On the mend

I met with my psych doc this morning – a follow-up to last month’s med increase. I scored a 4 on the PHQ-9, which is still mild depression, but better than last time I saw him.

I told him that I could tell I was on the up-swing. I’m not feeling hopelessness anymore. My husband and I are dealing with a major life event, and it didn’t send me plummeting; I’m handling this stressful situation without succumbing to great distress.

I’m able to track a whole Netflix show – that’s improvement. I’m reaching out to relationships again instead of wanting to isolate – I joined a women’s Bible Study. I haven’t gone back to volunteering, but I hope to soon. I’m sleeping through the night again, instead of the 2-hour-middle-of-the-night insomnia.

I’m still struggling to concentrate when reading. I’m trying to follow Noom, but can’t seem to stay in my calorie allowance, so I’m a bit discouraged at my lack of self-discipline. That’s an improvement, though; before, I didn’t care.

I’ve mentioned my new therapist and our difficulties in timeliness. But I’ve decided that I really like talking to her, so I’m just going to build in some extra time around our appointments, knowing there will probably be some delays. It feels good to have that decided.

My husband and I have some major changes coming up in our near future, and I need to manage those with gentleness. I’ve asked friends to pray, and we’re following God’s direction for our next steps. I know that if I’m seeking His will, He will direct our path. Today’s blog post from Fresh Hope was very timely – about managing a mental health diagnosis in the midst of change. Just what I needed to hear. Thank You, Lord, for those reminders.

Wishful thinking.

“Just pray harder.”

“Why don’t you take a walk in the sunshine?”

“Count your blessings!”

“There are so many who are worse off than you.”

And my mantra: “This, too, shall pass.”

All of these are perhaps well-intentioned, but unhelpful pieces of advice for a depressed person.

I can’t think myself out of depression. Though this time I really tried.

Each day, I answer a mood question, “On a scale of 1-9, how’s your mood?” And when I’m in a healthy mental state, my mood runs at 7 or 8. (9 and 10 are reserved for “extremely good” and “exceptional,” which usually happens when my husband and I are on an adventure or my whole family is together.)

Shortly after Christmas, my mood started running at 7 and 6. Then it dropped down to 6 and 5. Then it was solid days of 5.

I felt like I was handling 5. I didn’t see it as concerning. I was still going to my job, my volunteering. I came home and was tired, but that’s not unusual – it’s the middle of winter, so of course my mood is down a bit.

I started having trouble sleeping – waking at 2am or 3am for a couple of hours, night after night. I wrote it off to being in my mid-50s, that time in my life, etc.

I stopped reading my books, including ones I had been excited to devour. I couldn’t concentrate. And some of the Netflix shows we watched didn’t hold my attention for the entire hour. I’d get up and get a snack: “No, don’t pause it; it’s ok; I’ll be right back.”

I told my friends that I was fighting depression. And I thought I was. But in reality, I wasn’t doing anything but letting it take me further down the tunnel.

I thought it would go away. I thought I would bounce back. For six weeks I let it push me deeper and deeper, but I kept denying it. Or at least minimizing it.

The thing about depression is – my brain is broken during an episode. I don’t think clearly. So I couldn’t see that depression wasn’t going to go away by itself. Even though I know better, I somehow thought that I could will myself out of depression.

I told my husband that if my mood dipped to 3, I would see the psych doc for a med adjustment. And my mood dipped to 4, for several days in a row.

At the same time, I caught a bad head cold, so I continued to “write off” my mood – this time because I wasn’t feeling well.

And then, I tanked. My mood hit 3. I left a message for the doc that I needed to see him.

On our way out of church Sunday, my husband encouraged me to not beat myself up for taking so long to see my psych doc. He reminded me that I gave myself parameters, and I abided by those guidelines: mood = 3 means call for a med check.

I admitted that I am beating myself up a bit. I know better! I know depression doesn’t go away by itself. But he’s right – I did what I said I would do.

I met with the psych doc this morning. He doesn’t want me to plummet (too late), so we’re boosting two of my meds. And because I took my fine sweet time getting in to see him, I’m going to be on these adjusted meds for several months. Hopefully, it won’t take that whole time to begin to feel better.

It is true: “This, too, shall pass.” But not without a helpful push from the doctor.

The role of therapists in my life.

from my therapist’s office

My first therapist was Bill, and I saw him a few times when I was in college. I distinctly remember visiting him before I graduated from school. I was moving back home for some surgery, and wanted his help in learning how to navigate old communication patterns. The tools he gave me were very useful as I adjusted from independence to needing help. I was grateful for the techniques I learned, and I think it made my stay at home a smooth one in an otherwise difficult time.

Ted was my next therapist, about 20 years later. I first started with Ted in April 2008. His practice was recommended to me by someone at the church office. I dialed three times and hung up before I finally let the call go through and scheduled the intake appointment.

I remember “clicking” with him almost immediately. Good thing, because I was in desperate need of someone to help me with my jumbled emotions. I was in my mid-40s, we had just moved back to town, and I had expected to pick right up with old friendships and circumstances. But instead, I was feeling incredibly sad and couldn’t shake it. I tried, but was unable to explain to my husband what was wrong. I could only cry. We both agreed that I needed to talk to someone.

So Ted has been with me from the beginning of my depression, which started that summer, and for all the years since. He was with me through the very worst. When I was at my lowest. When I didn’t think I could go on living. Through my hospitalization. He helped me through the trauma and drama of deep depression, during the days when it was overwhelming and suffocating. He helped me navigate through the darkness and slowly back into the light. And he did this several times as I repeated my depression over seven years.

Ted knows me so.well. Maybe even better than I know myself. He can take the words I say and make them make sense. He finds the thread between my random thoughts, puts order to them and gives them back to me. And he’s done this for me for years.

Ted has served as my coach, as my educator, as my mentor, and as my confidant. I didn’t share with him in place of sharing with my husband, but he helped me to formulate my thoughts in a way that my husband could receive them. So that I could say what I wanted my husband to hear, instead of getting lost in my emotions or randomness. He always pointed me back to my husband.

Ted’s a Christian, and he prays for me at our appointments. He helped me sift through the spiritual battle versus the mental illness, and reminded me regularly that Christ is with me in my depression. He was the first one to really help me see Jesus standing alongside me as I struggled to fight for my mental health.

Ted helped me navigate some difficult memories. He worked with me on abandonment fears. He let me sound off about things that made me angry and helped me learn to express anger in a healthy way, instead of squelching it like I used to. He pointed out my faulty thinking, and gave me a different story than the one I was telling myself. He challenged my all-or-nothing thinking. He showed me that I speak to myself in questions, and I “should” on myself a lot.

I remember one time in particular when he really pissed me off. It’s when he pretended to be me. He told me everything I was thinking, including the things I hadn’t said out loud. I was so angry! Or maybe I was just afraid, because I had been vulnerable enough for him to see through me, to know the way I think and how I form my opinions and thoughts, and he nailed it!

I don’t worship him, nor would he ever let me. But I do have a really hard time finding a therapist, because everyone gets held up to the measuring stick of Ted. And they often fall short. It’s not a fair comparison, I know, because they don’t have the years with me like he does. So of course they don’t know me like he knows me, which puts them at a huge disadvantage when I start comparing.

I found a Christian therapist when we moved to Florida, and she was kind and gentle and accepting. I drove 40 miles one way to see her, and it was worth it. She helped me through the grieving process of relocating, and together we navigated a depressive episode with faith in Christ as my healer.

I’ve tried three therapists here – one was a hit for a little over a year. We just “broke up,” as she is moving to her private practice and I’m looking for a Christian counselor.

But I know that I’ll always have Ted. He’s promised me many times that he’ll always “be there” for me, and he always has been. I haven’t needed him as much as I used to – I’ve found these other therapists over the years who have been helpful. But I suspect I will always reach out to Ted in my depressed moments, for just a word of understanding from him to ease me through the darkness again. And he’ll point me back to my husband, and remind me that Christ is with me.

Now that’s a good therapist!

What’s for Dinner?

What are we having for dinner? Oh, how I hate this question! Ever since I’ve been a grown-up, where I’ve had to decide for myself – or my family – I’ve dreaded the evening mealtime.

I’m not a good cook. I can follow a recipe, no problem, but I don’t love being in the kitchen. My sister got all of that talent (and she’s really good at it)!

I don’t remember how we figured out dinner, those five years before we had children. I do recall making menus when the kids were little, and basing my grocery shopping off of the dinner menus for the week. Usually, I’d plan the main dish – the protein – and “wing it” for the vegetable – canned green beans or frozen corn or salad from a bag. It used to drive my husband crazy! He’d ask, “What’s for dinner!” and I’d tell him, say, hamburgers. And he’d want to know what else, which I never had planned! We’d both feel frustrated at figuring out our dinner routine.

We tried multiple approaches: daily menus in detail, general weekly shopping basics, a cartful of veggies with a bag of frozen chicken breasts. Nothing ever really worked, and dinner always felt a little hodge-podged.

And if my hubby was traveling, all options were open. Popcorn, with sides of grapes and sugar-snap peas? Sure, we can have that for dinner! Or cereal. Or mac-n-cheese. Maybe carrots to round out the veggies, or at least to look like I tried!

The best we’ve done, I think, is since it’s back to the two of us. The kids are grown and gone – they have to figure out their own meals! And now my husband and I eat frozen pizza or carry-out sushi or take-out Chinese (tonight). In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been to the local pub for delicious “‘merican burgers,” and we finish eating before the live (loud) band starts playing! Or we grocery shop together, often with a few recipes we find, the ingredients on the grocery list. Then my husband will cook, and I assist and do clean-up. It works!

Recently, we started receiving Hello Fresh. We signed up for the vegetarian menu, as a way to force vegetables on us. And it’s a cinch! I clean the veggies, he chops and cooks, we eat delicious food, and I clean up the dishes. There are almost never any left-overs; they have the recipe designed for perfect serving sizes. That’s only a bummer when it’s a “keeper” recipe – one of the most delicious ones. But they send the full recipe, not just the needed ingredients, so we can duplicate the meal in the future.

I’m still not great at eating vegetables. I’ll grab fruit regularly; veggies are tough for me. But this meal delivery system has helped.

And while we’re still trying to figure out how to plan meals for two, I’m getting better at reaching for veggies in the produce section.

What’s for dinner? Sweet potatoes and broiled broccoli florets!

Again?

Yesterday, I took the PHQ-9, which is the short questionnaire that doctors and psych docs give to determine if depression is present. I scored a 6, which means mild.

I’ve felt it for a little over a week. The downward pull towards feeling flat. So far, it’s just been moments each day, not all day every day. It’s actually depression if the symptoms are over the course of two weeks. So maybe I overestimated and my score is less than 6. But even 4 indicates mild depression. And the fact that I took the quiz in the first place is a red flag to me that I’m concerned about my mental health. I’m noticing that something is “off.”

In church this morning, I was wondering “Why?” I’m doing all the right things. I’ve been replacing negative thoughts with God’s truth. I know I’m deeply loved. I’m using my blue-light lamp. I’m writing daily in my gratitude journal. I’m in God’s Word every morning. I’m trying to make healthy food choices, mostly. So what caused this change? Why would it come back?

Maybe it’s that time of year – mid-winter. Even in VA, with warmer weather and more sunshine than in the Midwest, it’s still clearly winter, with all the naked trees and cold winds.

I just read an article that says that January 24th is the hardest day of the year. That’s right around the time I admitted to my husband and best friend that I was struggling.

My first psych doc told me that February is a very hard mental health month. Maybe I’m anticipating that. February has traditionally been a tough month for me. So maybe it’s “mental muscle memory.”

But for whatever reason, I’m fighting depression again. It’s not bad, not yet anyway. I promise not to wait too long, to call my psych doc if it continues. But he’ll just up one of my meds, which I don’t want to do!

I see a new therapist in two days, a Christian counselor. Maybe he’ll be able to help.

In the meantime, I’ll be honest with my husband about how I’m feeling. I’ll keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing to fight it off. I’ll work up the courage to ask others to pray for me, combatting my own feelings of stigma and failure that I didn’t keep it away. I’ll remind myself that I didn’t fail – it’s just something I have to deal with, my cross to bear.

“This, too, shall pass.”