Friday, April 05, 2013

On Fighting Depression

I don't often talk about it, but I deal with depression a lot. Apparently it runs in my family, from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. I've been battling it a lot once I hit my 30s. I couldn't ignore it any longer because it was having a tremendous toll on me and my marriage.

I felt crazy. I can't describe it any other way, because it's what I assumed being crazy felt like. Just racing thoughts, feeling and thinking negative things and always second-guessing what everyone was thinking -- even myself. I felt like garbage and was sure everyone saw me that way. My intelligence was still there, but I was wracked with self-doubt and was sure everyone knew I was a big fake. I was pretending I was normal, obviously, but they could see I was a roaring vortex of insecurity and failure.

They probably couldn't. But I didn't know that. My skin was raw and every raised eyebrow or pause in conversation was a slight. I used to be an extrovert who threw parties and loved conversation. Now I hated going outside of the house and dealing with people. Too many people judging me. It didn't help that I gained about 35 pounds.

But the worst part as the mind-racing and feeling scared. While for many this means withdrawal from life, which I also did, but it also made me irritable and angry. I screamed, I yelled, I threw computers downstairs. In short, my life had become unmanageable. And for the first time in my life, I decided to go on antidepressants.

Honestly, the antidepressants weren't a miracle cure. At first, it really seemed like it. I seemed happier and kind of normalish, but then the side effects came -- and made me a little manic. I ended up buying $5,000 in gold jewelry because I was convinced our nation was heading into a financial apocalypse and gold would be the standard. (Luckily, this happened in 2007, so I actually made money five years later. But at the time it was more than a little koo-koo for Kokopuffs.) After about four years of experimentation and three psychiatrists, I finally found a cocktail of citalopram and bupropion that worked. And I seemed mostly normal.

However, it wasn't until recently that I began changing my thoughts based on a bet with a fellow writer. I told her I was going to try to think of the best of people rather than the worst for Lent and she told me, "Why don't you just approach the world with connection and compassion? I did that when I went on my trip to Italy and I had the best time." She said it was the same thing I was doing except leaving out the negative -- but I was so comfortable with negative! So, I said I would try what she asked.

Now it's past Easter, and I still find myself doing it. I'm not as angry or irritated at people (except in traffic) and seem a great deal more carefree. And lately, as I go outside to dump something nasty in the garbage -- which seems to be the only time I just walk outside -- I've been seeing the bees hurriedly working in the mountain lilac and the faint scent of wildflowers. There's been ladybugs and birdsong, a crop of gold and white freesias and I've been thinking, "Has the world always been this beautiful?"

I now think back to the tense, scary times of my 20s and very early 30s and think how much easier my life would have been with this feeling of calm.

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