diagnosis

A Celebration of Therapy, In List Form

No treatment method is for everyone, but I think talk therapy gets an especially bad rap, considering the profound upsides.

So today – a little celebration of therapy, in list form:

1. It turns out that there are a lot of treatments out there that work really well and really quickly. EMDR can take as little as one session and can considerably lessen the excruciating feelings left by a traumatic event. Treatment for anxiety and panic has come very far too. Therapists with the right certifications might be able to ease your pain a lot more quickly and easily than you think.

Young at Heart Portrait2. Therapy can reduce your blind spots. There’s nothing like talking to the same person every week about your wellbeing to make you realize things about your wellbeing. And if you’re not seeing clearly when it comes to how you feel (and so many of us aren’t), then you’re working with a huge handicap when it comes to feeling better.

3. Even if you have a fantastic support system, chances are you need more support. Depression attacks the very things we need to see ourselves through the recovery process – motivation, energy, hope. Sometimes I think of therapists as expert advocates – trained professionals who have been through it before, who know the ropes and can help us navigate this crushing disease.

4. Let’s face it, talking helps. Being listened to helps. Having someone who won’t recoil at your dark thoughts, who won’t shun you your jealousies or be scared by your fears – it’s priceless. It allows you some space to have perspective, to welcome in the META THOUGHTS and learn some ways to cope with all. those. overwhelming. feelings.

Here’s to your health.

 

Photo by Nevil Zaveri on Flickr

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Helpful Links

Blue and Droopy and Still BeautifulI recently found a treasure trove of useful links about depression on Reddit.

I was thrilled to see a lecture on depression by Robert Sapolsky, the author of one of the books in the “Books To Chill To” post. The lecture is almost an hour long, but he does a fantastic job of laying out the case for depression as a serious biological condition, and describes the biology and psychology of depression in a compelling and approachable way. I found this video very validating. I think it’ll be helpful not only for friends and family who are trying to understand what their loved one is going through, but also for people in the midst of the shitstorm who doubt the credibility of their own experience and symptoms.

Wing of Madness Depression Guide is an almost twenty year old blog on depression. It’s not overly technical, but it is well researched and the tone is somewhat formal. I love that it has a Start Here post that walks the reader through a context for depression, understanding a diagnosis, and tips on seeking treatment. There are also TONS of links to articles, curated for sufferers as opposed to mental health professionals.

I really like this article from the New York Times. It argues that trying to find an up-side to depression is to minimize the seriousness of the disease. I completely agree.

Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel is more formal than Wing of Madness. If you’re looking for good information about types of depression, symptoms, etc., this is a great, centralized collection of information. They have a mood journal app that I haven’t checked out yet but that looks good. Anything that makes tracking your mood less maddening gets an A+ in my book.

More to come.

 

Photo by Dominic Alves on Flickr

Asking for Help

Flower art asking for helpA few months after my diagnosis I realized that I was desperate for help. I had moved to my home town, a city full of friends and family with whom I had great relationships, but I felt like no one could hear me scream.

Enter: that shitty, mean voice. When I thought about getting help, I couldn’t stop focusing on how it wouldn’t actually fix anything. Even if all my friends and family acted exactly as I wanted them to, I would still be terribly depressed. It wouldn’t fix the traumas I’d suffered in the past, it wouldn’t fix the disillusionment I had good reason to suffer from in the present, and it wouldn’t fix my racing thoughts or terrible nightmares. So why bother? Especially if it’s so hard. Why bother.

Eventually I recognized something in that line of reasoning. It reminded me of that voice that wouldn’t let me enjoy a run years earlier. That, “I’m still in control. Your efforts are useless,”  voice.

But the thing is, the voice brought up a good point. Asking for help wouldn’t fix everything. It probably wouldn’t even fix anything. For me, that’s the hardest part. The voice always seems to have some grain of truth to it, twisted around to make me feel helpless.

I went back and forth about this for weeks. Racing thoughts, rumination. Should I ask for help? How? Why can’t they tell I need it? What good would it do? What do I want from them, anyway? I had no idea.

So I did a weird and awkward thing. I invited eight people – my parents and some close friends – and I had a fucking Asking For Help, like, straight up Event. There were chips, there were peanuts, there were two people skyped in from other cities, and there was me, explaining what I now understood to be my history with depression, and saying I didn’t know what I needed from them but that I needed them desperately.

I realize in hindsight that I was putting my foot down against the voice, against the back-and-forth about whether anyone could ever help at all. I was asking for help in such a public and shared way that I wouldn’t be able to go back on it. No one could pretend it hadn’t happened.

It didn’t fix anything.

But it helped.

 

Read the rest of the story here and here.

The Premise of the Question

The Confused Gaze I once heard what I thought was a very good question to a panel of mental health professionals. “Isn’t it true that mental illness causes myriad physical problems, and that we as a society, and insurance companies in particular, would do better to take that into account in how we treat mental illness?”

I thought to myself, Yes! It causes all sorts of physical problems. Take us seriously, Rest of the Medical Community!

But the panel politely took objection to the premise of the question. They said that mental illness does not need physical illness to make it important. By itself mental illness is an enemy to the productivity of the workforce. By itself mental illness is a cause of profound human suffering. It is not just the cause of other, more consequential public health problems, it is a public health problem, deserving of the same type of public concern as heart disease or diabetes. This is what we mean by mental health parity.

From a public health perspective, the problem with thinking that mental illness can cause other, real illnesses is that it perverts the structure of mental health research and treatment by confusing real recovery with the repression of symptoms and the mitigation of secondary outcomes. It’s bad science.

From a personal perspective, the problem with sticking to a physical interpretation of a mental illness is that it invalidates my suffering. It makes me feel as if I don’t matter.

Screw that.

The Benefits of Treading Water

I’ve written a little before about depression metaphors. Once I hear one that feels right, I tend to stick to a metaphor as if it were true. They’re not true, and I think it’s really important to shop around.

The cliff metaphor seemed appropriate when I was first diagnosed. It captures that idea that you can face a lot of difficulty and still be ok, you can still be on top of the mountain, plodding along. And then something terrible happens in your life or in your brain and suddenly it feels like you’ve fallen. You can no longer even struggle, or you can but it won’t do any good. You’re over the cliff and it feels impossible to help yourself.

Nowadays my favorite metaphor for what I’m dealing with is treading water. It’s constant, it’s difficult, it’s exhausting. Continuing to tread doesn’t feel like it’s making me stronger. It’s just wearing me down.

In those rare moments when I realize that I’m more comfortable than usual, I imagine that the floor has risen, that I’m standing for a bit. I can rest.

The metaphor helps me to recognize those moments and to try to stay in them, to take note of them and try to make them happen again. If I were at the bottom of a cliff I’d be telling myself, Yeah, you might be a little better now, but you are still categorically at the bottom of a fucking cliff!

For me, treading water is less all-or-nothing, and it encourages me to rest whenever I find that I can.

What metaphors do you love or hate? Click the title of this post to comment below, or email me at depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com. Thanks!