Random (but not really)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Maybe Not Today, But Someday

It’s been years since I talked about mental health, because things had been going ok. I had some struggles, but I was able to change the things that were problems (get a new job) and it got better.

But this past year has been rough. Really rough. Honestly, from 2016 on things were difficult, with so much hate and racism and sexism right out in the open everywhere you looked, but 2020 was just the worst. All the racism, all the sexism, all the hate AND a pandemic.

But I kept going, thinking, “once the election is over, things will get better” or “once we get a vaccine approved, things will get better” and “once we have the inauguration, things will get better.”

Except that all those things happened, and it didn’t get better.

Not really.

So I finally had to admit that my anxiety was out of control, and pushing me into a bout of depression, because all the tools I’ve used for decades to stay healthy were suddenly no longer working.

I’m not sure I can explain how hard it’s been to have a situation beyond my control go on for so long, and about which I can do absolutely nothing.

When I can get out hiking, it’s not bad. But last spring I broke my foot, which meant no hiking–no walking. That took a big chunk out of me, and really started the downward spiral.

I just kept hoping that after event X happened, things would get better. But they never did.

My depression is insidious. I’ve always thought of it as being functionally depressed. Work is never a problem–I’m on time and I get my work done. So from the outside everything looks perfectly normal. Except that work is almost the only thing I can manage to do, and once I’m done for the day, I am incapable of accomplishing anything else.

I can manage to go to the grocery store every week at the normal time, and I put away all the fridge and freezer items, but once the perishable items are away–it’s too much struggle to deal with the rest of it.

I can do wash and try and fold laundry (because I actually find laundry calming). But putting it away? Nope.

Forget making dinner. Or cleaning the house.

It’s a stupid thing. “How hard can it be to (do simple task)?” you ask yourself. Yet it is hard. Things that were once simple to manage become overwhelming. Everything is too much effort, too hard. All tasks are Sisyphean–undertaken as if they were to be done uphill, across an icy terrain, while carrying an awkward heavy package. Any single misstep brings everything crashing back down.

And asking for help is out of the question when things get bad. “It’s just your brain, you can get over it.” “You’re just being lazy; you don’t deserve help.”

These are, of course, things that I know are lies. But that doesn’t make them any less powerful. And fighting those lies is exhausting, which just gives us a nasty little vicious circle. After all, if I don’t want to be around myself, why would I want to subject anyone else to me?

So, that’s where we’ve been.

The future? I’ve got a change in meds–which takes time. And little things to look forward to. Things I am going to hug to myself and cherish. And hopefully one day I’ll realize that I’ve eventually reached the top of the hill, and that the ice has melted and although it’s not necessarily smooth sailing, it’s okay.

For now, I just keep reminding myself that it will, eventually, be okay again. Eventually.

Written by Michelle at 10:35 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression  

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Joys of OCD

Here’s a fun discovery.

Michael just recently started using our desktop computer for gaming, after his gaming laptop aged out of some of the games he likes.

For more than a decade, I have been the primary / only user of the desktop, since there where I do bills, and major photo projects.

With me so far?

Good. Now here’s where my OCD comes in.

On every computer I use, I set up my windows in a specific way. Firefox a specific size and placed here, Excel a specific size and placed here, explorer windows always a specific size and a specific location and cascading. If I need two windows side-by-side to move files, they are temporarily moved and then have to go back to “where they belong.”

It’s both an ease-of-use thing (I always know where to find things when I have multiple screens) and a comfort thing (it soothes my brain to have things where I expect them to be, and if they are somewhere else, it gives me a little jolt of anxiety).

Today I figured out that when Michael logs into his profile and resizes and moves explorer windows, it actually changes the size of those windows on my profile.

This is distressing.

I know it’s not his fault; neither of us knew this was a windows thing. After all, Windows often inexplicably changes and moves things around. But I just figured out this morning that what he did affected the windows on my profile.

I told him, and we laughed about it, but still; it’s not fair that things he does in a supposedly benign environment can actually trigger anxiety for me. Why are computers like this, and more aggravatingly, why is my BRAIN like this?

No answers, just one of those things.

Written by Michelle at 9:56 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology,Depression  

Friday, January 31, 2020

Nothing

For me, depression is very much boiling the proverbial frog.

Unless there is some precipitating event, every week is just a little bit more difficult than the previous, but not so much so that I can’t managed basic activities. Instead, my energy is just slowly sapped until extraneous activities become difficult–and then impossible.

Emails sit for weeks, because they’ll take more than a single sentence reply, and I just can’t come up with that many words. Small insignificant tasks–like putting cards in an envelope to send–sit undone.

It’s aggravating as fuck, which only makes me feel worse, but it’s 100% a spoons issue. I have the mental capacity to go to work and get work done, but beyond that? Nope.

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for days, because it needs more, but, well, I can’t come up with anything.

So I’m gonna publish as is, which seems apt.

Written by Michelle at 8:42 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Better Living Through Chemisty

Someone on FB linked to an article about the medical management of mental health disorders: What It’s Like to Know You’ll Be on Antidepressants for Life.

The essay starts out noting the following:

The notion that people who take medication for mental illness are weak seems rooted in internalized social stigma. There’s still this strange divide in thinking about mental illness, where much of society seems to dismiss those illnesses as somehow less “real” than ones that are considered “physical.”

That’s unfair, yet true. We’re not supposed to talk about mental health issues. It’s ok to have diabetes or high blood pressure but depression or anxiety are secrets to be kept. Issues to be hidden.

To believe that my mental health issues make me a weaker person than someone who has a physical health issue is absurd. Yet it’s a common belief: depression and anxiety are weakness that can just be overcome by hard work and the correct attitude.

Part of it I suppose is historical: Suicide was a mortal sin that would send you directly to hell, so wouldn’t that make the mental state that made you suicidal a moral failing as well?

Part of it might also have to do with many mental health issues being more common in women than men, and women have historically been seen as weaker, both physically and mentally.

But perhaps a greater part is because mental health issues are less visible. You get a cast with a broken limb. You get scars from surgery. I can show someone my scars and X-Rays from my broken ankle, but what do I have to display for more than 30 years of mental health issues?

(Life insurance rates three times higher than my husband’s because I was honest during my interview about my past aren’t really anything you can display as a wound.)

 
 

After Robin Williams died, I remember being enraged by people who couldn’t understand how he could be so weak as to take his own life.

Weak?

When I broke my ankle I didn’t cry–I wasn’t even certain at first I’d broken my ankle, because I was certain it wasn’t painful enough to be broken bones. Yet I have felt emotional pain that was so harsh it took my breath away. A misery so strong that all I wanted was for it to end because it was unbearable.

I knew I could take medicines for relief from physical pain, and that over time the wounds would heal and the pain would eventually be gone.

Mental anguish is different. When you’re given anti-depressants, you’re told they might take up to a month to work. And that some meds are better for some people than for others so what you’re taking might not make things better. And again it’ll be a month before you know for certain.

Know what? I’ve had meds that not only didn’t work, but actually made things worse. That took more than two months to resolve.

Two months of something that no one could see. Two months of something I was certain was a moral failing: A weakness on my part.

A weakness.

During pre-marriage counseling, one of the questions we were asked was whether we suffered from mental illness.

“Yes,” I said, “depression.” (At this time I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with anxiety or OCD, even though they had been part of the mix since the beginning.)

“Not like that,” the counselor replied, “they’re asking about serious illness.”

 
 

Here’s the thing: I’m lucky in that I’ve always been able to work through my depressive episodes. It may have been a struggle, but I was able to get out of bed and be physically, if not emotionally, present.

I know I will be on meds for the rest of my life. I’m fine with that, because I have a strange quirk where I remember feelings painfully clearly. I remember the angst of being a teenager. I remember the shame of being different and unable to fit in. I remember breathtaking misery of grief. I remember the feelings of all my mistakes and the belief I would never get past them. I remember how it feels to believe I was worthless. That I was unworthy of love. That all I ever have done is cause harm and create misery.

I don’t want to live with that agony in the here and now, so I’m glad to take meds.

 
 

My primary fear is not being able to recognize if the meds start to fail and I begin to slip backwards into the abyss.

My secondary fear is of failing to recognize someone else who is suffering. Of missing the person who thinks they are the only one who feels they way they do: lost and broken and unworthy.

Which is why I share things like this. Because we aren’t alone. These things aren’t moral weaknesses or failures. They’re just physiology, and even if it takes a while, these things can usually be fixed.

Because these issues might be permanent but they don’t have to control me.

Because we are more than our illnesses and because we can live through them and be happy.

Written by Michelle at 6:50 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression,Science, Health & Nature  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

If You Have Been Bullied, Harassed, or Assaulted

Just a note to those who have lived through bullying, harassment, or assault: You do not have to watch, listen to, or read the news.

You don’t need the reminders that society often protects the bullies and perpetrators over the victims.

It’s OK to turn off the news and take care of yourself.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Written by Michelle at 6:20 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Tyranny of Clothing

I have several bathrobes, which I wear all the time.

This is partially because I like bathrobes (I have three–a heavy terrycloth robe for winter, and two waffle cotton robes for summer) and partially because we shower in the basement, and it’s a trek to make in the winter.

The softest robe has been causing problems for the past couple months–the overlap has been getting smaller and smaller, and it’s a bit to small to contain… me.

This, of course, made me feel badly about myself.

Until I realized that the loops for the tie were no longer at my waist, but are now just underneath my armpits.

The damned thing has been slowly shrinking, but I was convinced that the change was in me.

Nevermind that all my other clothes fit fine, and I’m still wearing the smaller jeans (I have jeans in two sizes; 10 and 12. I’ve been wearing the 10s) but I was somehow convinced that I was getting bigger.

Brains are stupid.

Also, I’m totally getting another robe to replace this one.

Written by Michelle at 9:54 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression,Science, Health & Nature  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

On Showing Weakness

I had a very interesting (and quite lovely) conversation with an faculty member today. He’s older, and he’s not originally from the US (or the West, for that matter), which has bearing upon how the conversation progressed.

I interrupted him on the phone to ask if I could update his computer, and as he finished up, his voice changed and it became quite clear he was talking to a child. (He wasn’t speaking English, and I was able to start on what needed to be done, so I didn’t feel awkward about being there as he ended a private conversation.) (1)

I asked him if he was talking to a grandkid, and his face lit up and said yes, and I asked him how many grandkids he had, their ages, how far away they lived, etc. This brought the conversation quite naturally around to me, and I told him I didn’t have any kids.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’d make a terrible mother,” I said, giving him my standard reply.

This obviously didn’t make any sense to him, and so as we continued, I decided he really was curious (no need to tell me he was being a jerk, it was none of his business, etc. He really wasn’t–he was honestly curious, and believed that I would make a marvelous mother). (2)

So I told him that I suffer from depression, and there was a distinct possibility that I would have serious problems with postpartum depression if I got pregnant.

He was taken aback. “But you’re always so happy! So cheerful!” (He repeated this several times, he was so shocked.)

“When I feel bad, it makes me feel a little better if I can make people happy,” I told him. (It was a longer and more complicated than that, but you get the gist of it. (We also clarified depression and dementia and Alzheimer’s, just so he was certain about his “D” illnesses.))

After some consideration, he said that perhaps he understood. That he’d often met men who were friendly and outgoing and great guys, but as (I think) an elder of his church, sometimes the wives of these men would ask him for help/advice, because at home these men were not so wonderful.

“The outside doesn’t match the inside.”

“Yes,” I said, “except that the horribleness is turned inward to me.”

We talked a little bit longer about how long I’d dealt with this, and medicines and such, and as I finished what I was working on and got up to leave, he gave me a huge hug (and no, not a creepy hug–I think he was afraid he had upset me, asking about depression (he hadn’t)).

And here’s the thing: There are many things about that conversation that probably shouldn’t have happened (seeing as how it was at work) but it was a good conversation, and more importantly, a useful one, because I got to share with someone that depression happens to everyone–even the people who seem cheerful and happy on the outside.

Could anyone do this? Most likely not.

I’ve discovered over the years that something about me makes people willing to ask questions to which they really want to know the answers (3). Probably because I try to make people comfortable and put them at ease. (4)

But even if this exact scenario isn’t something everyone can do, I believe it helps to remember that anyone can share their weaknesses. That in this age of constant horribleness in the news, it helps to remind people that depression and mental illness aren’t the providence of monsters, but something that anyone can suffer from.

And a reminder to us, that we aren’t monsters, and that what we feel on the inside often has little bearing to what people see on the outside.

——

(1) I actually love listening to conversations in other languages, because usually there is some random English word dropped into a sentence of what is otherwise incomprehensible to me. My favorite was “blah blah blah blah school bus blah blah.”

(2) It would probably also confuse anyone who follows my Flickr feed, in which a variety of kids make regular appearances.

(3) One of my favorites from years ago: “In traffic, this guy waved at me with one finger. What did it mean?”

(4) Let me tell you, this, combined with a sense of humor, is an invaluable asset in face-to-face tech support, and has led to many spontaneous hugs, as I fix what had seemed like an insurmountable problem.

Written by Michelle at 11:06 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Depression  
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