When my grandfather’s mental state diminished I remember seeing the pain my family felt as his advancing Alzheimer’s and dementia took away who he was. My greatest fears include the loss my sight, death in general, and death of self, particularly in the form of memory loss.
Following my divorce I had to come face to face with a side effect of depression that sometimes feels just as painful as the anhedonia. The seven years I spent with my ex-wife started to fade after the first six month I left what was our home. Little by little, consciously or subconsciously I started to push the memories down or forget them outright. It’s been over a year since that process started and now I find I can barely see her face.
Depression has an impact on memory and sometimes the unsettling randomized loss or gaps I experience scare me half to death. Feeling like seven years of your life are simply gone is painful. The suppression in my case is very specific, isolated to those things relating to my ex and the marriage. The residual emotional currents are still there, sometimes I feel them as I wake up, like waking from a walking nightmare or a dream I can’t visualize. It’s weird to think that for me, I want nothing more than those echos to be gone so that I have no connection to those seven years.
Depression takes a lot away from you, sometimes because you need to protect yourself, sometimes because part of you is running from something. Figuring out what I can still hold onto and what has to go has been one of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make.
June hasn’t been going particularly smoothly for me. Had my share of set backs, fighting depressive episodes more and more. Number of contributing factors that I am at least aware of, divorce related legal/financial matters, trying to save up for my own place, birthday around the corner. The news and general state of the world sort of ‘doom and gloom’ constantly in the spotlight hasn’t helped ease my fears.
One of the most of difficult things for me has always been when the world seems to hold more questions than I can take on at a time. When my mind is stuck there in maximum rumination mode and loops on things I can’t figure out over and over again. When I can find no good course of action to take to solve the problems at hand in my life. You feel impotent, unable to move forward. So things don’t really change they just creep along and evolve.
I’ve tried to get myself back into a normal exercise routine, even if it’s just short hikes or walks. Weather however hasn’t been helpful rain and summer heat and humidity. Picked up a light weight Camelback pack to help me stay hydrated. I’ve always had an issue with that when I’m out and about.
Hoping to keep my head above water, more consistent diet, a bit of exercise but it’s getting harder and harder to find self-motivation. I can only hope that this summer goes quickly and I can find myself back at a point where I’m better able to balance things.
I’ll admit, while I may not suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with my dysthymia and anxiety I feel like I’m almost the inverse of the norm on SAD. I actually dread summer more than winter or fall.
This summer in particular has been a little rough. Legal and financial matters to tie up relating to the divorce have weighed on me, the weather here is humid and muggy making my usual days just that much more uncomfortable. I’ve tried to focus on short-goal projects as of late. A new VMware lab to tinker with, study material, the occasional game now and then.
When most folks are enjoying the outdoors and celebrating, I recoil and look inward. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls in the middle of summer and this year in particular I have no desire to celebrating getting older. Slowly managing to drag myself outside more as needed, but rarely for ‘pleasure’. I take no joy in going out to see what’s out there. As a close friend described it, life is grey. Sometimes I feel like summer turns me into more of a vampire as I’d rather venture out at night or in the early hours of the morning both to avoid the summer crowds and to avoid the heat. I can barely look back upon my memories and imagine that I ever looked forward to the summers off.
Father’s day is coming up later in the month and given the events of the last two years, divorce, depression it’s made me a bit introspective. My own relationship with my father is non-existent and I realize a sizable chunk of that stems from my own childhood experiences with divorce.
Seeing my parents drift apart and eventually divorce was a painful experience in my pre-teens. Sometimes I wondered how much of it was my fault, I wondered how my father felt about the whole process. Having gone through it myself, I have an idea for the challenges he must have had. Mercifully my ex-wife and I didn’t have children. I doubt I’d be writing today if kids were a factor in my divorce. Looking back I realize just how often I questioned my own fitness at the prospect of becoming a parent. I honestly don’t know if that will ever really be the case for me or if maybe I’ll just serve as a cool uncle for the remainder of my days.
Never been one for holidays but this time around Father’s day has weird sting for me. Maybe I’m just over thinking something that may never be or dwelling on things I can’t change. The weight of it still sits with me but I try to focus on the things I can change for now and not the ones that have passed.
The process of my last major depressive episode involved me dropping weight at a very unhealthy pace (then conversely gaining it all back at an equally unhealthy pace). The reality was I stopped taking care of myself and the biggest and fastest slide was in my diet. I rarely ate and when I did it was often food that wasn’t particularly good for me. In the end it made an already bad problem that much worse and harder to get out of.
I still battle with depression daily but I try to make a few shortcut choices in cooking to help with the days where motivation is a chore. While it sounds fancy, sous vide cooking is nothing more than a water-bath slow cooking method to keep your food at an exact temperature for as long as needed. This means that you can get very accurately cooked steak or very tender pork as an example. I personally use an Anova 800W sous vide to make steak, chicken and pork dishes. Quickly cooling and freezing some of the meals means you can warm up the item and it will have already been ‘pre cooked’. As an example, below is a basic use for chicken breasts.
Cook Once, Eat Five Times: Five Easy Sous Vide Chicken Breast Recipes
When I’m feeling like rewarding myself, I personally prefer steaks. The upshot to using a sous vide however is that while the steak can be cooked to just the right doneness there’s another benefit, being able to use cheaper cuts of meat. You don’t need to splurge for the full rib eye, a flank steak done right can be almost as tender. Buy a few thick steaks from your local Costcos or Sam Club and the price comes down even further.
Besides protein, I try to find vegetable dishes to cook that can last. One of the easiest dishes to pair with any kind of protein is ratatouille. Sure ok if you watched the Disney animated movie you might think “but that’s too fancy”. You don’t need to be as fancy. Ratatouille is fundamentally a ‘poor mans vegetable stew’.
So why put all that effort up front? Ratatouille goes well with a lot of meats and keeps for several days in the fridge. Make a large batch and you don’t have to worry about thinking “what’s for veggies” at the end of the day.
The weekend’s are always hard but if you’re able to get yourself motivated to cook at least once in the week, it will help you for the remainder of the work week when things may be even harder. It sounds like a massive hurdle and I admit it isn’t easy, but eating fast food constantly or dosing up on canned, instant meals high in sodium and low in other essential vitamins doesn’t help you body. We often think of depression as being strictly ‘mental’ but part of that is still tied to our overall health. Autoimmune system, vitamin and mineral levels all contribute to neuroplasticity. While they aren’t a total cure all, they can help you get out of the low-points a bit easier. It’s the same logic as engaging in exercise to improve your health. Personally I find getting out and working out harder than cooking a healthy meal. Depression takes many tools to deal with it, but finding efficient ways of going about it can help.
One of the most embarrassing things about depression, for me at least, has been that during the worst of an episode your personal health takes a nose dive. All of the personal hygiene tasks become heavy and loathsome. (Full disclosure the Feature photo above is just a stock photo)
I won’t attempt to say I understand how difficult it is for women living with depression in that regard but I can say from the male perspective one of the things that usually made me cringe was shaving in the morning. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not equating clean shaven or bearded with a degree of depression. I look terrible with facial hair so I try to look clean shaven as a matter of taste but that process becomes more and more of a drag the deeper my depression. On good days, I can run through a full routine of a wet shave with an old school safety razor. It takes a bit longer but it helps to get me moving in the morning and the quality of the shave makes the exercise fulfilling in its own way. Bad days on the other hand being close to a razor becomes an unsettling effort. So now and then I try to use an electric razor. Recently tried the Philips Norelco OneBlade and if you find it difficult to start your morning routine you may want to give it a once over.
Rechargeable, under $40 and with blades that last several months they are a nice alternative to disposable razors or more expensive 3-head shavers. While not nearly as close a shave as my safety razor, I think it’s a helpful grooming aid. It’s possible to use the OneBlade as a dry shaver or with your choice of shaving cream for a wet shave.
Irritation wasn’t an issue and I don’t have the best skin to begin with. The unit also includes guides for beard use. Taking care of yourself often seems like the biggest waste of time when depression hits hardest so every little tool which helps lessen the burden of taking care of yourself is useful. The cost is also more reasonable than other options.
One of the challenges I’ve had on a near daily basis is juggling my general desire to still enjoy TV shows, movies and books without it adversely triggering a depressive episode or ramping my anxiety.
It’s a very fine line I have to juggle yet some times, some themes and depictions pique my interest. Released in Japan in 2016, the anime feature film Koe No Katachi deals with some very mature subject matter. The themes include deafness/disability, bullying, anxiety, depression even suicide is discussed. Unfortunately while the film had a limited theater release overseas, it has yet to have a US release date. I’m contemplating reading the manga but run the risk at utterly spoiling the movie. The few clips that I have seen and the trailer and reviews from other fans point to a very powerful story and an interesting depiction of some of the lows that are experienced by people who have suffered bullying or a sense of being ostracized.
Other recent shows have also touched upon similar themes. Manchester by the Sea, Thirteen Reasons Why come to mind. Knowing a bit of my sensitivity to these types of shows makes navigating popular and award winning shows a delicate balance. While I was able to finish Manchester by the Sea, it was a difficult viewing. Thirteen Reasons I had to stop by the second episode as the focus on suicide was becoming too much for me to comfortably sit through. While some folks are intrigued at the exploration of the types of sadness and depression shown in such works, I understand that for folks like myself who are living with it day by day it’s a very fine line between respectful artistic discussion and glamorizing it.
As you pick and choose the shows you view always try to keep a sense of perspective and know when to step away. There are still a number of shows from my past that I can’t watch due to various memories and triggers and shows that I actively avoid going forward due to how they impact me. It’s an extra layer of thinking that goes into things but with practice navigating them becomes easier.
Depression itself is a serious topic but I also realized that my blog is very focused on the clinical side of things so I thought periodically it would be a good idea for me to break from that and just talk about less serious topics.
Food plays a pretty big part of my day and food related routines became one of my coping tools. To that end though I do try to find snacks and things that can be portioned and controlled so that I don’t go crazy. One such snack I’ve enjoyed are Daelman’s Stroopwafels (see link below)
More specifically I should say the Mini-Stroopwafels which to me are far easier to portion control. If you’ve read my blog you may have seen that part of my routine to stave off depression is to make a nice hand pour brewed coffee. Stroopwafels, especially the caramel variety go great with a good Kona or French roast. They are small enough that 2-3 will give you a nice little sugar boost without being too sweet.
Normal sized stroopwafels are around four inches in diameter. There’s even a whole process of warming them over your hot coffee to soften them. As fun as that may be, I find the full sized stroopwafel a bit much. Being in my late 30’s I don’t want to get too crazy with the sugar or impact my weight adversely. Indulging in a little snack isn’t terrible but it is an exercise in self control. As I only buy a bag or so at time and only if I’ve been eating healthy otherwise it hasn’t become habit forming. Besides online you can find them at Walmarts (usually individual packages) or at coffee shops. Give them a try if you’re looking to add a little fun to your morning or evening routine.
One of the phrases I often throw about on my blog is the concept of the depression spectrum. For many people I think that’s a difficult thing to visualize as the types of depression aren’t simply a linear scale of increasing severity but a span going from two different extremes.
This was one of the best examples I could find. I suffer from dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder) seen wedged between major depressive disorder and normal mood. My mood essentially hovers in in that blue zone, very rarely do I feel what most people think of as ‘normal’. I have on at least two occasions suffered a major depressive episode, both stemming from very severe stressors in my life. More wide varying forms such as cyclothymia and bipolar I/II disorder can span the emotional gamut and the up/down cycle can be very difficult to predict and deal with. Major depression meanwhile is often what people think of when hearing phrases like ‘crippling depression’.
The one thing I’d want folks to understand is that depression isn’t a strict scale from 1 to 10 and that varying types of depression present with a wide range of mood levels.
8 Signs You Could Have High Functioning Depression
Depression is a tricky thing to pin down due in no small part to the broad range in diagnosis. Terminology has also shifted over the years (DSM classifications) and even how it’s referred to in casual conversation.
For myself, my diagnosis was classified as dysthymia or more commonly these days persistent depressive disorder. While on the lower side of the spectrum along with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it’s the persistence that can be most difficult to live with from a day to day basis. Other more intense forms of depression such as postpartum, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are often the most stigmatized adding even more difficulty for those who want to seek help.
Another phrase I keep hearing thrown about is high functioning depression as opposed to crippling depression. I almost feel like this is something of a misnomer, as it covers such a wide range of the depression spectrum that it seems silly to me. Do not misunderstand, I’m aware that for people who are battling severe depression it can become crippling and literally prevent you from being employed in a conventional work environment, but I feel like the identifier of ‘high functioning’ gives off the wrong message to people. To me it almost marginalizes depression as something that “is there but doesn’t matter” which in part is one of the reasons why it goes undiagnosed and untreated for many of us. I fell into that trap, I figured I could still do my job well enough despite not feeling much of anything (anhedonia) and my isolation and anxiety I just attributed to getting older and being something of a curmudgeon. Friends I’ve talked to often miss the fact that depression isn’t static, it isn’t that you are diagnosed as bi polar and that’s all you ever are, or that having mild SAD or dysthymia means you’re just sort of “feeling the blues”. It’s hard for folks to fathom that triggering events, stressors can tip the scales from mild depression into a full major depressive episode. Once that happens it can be a very high risk time for someone, this is where people ‘snap’ or find themselves spiral so far that suicide becomes a consideration. The best option is to head off the problem before it becomes that severe where possible.
The warning signs are something to be aware of, especially to employers I think, but if you see anything of yourself in these symptoms, I do urge you to get a diagnosis and see about making changes in your life, your prescriptions or just starting the process by talking to someone.