Emerging from the fog of depression

“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s been six weeks since I last blogged. Six. Weeks.

I’d like to say I spent the last six weeks doing something terribly exciting or productive – like taking a European vacation or building a chicken coop or perhaps an entire barn – but the reality is I didn’t do much at all.

I was tired.
I slept. A lot.
I couldn’t focus.
I existed.
I stayed afloat.
But most importantly, I began to wonder if something might be wrong with me.

I’ve been living with generalized anxiety disorder for a couple years now (at least since I was diagnosed), but I’ve never been diagnosed with any other mental illness. I may have had some situational depression in the past, but I muddled through and it always passed.

Although I’ve been seeing a therapist regularly for a while now — especially since my sister died — it wasn’t until I started talking with some friends that I realized I might be depressed. At my worst, I slept in four hours past when my kids got up because I just. couldn’t. get. out. of. bed. I took a nap one day while they played in the backyard. Yes, we have a fence and they were safe, but if something would have happened I would’ve been clueless. Despite thinking about this as I laid in bed about to fall sleep, I didn’t care. It was that feeling of being so tired I honestly didn’t care about my kids’ well-being that triggered something in my brain to think perhaps something was amiss. I’m not generally the type of parent who just “doesn’t care.” Sure I have my “bad” days like anyone else, but this was more than a bad day. I honestly was neglecting my kids on a regular basis and I didn’t feel I had the ability to do anything to change it. I felt lazy and like a failure.

I began to think perhaps I had anemia again since I felt so tired. As I did some online research, I began to look at possible reasons for excessive sleep. Depression popped up. Although I had several factors in my life that could contribute to me being depressed — my sister dying, my dog’s failing health for two weeks which culminated in having to euthanize her, and several other things that I’m not able to blog about — I figured since I wasn’t crying all the time, I wasn’t depressed. After taking a quiz from WebMD and receiving the results, “Your answers are similar to what individuals suffering from major depression usually provide,” I decided to talk to some friends about it.

“Take the first step, no more, no less, and the next will be revealed.”
— Ken Roberts

My friends — who’ve had experience with depression themselves — encouraged me to call my therapist and tell her what was going on — the sooner the better. I decided to email her and told her the same things I told my friends and that my friends thought I should contact her. She spoke with my doctor and they agreed that I was having classic signs of depression and suggested I increase my anxiety medication (Zoloft) by 50 milligrams. I was hesitant to increase it that much and told her I prefer to take an additional 25 mgs first for a few days and then do 50. She said she talked to the doctor and he didn’t think I would have any side effects since I already had the drug in my system and it would only help me start to feel better.

The next morning, which was March 21, I took my new dose. I also had acupuncture that morning (another thing I’ve been doing regularly to try to combat my migraines). I began to feel an almost immediate improvement in my mood. I was no longer tired all the time. I wanted to plan things to do with my kids. Over the course of the next week, I got out in the yard and did a bunch of clean-up work. I signed the kids up for swimming lessons. I began caring about my blog again. I got my hair cut (it had been more than four months since my last cut). I have the motivation to start exercising again, to cook dinner more regularly, to plan a family vacation, to think and care about the future.

I’m not sure when the depression started — it was definitely a gradual buildup starting after my sister died — but I feel so very fortunate I was able to recognize some of the signs and connect the dots with the help of my friends and my therapist. It had really gotten to the point where it was no longer manageable. Now that I’m on the right dose of medication for me for right now, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t feel hopeless or simply disconnected from my life. I can live it again.

I’ve worried in the past about “needing” to take medication to treat my anxiety. It was absolutely not my first choice, but after trying many other things I realized it was the right choice for right now. I don’t know that I will ever go off medication for anxiety/depression, but that’s not something I have to worry about right now. Right now I know that it’s helping me be a functional person and an attentive parent and that’s good enough for me.

In the past week I’ve noticed a significant improvement in how I feel and am able to function. My days aren’t perfect now, but I’m not shooting for perfection. I am hopeful. I am finding more joy in my life. I am excited to do things with my kids again. I am excited for spring and gardening and baby chickens! I still miss my sister like crazy. I don’t think that will ever change. But I’m able to live. To quote Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”

I’ve added the symptoms of depression below. If you think you may have depression, I strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor.

And now for a bit of bloggy housekeeping:
Moving forward on my blog, I will have some guest posts from various wonderful bloggers while I continue to blog as I can. Just wanted to give you a heads up that it won’t be all Amy all the time, or as has been the case for the past six weeks, NO Amy all the time. ;) I am grateful these bloggers have chosen to share their posts with me. If you have a post you think would work well on my blog, feel free to email me: crunchydomesticgoddess AT gmail DOT com. Thank you.

Detecting Depression from WebMD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include the following:

  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • fatigue and decreased energy
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • irritability, restlessness
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • overeating or appetite loss
  • persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) — or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).

Photo credit: Flickr: jronaldlee and aidanmorgan

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Running and Recovery – Just for Today

About eight months ago I had a turning point in my life. Instead of hiding from and burying my fears – a trait I’d gotten very good at over the years – I began to learn to face them head on. In addition to therapy and medication, I recently discovered two more things I want and need to do to take better care of myself – the first is getting regular exercise and the second is attending a 12-step program (for friends and families of problem drinkers).

Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr
Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr

Knowing that exercise would be beneficial to both my physical and mental health, I decided to start the Couch to 5k program – walking/running sessions of 20 to 30 minutes three times a week, which allow you to work up to running a 5K at the end of two months. (I figure if I write about it I’ll be more likely to follow through with it, accountability and all that.)

I should stop here to say I am not a runner. I’ve never been very fond of running and recall dreading having to run “the mile” in gym class my freshman year of high school. I developed a pretty nasty case of shin splints (probably from running in Keds, but c’est la vie). However, recently I’ve been inspired by several of my friends, also in their 30s, who have taken up running. Heather and Nicole both just ran their first 5k – The Race for the Cure. Alison has also taken up running. Julie recently confessed her “drug” of choice in dealing with depression – exercise – and she ran a half marathon this past weekend. Then there’s Sonja my triathlete friend who’s ran, biked and swam in more races than I can count.

While running isn’t something I usually enjoy, I want to give this a try, a real try.

I did my first session early Sunday morning – a five minute brisk walk followed by alternating between running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds for 20 minutes. The weather was about perfect, sunny and warm, but not too warm, and it felt good to get out of the house alone, doing something good for myself. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

As I ran my thoughts wandered to the 12-step meeting I recently attended. I thought about the parallels between running and recovery – both my recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my recovery of being an adult child of a dysfunctional family and the relationships I’ve had with addicts over the years. Both running and recovery require patience. Both running and recovery require perseverance. Both running and recovery can be overwhelming at times, but you have to focus on one day at a time, one run at a time, even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

I did my second running session on Wednesday morning. It was the complete opposite of Sunday, rainy and cold. I wore my jacket with the hood up and gloves on to keep my hands warm. I stayed pretty toasty except for my legs, which froze. (I’ve since learned of base layer tights which I am going to have to buy, especially if I’m going to be running through the winter.) My glasses were covered in rain drops and fogged up as my body temperature rose. There were lots of fallen wet leaves and branches on my path. Again, it made me think about my road to recovery. Some days the sun is shining and the path is clear and everything seems right on target and other days there are clouds and fog, it’s cold and the obstacles on my path make it easy to lose my footing.

Whether I am running or working on bettering myself mentally and emotionally, the challenges will always be there. It’s not always easy. It’s often hard work. I can’t prepare for every obstacle, but I can learn to let go of my desire to control everything. I can go with the flow. I can do my best.

When I’m running, I try to concentrate only on getting through that particular 60 seconds of running. I don’t think about running a 5k in a few months. I don’t think about running for 10 minutes at a time or even 5 minutes at a time. I do my best to stay in the moment and focus on those 60 seconds. (It reminds me a lot of labor and giving birth actually.) Just like in my life, I can’t wonder what the future will hold, but I can live in the now.

There’s a daily meditation that’s part of the 12-step programs that begins “Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately (and in the past it would seem) and it really sums it all up for me. Yes, I want to be able to run a 5k someday, but just for today I will focus on getting through those 60 second intervals at a time. Yes, I want to be healthy emotionally and mentally someday and perhaps not need therapy or medication, but just for today I will stay present and do my best. Slow and steady wins the race.

Other women who have done or are working on the Couch to 5k (C25k):

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety. It’s something that we all experience from time to time. Usually it’s a healthy response, a normal bodily reaction to stress. But for some of us anxiety becomes a way of life, a never-ending cycle of fear. One fear begets another fear begets another fear and it continues in a vicious circle, wearing us down, making us feel unable to cope or exist in a “normal” way.

Photo courtesy of BLW Photography
Photo courtesy of BLW Photography

Anxiety did that to me. I can say “did that” now because I am (finally) in recovery from generalized anxiety disorder. Notice I did not say I am recovered from it, but I am actively working on my recovery.

The thing about anxiety that I’ve come to accept is that it really is all about fear. People with an anxiety disorder often fear a lot of things, including that they are going to die. After all, this seems like a perfectly natural response when you are dealing with very real, often very frightening physical symptoms on a regular basis. There were a handful of occasions where my symptoms – heart racing, dizziness, tightness in my throat, tingling/numbness in my hands, feeling like I was going crazy or about to die (just to name a few) – were so severe that I seriously considered going to the nearest emergency room (and I know many people with anxiety disorder who do), but instead settled for calling the doctor on-call (after office hours).

I am very tuned into my body and any little (or big) thing I’ve felt over the past several months that was not “right” would lead me to believe there was something very, very wrong and if I didn’t find out what it was, I could die. This is why I’ve been on a quest having literally thousands of dollars of medical tests done (thank God for insurance) to prove to myself that I’m healthy. Because without that proof, I would always have some doubt in the back of my mind and play that most detrimental game of “what if” (a favorite of those of us with anxiety disorder) and the cycle of fear continue.

Does this make me a hypochondriac? I don’t know. It kind of feels to me like anxiety begets hypochondria or at least it has in my case.

Does the threat of being labeled a hypochondriac make people less likely to talk about their anxiety disorder? I would guess yes. Although I’ve had people comment on my anxiety-related blog posts stating they’ve dealt with anxiety too, it doesn’t seem like that many people are “out there” blogging about it. At least I had a hard time finding people writing about it. I think that’s due largely to the stigma attached to it and the worry of, “What will people think of me if they find out?”

The road to “wellville” for me (which has been a very slow process over many months) has been a mix of many things. I initially swore off medication, thinking “it’s great for other people, but not something *I* need.” I had planned to get better “naturally.” Medication didn’t fall into the “natural” category in my book. I worried about what kind of example I would be setting for my kids if I took the “easy” way out. Yes, that is kind of how I viewed it. However, after a couple of months of crippling anxiety and being at the point where I could barely function, let alone take care of my kids, I accepted that at THIS time in MY life, medication was/IS what I NEED. It took me a while to come to grips with that- that I needed a chemical substance to allow me to heal, but I’ve made my peace with it. I’d much rather be taking a medication and able to take care of my kids, than be stuck in bed or afraid to leave my house literally frozen with fear, wondering and waiting for the next panic attack to hit.

In addition to medication (Zoloft and very occasionally 1/2 of a Xanax), the laundry list of things that are helping me recover (in no particular order) includes: sleep, finding more time for myself, yoga, exercise, abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, educating myself by reading books and web sites about anxiety disorder – what causes it, who it often affects, how to deal with it, etc., seeing a therapist on a regular basis, reiki, taking vitamins and supplements, and reducing my commitments. It is my hope that by doing all of these things as needed on a regular, continued basis, I will eventually be able to go off the medication and live an anxiety-free life once again. The medication is just one of many tools in my recovery toolbox.

Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – far harder than going away to college or giving birth unmedicated to a 9 1/2 lb baby at home. And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered. I think it will be an on-going process for the rest of my life. If I slip back into old habits, I feel quite sure the anxiety would return.

Will this experience make me a stronger person? I don’t know about a stronger person, but I think it will make me a wiser person. When I am able to better realize my limitations and better care for myself, I am a happier person which can only make those around me happier too. And by knowing my limitations, I can better realize my potentials. The cycle of fear can be broken. Not effortlessly, not overnight, but it can be broken and there is hope.

I initially worried that by taking medication I would be setting a bad example for my children, but I now know that by taking care of myself (including taking medication), I am setting a good example for them. I am showing them that I believe I am important, that I value myself and my health. Nowadays I can have fun with them and laugh again and I think they find that matters far more than anything else.

Related posts:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Anxiety & anemia, but is there more?

On Dec. 31 of last year I wrote that my big goal for 2009 was to take care of my mental and emotional health. I knew I needed to do this for a few reasons. Not only was I treating my children and husband with the love and respect they deserve, but I felt my physical health was starting to suffer as well. I had started having anxiety or panic attacks – again.

I thought they were a thing of my past. I had experienced anxiety attacks while Jody and I were trying for month after month after month to conceive Ava. It was a difficult time in my life. I so wanted to be pregnant and to be a mom. I was charting using the Fertility Awareness Method and we seemed to be doing everything right, but it was not happening for us. It obviously eventually did happen (with a little help) and the anxiety attacks went away. That is until several months ago.

I don’t remember exactly when they started up again and because the symptoms weren’t consistent with what I’d experienced in the past, I wasn’t entirely sure they were anxiety attacks. My heart would start racing which would make breathing a little more difficult. I was also feeling dizzy at times, tired, lethargic and sometimes depressed.

Over the past month, the frequency of the attacks increased dramatically. I started having several anxiety attacks a day or ones that would last for a long, long time. I started getting worried that this was more than just anxiety. After consulting Dr. Google and my favorite resource, Twitter, ;) I thought I might have a thyroid issue or even a heart problem. After a particularly bad attack, I finally called my doctor’s office and scheduled an appointment. It was five days out. Five very. long. days.

During those five days the attacks continued. I debated about going to urgent care once or twice. I thought about going straight to the ER. And then, the night before my appointment, as I tried to go to sleep I had one of the worst attacks ever. My heart would not stop racing no matter what I tried to tell my brain to calm myself down, no matter how much I focused on my breathing. I told Jody I was doing really bad and that I wanted to call the doctor on call (while I was really thinking, “maybe you should call 911”). I had all of these fears that I would die the day before my appointment because I had put it off too long. That I was going to leave my children motherless and my husband a widower. It was too much.

I called the doctor’s office and spoke to the woman at the answering service. She told me to stay on the line and she would try to call the on-call doctor (not my doctor, but one in the same practice). To my relief the doctor answered the phone (even though it was 12:30 a.m.). I talked to the doctor for about 20 minutes. She reassured me, based on the symptoms I was describing that it was likely anxiety and not a heart issue, but she was also glad I was scheduled to come in for an appointment. I felt better the longer we talked and had calmed down a fair bit by the time we hung up. Of course, my heart started racing again after we were off the phone and there was no way I was going to sleep any time soon, but after watching Scrubs with Jody for an hour, I felt better and was able to go to sleep at 2 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Neeta Lind
Photo courtesy of Neeta Lind

The next morning I happily went to see my doctor. I told her my symptoms, she examined me and said she felt I was likely experiencing anxiety. My blood pressure was normal and my heart sounded, in her words, “perfect.” She did want to rule out thyroid and heart issues just to be sure, so she sent me for blood work and an EKG.

I had told her that I did not want to go on medication unless absolutely necessary, but I was looking for natural ways of treating this. She recommended a therapist, acupuncture, a $300 biofeedback video game called The Journey to the Wild Divine (it looks really cool, but pricey!), as well as fish oil (double the amount recommended on the bottle). She gave me a prescription for Xanax too, just in case I really needed it. (I haven’t taken it, although I was tempted to today.) She said she felt confident that we could get this under control and she wanted to see me back in two weeks.

In the meantime, I had my blood drawn and my first EKG. The EKG came back normal, but the bloodwork revealed that I am mildly anemic, so it was recommended that I go on an iron supplement and increase my green leafy vegetables.

It’s been nearly two weeks since my appointment and while the anxiety attacks do not seem to be happening as often, they are still happening – some worse than others (like last night’s when I was up until 2 a.m.).

I really want to believe that everything I’ve been experiencing is just from anxiety and anemia but honestly, I feel like it could be something more. And I don’t think I will be satisfied until I’ve ruled out those other possible issues.

This week I’m going back to my doctor for a follow-up appointment and I have a therapy evaluation scheduled. I might be making an eye appointment with the doctor who did my strabismus (eye muscle) surgery several years ago and revisiting my old neurologist too. I just want to get to the bottom of all of this. While I feel like there have been improvements in how I feel just in these two weeks, I still have a long way to go before I’m back to feeling like my old self. I miss my old self and am going to keep trying to get her back.