Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

Category: Depression

A Closer Look

It’s harder to be transparent than to be honest.  It’s one thing to not lie and another to lay yourself open to other people, to allow light to shine on your shortcomings and struggles and failings and trust that you will still seem worthwhile to others.  And there are times and places when too much transparency is inappropriate, especially when one is transparently wallowing in negativity.

I have a hard time letting people see me when I am non-functional. Some of that is rooted in that good old American “everything’s fine” facade, which it seems everyone is obliged to maintain. I can’t speak definitively to whether it’s a wider phenomenon, but it’s clearly implanted in the American culture, that we’re all just fine, all the time.  Because that mentality is so ingrained in us, when someone is brave enough to admit that they are not fine, the knee-jerk response is to fix things so that they will be fine again.

But some things cannot be fixed like that. Some things must be waded through, and all we want is someone to know we are wading. It’s not even usually necessary for someone to jump in with us, but just for someone to know and to care that we are having a tough time can sometimes shore up waning strength.

There is another element of pretending I am fine that comes into play particularly in blogging and facebooking and twittering and all those social media forums. It is that nobody wants to be around a whiner, and all these services bring immediate contact with every passing thought that’s deemed worthy of sharing. I tend to resort to sarcasm and sharp wit to convey my not-fine-ness without making it seem too serious. To avoid making it whiney.  I am honest, after a fashion, but not often transparent.

I’ve made an effort in my blog over the last two years to talk openly and honestly about my depression and how it affects me, what goes on in my head and some of the things I’ve found to counteract my own personal negative patterns.  I’m lucky enough that my depression releases me enough that I can step back and identify these things objectively. I know many people who cannot do that. My hope is that someday someone might stumble across what I share here and it might help them.  Whether that’s someone who struggles with depression and has never been able to voice their own thoughts about it or someone whose loved one battles depression and has never really understood what goes on inside that crazy head, or how they might be able to ease the load even a tiny bit.

So I’m going to be transparent today, in hopes that it will help someone understand what depression does even to a person who has their situation more under control.

I’ve already shared the recent adjustments my insurance has made necessary to my antidepressant medication. I very briefly shared my concerns that the process of finding another suitable medicine will turn large chunks of the next several months into “lost weeks.”

It is a fact of my life, medicated or not, that sometimes I lose a few days or a week. By this I mean that although I may manage to handle everyday tasks when they are urgent enough, although I may show up at my normal social activities looking presentable and carry on a normal conversation and generally look “fine,” essentially I am moving in survival mode.  If people are coming to the house, it will be clean; if Matt runs out of underwear, I will do laundry; if we can no longer fit dirty dishes on the counter because there are already so many stacks of them, I might empty the dishwasher and run it again (but that’s a huge stretch–usually that falls to Matt when I’m non-functional); when it is time for Matt to eat, he will have something to eat (if he’s not around I’m likely to skip a meal because it would take work to make something).

When I’m away from the house, no one will know that anything is wrong.  I dealt with my depression sans medication for nearly ten years before I went to the doctor about it.  I have a superb mask, and I’m smart enough to fool most people into never realizing it’s on. Also, just because I’m having a rough day doesn’t mean everybody needs to know it.  It’s common courtesy to not let your mood negatively affect others.

I don’t want pity or special treatment or to be let out of my responsibilities.  If I wasn’t expected to do anything, I wouldn’t.  I would lie on the couch with the curtains drawn and snuggle with the dog all day, and I would feel guilty and worthless because I wasn’t doing anything.  If I stop moving, I will never get started again.  I need to keep moving and I need to not dwell on how rotten my mental state is, so I put on my mask and do what needs to be done and most people never notice.  Sometimes I’m glad for that, and sometimes it’s frustrating that nobody notices that I’m not okay.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t given them a chance to see my not-fine-ness; the depressed mind is not particularly logical, and when it comes up with logical arguments it promptly disregards them even though it recognizes they are accurate.  Even if I mention that I’m having a rough week (which I will do in the name of honesty if someone asks) the extent of the struggle is downplayed for both our sakes–most people have no idea how to react to someone in the middle of depression, and it does me no good to wallow.  As I’ve said, if I can keep moving, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

Does any of this make sense?  Sometimes I can’t tell.  I hope it does.

So to the outside world everything looks okay, but the things that are not simple day-to-day tasks, the ones that add value because I choose to do them suffer.

It feels like I’m Tom Hanks on his Castaway raft, desperately concerned with staying afloat on the waves, unable to paddle fast enough after the ship he can see on the horizon, taking his deepest dreams with it.  Nothing he does will get him there in time.  All he can hope for is to stay afloat, try to move closer to the shipping lane, and pray for another boat.  But there’s no telling how long that will take.

I was chatting with a good friend this morning, and I’m going to steal some words from that conversation (my words, not hers) to try to convey this in a non-metaphorical sense.  These exact words did not circle in my mind through the last week and a half, but the sense of them has pervaded my perceptions of things.

i hate the idea that i might lose december if my meds keep being troublesome and i have been trying so hard to actually finish my revisions on the manuscript by december so i can be sending it out, and last week just felt like everything would get blown out of the water and i’d sail past yet another imaginary deadline with absolutely nothing done and no end in sight. and matt’s job and classes are super stressful, and he had papers due and i had to stop working to edit them, and we had people over for dinner and social stuff to do, where i cannot just be unfunctional. and you crashed your bike and i couldn’t do anything to help, except try to talk to you, but neither of us was any good at that last week. it was awful.

Logically, I acknowledge that these are all fairly minor concerns. Objectively, quite a few of them are things I have no power over, and I’m taking responsibility for them anyway. But these are all things that matter deeply to me, and when I feel like I’m fumbling them it’s very hard to acknowledge that.  Even though today is a comparably good day, as I typed those things to my friend I teared up and my nose got sniffly because I hate not being able to act when I need to.  Notice the never-ending sentences… thoughts just run together and roll forward with their momentum and it’s very hard to pull up and adjust my approach.

It becomes necessary to stop thinking about those things and do what I can. Wash clothes, run errands, show up and smile when it’s required, do the best I can with the things that matter most, and hope that tomorrow or next week I’m closer to being able to handle them as I feel I should.  As I want to.

This isn’t something that happens once a year and then goes away for me.  Every morning I might have a good day or a horrible one, and all I can do is try again tomorrow.  My meds make it easier to have good days, so that my good day tally looks more like a normal person’s, but they’re not a guarantee.  I still have to be diligent and aware and proactive.  And when people are messing with my meds, even diligence sometimes makes no difference.

It’s frustrating, but it’s reality.  I am blessed to have friends and family who have sought to understand and support me.  I am so lucky for Matt, whose patience and encouragement lend me stability when I have precious little of my own. All things considered, I am lucky.  But it’s still hard sometimes.

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Manuscript Progress and Antidepressant Adventures

Ten days since my last entry isn’t so bad, really.  Not when it’s been caused alternately by furious manuscriptural progress (yeah, I made that word up, and I quite like it, thanks for noticing) and some pharmaceutical adventures, the latter of which I was rather slow to catch onto.

First of all, I’m more than halfway through this manuscript revision, which is significant because close to the first 1/3 was new material that had to be connected and smoothed into the existing text, and now that I’ve passed that juncture I anticipate veritably flying through the remaining work.  In other words, I am optimistic.  But then, I am rarely pessimistic, so we should take my optimism with a shaker’s worth of salt.

As to the pharmaceutical adventures, it’s a rather long, roundabout story, but the short version is that our new medical insurance policy very much prefers not to cover my customary antidepressant (hereafter Drug B), so I switched to another variety that has the same active ingredient (Drug C).  I was assured that very few people have trouble with this change as the two drugs are very similar, and I am so far from being picky about brand or method as long as the darn stuff WORKS that I readily filled the prescription.  Unfortunately, I am part of the “very few people” who do not adjust seamlessly to the new (to me) drug.

For about the last week and a half I have had seriously strange dreams–abnormal ones, for me.  Not scary dreams, just uber weird.  Pretty much every night, three or four a night.  I know this because I wake up between all of them and have trouble getting back to sleep, which leads to a tired Betsy.  I’ve been taking naps most mornings, and have only proceeded from napping to writing (rather than reading or watching “A-Team” episodes on Netflix) about every other day.  Finally, sometime in the nighttime hours no one should ever witness between Thursday and Friday, it dawned on me that there is only one other time something like this has happened to me–and it was almost two years ago, with the very first antidepressant I tried.  This reaction isn’t as severe as the first one, but then I was on Drug A for a month and a half, and Drug C for only two weeks.  Less time to develop strangeness.

At any rate, I called the doctor folks on Friday morning and after numerous call-backs for them to verify lots of angles, I am now gradually shifting to Drug D. If it works, great.  If not, I know that the doctor can jump through some hoops and get Drug B (my antidepressant of choice) approved coverage with the insurance, if it’s the only thing that works for me.  I’m not sure how many others I’ll have to try before they can conclude that I actually do need Drug B.

All in all, I’m not all that upset at present.  I’d much rather not have to jump through hoops (either personally or via my doctor) to get what I need to be healthy.  On the other hand, if they make me try several more medicines before we find one that works, I can see the next two or three or four months basically going down the drain, practically speaking.  As it is, barring severe immediate issues, I have to stay on Drug D until Christmas, more or less, before they’ll consider trying me on something else.  I have not yet run through even all the antidepressants that most people would recognize on hearing because of various advertisements, much less any lesser-known ones.

But I am trying to remain optimistic, because getting pessimistic about depression tends to be a rapid downward spiral and we can certainly do without any of that.

All that to say, another week (probably) of funky dreams before I’ve totally phased out Drug C, and then we’ll see how well Drug D works through my winter depressive slump.

And now back to my regularly scheduled manuscript edits.

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Blogging and Depression

The problem with blogging while fighting off depression is that there’s not a lot of witticism or carefree fun that comes naturally. There’s a good deal of cynicism and gloomy introspection, and there are far too many blogs out there filled with both of those for me to feel that adding my bit here would benefit anyone in any way.

That makes it rather hard to blog. I’m not saying that I only blog sunshine and roses, all the time, just that nobody wants to listen to me whine and, frankly, blogging about what I haven’t gotten done does not help my depressive cycle.

At all.

So I avoid it.

Then I feel silly for wanting to post an entry talking about my good day yesterday, because by normal-people standards, I didn’t do all that much. By depressed-person standards, it was a victory.

I cleaned the house (the office wasn’t bad, really, but the rest felt like a mess), ran a very full dishwasher and then put the dishes away, and did almost all the laundry. We took the dog to the dog park, and, perhaps most importantly, I marked up manuscript pages with edits. It’s been several weeks since I really did any work on the manuscript. It’s been floating in the back of my mind, as always, but I haven’t been able to pull together the brain power to work on it. It’s one of my least favorite parts of depression. But now I’m looking forward to going through and making those changes and then moving forward again. It’s a good feeling.

So yesterday was huge. Great. I also opened the curtains for the first time in five days. Funny how letting light into the house can help. I ended the day feeling like it had gone well, which is significant. Too many times, even a good day ends with me feeling discouraged and frustrated, and that’s no good at all.

Today has been pretty good, too. I went to work, but my boss didn’t, so I got to come home early. We ran some errands that I’ve been putting off, I’m finishing the last of the laundry now, and then my official task is to read a library book that I’ve renewed so many times I can’t renew it again. It’s due tomorrow evening, so I’m dedicated to reading it. Happily, Matt has things to do this evening, so the time is pretty much open for me to do my reading.

That’s about all. It’s not very exciting. Depression rarely is.

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Vacation Wrap-Up and Whatnot

Apologies yet again for failing in my blog schedule… I’ve uploaded more photos from the trip and made comments over on flickr, in the Utah album. Head over there and check it out. The first five or six photos have already been posted on the blog, but the rest are new.

I’ve mostly been reading this week, between efforts to settle back into the routine of being home. On that front, it’s been a rough week. We had several special events on campus, which meant shuffling our usual schedule, and I’ve been fighting off a rather persistent bout of depression recently. It manifests as an extreme inability to focus combined with rather overwhelming lethargy. I’m working, bit by bit, to keep moving forward, or at least not stagnate entirely. It seems a hopeless business most days, but I have good friends and family who keep me in line and crack the whip when I slide a bit too close to the edge of full-out wallowing.

So that’s where things stand. It’s a busy, rather stressful month in the Whitt household, since June is extra-busy for Matt and his youth ministry responsibilities. He’ll be home eight days between now and July 4th. I expect to spend rather a lot of time with Shiloh at the dog park while he’s gone. I’ve got a few other plans, too, which I won’t expand upon at the moment. We’ll see what the month brings.

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A Conversation about Depression and Writers

Aussie writer Colin Rowsell has posted an excellent entry in his blog about depression and its effects on writers. There’s already a great conversation happening in the comments of the entry, but many people are spreading the word on their own blogs as well. I thought, since I’ve dealt with depression quite a bit and talked about it a few times here, that it was a great opportunity.

I’d recommend reading the original post to get the full context, but you can just go ahead to my answers to the questions he posed if you prefer.

WHAT TO DO:

* Read the questions below.
* Choose some (by no means necessarily all) that you’d like to answer.
* Either write into the comments section, or email Colin privately on (if you email, I will respect your privacy to any extent you want, the default is complete anonymity)
* If you like, add a tiny bit about yourself – eg ‘I’m a 22 yr old female aspiring writer’, ‘I’m 46 years old, used to be an emu farmer, and have 3 books in print’, etc. Also add any further advice that isn’t covered under the questions.
Finally, tell anyone you know who might be interested in being part of the conversation – the further we can retweet and link this, the better it’ll get.

For anyone who’s not acquainted with me, I’m a 26 year old female, pursuing publication. I’ve got a husband, a dog, and a cactus, and I have a bachelor’s in Music (voice) and a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Eastern and Seton Hill Universities, respectively. There’s a history of depression in both sides of my family.

Depression

1. What is depression?
It’s walking around in circles through hip-deep, sucking mud, just to figure out what to have for lunch.

2. How is it different from just having a bad day?
There’s no reason for it–there might be a trigger event, but there’s nothing solid to point to like, “My boss has been hounding me unfairly all month.” It’s just there.

3. What does it feel like on the inside?
For me? All my thoughts get tangled and move in circles. I’ve got a lot of things to accomplish, but I don’t have everything I need to start the first one and the second one will take a long time and I probably won’t get anything done and really I’m incapable of finishing ANYTHING so I might as well lie on the couch and watch the same movie over and over all day. I can’t process conversations, I can’t even follow printed directions. I tend to forget to eat, and if I do remember, it’s often not worth the trouble of making all those decisions about what to have and how to fix it.

4. What can it look like from the outside, i.e. from the perspective of friends/acquaintances?
I think sometimes it looks like I need more sleep, but I learned very early on how to have a “normal person” mask in public, so I doubt many people even notice. My husband is very familiar with my warning signs, though, and so is my mom, and they are both good about stepping in.

Personal Experience

5. In what way is depression a part of your life?
It’s like my hair. It’s a part of me, it sprouts back even if I were to try to shave it off. Some days are great, and it cooperates. Other days, it’s a miracle to pull things together enough to go out in public without drawing stares. If I take care of it, it does better, but there are still good days and bad days.

6. If you live with depression, how/when did you first realise it? Was there a formal diagnosis at some point?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect I can identify my first major depressive episode nine years ago, during my freshman year of college. Since then, I’ve been at a fairly constant low level of chronic depression with several other severe episodes scattered about. I self-diagnosed six years ago, after the second major episode (four months), and with my husband’s help self-treated until a year ago, when I went to a doctor, got officially diagnosed, and got meds for it.

7. What were some early experiences with depression that had an impact?
Isolation, forgetting to eat (I look at photos from that time and realize how very, very thin I was), ruining relationships (family, friends, boyfriend). Once I identified the initial symptoms of a downward spiral, I set up methods to pull myself back from the edge.

8. If you write, how does it affect your writing?
Well, when I can’t accomplish anything or put together thoughts that run in anything but circles, that’s not a great thing for writing. I’ve learned to allow myself down time as a natural part of my productivity, and to find other things to occupy my time instead of retreating to thinking about how little I’m ever going to get done and how useless it would even be to try.

9. What have you found useful for coping? What’s NOT useful?
Finding activities in which I get tangible evidence of progress–quilting is great, because at the end of each step, I have stacks of Things I Got Done staring me in the face. A long walk outside, preferably in the sun, also definitely helps. Allowing my husband to make plans with good friends and then dragging me along can help turn around my mindset by the end of the evening. My medication has done wonders for my chronic depression–but it took thinking about it as a medical condition, like diabetes, that has to be treated regularly and seriously before I caved and went to the doctor. But there are still greater fluctuations that I have to be aware of even when I’m consistent with remembering my meds. Adjusting my expectations so that I work with my depression instead of against it is important, too. NOT useful for me? Watching TV or movies, talking to someone who is being super-productive, “just cheer up, everything will be fine”. Reading is neutral… it does have the advantage of being able to see my progress, but there’s usually a bit of guilt because I feel I *should* have been writing.

Advice

10. What advice would you give to a young person, interested in writing, who’s beginning to realise that depression will be part of their life?
Well I’m not sure that being a writer necessitates having depression, but for the young or new writer who deals with depression, I’d give the same advice as I would to anyone with depression. Know your treatment options, use whatever support networks you have access to (I have one friend whose coworkers are closer than her family in many ways), and make the best informed decisions you can for your own situation. Don’t let depression be an excuse for not doing what you dream of, but don’t kid yourself that it won’t be an obstacle; and know that it might be more of an obstacle for some than for others.

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