Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running Up That Hill

So my last post didn't yield much of a response, which made me skeptical about continuing.  But someone suggested I keep going, and to be honest the process is sort of interesting to me, so I'm hoping that this doesn't get too boring or preachy or what have you. 

My intention writing these things is absolutely not to suggest that I'm an expert on mental illness of any type or how to deal with it.  I'm really only a journeyman at dealing with it myself.  But I've made concrete, trackable progress over the past year of which I'm very proud, and if what I've done and experienced can help anyone else, then I'd be thrilled.  If not... well, then I hope you don't mind too much reading what goes on in my addled little brain. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off.

After my last post (which got an amazing response, by the way, and I'm really grateful for all your kind words) someone asked me to write about how I deal with my depression.  I'm a little hesitant to do this for a few reasons:
1) I don't love giving advice.  I catch myself doing it, but I don't like it.  Unless someone specifically asks for my opinion I feel like it's not my place to assume I know better than they do what they should do – or that I know better about anything, really. 

2) I'm still a work in progress.  I've come leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, but I still have my ups and downs and I don't want to give the impression that I've got some kind of a miracle answer or that I've reached some great revelation of zen. 

3) Everyone is different.  What works for me may not work for you.  Every brain works differently, both chemically and psychologically, and the medications or devices that do great things for me might do terrible things to you. 
But bearing all that in mind, maybe I can still give some insight into what works for me and you can take it with a tablespoon of salt and adapt it to your own situation.   So here goes nothing...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Broken Bridge

Call this sort of a PSA if you like.  I've mentioned before that I have major depressive disorder.  I try to be pretty open about this and to be honest and public about how I deal with it and how it affects me because I feel like there's still such a stigma around mental illness (and such a belittling of depression in particular) that if I can do some small part by sharing my experience, I want to try.

So I'm passing along this study that I stumbled on tonight:
Crushing guilt is a common symptom of depression, an observation that dates back to Sigmund Freud. Now, a new study finds a communication breakdown between two guilt-associated brain regions in people who have had depression. This so-called "decoupling" of the regions may be why depressed people take small faux pas as evidence that they are complete failures.

Guilt plays a huge part in my depressive episodes.   I convince myself that the lives of those around me would be greatly improved by my absence, that every fight is my fault, that every mistake I make is a monumental failure.  And then I hate myself for being so narcissistic as to think I could have such an effect on the world around me.  I have my vicious cycle of self-loathing down to an art form.

The problem is figuring out scope:  everyone makes mistakes, hurts someone's feelings, scratches on the 8 ball.  But it's hard for me to figure out sometimes which setbacks are worth my anxiety, especially if someone is angry or disappointed with me over them.  So it's weirdly comforting to learn that there's a concrete reason for that.  It's even more comforting to see this:

"It's likely to be the sign of something that happened because of learned experiences, plus, of course, biology," Zahn said.
That means there is hope that people prone to depression could learn to overcome their guilty tendencies. Zahn and his colleagues are now collaborating with Jorge Moll, a scientist at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio de Janeiro, to try to train people's brains.

That's pretty amazing.  The brain, even when broken, is an astonishing thing. 

It's hard to explain depression to someone who doesn't have it.  It's hard to make someone with a functioning brain understand how much you're constantly fighting your own.  How no matter what you know rationally, there's always that nagging little voice that sows doubt.  How every failure is multiplied exponentially and every success is minimized.  How your own brain becomes your enemy. I told someone that it's almost like having an alter ego inside your brain who hates you.  A little tiny version of yourself, who knows your soft targets better than anyone, and has pinpoint precision when aiming for them. 

I've come so incredibly far and I'm fighting every single day.  I've seen concrete progress of which I'm incredibly proud, especially over the last year.  Yes, my brain is still disordered and sometimes I fall victim to it.  That will always be the case.  But most of the time I know how to compensate for it and/or bring in external help if I can't combat it on my own.  I've come to think of it like my bad knee:  I had to do PT to build up the muscles around my knee to compensate for what the joint can't do.  I've learned that I can deal with depression the same way.  When my brain starts to work against me, there are devices upon which I can call to pick up that slack.  It doesn't always work.  But as time goes on I find I'm able to make it work more and more. 

A few years ago the things that have happened to me over the last year would have killed me – psychologically if not literally. Now I feel like I'm much more able to handle things as they come.  I still have my meltdowns.  But I've come to accept that sometimes that's going to happen, and that if I let it in and let it pass, I won't waste energy trying to fight it off that I'll need later on. 

But it's hard to make someone who doesn't have my brain understand that progress.  It's hard to explain to my family what an accomplishment it is that I don't call out of work or cancel plans anymore just because I can't face the world.  It's hard to explain why I get so worked up over every little criticism or setback, even when I know it's irrational.

So when I see something like this, I spread it around.  Because every little bit of information helps.  Maybe it'll help someone who doesn't understand why they feel the way they do.  Maybe it'll just help the people around someone like me understand that we might not win every battle, but it doesn't mean we're not fighting. 

"I've come to embrace those parts of my mind that are peculiar and broken.  I understand now that's what makes my mind special."  -Walter Bishop, Fringe

Post title stolen from this song.