Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Welcome Back, Campers! :)

So long between posts... are they even called "posts" if they come so far in between? I feel like they're snap-shots taken along the way... like maybe a series of shots taken from the car as the photographer drives way too fast so some of them are a little blurry.

I have a bit of something to say, something which I am less comfortable putting out on the internet, but I think that maybe it would be good for me to go ahead and say it in the interest of alerting others who might struggle with similar issues and need maybe to go get help like I finally ended up doing. I also realize that a lot of the judgement would probably come from people who are ignorant of disorders in the depression spectrum and don't understand me anyway. Those people are welcome not to read the following.

A year and some change ago (oh, stop it with the puns, Blue, seriously. ;) ), I began seeing a counselor. I was in yet another job I hated with a similar set of issues I had faced in my past much-hated jobs, so I finally reached the conclusion that either I didn't know how to pick a job that didn't put me into a victim position, I didn't know how to quit when I realized I was being victimized, I was imagining the entire thing and had no idea why I would do such a thing, or God hated me and wanted me to be profoundly miserable for the rest of my life. Realizing that I also tend towards the more dramatic end of the spectrum, I had been putting off dealing with this for some time, convinced that if I could just make up my mind, move, decide to "follow my dreams", think more positive thoughts, etc., I could just "snap out of it". Snapping was seeming increasingly impossible. Additionally, I had thought for years about becoming a counselor, thought I was getting close to starting the process, and couldn't stomach the idea of offering these services to another soul without trying it out myself first. After realizing that my life was poo, at an absolute stand-still, and, dramatic or not, my mind was going into increasingly depressing places, I finally, with the help of a friend/angel, made an appointment and went in.

It was a cold and rainy day (Actually I can't remember, but I've always wanted to use that line!). I found myself in a room with a white man in his 50's with profound eyebrows. Pictures of hunting dogs and grandchildren scattered the room. He sat on a wooden rocking chair and asked me why I was there. I explained that I had recognized that I had a problem. I told him that I realized that I was not struggling with something debilitating (this was a lie), that I was not in any real danger (also a lie), and that I felt like I was over-reacting a little (yet one more lie, although I still feel the need to defend this more often than not). I told him that I wanted to address the problem directly. I told him that I needed concrete assistance and that if he even suggested anything that bore a slight resemblance to bullshit, I would get up off the couch and leave immediately... something I once brought up in a session, saying that I was not sure that I would have had the courage. "You?" he responded. "Nope. You would have been gone."

Four nearly interrogation-like sessions later, the man clicked the light on. Turns out there's a word for this. Ladies and gentlemen, meet dysthymia...

The main symptom of dysthymia is low, dark, or sad mood nearly every day for at least 2 years. The symptoms are less severe than in patients with major depression, but people with this condition can still struggle with:
Feelings of hopelessness
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Low energy or fatigue
Low self-esteem
Poor appetite or overeating
Poor concentration

Dude, I can't tell you what happened that day. I was suddenly not crazy. I was not imagining things, not lazy, not wallowing, and not a useless chunk of human being. I had a name for the never-ending inertia... a word to refer to the constant feeling that everything was going to suck forever, that I was never going to be good enough... there's a reason I feel that I, a perfectly decent human being with a number of sterling qualities, have, beyond reason, felt like utter crap about myself every day for as long as I can remember... a reason that I felt like part of me was standing outside looking at the mopey, indecisive, underachieving me and shaking her head... simply having a name for all of this was more freeing than I can explain. Despite the fact that nearly everyone I knew would probably never have guessed it, I had been sad, stressed, and immobile for years. Perhaps that's the real tragedy--they had simply gotten used to my constant slight sadness.

Oddly enough, I had also been anti-diagnosis for years. I felt that a diagnosis made it ok to give up and stop trying to overcome something... a diagnosis was something which defined a person and made the person weak and able to make excuses for that weakness... something people did and received as an excuse for their inability to get up like the rest of us (HAHA) and accomplish what we do (HAHAAAA!). Geeeez, the air got thin up on that pedestal.

The problem with NOT having a diagnosis is that then there is nothing to deal with. I don't know how other people feel, but I felt (and still feel) that the diagnosis gave me focus. My tendency towards inertia and half-empty thinking is something which has a name. It's no longer an all-encompassing personality flaw of which I must be ashamed.

Here comes some science...
The high level of stress and transition in my life as I grew up never allowed my brain to develop steady levels of serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain which allows all of us to feel calm, safe, and like everything is generally ok. Without the regulating, one goes up and down, never feeling really safe, really calm, or really ok. Stress and mild sadness are constant. I read dysthymia described once as "an invisible Nerf bat pounding on the inside of my brain." It's not debilitating, but it makes doing anything nearly impossible. It's always in the way. Whether I had a genetic predisposition to this or not, the theory is that my brain doesn't know how to keep serotonin levels stable. Although it is possible for dysthymia to become clinical depression and require medication, the most effective route to go here is counseling. Get this-- because the brain can grow and change and all of that, I can literally re-train my brain to regulate the serotonin. It's kind of amazing to me... the brain can change behavior, and behavior can change the brain. The feelings and thoughts we have are not just ethereal things floating in the atmosphere... they are also chemical pathways at work in our brains. If I work to make my thought processes change, my brain will adapt. It's super-cool. It's actually the preferred method for dysthymia. Meds tend not to be as effective as they can be with clinical depression, but I will take the pills if someday it becomes necessary. Life is too damn short to be so sad. If it means counseling forever, then so be it. I will not lay down and be conquered by this. This is the only life on this earth I get. I'm going to do what I have to do to be able to enjoy it and make use of it.

There has been a lot of get-up-and-go in the course of my own counseling journey. I have been pushed to apply to school, pushed to make some changes in my job and personal life, pushed to analyze my family and friends and the forces at work there, pushed to address my spirituality and how it and the ways in which I choose to express and experience, pushed to look clearly at how I see my body and choose to live in it... it's so far from easy, but I'm a believer in counseling. It turns out I'm not weak. It's not a character flaw, and I'm not Debbie Downer. I'm not doomed to a dead-end and disappointing life, and God loves the hell out of me. I just need help seeing that through the now occasional brain fog. My counselor doesn't have all of the answers, but, mumbo-jumbo as it may sound, he sees me. He sees me as I've never been able to see myself, and it makes me feel like I could climb mountains. We all need that from time to time, sometimes more intensively than others... but we all have those moments in which it's just too dark, and we can't see. It's really helpful not to be alone.

My parents have each faced major health issues this year, graduate school (suprise, surprise) has it's own set of issues, work is no picnic, I'm still pretty poor, and my hormonal cycle continues to be challenging, but I feel MUCH better. My life is in motion now. I can honestly say that I have more good days than blah, and I actually like my life the vast majority of the time. I may get tired and fall into old traps of complaining, but I currently work one of my dream jobs, I am going to school to get certified to do something I know I'm my soul I was made for, and in many ways I have healthier relationships than ever before.

It's not all cotton candy... but cotton candy is unrealistic anyway. I'm just happy the Nerf bat seems to be at least taking a breather more often than not. I can't tell you how relieved I am. It's mighty peaceful in here...