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Self-Medicating with Dinosaurs [Aug. 13th, 2012|06:55 pm]
I've been sitting on this post for a while -- trying to shorten it, trying to make it less preachy...but sometimes they just refuse to be fixed. And aging it hasn't changed anything except made me feel like I should be brave and post it anyway.

But here's the deal we're going to make, you and I. This isn't about me looking for pity or congratulations. This is me sharing so that maybe, like making sure you've always got half a tank of gas in the car, $100 in cash stashed somewhere in the house, and extra batteries for the flashlight, you'll make emergency preparations for teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole. Or maybe you'll find your way back faster. Or not get there. Or just feel better knowing that you're not alone in being there.

(But seriously -- my last post was supposed to be funny. For the record, it wasn't really a date, and this guy has girlfriends who enjoy his company in all its myriad ways. I've met them. They've probably never had parrots, and definitely lack the obsessive ability I have to focus on a single aspect of a situation and take it someplace ABSURD. I adore you for caring for me -- but I DESERVE better? I have all sorts of better. Not to worry. It's just that sometimes, when trying on a pair of shorts, you stick both feet in the same leg and you fall down in the dressing room and that's funny as hell and a DAMN shame no one was there to see it. Sharing those stories makes me HAPPY.)

So first the power went out. Then I got it back. For a day and a half, than then right before I had some guests over, my central air died. Although we did prove that with enough alcohol, many discomforts can be ignored...thus explaining most of human history.

And died, died. After all it was legally old enough to drink and clearly there’s a Logan’s Run rule for heat pumps. So, I had to run out, get a second window unit so that I could have one upstairs, one downstairs. And it was physically taxing to get that damn window unit upstairs and installed, because by then it was like 95 degrees in the house. And if I’d been smart, I’d have asked for help. But not only do I suck at asking for help, I also tend to forget that at nearly 50, I can not sling around 75 pounds with the insouciance I once did. So I get it installed, cruise Angie’s List for potential firms to come in and give bids, figure out when I was going to be able to do that over the next several days. Contemplating the hit my home improvement fund was going to take.

Oh, and then my remote for my DVD/CD player died. Which I loved because I could put six cds in at once, shuffle and that soothed both my need for variety and need for being lazy. And they don't make remotes for it anymore -- and the new one doesn't shuffle or let you choose what disk to play. And I know you're thinking....christ on a cheese puff, the entire world is operating on Ipods, what the hell? I am too damn busy entertaining you/keeping myself sane by writing here, thank you very much, to be dicking around with loading up my ipod. I've got another 200 discs to load on my computer, and the last time I loaded my ipod, I was not choosy, so now when I shuffle I get everything from classical to Ramones to lectures on Henry VII to wolf howls and other halloween sound affects. Yes, yes, it's on my list of things to do. I would just like to be able to enjoy something without having to make a huge expletive time investment. There are things -- like relationships, say, or growing gardens, that are worth a time investment. Throwing six cds on the tray -- done, happy, getting on with my life.

But that's dead. And all I wanted to do was relax some this weekend and watch the True Blood discs I got. (Don't judge me. When it comes to pretty humanlikeflesh...golly. Do not make me choose between the dog, the wolf and the nordic vampire: I have room in my head for them all. I said "head", ha.) And sure I did the usual dicking around with batteries/cleaning terminals, whacking the motherexpletive thing on the ground, my head, random cats. No go. There may have been a temper tantrum. I’m pretty sure there were tears.

Two back-up DVD players later, I finally found one where both the player and the remote worked. But yeah, I had to unhook, remove, install, insert 30 minutes of “why won’t THIS remote work either, what is WRONG with me?!?!?!” weeping and sobbing, pulling myself together, unhook, remove, install…

And then I couldn’t find the expletive True Blood disk I was one episode into. Any. Where.

I just wanted to not be hot. To watch my show. To, to, to…insert pretty much an adult meltdown. After what felt, embarrassment-wise, like an hour of wailing and weeping and not-fairing (because yes, when I go there, I am a giant five year old) but was probably only about ten minutes, I pulled myself together and went upstairs to the computer. Fine, I thought, go write something, or research something or watch a TED lecture. But an hour later I realized that I was pretty much just sitting in a chair, staring a nearly blank page.

And then weeping. For no apparent reason. All I wanted to do was go to bed. Crawl in there and pull the covers over my head and contemplate how expletive miserable I was. But I was at least conscious enough to know that was a rabbit hole I probably shouldn’t duck into. So, fine, downstairs to clean the kitchen. And it took me about 30 minutes to do eight minutes worth of dishes. And I kept finding myself just quietly weeping.

Because it was all so pointless. I was never going to get it all done. I was never going to be able to relax like other people. My life was expletive, expletive, expletive.

Which is why I will always value the six months I spent as a secretary in the adolescent ward of a psychiatric hospital, when I first got out of school. Because there was a little part of my brain that said “Wait. You’ve transcribed this stuff before.”

Here’s the thing you may not know: depression is actually a reasonable adaptive response to an extremely stressful, overwhelming, inequitable situation. You’re in a social or environmental situation where you’re consistently not getting what you need/want/deserve, so you shut down. Which could provoke improved behavior from those around you, thereby fixing the situation, or make you hit a bottom point where you finally make the necessary environmental/situational change. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But like all adaptive mechanisms, there’s always a chance of failure. You could be so enmired, so without either the internal or external resources that there’s no way you can find your way to behaving differently and getting yourself back into a positive feedback loop, so the negative just keeps reverberating. (For the record, I’m not being all woo with positive and negative energy, I’m wading into endocrinology and hormones here, but this post is already bigger than gigantosaurus, so I’m simplifying.) And – okay, I lied, now I have to talk about hormones and receptors, but I swear I won’t get any more technical -- but you can also run into trouble with your brain not being able to either produce those positive messages (Yay, I finished the paper I was writing, yay, I’m pretty, yay, I have worth as a human being even though there’s a ring around my toilet!) or “hear” them even if your brain does generate them.

So, in most cases, well, given a little time, a little space, a little self-wallowing, you may be fine. But if it goes on too long, if something’s going on in your brain where you can’t produce or receive positive feedback, you’re going to need help – therapist, meds that help regulate the production or uptake of those positive messages, something.

It’s odd, I think, that if you fall down the stairs and just get bruised, maybe a twisted ankle and you take a couple of aspirin, an ice pack, go to bed early and if you’re fine, okay. But if you wake up and your ankle is the size of Los Angeles, and you can’t walk on that leg without passing out…well, you go to a professional for help, don’t you? I don’t know that there’s a definite point where “feeling a little blue” crosses into clinical depression, but we seem to feel as if when it’s in our head, it’s less legitimate, or we should be able to fix it ourselves. I will grant you: our doctors are way better at setting a broken ankle than fixing serotonin uptake receptors. But still.

Anyway, I digress – which, for the record, when you are depressed, you aren’t very good at. At least for me, I kept getting stuck in a rut of single though the way your skate blade gets caught in that rut at the skating rink and everyone else is skating in a circle, but you got into the track of the last person who slammed right into the side of the rink and you are powerless and heading straight for that damn wall again. Was that how I knew? Only processing one thought at a time? Holy Catfish, maybe!

But whatever, cue “Self-Reliant, helped mightily by a keen belief in hormones and feedback loops” because seriously, it’s not like I’d spent days, weeks, drifting waiflike and sighing around the house…but I could FEEL that coming on and I just do not have TIME for that. So, okay, aspirin and bandaid equivalents for my brain: What makes me feel good? Feel good and feel good about myself? (And here's where you have to be careful -- you need to find a thing that makes you feel good about YOURSELF. Not just something that makes you feel good. Carbs or alcohol will make the feedback loop you're in WORSE. Okay, accomplishment – finish cleaning up this expletive kitchen. Which I did, and took “why is this taking so f-ing LONG” and stuffed it right into the trash. And I set myself the goal of three loads of laundry and then I could have cheese and sausage and crackers and watch TV. And I dragged myself up and down the basement stairs, sighing, in full flouncing teenage I can’t believe I have to put up with this expletive mode. And I got it done and put away. And then it was time for reward. And I made my snack, and I shoved away all thoughts of what I really want is to watch the disk I can’t expletive FIND, because that wasn’t helpful. Nature, that’s what makes me happy. So, hey, let’s put in this Walking with Dinosaurs set.

And laying on the couch, snuggled up with cats, delicious sausage and cheese, fiercely hanging onto "I got three loads of laundry and the kitchen done"…I was pretty okay. (Don’t get me wrong – a part of my brain was still screaming “What, that’s IT? Two weekends lost to no power/no air, another now to stupid depression, we’re NEVER going to catch up!” But I’ve got a box, and it’s got chains and that’s where I shove expletive like that when it’s decidedly not helpful. (If you sometimes struggle with stuff, remember that I am not the most imaginative person in the world (unless it’s imagining what could go wrong) and I STILL find the visual of packing stuff in a trunk in the basement, or a bucket for tossing, very helpful. Which makes me feel like I just confessed to believing in angels, so you know it must work, if I still embrace it.)

But still, I was borderline. Sausage and cheese and laying on the couch, having ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING, no matter how small is magic. But, the demon of disappointment-in-my-own-self was still sitting pretty heavy on my chest. But then, Walking with Dinosaurs booted up, and that Apatosaurus lumbered into view, its tail switching back and forth…30 minutes later, I was so awash in positive memories -- driving down from New England to see the very first Dinosaurs in Motion exhibit at the Smithsonian (which was literally just some skeletons reset in more realistic poses and various PAINTINGS of what dinosaurs in actual real life would have been doing – fighting, mating, falling into rivers, climbing up hills. It’s hard to describe how expletive MONUMENTAL that was for someone who was a dino-geek, and we were just making the transition from these static, lumbering, cold-blooded beasts to possibly warm blooded, maybe some of them actually ran! Or leaped or…it sounds lame to say the exhibit was mind-blowing…again, minor skeleton resets, and a gallery of drawings/paintings of dinosaurs “in action” but it was pretty earthshattering in a possibility kind of way. Don’t even get me started on Jurassic Park. While it’s not much of a movie, I wept the whole time – there they were WALKING. RUNNING. Intelligent, plotting …look, don’t judge. I was on the Damascus road. And for someone who, at age ten could identify every skeleton in the Hall of Dinosaurs and recite what rudimentary facts we knew about them at the time…it’s still sort of shivery to contemplate that kind of mental transformation.

So, yeah, I took a serious dose of dinosaurs. And while for the first hour, I’m sure I just watched, slack-jawed, by the second hour I was talking back: “Well, that’s a bit of an assumption about behavior there, there’s no actual evidence, just because…” and that’s when I knew I was back: even-keel.

I’d reminded myself that I could get stuff done. And there were things in the world that were expletive-amazing. And every day there were going to be more. And that I KNEW things, enough to feel like I could take on a paleontologist and argue likely therapsid social bonding…but really, it was all just positive feedback, right?

Because in hindsight, here’s my analysis: Sure, sure, the stress of not having power for half a week. More key, the stress of worrying about losing the copious amounts of food I had stashed away…a financial concern, certainly. More importantly, worrying about the cats. Needing to spend so much time just THINKING about basics – what’s the best time to open and close windows to keep it as cool as possible. Packing/unpacking to stay at friend’s houses. Which was lovely, but still, a social stressor. Plus I was depleted from months, nearly two years of a damn near untenable work situation where I felt I couldn’t succeed. Then power off, power on, a/c dead….

And I hadn’t been managing the positives: owing to scheduling, I’d been a bit socially isolated, which would have been fine in any other situation, but it pushed the positive feedback meter downwards. No power, so it’d been hot. Snuggling with cats: out of the question. So…no human touch, no critter touch. Eating fast food, or opening up a can of something and eating at room temperature…too hot to sit and mellow in my garden…libraries closed so I’m on a Kindle, attached to the wall, periodically….can’t light a candle to read because it’s too hot…

And that's also crucial -- how did I get here? What's going on? Sometimes your life just SUCKS - Sisyphus, when confronted with the load YOU'VE been pushing would be renamed Sissypus. So, it's not a personal flaw, okay, your mental arms are just SORE. And that's why you feel like crap and it's time to find your joy again, no matter how small.

You HAVE to make sure you feed your needs. Know what makes you happy. Whether it’s dinosaurs or something else – KNOW it, and find it when you need it. Now, while you are fully yourself – put some thought behind it – what makes you feel better about yourself? Go to the florist and buy a single stunning flower and contemplate it. Doing for others? Know then, that no matter how bad you feel, you need to get your ass out to the shelter and feed humans, walk dogs. Go weed a public space. Go buy $50 worth of canned goods and deliver them to the foodbank. Pull out that list of things you need to get done and get ONE of them done, no matter how long, no matter how hard. Don’t even THINK of the ten thousand things that SHOULD be on your list. Today there is only cleaning out your closet. Reward yourself for it, no matter how minor. Repeat. Think of positive feedback the way you think of aspirin or painkillers or whatever medication you apply, regularly, until the hurting stops.

And when home remedies aren’t working? If your leg were broken, you’d get help. So, if you’ve tried, and it’s been days, weeks, and you’ve tried to jolt yourself out of it, but still, reach out. Because sometimes, not even dinosaurs are enough.

[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2012-08-14 12:55 am (UTC)
Here’s the thing you may not know: depression is actually a reasonable adaptive response to an extremely stressful, overwhelming, inequitable situation.

Yup. My last episode of clinical depression -- when I was sleeping too much, not eating, and barely functional -- was when 3 of the most important things in my life were going straight to (or through) hell. 1) My father had been in the ICU for weeks and every single day the question was, will he live or will he die... 2) I knew I wanted to leave my marriage but I had to wait at least until the first thing got resolved and 3) I hated my job but couldn't find another job. And there was literally no light at the end of the tunnel that I could see. Every day I dragged myself to work and then dragged myself to the hospital to sit with my mom. Also, it was winter and gray and cold. I finally gave in and made steps to see a therapist after I sat at the table one night with my favorite Indian food on a plate in front of me, and I just didn't want to eat it, it felt like too much effort.

The way the counselor that I saw explained it, my psyche was getting pummeled by too many big huge stressors, so it shut down in a last-ditch effort to avoid the stressors by hiding from them. (cowardly psyche!)

But it just so happened that we had snow on the ground, and my then-husband coaxed me into trying cross-country skiing for the first time. After a few days, I started to feel just a little bit better, and then a little bit better, and by the time I actually went to my first therapy appointment I was doing the old, "I don't even know if I should be here because I do feel like my old self now" song and dance. Things still sucked and were still unresolved but somehow I was able to cope with it. I still kept seeing the therapist anyway because I was more than a little scared of feeling that way again.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2012-08-14 10:10 am (UTC)
Well put. It *is* an adaptive response but the ugly other side of it is while some people can drink (nearly) every day and not succumb to alcoholism, for some of us (ok me), the straw that breaks that camels back is pretty damned small sometimes. Then again I come from a family of batshit crazy people.

I am an (un) proud card carrying member of the medicated crowd. Because sometimes even a ton of positive memories can't stop the whoa I am sooooo fucked feelings.

Which is why I wish my doctor wouldn't preach on and on about xanax being addictive because numb is so nice every so often.
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[User Picture]From: dreamtigress
2012-08-14 04:21 pm (UTC)
I have a tendency to clean when things are troubling me. It's something nearly mindless that I can accomplish, that I have control over. It helps so much to be able to look at a clean room and think, "Okay, I did that much." I can vividly recall a few times in my life where things were really bad, and I just started cleaning. Vacuuming while crying. It it works, I don't knock it.
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[User Picture]From: russell_moore
2012-08-14 05:13 pm (UTC)
I can relate to a lot of that ... so I can empathize with pretty much all of it ... and it took me quite a while to reach out for help because I was determined I could persevere

yeah well ...

I have no place in the advice giving category for this ... so I'll just send good thoughts to the universe on your behalf

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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2012-08-17 04:47 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post as always, turnip. I'm so glad dinosaurs worked for you!

My own life long depression seems to be endocrine system related. Yes, I have lots of things to be depressed about but getting my thyroid, adrenals and hormones into balance has made all the difference for me. If it weren't for a doctor who is a western MD, a naturopath and an endocrine specialist I'd be in a hospital, medicated up to the ears and getting worse by the minute. Instead, Armour Thyroid, bio-identical hormones, a number of inexpensive supplements, getting more sleep and severely limiting sugar have gotten me back on track. I imagine I'll have off days as thyroids are notoriously difficult to regulate but despite a life-time's worth of things to be depressed about I'm doing better than I hoped for just a few months ago. I look forward to getting more than my old energy back and being able to exercise and play like a healthy person for once!

I only post this because in none of my blood tests did anyone except the specialist see anything to be concerned about despite all my symptoms. If dinosaurs stop helping I suggest horses- and if they don't work, then consider getting yourself a pet endocrinologist with more than western MD training.
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