Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pulling The Plug

Last week my sister, her husband an 10 year-old son decided they would attempt to go 10 days without any electronics. That meant no TV, no DVDs, no game cube and no computer. They managed to keep away from the electronics for 6 days.

Well, they’ve inspired me to do the same. I have four exams next week and if there couldn’t be a better time to avoid the evils of TV and the Internet. As of midnight tonight until the end of my last exam on February 7, I am cutting myself off! EEEEKKK!!!

Of course, there are a few exceptions:
1) Email still needs to be checked twice a day since most of my profs use it as their main means of communication
2) Online banking is also aloud (I still have to pay bills)
3) I’m allowing myself a TV viewing pass for LOST on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wish me luck... but do so before midnight or I won't know for 10 days. Hah!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Come On!

I’m going to Pictou next weekend for a benefit concert for a friend. I just found out I have a FOURTH exam now the following week! Un-freaking-believable! Four exams in three days the week after my one weekend getaway. Fuuuuuuck!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Chemical Imbalance

This might seem like a strange post, but I realised this week that I’ve never directly talked about my chronic depression and have only alluded to it. So why post now? Well, my hope is always that someone out there will read this, see themselves in my words and feel better about themselves because they are not alone. If I can help even one person get over the social stigma attached to depression then this post will have been worth it.

So here’s my story:

I was diagnosed with chronic depression 12 years ago (age 20) but most likely have had it my entire life. Even as a child my Mom said I had a lot less energy and was a lot more anxious than all the other kids.

I also prefer to use the term dysthymia rather than depression, mostly because it doesn’t have the same negative connotation as depression. Dysthymia is a form of depression and one doctor did describe my condition that way.

Here is a definition:
Dysthymic disorder is a depressive mood disorder characterized by a chronic course and a subtle onset. Many people with dysthymia report that they have been depressed all of their lives and have an outlook coloured by chronic depression.

By definition, dysthymia is a chronic mood disorder, with a duration of at least 2 years in adults and 1 year in adolescents and children. Although dysthymia is often considered less severe than a major depression, the consequences of dysthymia without major depression are grave and include severely impaired functioning and increased morbidity from physical disease.

I describe it this way; depression is often associated with low serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is often referred to as our body’s natural mood-altering drug. Serotonin levels also affect many other things such as energy level, concentration, thought process, motivation, etc. So let’s say serotonin levels can be measured on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest serotonin ever (like a really, really great day) and 1 being the lowest serotonin level ever. The average person’s daily level might be a 7 or 8 with an occasional 9 for a really great day and maybe a few 10s in your lifetime (like say the birth of a child). On the other hand, a normal person can still have bad days like a 5 or 6 and maybe a 4 when a family member passes away.

Someone with dysthymia naturally has a lower level of serotonin so an average day would be a 5 or 6 good day a 7 or 8 (normal for everyone else) and a bad day a 3 or 4 you can see where a traumatic event could easily put them off the edge which would be called a double-depression. I take anti-depressants to bring me up to normal levels so I still experience the highs and lows, but I get a little higher than I used to and don’t go so low. Explained this way, people can better understand that it is a physical disease.

Double-depression - something you don't want to witness

Sometimes dysthymia can lead to a double-depression which can be quite debilitating… in other words, even getting out of bed is difficult. I’ve had two double-depressive episodes; one when I was first diagnosed and one in 98/99, but am happy to say I haven’t had any since then… well, none that required me to leave my job anyway. I’ve become very aware of my condition and if I feel I am “sliding” I take all the necessary precautions to avoid a major episode like eating healthy, exercise and getting enough rest. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve have maintained an episode free existence since then especially through some pretty stressful times (my brother’s death, the end of a significant relationship, changing careers and moving several times).

How does it affect my life?
Well, for one thing, I get tired easily and when I do I have trouble concentrating and get overwhelmed at minor things. Like right now I’m feeling the stress of school and am always having mini freak-out sessions because my roommates don’t put things back in their place (this would be me getting overwhelmed). Sometimes I just have “bad days” that I can’t explain. I’ll feel down or tired without really any reason. It happens once in a while and usually passes. I also take anti-depressants every day and will likely always take them. I want to point out that I believe I'm one of those "rarer" cases where anti-depressants will likely be needed for the rest of my life. I've been on a variety of anti-depressants for 12 years (starting and stopping repeatedly) and then consistently for 7 years. I think anti-depressants are really important to get you out of the fog so you can concentrate on getting better, but it's not the answer for everyone. I do think doctors tend to over-prescribe without offering additional help that I believe is necessary.

My thoughts on anti-depressants
The thing about anti-depressants is that it does more than make you happy. In fact, I’m not even sure anti-depressants alone can make someone happy. Depression comes with a whole bunch of other symptoms other than the blues: tiredness, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, you feel as if even the smallest tasks are sometimes impossible, difficulty to think clearly, difficulty sleeping. What I find anti-depressants really help with is to clear away the "fog". It helps me concentrate, think clearly, sleep better so I can work on becoming happier. When I’m in the “fog” it’s like I can’t think clearly. Minor things seem huge and insurmountable.

Taking anti-depressants is very much trial and error. If the first ones don’t work, try another one. I’ve been on anti-depressants for 12 years now. In the first three years I tried several types. Some were for just a few months, some were for a year or two. I eventually found the one that was right for me. I’m on a two anti-depressant combo. One of them I’ve been on for 7 years and the second one was added 4 years a go. Even though it now works for me, I know it might not be the thing that will work for me forever and that’s why I try to be very proactive with my depression.

It’s a disease like any other – why can’t people see it this way?
No one wants to be labeled depressed. But the truth is, it’s a disease, just like diabetes or epilepsy. There is no reason to be embarrassed by it. In fact, dysthemia is very much like diabetes in the sense that it is a chemical imbalance. In Type 2 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin… with dysthymia, the brain doesn’t produce enough seretonin. See what I’m getting at? Both are chemical imbalances.

I also like to point out that, much like diabetes, dysthymia is a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Diabetics have to change their eating habits and exercise they also have to take insulin. They could likely "live" without paying attention to their diet and exercise but they are damaging their body and putting themselves at risk. It’s the same with depression. I could just take the meds and not see a therapist to deal with any challenges in my life and stay "alive" but I’m putting myself at risk.

Random thoughts on the disease
I’ve always felt "off" (for lack of a better term). I don’t think I ever really felt "normal". I can’t say the anti-depressants made everything perfect but it help me see things clearer and the diagnosis of dysthymia/depression gave the feeling a name. Knowing what it is and knowing, if I work at it, I can control it, made a huge difference. I had hoped and dreamed of a dramatic change when I went on anti-depressants. I thought my world would be suddenly rosy and perfect. That feeling never happened. There was no grandiose moment of truth... it was kinda slow coming. I think after 6 to 8 weeks I just noticed one day I wasn't crying 4 times a day anymore. I wasn't having anxiety attacks, I was able to go out a bit. I still had work to do, but the anti-depressants made challenges easier to take on.

Other things that help:
Since my brain doesn’t make enough serotonin and/or it doesn’t know how to use it properly, I need to get as much sunlight as possible. Sunlight produces serotonin in the brain. Since I live in freezing, gloomy New Brunswick I need to use a sun lamp daily. It REALLY helps with my energy level!

I am very open about this condition and am not afraid to discuss it with anyone. I like to think I’ve also helped people with depression by talking about my experience with it. However, for the most part, I’ve avoided having this discussion with employers for fear that I would be treated differently. This will make sense to many of my good friends and former co-workers to whom I never discussed this matter. I also never know when it is the right time to discuss this subject with a new guy in my life. The word depression or mental illness still has a major stigma and not everyone understands it. It doesn’t mean I’m crazy or loony, although I often use these terms to make light of the situation. Like I said before, it’s just a chemical imbalance, nothing more.

Dealing with depression/dysthymia on a daily basis

I guess I just deal with it day by day... it's really all I can do. I recognise that I have bad days and good days. When the bad days come, I try not to be too hard on myself and remind myself that it is a disease; I'm not going to be perfect all the time. Exercise and a healthy diet are so important to my mental well-being so I consider this a huge coping mechanism. I also realise that this is the hardest part of my "therapy". Right now I'm not exercising and my diet is all over the map... I can really feel it in my energy level, my concentration and the frequency of my bad days. It's a bit of a vicious circle... you feel down and don't want to exercise... but then you feel down because you haven't exercised! I still haven't figured out how to keep the exercise momentum going.

I know my post is supper long, but I figured I would just put it all in one place! Besides, I really need a reference I can easily copy and paste to email to a prospective boyfriend. :-P

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tale of ADD and OCD

OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (moi)
ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder (roommate)

I’ve come to the conclusion that someone with OCD does not mesh well with someone who has ADD. Ok, so I might not exactly have OCD, but I like things to be a certain way. I like the dirty dishes IN the dishwasher. I like the wet dish clothe not to be tossed in a bundle on the counter (it should be hung so it doesn’t get stinky). I like to have all my outside doors closed (hello? Paying for heat here). I don’t like to see dirty dishes left on the side table in the living room. I don’t like to see hand soap accumulate in globs on the bathroom counter. Each time I see things out of place I get a little annoyed and slightly overcome with the need to scrub. Ugh.

My roommate has ADD and even says so herself. So every time I come home I find something that is not “in its place” due to her absent-mindedness, I have a little panic attack. I realize I need to let go and she needs to focus… but, man, is it ever a bad combo! Remind me never ever to date someone with ADD.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Who knew I studied with so many dancers?

I realised yesterday at school that many of my fellow students are dancers. I think many of them might even be professional dancers. I’m constantly seeing so many girls rushing from dance practice to class. Well, at least I think they are rushing from dance class because they are still wearing their leg warmers. And really, there is no reason to be wearing leg warmers post 1982 unless you are a dancer or auditioning for a Flashdance remake.

I feel privileged to be surrounded by so many talented young girls. :-)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Now available in single portions

Yup, I’m single again! MAG (mystery airport guy) just wasn’t feeling it. I’m cool with it though because I really wasn’t sure I was feeling it either. I mean, I had fun with him, he was a really nice guy, there was chemistry and attraction, but there just wasn’t that WOW factor. To be honest, I’m a bit relieved. I realise this is going to sound absurd (you must be used to my absurdity by now), but I keep thinking that when I meet the one there will be an obvious WOW factor within the first month. Since the WOW just wasn’t there with MAG, but he had so many of the qualities I am looking for, I thought maybe I wasn’t meant to have a WOW moment, you know? No WOW made me a little sad.

Here’s the thing, I already “know” the guy I’m going to marry (again with the absurd). Have you ever gone shopping for an outfit and when the sales clerk asked want you were looking for you said you didn’t know, but you would recognise it when you saw it? That’s how I feel. I feel like I know certain things about the guy… I don’t think it’s wishful thinking either. For one thing, he’s French. He also has siblings (or sibling) with whom he is rather close. Plus, he wants kids as much as I do. I know some people might think I’m setting myself up for disappointment or that I’m closing myself off to other potential mates, but that’s really not the case. I’ll still date a non-French guy and I’ll still date an only child and will completely open myself up to the possibility of love, but my gut just tells me otherwise. It always has… ever since I was young… it’s like I know him without knowing him.

MAG was an only child so I’m not surprised that it didn’t work out. Hah! I kid, I kid.

The single thing is all good. I’m glad I’m starting school again without having to worry about squeezing in time for a boy. If I am going to date someone they need to understand that school, unfortunately, comes first and that they might have to be stronger then I am and not see me if I’m trying to avoid studying. Plus, having dated someone for a month or so did some good to my moral. I was feeling so very lonely before the holidays and this really gave me a little boost. I feel like I’ve been slightly energised and can happily deal with being alone again for a good 6 to 8 months. :-)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Day two of 2008 and I’m already ranting

I don’t know if it’s all this effin’ snow, but I’m in a pissy mood today.

Rant #1
First of all, this snow is getting on my nerves. It’s been endless snowstorms for the entire month of December. It’s getting to the point that shoveling has become a daily ritual. There is so much snow and no place to put it anymore! The snowbanks are at least 5 feet high and growing. My driveway seems to be shrinking on a daily basis. However, salvation is on the way. My brother-in-law has arranged to have someone snowblow my driveway tonight. It’s a one shot deal, but at least it should help us clear the piles of snow until the next storm. A few pics for the time being:

The front door

View from the front door

View from the back window

Rant #2
Then, there’s my Mom. I’m annoyed with her today because we had a little falling out this morning. You see, yesterday was New Year’s day and we had supper at my Mom’s place. After supper she brought out plates of cookies, a box of Ferrero Rochers and two boxes of chocolates. Why does this upset me? It upsets me because there is no reason for all that junk food… particularly in my family. I mean, I have a sister who and a nephew who are diabetic, my Mom has high cholesterol, another sister who is trying to loose weight and eat healthily after having had uterine cancer and a 10-year-old nephew who is clearly over weight. Plus, I think I have a food compulsion. I make light of it most of the time, joking about eating Two-Bite brownies, but when you stuff yourself to the point of making yourself sick, there is clearly something wrong. Would my Mom take out a pack of cigarettes and pass it around? No! But all this crap is just as bad. She doesn’t seem to see that she is poisoning not only herself, but her kids and her grand-children too.

Anyway, this morning I asked her why she goes out and buys all this stuff and of course she got upset. She says she only does it at Christmas which is freakin’ bullshit! She buys this crap because she wants it but doesn’t want to feel guilty eating it so by having us stuff our faces, it relieves her guilt. She was pissed and ended the conversation abruptly. I just know she is going to call one of my sisters and say: ”I can’t do anything right”. Ugh.

It just really upsets me because I feel like my eating issues stem from my upbringing. My Mom was always “dieting” when I was growing up and always complained about her weight issues. She would also hide junk food and eat it in secrecy. I find myself doing that as well. Like, sometimes I will buy junk and eat it in my room so my roommates don’t see me. :-( It worries me and it makes me scared for the example I will be setting for my future children. Last night my Mom saw me take more Ferrero Rocher and stuff it down my mouth and she laughed. She thinks it's funny that I stuff myself to the point of being sick. She finds it cute because she thinks it makes me happy… no! It makes me sick. It makes me feel bad about myself. Grrr.

Rant #3
Now, about a boy. New Year’s Eve I went out with mystery airport guy (MAG… I’d use his real name, but I’m afraid it would be too much commitment and would jinx me). We went out for supper and actually had a lovely evening. We came home around 11, watched a little TV until the New Year and then he left at 12:05 because I had to work the next morning. Everything was going good with us, but around 11:30 his phone rang. He looks at the number and doesn’t recognise it so he answers. I can hear the other person talking and it’s a girl… it’s his ex-fiancée. He left her in July. She asks him where he is and he says Moncton. She asks him what he did that evening and he says he went out for supper and then she asks him if he can talk and he says no. He hangs up and tells me it was his ex (at least he told me, right). He was clearly upset and just adds, I don’t know why she is calling me… I don’t like it, he adds. I asked him if they’ve talked since they broke-up and he says 4 or 5 times. I’m not sure what to make of this. Seems to me you don’t call your ex close to midnight on New Year’s Even unless you are trying to get him back. I have no issues with exs being friends and I’ve been trying to push it aside, but it’s been bothering me. I want to ask him if he called her back, but I don’t want to seem like the jealous type. I realise he is the one who left, but I also know he really loved her. My understanding is he left because he thought she was cheating on him and that she wasn’t treating him well. It’s different then what happened between Mike and I. I mean, I left but I was miserable with him even though he was not mean or bad to me. I wonder if there is a part of MAG that wishes she would change and that they could get back together. I know how difficult that first year can be even if you are the one who did the leaving. I just remember how I was 6 months after leaving Mike and it’s safe to say I was a complete mess! Anyway, I guess this isn’t really a rant, but more of a mini-complaint, but rant fit the theme better.