Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Great Depression - Part Five

Continued from Part Four:

Wow! I really didn't think it would take that long to get my background summarized. Wonder what would have happened had I gone into more detail? Anyhow, thanks for sticking with me. I hope by now that I've established credibility in the subject. I've lived with this beast one way or another for as long as my crippled memory serves. It is an integral part of my life. I have to admit that even the process of writing about all of this has caused my moods to dip. Dredging up all this crap is either going to be therapeutic in the long run, or send me into a spiral. I'll let you know.  (It ended up being therapeutic for me, horrible for my Mom).

And that brings up a good point. This is probably obvious, but depression and anxiety are not constants. They come and go like waves on a beach. I even notice a manic/depressive (bipolar is the more modern term) pattern at times. I can have a really "up" day (and, boy, can I talk), and when I do, I dread the next because I know I'm not going to be happy (these happen maybe 4 or 5 times a year, not often, but enough to register a pattern). Sometimes I can predict when it's going to happen (if I eat a bunch of sugar, or if my parents are coming to visit - sorry Mom and Dad. I love to see you, but it's stressful) but most of the time I still can't tell. If I was more honest with myself about the stresses in my life, it might be easier to get a handle on, but I continue in the pattern of doing too much and pushing too hard. But the goal is to stop the waves on the beach. To be as constant mood-wise as possible. And as I get older and learn how to manage this better, the calm times are much longer.

My intention for this post and any others that may follow (because I really don't know how much more I have to say) is to talk about how my mood issues affect me and the people in my life - more so than I have though my personal story. This is the important part in my eyes. The rest of it was to let you know what I've been through and that you don't have to end up hospitalized for depression to really affect you life. You don't even have to be aware of it - actually, in most cases that's the worst thing. Bad things are happening and you can't figure out why. But here I want to explain a few things - and I hope I can do it justice.

The first thing I need to point out is this: emotions are our way of understanding other people and events. Put VERY simplistically, our moods are our scales measuring between good and bad. If we're happy, the situation is good, if we're sad, it's bad. So what happens when your scales are off kilter? You get either happier than you should (manic) or sadder than you should (depressed). And you can't tell what's going on with other people. And the worst part of it is that a lot of depressed people don't know that they are depressed and don't know that their scale is off - so what happens? They see the rest of the world as being skewed in one direction or the other. Either they can go out and spend all their money because there is no anxiety, only joy, and they just really don't have any ability to care (which I don't do - I am not bipolar, just see little hints of it now and then, but this is the extreme example), or everyone hates them and there's no reason to live, so they'll just shoot themselves (again, I have never been suicidal, but this is the other end of the bipolar spectrum).

It's harsh. Everything feels normal inside of you (really, it does, and unless you can look at yourself from the outside and observe your behaviour, or someone else can tell you about it without you being devastated, you can't tell there's anything wrong), but things going on around you aren't right - and that makes your moods "off" compared to the reality of the situation. So when you perceive the people around you as being angry or upset when they aren't, then your re-actions appear weird to everyone else (because you aren't reacting appropriately to what is REALLY going on ... often this is over-reaction). And then people actually DO react strangely to your acting weird. You can see where this can become cyclical and it just compounds upon itself until you're in a really bad place. If you can't recognize it, it's much harder to come out of.

So, I find it hard to tell if I'm "off" just by my feelings. I "feel" normal. It's not like having an illness where you're head is plugged up or your stomach is upset. I feel normal. But my husband is mad over something that he's not telling me about. Or my son is being really annoying. Or my friend is mad at me. So if you aren't in touch with you mood disorder, which I wasn't for many years, it really feels like it's everything around you that's falling apart. Not you.

So how do I deal with this now? Well ... I ask. "Are you upset about something?" is probably my husband's least favourite question because it's a warning of what could be coming down the pike. It's either going to force him to talk about what is bothering him (which does happen once in a while) or it foretells of his wife being "off". But it's essential for me to have a touch stone. Someone who can honestly tell me that everything is fine and perhaps I should go take a pill. I also pay close attention to how much patience I have with my son. If I'm getting snappy, I take a close look at how I'm feeling.

I can do these things now only because of experience and great support from the people around me. I understand that if I catch my moods before they plummet (because they DO build on themselves), then we don't have to deal with the really bad times. If I don't catch it, I can get bad. And we don't enjoy that. No, we don't. And that brings me to another point. When I am really depressed - like the time around getting married and my grandmother dying, when all I could do at one point was lie curled up in the fetal position and cry - it feels like I've always felt this way and will always feel this way. Mood disorders are weird. They take away your ability to think rationally. But it's true, it feels like a forever thing. And no wonder that some people suffering like this for extended periods decide to end it all. Because it's overwhelming and there is, at that time, no hope ... The converse is also true. When I feel good, it feels like I've always felt this way and will always feel that way. Ergo why a lot of people who have been stabilized by medication decide (rationally, in their mind) to go off of it. "Because I'm fine and I've always been fine and I'll always be fine and I can't quite remember why I went on this stuff in the first place."

So for me, it's management. If I maintain a certain lifestyle I can keep it in check. And that's where I'll leave it for today. In the next post I'll try to get to what works for me as a maintenance routine.


  1. Hey Sandi,

    Very nice... I liked this one - resonates with me ;D You say you sometimes you can't see the mood shift coming? Does it ever have anything to do with the female hormone shift once a month? That tends to be my trigger...

  2. Erin - with me it has far more to do with stress. I've never been able to match up a direct correlation between my hormonal cycle and my mood cycle. But I know it's that way for a lot of people. I know my sister has the most marital problems around that time of the month.

  3. I just read all of your "Great Depression" posts up to this point, Sandi. Carry on, my friend, your words are truly resonant and meaningful. I examine my own life through them, as well as my brother's ongoing 'lostness' in deep, dark depression and suicidal thoughts. I applaud you! Much love.


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