Monday, October 10, 2011


When the Black Dog bites....

I am no longer aware when my reactions are extreme or way unbalanced.  "Normal" changes, and my normal becomes really very strange, very isolated, very bleak.  Self-feeding problem - I think I and my problems are worth nothing, so do not feel it right to trouble others, to seek help.  Because I am not worth it.  There is short term, emergency support if I am at risk of hurting myself or others.  Nothing for medium to long term.  There is no shame in having depression, but there is a lot of difficulty asking for help, getting help, particularly as I am a high functioning depressive and the mental health system is frighteningly stretched.


I've started, re-started, deleted, started this post anew.  I'm posting it this time.  The words may never be right, there may be no coherent structure, but here goes.

I am 45.
I have a Bachelor's degree with Honours.
I am a good cook.
I have a dodgy back.
I have supported myself from the age of 21.
I have depression.
I have a comfortable house filled with things that have meaning for me.
I have three dogs, all different breeds, all quite wonderful.
I garden, teaching myself as I go.
I have a loving husband whom I adore.

I do not want to be defined by my illness - that is only one part of me.  But it does flavour my life.  It could be said to be under control, I am on Effexor XR, low dosage.  Coming off it is not an option.  I tried, did without for some months, but a difficult boss at work triggered another episode and when I realised that I was thinking about crashing a car a bit too frequently, when I caught myself scratching hard enough to draw blood, to make the internal pain external, well, that made going back on a no-brainer.

There is a predisposition to depression on both sides of my family.  My first conscious awareness of being depressed was when I was 17.  I tried to kill myself and failed (oh great, you are such a loser, you can't even do that..).  That lasted several years - through most of my time at university in fact.  I saw a psychiatrist for a year, that got me functional, and some very good friends kept me alive and gave me hope.  They looked after me - specifically Dylan, Margaret and Sammi - you were the main ones and I cannot thank you enough.

A couple of breakdowns from overwork (IT is fascinating, IT is demanding).  Several long-term boyfriends.  Then a series of poor bosses, culminating in a truly atrocious one (now inflicting damage elsewhere).  And I started going into deep depression and I couldn't stop.

I slept.  I couldn't laugh, could barely smile.  With a few exceptions, I couldn't talk to people face to face, over the phone.  I could barely manage email.  Things like driving became too hard if there was any one else on the road.  I got panic attacks amongst people, hyperventilating, crying, ready to scream, batter them out of my way as I ran out, trembling.  No, I can't go to the Farmers' Markets anymore.

It took far too long for me to get help. None came from the workplace until I sought it, but the therapist they referred me to and the rehab worker were brilliant.  They supported me and helped me work through the mess in my head, gave me tools to use, information to read.  They listened and kept talking until something made sense to me.  I worked from home for some months, slowly going full-time again.  My doctor was truly supportive, gave me the time needed in appointments, the time off from work needed so I could sleep, worked me through medications until that was settled.  A couple of close friends who also have depression - we checked up on each other most mornings, long phone calls that reassured us that we were still in our heads and that someone else truly understood.  Black humour, shared strategies, shared stories.

Wanting to die - I'm still not sure if it was about wanting to be dead, or wanting the pain and bleakness to be over.

The Bleaks.  When it was much as I coudl do to get up, shower, dress, feed the animals, feed myself, get through the motions of living.  I remain amazed that I was generally able to function at a high level (okay, not my social skills, they were spectactularly absent), able to keep going in public and fall apart mostly at home.  Grey, unending.

For a long time, I didn't articulate at work where my head was, but I also never hid it.  I might be managing. I might be sitting at my desk, working through a problem, tears streaming down my face.  I might have run out of the building and hid for a while in the trees until I could face things again.

Outcome - there are side-effects from the meds, but I can live with them more easily than not being medicated.  I get tired easily and need to sleep.  I prefer small groups of people and very little socialising.  My concentration is shot and my memory is more erratic than it used to be.  My tolerance of noise is very low.  This makes being amongst people tiring.  But I can smile, I can laugh, I can enjoy my life.  Those are not small things.