Surprise!

fluSometimes I wish I just had the flu.

You know, you have a sore throat, a fever, a cough, maybe even a little upset stomach. There are very visible, outside symptoms. You can go to the doctor, he (or she) can look at you and compare the data in front of them to what they learned in medical school and then make a reasonably well-informed guess as to what is wrong with you. Then they can write you a prescription that is time-tested to cure whatever it is that is ailing you, whether it is actually the flu or some other illness you’ve managed to contract. Lie down for a day or two, take your medicine, and next thing you know, you’re good as new.

If only problems with the human mind could be as easily solved.

As I have written here before, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. To show how quickly terminology can change in mental health, however, it is now known as “persistent depressive disorder.” I have tried out several medications in an attempt to curb the symptoms of this particular form of depression, experiencing varying degrees of success with each one. I am currently taking Abilify, which is technically not even an antidepressant, but it seems to be working fairly well for me. “Fairly well,” however, does not equal “very well,” so I made an appointment several months ago to see a psychiatric doctor about what I should be taking.

Now, before anyone becomes overly concerned about me, the term “psychiatric doctor” pretty much just means a counselor-type who can prescribe psychiatric drugs (Yes, I am aware I just totally insulted the profession with that dumbed-down description.). I was not wrapped up in any kind of straightjacket or confining clothing, and no one attempted to have me admitted to any kind of facility. The appointment was more like a friendly chat discussing my symptoms and what medicine (or medicines) might work best to combat them.

Have you ever been to see the doctor, though, nearly absolutely convinced you knew exactly what was wrong with you and what the doctor needed to do to cure you? I approached yesterday’s appointment with that type of mindset. I was depressed and had been experiencing some anxiety-like symptoms, so I figured I obviously needed to review antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications and let the doctor determine which ones would work best for me.

How in the world, then, did I walk out of there with a prescription for Adderall?adderall

In case you’re not familiar with Adderall, it is most commonly used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (better known as ADHD). I do get sleepy sometimes, but not enough to constitute a diagnosis of narcolepsy, so that only leaves you one guess as to why it was prescribed to me.

That’s right: Mr. Shy, Mr. Good Grades All Through School, Mr. Back of the Room at a Party was told yesterday he met five of the 10 criteria for adult ADHD.

Huh?

adhdI thought people with ADHD were the ones who couldn’t shut up. I thought they were the ones who struggled with bad grades all through school. I thought they were the ones who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes at a time. I don’t fit any of those descriptions. I just got A’s in my two master’s classes. Why do I have a prescription for Adderall now?

It actually makes more sense than it might initially seem. I have always had a bit of a wandering mind. I remember being young and my dad trying to teach me how to work on cars. I don’t remember a word of what he told me. I know even now during sermons or long lectures, I have a tendency to nod off or lose attention. I have a horrible time getting organized, and as much as I talk about wanting to be a writer, I never actually get focused enough to put anything down on paper (or computer screen). I can barely pick out a shirt to wear in the morning without having a low-level debate with myself.

This kind of scatteredness is what drew the doctor to his opinion that I might need to be treated for ADHD. Actually, it sort of came down to a coin flip between that and anxiety, and since anti-anxiety medicines sort of slow you down and I’ve been struggling with drowsiness lately, we decided to try the ADHD treatment first.

Today was my first day on the drug, so I’m still not sure how much of what I experienced were actual effects and how much was placebo. I do know I was much more awake than I have been for a quite some time, and I did tons of work at my computer today. On the sort of weird side, I didn’t eat anything between breakfast and dinner. Not a snack or anything. Didn’t even want food. I guess this could possibly be a positive, as I seem to gained a few pounds since I started taking Abilify. Kind of hoping it isn’t an everyday occurrence, though.

As with any drug, one day’s worth of results is not enough to measure the effects of taking it, so I still couldn’t tell you if attempting to lessen the effects of ADHD (which I may or may not even have) is the right way to go for me. There may be a complete reversal of treatment in my future. Or there may not be.

Sometimes I wish I just had the flu.

Advertisements

Is It Over?

I have been sort of reluctant to write about something going on with me, something I am not exactly used to. I may have touched on it a few times here, but I’ve never been brave enough to bring it fully into the light when it’s happened before. I’m not sure how many of you will believe me when you read it anyway. Tonight, though, I’m taking the chance. So, here goes…

I’ve been feeling really good lately.

My typing those words makes me want to duck and cover. It’s like someone throwing a lit match into a propane grill filled with gas – you know the grill will light up just fine, but you’re also terrified that it will light you up as well. I’m nervous about even speculating that I might feel good, because usually when I mention it, that’s when the wheels fall off and I’m left wondering how I ever thought I could not feel bad in the first place.

At the moment, though, I’m in a good place. I mean, everything’s not perfect, but I don’t figure it ever will be. I can’t even really put my finger on what it feels like to be in my head right now. It’s just … just … clear. The new medication seems to be working, although I’m wrestling with some side effects. My becoming a college student again is progressing along. I’m actually beginning to feel as if I’m good at a couple of things. While this may be totally normal to most of the world, to me, it is not.

can-depression-be-cured-5-638Will it last, though? Or is this part of being (gulp) … cured?

Is there really a cure for depression? I mean, the debate has raged for years as to whether addicts can be cured of their addictions completely or whether they simply learn the means to manage them. Can someone who is depressed ever be not depressed, or do they merely become more and more adept at managing the wolf at the door? As with the addiction question, the answer depends largely on who you ask. Some people believe it can go away; others believe it will always be there.

To be perfectly honest, I have felt the way I do for so long, the prospect of feeling different actually makes me a little apprehensive. I mean, who will I be? Will I be happy in my own head, but unbearable to those around me who knew me before? Will I make wise decisions when I’m not under the cloud anymore, or will the cloud never really go away? I’m happy now. Will I be happy tomorrow?

I suppose in the end, the answers to these questions don’t matter so much. Either way, there will have been a sadness there that will have lightened, and that should be enough. My problem is that I have let this feeling define me for so long, I’m not sure what I would do without it. If right now is any indication, though, I’m pretty sure I can figure it out.

How Can You Tell?

“No, crazy people don’t know they’re going crazy. They think they’re getting saner.” – John Locke, “Lost”

I used to be very reluctant to mention to anyone that I take an antidepressant. Despite the countless number of people who liken taking an antidepressant to any other type of medication, it still seems different to me. I suppose I still have difficulty grasping the concept of depression as an “illness.” If my heart begins to fail, I don’t have much control over that. It seems like I should be able to get a handle on my thoughts, though, and because I tend to imagine people thinking the worst of me anyway, I guess I believe others would frown upon my need for medical help in this area.

You may have noticed I keep using the word “antidepressant.” This is because “antidepressant” feels more reassuring to me than “mind-altering drug.” See, an antidepressant is a calm, reassuring thing that will help me stabilize my mood and live a happier and more productive life. A mind-altering drug actually has the potential to alter my state of being, in potentially positive or negative ways. Finding the right drug for you can be a godsend; picking the wrong one can result in a nightmare.

antidepressantsAfter meeting with my doctor yesterday, we decided to tweak my medication again. Choosing an antidepressant often feels like such a random process to me. If you have the flu, you take Penicillin or an antibiotic; if you’re depressed, well, we’re just going to keep trying stuff until if works. Nevertheless, I often feel a certain twinge of excitement when I receive a new prescription. I suppose this comes from the hope that this one will be The One that makes everything better. Of course, this is accompanied by the apprehension that this one might not be The One after all…

I’ve become very adept at approaching these switches in a level-headed manner. “If I notice any strange side effects or abnormal thinking,” I say to myself, “then I will contact my doctor and make a change.” This is my antidepressant line of thinking coming into play. This is medicine, just like any other medicine. The wild card in all this, though, is the mind-altering drug factor. Here, the question become this: If I’m going crazy, how will I actually know it?

Think about it for a second: Do the majority of people who are insane actually know they are? A small percentage of them might, but part of what makes insanity what it is consists of a person believing a totally irrational line of thought makes perfect sense. Therefore, if a person’s mind becomes altered to the point they begin to abandon rational thought, how would they even know it? And if they don’t even know it, how would they know what to change that might make them better?

At the moment, I believe these worries just constitute paranoia on my part. I think if I really were going crazy, someone would have told me by now. And I’m sure I am oversimplifying the whole “other illnesses are so much easier to medicate” angle. Sometimes people have to run through multiple options of drugs before they find one that works for whatever they’re afflicted with. In the end, this will probably be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Just in case, though, I’d like you all to make me a promise. If I start acting weird, let me know. Okay? Well, I mean, weirder than normal. I know you already have plenty of ammunition there. 🙂

Here Comes The Sun

I have felt unusually good this week. In fact, I’m a little hesitant to even mention how good I’ve felt for fear of another crash. Even though I know the possibility of “jinxing” things is probably not real, I’m still leery of shouting positive things from the rooftops. Remind me to add this to the “Things I Need to Work On” list.

I can’t exactly put my finger on the change this week. It could be a combination of a number of things. Maybe my new combination of medications is finally beginning to work. Maybe I’ve had less strife in my personal relationships. Maybe it’s because the temperatures have been warmer. Maybe it is because I have been bicycle riding every day this week. All of these could be working together for my benefit, but there has been one other significant factor I haven’t mentioned yet – the sun.

Occasionally, when I have entered into self-diagnosis mode, I have looked up information on seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I am far from an expert on it. I do know that it can have something to do with the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to. More than likely, a significant part of my improved mood this week has come from the combination of exercise and sunlight, but I’ve also noticed in the past that I don’t get the same “bump” from exercising inside. There’s something about the two working in unison.

I’ve read that light therapy boxes are an effective treatment for SAD. I’ve often wondered if a light box would help me DIAMOND_4_Light_Box_Sun_Simulator_for_SAD_(Seasonal_Affective_Disorder)through the winter months or through several days of rain in a row. I don’t guess I’ll know unless I try one out, but I wanted to put the question to you, dear readers: Are light boxes an effective way to decrease the symptoms of depression? I’m still not fully convinced I’m not chasing my tail on this one, so any input you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

The forecast here for the next couple of days is calling for rain. I suppose this will be an interesting time to test my theory, since there won’t be much sun. As I’ve written here before, I am one of the world’s worst about over-diagnosing myself, so maybe I shouldn’t think about it too much. Maybe I should just enjoy the high while it lasts. Then again, every little bit of information helps, so here I go again. Please leave some feedback, if you can. Thanks.

Maybe It Is, Maybe It Isn’t

When I sat down at the keyboard to type tonight, I went totally blank. I had no ideas whatsoever. So I did what I usually do when this happens: I typed the word “depression” into the Google News search and sifted through the results.

Two stories sort of piqued my interest, even though they were fairly different in nature. The first came from 99.9 WBUR in Boston. According to a study by Boston economist Paul Greenberg, major depression is costing the American economy $210.5 billion a year. That number was $83.1 billion in the year 2000. The study speculated that the tremendous increase in cases of depression (particularly in those 50 or older) could have been sparked by the recent economic recession in the U.S.

The second was an opinion piece written for the New York Times by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, titled “It’s Not Always Depression.” In the piece, Hendel describes her work with a patient named Brian. Brian had basically been through every type of depression treatment imaginable, with the exception of electroshock therapy, which he did not want to do. Hendel eventually zeroed in on Brian’s chronic shame, developed from a childhood of emotional neglect. Once she was able to do that, she began the process of helping Brian experience emotions again and reducing the shame. After meeting twice a week for four years, Brian finally reached a point of recovery.

There has been lots of talk lately about how depression is a disease. A popular analogy these days is to compare depression with other diseases, such as asthma or cancer. In fact, there was a cartoon circulating around the internet not long ago titled “If Physical Diseases Were Treated Like Mental Illness” which puts this comparison in visual form. To an extent, it is an apt comparison; major depression is not something one just “gets over” usually, even though a great many people think recovery is simply a matter of will power.

download

What worries me, though, is that to call depression a “disease” is a fairly one-dimension description of it. It makes it sound like you can just pop an aspirin in the morning and alleviate all the symptoms the rest of the day. Indeed, I think many people have this mindset already. “If I can just find the right antidepressant, I will get better.” Well, in Brian’s case, he had taken just about every antidepressant known to man, and he was still nearly comatose. He had been treated for the disease, but he was far from being cured.

Depression is a sum of parts. It may be fueled by shame or anxiety or physical illness or guilt or any number of other factors. Everyone has a lifetime of experiences they bring into the arena with depression. Granted, in some instances, the cause of depression can be more chemical in nature, and medication can improve a person’s mood drastically. In most cases, though, without some type of therapy, a person will likely not ever reach a place of full recovery (if that is even possible with depression). Experiences that have shaped a person’s way of thinking must be reckoned with.

Greenberg’s study does actually point out how the word “depression” actually encompasses a great many mental and mood disorders. The headlines, though, always trumpet the word “depression” and nothing else. There is so much more to it than just that. If we don’t understand this, the dollar amounts in Greenberg’s next report may reach the stars.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

If you’re a follower of this blog, you probably noticed there wasn’t any “Tuneful Tuesdays” post here yesterday. In fact, there wasn’t any post at all here yesterday. The explanation for this is pretty simple.

Yesterday sucked.

External factors were certainly involved. My mom is in the hospital right now with the symptoms of what is likely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My youngest daughter had a case of strep throat this week. My two oldest daughters are still playing basketball for a local Christian private school, practicing three days a week, and my oldest son has started Upward Basketball now as well. And, of course, as with any job, there has been no shortage of workplace drama to occupy my time.

Certainly a list such as this could cause a day to not go so well. The real problems, though, were internal, with me. I threw the day away. I stayed on the internet too much. I didn’t get enough work done. I was irritable with those around me. I did morally disappointing things I won’t discuss here. All of this put me in a state of agitation, guilt, shame, and depression. In short, I found some mud, and I wallowed in it.

Identity-ChrisYM-Blog-4-In the midst of all this, I began taking a new antidepressant yesterday. Most antidepressants don’t really start showing any effects until after a few weeks of use, so there is obviously going to be an adjustment period. I was discussing this with someone yesterday when they gave me a somewhat unexpected admonition: Be very careful to not to start identifying yourself too closely with what you’re dealing with. In other words, just because you struggle with depression, don’t let your whole life be about that.

So yesterday was a train wreck, today was me coping with the fallout of everything that happened the day before, and tomorrow will be … what? Well, I know what it could be. It could be another day of me filtering everything through the lens of a person who is struggling with depression. Someone who is going to do the best he can to cope with the struggles he faces. Someone who has to fight back the various temptations that have dogged him for years, temptations that will never go away.

Or…

Instead of focusing on the symptoms of my depression, maybe I could focus on ways to alleviate those symptoms. Better yet, I could start living as someone who has figured out what was going on with himself mentally and has taken strides to improve himself. I could put safeguards in place to avoid those temptations and realize I am someone who can overcome them. I could stop dwelling on all the things I’ve done wrong in the past and start living in the present instead. I could take one step at a time instead of attempting to review the past 20 years and map out a strategy for the next 20.

I started this blog to offer encouragement for those struggling with depression or mental issues. I wanted to let people know they weren’t alone, that someone else out there knew how they were feeling. Somewhere along the way, though, I became more focused on problems than solutions. I never want to pretend I have all the answers. In fact, I generally don’t like bloggers who claim to. If I don’t begin to think like an overcomer again, though, I am doomed to just keep repeating the same miserable days over and over again. When I went in for counseling over a year ago and began taking medication, I didn’t do it so I could remain the same. I did it so my days would get better.

So, to summarize… Yesterday, bad. Today, rebuilding. Tomorrow, hopeful. All I can do is move on. I haven’t been doing very much of that lately. Tomorrow would be a good day to start again.

The Poison Pill?

pillThis is an antidepressant. It is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, also known as an SNRI. I take one of these pills every day. Its purpose is to help alleviate the biological symptoms of my depression.

I’m not so sure it’s doing its job properly anymore.

Depending on who you ask, antidepressants are either a godsend or a placebo. In either case, they seem to at least do something for people who suffer from the symptoms of depression. For some, the effects are positive. For others, not so much. Even those that seem to benefit from taking them usually have to go through a trial period before they find the right one.

I was prescribed this particular antidepressant I am currently taking once before. The results were not good. I had not undergone any type of evaluation before visiting my general physician with my concerns that I was possibly depressed, and he did not refer me anywhere to have one performed. He prescribed me a much higher dose of this particular antidepressant than I am currently taking, and I had no reference point to measure its effects by once I began using it.

Even though I was wiser the second time around (I had an assessment done and started on a much lower dosage), the ill effects of that first experience still linger in my mind. Basically, my emotions sort of flat-lined. I wasn’t as depressed, but I wasn’t quite as happy as I could have been either. My anxiety decreased, but it nearly decreased too much, to the point where I wasn’t particularly concerned about anything. I made some dumb, out-of-character decisions. I think about all this every day before I swallow this pill.

One week from today, I will be visiting with my current physician to review this medication. I have several mixed feelings about this. I am hopeful in that I may be able to find something that works better for me. I am sad that I may be facing yet another change in medications. I have a sense of dread, stemming from that bad experience I had with my doctor all those years ago. I am afraid, wondering if I will ever find a medication that works for me or if such a thing even exists.

I am wondering if anyone reading this has had any similar experiences figuring out their medication for depression. Granted, I was diagnosed with dysthymia (or chronic depression), so my case would be slightly different than someone diagnosed with something such as bipolar disorder. I’d love to see your comments on this.

Long Time Coming

I’ve been putting this off for a while now. I knew I was supposed to do it, but I didn’t want to. I’ve been piddling around on my other blog, hoping the idea would go away, but it kept getting stronger. My complete lack of qualifications and my persistent fear of not being good enough did not seem to matter to God. I needed to do this, and He wasn’t going to let me rest until I did.

I feel I should begin by telling you what I am not. I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. The only degree I hold is a Bachelor of Arts in English/Professional Writing. I am not a counselor or a pastor or even a Sunday School teacher. I am not getting paid to do this. And, perhaps most importantly, I am not a perfect person or some kind of “super saint” who is here to tell you what to do.

depression-300x336Here is what I am. I am a 40-year-old husband and father of five who has wrestled with depression for as long as I can remember. I have been diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder (formerly know as dysthymia or dysthymic disorder). I have been through counseling, and I currently take an antidepressant every day. I am also a Christian who struggled for years with the notion that my salvation alone was supposed to make me immune to things like this.

Depression in the life of a Christian is a tricky subject to broach. For one thing, its very existence in a believer’s brain seems to contradict a lot of what the Bible says about joy and peace being ours to claim. It can also be extremely difficult to figure out who is actually suffering from it, who is just a little down in the dumps, and who is using it as a crutch or an excuse to mope around. Throw in the fact that the great majority of people in churches know little to nothing about depression, and you’ve got a recipe for massive amounts of misunderstanding, hurt, and denial.

Perceptions of depression outside of the church aren’t much better, although for slightly different reasons. Whereas a Christian has prayer, the Bible, and the fellowship of other believers to fall back on, those who are not saved are often left with a somewhat more vague hope. They know they need to get better, and there are some great therapy techniques out there to help them achieve that, but eternal peace seems to be largely absent. Victory seems less possible than just gritting your teeth and getting through another day.

I began to feel a desire to write about depression from a Christian perspective, and I’ve done a little of that on my other blog. It never felt like enough, though, and since I didn’t want the other blog to become all about depression, I only wrote about it sporadically. The vision, however, was growing larger. I’ve been pecking at a book idea for a while now, but I felt as if God was pushing me to do something more, something more interactive. I’ve been on the run from this blog ever since.

My goal will be to publish something daily here pertaining to the subject of depression (or other mental disorders). Everything here will, hopefully, be filtered through a Christian perspective. I’d also like to open things up to guest bloggers and those with their own stories to tell. Who knows what else might happen here. I’m just hoping it doesn’t flame out entirely within the first week.

So welcome to Lights In The Darkness. Feel free to leave me a comment about what you might like to see here.