Archive for September, 2010


Sitting here relaxing after a rather strange day. It’s been taxing at work, and a few weeks ago it would have bought me to my knees – but, I definitely think it proves that my meds are working, and perhaps my self therapy of blogging here helps too. In fact curiously I felt good leaving work today, like a huge weight had been lifted – i’d found my work challenging again, and what’s more I understood it! Whilst heading to my low over the last few months, i’d been understanding what I had to do less and less, almost like it was a foreign language until my confidence had disappeared entirely. But today – it had returned a smidge… Small steps – and i’ve even put my Mathmos lamps on tonight which I haven’t done in a long time. Small pleasures.

I keep referring to the ‘Mask’ I ‘wear’ on a daily basis – the ‘Mask’ which has allowed me to cope with Depression throughout my existence. So, this post is something which I hope to explain what it is, and how many others with Depression that I have encountered do similar things in order to cope with their Depression and interact socially, and survive…

I have done quite a lot of cursory research on Depressive behaviour in an attempt to understand myself, and why I have acted and reacted to situations during my life. I have always been known as the life and soul of the party, the happy face, the safe person to speak to and have a laugh with if they feel down – so surely this isn’t the behaviour of a Depressed person?

Speaking to a close friend of mine, she laughed and pointed out the obvious. She told me I always wanted to please others so much that I always gave them what I thought they wanted to see. i.e. a fun, happy person. This set me to thinking. It’s true, I always had felt that I acted differently around different people, to the extent that I have different groups of friends, some of which can’t stand each other, which makes celebratory gatherings rather interesting… Often meaning I have to have more than one ‘gathering’… Again – I appeared to (and still am… How do you change your social scene so quickly?) be changing my personality, changing my ‘Mask’ to suit the moment and those surrounding me.

So how do I break this habit without becoming ‘that’ depressed person in the corner looking distracted? I’m determined to keep channelling the happiness that I feel when trying to please others, and try to concentrate on how i’m feeling in a situation, not giving people what they want to see. Easy to say – but incredibly difficult to do. I think in the grand scheme of things, breaking this habit will be the hardest thing I will ever have to do… If I ever succeed… But I have a strong feeling I will.

Fleeting clarity tempts just on the edge of perception

Thoughts form momentarily then dissolve like mist

Emotions flicker quickly between jubilation, confusion and despair

What is it we search for? Truth? Answers? Relief?

After being diagnosed with Depression, my first instinct was to hit the Internet. I am a savvy Internet user to a certain extent, and I’m fully aware that not everything you read on the Internet can be taken as the whole truth, but despite this, I still found Internet research a very upsetting process.

There are many large communities out there which I found in my travels, but however supportive these sites may appear to be, there never seems to be a positive spin on things. Very rarely did I find a post or an article which said ‘the road to healing may be tough, but you will get there,’ or ‘the medication will work when you find the right one for you,’ or ‘being diagnosed with Depression wasn’t the horrific end of my life’. I know I may well be unique in my outlook, but I am pretty sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t see a Depressive state of mind as being the end of the world… And to be honest, if we are to tackle this disorder at all, this outlook needs to be embraced wholeheartedly.

For me, the realisation of why I am like I am was almost a relief… I fought it for a number of months (maybe i’ve been in denial for years?), but I now come to accept that my reactions, physically and mentally, are all related to my illness, and for that reason, I can now think forward and deal with them. It’s not easy but it CAN be done. There is hope, and I have always erred towards optimism – strange for a Depressive? I’ve been told so, but surely I’m living proof that this isn’t always the case? I’ve realised that this was my way of coping when I was down – distracting myself with ‘it could always be worse’.

Browsing Internet communities for me was a very scary process, in fact, I got so obsessed before my second round of medication, that I almost didn’t take it. There was nothing but doom and gloom stories about the hideous side effects and that I’d get liver failure, it’d ruin my life etc etc, and in my particular low of the time, I could not SEE the good side… Thankfully, I have some wonderful friends, and a particular Mental Illness sufferer I have debated many things with said the immortal words ‘it’s just a pill’. And he was right. If it really wasn’t for me I could easily stop taking it – I couldn’t be any worse off than I already was. But when you are low, and you cannot make contact with people, and the Internet is your only source of connection with the ‘real’ world… Where are the truly positive resources to help… Everyone’s experiences are valid, I am not saying that, but surely balanced experiences should be presented, not ‘there is no hope, so don’t even try’.

So – I appeal to the Internet communities – shouldn’t there be more awareness of the illness and more positive support out there? I for one, do not want to be incapacitated, out of work, defeated by my illness… I want to feel worth something, happy in my life, a valuable part of society – not marginalised and ridiculed. Yes I may need more care and attention than so called ‘normal’ people but with this additional care, the ‘eager to please’ child comes out and I produce a lot more work and be more focussed and passionate about my work. Surely that is worth the extra effort?

Medication. The single most fearful word I’ve heard this year. When the Doctor first said it to me it felt like a huge slap across the face, how could I have reached the stage where I couldn’t control my emotions without the use of medication? Such a strange emotion, because lets face it, you wouldn’t expect to control pain with will-power alone would you? Or fight diseases without innoculations and sympathy from your friends and family? We are biological entities after all, and what’s the harm in taking medication to help us through these difficult times? But it was still there in big flaming letters in my head. MEDICATION.

The first time I was medicated for the illness, I was placed on Citalopram an SSRI – a low dose at 20mg, but I am very susceptible to drugs as I try my best not to use them to keep my tolerances down, so I was under no illusion that they would do whatever magic they did rather well. In fact they did what they were supposed to do rather too well. They numbed my emotions down so much that I started to panic inside, I knew I should feel things, and react to situations, but I simply wasn’t. I started to push myself to see what the limits of my feelings were, but nothing worked. The only thing that would penetrate the fog was serious sadness. Worse than before, and well, it made me feel even worse to contemplate that being Depressed got me into this state in the first place. So, I convinced myself that I would be fine without the drugs, as other situations in my life had improved, so I had no need to be numbed from it any more, and off the drugs I came.

Not such a positive experience with my first medication round I have to say. The side effects of going on them were quite testing – sickness, shaking, dizziness, dry mouth, yawning, extreme lethargy and jaw clenching were what I experienced the worst… But after a week they did go and I was left with yawning and tiredness and fog. And no libido. However this is only MY experience, I know of others who are successfully on much higer doses of this drug, and they sing its’ praises. No loss of libido or any of the other issues which I encountered. Definitely a case of what suits one does not suit another. Coming off the drug was interesting but no where near as bad an experience as I was expecting. The brain zaps as they’re nicknamed occurred for me in the form of almost dizzylike spells where my balance would just ‘shift’ momentarily. This actually did last for about a month. But no other ill effects, so I consider myself lucky.

Medication round number 2. This time I was placed on Duloxetine – an SNRI. The Doctor thought it might be good for me to try a different group of anti-depressants, and start off on a really low dose to allow tolerability and try to get the dose right this time. Cymbalta which is the brand for anti-depressant availability was only in a 30mg dose, but Yentreve, the brand for Stress Urinary Incontinence starts at 20mg. So we decided to start at 20mg. Problem was that I even had bad side effects on such a low dose, but I was determined to keep trying so I went on one day on one day off. Then up to one a day, and now i’m on 30mg a day. And tolerating it well. And feeling myself. No fog like last time, and although I sometimes have a little nausea and diziness, this medication is DEFINITELY better for me than I could possibly have imagined.

So – it left me thinking – would medication be my only option? Are there actually any other realistic options available to me? Would counselling work for me if I know how I should be thinking and what I should be doing anyway? So many questions… but for now, medication is working for me, as it does for many many others in my position.

It’s lunch time in the office and well… It’s made me think this morning about the stigma of mental health. I’ve recently been off work with my ‘revelation’, unable to even form coherent thoughts, the thought of even stepping foot in work making me physically throw up. But another thought pervaded my fears even deeper – the thought that if I took time off work with my Depression, that people would laugh at me, think of me as weak, broken in some way, and I had heard from a friend that one colleague had even said ‘I wish i’d have thought of that – could have got two weeks off extra leave’.

So my fears had been truth. People do not realise what true Depression is, the feeling of total worthlessness, loss of self esteem and confidence to such an extent that you feel people would just laugh at you to look at you. The point that running and hiding is such a strong instinct that you fight it constantly in order to manage every day life.

On returning to work, I was terrified that this was what my manager was thinking, with the recession how it is at the moment, I was convinced I’d signed my own redundancy package – another thought running through my head – paranoia? To my relief my manager was very understanding, even taking into consideration the Doctor’s suggestion of light duties. Despite this, I still had a nagging doubt in the back of my head that all of this was because Employers HAVE to do this to save being sued… Again – paranoia?

The next few days were uneventful until I had to chair a meeting. I spent a long time talking myself into it – and as mentioned before I am very stubborn, and pointed out that I’d done this many times before and it was fine. So I pulled on my ‘mask’ and went for it. My manager commented afterwards that he was glad to see that I was better again. I was stunned – do people really think that getting better is such a quick process? Do they think I choose to be like this? The truth is I had felt a little better that I’d conquered another milestone,  but now there was another obstacle that I needed to overcome. The Stigma that I had just taken the time off because I felt like it.

I am quite an open person and had discussed my illness with close friends, and they had accepted me still as the person I am, no different, just now there was an explanation for my over-worry, paranoia, constant need for reassurance etc etc The discussions I had were quite upsetting in some cases. A Male friend of mine opened up to me and explained that he was also Depressed, but he had had to keep it very quiet as people ridiculed him constantly for it. It appeared Men would employ ‘banter’ and ‘teasing’ and in some cases downright horrible things to say – he had even experienced similar attitudes from his family.

It seems to be Depressed and Male is twice the experience socially as it is to be Depressed and Female. But then I came to thinking that this was most likely societal anyway – I mean, Women are supposed to be more emotional aren’t they? Men aren’t supposed to feel a thing because feeling = weakness. Weakness = femininity. There could be so many hypotheses I could put forward at this point, but essentially, I want people to think – to realise, despite the Stigma of the label, Depressed people are people nevertheless, and despite a sexual difference, we are all human beings.

Essentially, I believe that a Depressed person should be treated with the respect they want and deserve, both in their every day life and in the work life. Why aren’t managers trained to spot the tell tale signs? I have personally been told by my manager that I don’t seem to care or be bothered by anything – just a few months after starting my first round of medication, of which he had been made aware. I had also made him aware that certain side effects and affects on my mood such as this would take place.

I did wonder if the recession had an affect on ‘corporate caring’… In times of  boom and less stress for all, would it be easier for managers to ‘care’ about their staff as they are less stressed? But along comes the recession where everyone is stressed, and those who are pushed beyond their limits are then considered ‘weak’, ‘slackers’, ‘unfit for the job’. If Depression is more prevalent than realised in today’s society, why are managers not trained to look for the signs so they do not push their employees to the breaking point?

The Stigma of Mental Health Issues needs to be stamped out, and the only way this can possibly be done is though education. Mental Health Issues need to lose the stigma that everyone who is ill is either pretending, boring, sad, a killer or has tourettes. Mental Health Issues come in a large variety of classifications, and many of these can co-exist with a normal life style. I for one am learning to embrace my illness as it is 100% part of me, it’s made me who I am today. I have an open mind, and I love nothing more than to hear other people’s opinions and thoughts, to help them when they are down or distressed, or to lend a listening ear when excited and happy. I have been told I am unique for my ability to pull out people’s deepest darkest secrets and help them through tough times – and I am convinced that if I wasn’t afflicted with the emotions that Depression gives me, that I would not be able to do this.

So – where do we go from here? There’s not a lot one person can do on their own, but until I can figure out how awareness can be raised, I shall continue to blog – and hopefully reach and help the best I can.

Sometimes it’s not good to re-read things you’ve written?!! LOL! It felt good to ‘share’ what I’ve written so far, but I think it’s definitely a day of light relief for me. Feeling surprisingly chipper for once, and lots of creative thoughts running through my head – heard the new A-ha song on the radio this morning and rather liked it. Came as a bit of a surprise as I don’t usually like that sort of thing, but then, I always do like to keep my mind open, and ears open for new sounds.

I feel the beginning of new music starting to rise in my head, I’m just waiting for it to consolidate before writing it down – best not to push these things as if you chase an idea it often breaks, they are very shy these ideas… Notebook at the ready, trying not to think about it and let it form independently.

Just signed up to sing in a few more concerts, singing is a wonderful thing for me, allows me to pour out the emotions that stay carefully checked behind the mask, almost like an ‘acceptable’ way to let go. Though I did have a rather disturbing dream last night that everyone I knew came to the one concert I was most proud of, and it was a complete shambles. Didn’t matter how lovely the music and singing was, the stage management and organisation of it was awful and that ruined the ambience of everything. Wonder what I’m trying to tell myself… Again, I’ll leave that one to my sub-conscious to sort out and try and concentrate on getting some ‘work’ done.

I also feel the urge to cook. Cook something really different to usual. I cooked a roast dinner on Sunday, something I haven’t done in a long time ‘Stepford Wife’ eat your heart out! The dog seemed quite pleased with the left overs too, so happy family and happy bellies! Maybe I should go for cupcakes tonight, or muffins or cookies. Now cookies sound good – must rifle through Google for some lovely looking recipes…

Hmmmm ok, time to do some ‘day job’ I think – will catch up later with new thoughts that arise during the day.

Progress

Enough of my background for the moment, just a quick skim through the early years, but on to the rest of that story at a later date…

The issue I find that has changed my life recently is acceptance.

What is Depression? You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can only feel it, and that’s if you trust what you feel – which if you are Depressed, is an extremely difficult thing to do. When I was diagnosed earlier this year, I actually went to the Doctor to ask how I could help someone else very close to me, and ended up breaking down at which point the Doctor told me that I needed to help myself. I couldn’t see the point in that because I was hell bent on blaming my situation on circumstance, life occurrences, and how other people were treating me. If these things were to change then of course I would feel so much better! It seemed so simple. I was prescribed an SSRI Citalopram on a low dose to help me through my situation, and I went away feeling happy.

Surely enough my circumstances did indeed get better, and I took myself off the medication. Life was good for a while, however I still had an uneasy feeling something wasn’t quite right… A door had been opened in my mind, a realisation, a number of things had dropped into place, and it wasn’t going away. But I’m stubborn. Always have been, and always very good at convincing myself of ideas and attitudes. So I put it by as a glitch which had passed.

But once realisation has occurred, you cannot ignore what you have briefly glimpsed… It’s there, in the back of your psyche, demanding attention. As time went on, life got more and more difficult, situations I used to use to distract myself from Depressive episodes just didn’t work anymore, I couldn’t convince myself I was normal, everything was wrong – I was wrong. Work life began crashing in on me, personal life, social life, everything became a huge mountain to climb until one day, I hit the wall. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t even use my beloved Twitter. I retreated into myself and could no longer carry on as the person I thought I was. The mask had slipped and fallen out of reach.

So I found myself back at the Doctors. Prescribed a different medication, an SNRI Duloxetine, I was back where I’d started. The same reality facing me, this was not a ‘normal’ way to be.

The debate over what is ‘normal’ rages on still – something I’m sure I’ll discuss at some point as one of my favourite topics to mull over… After much difficulty with side effects, I’m now comfortably on the meds and thinking more clearly than I have for a long time – with a great urge to express myself creatively – again, this is another topic I want to explore, do Mental Health Issues have a proclivity for creativity? I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been called ‘eccentric’, ‘flamboyant’ or ‘artistic temperament’. As a Composer and Musician, do I perform and write better when feeling intense emotions? The answer is undeniably yes!

So it is this I’m attempting to fulfil now, to help my mind to heal, to alleviate some of these ideas and thoughts which fly around my head on a continual basis, and perhaps to allow a small peek into the mind of a Depressive. I know it’s not an illness from which I will ever be cured, however I can live with this as many many others do, and perhaps even use it to my advantage.

Beginning

So how did I get to where I am now? It’s a long story, but, I believe I’ve always lived with Depression. From an early age it’s always been there – exacerbated horrifically during my teenage years, and then just struggling on afterwards until earlier this year.

Often as a child, I would know that I was different, would view the world differently to other people… My imagination would always go that one step further than my peers – ET – the supposedly lovely family film gave me hideous nightmares -‘Oh no! ET is sick – what if he passes on the illness to us? We wouldn’t have any immunity against an alien disease?’ My parents bless them – would laugh nervously and just cuddle me, at a loss to know what to say to their terrified 5 year old… But I would eventually get over it until the next terror – Superman being absorbed into an alien machine, UFO’s descending to take over the world to the music of Jeff Wayne… After this period, I taught myself to lucid dream, banishing most of the terrors of sleep, and I also learned another lesson. How to wear a mask. I couldn’t bear seeing my parents so worried about my mental state, so I learned how to pretend everything was ok, to hide my fears, and to protect my parents.

Many times when I was younger I’d hear ‘such a helpful girl’, ‘such a sweet girl’ I always wanted to please and be liked more than anything. To be even slightly rejected or disliked was like a stab through the heart. I’d be told by others that this was normal to feel a little upset, but upset isn’t even close to the feelings that I felt. Truly deep lows, that would cycle round and round my head, ‘why do they not like me? What did I do?’ Even then I didn’t realise how different to others I was and teenage years were no different.

Being a teenager was hell on earth – holed up in my bedroom, screaming at my parents, listening to REM Everybody Hurts on repeat… and then… none of this was enough for how much I despised myself.  As a complete coward to pain, and the fear of upsetting my parents, I chose to hit myself on my cheekbones – if they swelled up it gave my face definition, and I knew I also didn’t bruise there easily at all. I carried this on for a number of years, usually at night and then crying myself to sleep. I don’t quite remember how it happened, but one evening my Mom caught me and threatened to take me to a psychiatrist. Suffice to say it scared me enough not to do it again. My parents were incredibly supportive of my teenage years – many lesser beings would have run screaming and had me sectioned i’m now sure! I never stop apologising to them even now for my irrational, and at times truly despicable behaviour… It’s a testament to my parents that they put up with this and the many other things that I threw at them over the years, even now, I wonder at their patience with me!

I continued my quest to be universally liked all through school, learning to be the comedienne, to wear the mask in order to give people what they wanted, I mean, who wants to see a sad, unhappy face? I learned the ‘stiff upper lip’ retort to ‘how are you today?’ ‘Fine thanks’ whether I actually was fine or not, and spent many hours introverted on my own. When socialising I spent time with select friends who didn’t realise what I was really like, but were just happy with the ‘mask’ persona as I presented it.  Never controversial, completely harmless, affable, funny and just there. My life at school was rather bland.

As successful as this persona was at school, I carried this with me to University – but… My first year at University? Changed me drastically from the eager-to-please, bland, harmless and affable child I was…

Well – where do I start? I’ve been going through a rough time recently, a lot of realisations have been bubbling to the surface, and I’ve finally reached the point of acceptance. It’s amazing how many resources there are out there to support you through Depression and mental illness, however I did find that very few sources (if any?) show the positive side to the struggle.

It’s my intention to discuss my thoughts on life with Depression, coping, managing, crashing, using the creativity that comes along with it, and accepting that’s who I am – and who is to say that I would be the person I am without my Depression? It’s part of me.

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