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Disappearing Depression

The fact that I disappeared from the blogosphere again shouldn’t really be surprising.  I tend to do that every once in a while.  I get overwhelmed with real life, events, crazy schedules.  Sometimes I’m fighting a different battle.

This time around I was fighting my old nemesis: depression.  We have a long history, depression and I.  Diagnosed at 16, I’ve struggled to maintain control of my mental health.  For the most part, this is a war I win, though depression occasionally wins a battle.

So why did depression raise its ugly head this time?  It was my own doing, unfortunately.  The good news is that the husband and I are trying to get pregnant.  Yay!!  The bad news is that means attempting to wean off my antidepressants.  There are far too many worrisome studies out there about the relationship between mothers on antidepressants and autism risks in their children.  Here and here.  Given that I already have a child on the spectrum and I was on an anti-depressant for a few months during my first pregnancy, you can imagine my worry and my guilt!  My doctors and I are all committed to getting my off the drugs for this pregnancy, just in case.

But this is where things get dicey.

I weaned off the drugs too quickly.  I went from 20 milligrams to 10 over night.  My body did not like that.  In fact, it stopped reacting to the drugs.  It took about 10 days for depression and anxiety symptoms to set in.

At first it wasn’t too bad.  Sure I was a little more tired, a little more irritable, and lot more hungry, but those aren’t symptoms that couldn’t be explained away by PMS, really really bad PMS.  Then I started losing my temper with Connor.  My normally patient parenting style disappeared.  I felt fed up with him every day.  I had not interest in engaging in play.  I just wanted to plop him in front of the TV and be done with it.  But hey, that could just be explained away by saying I was juggling the needs of a special need child and tired.  Then one day I just started crying.  Someone had something totally innocuous and I just started to sob.  Something was wrong.

Back on the full dose of medication, I had to fight my way back to feeling normal.  It takes a few weeks for medication to work your system back up to an even keel, so in the mean time you’re stuck knowing that something is wrong and not being able to do anything about it but wait.  Like the saying “fake it til you make it” I had to spend many many days trying to get back to a place where I felt like myself again.  I started using Dr. Low’s method of handling my anxiety and depression.  I was back to spotting anxious behaviors, endorsing myself for trying, reminding myself of my averageness, etc. And like always, after a lot of hard work and a lot of self-reflection, I was able to get back to a good place.

The only downside now is that I still need to wean off my medication.  We’re doing a baby step approach now: 20 mg to 15 mg.  Then if I’m ok in a few weeks, we’ll try going down to 10 again.

I need to be ok, whether I’m on the medication or not.  There have been several studies that show mothers suffering depression during their pregnancy experience many different types of disadvantages as well. 

It kind of seems like I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

There are other things I can do to help my mood while I’m weaning off the drugs: light therapy, exercise, nutritional adjustments, spending time outside, regular therapy, etc.

It’s still scary, though.  Part of me hopes we get pregnant right away and the added hormones help my mood, like they did last time.  And part of me hopes it takes a while so I can get this medication thing worked out.

Either way, all I can do is my best, and hope that’s good enough for our future baby.

Winter Grays, Blacks and Blues

I am many things.  I fill many roles. I exemplify many virtues and many failings.  I tend more towards happiness than unhappiness, more towards optimism than pessimism, more towards believing the best in people than believing the worst.  I keep my chin up, my head high and smile through the pain, knowing that tomorrow will be better.

And that usually works.

And the medication usually works.

And I’m ok, I’m good, I’m on solid ground.

And then the world changes a little bit and I’m reminded that my condition isn’t curable, just manageable.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 20 after my previous diagnosis of mild depression was thrown out.  After a sexual assault, I went into a months long manic period.  If you’ll read the link I’ve included I engaged in nearly all of the symptoms listed.  I was quite literally out of control.  During that period I felt like I was outside myself.  I could see what I was doing was harmful and I just couldn’t stop it.  One day I had a panic attack and thought I was having a heart attack.  When the ER doctors told me what it was I decided it was time to go back to see my old psychiatrist.  We tried various drug cocktails, including Lithium (which made me feel like I was experiencing the world through a thick layer of cotton) and it took a long time to figure out what was going to work best.

The mania period ended just prior to my senior year of college.  I was walking the tightrope of mental health mostly because I still felt like an open wound.  I supplemented my medication with alcohol, wild behavior and far too many dates.  I packed this life cocktail into my wounds hoping they would heal but they merely scabbed off.

I would feel better for a while, stop my medication, and then fall right back into a depression after a month or so.  I wanted so badly to be cured, to be fixed that I was very close to delusional about what was actually going on with my mental health.

It took years of feeling better then feeling worse to finally commit to staying on my medication.  It’s taken years of therapy to understand that I’m not fatally flawed because of my chemical imbalance but that it is as much a part of my as my eye color and the size of my feet.  I can do nothing to change it.

That was a hard pill to swallow (pun intended).

For years now my mood has been stable, I only rely on a very low dose of an SSRI, a medication that deals with increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain.  I use cognitive behavior techniques in my every day life to combat the symptoms of my condition.  Recovery International is a mental health group that focuses on the teachings of Dr. Abraham Low and his work with cognitive behavior therapy.  My former in-laws introduced me to this work and I will be forever grateful.  There are few days that go by that I don’t use the tools that are taught through this work.  Two favorites of mine are that I “have the will to bear the discomfort” of an unpleasant situation and to remind myself that I am just an average person, so nobody expects perfection from me.  With these things working in my favor life is generally good and the real Erin gets to shine through the condition.

Still there are times that I feel down, or blue, when the world’s colors seem a little grayer, the night a little blacker.  Usually I can shake it off in a day or two, but sometimes it lingers and I’m reminded that my fight is a life-long one.  The coming of winter always reminds me of this most poignantly.  Colder temperatures and longer nights rob me of my precious sunshine, sunshine which helps create the chemicals that keep me balanced and happy.

For a while there I didn’t even recognize that I was feeling worse.  I felt tired, but I’m always tired (I’m a mom!).  I lost interest in my normal activities, but I blamed that on being tired or the busy schedule my son has.  It wasn’t until I realized how disconnected I felt from everyone around me that I knew something was wrong.

Now I know and now I can fix it.  Sure it won’t be permanently fixed but identifying the problem is half the battle.  So long walks with the dogs, more vegetable gardening, eating al fresco will all help get me out into the limited sunshine hours.  Purposefully engaging in social activities, making myself complete to do lists, and writing, writing, writing will help me “fake it til I make it.”

And sooner than I realized I’ll be back to singing silly songs with Connor, baking delicious treats, and generally my nerdy, happy self again.