If you've been hanging 'round here at Chez Yarnagogo for any length of time at all, you'll know I'm predictable in the way that every six months or so, I end up writing something that some might think is too personal (and yep, this complaint does land every now and again in my inbox. Hey, if you don't like what I write about it, I will stop coming to your house and holding the words in front of your eyes. All you have to do is ask. I thought you liked it when I did that).
This, my friends, is gonna be personal.
When I had my hysterectomy in May, I intended to go on estrogen-replacement therapy. I was 39, and after doing research, I'd decided it was the sensible choice for me. Unfortunately, it turned out that I have an extremely rare and potentially fatal form of estrogen-dependent angioedema, and can't take estrogen in any form (no supplements, no soy, no phyto-, no bio-identical, nothin').
So I hit menopause like a juice glass hits a tile floor.
The doc said I could expect all the symptoms, but I haven't had one single hot flash or a moment of crazy emotional rage. I actually started sleeping better.
But my only other symptom was a doozy: Depression.
I was sad, yo. And at first, I didn't recognize it for what it was. I just called it brain fog. I couldn't connect with anyone, couldn't seem to hold an intelligent conversation. I went to a writing convention and cried my way through it, thinking I was just being overly sensitive. Everything was out of focus and so difficult. During that time simply going to the post office was too hard for me to figure out. I felt bone-tired and got more exhausted every day. At home, I started sleeping in, something I never do. One day I was in bed looking at the noon-time sun reflected onto the ceiling, unwilling to move. I thought to myself, Why am I lying in bed? This is what depressed people do. I'm not depressed. Thud. Wait for it . . . Oh.
I talked to my doctor, and even though I failed her Depression Quiz (there's a fun afternoon!), I rejected her recommendation for medication. I also rejected therapy. Now, I LOVE therapy and sign up for it whenever I think I can use an intelligent outside perspective on a confusing or difficult situation, but this was not situational depression. Love life was good. Family was good. Friends were good. Both jobs were good. I was happy with my life. I just wasn't happy, and the move from always happy to unbearably sad took exactly the four weeks it took for the estrogen to leave my body. So I knew it wasn't therapy I needed.
Now, I know I'm lucky. I don't know from depression.I've had situational depression, the kind of depression that comes from life's hardships like losing a loved one. Grief happens. Depression in those cases is natural and (usually) eases with time. But me? I'm one of those happy-chemicals people. And I've always, ALWAYS said that if my happy-chemicals changed for any reason, I'd march myself up to the pharmacy line and get me some of the good stuff. I understood in layman's terms the idea of serotonin reuptake, and I'd studied the way serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine function in the brain. I held no judgment, none at all, for people who chose to assist their brains' chemistry and functionality.
When my joy and positivity plunged along with my hormone levels, I was astonished to find I totally rejected this option for myself.
Without knowing it, I'd bought into the stigma that medication brings along with it. I'm not sure if it comes from having a mother who didn't take a single Vicodin after her hysterectomy because she could tough her way through it, but I was surprised by how desperately I wanted to try to fix my depression myself first.
(I realize that some of you are, or have been, clinically depressed for a great part of your life. My friends, I can't imagine your struggle. I fought it for a few months, and so often I thought, This is TERRIBLE. They aren't kidding! I commend you for everything you've ever tried or done to make yourself feel better. It's so hard, and I only got a taste. Please know that I understand I'm very lucky to have been born with the positive chemicals, so lucky that I haven't had to struggle more with this in my life.)
I told my doc I wanted to fix myself. I read books, lots of 'em. I learned our brains have to have exercise in order to keep the right levels of serotonin/norepinephrine/dopamine. Ha! Exercise! That's what you feel like doing when you're so sad you can't get out of bed. But I started running again, because I am nothing if not stubborn. I took it like medicine, trying to exercise every day, even though I hated it.
I'd already changed my diet, eliminating dairy, sugar, wheat and all other grains, as well as the nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants). I didn't think I could get any healthier in that respect, but I did cut back on my optional sugar-of-choice, wine (which is, obviously, a depressant).
I waited to feel happier. Instead, I just ate well, ran around the block and on the treadmill and kept crying. I hid this from you pretty well, didn't I? I might have dropped a mention or two of it on twitter and here at the blog, but I'm pretty damn adept at functioning as a happy-looking individual even when I'm not. No one at work had any idea. Many friends didn't know.
I hid it because I'm known for being happy. Someone has nicknamed me "Sunshine" at every job I've ever had. It was a huge part of who I was, and I was proud of it. (I wonder now if I'd have been so proud had I known that happiness was so dependent on my hormones?) And I hid my depression because I knew–it had been drilled into me from all parts of society–that being depressed is wrong, and trying to fix it with medicine is EVEN WORSE. It would mean that I was crazy and/or incompetent and/or untrustworthy. I am none of those things. So my knee-jerk reaction was NO THANK YOU NO DRUGS FOR ME BACK OFF NOW.
But a month into trying to fix myself with diet, supplements, acupuncture, yoga, talking to friends, and exercise, I broke. I called my doctor and, literally through sobs, asked for the pills. I went on Celexa that day. Two days into the treatment, I stopped crying. Two weeks into the treatment, I felt better. Six weeks in, I felt normal again.
It's been a few months now, and this—> I feel normal.
Normal again! I'm not living in a haze. I can communicate with people. I sing again (the fact that I hadn't been singing had been so weird. I didn't sing in the car or while working in the kitchen. I hadn't even chalked it up to depression, I just had the odd thought perhaps I was getting too old to sing all the time. So it was very, very nice when the singing came back). Now I feel wild bursts of joy at random moments, just like I used to. I also get stressed out and overtired and snappish and grumpy, all mixed in again with my regular, even-keeled mood.
The thing I'd most worried about when going on the medicine–that my creativity would suffer somehow, would change–hasn't happened. The only thing that's changed is that I sit at my writing eagerly again, instead of dragging myself to the page. My words come out sharper because I'm sharper. And I'm still completely me. I just feel like I put on the right emotional glasses and things are in focus.
Sure, I'm nervous hitting Publish on this post. My boss reads my blog, for Pete's sake. (Hi, Denise!) Especially in my day-job field, the world of police and fire, being on depression meds was really stigmatized for a long time. You could lose your job for it. That coloring made an indelible impression on me. I'm also nervous because of that volunteer job I really want–what if they read this post and think I'm nuts? Yep, super nervous. But I've never regretted sharing myself here, ever. So I'm gonna hit that Publish button and squeeze my eyes shut tight and maybe take a little nap and have a smoothie later.
This is what I think: let's talk to people about depression, directly and honestly. Tell those you love you need help with figuring this shit out. Encourage those you love to accept the help they need. IT'S NOT WRONG to be depressed, and there are things that can truly help you feel better. (And the thing I hear most when I do bring it up? "Oh, I don't want to go on that, it might affect my sex life." Dude, your LIFE is affecting your sex life when you're depressed. Don't buy that line. Sex is a lot more playful and fun when you're happy.)
I deserved to feel better. I deserved to find the things that would help. For me, it's diet, exercise, and medicine. You deserve to figure out what makes you feel better.
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