Tag Archives: depression

Head down, and plod

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cmdrkitten perfect loop anxiety panic looping GIF

You know that feeling you get when you drink too much coffee? Jittery – an invisible tremor under your skin, a fist around your chest that makes breathing just a little harder, a steel band that keeps your head from exploding but you wish it weren’t quite so tight?

Turns out this is one of the side-effects of taking fluoxetine, aka Prozac. Apparently it wears off, eventually.

It’s also a side-effect of compulsively reading the news. Trump … Trump … Trump … I am so damn sick of the sound of that name! I swipe left on my phone and up comes the news and everything is Trump. My eyes skitter in an effort to avoid it as my fingers flickscroll fast through the headlines, but it’s inescapable. I switch to YouTube, and there it is again, thumping and jeering.

Warren is in the lead, both among the Democratic candidates (you can tell this is true because the other Democratic candidates are attacking her like a pack of mad dogs) and against Trump. But pundits say he’s going to win again. A landslide next time, they say. Because when you take a well-aged lump of Electoral College and drizzle on an oily slick of clever gerrymandering, that’s what you get.

Impeachment? Apparently there’s nothing to stop an impeached president from running for a second term. And if he does, how will we stop him from grabbing a third term, if he wants to? Don’t tell me the system won’t allow it. “The system” wasn’t supposed to allow any of this! Do you think the founding fathers would be proud of the noxious Thing that’s bubbled forth from their Great Experiment?

I wish I could run away, but where to? South Africa is crumbling under the terrible weight of systemic graft, ignorance and inefficiency. And while I know there’s a whole world of other options, from here, peering out from under the looming weight of Trumpian America, it’s hard to believe there’s anywhere that one might simply be free to live peacefully, attending to one’s personal daily interests, pleasantly bored by politics.

I’ve tried to go cold turkey on the news. Most of my friends manage to ignore it … My conservative friends, that is. As a result, they’re comfortably in denial, so if I rage about children in cages, or allies abandoned to be slaughtered, or the intentional collapse of scientific studies of random shit like weather, or violation of the Constitution, they go, “Huh? Wha’?” And then they shake their heads gently and say, “Oh, I don’t follow the news – it’s all fake.”

Elephant in the room

I have learned that the survival of many of my most important relationships depends on ignoring the elephant, no matter how much of the room it’s taking up, no matter how deep and pungent the piles of shit. You have to turn your back and look through the window – or, if there is no window in your part of the room, focus on the paint on the wall.

So anyway … I’m back on anti-depressants. I’m trying not to feel like a quitter. I really, really don’t want this … I want to manage my own brain, damn it! And I was doing so well! It’s more than a year since I quit, and actually I thought the Black Dog and I were getting along okay, moseying along life’s path, not worrying too much about the periodic dearth of primroses and simply taking in whatever view there happened to be. But that bastard Dog sneaked up on me. I realized a couple weeks ago that I’d pretty much stopped moseying, and was standing with my nose against the wall, staring at the paint. And then I realized that the Dog had become very large and was leaning in and crushing me, its hot, moist breath fouling the air.

The thing about clinical depression is, sometimes you don’t feel especially … well … depressed. Or, if you do, you look at the news, and there are so many excellent reasons to feel sad or hopeless that the way you’re feeling makes perfect sense. It can take a while to recognize that the rational sad feelings actually aren’t the reason you’re binge-watching “Hoarders” while your own home sinks under a pile of dog hair and dirty laundry.

So that’s why, once again, I’m shoving the damn Black Dog off of me by the power of my nightly happy capsule. On the downside, I’m uncomfortably jittery; on the upside, I’ve turned my gaze away from the wall and am getting through most days without falling over the Dog.

As for the White House … fuck ’em all, I say. I’m going to keep my eyes fixed on what I can fix – at least for the rest of today.

It’s a start.

Okay … talk to me. Do you struggle with depression? What do you do about it? Does politics make you feel good or bad about being alive?

 

Start with a gasp

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I’m a shower-before-bed person. I’ve never been able to understand how a person can get between the sheets all dusty and sticky from the day, and actually sleep. Even if I haven’t done much to raise a sweat and I feel cleanish and I’m tired so I don’t bother, as I lie there I can feel the gross stickiness of skin ooze and air crud. Ugh! Gotta get up, shower it off, rub dry, and then I can sleep.

Well, sometimes. Insomnia is a thing. But that’s a topic for another post.

Returning to the topic of this post, there’s this blogger that I sort of follow, by which I mean that I receive her posts in one of my many extra email accounts – the one dedicated to efforts at self-improvement. I believe in having lots of separate accounts because I wear different mindsets when I’m trying to be a better person, or farming and gardening, or dealing with our finances, or writing, or blogging. If all my emails go into a single account the result is a mess worse than the top of my desk, and I can’t find anything and nothing gets done.

On the other hand, I don’t check all those accounts every day, and as for the self-improvement one … well, I read the email topics as they come up as notifications on my phone, but usually that’s about it. Self-improvement is something I aspire to wanting to do, but most of the time it’s hard enough just to be as good as I already am.

Anyway, this blogger – she calls herself “Dr. Stephanie” and she writes mainly about keto and fasting, and she offers various courses, none of which I’ve actually done – wrote a post about how effective humans kick-start their day. It happened to land in my inbox on a day when I was lying in bed, hating myself for lacking the energy to get the hell up and do something with whatever was left of my pathetic life … and I read it.

Most of her suggestions I’ve forgotten. They were things like “feel gratitude” and “journal”, which are lovely feel-good ideas, but in the moment didn’t feel sufficiently like the kick in the butt I was craving. The cold shower, however … Now that sounded like a punishment worthy of the name! That I deserved.

cold-showerSo I dragged my bloated, sweaty (this was back when nights were hot) almost-corpse from between the sheets and into the shower. And I turned the faucet on to cold. And wailed.

It was so horrible!

Oh. My. Word. It was so horrible.

But then a strange thing happened. First, my eyes – clenched shut against the bright light of the bathroom – popped open. Then my skin stopped cringing from the rush of icy water, and I found myself intentionally exposing places like my armpits and the back of my neck and the crack of my butt – not exactly enjoying the rush of cold, but welcoming it anyway.

She recommended five minutes. I didn’t time myself but I doubt I lasted that long. I simply rinsed all over, rotating and bending to let the water get at all my less accessible spots. I didn’t use soap or a cloth, just cold water. Then I stepped out, found a fresh towel, and scrubbed myself dry.

I felt … Amazing. Invigorated. Energized.

Fun fact: this insanity is actually good for you. This morning when I went poking through Google in search of funny free images of cold showers, I found any number of articles touting cold showers as a solution to obesity, depression, low sex drive, bad skin, low energy – in short, pretty much all the ills that might beset your fleshly self.

Plus it was kinda magical, actually, how it made me feel.

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Irrelevant photo of a happy memory. That’s another kind of magic. And being able to enjoy a happy memory … That’s the magic I really want to flow through me.

So I did it again the next day. And the day after that. And again a few more times. Then came a day when I had to rush for an early appointment and didn’t have time, and I felt icky all day, so the next day I made sure to shower again. Every now and then I skip for a day or two … but I keep going back to it.

It is always horrible. The only way to do it is to drag myself out of bed and get under the shower before I do anything else, because giving myself time to think about it – for instance while I put in contact lenses or brush teeth – just makes it worse. And now, as the nights get cold and the early mornings are chilly and I’m waking up before dawn as often as not, it’s really, really hard. Frankly, given my record for doing really hard things, I’m not that optimistic that I’ll keep going when winter really sinks its teeth into us. But … I hope I will. I intend to try.

Because that moment when my eyes pop open? When suddenly and with no effort of will going back to sleep is not only impossible, but also not remotely desirable? Holy cow, it’s a rush like no other!

Hey there – talk to me! What’s your favorite way to mortify your flesh? Does it make you feel as good as a cold shower?

Sometimes life demands cookies

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Last week I mourned. I took time out to be happy on Wednesday, when Argos and I drove Cojak to his new family in Seattle, but made up for it on Thursday by refusing in any way celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday I despise despite quite liking turkey, candied yams and green been casserole. Usually I avoid it by sending the Hubbit to visit his sister, but this year that wasn’t an option, so instead I channeled the Mean Wife and abandoned my plan for a feast, and the Hubbit had to fry up a pathetic little piece of ham for himself and the Cool Dude. Friday was no better – I was sad and my face sprang a leak that I couldn’t stop up all day.

Clearly drastic measures were necessary. So I invited 15 people to a cookie party.

A cookie party is a simple and wondrous concept. You invite everyone you know who has an oven to bring 6 dozen cookies to your house.  You then ply them with delectable comestibles and let them entertain you with their conversational brilliance. (Note: Any lack of conversational brilliance is your fault. Bring out another bottle.) When you’ve had enough and want them to leave, you do arithmetic. For instance, if eight people have each brought 72 cookies, 72/8=9, therefore everyone gets to take nine cookies off each platter. Invariably people bring extra, and those are yours – the spoils – and while you can share them if you want to they’re probably better used to distract Hubbits while you hide your stash. And that’s it! For the rest of the year, people will trumpet your name as the hostess who sent them home from a great party with 6 dozen assorted home-baked cookies.

Anyway, having invited a hungry horde to descend upon my humble and chronically untidy abode, of course I then I had to clean my house. And also bake a whole lot of stuff. I thought of canceling the party, but that would have been just too feeble – plus I kept getting texts from happy wannabe cookie-eaters about how their individual baking efforts were going.

Cairo's butt.jpg

I was going to show you some before and after pictures of my kitchen, but really, why would I do that to you? Or to myself? This photograph of Cairo’s butt, from the perspective of my early morning pillow, pretty much says it all.

So I hurled together a double batch of Refrigerator Cookies, as well as a cheesecake and a malva pudding. Other people brought more goodies, so I canceled my plan to make Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake, but you really should try it – it’s wonderful! The end result was good and a vast amount of sugar was consumed by all. And since I couldn’t invite the denizens of the blogoverse to share, I figured I’d at least pass along a few recipes. You still have time to organize your own cookie party in plenty of time for Christmas!

Refrigerator Cookies

Fridge biscuits – aka “Refrigerator Cookies” for my American friends, who have given the humble biscuit a strange and perverted meaning involving gravy – were one of my Marmeee’s standbys. The dough is easy to make, you chill it for half an hour, and then you roll it out into sausages, which you wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake them. The only downside to this is the cookie dough is irresistible, so if you’re planning to hold them for long, make extra. And then, damage control: store them where no one but you will see them.

The basic recipe isn’t wildly exciting, but it is incredibly forgiving and permits many complex variations on its simple theme. An option that kids love is to make two separate batches, one chocolate and one vanilla. You can then roll them out flat and lay one on top of the other before rolling them up into sausages, as described in the recipe. The end result is either a spiral pattern or Rorschach cookies – and which you choose will tell us much about who you are in those deep parts of you that cookies don’t go. For this year’s cookie party I made one batch of chocolate and ginger (I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder, and added several generous spoons of ground ginger) and another batch with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts (I just made up a batch of plain dough and then, using my hands, squeezed and mixed in as much chopped nuts and chocolate chips as I thought it would hold). You could also add raisins, or lemon or orange rind and juice (plus a bit extra flour), or nutmeg and raisins, or cranberries – just have fun with it!

I roll up my sausages so that they’re about 1 1/4  inches (just over 3 cm) in diameter, and I slice them about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Based on those measurements, a single batch will make about 4 dozen cookies.

8 oz butter
13 oz sugar
3 eggs
3 ml vanilla essence
17 oz flour
3 ml salt
3 ml baking powder
3 ml baking soda

  • Cream butter and add sugar, creaming well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
  • Sift flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda, and add to mixture.
  • Chill until stiff enough to handle.
  • Form into rolls, wrap in wax paper, and store in fridge.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 340ºF.
  • Cut slices and place on greased baking tray, spaced to allow them to spread, in center of oven until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. (Time depends on how thick you slice them. I cut mine about a half inch thick and they were done in 12 minutes in a convection oven.)
Argos with pumpkin.jpg

Argos thought I should bake a pumpkin pie, and even went out into the yard to find the necessary pumpkin, but that is something I would never do … so this picture is for the self-proclaimed Queen of All Things Holiday, including pumpkin pie.

Easy Baked Cheesecake

This is a good cheesecake recipe, but it does present a few challenges. First, it’s important not to over-bake it. Remember that it will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. I’m still experimenting with how to get a firm but soft filling, and I imagine you’ll need to do your own experimenting depending on your altitude, your oven, and your preferences.

Second, I’d like a stronger hint of lemon than I managed this time. A “drop” of lemon juice doesn’t really cut it; I think next time I’ll skip the vanilla and add a “dollop” of lemon or lime juice … and maybe I’ll stir in some lemon or lime zest while I’m at it.

Lastly, although it tastes wonderful it doesn’t look that pretty. In my experience the topping tends to crack. So plan on slathering the top with whipped cream!

Base

1-2 pkts of graham crackers or tennis biscuits, crushed
8 oz butter, melted

  • Mix, making sure the crackers are saturated but all the butter has been absorbed.
  • Press down onto base of 8×8″ pie plate.
  • Refrigerate until the butter sets.

Filling

18 oz cream cheese
10 Tbsp sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Drop of lemon juice
3 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

  • Preheat oven to 390 ºF.
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice until they’re smooth.
  • Add eggs and flour and mix well.
  • Pour over base.
  • Bake 35 minutes until just turning brown round the edges, and remove from oven.

Topping

9 oz sour cream
Splash lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

  • Mix well.
  • Pour over hot cake, and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with whipped cream.

 

Walking with the Black Dog

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The problem with pain is figuring out what to do about it. Do you take a pill to make it stop? Do you fix what’s causing it? Or do you learn to live with it?

The problem with the Black Dog is the noise it makes when it’s tearing your heart with its teeth. It muffles nuance; the tune pain plays on your heart-bones-breath emerges as random notes, dissonant and jangling.

Black dog in the dark

I could take a pill – put the leash back on the Dog. I still have plenty – at least a month’s supply – and my doctor would willingly give more. Here’s how the argument goes (I know it well, having used it often on others): “If you had diabetes or a heart condition, wouldn’t you take whatever pills were necessary to control it?”

The problem with that argument is, it’s specious. If you have diabetes or a heart condition, the first act of a sane person is to change the way they eat, move, sleep, live. The TV commercial narratives – glowing visions of super-sized burgers and greasy pizzas followed without a pause by ads for aspirin and Tums, Lipitor, Prilosec and metformin, always with the soothing reminder to “talk with your doctor” – those are the ravings of a crazy person.

I may walk in the dark of an imaginary tunnel with an invisible black dog at my heels, but I’m not crazy. I’m on a mission to find what’s real – friend or enemy, loss or gain, joy or pain. I’ve rejected the phantasmagoria that lie in pill bottles. I want to grieve real loss, fear real terrors, fight for what’s really good. And laughter – the kind that makes the fat on your belly jiggle … It’s been a while; I need to remember how that’s done.

So here we are, the Dog and I, still walking together and now deep within the tunnel. How deep I can’t say; how much further we have to go I don’t know. Sometimes a crack in the roof lets in a beam of light, a breath of clean air. Sometimes in the darkness the Dog leaps, knocks me to the ground, sinks its teeth into my flesh – and when that happens it makes no difference whether or not I scream, because in the dark we’re alone. So far, I’ve yielded sometimes and fought back sometimes, and I’ve learned that, either way, sooner or later the Dog is sated. It comes back to heel, its breath steamy on my left thigh, my fingertips resting on its head, and we walk on, watching for light, hoping for joy.

Let’s talk. Do you live with depression, anxiety or some other mental illness? How do you deal with it? And, as you deal, how do you identify and give priority to the things that are most important to you?

At the tunnel mouth, waiting for the Black Dog

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Where do I begin? With the Tunnel I’ve avoided for half a century? Or with the Black Dog that bites my ankles and drives me toward it?

I begin today. I choose to walk into the dark with the dog at my heels.

Tunnel mouth

In February I turned sixty. In three days time I will be sixty-and-a-half. It’s time to figure out what to be when I grow up.

Hah – that’s a cute start to a blog post, right? A little zing, a perky finger to convention, a zap of wry, dry, slyly self-denigrating humor. But, unfortunately, not true.

I know what I want to be – I always have. I even know how to get there. What I don’t know – what I haven’t figured out in forty years, five months and twenty-eight days of trying (the first twenty years it didn’t occur to me “trying” was involved; I still believed in the magical inevitability of I Am) – is how the fuck to make myself keep walking all the way to the destination. (I even know there is no destination, only an unmarked trail through the dark, but I must take it or go nowhere.)

So. Sixty years old. Three-quarters of my life. (Yes, I know it might be only two-thirds, and it may also be sixty sixty-oneths – but three quarters of my grandparents and all my parents made it to their eighties, so that seems a reasonable number to shoot for. Assuming I don’t absent-mindedly shoot myself before I get there.) I spent the first quarter daughtering, the second quarter mothering, the third quarter wifing. Now what?

To be clear, while the daughtering has ended and the mothering is only occasional, the wifing continues. The Hubbit and I ignored our twentieth wedding anniversary a little over a week ago. Random factoid set: Traditionally – insofar as something started less than a century ago can be deemed traditional – in the UK and the US the twentieth is the “china” anniversary. For reasons I haven’t bothered to research, the Chicago Public Library designates it the platinum anniversary. Flowers and jewels are also mentioned.  (I love Wikipedia, don’t you?) So, if we’d been a traditional couple, even marginally romantically inclined, the Hubbit could have escorted me to the antique mall or the art show to buy a big china mixing bowl to replace the one he broke a few years ago and that I still miss every time I have to make do with the greasy-smooth plastic one, or he could have showered me with asters or bedecked me with emeralds. In return, I could have given him pretty much anything from this store, since one of the first things he ever told me about his personal life philosophy (and in twenty years I’ve never seen him stray from it) is that it’s impossible to own too many tools.

What I asked for – in our/my own style of non-traditional romanticity – was that he repair the motor on the boat so that we could once again float down the Columbia, I nude but for a book and he sternly watching our dangling fishing lines. (He used to threaten to pull my line out of the water if I didn’t learn to take the fish off the hook myself, until he realized I was there to be naked in the middle of the river and really didn’t care about the catching part of fishing). I wanted to remember what it was that made me want to live here, so far from Africa. You see, I fell in love with the man first … but it was the river that sealed the deal. We don’t have rivers like the Columbia in Africa.

In any case, I would have settled for a conclusive repair to the septic pump. In return, I promised to clean the house. Neither of us delivered, and in the end it was easier to pretend twenty wasn’t a big deal. Twenty-five years, now – that’s a quarter century. That’s silver. Surely he can get both the boat and the septic fixed, and I can get the house clean, within the next five years.

To get back to my original point: in the context of a lifetime, looking at one more (potential) twenty year stretch, I find myself thinking … this one’s for me.

I started pondering this post a few days ago. (I should have written it then, before brain fog descended, muddling my thoughts and tangling my fingers.) I started writing it early today. (I should have finished it right away, before the dark began to suck me into itself.) Now I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write coherently. Tears dam up behind my cheeks, and the pressure of holding them back makes my face ache. When I look back, trying to make sense of how I got to this place, I see word soup. Fragmented ideas, fractured phrases. They drift just out of reach.

When I read this post again, I will hate it. I will be compelled to edit it. But I will write it anyway, I will say what I have to say as simply and clearly as possible, and I will post it without delay even though I can’t remember why I must, or whom it’s for. It is my yawp.

This is what I have done: I have stopped the drugs. Prozac, Bupropion – it’s been nice to know I could put a leash on the Black Dog, but I want to see what happens if I let it run. Will it turn and devour me? Or will it go fetch – and if so, what will it bring me? And Adderall – it was such a relief to have a diagnosis, an official Label, to paste over a lifetime’s worth of fumbles and failures. Such a victory to think more clearly, to say I would do something and then actually do it.

We – my doctor and I – juggled the drugs until I got to a place where I could actually tell when I was fucking up. Sometimes that made it possible to not fuck up, but even when it didn’t, the experience of actually seeing what my brain was doing was revelatory.

Until it wasn’t. I still create to-do lists, which I edit and organize and reorganize compulsively, in between staring at the wall and playing sudoku – which is what I’d much rather be doing right now, by the way – mindlessly organizing numbers rather than trying to organize my own thoughts into a coherent … what the fuck is this? Explanation? Description? Record? Take a deep breath. What am I doing? I’m trying to write – no, I am writing about where the first six months of the next, maybe last, maybe twenty years of my life have brought me: to the mouth of the Tunnel, to the lair of the Black Dog.

Here, I think, are my options. I can go back to the doctor and have her increase the dose, or change the prescription, or … whatever occurs to her. If I do that, I’ll feel better. The Tunnel will disappear in a puff of fairy dust, and the Black Dog will curl up at my feet like any old Labrador.

And then?

How will I grow up if I never walk through the Tunnel? What can I be if I don’t learn to run with the Black Dog?

So. I have quit the drugs. The next step, which will take me in through the tunnel mouth, is to quit eating.

No, not permanently, for fuck’s sake – I’m not committing suicide. I’m fasting. I don’t know how long for … five days? Forty? As long as I can. I have to go through the hungry and find the burn and then get hungry again, and after that I will eat.

As for the reasons … I was going to write about those but you have Google – they have to do with energy, and ketosis, and autophagy, and cleansing my body of all the toxic crap that (I suspect, and who are you to say I’m wrong?) is off-gassing into my meat my bones my brain.

I remember now why I had to write this. It’s because this is going to suck, mainly for me but also for anyone near me. I may not be a lot of fun to have around. I may have to stop talking. I may not be able to listen. I may not be entirely reliable. I may have to hide under a blanket, or in the closet with the light off. Girl Child and Twiglet, Ngalitjeng, Wonder Woman, Kuja, Parri, and of course my own Hubbit: I have to make this journey, and I don’t know how long it will take, and you can’t come with me and I can’t talk to you about it – except, perhaps, here, where I talk to anyone in the world who happens by.

Don’t call me back. I have to find out who I can be. And if you see the Black Dog with my heart between its teeth, that’s okay. You know I’m good with dogs.

Black dog