results. I know it's exhausting for the few people who are close to me and honestly, I'm exhausting myself too. It's tiring to convince yourself of something you know really isn't true and then try to mentally backtrack when you start to slowly fall apart again. This time I'll call the doctor. I'll remember my medicine every day. I'll refill my prescription on time. I'll find a new therapist or go back to therapy. I promise. And so I'll do one or two semi-positive things and vow to do more "tomorrow", which will improve my mood, which will start the cycle all over again. This time I went to a new city in a new state, thinking I could outrun my depression. But now I'm just here with a lot more stress and a very small support system, none of them professionally trained to give me advice or medication.

Here's the truth, in black and white on my computer screen. Typed by my own hands:
 I have depression. I might have depression for the rest of my life. If I forget about it it will creep back up again. It always does. I don't like it. I don't like accepting it, or accepting that it's probably going to be a part of me for the rest of my life. 
My depression sucks, end of story. It's not some magical faraway looking glass that makes me more empathetic. It's not some glamorous political statement of how the media or families or life in general can screw someone up. It's a big, dark hole that I'm always standing on the edge of. It's soul-crushing exhaustion, lethargy, apathy. It's complete lack of faith that I have anything worthwhile to offer the world, that I just mess things up or am someone people have to "deal with."

I have a list of doctors I can call in the area who accept my insurance and can give me a new prescription and a referral to a therapist. My depression wants me to feel proud that I set up a list but then leave things like that, not make the calls, not do the real legwork. It wants me to hide behind being scared, being embarrassed, denying my illness, not wanting "pills to control my body." Because my depression wants to control my body, my mind, my life. I'm really hoping that this time I have the strength to stand up to it and do what I have to do to be healthy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm bringing back this blog as sort of a tool of my own personal growth. If anyone cares to read and follow or offer support or advice, that rocks too! Here's an example of the free writing (typing) I've been doing lately. Names aren't included (just initials) to protect my and their privacy.

I'm really trying to focus on improving my life, building my life here in MA. This means I need to figure out what I want from my life and how I want it. I have a really promising 2nd interview on Tuesday night with a job that I think will be fantastic for me. I would be able to build a music curriculum with K through 3rd students and possibly become a founding member of a growing charter school. Would this change my grad school plans? Maybe, maybe not. I'm open to the possibility of staying in this job for more than a year if I really love it and see growth.
I need more socialization in my life. I spend a lot of time with BF and I love that but I need girl time badly. B works a lot and often strange hours, and she often spends time with A (her BF) whenever she can. Friday dinners have helped and they're a great thing to look forward to each week - especially since B usually has Friday off or opens. But I need more than that. I need girl friends to chat with about things that I'm interested in - gender, feminism, psychology, music therapy, media literacy. I need to get off my ass and go to these feminist meetup group events and stop being such a chicken. I need to make connecting with my long-distance friends (like S, K, L, M) way more of a priority. I need to keep trying to make new friends here, even though that's really scary for me.
I love it here but I need to make this more of my home. Right now it's a place where I live (I love my apartment 90% of the time), spend time with some people (C and the roomies) and work. But that's not enough. I know it took a while for Ithaca to become my home and most of that was the people. I can immediately feel at home in a place if I have even a few people I care about. I know that this can be a fabulous home for me.
Blogging and journaling will, I hope, get me thinking more and give those thoughts some more substance. Right now I'm setting a goal to write weekly about whatever I want - just freewriting.There are so many new, exciting, interesting things going on in my life and in my mind right now.

Some possible topics are:
My apartment - this place has real character. We have an adorable old Armenian couple as upstairs neighbors, a tacky but sort of charming mural on our dining room wall, a few dying plants and constant home improvement projects always in the works thanks to my roommate who has found a new hobby in amateur carpentry.
My jobs - The fact that I have a nutty schedule, interact with some really interesting people every day and work with kids could probably be a blog in itself if I wanted to. These kids crack me up, tug on my heartstrings and test my patience daily. As much as I complain sometimes, I couldn't ask for better "starter jobs" after my graduation in December.
My relationship - C and I have been together now for 1 year and 7 months and our relationship is always interesting. We're dealing with this really interesting "post honeymoon" phase where we're learning a ton about each other, our communication and how we work as a couple.