Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Care and Feeding of Self: Depression Type

A few weeks ago I went through what I thought was a depression, and by the second day of it, it scared me a lot. I’m not usually a depressed person, but now and then and in February, I get a day or two, like most people do. It’s my depression, it’s very familiar, and I know just what I need to get out of it within 24-48 hours.

It made me think about the different kinds of depressions. We have an overall term, but the style of depression is just as important as the overall diagnosis. And I think they need to be treated differently.

Of course, there’s the bio-chemically caused depression, which really requires medication to get everything in balance. This tends to be hereditary, and long-term.

There’s the hereditary weakness toward depression, also, which is set off by external circumstances, but becomes depression as opposed to anything else, because there’s a bio-chemical weakness in that direction.

There’s also what I call the nurture-heredity depression, which is that we learn patterns of response to external stimuli from our parents. If one of our parents tended to respond to stress by becoming depressed, we are more likely to do so, also. You might need medication to help break through this so that you can make different choices with your responses to stressors. If it becomes a long-term and continuous response to your circumstances, then medication helps even more.

Situational depression is unavoidable at times. It’s a temporary depression, brought on by sad things in your life, or a string of sad things, so that you’re overwhelmed. It’s more than one load of brown stuff hitting the fan fairly continuously. There’s often a sense of frustration and anxiety that accompanies this depression. While medication can be helpful, most of the climb out of this type requires stepping back, taking some deep breaths (away from the fan), and determining the best action strategy to change your response to your situation, and/or the situation you’re in. Cognitive/behavioral therapy and/or life coaching and goal setting are extremely helpful.

Let’s not forget the good ol’ SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Like all living things, humans need sunshine, and deprivation of that sunlight affects most of us to some degree by February, and some of us to a greater extent throughout the winter. Full-spectrum lights can help, as can therapy and medication to deal with the issues dredged up during the longer hours of darkness in the winter.

Of course, the depression that comes from the low swings of bipolar disorder has its own attributes, and can be quite debilitating for those who suffer from it. Medication is essential to help balance your biochemistry, and therapy, again, helps you deal with the issues raised as well as manage the ups and downs of the disorder on a behavioral level.

And then there’s the Out of Balance, or Brain Vacation Depression, which is what I had.

My depression scared me this time because it had a different quality than my usual depressions, and because I didn’t recognize it. For the first time ever, I experienced anhedonia: lack of hope, emotion, intention, desire, pleasure of any sort. There was a great nothingness that I faced: it couldn’t be argued with, cajoled, threatened, or bribed. I would start off with the thought, “time to wash a dish or two” and find myself on the couch with a vampire novel or a nap instead, not quite realizing how I’d gotten there. I read about a book or more a day (a pleasure I give myself for a day or two now and then) until I’d gone through both of Laurell K. Hamilton series (Anita Blake, vampire slayer; Merry Gentry, Fairy Princess), both of which are brilliant and I highly recommend (in order because character development is outstanding).

This wasn’t “Batya’s Depression.” I really was scared.

The first thing I did on Day 2 of it was call my doctor and go in for a blood test, just to be sure it wasn’t caused by a physical problem. The second thing I did was call my sometimes-therapist and schedule appointments (it took about 3 weeks, 2x a week, and I am very thankful to her for seeing me that way). The third thing I did was take antidepressants (the first time in my life, since I don’t usually have long-term depression), but I stopped taking them after two weeks when I felt myself pulling out of the worst of it.

What happened, it turns out, is that my brain (both right and left hemispheres) needed a vacation, and since it didn’t see me packing a suitcase for the Bahamas, it decided to go on one by itself. Which explains the disconnect between thinking and not-doing. Between the last two years at the clinic and the house problems, which were continuous stress and burnout, and the year of positive stress of building my business and learning new things for it, my brain was just tired. September was the celebration of the business and all that I’d accomplished to date, some celebrations with my family of origin (with our own dance and ways of showing love), and the economy of America going haywire…my brain decided to quit for a while.

Reading, for me, is a taking-in. It’s like meditation, and it feeds some deep part of me. In a way, yes, it’s escape, and as such, a vacation from the everyday. I suppose for some people, looking at art or watching movies might provide the same relief.

In my job, and in developing my business, giving is the key. And I love it! It’s who I am, how I can most deeply express myself. I love both psychotherapy and coaching as what I do. So my depression wasn’t at all about wanting to do something else or changing a large part of my life. It was simply about restoring of the giving out/taking in cycle.

What a relief! I’m very thankful to the people who supported me as I went through this, and who had patience with me during this time. Luckily, it only lasted three weeks, and I’m learning to be a little more tender to myself, to keep my activities more balanced: lessons I’ve always told my clients. Hmm. Maybe I should record my sessions and listen to myself!

I’m back now, refreshed, eager, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed, with lots of energy to jump back into all the blogging, newsletter writing, seminar leading, promotion, client contact, and everything else it takes to keep my business and my life up and running. I’m writing fiction again, eating healthy, and back to being Batya. Feels good!

Have you experienced any of these depressions? How have you conquered it? I’d love to hear from you!