Tag Archives: anti-depressants

Crazy or Batsh*t Crazy

There has been a fair amount of media attention about the mentally ill of late. CBC’s Current (in Canada) was actually highlighting depression two week’s ago with Steven Page hosting, formerly of Barenaked Ladies. And then the guy in Arizona shot and killed people and when arrested it’s reported that he’d been suffering from mental health problems.

Canada and the US are both suffering from the same disease and that is cutbacks in the field of health. What happens then is that the mentally ill are released from hospitals or other health institutions and end up living on the streets or in jail, becoming drug addicts, injuring themselves or injuring others. It’s important to stress that the number of mentally ill people who injure others is a very small number indeed. And mentally ill does not include personality types like sociopaths. By saving money in the health field governments actually put up costs of such things as administering the fight against crime, prisons becoming overfull, latent mental health costs, other crimes and injuries that fill up the system. I’m sure a cost analysis would show that this is not an economical way to deal with the severely mentally ill.

But in that gray area of gray matter, there are those who are not the dangerous. They can fit into society and are not devoid of regular sociability or being able to function in the day-to-day. These people fall into the other categories of the depressed and the phobic. Severe phobias limit people’s ability to do different things, and severe depression can lead to a decrease in being social, integrating with others, working as well as leading to death.

It’s a sad state and many people do not understand even the basics of depression. Steven Page talked about his own battle with it and it affects many many people. There is still that social stigma that should you mention you’ve been depressed or heaven forbid have a permanent condition schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. that you’re then branded as crazy. We’ve all used the term to describe people who might be clinically crazy or just too weird for normal society. We sometimes shy from them, are afraid of them and rarely do we understand.

I speak from experience, and will speak again and again about this because the only way to make this understandable is to talk about it and educate people. Depression often runs in families, some weird genetic fault. I don’t know the mechanism but I know it runs in my family. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been clinically depressed, the second being when you meet most of the markers by which they judge such things. There are different depths of depression and it affects people different ways. I have found that I have even been affected differently each time depression has hit me.

Some of my markers are sleeping too long, aching joints, boredom, flatlining on emotions, becoming overemotional, alienation, not eating, eating too much. Sometimes it’s depended on deeply I was sinking. I’ll overeat but in the darkest depths I’ll stop eating. It could be different for other people and of course suicidal thoughts and attempts are a big part of full-blown depression. Luckily, that’s one aspect I don’t really get though I came close a few years back and was probably scared out of it by the fact that someone I’d known for twenty years hung himself through a combo of a head injury, depression and the inability to pay for his meds. Anti-depressants are expensive and a depressed person finds every stress to be a very large stress.

The biggest part of depression that people don’t understand is that the illness isolates in many ways. Coping becomes difficult so that even answering the phone is too hard. Making informed and balanced decisions goes out the window. Hiding becomes the way to exist and a depressed person feels alone and unloved, isolated by their brain and the world around them.

It’s hard for us to know what to do if a person is depressed. After all, who wants to be around a sad sack who brings them down. Our society frowns upon weakness so even asking for help is hard to do. A coupe of times I would say to friends, “I’ve been depressed.” This was a close as I got to admitting or asking for help. What I was really saying was, “I”m depressed. I need you to do things with me. I need you to care. I need you to call me or pull me out of myself.” But how can anyone else know this? The language of the depressed person is circumvented by the illness itself. They may act like they don’t want/can’t handle company but they need to stop dwelling constantly on the whirlwind of darkness. This I do know but it is hard. It’s not just a case of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s a matter of altered brain chemistry. This is why severe depression requires  (though sometimes there is an overmedication of people just feeling sad). They aren’t just feel good, happy pills. They have to fix the chemicals churning in the brain. Eating properly and exercising are also a big part of keep that brain floating on the pond instead of sinking.

Being depressed isn’t so much looking through a glass darkly as it is being in the bottom of a steep dark glass. The depressed person cannot see her/his way out and needs help and support. If you know someone like this, try to get your friends and family to help reach out, to show you care and perhaps you can just throw a lifeline to someone who will be able to climb out into the light.

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Mental Health and a Helping Hand

This will be one of those unpopular posts that probably no one will read but I feel it’s important enough to write about. Having experienced mild to severe clinical depression in the past I have learned several things. Depression isn’t always the same every time, nor the feelings that accompany it. And people don’t truly understand it, nor how to help a person going through it.

For those who have never suffered from a severe depression there can be a lack of sympathy. The person looks healthy but sure he/she is just moping, or grumpy or wallowing in self-pity. This can in fact be true for a few people or those who are emotionally crippled in some way and use it as a crutch. However, even that situation indicates the person is not emotionally healthy or psychologically whole. Depression can hit all types of people in all walks of life, whether rich or poor, unemployed or working, male or female.

The condition has different degrees of severity. In the past, I have had to fill out questionnaires for my doctor that ask a range of questions and how you feel about them (on a scale), from feeling unloved or unwanted to feeling unmotivated or suicidal. Yes, a person can lie on these but it doesn’t serve a purpose to get drugs if you’re mentally healthy, or to let yourself sink into a black mire if you’re not.

A lower level of depression could be a general malaise and lack of energy. Symptoms can range and can include oversleeping, not being able to sleep, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety, fear, sadness, boredom, lack of sexual interest, and various body pains. One way that my doctor discovered that I was clinically depressed was that I went to her about an elbow pain that wouldn’t go away and no amount of physiotherapy was helping it. It turned  out that it was caused specifically through my depression and with anti-depressants the physical pain went away too.

Sometimes I just start to feel bored or like I don’t really care much about things that other people are getting fired up over. It can be a sign of the first stages of depression. It can, also, just be a sign of boredom, but it’s a trigger I have to watch for. Sometimes it’s a lack of energy and motivation. This can look like many other illnesses such as thyroid disease, anemia, stress, so it’s important that a doctor diagnoses it and does so correctly. And sometimes depression comes out in the inability to cope. That can be in something as simple as answering the phone, making an appointment, dealing with a last-minute change, not able to make a decision, etc.

It varies in intensity and ability. When I was clinically depressed I managed to go to work every day, barely. I’m quite a good chameleon so I could hide what I was going through, but it built up by the end of the day and I was dragging myself home and crawling into bed. I couldn’t answer the phone, I barely ate, making myself have a bowl of soup a day, and that was it. I didn’t go out and I didn’t cry because I was beyond most emotion except a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. It was not fun, and I was resistant at first to anti-depressants, thinking they wouldn’t help. I was wrong. I did not enjoy feeling like the world was overwhelming me.

And it was. I was broke, even partially unemployed. A relationship had ended, and I was having health issues partly caused by the depression. I couldn’t find anyone to date and 9/11 happened putting the final nail in that coffin. When I said to my doctor that I had reasons to be depressed she agreed, but said it wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen but how we cope with them. It’s a good gauge to use, seeing if I can’t cope with everyday things that I could handle at other times.

But…depression hasn’t always been this bad, nor has it felt the same. Other times I’ve overeaten. I’ve felt lonely. Or I was lethargic. There are many things that can make a difference in depression, including environment, life situations and healthy lifestyle. Irregular sleep habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate the condition of depression. Diet plays an extremely important role and a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in vegetables is bound to toss many people towards big highs and big lows, leading to unstable emotional conditions. And of course drugs and alcohol (a depressant) play a big factor; drinking while on anti-depressants can lessen their efficacy.

The other part of depression is that those around you are likely not to understand or comprehend the severity. People look at someone who is sad, depressed, grieving, morose, etc. and think, why don’t they just suck it up and get over it? Getting over depression is sometimes the same as getting over cancer or a broken leg. It takes time. It takes medical care and it takes the support of one’s community.

Mental illnesses tend to fool us. We think if a person looks whole, they are whole. And if there is something wrong with their mind, then they’re crazy and they get stigmatized. I have known people who killed themselves because of their depression. I have had friends tell me that I’ve been through this before and dismiss me, even when I was trying to communicate my feelings.

If a depressed person manages to communicate to anyone what they’re feeling (and remember, in our society we are afraid to ask for help or look frail and weak) it might be no more than saying, “I’ve been depressed,” or “I’m on anti-depressants.” If someone you know says that to you, it means they are reaching out to you and want your help. They might be afraid to say more unless you open up to them. If you don’t know how, ask them how you can support them. They may very well say, “I don’t know,” because the depressed mind cannot always see solutions. It’s like being at the bottom of a giant glass tube with no way to get out. Seeking information, or talking to your own health practitioner will help you support friends or family. One of the best things to do is to just call the person or talk with them and ask them how they’re doing. Get them to go for a walk, some way of using their bodies, which will help regulate the mind. Depression often has a component of feeling isolated, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness can be debilitating and deadly.

I found it incredibly sad and tragic that the one person I knew thought his only recourse was to kill himself. He probably saw it as the best solution for everyone he knew. No one should have to choose that. I could write more and probably will at some point but we all need to be better educated about depression: what it means if we have it, how to prevent it and how to help those we know who are going through it. It is definitely not as easy as just “sucking it up.”

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Depression: The Invisible Battle

In the last decade there have been more books on depression and people talking openly. Although I think there can be a point of over-saturation, we’re not there yet and more dialogue on depression will people help recognize and understand it better. There are still too many people who live under the black cloud of despair or more tragically, kill themselves out of depression.

I speak not from an outsider’s point of view but from the intimate perspective of having suffered mild depression to full-blown clinical depression. The first time was probably in my twenties when my boyfriend of three years and I broke up. I moved to Vancouver and lived for another three years in a somewhat different personality. It was a bit kamikaze, reckless, unhappy and angry. I ended up going to my doctor who sent me to a psychiatrist. He determined that I was working my way out of the depression by that point and didn’t put me on meds. That’s pretty rare for psychiatrists who are married to the pharma industry. Psychologists aren’t covered in Canada’s medicare but psychiatrists are.

Perhaps I dipped into depression a few times after that but it was when I was dealing with my eating disorder that I was first put on anti-depressants. I can’t say they changed my mood or state of mind but eventually it seems my brain chemistry balanced out and I stopped the binging and quit the meds.

In 2001 I had gone through a few things and had a boyfriend, but I was pretty poor and nothing seemed to be going right for me, My health was deteriorating, partly caused by a repetitive stress injury in the movie industry and now I was poor. Everything built up. I was freelancing but not full time so I’d go and work, then come home and crawl into bed. I forced myself to eat a bowl of soup a day. I couldn’t deal with anything: answering the phone, changing a doctor’s appointment, coming up with answers to questions. I cocooned for months. And then September 11th happened and that added to the fear and gloom. My elbow was also hurting and no amount of physiotherapy was helping. After many sessions the physiotherapist said she couldn’t help anymore.

I went to my doctor with this symptom and she mentioned depression. I didn’t want to see a psychiatrist because I don’t think they do much (the last one when I had the eating disorder, didn’t) and I didn’t want to go on anti-depressants because they’re hard on teeth and can cause increased cavities (less salivation occurs and bacteria builds up). I also argued that I had reasons to be depressed and listed them. My doctor said, true you can be depressed and have good reasons but it’s not about the reasons but how you cope. In essence, I wasn’t coping very well at all.

My doctor gave me a questionnaire to fill out and bring back. Of all the questions the only one I didn’t have a dire answer to was the one about suicide. I’ve never been suicidal, not even when depressed. My doctor took one look at my answers and said, “You’re going on medication.” So I did and luckily she got me a compassionate prescription, which is free through the pharmaceutical companies because there was no way I could afford it and I would have stopped buying them, if I had to pay.

Since that time I try to gauge where I’m at, watch my moods and feelings. But depression is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always manifest the same way every time. Sometimes you can function but you can’t eat. Sometimes you’re just in physical pain that won’t go away. Sometimes you are fine during the day and plummet every evening. Sometimes you can’t eat, or you eat too much, can’t sleep or sleep too much. For me, it’s never been quite the same so it gets hard to know for sure.

I sometimes have to look back over a period of a year and see if I have shifted much. I try to catch it before it gets as bad as 2001. I don’t like being in that space and everything is far too dark. I tend not to read or watch the news because the concentration and the repetition of the bad and horrid gets to me. Even the radio can be too much but I do like to know what’s going on in the world.

Depression is not a physical ailment but it can become one. It can make people as sick as any disease and kill them. Understanding what a person may be going through will help people heal. Calling them crazy and whacked, which we all do, may describe their current state but it won’t help them get better. Depression is a disease with varying symptoms, and understanding will help those who have it and those who have to be around it.

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