Christmas when Depressed

I’ve read several posts lately, encouraging folks who are struggling with depression in ways to manage this season. I began to think of one of the Christmases when I was depressed, probably the worst one. I’m going to look through my journal from that time, and see what steps I took to manage my emotions then.

I had just recently been released from a short stay in the psych ward (December 6-10). My parents live in NE, my sister in MO, and we were in WI at the time. So my family hadn’t seen me, and only knew how I was doing based on what my husband was sharing with them. But God had known that we would need to be together, so my sister invited us to come to her house for the holidays. Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine Christmas at our house – I assumed it would be as miserable as I was feeling. I didn’t know how I would manage the drive (I ended up sleeping most of the way in the backseat of the van), but it really appealed to me to be someplace other than my home for the holiday. Besides, my parents would be there, too, and they’d all get to see first-hand how I was doing. I hoped that would bring them some peace.

I distinctly remember taking a lot of naps. Like one in the morning and another one in the afternoon! I needed rest – sleep – not just a break. But I needed respite, too, from the commotion of three families in one house, so I escaped to the bedroom a few times just to get some silence. I had an anti- anxiety pill that I was taking to help alleviate the shaking hands. Shoot, my whole body was shaking as I was adjusting to new medications, so I regularly had to excuse myself and go take my meds.

I remember after a nap, sitting on the couch in my sister’s living room, a room away from the TV. It was quieter there, more peaceful. My mom sat with me on the couch and I shared a little of what I remembered from the hospital. My voice trembled as I told her of the surroundings, the activities, the doctor.

I know we watched TV, but I recall finding it hard to concentrate. Several times, I got up and moved to the kitchen, where I could hear the TV but not see the bright lights from it. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a soda, and tried to focus on the conversation with my sister.

My husband helped shield me a lot, and kept an eye on me and my mood and energy levels. He probably made excuses for me when I had to leave the room. I’m grateful to him for running interference for me.

The trauma of me being in the hospital subsided for my kids a bit as they were distracted by their younger cousins, and reading entertaining books. It was good for them to be away from our home that year.

As always, my sister took care of delicious meals – she is an excellent cook – and my brother-in-law did all the dishes. I don’t remember doing any work of any sort – not that I was capable of it, anyway.

We didn’t stay long – just a couple of days. I know my family would have liked us to stay longer, but I could only manage a few days before I needed to get back to the safety of my own bed.

My journal reveals that by the time we went home, I was only taking one anti-anxiety pill a day. Seems like the family visit was just what I needed.

So my suggestions for how to handle depression this season, from my own personal experience? To the best of your ability, surround yourself with people who love you. But don’t be afraid to take a break from them – give yourself a time-out when you need one. Nap if you have to. Eat well. Rest. Take your meds as prescribed. Don’t be over-stimulated. Don’t overcommit. Give yourself permission to a slower, quieter pace.

It takes time, but it will get better. Even in deep depression, there are moments of lightness. Enjoy those.

And did I mention taking a nap?!

Psych Ward, part 3

(I don’t remember much about my four-day stay in the Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at the hospital, but I do have some “pictures” in my head to help me recall pieces of it. Even today, lots of it are just fuzzy memories.) 

I checked into the psych ward on Sunday. I know that on Monday, I went to the nurses’ station near the Commons area. This area was enclosed by glass windows, and there was always someone standing outside of it, like a guard. I asked to use the phone and called my church. I think I told the receptionist that I was in the hospital and asked if Pastor Andy could visit me. As clergy, he wasn’t restricted to visiting hours, so he came and met with me later that day, I think. There was a small room off the Commons area where patients could meet “privately” (with as much privacy as is allowed in a psych ward, anyway.) My pastor met me there; I have no idea what I said. I asked him a few weeks later, just to be certain that I hadn’t done or said anything to embarrass myself or him. He assured me that I hadn’t. I had wanted to see him so that he could assure me I would be ok, that Jesus understood and was with me, and I’m sure he prayed for me.

I had two friends who visited one evening. They brought me cozy fleece pants, and confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing by getting help. I remember feeling very comforted by good friends who cared enough to see me in an uncomfortable place.

My husband came for every visiting hour.

And my kids came once, I think one of them came twice. I don’t remember asking my husband to bring them, but it seems that I did. Very quickly, I regretted that I had. I still wish they had never seen me there. The trauma of going through two locked doors was too much – and my flat affect, my lack of energy or any enthusiasm whatsoever – I don’t think they had known how sick I was, but they couldn’t miss it when seeing me on the psych ward. It must have been pretty awful for them. I’m very sorry I put them through that.

At some point, I remember seeing Dr. Larson. It might have been the first or second day – I’m not sure, since time blurred together. He was in my room, and I was looking right at him but couldn’t see his face because he was leaning up against the window and all I could see was his silhouette as the sun shone through from behind him. He was completely in shadow. But I know it was him – I knew his gentle voice. He was telling me about the different medicines we were trying. I remember thinking that I just wanted to go back to sleep. I’m still not sure what I said “Yes” to.

My last night there, I had a roommate. I was in bed when she came in – she laid down and was crying. I tried to say Hi, and she responded, but I ended up leaving the room for a while so she could have some privacy. When I came back in, I packed my things and went to bed.

I slept almost the entire time I was in the hospital. I later learned that’s exactly what has to happen for the brain to heal. The over-saturation of serotonin created a type of brain injury – there is no way to help it get better without sleeping. Dr. Larson gave special permission (Karen told me this later) to sleep all I wanted – no more group attendance requirements. No wonder everything blurs together – I think I slept through it all. But I know I didn’t dream it.

I don’t regret going to the psych ward – I think it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I actually tried to go several years later, when another medication caused a negative brain chemical reaction. Because I had been helped the first time, I knew it was the right thing to do. (I was unable to enter the ward because all of the beds were full – but that’s for another blog post.)

Psych Ward, part 2

(I don’t remember much about my four-day stay in the Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at the hospital, but I do have some “pictures” in my head to help me recall pieces of it. Even today, most of it is just a fuzzy memory.)

I checked into the hospital on SundayThe rest of the four days are blurry: I slept a lot. 

I had to go to “Group” – twice, I think. The first time, Group was me and a young man, meeting at a low round table with a nurse who read through some pages and a booklet. All I heard was Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Waa waaa wa waaa.” The second time I went to Group, it was just me and the nurse, hardly a “group.” When she asked if I understood, I said, “Yes” so that she would let me leave and go back to bed. It was weeks after getting out of the hospital that I reread all of the materials I was given from my stay. As I was reading, I had a vague recollection of sitting at the table with her. Blurry memory, though.

I recall being awakened once by a nurse who seemed irritated that I was sleeping; she told me I had to get up and go to Recreational Therapy. As I stepped out into the hall, I was completely surprised to see Karen walking by – she was the Rec therapist! I greeted her like the old friend she was, and wondered if it shocked her to see me in the psych ward. We had become friends through our daughters and story time at the library 13 years before! I hadn’t seen her in a very long time – probably 4 years before this. It ended up being ok that I had to go to Rec Therapy, because Karen and I got to talk, filling each other in on our daughters’ lives. The young guy was there, too. I made a small stuffed fleece pillow – the tie kind (I gave it to my dog when I got home). Karen sought me out later in the day and gave me my lip balm (it had my name on it) – she had found my little pouch.

I remember a couple of meal times – my goodness, it was an odd bunch in the Commons. I didn’t see the young man, but I remember an older woman, an older man, a middle-aged lady, maybe another man, perhaps a total of six of us. I think we sat with two or three of us per round table, but I also remember being alone. Or maybe that’s just how we all felt – alone in the group. The TV was on, but no one was really watching – not even the nurses – I think they had their own TV. There was someone yelling, then screaming – down the hall. People rushed in his direction. Maybe it was the young man.

One time that I was out of my room and in the Commons, I tried to do some coloring. I think I worked on a puzzle too, but it was too hard to concentrate, and I couldn’t see well enough for the detail in the pieces. The young man was there, with people who I’m assuming were his parents, and he was crying hard. The man with him looked angry. The boy ended up yelling at them.

On the 6th Floor Behavioral Health Unit: Psych Ward, part 1

I don’t remember much about my four-day stay in the Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at the hospital, but I do have some “pictures” in my head to help me recall pieces of it. Still, lots of it is just a blur.

It was Sunday, maybe mid-morning. I had packed a bag with some of my things, per Dr. Larson’s suggestion. I had also Googled what to pack to take to the psych ward, so that I knew to label everything with my name. I had some comfy clothes, my slippers, a toothbrush and paste. I had a small pouch with my name written in Sharpie, and my favorite lip balm, some lotion and cuticle cream. I remember that I was always putting on hand lotion and nail cream and lip stuff – my skin was so dry. Looking back, I wonder if it was a side effect of the medication withdrawal.

I was a little nervous as my husband and I drove to the hospital. I recall asking myself over and over if I was doing the right thing, but I honestly couldn’t come up with an alternative. Staying at home, moving from the bed to the couch, in tears and fear and feeling completely out-of-body was too hard to do anymore. I don’t remember talking much on the way. I don’t remember what we had told the kids. I just kept wishing we would get there so I could get started on healing. My reasoning was that if I was with my doctor, he could move my medicine changes along more quickly than what he had us doing at home.

I had to enter from the emergency room, so we parked and walked in together. I told the woman at the front desk that I wanted to be admitted to the psych ward. My husband and I took seats in the waiting area – he held my hand; I might have been shaking. It wasn’t long before I was called back to the triage nurse for assessment – I told her that I wanted to go to the psych floor because I was afraid for myself, and my doctor was there and I needed his help. I said goodbye to my husband, someone took my bag, and I was wheeled through indistinct hallways and an elevator to the 6th floor.

In my room, a nurse told me to put all of my clothes in a bag she gave me. She had two hospital gowns I could wear so that nothing showed out the back, plus a lightweight robe. I was told that I couldn’t have my things until the doctor had seen and approved them, which might not be until the next day. I remember thinking how much warmer my own clothes would have been, even with the hospital robe on top of the gowns.

I don’t really remember much else about that day. I do know I took a nap – I was cold and so tired. And my hubby came to see me for visiting hours that evening.