Capturing life in words…
Sitting on the exam table as if it were a couch, fully dressed and facing into the middle of the room, I scanned over my list. After delivering a beautiful, beloved son several months ago, I was concerned about some ongoing symptoms which caste a shadow over my motherhood. Since forgetfulness and problems concentrating was a primary concern, I had created a list. I could no longer blame my issues upon lack of sleep because our son was sleeping through the night now, yet my health issues continued. The sun was shining through the open blinds of the exam room directly into my eyes and annoying me, so slid off the exam table to slant the bright rays away from my line of vision. This act reminded me to add “irritability” to my symptom list. So underneath “nausea and GI distress” I scribbled the words, “easily annoyed/irritable”.
I was rarely ill, so my sudden onset of insomnia, stomach upset, headaches and fatigue was concerning. Now a mother, I was motivated to be of good health. Motherhood brings a dedication to life nothing else could ever match. Previously I only came to the physician for refills on birth control and, back then, annual physicals were required for oral contraceptives. Other than my once a year physical, my chart was empty.
Just as my Levi pockets hit the paper over the examination table once again, the doctor gave a cursory knock and entered the room. She had not seen me in almost a year and quickly fired some questions at me regarding the pregnancy and birth of my son. She was pleased my labor and delivery was routine, and although early, my son Ethan was doing well. I gave her my list of symptoms and explained I took the time to write them down due to memory problems. Review of the nursing notes at check-in confirmed my blood pressure was normal and I had no fever. She expertly looked in ears, nose, throat and listened to my heart as well as lungs. All was well. I lay down and she palpated my abdomen, then listened to my bowel sounds with a stethoscope. As I sat up she asked me a few more questions, “With your insomnia, is it trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?”, “Is your appetite regular?”, “Are you still in doing your normal activities, such as church and school?”. After hearing I was not sleeping, nor attending activities I loved and my appetite was affected as well, she settled on the round stool. She scribbled a couple of notes and then slid her bifocals on top her head and looked at me calmly. I was not so calm.
I couldn’t help but press for an answer. “So do you think I’m anemic or have some type of hormone imbalance? I wonder if I have an ulcer? I know I’m not pregnant, I did a home pregnancy test.. I cannot live like this any longer.” Suddenly my eyes were filling with tears … unlike me.
She paused and in a gentle, even tone dropped the least expected:
“Linda, how much do you know about anti-depressants?”
My eyes went wide as my mouth dropped open. Me, depressed?! I stuttered, “WWhhhhat,” giving the word three syllables instead of one.
That day, in 1992, I became one of 10 women diagnosed with depression following the birth of a baby. And ever since I have battled the black hole of the soul. The journey in living (not existing) with depression and its’ dark despair pushed me to try everything from herbs, accupuncture, and yoga. I can tell you, as a woman not wanting to feel the tendrils of apathy squeezing my soul, I have done it all.
In order to help others, I would like to share what I (and many former clients) have found useful in turning the mood up several notches:
— Medication. When the mood is in the basement, you are not able to do other activities which research has shown to assist with depression. After being on the medication (faithfully taking it each day), after a couple of weeks, I did see a little spark of hope and energy. It was only then could I consider investing time and energy into the other suggestions. This is true for many individuals who have depression.
— Balanced diet. Honestly, I was the queen of fast food and eating out. However when I made an effort to eat more colorful vegetables, and adding fish one to two times a week, it helped. Fish also has those wonderful Omega’s our brain loves.
— Meditation and Yoga. It takes time to learn to be still– especially in our fast-paced, techno world. However, the benefits of learning to quiet the mind are worth the struggle. (Even my boyfriend has admitted meditation makes a difference. He wasn’t as thrilled with yoga.) I personally find doing some yoga moves before mediation, helped transition me into a slower mode. You can search your cable company menu, Roku, laptop or even iPod for a free guided meditation to get you started. I also found some great sound apps I use to help me fall asleep (my favorite is thunderstorms).
— Talk therapy. Our thoughts produce feelings. When we have a trained professional, with the added benefit of an objective viewpoint, we can process through some of the mental muck. I found it interesting to identify the underlying reason I was an over-achiever and other traits which eluded my mental grasp. I honestly feel everyone could benefit from half a dozen or more sessions with a qualified therapist. My being transparent and unconcerned with what the therapist thought of me allowed for some wonderful discoveries. (And trust me, as a former therapist, we do not judge and have heard much more than your mind could dream!)
— Exercise. Frankly I despise exercising. However, the endorphins from regular exercise made it worth the initial agony. In order to make it feel obtainable to me, I would get on the elliptical machine at my local gym and set the timer for 20 minutes. (I also had clearance from my doctor to do low impact exercise). I told myself, bar the ending of planet earth, I was going to make myself do 20 minutes three times a week. I confess, the first few times, my legs felt like noodles when I was done. However, now I miss the “runner’s high” if I don’t get a chance to work out. Hint: Don’t exercise close to bedtime, however, because those feel good chemicals can stave away sleep.
— Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to everything from lowered immune system to increased risk of depression. I found melatonin taken at night to be helpful. It is available over the counter. Check with your physician or pharmacist to ensure it will not interact with any current medication you may be taking. Melatonin is naturally produced in the body, so this is not habit-forming or addictive. With Melatonin and my iPod app of nature sounds, I was soon sawing the logs away. Some individuals may find they need more than melatonin, so if you are not able to get a solid 6 or 7 hours of sleep every night, talk to your physician. Sleep is as essential as oxygen. (Remember sleep deprivation was used as a means of torture in previous wars, so don’t under-estimate the importance of getting a good night’s sleep).
So basically, as a social worker and woman living with depression, I know the horror of what I call “The Black Hole of the Soul”; and know it can be managed. Life can be good. Some people only have to take medication for awhile, others, like me take it daily. There is nothing that will separate me from my SSRI (Sertonins Reuptake Inhibitor) and I do not have any shame in needing a serotonin boost. Diabetics lack insulin, I lack serotonin. And I have to put self-care in the daily regime, which is just now winning popularity in the media. So if you, or someone you know, is depressed– a better day IS obtainable AND sustainable.