I wrote the stuff below back in 2009 and 2010 during my depressive episodes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Notice both dates of writing were in January. I’m sharing it here because I think it’s really relevant to my weight loss and body image issues.

This time, in 2014 my depression looks a little different. I’m posting this now as a frame of reference and I’m hoping to be able to write  about this current episode is effecting me and why I wasn’t sure this was depression at first.

Hopefully posting this will give me some motivation to keep writing about it and figuring out what’s going on with me this time.

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1/20/2009

As a trained, licensed, and practicing psychotherapist you might think it might have taken me fewer years to understand my own depression. But, “therapist heal thyself” (to borrow a phrase) doesn’t work anymore than the original. As comfortable as I was diagnosing and treating major depression it took me more than 20 years to diagnose and accept my own recurrent depression.

Now, in my own defense I believe my battle with depression began when I was in middle school and long before I had any education or experience with it from a professional standpoint. None the less, really I’m struggling to find gratitude in the fact that at age 34 [Editorial note, this was in 2009) I now have a working understanding of my symptoms, downward patterns, and effective treatments for myself. For anyone who knew me way back when and I seemed “weird” sometimes, I truly suspect that this is why.

One myth of depression that I applied to myself long after abandoning it in the classroom as a ridiculous oversimplification of a complex disease is that one is sad when depressed. Generally, I’m not sad when my depression takes hold. Many days I’m happy, excited even, and these and other positive emotions are a part of my emotional experience on a daily basis. So how do I call myself depressed?

My depression has six symptoms that become more frequent and pervasive and I spiral downward. They are:

  1. Disturbances in my sleep patterns
  2. Anxiety
  3. Irritability
  4. Forgetfulness and inability to concentration
  5. Lack of attention to personal hygiene
  6. Feeling hopeless that things will ever change for me

The funny part is I always forget one of them when I’m depressed.

The disturbances in my sleep are something that I struggle with 365 days a year. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested when I’ve slept fewer than 8 hours. With two small children getting anything resembling regular sleep is nearly impossible and while it makes life difficult for me, in and of itself, it’s not depression. When it combines with the others then it becomes a real symptom and I lie awake at night exhausted and unable to sleep and then unable to stay awake the next day.

The anxiety is nearly paralyzing at times and robs me of the ability to be easygoing with anyone in my life, especially my husband and my children. This is the biggest suffering for me because the rational part of my brain sees what’s happening and feels helpless to stop the nearly full fledged panic that I experience over irrelevant things such as whether or not the chairs around the kitchen and dining room tables are all pushed in. Any ability to have pure fun is hampered by the 500 pound weight of either worry that the fun itself will result in accidental pain and destruction, or that I am thoroughly distracted from the fun by obsessive thoughts about reorganizing the dresser drawers that have been “messy” until I have to leave to complete the menial task. Being a parent makes this symptom 1000 times worse because any and every interaction, decision, or experience with my children is laden with the fear that whatever I’m doing is wrong.

Irritability is the natural outcome of the previous two symptoms. I mean, can you blame someone for being irritable when they are chronically exhausted and worried all the time? My patience is at an all time low with this one and my children and husband, again, suffer most because instead of coloring, singing, enjoying a dinner out, or generally just being present with them, I’m nit-picking at them or myself. While it’s not fun to be hen-pecked all the time, watching someone do it to herself isn’t fun either, so I’m told.

When the forgetfulness and inability to concentrate begin to engulf me that’s when I start to know there is something really wrong. Try loading the dishwasher, adding soap, and coming home 8 hours later to discover that you forgot to turn it on. Try walking from the kitchen to the laundry room to get something and not remembering what it was when you arrive. Sound too “normal”? Ok, how about starting a sentence in a conversation and not remembering what you are saying before you get to the end. Worst is when my forgetfulness is about things for the kids, like where their mittens are, what day show and tell is, where their homework folders are. Leaving things in the car when they are staring me in the face… These things might sound petty to other people, but to a person whose mind was a steel trap or more accurately, like a German train schedule, these kinds of lapses make me question who I am and make me feel like I’m walking around with someone else’s brain. It invokes a sense on unreality for me that puts a filter between myself and the world. People speak and as soon as they are finished I have no recollection of what’s been said.

1/11/2010

Lack of attention to personal hygiene may sound terrible, but if I’m going to be honest, it’s definitely there. I generally don’t take a shower everyday in the wintertime because it is tough on my skin (unless I’ve exercised that is). But when I’m depressed things like brushing my teeth and showering feel like burdensome tasks that take a herculean effort. I know I need to, I know I should, I even have some shame and embarrassment that I’m not more “presentable” but I still can’t make myself do it. And, of course, forget about blow-drying my hair or wearing make-up! I wind up wearing the same clothes day after day after day and allowing myself to feel more and more disgusted with myself.

The feeling hopeless and helpless part is the most “real” depressive symptom I have in so far as it’s the only one that is really part of the DSM criteria. But as much as I tell myself intellectually that this too will pass and I know what I can do to help myself through it, everyday just seems like too much of a burden and everyday seems like it will bleed into the next with no change and no hope for optimism.

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