Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Long Post About Depression

I wrote last week about using exercise and other self-care strategies to fight depression. I didn’t go into great detail about my history with depression because I don’t like long blog posts and I figured most of my readers were related to me and familiar with that history. It turns out that’s not entirely true. I actually have some readers who don’t know me well.

Someone who doesn’t know me well might read that post and think I’m one of those people who believe that happiness is a choice and we can fix any mood with appropriate self-care and a positive attitude. I am NOT one of those people. I am a woman who has had two bouts of major depression in her life and knows that both of them were related to hormone fluctuations.

I did not need a double-blind study to tell me this. The first episode happened when my life had just become as perfect as it could be, after the birth of my second child. I had everything I had always wanted, including a loving husband, a secure home and two healthy children. If my mood had been reflecting my situation, I would have been in a state of complete joy and peace.

Instead, I woke up every morning wishing I could die. I went straight from sleep (what sleep I got with a new baby in the house) to despair, with no conscious thought in between. I knew it was chemical, but everyone I talked to about it wanted to find some situational reason for it. There was none. This happened in 1980 and I could find no help. I had to tough it out until my hormones adjusted. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I survived. There were two clear thoughts that kept me from killing myself. The first was that the world was a very dark place for me, but that it would be a whole lot darker for my children if they had to grow up knowing their mother killed herself when they were babies.

The other was that I couldn’t believe, with absolute certainty, that death would end my consciousness. I wanted to stop the pain. I didn’t believe death would end it, so I hung on to life. It was a bleak time, but my hormones did eventually settle down. I was able to wake up and see light in my life again. I even had another child without having another episode of postpartum depression. I hoped the depression was a one-time thing and I would never have to deal with it again.

PMS was a recurring theme in my life, but my loved ones learned to give me space during those times and life went on. As I got older, the PMS got worse. I tried herbal remedies. I wrote a lot of poetry. I meditated. It was just one week out of four. The light always reappeared, right on schedule, so I just kept toughing it out, month after month.

As time went on, there was more darkness and less light. I realized things were going downhill fast when I caught myself weeping in the grocery store and having panic attacks in the dentist’s office. I had lived through a dark time once before and I could see another one coming, so I decided to get help. The counselor I chose was a woman well-known for her belief in natural healing. I was floored when she suggested that antidepressants might help me. Chemicals? For all-natural, new-age, tie-dyed, aging hippie me?

I was desperate and I trusted my counselor, so I gave selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors a try. These drugs take a while to build up in your system and I wasn’t sure, at first, that they were working. I mentioned my doubts to my husband and he said, “They’re working. You’re laughing at my jokes again.”

I had not realized I had stopped laughing at his jokes. He was right about the medication. It made a huge difference. I stayed on it for years. My doctor told me that the medical wisdom was that it was possible to have two episodes of major depression and recover and be able to live without medication, but that once a person had a third episode, that person would probably need to be on antidepressants for the rest of his or her life. The drugs had helped me tremendously but they did have side effects and they were not inexpensive. Once I made it safely through menopause, I decided to try weaning myself from them.

With the doctor’s guidance, I gradually decreased the dose. It took some time and there were bouts of dizziness but, eventually, I was living without selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. That was when I discovered how much difference exercise could make. That was when I learned the other self-care strategies that keep me relatively sane.

I mentioned these in last week’s blog post but I never meant to imply that I believe they are a proper treatment for major depression. My major depressive episodes were hormone-related. Once I got through the hormone storms that caused them, I was no longer dealing with major depression. I’m guessing I will always deal with mild to moderate depression and I am glad there are natural strategies that will get me through the bad days. If I saw another major episode approaching, I would go back on medication in a heartbeat.

There are people who will tell you there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. These people are dead wrong. When I hear someone say this, I have to resist the urge to smack them upside the head. Fortunately, these people are usually celebrities on television or Facebook acquaintances and I can’t reach them.

Still Fighting

Wednesday has become blog day for me, and it dawned a little ugly this morning. I woke up with a bit of a headache and the voice of my ever-present depression whispering in my ear. It doesn’t try to talk me out of doing Morning Pages because it knows that’s a lost cause, but it will start trying to talk me out of my Sweatin’ to the Oldies while I’m still writing Morning Pages. It will tell me the headache is a good reason to skip the exercises. I don’t feel well, so I should just rest and not work out.

That sounds reasonable, but I know it’s just a big, fat lie my depression uses to get its its foot in the door and make itself at home for a while. Sometimes it works, but today I had enough fight in me to put on my workout clothes as soon as I finished my Morning Pages, and hit “Play” on that DVD. I use the DVD because that’s often all the fight I can muster. Once I hit “Play,” that’s all it takes. If I start the workout, I will finish it. Starting may be a huge battle but once I start, the battle is won. I started today, and I worked out for an hour. Thank you, Richard Simmons.

The Sweatin’ helped. It always does. It’s the one thing that helps the most since I went off antidepressants a few years ago. Today’s foul mood was persistent, though. Fortunately, I was still able to remember that there are other things I can do that will make a difference. My depression tries to make me feel lame, inadequate and worthless, so it helps if I can do something to prove it wrong. On my worst days, the best I can do is save a video game world, but today was not one of my worst days. Today, I went into my kitchen and baked cookies.



I probably don’t have to tell you what kind of cookies these are. I’m sure you recognize the crisscross. If I ever bit into a cookie that looked like this and there was no peanut butter in it, I would be appalled. I used the classic recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I felt a lot better when the cookie jar was full, but I was still restless. I needed to bring out the big guns.

I mean the teeny tiny yeastie beasties. I was fighting a very tenacious bad mood and I needed to do something impressive. I impress the heck out of myself when I make yeast rolls. These are Soft Sandwich Buns and the recipe is from The Farm Cookbook. I love that little book. It reminds me of my young married days, when I first became a vegetarian and didn’t know tofu from tempeh. That book taught me how to make both, but it also taught me to make these wonderful fluffy white buns.

My daughter was tired of waiting for them to cool.

My daughter was tired of waiting for them to cool.

I am not lame. I am not inadequate. I am not worthless. I made yeast rolls. I rock.

Gravity Works

I picked up my newspaper yesterday morning and brought it in the house. I always let my husband read it first, since he has to go out to a real job that he hates every day, so I pulled it from the plastic bag for him and opened it. As I set it on the kitchen table, I noticed the headline and it seemed as if all the lights in the world dimmed for a moment.

“Oh, no!” I thought, “Not Robin Williams! Not suicide!!”

But it was true. The demons of addiction and depression got another one. They showered darkness upon him and took him when he was alone. He brought so much light into the world but it was not enough to save him. Celebrity, fame and wealth were not enough to save him.

I decided I didn’t want to be alone with this news all day, so I went to Facebook. Everyone had something to say. I read what James Taylor had to say and I read what George Takei had to say and I found my way, eventually, to what Liz Gilbert had to say. Then I spent hours reading comments on her post, because so many people felt the need to comment and they were all saying the same thing.

“It could have been me.”

That was what was all over Facebook yesterday. There are too damn many of us who fight this rotten disease every single day of our lives. We see another soul fall and we circle up. We join hands. We tell each other, “I’m here for you. There’s still light in the world. Don’t give up.”

Our world lost a great soul this week. I can’t add anything profound to all the words that have been spoken about his genius and his magic and his light. I can’t pull out inspiring quotes from his famous roles. The one that always comes to mind when I think of Robin Williams is the one from Batty in Ferngully, “Gravity works!”

My kids watched that video over and over again when they were young and that line is what we all say whenever we trip and fall or drop something. Gravity works.

Today it sounds too much like, “We all fall down.”

Sorry. I wanted to write something uplifting and inspiring but I just don’t have it in me today. I’m sad and I’m angry at the relentless darkness that whispers in our ears and tries to pull us down into the pit. Robin Williams fell, but he fought for sixty-three years and that was a valiant fight. He leaves a rich legacy of joy and humor and delight.

We will have that to carry with us as we circle up, hold hands and fight on.

Dyeing Again

I want the big refrigerator back. My husband is a home brewer and acquired a commercial refrigerator when a restaurant was getting rid of it. It didn’t work when he got it, but he had a friend who knew how to repair such things and was willing to work for beer, so it was soon repaired. Then he started stashing kegs in it. If you poll home brewers about when the activity really became fun, they will tell you it was when they stopped trying to bottle it and started putting it in kegs. This refrigerator held several small kegs with no problem and there were two shelves above the kegs. My husband kept one for bottled beer and let me have one for dyes.

The dyes we use in our tie-dye business are sensitive to heat. Once we mix the powders with water and chemicals, they won’t keep longer than a week without refrigeration. That shelf in the big refrigerator has been a lifesaver since we started storing dyes there. The thing ran fine for years but recently we started having trouble with it. A couple of weeks ago, it stopped cooling completely. My husband had to clean out all the beer and I had to clean out all the dyes. I wasn’t dyeing then because of the weather and other concerns, so there was no way I could use up all the dye that was on that shelf.

Everything had to go. At least I got a completely fresh start when I was ready to dye again. We haven’t been able to get the big refrigerator repaired yet, so I am trying to use a mini-fridge to keep me going until I can finish some long overdue special orders. A mini-fridge does not hold much dye. On that one shelf in the big refrigerator, I could store two caddies with twenty-two eight-ounce bottles of dye in each one, plus a dozen or more quart or half-gallon containers. The mini-fridge holds one caddy and a couple of spare bottles. I might be able to fit a quart container or two in the door, but I can’t get a single half-gallon container in there. This is seriously cramping my style.

It takes about ten minutes to mix up an eight-ounce bottle of dye. In that same ten minutes, I can mix up a half-gallon of dye in a blender. Obviously, it makes sense to do that when I know I can use up a half-gallon before it goes bad. I don’t even have quart containers for the colors that make up our rainbow. I always mix a half-gallon at a time. Now I have to do careful math before I mix anything, to make sure I don’t mix up more than I can use.

Still, it feels good to finally be dyeing again. I finished the first of two special orders this morning and I hope to be able to finish the other one tomorrow. It’s not just a matter of dyeing the items that were ordered. We also have to dye enough other things in each color palette to make a full load when it’s time to rinse and wash these things. Three items in three color palettes add up to three full loads of tie-dye.

And no Zelda. I can’t just play a little bit of Zelda. If I pick it up for a minute, I’ll be lost in it for hours, so I have to quit cold turkey until the dyeing is done. I try to tell myself that iPad games are different, but they’re not. Not for me. I learned something this week and I’ll pass it along: if you tend to get obsessed with video games and you love music and someone offers to download a game called “Magic Piano” to your phone or tablet, you should JUST SAY NO.