depression

Depression Update

What if I don’t want to pretend to be happy today?

That thought ran through my head as I hung up the phone at work after helping another user with our applications.

It’s been just over four months since I started taking Zoloft for depression, and about two and a half months since I began seeing a counselor. Overall, I think my life has gotten better … but it’s certainly not perfect, nor is it ever going to be.

Release week for Libriomancer was amazing and wonderful and a lot of fun. It was also exhausting and at times incredibly stressful. I can’t wait for Worldcon, but I know it’s also adding stress and anxiety to my life.

A lot of what I’ve been working on during therapy deals with stuff at home, which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice it to say, some things have improved, while others are more of a work-in-progress.

I think that’s what I’m running into now: the “in-progress” part of it all. This isn’t an instant fix. And the early energy of “Yay, I’m Doing Something About My Depression!” has worn off.

And sometimes things slip. I woke up with low blood sugar at 2 a.m. the other night, which meant I was exhausted the next day at work, and the whole day just kind of steamrollered me from there. I give myself permission to have fun and spend an hour playing the Star Wars game we borrowed from a friend, and then feel guilty and more overwhelmed by the stuff I didn’t get done.

On a personal level, this week has pretty much sucked. And that’s going to happen. Nobody gets all good days. But it’s hard. In the back of my mind, I start thinking that maybe the meds aren’t helping as much, or maybe the therapy hasn’t done enough–

No, that’s not true. What I really start thinking is that I’ve failed. That if I were doing a better job of listening and understanding and working in therapy, the conversation that spiraled so out of control last night never would have happened. That all of the relationships and issues I’m struggling with would be better. But things that made sense in the doctor’s office get all murky and messed up when I try to apply them to real life.

Maybe it is my failure. Or maybe that’s just life. (And these are not mutually exclusive possibilities.)

What I think I need to do is remind myself that this is a long-term process. To recognize that things have improved, overall. To give myself permission to have bad days, and to cut myself some slack when things fall apart.

All of which is easier said than done.

Dear Depression,

You win this round of lightsaber duel. But next time I talk to the therapist, I’m asking her for the cheat codes, and when I come back I’m going to slice your giblets off.

Sincerely,
Jim

Counseling (Depression)

In some ways, talking to a psychologist was even harder than starting antidepressants. In both cases, I was admitting to a problem that comes with its own baggage of shame and stigma and perceived weakness. But with counseling, it felt harder. This was more than hitting my doctor up for a prescription. I would be walking into a stranger’s office and spending hours explaining how I’d lost the ability to deal with things in my life, how I needed help to figure out things I feel like I should already know how to do.

That’s what it all comes back to. I feel like I should be able to handle this stuff. I should know how to be a good father and husband, how to balance the demands of writing and the day job, how to maintain my emotional balance in times of increased stress, and so on. I know how deceptive and nasty the word “should” can be, but that didn’t stop all the crap from swelling back through my brain when I thought about making that first appointment.

I made it anyway.

Eventually.

I’ve had three sessions so far, and while I’m not going to go into as much detail about them, I’ll say it’s been helpful. The first session or two were mostly a get-to-know-you sort of thing. I got an official diagnosis of dysthymia. As I understand it, this is a milder form of chronic, long-term depression. I.e., I’m in a lousy mood most of the time, but I’m not jumping off the Mackinac Bridge.

The funniest moment came in the first session: I was describing my life, the jobs and the writing, taking care of the kids after school, the work I did around the house, and so on.

Doctor P: What do you do for fun?

Jim: …?

Doctor P: When do you take time to just get out and enjoy yourself?

Jim: …I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

I was amused, but it was a good catch on her part. She gave me homework to do something fun just for me. I actually managed to do it, too. The trick now is going to be incorporating that lesson into my life on a more regular basis.

Doctor P has also pointed out some areas where I could improve things at home. We both recognize there’s a lot I can’t change — realistically, I can’t quit the day job; I can’t magically improve my wife’s health so that she can do more at home; and so on — so we’re concentrating on things where I can make changes for the better.

This whole process scares me. Eventually, I’d love to get off of the antidepressants, and I think counseling is one of the things that will help me do that. But given how helpful the pills have been since April, I’m also terrified of losing that crutch and slipping back into the swamp of who-gives-a-crap-about-anything. I guess I’m not yet completely trusting that it can help — or that I can change enough to really make a difference — in the long run.

This experience has also made me recognize once again how fortunate I am to have decent insurance that covers most of the medications and my weekly sessions. As hard as it’s been to admit I need help, how much worse must it be to realize you need help and have no way of getting it? [Rant about U.S. healthcare deleted because the goal is to not depress myself further.]

I’m cautiously optimistic. I like my counselor. She feels pretty genuine, and seems to get me. The first few sessions felt a little open-ended, but we’re talking about more concrete goals this week. Apparently we’ll also be doing a bit more cognitive work, teaching me how to win at some of my head games. I’ve had some speed bumps at home and at work, but overall, so far so good.

My thanks once again to everyone who’s been so encouraging and supportive.

One Month on the Happy Pills (Depression)

In early April, I went to talk to the doctor about depression, and walked out with a prescription for Zoloft.

It’s been an interesting month. One of the things that surprised me was how many people talked to me about their own experiences with depression, both on my blog post and in person. When I went to Penguicon, the depression post came up in conversation almost as frequently as my cover poses. Depression is far more common than I realized … which reinforced that I had made the right decision to blog about it.

Almost immediately after I left the doctor’s office last month, I started feeling a little better. Since it takes time for the meds to build up in your system, I ascribed that initial improvement to the fact that I was doing something about the problem instead of feeling stuck and hopeless.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the pills. I wasn’t convinced the meds would help — I wasn’t even entirely convinced that I was really depressed as opposed to just feeling stressed out — and even if it was, I wasn’t sure the dosage I was on would be enough. But damn if I haven’t noticed an improvement. I’ve been able to take things in stride that would have been far more upsetting a month ago, from the suicidal raccoon that busted up my headlight to schedule snafus with my wife and kids to the Great Flea Invasion at home to assorted work stuff.

It’s not all happiness and rainbow-farting unicorns yet. The other day, something knocked me back into that ugly/hopeless/fugitall morass, and it took about two days to pull myself out. But overall, I’m doing better.

I feel more like me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Back in 1998 when my pancreas took early retirement, the diabetes seriously messed me up before I got diagnosed and brought my blood sugar under control. I was, to put it bluntly, a cranky, miserable asshole. And it had snuck up on me over weeks or months, so slowly I hadn’t even noticed. When I finally got on insulin, I was amazed at how much better I felt, how much I had missed me, if that makes sense.

It happened when I lived in Nevada, too. Elko did not agree with me, and looking back, I was seriously depressed by the end of it, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I quit my job and moved back to where I had friends and family, and just like in ’98, I found me again.

I missed me. And I’m a little disturbed that I seem to make a habit of losing myself…

I’ve kept an almost paranoid eye out for side effects. I noticed a little bit of dry mouth early on, but that might have been psychosomatic. I’ve heard people talk about antidepressants making them mentally fuzzy, which was probably my biggest fear. I don’t think that’s happened, but I’m not completely sure. I’m struggling with the sequel to Libriomancer, but I was struggling before I started the meds too. I think it’s just a pain-in-the-ass first draft, not a consequence of extra mental sluggishness on my part.

The current plan is to stay on the Zoloft for six months to a year, then reevaluate where I’m at. I’ve also got a list of possible referrals for counseling that I’m planning to follow up on. (I’ve been procrastinating, partly due to lack of time, and partly due to the lingering shame of needing help.)

I really dislike the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals for my happiness and mental/emotional well-being. Insulin for a messed-up pancreas? No problem. Medication for a messed-up brain? That’s harder to accept. But I’m even more scared about the idea of going off the pills and sliding back into the space I was in earlier this year. I’m hoping the counseling will help with this and give me some longer-term solutions.

For the moment though, things are pretty good. I’ve been able to enjoy more of my life than I was before. The good parts actually feel good, and the bad parts, while still present — damn fleas! — aren’t as overwhelming.

Score one for the happy pills.

Well This Sucks (Depression)

A week ago, I went in for a doctor appointment, the end result of which was that I’ve started taking Zoloft for depression.

I feel like there should be a punchline here. “This is what I get for reading about Arizona politics” or “I blame the mess that is my current first draft.”

This hasn’t been a paralyzing, debilitating problem. I’ve been going to work, writing, taking care of the kids, going to karate … everything I’m supposed to do. But I haven’t been enjoying it. I’ve had less patience with my family. It’s gotten steadily harder to find the energy or motivation to do things. I’m spending more and more time feeling annoyed or apathetic.

It should not feel that draining or overwhelming to answer a simple e-mail.

I took any number of those depression self-assessments, most of which told me I was either mildly or moderately depressed. Even so, it took me close to a year to finally call and make an appointment to do something about it. Why did I wait so long? Probably the same reason I hesitated to blog about this.

I have no problem blogging about my diabetes. I’ve never felt ashamed of that disease, and I’ve never hesitated to talk about it, or to do whatever I needed in order to take care of myself.

This felt different. I’m diabetic because my pancreas took early retirement. That’s not my fault. But in my head, I was depressed because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with everything.

I know better. I was a psych major, and I’m married to a licensed counselor. I’ve watched people close to me start antidepressants, and I’ve seen how much of a difference it can make in their lives. I’ve never thought of them as weak, or of antidepressants as a sign that they’ve somehow failed at life.

It feels different when it’s you. There’s a double-standard. I know perfectly well that depression isn’t something you can simply will yourself through. I understand that neurochemical imbalance can be a physiological problem, just like a lazy pancreas. But I told myself it wasn’t really depression. I was just stressed. I needed some down time. I could tough it out. Eventually it would get better.

I can’t remember exactly when I stopped believing it would get better.

These aren’t things I’ve talked about online. There are aspects of my life that don’t make it onto the blog, and this certainly wasn’t what I wanted to project as Jim C. Hines, World Famous Author/Blogger/Cover Model!

We’re starting with a low dosage, and it will probably be a month or more before the medication starts to have an effect. Maybe longer. I was extremely hesitant about this. I don’t like the idea of messing with my brain … except that depression is a sign that my brain has already gotten messed up. I’m a bit worried about side effects too, though I’m told those should be minimal.

I have felt a little better this past week. I’d blame it on the placebo effect, except that I know perfectly well the meds don’t work this fast. Instead, I think it’s because I’m doing something. I don’t feel stuck, and there’s hope that I’ll get back to feeling like me again.

I am not asking for advice. If that changes, I’ll let y’all know.

Anyway, this is why I’ve been a bit slower to respond to e-mail, though I’m trying not to let anything slip through the cracks. This is why the rape fundraiser this year is a little less organized, and I didn’t get it posted right at the start of the month.

I’m not going to turn the blog into all-depression, all-the-time, any more than I blog about diabetes all the time. But given how open I’ve tried to be about the latter, it felt dishonest to not talk about the former, too. It felt dishonest to me. And, after all, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledgment, right?

Jim C. Hines