Friday, September 28, 2007

So, What Is It With Me, Anyway?

You know, I ain't right. And I don't really know where to turn to try and find out why not. All I know for sure is that the last several years (since first dealing with my husband's bipolar disorder and all the drama and trauma that went with getting that diagnosed and under control) have been hard, emotionally, and then the last three years (since my Dad died) have been...tragic, desperate, and then this past year since the hysterectomy has just been bizarre. I've dealt with depression and anxiety, which seem to come and go whimsically, and catch me off-guard. I took one anti-depressant after another, and suffered side effects galore without ever really feeling significantly better. Anti-anxiety meds (read: benzos) helped me through some tough spots, and then I'd go several months without any before needing them again.

The only sure thing is that my moods and anxiety/panic attacks always corresponded with something going on externally. In other words, if things were going okay, I was fine. But somewhere along the line, especially since Dad died, something had gone KABLOOEY with the coping mechanisms that had served me for the rest of my life. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this, that some external event could occur that could trigger a weakness, a malfunction, in my brain.

One day this spring, while I was discussing this with a wonderful friend--a friend who just happens to have been, for the last few years, a MUCH better friend to me than I've been to her, or to anyone else--who happens to be a doctor of pharmacy, not to mention having much personal experience with clinical depression. I listed to her all the anti-depressants I'd tried, told her how none of them had worked, and asked her, "What can I try next?" She looked at me, and after just a moment's consideration, said, "You know, Belinda, even though you're depressed, you may not have an actual chemical imbalance. I mean, you've been through some pretty horrible, awful stuff, just year after year recently, and you have every right to feel despondent without it meaning that your brain is all mine." And then she laughed. And I saw a light. And I loved her like she was part of me, because she got it. And then she told me the hard part.

She said, "Sometimes, you can't even live life 'one day at a time.' Sometimes, you have to live it in 30-minute increments. You can do almost anything for half an hour, no matter how badly you don't want to. So on days when I just want to stay in bed with the blinds drawn, I make a deal with myself to go out to the barn and groom one horse. By the time that's done, I might look over at YOUR horse" (she's been keeping Misha for me for way longer than I meant for her to) "and decide that his mane needs detangling, so I brush Misha's mane. Then I might want to clip his bridle path, and before you know it, I've spent half the day out in the sunshine, DOING something, instead of wallowing."

Just when I had decided that Kerri was the most brilliant, insightful woman on the face of the planet, she confessed to having developed this coping mechanism after hearing a version of it in the film, "About A Boy." She said, "Yep. 10 years of therapy and I finally learn something useful from a Hugh Grant monologue in a movie. Not the book--the MOVIE."

She IS brilliant, my friend, and she's definitely onto something. I can't help but think that, since no AD has helped me feel better--not really--that whatever is wrong with my brain, it's not something that an AD can "fix." I've been off the most recent AD, Wellbutrin, since early March, with no noticeable effect at all. I don't feel better, I don't feel worse. Just the same. The anxiety symptoms have abated (I'm not having falling-down panic-attacks in Wal-Mart any more), but are still present to some degree, in proportion to what's going on in my life.

Something is particularly difficult about mornings, about just getting out the door. Once I'm out, I'm pretty good for a few hours, but my calm seems to have a shelf-life, and I need to get back home in the afternoon. I like to plan things pretty far in advance, but I have trouble committing to things in advance. Anti-anxiety meds help. I'm not wild about how they make me feel, i.e. slightly dopey, but I do use them when I need them.

And then there's the hormone angle, which I don't even know for sure how to approach. Something has GOT to be going on there, since the weirdness has escalated by, um, a bunch, since my hysterectomy last fall. When I first came out of surgery, on estrogen deprivation, I literally felt, for the first and only time in my life, that I had lost my mind. It's like nothing I can describe--the misery, despair, agony, anxiety--the certainty that it's never going to be better, ever. After a couple of weeks, I was able to start estrogen replacement therapy, and it was like a least to a point. It made the extreme crazy go away, but like I said at the beginning of this post, I still ain't quite right.

And I can't help but think that a large part of what keeps me "down" and anxious is the disarray of my lifestyle--I keep Bella clean, fed, loved, dressed well, entertained, cared for...and that's almost (but not quite) the limit of my motivation...and THAT is my motivation for this effort. I don't know yet if it will work, but I know that to have peace and calm, I must first have order. I need it, Bella needs it, Alex needs it. And I need to provide it. I'm on my way, I hope...the house is still a mess, but I've done certain chores more regularly this week, and my family has had a hot, homemade, nutritious meal on the table every night this week, with NO takeout. That's got to be a start.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's been through, or is going through anything similar, especially from the hysterectomy angle.


  1. Well, for obvious reasons, I can't relate to that... :-)

    But I can say that I've watched "About A Boy" several times, and find it to be a remarkable film. I don't find it surprising at all that somebody could be inspired by it.

    Though, for the ultimate mood-lifter, I watch the final 5 minutes of the film "Millions" which is about as good as it gets.

  2. Aw, Belinda. Do you think it's possible you may have just gotten in the habit of feeling something's just not right? I know I've done it, much to the detriment of my own and my family's well-being -- and sometimes without even realizing what I'm doing until someone gives me a (mostly figurative) kick in the butt to get me back on track. Depression is such an easy trap (and deadly habit)to step into, especially when we're trying to cope with illnesses and recoveries, with housekeeping and kids and work and the jillion tiny little responsibilities that come with just being a grownup that add up to such a BIG FRICKEN DEAL! Mind you -- I'm not for a minute suggesting that none of us need medication or that depression is any kind of imaginary issue; it's all to serious for all too many of us. But -- your friend Kerri is right -- you don't need to do a 180 all at once. You take a step forward and see how that feels, and if you liked it you take two steps the next time, and you keep on taking a step or two until you find yourself happy to be moving ahead, and then you just keep on going on with your life.

    Oh -- and you get yourself this book : Sidetracked Home Executives (From Pigpen to Paradise) -- you read it, you do what it tells you to do, and in a week ot two or five you're going to think your fairy godmother has bathed you with a bucket full of housekeeping dust. It's easy, it's fun, and it works like a (fairy godmother!)charm.

  3. This comment is written by a person who cannot watch the Silent Sigh music video from About A Boy without crying hysterically. Just so you know. ;) It's just so sad, with the ducks!

    I've been doing something very similar to your get it together thing myself, in my life. I never was a good planner or organiser. Checklists and time management are my new best friend.

    I wrote a couple of things that might be useful for you to read - Snoskred is Getting Organised - Are You? and Thoughts On Making Positive Changes - Can You Do It?.

    I'll be cheering you on, adding your GIT blog to my reader, and posting about a few of my things along the way on my blog.. ;)

    I've cooked dinner every night for a couple of weeks now. ;)


  4. Want some extra ordinary audio & video ringtones.

  5. Where do I even start...first of all, I can't say anything for certain in regard to the hysterectomy angle, I just have been dealing with some stage or level of menopause off and on for the past several years. It has left me feeling wonky and ridiculous most of the time.
    I can relate to the depression and anxiety. Without starting at the beginning and telling you the whole story, making your eyes glaze over and then make them roll back into your head from the droning boredom of it all, I will say that I know VERY well that underlying, free-floating, bubbling feeling inside... as if the anxiety/panic is letting you know its still there. The depression ever present as well. Maybe not noticeable right off the bat, but it seems to hang over head like your own storm cloud or something.
    I crave order as well. I think it's a common trait in all of us who deal with panic disorder. Inside ourselves we feel so out of control and I guess you could say, just messy. We don't understand what is going on inside of us, but we can understand (most of the time) what goes on outside of us, so we try to control it... keep it in line, etc. Completely understandable considering how we are feeling most of the time. In my own experience what seems to exacerbate the anxiety/panic is my automatic inner dialogue. Beating myself up for feeling the way I am. Comparing myself to others. How they seemingly are dealing with life's issues better than I am... what the hell is wrong with me... the whole shebang.
    I too have been through some very mind boggling things in the past 4 -5 years that seems to have set me back quite a lot. I went for several years where my depression and panic was pretty much non-existent. Then I start having all kinds of health problems after an intense relationship ended. Almost 2 years later my doctor finally figured out what was wrong. Grave's Disease. I was lucky to even still be alive considering what it was doing to my blood pressure and heart. Once I had the radiation treatment things really came crashing down and it has been a steep uphill struggle ever since. My own health, my Dad's health and eventual death, and now my Mom who is living under that horrible shadow of Alzheimer's.
    So, YES, YES, YES... when our world starts changing and we feel like we are being left behind because we are trying to survive each and every day with our own stuff.... it's almost like we are screaming... "Wait, I'm not ready to deal with this yet. Hang on, give me another day... I'll feel better tomorrow." And some times we do, and some times we don't.
    I was fortunate enough, several years ago to find and excellent therapist, she pointed out to me that I already had several coping and survival tools, and her job was to show me how to use them and when to use them.
    When you're in the throes of a "spell" it isn't always easy to remember them- Some days it's easy, other days.. well, screw it, ya know?
    All I can say is, I think for me what has helped is just accepting that for whatever reasons, this is how I am right now. I may not be this way tomorrow, who knows. I know that for the most part my body and my mind try to trick me. To tell me things that aren't true. That there is danger and uncertainty everywhere and to watch out.
    I know that when I am feeling very anxious that the first thing my body is going to want to do is run. (Hence the fight or flight response that is an innate trait in all living creatures). But by bracing myself against it, I will make it worse. What I try to do is visualize a doorway. The side that I'm standing on is all these bull crap feelings, on the other side of the threshold is peace, accomplishment and trusting in yourself. (Another thing we don't have - trust in ourselves. Our minds and our bodies have lied and told us, we can't rely on how we will feel from one minute to the next and it is BAD to feel that way)
    I would guess that your feelings of "something amiss" is just as your friend said... you've been through a lot in the past few years. It's a lot to take in on all the levels that a human being needs to digest events such as these.
    I have tried to look at that part of myself as some separate "entity". Almost like a bratty teenager. If I sense the depression or the anxiety, I will often just tell it..."OK, fine.. that's how you're wanting to act... go ahead. I've got things to do." It works on the little things.. the day to day stuff, but it is still a bit of a struggle with the bigger things.
    I do have a question though... are you an at home Mommy? Did you used to work outside the home?
    Could be something in that too.
    First and foremost. Don't sell yourself so short. Never think an accomplishment is too small. It's still an accomplishment- give yourself a hug for achieving something. How would you treat your daughter if she was going through what you are? Wouldn't you be loving, gentle and kind to her? Wouldn't you celebrate her accomplishments? Aren't you just as important as your daughter?
    I have no idea if this has been at all helpful. Hopefully you will find something in these rambling words that you can say rings true to you and it will help you take one more step forward.
    Just writing this and sharing has helped me. "o]
    Thank you for to opportunity, and I wish for you a surer step, a calmer soul and many, many more brighter days.
    -Lynn- aka oddthomas on twitter.

  6. I don't know sweetheart. I do know that that's an awful lot of crap to endure though. I also know that having my life in order lessens my depression some. (You should x post this to real mental.)

  7. Can’t give advice on hysterectomies but, like Lynn I am going through menopause. Here’s the thing – you were thrust into menopause with the flick of a knife if your ovaries were removed. Think about it.

    Now, let’s talk menopause. For me it started abruptly at 40. I felt a little different and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Soon I began losing my sex drive – just a little. I just didn’t think about it as often when snuggling with my husband. Then come the aches and pains and I started to ‘feel’ old. Then the weight gain and sluggishness which in my opinion is the worst. I am or was a perfectionist. Everything had to be just so. Now – eh whatever and it drives me CRAZY but I am unable to do anything about it. I have good times where I ‘appear’ to be back to normal but then –that icky feeling – comes back. I am now 47 and still trudging along waiting for the hammer to drop and accepting all days. I’ve been depressed and this isn’t depression. It’s menopause.

    Now should hormone replacement therapy work? My feelings are yes, for some symptoms. But it’s no magic bullet. If you are desperate enough you can try apple cider vinegar (Braggs brand only). It tastes like do do but it did make a difference in my headaches, my moods and my energy level. You can read about it almost anywhere. I have also just discovered something else but I have only taken it for three days however; those three days I have been moving like the energizer bunny and accomplishing more than the whole previous year. I’ll give no opinion on it yet but so far its looking good. I’ll let ya know.

    Basically Belinda, there ain’t no magic bullet only understanding. You’ll be in my thoughts. Hang in there you are not alone!

  8. The 30-minute increments thing is brilliant advice so please thank your friend. (I missed it even though I've seen the movie twice and read the book once.) What stymies me is the number of mood swings I can 'achieve' in the space of a week, so that is defintely good advice. Maybe I need to learn to practice the Buddhist living in the moment thing more.

    I think she's also on to something re. the situational and hormonal aspect of your mood. You come across as very different from the chronically anxious people I know. You're willing to take risks and tackle things head-on, which is not a trait of those I know who suffer from anxiety-induced depression. (But there's also the ADD angle to consider -- something I consider myself to be a lay expert in. Brilliance often accompanies it!)

  9. The last decade has been one very huge drama/tragedy/sucky thing after another: Divorce, bankruptcy, nearly having my father die and a very long recovery.

    The breaking point was when my son died.

    I had a very very hard time coping. With anything and everything. Depression, anxiety...I unraveled slowly over a two year period to the point that I finally sought help.

    I was incorrectly diagnosed as being bipolar. I don't blame them, the symptoms were very similar. I was on SO much medication. It made everything worse.

    Finally, I went off of everything after having a similiar conversation with my husband. My problems are mostly external and I have a diminished capacity to cope because, well...I reached my limit.

    I think that your game plan is very good. Try not to bite off too much, but getting your life in order will HELP. Trust me on this.

    It won't fix everything, but if you get your surroundings and family, health and relationships as ordered as you can, you will have a lot more ammunition to fight with.

  10. I can't relate on the hysterectomy angle - but, I have emotionally had one of the worst summers of my life. So, I feel you there. It frustrating too, because every single time I feel like I'm out of it, I sink deeper.

    I'd LOVE to be able to call my doctor and start to taper off the Effexor, but that's just not an option for me right now. I've learned to work through my anxiety attacks with prayer. And, you know what, it works. It totally works. I'm not allowed Xanax anymore because of a very stupid mistake I made right after Zane and I broke up. But, turning to God is better anyway. My verse of choice has been " I will not leave unless you bless me" Genesis 32:26

    And, I'd have to second the Sidetracked Home Executives book. My mom brought that over to me a few months ago when I was feeling very overwhelmed with the 2500 square foot home I could not keep clean. I may need it again as I can't keep my 510 square foot apartment clean either.

    AND, lastly could also do the trick :)

  11. I'm going through my own mini-version of what you describe. What I'm a mad about is that nobody ever tells you this stuff! Somewhere along the line it has come to be expected that people should always be "up." Especially mothers. We are taught to suck it up or take a pill. So if you can't do the first and the second doesn't help - then what? I think your friend Kerri is on the right track, though. let's give ourselves a break!

  12. It's interesting to hear that you felt like you'd lost your mind when you had your hysto, because when I went on that chemical menopause for my endo, I felt the most clear-headed and NORMAL I've ever felt as an adult. (Long discussions of the vileness of Lupron notwithstanding.) I felt rational and sane and AWAKE. It was like I'd been slogging through life being angry and miserable and suddenly it was like the sun came out and angels sang from heaven and blared on their trumpets. I've always assumed I was sensitive to estrogen, since higher-estrogen BCPs make me go instantaneously insane, like psycho killer rage. But I was astonished at how... NORMAL I felt when I had no estrogen in my body.

    Anyway, I'm always baffled by how much hormones affect us, and how the slightest variation in these chemicals can send us reeling in one direction or another.

    I've been taking micro-doses only "as needed" for my anxiety lately, of Xanax, and man, it gets the concrete truck off my chest when I start to feel a panic attack crushing me. Although also lately I've been reminding myself, "Remember to BREATHE" and that helps too.

    *hugs* Life is hard. I keep waiting for it to get spontaneously easy, but it hasn't happened yet, damnit!

  13. I can't speak to the hysterectomy angle, but I do know that the drop in estrogen during my period last month mixed with the Effexor to make me just about lose it.

    I'm going to go to a naturopath to see if we can work something out with the hormone shifts. That, and I'm trying a new drug. I'm hoping that it can pull me up just enough that I can start taking better care of myself - working out, eating better, all that good stuff that makes such a huge difference.

    Hugs to you. I hope things get better soon.