I have always been careful about how much I write about my depression and anxiety on this blog because it is public facing and attached to my name. I was concerned it could limit my job opportunities, my potential for success, and make people see me differently. The thing of it is that there is something therapeutic about writing and even more so about others potentially being benefited by my writing. I love the idea that someone may understand someone in their life with depression just a little better if I write this in the right way. So here I go…
Nearly every day is a struggle to get out of bed. I feel like I’m trying to move through syrup. My brain just wants to go back to sleep, to give up on today, hoping for a better tomorrow. I call my depression, my darker mind and I tell my wife sometimes that I’m having a bad brain day and she knows exactly what I mean. Putting it in these words allows me to avoid the scarier word: depression.
I have suffered from depression since I was a young teen. How much it affects my life depends on a number of factors. Sometimes I’m able to fight it off, other times I’m able to accept it and still move forward. There are days where it wins and days where others around me have to prop me up. My depression is one of the key factors that ruined a previous relationship and I constantly worry that it will cause other rifts in my life and take away those around me.
There was always this hope, as I sought out treatment over the years, that I would be cured of my depression, only to come to find out that it is an incurable disease.
Imagine having a potentially life-threatening disease that needed constant attention and there was no cure. Now imagine that your disease wasn’t understood very well by the medical community and broad assumptions were constantly being made about what could make you better? That’s what I live with.
In treatment, various doctors prescribe medication in hopes of helping without a true understanding of what causes depression. The medication they give me is, in some ways, similar to how we performed medicine back when they thought our bodies were made of four humors. Too much blood humor, let’s take some of your blood away to make you better. Doctors have often given me pharmaceuticals in hopes of alleviating my symptoms. The drugs they provide allow me to have more serotonin in my brain so that I feel happier. I’ve been on many medications and I can safely say that while they all removed some of the lowest of the lows, they have all had side-effects that were unbearable and take far too long to start being effective.
The last medication I took was Cipralex, its common name being Escitalopram. It is an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) that is prescribed to people with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. One of the big reasons that my doctor prescribed it to me is that it doesn’t have as much of a tendency to increase weight gain compared to other anti-depressant drugs.
I set a scale for my moods on a negative five (-5) to positive five scale (5). A negative five being, “I’m going to jump off a bridge now” to positive five being “this is the best day ever”. Typically, my depressed state hovers at around negative three with some days one lower and other days being one higher. During these periods, it is rare for me to self-assess any higher than a positive two. I’d like to think that most people live their lives in a negative two to positive three range.
When on Cipralex, it had an interesting side-effect of constricting my emotional range to a minus one to plus one range. I never felt extremely depressed, but I also didn’t feel exceptionally happy. I was out of “danger”, but I also felt emotionally limited. After taking Cipralex for a few months, I decided to get off of it. I don’t like taking pharmaceuticals for long periods of time, especially ones that mess with my brain chemistry. Unfortunately, Cipralex comes with pretty horrible discontinuation symptoms as well.
Once I stopped taking Cipralex, I experienced what can only be described as a sensation of touching my tongue to a 9-volt battery, but on the surface of my brain. It was painful, and at first, it was occurring more than once a minute all day long. It was distracting and frustrating. It made me feel broken and annoyed. After a few days it only happened once or twice an hour and after two weeks it was completely gone.
Another side-effect of getting off anti-depressants is being depressed again. Your brain begins to get used to the serotonin levels in your brain and comes to depend on it a bit, so when you take it away there is a very strong negative swing. Most people, when getting off anti-depressants slowly scale them down over a period of time using weaker medications with similar effects, so that you can adjust, but Cipralex didn’t come in any weaker dosages and switching medications could have potentially caused other complications.
I weathered the storm the best that I could, and my wife supported me through it. Unfortunately, my depression hasn’t gone away. I still struggle with it on a near daily basis, but have been able to successfully cope, for the most part.
I know that when Lily passed away, Annie was very concerned that it would cause me to fall into a bad depression, but I don’t suffer from situational depression though I think bad things shouldn’t happen to people that suffer from depression like I do. While the loss was sad and I still grieve for what happened, it didn’t cause my depression to spiral out of control which allowed me to help my wife through her grief.
I wish my depression was the only thing that I had to manage on a daily basis, but I also suffer from anxiety. I have often heard of people having both depression and anxiety. I don’t know how or if they are related, but at least in my conversations, I’ve noticed a correlation.
Anxiety is super frustrating. If you have a fear of anything like spiders, snakes, enclosed spaces, then you have an understanding of anxiety. When I’m in a situation that I don’t have experience with, instead of a typical stress reaction that most people feel, I sometimes end up with my anxiety being heightened. It is as though I’m face to face with a tiger and have a cliff behind me. My fight or flight reaction goes on overdrive, and instead of being beneficial, I just feel my chest being compressed by a heavy weight, my stomach upset, and my blood pounding in my ears.
There was a time when I was grocery shopping and had a mild panic attack. The walls felt like they were caving in and I couldn’t breathe. I left my shopping in the aisle and went out to my car where I proceeded to cry for thirty minutes. Then the feeling of embarrassment kicked in and instead of purchasing food, I just drove home and went to bed.
In Canada, there is a graduated licensing system. You get your G1 which requires a co-pilot of sorts and doesn’t allow you to use the major highways. Then you get your G2, which allows you to drive without a licensed driver in the vehicle, and allows you to use the highways, but doesn’t allow you to have any alcohol in your blood. Then after that you get your full G license which only has the restriction of having below a 0.8 blood alcohol level while driving. You have to complete the process in five years or start again.
I’ve had my G2 twice before, and will be going in to get it for the third time later this month. I have never finished the graduated licensing program before because before I had to take my final driving test each time, I was able to change my life to not need a vehicle. Basically, I was too afraid of failing to take the last step that would have caused me to not have to go through this process again.
Thinking about the upcoming test fills me with anxiety which then frustrates me as I know I’ve done it before and will likely pass again, but the potential doubt that exists creates the opportunity for anxiety. My mind is filled with “what if” questions and my heart starts racing, my chest constricts, and I feel crummy. I have tried deep breathing exercises, but any kind of test brings out high levels of anxiety for me.
For anyone that has read this long, I have only touched on a small piece of what it is like to be me. Depression and anxiety definitely are a major part of who I am. I try not to let it define me. I constantly struggle with it but sometimes it drives me forward. I get anxiety when I think I’m not being valuable enough. I get depressed when projects go off the rails. I work really hard to make sure I don’t trigger my anxiety. I try to do my best to make sure I don’t sabotage my life in a way that my depression can get around the coping mechanisms I’ve created.
I have been around for thirty-three years, and there are definitely times where I thought I wouldn’t make it to this point in my life. I have succeeded in moving forward, building relationships, securing gainful employment, and doing things even though they give me great anxiety. I have persevered through many rough patches, and I feel that if you look at my life, I am very successful despite the setbacks that these two conditions create.
All in all, I wish there was a cure for my anxiety and depression or better treatments. I feel like because it is all in my mind, the world doesn’t give it the same weight and attention as a tumor, but I can tell you from personal experience that it has a very tangible weight and affects my life.
If you would like to hear more about my depression or anxiety, please let me know. I am willing to write more on the subject if anyone is interested.