My depression has returned, so I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write about what’s happening with me during this episode. I wrote about living with mental illness a while back and I’d like to see how (or if) my description of my mental illness changes from when I’m stable.
It first returned in October. I was having trouble concentrating and was feeling generally low-energy. I was quite upset that my depression had returned after being in remission for so long. I saw my counselor, employed my coping skills and managed to pull out of it.
I will spare you the details, but November through January were extraordinarily stressful at work. My office is still recovering from the turmoil. (I work with a great team.) During that time, my anxiety was at a very high point. I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly worried. I wasn’t able to keep on top of all of my responsibilities. By mid-January, when I had a regularly scheduled check-in with my psychiatrist, I was crying a lot. (I had actually cried in front of a judge.) I cried throughout our entire appointment. My psychiatrist doubled my antidepressant, gave me more of my anti-anxiety medication and prescribed something for sleep. I took some time off a few weeks later and by mid-March, I was feeling more myself. So much so that my counselor cut me loose. (We have a use-when-needed relationship.)
During the last month or so, I’ve felt myself slipping. My depression is back in a huge way and I can’t even say when it returned or if it never left since October, but right now it takes up almost all of my time.
I thought at first that it was grief-my Bailey died in May-but, I actually experienced grief in a healthy way. I still miss him, but that experience is not the cause. I believe that the delicate life-balance that I must keep was disrupted and I’m off balance.
At first (and, I should have recognized this), I started to spend a lot of money to make myself feel better. I used to engage in diet plans or gym memberships or some other self-improvement. Of course, I’d never follow through. This was a warning sign.
This time, I bought dishes. Really pretty dishes. I now have service for 12 people. I also have five cookie jars. They’re so pretty. For about three weeks, I was receiving presents in the mail multiple times per week. It did make me feel better and even now, I smile when I see them, although they didn’t cure my depression.
I contacted my counselor because I just wasn’t feeling well. I was having difficulty concentrating. I would go to work, work all day and not check anything off of my to-do list. I would come home completely exhausted. I was still having difficulty explaining to my counselor why I even needed her. She would say, “How can I help you? What do you think we should do?” And, I couldn’t explain to her what was happening to me … until I had a dream. In the dream, I explained to a doctor that I was really worried about myself and my safety. That was almost three weeks ago.
I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want to play games. I don’t want to be with friends. I don’t want to go out to eat. I don’t want to attend fun events. I don’t want to leave my home.
I had planned to go to a ritual and celebration of the Spring Equinox with my Pagan group. It’s always so much fun. I didn’t go. I sent a message the day of the event stating that I wasn’t feeling up to it.
I love working with my spiritual work group. We work with energy and explore spirituality. I love this group and I love the work. I always feel so good afterward and the feeling lasts for days. I didn’t go.
I usually attend Pagan potluck. It happens once a month. It’s always a great time and we have great discussions. I didn’t go.
I often, sometimes multiple times per day, feel like I can’t breathe. I have this tightness in my chest that affects my back and my arms. It feels like a heavy weight sitting on my lungs, but from the inside. I spend time trying to take deep breaths. I have a lot of coping skills, but can’t get that feeling to go away without taking medication.
I sometimes have this feeling that my eyes are windows and I’m watching my life happen through those eye-windows. I wear glasses and sometimes, I’m very aware that they are on my face. Other times, I don’t even notice them. I’ve even gone looking for my glasses before and they were on my face. It’s like that-I’m very aware that something is between me and my life. In those times, I’m sluggish and slow to react to anything. It’s like my brain and my body are taking forever to receive and send messages. It’s almost dream-like. Like I’m not really there.
I have these episodes of false happiness. It’s like a boost of energy. I dance and I sing. I seem happy, joyous even. I’m not. I know that it’s false, not real. I know how happiness feels. This is not it. I feel like my happiness is inside me somewhere, but completely enveloped in darkness. I think these episodes are some sort of act for self-preservation. I totally make the most of it though, dancing and singing, but it’s a warning sign.
I interact with people, then feel like I shut down. It’s like a switch … on … off. I was speaking with someone yesterday, answering questions. I would answer a question and talk. I felt quite lively. They would turn to take notes or something else. Suddenly, I could feel my body powering down and my brain would just go blank. They would ask another question, I would be on again, but as soon as they turned away … off.
Any and every emotion is overwhelming. Remember how I don’t want to do anything? I wake in the morning and need to get up, but my whole body is filled with dread, especially if I have to leave the house that day. The other day, I hurt a friend’s feelings. I felt guilt and my body was filled so much that my entire body was tingling. I had an interview … I felt regular nervousness, but again, my entire body was filled with such immense emotion that I felt like I couldn’t contain it, but that it was trapped there.
The overwhelming emotions are the most dangerous, because I get immediate thoughts of self-harm. “Cutting my skin will release this emotion.” “I’ll feel better if I do it.” (It’s true. I will.) “Do we have any really sharp knives in the house?” The other day, I spent two hours utilizing mindfulness … “It’s a thought. I don’t have to engage with it.” “It’s just an expression of my helplessness. I can let the thought float away.” Over and over. Again and again. It was exhausting. Luckily, I have not engaged in self-harm.
Now, I want to be clear, I’m not thinking about suicide. I haven’t had those thoughts this time. And, I haven’t had any thoughts of “I’d be better off dead.” Cutting is a coping mechanism, a very unhealthy coping mechanism, but still a coping mechanism.
The day I woke from the dream, I told my counselor what had been happening. We used some EMDR in session that day. She asked me how often these things were happening. I responded three to four times a week. She asked me to keep track of these episodes for the next week. I was wrong. These thoughts, these emotions and the effects are happening all the time. Every. Single. Day. Even on good days. Apparently, it’s hard to remember when I’m not keeping track.
Last week when we met, she told me that I needed to see my psychiatrist for a med check. I have an appointment scheduled for later this month. She said, “now.” I called and he had no openings, so they put me on a cancelation list. Two days later, my psychiatrist called me. Twice. My counselor had called him. He increased my medication after speaking over the phone. I don’t know if it’s working yet. These things take time.
I talked with my counselor and some of my supports about what is happening with me and none of us can answer the question, “when do I sound the alarm bell?” I don’t want to worry my friends and family, but how can I tell them not to worry when I’m so worried about me?
Right now, I’m managing my symptoms. I have a lot of support and I’ve been reaching out to them. They are wonderful, but where’s the crisis point? When do I call the screeners? Will they even believe me if I do call?
I spoke to a friend of mine who has a mental health background. She told me that I’m exactly the type of person who could talk a crisis worker out of being concerned for me. I remember when I was in the hospital years ago after attempting suicide (even though I had been fighting the urge and had taken protective measures-I didn’t even want to die at that time, but there I was). I had a meeting with a group of doctors. They had told me that I’m at a higher risk of actually completing suicide because of my intelligence. Apparently, intelligent people can mask their symptoms and can appear fine when they really are not.
Again, suicidal thoughts are not an issue right now, but I don’t want to get to that point. So, when do I sound the alarm? I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that I’m ill, I’m very depressed, I have a lot of tools for coping with my illness and I have a lot of support. Even with all of that, I’m worried about me.