October 25, 2011

Massage can help relieve depression

Don’t look now, but I’ve had at least three good days in a row. Somebody call Guiness.

I’m not sure who gets the credit. My talk therapist or my massage therapist?

I went into the spa a few days ago with heavy shoulders and a sore back. As those who suffer from depression know, it’s not just an in-your-head problem. Depression hurts. Physically.

As I always do, I emerged from the spa feeling like a bear that just awoke from hibernation—rested, rejuvenated and hungry…hungrier for life too.

While massage may not be a cure for depression or anxiety, it sure does help manage the symptoms. It’s expensive, yes. But can we put a price tag on our mental health?

While the science doesn’t suggest massage is a miracle cure for depression, there are studies like this one that show it sure helps. I always go in with heavy shoulders but come out feeling like a champ.

They say our thoughts control our feelings, but that’s easier said than done for many of us. I’ve found that when my body feels better, say from depression or exercise, it’s easier to tame the torturous negative thoughts that sometimes push me to the edge of sanity and bring on bouts of depression.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found massage to be helpful. If you’ve tried it and it didn’t help, I’d suggest a new massage therapist.

So give it a shot. Massage away that nagging anxiety—even if only for a little while.

October 17, 2011

Anxiety: Depression’s Evil Twin

Some times I have to reverse engineer a bad day to figure out how my anxiety gets the best of me.

Today was a tough day. My oldest child is six years away from college and yet I had a near panic attack worrying about how to pay for her college tuition. I worried about how we are going to pay for braces for my youngest two...not to mention theircollege tuition.

I worried about what my family would do if something happens to me. I have insurance, but is it enough?

Today was not unlike most Mondays, actually. I don’t do transitions well—and I’m not talking about my writing style.

The transition from the weekend to the work week is always a struggle. The transition from home to work in the morning and then work back to home at night is hard some days, too.

Change causes anxiety for me. And as I’ve written before, my problems controlling anxiety only aggravate my depression.

My doctor just today decided to increase my dosage of Abilify, because the progress I’ve made since some really dark days this summer has stalled.

(That paragraph is a good example of a bad transition).

In searching around for information on anxiety and depression tonight, I found some helpful informationon depression and anxiety from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. It explains that depression and anxiety disorders are different, but some of the symptoms are the same. They include nervousness, irritability, sleeping issues and problems and trouble concentrating. Sound familiar? Does to me.

I have never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but I don’t need to be. I know it’s a problem.

So how do I reverse engineer my day? Looking back, I realize I should have done something helpful when the negative thoughts occurred. I should have written down an action item, like figuring out a way to set aside a little additional money for the kids’ college funds. Then I should have stopped worrying about it.

If you are like me, that’s easier to say than it is to do.

October 12, 2011

Fighting depression like pulling weeds

I hate pulling weeds. And the flower bed in front of my house is full of them.

The worst part? They’re all tangled up with the jasmine we had planted as ground cover.

The hope was the jasmine would eventually strangle the life out of the weeds, but that hasn’t happened.

It looks like we’ll have to do it the hard way—one weed at a time.

That got me to thinking. It’s a lot like my depression and anxiety.

Fighting depression and anxiety is like pulling weeds. It’s hard work. Now, it’s easy to rip the top off the weeds, just like it’s easy to obfuscate, scratch the surface or dodge the real issues with our therapists. The hard part is getting down to the root of the problem.

Dump-truck talk therapy, in which we just spend an hour jabbering about our week and how we feel, is sort of like ripping off the tops of those weeds. It doesn’t really fix the problem. It’s only going to come back. 

We can dump our feelings on somebody else, but until we figure out how to stop being so anxious, how to stop the negative thinking, it just comes back. And like they say about addiction, it will only come back stronger if we don’t kill the lion.

It’s much harder, so hard I haven’t done it successfully yet, to get to the root of depression. We can take meds, which I do, we can exercise, which I don’t do often enough, and we can spend money and time with our therapists. And yet we can still be depressed and frustrated.

I guess we have to just be patient, keep pulling one weed at a time.

Successful recovery, as I view it in my mind’s eye, looks like a well-manicured garden. It’s just not easy to get there.

October 8, 2011

Thank you, Bono and Simba

Music and movies can be mood changers for me.

This was a tough week. Anxiety and depression got the best of me for the most part during Mental Illness Awareness Week, which ends today. Thank goodness. I am quite clearly aware of my mental illness.

But Friday was different, and I have Bono to thank. Bono, Bruce Springsteen and The Lion King in 3D.

Those of us who suffer from mental illness need something to help elevate our mood when we fall into the rut of depression. One trick I learned in a partial hospitalization program this summer was the power of music to change mood.

So I signed up for satellite radio in my car and on my computer at work. With the click of a mouse at work, I can listen to Beethoven or the The Beatles, The Counting Crows or Tchaikovsky. I can climb into The Loft and mellow out with some contemporary eclectic tunes or slide into the Coffee House and soak up a groovy acoustic tune.

I can listen to music to change my mood.

After a four-day losing streak, I won the battle on Friday. My day started with Bono belting out “Beautiful Day” on the way to work. I was almost surprised to find myself strumming along with The Edge on my steering wheel. Was that pure joy just now? Wonders never cease.

As this informative article points out, the connection between music and mood isn’t new. Ancient philosophers knew that music could change their mood, even kings in ancient times used music to relieve stress. We see music used all the time to elevate mood or relax us. My favorite college football team uses rousing music blaring over video highlights to whip the crowd into a frenzy before every home game. And it works every time.

My Friday ended with an uplifting trip to the movies for “Lion King” in 3D with one of my children. Such is the Circle of Life for those of us with depression. The circle will take me to a low again at some point, I know. Not today, though.

Music and movies can change my mood, but I have to be careful.

If I’m feeling depressed, “Terms of Endearment” may not be a great choice for a Friday night flick. When I want to feel better, I change the channel when sad ballads come on my radio. I turn it up when upbeat tunes come on.

So thank you, Bono and Simba. Friday actually felt like Friday should feel.

October 5, 2011

Why can't I just let me be?

Being married to me must be exhausting, I told my wife.

No, she said, being you must be exhausting.

Sometimes it is.

The subtle mood swings. The nagging anxiety. The utter inability to just be... It is all so damn tiring sometimes.

My moods can swing like a heavy pendulum from happy to depressed, content to crazy, in a morning, much less in a week.

My current meds are working, for the most part. Beaten down and gaunt from the weight loss, I crawled out of the darkest, deepest and most dangerous depression of my life this summer.

Those fleeting impulses to say to hell with it all are fewer and farther between now, but consistent contentment eludes me still.

I am restless. They say Abilify can make you feel that way. But it may have saved me, so what to do? Flush the pills down the toilet and risk slipping back down that slippery slope into a pool of misery?

No! I can’t do that. I have to stay the course. I have to try again tomorrow. I have to do all the things my therapist is telling me to do but for some reason I don’t.

I have to remember my job is just a job. It’s what I do, not who I am.

I have to try harder to stop the negative thoughts when they start.

I have to go back to giving five minutes at the start of each day to my Higher Power and asking Him for help.

I have to learn to just be.

Oh, how I wish it were that simple.

October 3, 2011

Why doesn't mental illness have a color?

When I strolled down the driveway this morning to pick up mynewspaper, I was surprised. Surprised because it (my newspaper, not the driveway) was pink.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the state’s largestnewspaper was pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a goodthing. The paper was chock full of stories about cancer survivors, cancerresearch, cancer prevention and more.

But it got me to thinking. How many people have a clue thatOct. 3-8 is also Mental Illness Awareness Week? How many blue newspapers were published today in honor of the week? Probably not many.

While cancer gets the headlines, mental illness is every bitas much of a public health crisis. Only it’s a silent killer. The stigma aroundsuicide, depression and other mental illnesses is so great that I’m too much ofa chicken to publish this blog under my real name.

That’s sad.

So in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I thought I’ddo my part. Hereis a brochure from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on depression that might help you.

Major Depressive Disorder has been a hard fact of life forme for six or seven years. That’s since I was diagnosed. My issues actuallydate back to college and even, I realize now, back to my adolescence.

Like way too many boys and men, I suffered in silence forfar too long. I didn’t get help because I wasn’t sure I needed it. I was too scared or too ignorant to ask for help.

I am far from an expert, but now I know the symptoms, evenif I still fail to realize I’ve slipped into the deep, dark pit of depression until I’vehit rock bottom. I hit rock bottom this summer, and it was pure misery.

If you think you might be depressed, help is available. Here is some more great information from NAMI on what depression is exactly.

If you’re having a bad day, you may not be depressed. But ifyou can’t remember the last time you had a good month, I’d recommend talking toa professional. Folks who know a lot more about it than I do say psychotherapy— ascary sounding but basic term that means talk therapy—is a good place to start.You may or may not need medicine.

Since starting this blog, I’ve noticed there can be fiercedebate about whether drug-free treatment of depression really works. I wouldsay it depends on your circumstances, your family history and, probably, yourbrain chemistry.

The specific type of talk therapy that I havefound helpful is cognitive therapy. It’s basically learning to change the way wethink. There all kinds of techniques that a therapist or psychiatrist can teachyou.

One of the techniques I use when my mind starts racing isthe Stop Sign Technique. To stop the negative thought patters that sometimesresult in near full-blown panic attacks, I close my eyes andenvision a literal STOP sign in exquisite detail. Its color. Its shape. Theletters S-T-O-P and what they look like. It helps. Sometimes, anyway.

For many of us, talk therapy alone isn’t enough. It isdifficult if not impossible for me to imagine life without medicine at thispoint. Maybe that day will come, it just won’t come anytime soon.

A good place to start is to get educated. Talk to yourprimary doctor if you might be depressed. Ask—demand if you have to—a referralto a therapist or a psychiatrist, or maybe both. It may be the best phone callyou ever make.

If you are like me, your family will thank you for it.

I plan to blog a couple of times this week in recognition ofMental Illness Awareness Week.

My hope is it helps someone, even if it’s just ONE.