Category Archives: Mental Illness

I have no title.

This isn’t meant to be one of those woe-is-me posts. It’s simple. I am depressed. I have Major Depressive Disorder. I have Dysthmic Disorder. I also am realizing that WordPress has changed their format slightly and it’s bothering me to all hell.

Yes, I feel alone. But I know I am not. However, when I try searching for sites, blogs, forums, anything about people who have had enough of depression, it’s usually because of relationship problems, problems with school, problems with fitting into society. I get that. All of those things are incredibly hard to deal with when you are depressed.

mybio_juliek8

Can you find the real smile?

But where are the posts about people who have been dealing with depression since they were in grade school? I can almost pinpoint the year it all began through my school photographs.

I put this collage together years ago, so pardon the outdated font and color choices. It’s funny, though, how I can remember something from every photograph. The necklace from kindergarten, the red bow from first grade. The elastic ponytail from second, and every shirt from there on up. The glasses, and the necklaces, and the headband, and the earrings. If I could fit into them, I’d probably wear some (if not all) of those sweaters today.

I’d say by at least second grade, something started to go wrong. I can see it in my eyes. Definitely by the eighth grade, I have bags under my eyes and years of anxiety and depression have already begun to make themselves at home. I was miserable.

So here I am. It’s 2016. Those photos were 20-28 years ago. How many more years can I go on living in complete misery. Because despite times of perceived happiness and motivation, there was always something underneath it all that was digging at my insides. This unhappiness that has ultimately paralyzed me my whole life has now left me wondering if I even have a future. I could never see my future when I was younger, maybe I could have planned for it, but I could never see myself having a future. Now, I really cannot imagine myself doing much more than I am at this very moment. Day-to-day living, struggling with depression, doctors, trying to keep the household going, worrying about finances, the list goes on. I see so many people going to work, having a job, making money, having some kind of routine in their life even if their work schedule may not be consistent. I have two things consistent in my life: a weekly (if I’m lucky) therapy session, and a monthly medication appointment. Otherwise, it’s a struggle each day trying to decide whether or not that particular mood that I may be feeling will be the lasting mood, and how can I make the most (or least) of it?

It’s a shame that so many others go through this same feeling, and it’s even sadder that some of them may not have the fortunate support of loved ones to get them by during the hard times. When the psychiatric hospitals are filled, you’re rejected by Social Security, you can’t afford health insurance, you have little to no income, savings, or housing, you end up on the streets. I know how fortunate I am. I am extremely appreciative of everything I have, and I never forget what the people around me do for me, but since the illness is so much stronger than I am, I can’t help but feel like a burden.

I should stop here before this blog really does turn into a woe-is-me story. I just want there to be other options than the ones I keep to myself. It’s not that I’m putting more focus on them rather than trying to get better, it’s that I am exhausting my resources of trying to get better.

All I want to be able to have, and keep, is a damn job.

 

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Testosterone, Electrodes, and Depression

Laboratory rat

Because I’ve been broke and at near-wit’s end about my lingering untreated “emotional issues,” over the past few years I’ve participated in a few clinical research studies.  I have been slightly less than desperate to make money as well as try new forms of treatment to see if anything would break through my stubbornness and alleviate some of this debilitating melancholy.

My first experience was simple: fill out a lengthy questionnaire and donate some vials of blood for testing. The study was to determine whether or not there was a direct relationship between genetics and anxiety. There was monetary compensation (my main motive) as well as a follow-up questionnaire that you completed at your leisure and later sent in (with another compensation). The hardest part of the study was emotionally dealing with the consequences that come from evaluating your past and present state of mental health. This sounds easier than done. Anyone who has had a psycho-evaluation knows how personal and emotionally draining it can be.

images (1)My second experience involved the antidepressant effects of testosterone when administered to women with Major Depressive Disorder. (Note: I was assured that at every weekly visit the blood they sent to the lab would be monitored to make sure my levels did not exceed the otherwise normal amount of testosterone.) This was a blind study; there was a 50 percent chance I would receive the active testosterone cream and a 50 percent chance I would receive the placebo. Either way, the lotion had to be applied each night for about three months. Each night I recorded what time I applied the cream, the amount I applied (which was predetermined by the study group), and any side effects that I may have experienced. I never noticed any side effects. David thinks my depression did lift, but only slightly. My participation fell around the time of year that the days grow brighter and longer, so my winter blues may have lifted a little on their own because of seasonal changes. As with the first study, the hardest part of this study were the extensive interviews each visit. I had the same packet of “self reports” to fill out each time, in order to monitor any mental changes. The questions involved changes in mood, appetite, sleep disturbances, and libido. The baseline visit was incredibly grueling. It was, of course, an in-depth psycho-evaluation which left me feeling more dreadful than before and hoping that I wasn’t receiving the placebo. They assured me that at the end of the study when the results were un-blinded, they would inform me what I was administered. I honestly think it was the placebo. But then again, I don’t hold much hope for anything.

Electric_chairMy most recent research study involved the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on Major Depressive Disorder, which was described as “a device to send weak electrical currents to your brain through your scalp.” The study was based out of the Mood Disorders Clinical Studies wing of Butler Hospital in Providence, RI and included 12 treatment sessions followed by 2 interview follow-ups.

The process was simple, although strangely similar to a death-row electrocution.

When I arrived for my first treatment, after another brief interview, I was instructed to sit in an office chair in front of a small table with a Dell laptop facing me. The whole procedure took place in a small office room, sparsely decorated, and with a window overlooking the psychiatric hospital grounds. A social worker who would be leading my participation throughout the process, along with an assistant, measured my head to find the central, topmost point. (They mentioned what a symmetrical head I have: 38″ by 38″. It’s really hard to find hats that fit.) These numbers were divided in half to find the intersection. From there they measured about 3.8″ to the right and left just anterior to my temples. They wet two sponges, warmed them in a microwave for about 30 seconds (purely for my comfort–their idea), and placed them on the two points they had marked. The sponges are each two thin blue pads held together at the corners, with a space in between to fit the electrodes. imagesA strap is placed under your chin, over the pads to keep them in place, and around behind the nape of your neck. Throughout the experiment the saline solution from the sponges dripped down my hair and onto my shoulders.  Since I redyed my hair one week prior, I accidentally turned a part of the towel they gave me blue. A week or two later I went to grab the towel they provided and noticed it was the same one, still with a blue stain. I was hoping they would have washed it by then. I guess I’ll forever be remembered at Butler Hospital as the girl who turned the towels blue. (I had a similar incidence at McLean Hospital last fall when my hair was purple, but that time I was inpatient and had wet my entire hair. You don’t always plan for hospitalizations and I had just dyed my hair. Oh well. I guess I’m leaving my mark of hair dye at every psychiatric hospital I’ve been to.)

During the treatment, you either received a fake or actual stimulation. They never alluded to the correlation between the sensations I felt and whether it was actual stimulation coursing through my head. The sensation felt like a burning/itching/pins-and-needles feeling, only tolerable. The feeling stopped as soon as the machine turned off and there were no residual effects on the way home.

As I sat there, hooked up to the tDCS machine, I worked on a Dialectical Behavior therapy (DBT) computer program, watching videos and then applying the lessons to real-life situations. There was homework as well which was strongly recommended, but optional.

I finished the study, I completed most of the homework, and was later paid for my participation. Overall, I didn’t personally notice a difference. There was a time in the beginning where the lessons of DBT were helpful which in turn made me feel more hopeful, but once something happened in my personal life, that hopefulness quickly dissipated.

I wonder if my depression is treatment-resistant or if my stubbornness truly runs so deep that even I won’t allow myself to feel better. I could have just bad luck and received placebos for both treatments. Either way, they were interesting experiences and I would consider participating in future studies. I am, after all, becoming a regular at the Mood Disorders Research Clinic at Butler Hospital, even on the phone they know who I am.

 

(If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, check out your local hospital web pages or visit ClinicalTrials.gov.)


I don’t have an eating disorder?

Depositphotos_1583346_XL.jpg220. That is what the scale says. Either I need a new scale or I need new clothes. This time two years ago I was probably about 170. Even one year ago I was probably 190. So much regret. By September, 2014, I was 140. Most was loose skin, but I was happy to fit my hands, fingertips nearly touching, around my waist. I could see my backbone, I had chiseled cheekbones and a jaw line. I had thin wrists and you could see the tendons in my hands when I flexed them. I almost had a fly gap if it weren’t for the additional fatty tissue! For the first time since I was a teenager, I could buy clothes that said size 4 or 6 and size small. It was so much easier to find clothes to wear and I had a fun time doing it. (Especially at Savers and their awesome Alfred Dunner polyester clothes.) Now I’m back to where I was in high school, still wanting to dream my fat away. Wondering why I am this way and knowing ultimately it is my fault. It’s so easy to pass blame when you’re feeling shitty and eating frosting out of the container.

I can’t say that I had an eating disorder in 2014. So many things happened so quickly. I ate more than I ever had, it just happened to be all fruits and vegetables. I watched my calorie intake like a hawk and I was 100% more active than I am now. I was also on about six different antidepressant medications, was slowly suffering from serotonin syndrome, and ultimately lost my job because of a breakdown.

It’s taken me this long to write about this, but maybe I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, it was my own doing. Or at least most of it. It started when I downloaded the app Fitness Pal and would log every calorie possible. I was so meticulous and had my meals planned. On top of that, I was taking a colon cleanse pill every day. I didn’t work out excessively, the weight would just fall off. On the weekends I would visit my sister in Norwell and work outside in the garden and in the chicken coop. Underneath the heat of the sun one day, I nearly had heatstroke. On the days spent up north with the chickens, I allowed myself an iced chai latte. Full of sugar, I knew I would be burning off the calories by working outside, if not by sweating it out during the hot summer.

careerBut by the end of the summer, the fall semester at my school started and I signed up for a class.  I had a very difficult time concentrating at work and at school. By September I was nearly 135 lbs. My coworkers who at first complimented me on my weight loss, now looked at me with great concern. My skin was yellow and I started looking gaunt in my face. I had many breakdowns at work and ultimately landed myself in the hospital with an unintentional overdose of prescription medications.

A year later when I requested my medical records from McLean Hospital, they stated my physical appearance as underweight and anorexic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, in my opinion. But, then again, it was an outsider’s observation. The patient is always biased against his/her shortcomings.

It is now May 19, 2016. I weigh in at 220 lbs. I am miserable, depressed, anxious, tired, weak, and full of frustration. I am not motivated at all. I am on less than half of the medications prescribed two years ago, and I’m still working on tapering off of them. I’m sitting in a Starbucks while someone, who I can only guess is a manager or district manager, interviews a potential employee for the new Starbucks opening closer to where I live. I have been saying for the last year that I would love to go back to working for Starbucks, but my illness is so unpredictable, how could I? No one would hire someone if they knew ahead of time that there would be inconsistencies in their work, despite the strength of their job ability.*

School is over for the spring semester. My new “job” will be to write a memoir over summer break. Despite the difficult times of having no motivation, I hope to have a rough draft by September. A very rough draft. Fighting my own demons and writing how I speak will be my biggest obstacles. So I will write in public in order to drown out my own negative thoughts and discouragements. Although I can hear someone whistling…

My side note of this entry is: There is a man sitting next to me. He is either picking at his nose and flicking it, or biting his nails and or cuticles and flicking that. I have such an urge to look over to quell my curiosity, but there is no way without being so blindingly obvious. And so I must take another clonazepam to help me through.

~Miss Misery

*There will be a follow-up post discussing the stigma against mental illness.