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Depression: Always lurking around the corner.

I know a lot about the illness of depression. I’ve lived with it in my household for 23 years, I’ve experienced it myself in the form of post-concussion depression and SAD, and I’ve done plenty of research.

And yet, I continue to be blindsided by its painful effects.

My dear friend is in the thick of it with her husband, in a terribly frustrating and long-term bout of the illness. It hurts me to know what she’s dealing with.

My own SAD is in a low point right now, as we’re trapped indoors for weeks at a time and as situations beyond my control get me down.

My husband’s recent amazing depression recovery is at risk. Forced inactivity for six weeks of recovery after a broken rib, compounded by uncertainty about the future of his new career due to that injury has produced anxiety and his most commonly-used depression defense – sleeping at every opportunity.

I know the right things to do: keep up consistently with medications, use the light therapy box daily, exercise, keep as busy as possible, talk about it and reach out for support. But even when we think we’re doing the right things to combat it, depression is always hanging around in the shadows, waiting to jump out at us.

I could really use a huge dose of warm weather, sunshine, and good news about now.

Officially a success

I’ve been using a light therapy box for almost a month now, after having resisted the idea for two or three years.

imageWhy resist? Partly, I suppose, because of the inconvenience I thought it would cause. Partly because the directions included with my box were quite annoying, including a warning that light therapy can cause serious side effects in people taking antidepressants (tell me how many people NOT on antidepressants are using these!). And partly, I have to say, because I didn’t want to admit to the fact that I probably needed it.

Yes, that last reason is coming from someone who fights daily against the oppressive stigma in our culture associated with mental illness. From someone who deals every day with a husband who has struggled with crippling depression for many years and who would do nearly anything to feel better.

Well, I am a convert. I’ve been using my light box for at least half an hour in the morning and sometimes half an hour in the early afternoon. I find that I have more energy all day long. My mood is improved compared to the last few years of SAD. I’m able to be awake and alert until at least 10:00 in the evenings (as compared to 6:00 previously – no joke).

And so, here’s what I have to share: If your doctor or therapist has every recommended that you try a light box, go for it. There’s every chance you’ll be very glad you did. And if it doesn’t help, at least you tried. Best of luck.

Today is the test.

Having struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder for several years, I finally broke down and not only bought, but actually started using, a light therapy box a couple of weeks ago. So far I’m seeing positive effects. I have more energy during the day, and I’m able to stay awake and alert until about 10:00 pm (as compared to 7:00 pm – definitely an improvement).

But last night came that dreaded “falling back.” Everyone else I know loves that day, with its built-in extra hour of sleep. I’ve come to dread it, because it means DARK…SO EARLY!!!

I’m feeling a little more optimistic about the whole SAD thing this year, though. Besides the success of the light box, my husband is in a mental place that is 100% improved compared to last year. Finally making the decision for a career change has made him a whole new person. And, as Bern and I have always said, depression is contagious. Thankfully, right now, the depression bug is absent from this household. Long may it be thus!

-Amy

A new SAD season

personal.psu.edu

personal.psu.edu

I don’t like to admit it, but it’s time to start thinking about dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder again. Sunlight comes later every morning. Darkness comes earlier every evening. As much as I love the season of autumn, I don’t love the accompanying dive in mood and energy. I’m especially concerned this year, with our new empty-ish nest life. There’s a lot less noise and activity in our home; a lot less laughter to dispel the gloom.

I’ll start taking a daily antidepressant in a week or so. My doctor suggested I double the dose if I need to. And she disapproved of my decision last year to dump the “happy light” I found at Costco. (The directions stated that the light can cause negative side effects in users who are taking antidepressants. Seriously? Is there anyone using one of these who’s NOT on antidepressants?) So “happy light” is back on the shopping list.

It’s time to get serious about this SAD thing. It’s no joke, especially when it’s experienced in close quarters with another family member with chronic depression. Is anyone else out there preparing for the SAD battle? I’d like to hear how you fight it.

-Amy

Return to Real (and new) Life

So the Big Leave is over. We’ve completed both moves (youngest to his freshman year three hours away and oldest to grad school, 16 hours away). Tear report: I was able to choke them back at the actual moments of leaving, but scattered tear storms have been reported throughout the viewing area.

Papa builds furniture item #7 for oldest, for her new house

Papa builds furniture item #7 for oldest, for her new house

The emotional gash (“wound” doesn’t seem strong enough) I’m currently dealing with doesn’t bode well for the coming SAD season – and believe me, I’m noticing every minute of sunlight we’re losing each day as the calendar marches on. Nor does the pain of the goodbyes and the removal of half the family (okay, not quite half, but since there are five of us half would be gross) bode well for my husband’s round-the-year depression. He’s had teary moments in the last week, too, and that’s always scary for me – who knows where those moments might lead?

It’s early days yet, but I’m thinking hard about what I – we – can do to keep from sinking into what could be serious depression around here. My short list:
-volunteering at one of the schools our kids attended
-digging into a book Bern and I have been toying with for a couple of years
-supporting husband to the hilt as he explores possibilities for a much-needed career change
-getting our younger kids’ new concert schedules burned onto our calendar so I can look forward to those special events
-throwing myself into a second blog, at http://www.momgoeson.wordpress.com . I’ve been looking forward to that for several months now, and had a blast putting up my first real post today.

Hope our friends in the blogosphere will be along for the ride…

-Amy

P.S. – Many thanks to Bernadette, who kept Depression’s Collateral Damage running at full speed while I was out of commission this week. 🙂

Beginnings and Endings

As a mom, I’ve always been acutely aware of the preciousness of every moment, every stage of our children’s lives. That’s not to say I’ve always enjoyed every single moment – there are quite a few tantrums, misbehaviors, and bad parenting decisions I’d like to have avoided entirely. But from the beginning I’ve had the sense that the time with our most bestest creations, our three kids, would fly by with breathtaking speed; that they’d be moving on to their own lives long before I was ready to see them go.

That has certainly been the case. In just over a week, our youngest leaves for his freshman year of college and our oldest leaves for grad school (thankfully our younger daughter has chosen to live at home for college – it’s a joy to have her with us still, though she’s got a very full academic, social, and community schedule). In my mind it was just a few days ago that they were splashing in mud pits in the back yard, covering Barbies in aluminum foil and launching them at top speed with a bungee cord, and filming their own versions of the Harry Potter movies.

As the day(s) of departure draw closer, I’m struggling. Tears are near the surface much of the time. And I’m already worrying about this year’s version of Seasonal Affective Disorder – my guess is that these life changes will make the season more difficult than ever. There’s definitely a “happy light” in my near future.

A post on “The Isle Child” hit me hard this week, as it addressed so much of what I’ve been thinking about. Check it out at http://islechild.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/the-940-saturdays-of-childhood/ and browse around while you’re there – it’s worth a good look.

one-story.com

one-story.com

We’re having “lasts” all over the place at this point. They started in the spring as we had our last moments and last events at the high school where we spent so much time over the years. This week there was our son’s last voice lesson at home (I listened carefully, enjoying his beautiful tenor/baritone voice, and knowing I wouldn’t hear it again until the first time I can make the trip to his university for a performance). Next week the lasts will flow constantly. I’m not sure Kleenex produces enough tissues to get me through the next couple of weeks.

Yes, I know there will be many “firsts” coming up, as well, and I will intentionally enjoy them as I always have. To be honest, I wish people would quit telling me that. I need to wallow for a bit. After all, a 22-year era is drawing to a close. It deserves some emotional attention.

But I don’t want to wallow for too long, because I know from experience that depression (the contagious kind that comes from living with a depressed person AND the seasonal kind that comes from my own body clock) is waiting to pounce. One way I’m planning to avoid prolonged wallowing and creeping depression is creating the diversion of a personal blog that I’ll debut once the two big moves are completed. If you’re interested, you’ll find it at http://momgoeson.wordpress.com/ For now it’s just a placeholder, giving me something to look forward to that’s fresh and new.

Here’s to all the first and lasts in our lives…
-Amy

Counting Down

Obviously I’m not the first mom to experience life with an “empty nest.” I’m not even the first mom living with a depressed husband who has to deal with empty nest syndrome. But I”m pretty sure the existence of depression in our household is going to make this new chapter that’s looming even more difficult.

There will be, of course, the same kinds of things all empty nest-ers have to learn to deal with. Fewer people to share those inside family jokes with. Considerably fewer school events on our calendar (and yes, I really will miss those). No more impromptu viola, piano, and voice concerts in the living room. Silence from our son’s bedroom, instead of the latest Vlog Brothers video or Pentatonix track.

All this stuff is pretty typical. But throw depression into the mix, and I suspect things may head downhill pretty fast.

image credit to rakstagemom.wordpress.com

image credit to rakstagemom.wordpress.com

People tell me it will be a wonderful time for Bruce and me to get to know each other again, to discover the joys of being a couple, to go out for dinner, attend concerts, take vacations we’ve dreamed of. What they don’t realize is that when your life and your marriage relationship is at the mercy of depression, the picture isn’t that rosy.

We’ll have some good times, I’m sure. When moods are stabilized (and with SAD season only a couple of months away, I include my own moods in that concern), we enjoy each others’ company. We know plenty of tricks for having fun on a shoestring budget. But financially, we’re light years away from dinners, concerts, and vacations. And I expect we will continue to struggle through the ugly symptoms of depression and anxiety.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to deal with this new stage of life, and looking for positives to focus on. On that list:
-time for volunteer work I’ve long been interested in.
-new challenges at work and the time and space to be able to meet them
-surely a significantly smaller grocery bill (maybe we can even cut down from those SEVEN gallons of milk per week)
-creating a personal blog where I can pour out thoughts on life, the universe, and everything, and maybe keep myself occupied enough not to notice (quite so much) how much I miss our kids. More info on this new blog coming soon. I’m picturing writing my first post through copious tears on the way home from dropping our oldest off in her new home on the east coast.

You’d think that by now I’d be accustomed to adjusting every stage of life to the reality of life with depression. You might even think that after all these years it would get easier. That doesn’t seem to be the case, I’m afraid. So I guess I’ll just do what I always do: put my head down, plow through it, and hope for the best.
-Amy

There’s SAD, and then there’s sad.

image credit to Scott Macaulay

image credit to Scott Macaulay

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my intense relief at the daylight savings time and the resulting increase in evening sunlight.  I was thrilled by how quickly my energy returned and my mood improved.  Apparently I spoke too soon,.

There was the surprise Palm Sunday snow storm.  Then there were a couple of weeks of mostly cold, cloudy weather.  No good for going out for extra Vitamin D in the sunlight, or getting outside to walk in the fresh air.

And soon I realized that I was just as down as I had been all winter.  I was as irritable as my chronically depressed husband (about whose grouchiness I often complain…ouch.) I felt negative, had little interest in my work, and wasn’t sleeping well.  Seasonal affective disorder hadn’t magically disappeared after all.

Then, after several days of bad hews, stressful events, and downright gloom, I realized there was more going on than “just” my winter SAD. I had to sit down and admit to myself that there’s a whole lot going on in my life that was just plain getting me down.  Even without SAD, situational depression was a distinct possibility.

As a person who writes about and works in the area of depression and caring for depressed people  it’s a topic I”m immersed in a lot – occasionally more than I would like.  Then, too, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool navel gazer.  You know that Myers-Briggs personality thing?  I’m off the charts on introspection.  Pretty obnoxious, really.

But it all led me to this train got thought: how do you know whether your annual bout of SAD is over?  How does a long postponement of spring affect other people with the disorder?  When other issues come into play, how do you move on?  At what point is it time to dig further, consider medication adjustments, consult a therapist?

They’re all good questions, and I’d invite any readers who deal with SAD to share their thoughts.  Thankfully for me, spring did finally arrive in the last few days.  That’s helped a lot. At the same itme, I went out of my way to do some self-indulgence and self-care, and to increase my exercise   As a result of these efforts, I’m noting a distinct difference in my mood and outlook.  But what if things hadn’t happened that way?

-Amy

Good evening, sunshine (and goodbye SAD)

imageThere was a lot of grumbling last weekend about the “spring forward” clock change.  From people moaning about the lost hour of sleep to articles about heart attacks and other disasters increasing in the week following the spring change, it was a hate-fest on daylight savings time.

But not me. As heartily as I dread the loss of the hour of evening sunshine in the fall, I look forward to that extra hour of light in March as if it were the day I would win the lottery.  Because I know when that extra daylight is added to my day, my seasonal affective disorder will be disappearing before too long.

I’ve seen improvement in just these first four days.  My mood in late afternoon is much more positive when I see the direction and brightness of the sun. My energy has already increased; until this week I was sluggish by 7:00 and in bed by 8:00.  Yesterday I was up, moving, and active until 10:00.  We’re supposed to get some truly spring-like warm weather in the next few days, and I know if I can get out and soak up some vitamin D, I’ll feel even better.

I know that for a lot of people who deal with SAD, the effects of that extra daylight are not so drastic.  I’m thankful that, so far anyway, my symptoms are so quickly and easily swept aside (Hmmm…could it all be in my head?  Insert forced laughter here.) And I’m happy for my family, because I’m sure I’ll be a lot more pleasant to live with.  As I know all too well, living with a depressed person is no fun.

If you’ve been dealing with SAD this winter, what’s your experience been like?  Does the increase in daylight make a difference for you?

-Amy

Depression on the Comics Page

http://www.oregonlive.com/comics-kingdom/?feature_id=Sally_Forth&feature_date=2013-02-14

I admit to being addicted to the morning paper, and every day I save the comics section for last. Our local paper carries two full pages of comics and puzzles. They’re a part of my morning ritual.

Of course I enjoy the smile or even the laugh-out-loud moment I get from a few favorites. But every now and then an artist brings an important issue to light and raises the comics page to a different level. Several years ago “For Better or For Worse” had the guts to introduce a gay character at a time in our history when that action actually required guts (in this part of the nation, anyway).

Yesterday, the strip “Sally Forth” explained the title character’s recent exhaustion, crankiness, and general malaise. Sally discovered that she may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a common type of depression that can occur during the dark and cold winter months. In discussing this condition in the popular forum of the comics page, the artists (Francesco Marciuliano and Craig Macintosh) not only inform readers of an illness they may not have been aware of, but they decrease the ever-present stigma of depression. As the story continues today, they’re balancing humor with the unpleasant effects of the illness in a very healthy way.

Being a SAD sufferer myself, and having a chronically depressed husband, I applaud Marciuliano and Macintosh for tackling the topic of depression through the comics page. Anything we can do to bring this dark illness into the light is a big step in the right direction.
-Amy