Thursday, December 27, 2007

No title

Can't think of one.

This is a post I'm not entirely comfortable writing. But when friends ask me if I need to talk to a professional about my depressive bouts, I guess the least I can do is offer a reply.

Recently, I've been going through a lot of stuff on depression. Dooce wrote about how medication keeps her steady and her husband wrote about what it's like living with her problems. I've come out of my cave and watched Amy Winehouse videos -- and ended up reading about her problems.

The thing is -- you may think I'm overanalysing yet again, if you like -- I have seen for myself how completely I can sink into depression. There were six weeks in my life when all I did was sit in a corner of my bedroom staring at the walls. Staring at them, sometimes crying, sometimes just sitting there like I had died and they'd forgotten to lay me out. I went out, for an hour and a half four evenings a week, for play rehearsals. Didn't go for groceries. I don't remember when I ate or what but I do know I didn't enter the kitchen for a week at one point. I didn't touch a drop of alcohol, not one joint. I didn't call up people and nobody called me. At that time I was not a fun person to know. I wandered down roads and didn't see the cars coming at me. Things went blurry at dusk. Speech had become a problem. I used to live alone and I had withdrawn myself from everybody who could help. I'm going into this in detail because it's not something I want to forget. Keeping this memory alive is the only way I can ensure I never become that way again.

I slowly came out of it. Time helped, and meeting new people. Actually, Hemant helped, just by being himself. He didn't know the reason but saw that I was sad. He called me on the phone, took me around, introduced me to people, got me to live again. And later, V helped. The shock of losing my hair helped. Nothing like burning off your hair to make you face facts. When I think back on what I had become, I'm glad I got off so easy. And with a sexy new look, at that.

But, but... what I was really going to talk about was what works for me. Depression runs in my family. Linked to uncontrollable rage and some OCD. No, that is not an easy way out of taking responsibility for my actions. But it is a couple of steps towards understanding and trying to cope with my, er, issues. (Not The Bhablet, although I'll grant he's an issue too.) Anyway, so every few weeks -- it seems to follow a monthly cycle of sorts, with some phases being harder than other, lighter bouts -- I can feel the ol' familiar sinking within me. It's hard to get out of bed, it's hard to sleep of nights, food seems a waste of time (or I feel hungry all day) and my temper is short, very short. When I sense these signals (and sometimes it's a day or two late, but I usually do sense them) I try the following things:

1. Getting out of the house. In very bad phases I go out alone and clear my head. Doesn't matter what I do or where I go, so long as I'm out.

2. Cleaning the house. It really does help. If nothing else, it battles the feelings of inadequacy. AND I get a clean house out of it.

3. Reading stuff. Surfing blogs, digging up old writings of mine, letters I'd written and received. Books that I love already. A new novel may help me out but odds are equally high that it may depress me further, so I prefer old favourites.

4. Comfort foods. Chips, savouries, chocolate, colas, phuchkas, whatever. It helps me feel hungry and once I eat, I feel a little better mostly. I don't worry about calories because otherwise I'd end up eating nothing at all. Also, because I'm still young enough to be able to ignore them!

5. Problem-solving. I find it very helpful to solve other people's problems at times like these. Not because of the misery-loves-company factor but because it gives my self-confidence a boost and because it takes my mind off my own troubles. Yes, it makes me count my blessings, even if I don't want to.

I'm not one to diss medication. But I do think one should try one's hardest to beat it on one's own first, because accepting medication for depression can itself lead to further depression, especially if you don't follow the medication instructions properly. I've seen a lot of that. Also people abusing the medication. I've spent a week in an institution with my brother and watched him play mind games with the doctors. With the exception of one gentleman they were all taken in by his nonsense. Eventually they cottoned on to him but by then I'd lost a lot of my faith in them. Doctors are people too and I could see they were having trouble discarding the earlier, nonsensical theories.

Some people need help despite their strongest efforts, because their very genes ask for help. Sometimes I worry I'm one of them. But mostly, I see myself leading a mostly normal, always very rich life, and I feel reassured. I've managed to put my moodiness alongside my knee problem and my painful wrists and my iffy tummy -- it's all something I look out for and try to get as much as I can out of life despite. Nobody's perfect. Nor is it necessary to be. Funnily enough, it took two institutions as stressful as marriage and motherhood to help me accept that. It's hard to self-flagellate when a Bhablet looks at you in adoration. Or when a husband tells all Facebook that you are likely to have the best butt cleavage.


dipali said...

Thanks for writing this post, Sue.
Managing to identify clinical depression is not one of the easiest things for a lay person to do, given that it would be a rare human being who has never 'felt' depressed. Since we are all somewhere on a happiness/unhappiness continuum, how does one find out when one has actually slid into a darker place than 'normal'? The episode you describe perhaps was clinical- fortunately you were able to come out of it without professional help.
I've been on the other side of the fence- dealing with a close family member who has been suffering from bipolar disorder for several years now. Each episode was triggered off by some stressor or the other. It can also get very difficult for the family. It takes years of learning about 'the nature of the beast' before you are able to accept its reality and its permanence. It is a beast that can be tamed, held at bay, but cannot be eliminated from the life of the sufferer. Dooce and her husband both have written very honest and moving accounts of their experiences with this illness.
Of course, physical illness gets far more sympathy and kindness than mental illness does. It is far more difficult to comprehend.
Your self analysis and 'treatment' seem effective. As long as you retain that detachment and self awareness it is unlikely that you will have further problems.
Do stay in contact with any one person who will always be there to listen to you- it will definitely help. All the very best to you in this and all things:)

S said...

I hear you.

My dad suffers from clinical depression and so do one of my uncles ...... for the past 25 years now and I think I have it too now.
Like you say, not to blame it on the genes .. but it does play a part and the mere awareness helps you cope better.

I am not convinced about meds either ... I've seen what it does to my dad ... and I worry about the inability to function without them once you start.

I could go on but I don't wanna take up more of your space.
This post really struck a nerve.

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

hey nice to see ur comment on my blog. yeah I drop into ur blog quite often and keep on postponing of abt leaving a comment. Take care babes. My love to Rahul.

dipali said...

PS: Of course, chocolate is ideal as it helps secrete endorphins which help uplift one's spirits.
Science rocks:)

Sue said...

Dipali -- I'd say a lay person can identify potential clinical depression when they see someone is unable to perform the requisites for a normal, healthy, happy life -- eating, sleeping, conversing normally, taking an active interest in something, even if it's only the tv.

In my case the two people who manage to help me out are primarily Vicky and then my mother. I try not to depend on them any more than is necessary, but I don't think I'm very independent after all.

S -- Thanks for the comment. I can guess it wasn't easy to write. Meds are supposed to help you and they are supposed to be tapered off either totally or until they reach a minimum level of usage. That is what Dooce was writing about. That rarely happens here I think because there is virually no monitoring of the patient.

I share your fears about dependence on drugs.

Brundha -- Thanks! It's ok if you want to lurk, do so. I just chanced upon your link so I thought I'd say hello.

Dipali -- My theory is, eventually they'll discover that all the 'forbiddn' foods are actually all great for our health. Mental, if not physical. Tell me, isn't a cheesy, hot, salady hamburger one of the most satisfying things around?

Neera said...

Wow! I didn't even know this counted as depression. I went through exactly the same thing as you have described for about 3 months before my wedding and till date it feels as if I was actually possessed. This despite of the fact that I don't really believe in it but nothing else explains my state then.
Like you, i too do not want to forget that phase but DREAD it striking back again. Going on sleeping, going on brushing my teeth (!!) and such things which required no application of brains whatsoever actually comforted me.

dipali said...

Sue, you were lucky you had people who were sensitive to your problems.
Most people aren't. It's usually not lack of love-it's lack of knowledge and understanding, or the refusal to see what's bang in front of your face. Of course, the manic phase of bipolar disorder gets recognised sooner.
Meds, yes, both boon and bane.
What amazes me is the terribly complicated brain biochemistry behind what we think of as 'our' moodiness.

And of course we are all so very interdependent on each other. Human beings need human warmth to keep them going.

@Neera, did anyone else realise what you were going through?

eve's lungs said...

Sue - Hugs :)
I have seen my father battling with depression and getting over it. I have seen an aunt keel over . As Dipali says in both cases there were stressors .At one stage I have also gone through depression when each day was a burden which seemed to get heavier and all I wanted to do was to be left alone and weep . I have tremendous mood swings and a rage that frightens me later . AG helps to keep me in place,but again its a dependence that frightens me too .

bird's eye view said...

That was a really honest post. One thing I have trouble with is asking for help when I need it - for something as simple as losing weight to bigger things. I feel if i don;t do it all by myself, it's not 'legit'. I've had to leran the hard way that it's ok to be helped. You could try that too when you start sinking - speak to your close friends.

DotMom said...

It must have taken a lot of courage to write that. I am glad you have come up with solutions to help the dark bouts... Thought of getting a therapist to just talk issues over? That has helped many.

karmickids said...

Oh Sue, what can I say? I went through this phase in my teens when I didnt step out of the house for three months. Didnt go to college, didnt go anywhere. Didnt meet anyone. My periods stopped. Hair fell out. Bloated to blimp size. Ate nonstop. My poor mother was at her wits end. Now we know what it was, but back then it was just a snap out of it girl reaction I got. Am so glad you made it through...and still have the courage to write about it... *Hugs*

Suki said...

Hmm... now I think I can safely put a name to what I call "the dead years".

Thanks for this post, Sue. Thank you so much.
And yes - whether it's clinical or not, there's always chocolate :). I think psychiatry is really iffy, and in India at least it's about as destructive as it gets.

And that sets off a chain of thought that will go into writing somewhere... public or private. Phew, it's a relief to be feeling and thinking and feeling dynamic again.

Suki said...

Oh... I'm sorry for that scrabbly comment there. I just don't know how to put everything I'm feeling right now into words.

Anonymous said...

I simply must delurk now, if only to say that I wish I didn't understand exactly what you mean. I will leave you with a quote that made sense to me when no chocolate was around - "In a society of the insane, the sick are well."

Sameera said...

i dont know much abt depression
but i just want to wish u the best in everything

god bless u and happy new year.

Nisha said...

Very courageous of you to write a post on your depressive phase. In fact after reading your post only, I realised I had been in depression. It was during the second year of my college after a particularly bad breakup with a boyfriend. It lasted for almost a year or so, nobody did anything about it. Once I joined work, I slowly grew out of it. Since I was particularly very irritant during the time, my dad and I had bad clashes too. Relationships were generally nonexistent during that time though I was living with family. A very bad phase, it was. Why am I telling you this? Actually I don't know!

Sue said...

Neera -- Routine can be strangely comforting when you're down. Like an affirmation of the universe being ok after all.

Dipali -- I know. I was lucky my mother understood because she learnt it all trying to understand what was going wrong with my brother. Vicky doesn't always understand, but when he does, I don't need anybody else, not even The Bhablet.

Evie -- I'm hoping you'll be the one supplying answers here, lady! It's bad enough that I worry so much...

Bird's Eye View -- Yeah, asking for help is so tough, na? I think it's a feature of our times, where we're all more isolated as human beings and more sensitive to criticism and less welcoming of external influence.

DotMom -- I've met several therapists for my brother, and save one, they really put me off. So that is really a last resort for me. I'm trying to stick it out till then. I talk to my mum, to V sometimes, to my friend E, these conversations really do help.

Kiran -- You've had some really tough parts in your life, haven't you? And just look at you now -- you look so fit and so pretty and you express yourself so fluently. I guess there's always hope, if only one is willing. Thanks for the thought.

Suki -- Scrabbly is cool, a lot of my posts are scrabbly, God knows! Go on, do your own post. It might help you clear those years in your head. What went right and what went wrong. What helped and what didn't.

The Last Byte -- If there's one thing this post has shown me, it's how many unexpected people know exactly what I'm talking about. So, I guess, if it's that common a phenomenon, it must also be that beatable. That's why I wrote down the stuff that helps me. In all honesty, housework and getting out of the house and reading help much more than chocolate even.

Sameera -- Thanks so much. May you have a good year too.

Nisha -- Why are we all talking about it? So that we know it for what it is and can handle it if it ever comes up again -- within us or in our loved ones. But it's possible to have a comfortable, healthy, happy life even living with this. That's why I read Dooce's post so attentively.

Neera said...

@ Dipali ..Well everybody attributed it to me getting married ..huge changes, lots of anxieties, moving away, et al. I myself couldn't pinpoint any reason in my brain. My parents were very very supportive though and I felt like talking to only them and no one else. I came out of it because of their support and my husband's after the wedding. To everyone else I was just fine because meeting other people and exchanging sweet niceties just couldn't be avoided because of the wedding even though I howled like crazy everytime after I did that.

Clay Feet said...

I don't claim to be any expert on this subject but find this discussion very interesting. I just started watching your blog after a referral from your friend in London.
I do have what may be a stupid question, being from a different culture. What is phuchkas?

GettingThereNow said...

It takes a lot of courage to talk about this. And a lot more to go through it and come out of it without the help of any medication. It takes a lot of grit to stick to a routine or to do things that you just don't feel like doing (like you did). I am not saying that medication is unnecessary - in some cases that may be the only way out, but that should be the last resort, I feel. It is too easy to develop a dependence on medicines to help you fight depression - and not without its side effects.

I am so impressed that you talked about it so openly. I did a few things that i am not very proud of, when I was depressed. And I haven't developed the courage to talk about them yet. Oddly, while it took marriage and motherhood to pull you out of your depression, for me it was these two institutions that pushed me into it. Not J and S themselves, but the other kinds of stress factors (i.e. ILs) associated with these intitutions :P I didn't know then that i was depressed. it was later that i was reading an article and the symptoms rang a bell - a LOUD bell :D But even if I knew that I was depressed, I wouldn't have gone the medicinal way - even though it would have helped me get better faster (it took me 5 years to "snap out of it"). I would probably have tried talking to a therapist though. or maybe not. Hmmm. NOW you got me thinkin'!

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

You are a strong woman Sue!

Sue said...

Neera -- It sounds crazy! I'm glad your husband was understanding.

Clay Feet -- Which friend might that be? Phuchkas are little fried balls of dough. When fried they swell up into empty cases which are later filled with a potato mixture, some tamarind water and served. It's a very common street food in West Bengal and Bihar. In all other places it's rubbish.

Cee Kay -- See, by and large I didn't do anything I'm ashamed of. Slept with some random guys, went on a drinking, drugged binge for a short bit, partied hard, but none of this affected anybody but me and I have no qualms about any of it. I did enjoy it. Also, it showed me how much people did care, unexpected people I didn't know so well but who went out on a limb to pull me out of this. I was lucky because it was all only about me. I had no dependents, was living alone and didn't have a job to fear for. I could see all this in a negative light -- I do know V doesn't like to think of those days -- but I remember (now) the love I was given, and it helps.

I'm not comfortable with therapists although I do tell myself I'd go if I needed the help. (Would I?) You know, the social stigma of talking to a psychiatrist is one of the reasons I don't want to. If I went to one, I'd start losing my belief in my own sanity, perhaps.

Anitha -- Thank you. But I guess that is undeserved. Thanks all the same.

Nisha said...

I agree with you on this aspect. At least now I'll be able to recognise this and be empathetic to people around me if something like this happened to them. Or at least I'll be able to recognise it if it happened to me again and take help if need be, which I didn't do when it happened earlier. Thanks.

GettingThereNow said...

Yes - that definitely makes a difference if your depression hurt no one but you. Mine hurt my husband and daughter and that is what I am ashamed about. But just out of curiosity - you say you don't regret sleeping with random guys, binge drinking etc. but you care about the "social stigma" attached to seeking a psychotherapist's help?

Sue said...

Nisha -- Don't thank me, I'm passing on the helping hand I was given when I needed it. :) It's up to you all to keep passing it on as well.

Cee Kay -- I was unclear: I don't have a problem with the whole Lost Weekend life now, but I did then. Once I realised that I'd lost nothing, gained a lot and hurt nobody, I was fine with it. So in retrospect I always say I have no problems with it.

The social stigma about seeing a psychiatrist... I don't much care what people will say/think/do. It'll bother me a little that The Bhablet may have to face ridicule, my parents (and in-laws?) and Vicky have to live with the pity, but by and large what bothers me is -- and I think it's stupid, but it still bothers me -- that I will start losing my faith in my own sanity once I allow a doctr to treat me. Right now I can tell myself sometimes, however little I believe it, that there will come a point in my life when I'll stop having these phases. I don't think I could lie to myself so convincingly once a doctor tells me I have 'issues' or even worse, that some pill will help me out.

Hopefully, if ever I need that help I will overcome this. I'm aiming at never needing it at all, let's see.

Rohini said...

Hi. Awfully brave of you to write about this. And thanks for doing it - helps so much in understanding you better since your Facebook profile updates do worry me... and I also know there is something I can do to help - I can tell you my problems! Now there's a great way to kill two birds with one stone...

Sue said...

Rohini -- :D Yes, do tell. And thanks for the concern.

Saya said...

Hi Sue..
My mother suffers from clinical depression ever since i can remember.. I am from a broken home.. And I do so know what you are saying when you wonder/worry if a psychiatric illness runs in your genes...

I worry and worry that I will end up like my mother one day..
And some of the things you mentioned are things that I do. Esp the part about reading an old favorite because a new one might depress me further..

I did ask for help.. and it turned out that my thyroid was the problem.. I danced with joy..

I hear you woman..
And yes.. I have had my share of institutions too with my mother.. the vacant look in their eyes due to the medication scares me so much..

Sue said...

Saya -- I don't know how I missed responding to your comment and you'll probably never read this now, but just in case -- thank you for your comment. Not easy talking about depression in the family. And I hope you've got your thyroid under control now. All the best.

Saya said...

I did come back.. and see this :-)