It’s been a while since I did a personal update, but it’s time. One of the reasons for this is that I’m on record as advocating speaking up in the midst of one’s struggle rather than waiting until you’ve conquered it. This is a requirement of true transparency, but for reasons that will become apparent, I had decided to wait a while before posting this update. I confess it is more transparent than what I am really comfortable with, but my wife (who proofread a draft of this post in particular for me) says this comes across not as bad as it was, but perhaps it’s just the level of comfort I’ve got at the moment. I do feel that I have gained some good friends online in this forum and some explanation is perhaps due. Well, if not due, then it is appropriate as a means of showing how valuable many of you are in my own journey. This update will explain why over the past few months I have not written much of any real significant insight here. I’ve kept blogging daily, but my Technorati rank has gone into something of a freefall. It isn’t so much writers’ block or that I’ve just lost my edge as that I just haven’t had the energy. If you have sent me an email or left a comment that has gone unanswered, or wondered why I haven’t commented on your blog, it isn’t that I’m mad at you or ignoring you. You see, it’s like this….
I’ve written before, albeit somewhat cryptically, about my career change a little over a year ago. It was not a planned change, but one that arose from a situation coming to a head and leaving me to take the brunt of the fallout. I know that’s still cryptic, but suffice to say it was not a pretty scene. I was sent early to my kids’ Christmas concert this year to save seats for the rest of the family, and as I waited and exchanged emails on my Treo, it dawned on me that at the same concert one year earlier, I was standing at the back of the room on the phone with my lawyer. A lot goes by in a year, and in the few months after Christmas, I had decided to embark on a new career as a writer. I’ve been enjoying the writing, but have not made as much headway I’d hoped. In late 2007 I began doing some freelance website work to help make up some of the shortfall of funds. Christmas was looking pretty bleak, and we put people on notice that we were canceling most gift exchanges. The bright spot at the time was a bursary award for the balance of our kids’ tuition for the year.
But the money isn’t all of it. Two days before Christmas, I was doing the dishes while my wife was working on a craft with the kids at the dining room table. I’m not entirely certain what happened, but one minute I was dong dishes, and the next I was staring down into the sink, sobbing quietly and hoping I could keep the kids from noticing. I didn’t even really know why, but it was like something I’d written in late November, only without the little victory at the end.
This morning after dropping my girls off at school I came home to find some breakfast. I stared at the coffee grinder in the cupboard for several moments, my brain being inexplicably delayed in its ability as to how that grinder was going to find its way out of the cupboard and participate in the process that somehow (how, exactly?) ends with fresh-brewed coffee in my plunger-pot. I stared at the frying pan for a minute, but it too failed to produce a fried egg without help. Sometimes you can’t explain the feeling of being overwhelmed, and even if you know that you are, and know a little of what might help to dig you out, you seem to lack the fortitude to get started. Frying an egg and grinding coffee can be victories. Small ones perhaps, but victories all the same.
My wife tuned into the silence generated by dishes not being washed, and noticed I was kind of slumped over a bit. She left the kids working on their craft and guided me to the bedroom where I laid down on the bed and tried as best I could to express the state I was in and the fact that I didn’t know why. I asked her a little while ago what went through her mind at the time, and evidently she was surprised it had taken so long for this to happen — enough that it was actually a bit of a relief to her that I’d finally reached my breaking point. In her mind, I’ve been in a state of depression for several years, at one level or another. “Several years,” as in, “the better part of a decade.” Perhaps the length of time you coast before crashing is an indicator of how fast you were going, hmm?
On Christmas eve I got to the walk-in clinic early so I could be among the first in line. I was looking for drugs, and my wife being a nurse, had given me a couple of brand names to tip me off as to whether or not the doctor was headed in the right direction. The doctor suggested that antidepressants weren’t going to do me any good and gave me something for anxiety. Well, that was half of what I was after, so I took it and filled the prescription. That, along with some brain-candy fiction and the cancellation of a couple of family gatherings got me through to mid-January with at least some recourse for the times when I was feeling overwhelmed.
I recalled reading a post that Brant Hansen had written back in early December or thereabouts. “My name is Brant, and I’m on mind-altering drugs. …Fluoxetine, to be exact. 20 mg a day. It’s for my brain, which isn’t normal.” He asked, “Is Jesus really enough?” and disclosed that he was taking antidepressants, which altered his mood and made him a different person. And it was a good thing. He got a lot of comments and responses to his post and wrote a followup. Some people said he needed more faith (or whatever), but a lot of people were understanding and empathetic. I had a reaction to the post that I really did not expect. I was envious. I suppose that deep down I had known for a while that I was in trouble, but just hadn’t come to the cognitive realization of it, or if I had, perhaps I wasn’t admitting it.
I read up on anxiety, depression, the medications for each, what serotonin does in the brain, and what its lack will do. I came to understand that feelings of anxiety have almost nothing whatsoever to do with the thing that appears to set it off. That is, the magnitude of the feeling is completely unrelated to the strength of the apparent stressor. Still, I avoided doing dishes for a couple of months… a sink full of dishes loomed large for me, not only because of the chore at hand but because of the association it now had. As for depression, I learned enough about serotonin, SSRIs and SNRIs to understand that if I needed medication, it wasn’t a weakness — it’s a physical problem in my brain, not significantly different than my physical problem of asthmatic allergies. I need medications for both. Recently I was in a group of people when the subject came up, and of five people present only one did not have a similar prescription. At one time I would have said how awful that was, how quickly we run to happy-drugs to fix all our problems. But I’m post-extremist-charismatic now. I have an illness and a remedy — end of story. Other people understand depression, like Jason Clark, and I’m in the fine company of Brant and of Gordon Atkinson and many other folk. (Seriously, read Gordon’s and Brant’s posts). We may not like the fact that we need the med’s, but we certainly like what they do for us when they bring us back “up” to “normal” like the rest of you.
So yes, I finally got in to see a decent physician in mid-January. I took my wife along with me, just because I was having difficulty expressing the problem and wanted her along just in case I needed help to describe it. The doctor wasn’t exactly Doogie Howser, but I wondered at first if he was old enough to be a doctor… a sure sign that I’m the one who’s aging. My wife explained that this only meant he would be up on more recent medicine. He didn’t need to hear very much before he was writing a prescription for the very meds that the other quack said wouldn’t do me any good… and he gave me something stronger for anxiety. Turns out he’s a fairly decent chap and isn’t actually too quick to prescribe, as I found out during the successive visits when he monitored my progress and we evaluated dosage adjustments.
The upshot is that I’ve been on SNRIs since mid-January. I’ve gone from unhelpfully second-guessing everything and being vaguely unsure of myself in mid-December to crashing hard in late December to gradually recovering with the help of the appropriate medications. From then until now, I’ve been unable to keep a full work schedule, hitting my stride at about half-time or a little more. The rest of the time has been spent variously reading, napping, watching movies, doing errands, and generally just puttering around. It may look to some like I’m being lazy, but around here we call it “recovery.” And in order to fuel recovery, you do what it takes, negative outside opinions be damned. It’s taken a while and I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m learning to know when I’m getting overloaded and will try to take a break when I’m there. At first I’d push to work a full day and then crash for a day and a half, which proved unhelpful… taking a rest before I was completely spent at least allowed me to do stable half-days, which proved very helpful in terms of scheduling and setting expectations for myself. I’ve been able to increase my workload a bit, but not full-time and not for an extended period without taking a day or two of “nothing” in the middle somewhere. I do feel that I’m regaining some of my equilibrium, but it’s been a step-by-step struggle. Most of the side-effects I experienced were in the first month, though I have less energy these days. I discovered the hard way that if I accidentally skip a day with my med’s, I can get a headache that lasts for 48 hours… so we try hard not to do that. I discovered just lately that the particular drug I’m on is also used to treat OCD, and let’s just say that the discovery explains a thing or two about the changes I’ve noticed in myself and leave it at that.
I suppose there could be some who judge the dependence on such means of coping… who look down their hypercharismatic noses at the practice. I suppose all their ducks are standing beak-to-tail, but for some of us life just isn’t like that. Some of us are awash in a sea of duckdom. Or duck dung, whatever. Like the blind man in John 9 said, “All I know is this…” I was sinking, but I took the pills and now I can see and hear and feel again. I can make coffee, poach an egg, wash the dishes, hug my kids, and spend time with my wife. Judge that.
On April 6, 1991, Bob Jones of “Kansas City Prophet” fame sat in a chair across from me, looked straight at me and said (among other things), “…they have been, uh, in times past they’s been depression upon you and thinks like this — you beat it — it’s beautiful. I mean, you really eradicated it from your mind, uh, and you got real clear vision already…” Now I’m clearly of the post-charismatic ilk, but I saw and heard him say things that day that are impossible to know. Nobody in the small room of leaders knew about the depression I went through when I was 19 or 20 years old. Nobody knew the depths that I’d been brought to that time… and there was no way I was going back there. I held onto this notion of having eradicated depression from my life — and for a long time, I think that really I had done so. I think this caused me to resist the idea for so long, even after my wife identified it. It took me a while to get to the point of understanding that depression isn’t bad or wrong or sinful… sometimes it’s just a chemical imbalance like so many other diseases and maladies. I had to come to terms not only with that, but I who had beat depression, as confirmed by a prophet, was under it once more. But hey, it’s just clinical depression. At one time, they would just check you into a sanatorium and that’d be that. We know so much more now, and I’m thankful to have a solution in a tiny little bottle that keeps my life balanced and enables me to face those massive challenges in my life, like toasting an English muffin to go with my poached egg. With a slice of mozzarella on it, and coffee.
I hate that we call it “depression.” For what I’ve got, this automatically gives the wrong impression… the much older “bouts of melancholy” is a bit better description, but some people start thinking “suicide watch” as soon as you mention depression. I don’t think I’d even call what I have an overwhelming sadness… but that’s what people may wrongly think when you say “depression,” even if you actually mean clinical depression, which has some marked distinctives from the popular use of the term. Yes, there are some life events that have contributed to where I now find myself, but I think that I’d have to say that those only became triggers, or showed up as the proverbial straw to break this camel’s back. I really don’t believe that they are the root cause of a chemical problem in my brain… though stress isn’t good for it, and the aftermath of the CLB-becoming-CLB and sudden unplanned career change with attendant financial implications all just pile up in the mix.
Now, circumstantially, the business that I left owes me a good deal of cash, but have had their own manufactured cash-crunch, and have suspended payments to me since September. Being able to work half-time has been a great blessing, matched with the way that we had pared down our living expenses quite sharply before then. We have become very accustomed to me being home, and we’re actually loathe to make a change to that if we can avoid it… even if it means I never return to full-time work, especially of the 9-5 variety. My wife has worked a lot of extra shifts, but since she works nights, the extra shifts can take quite a toll. Some of the stress has undoubtedly come from this but we’re getting by and making do, and the adjusted lifestyle seems so much more sustainable and enjoyable for us as a family. I hope to be doing more paid writing, and to continue doing website maintenance (WordPress themes, maintenance, setup, etc. using HTML, CSS, PHP, and other fun toys) as well to help cover the bills. (Anyone in need of such services, you know where to find me.)
I’m not fully back to “normal” yet… I have some down days, I need to nap occasionally, and I still can’t really do full-time 9-5 work. I’m trying to be patient with those things and not beat myself up about them… it takes as long as it takes. I am frustrated by the fact that I am consciously aware that the processing power of my brain is not what it was or should be, that I sometimes feel like I’m in a bit of a logic-fog. For example, if I do a Sudoku puzzle, I can’t hold as many levels of logic in my head at once as what I could a year or two ago. This means that when reading nonfiction, I have a harder time sustaining a single train of thought or logic over an extended period of time… which sucks for meditation, contemplation, and problem-solving, activities I really love.
So that’s what’s been going on. I haven’t been ignoring your emails and comments… on the contrary, I’ve read them and been thankful for them. They encourage me. Most of the time, I’ve even composed a nice reply in my head as I read your note — but for some reason, my keyboard failed to produce a reply on its own accord. Please accept my apologies for that. I’ve recently gotten a nice new wireless keyboard and mouse, so we’ll see how it works out. In the meantime, just know that I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve and disclosure like this is difficult (even under a pseudonym, to some). But now you know.