I'm in a decent frame of mind right now.
Because I'm feeling this side of perky, which for me means being willing to poke a wasp nest with a stick, I thought I'd bring up a subject I've done a lot of thinking about over the years. I haven't talked about this on the blog, or anywhere really, except with a very few close friends. I'm talking the Big D, the blues, melancholia (my favorite) or as is commonly known, depression.
During my fifteen or so years in the field of horse training and riding instruction, I noticed horses attract a lot of people with various brain induced issues. ADD folks love horses, abuse victims are often drawn to them, and many people suffering from various levels of depression find relief in owning, riding, or just petting a quiet horse.
I'm one of them. It wasn't until I was an adult that I even knew I had a problem. When I finally understood what was going on, I was firmly convinced my depression came from environmental causes. Which for me, meant taking a much closer look at my life, both past and present, deciding which of my problems were out of my control and which were not, and doing something about the ones I could.
During this phase of self-discovery, I became a better person, stronger, kinder, and more in control of my destiny, but I didn't get better. Every stinking time I took one of those "Are You Depressed?" tests I always ended up in the red zone. You know the ones I mean, after I added up my points I was supposed to turn myself in RIGHT NOW because I was absolutely frigging looney tunes.
Then I found out I had Parkinson's Disease (PD). One of the first things I learned was that depression is one of the gifts graciously given to people with PD (PPD) from our dopamine destroying brains. It's gift that keeps on giving too. It has been recently found that depression can be a primary symptom of PD and been screwing with PPD for years before diagnosis. Medication helps, but it's a problem I'll more than likely get to play with for the rest of my life.
My thoughts were, Fine. I'll accept and deal, after all, I've been dealing for years.
I stepped up, got in therapy, took my meds and kept on trucking.
Then one day, I read this lovely little missive on a blog (everything I want to stick in your brain is printed in blue).
------ " Please raise your hand if you have ever been significantly depressed and genuinely wanted to curl up and die or even seriously thought about ending it all, but instead, because you are responsible, got off your butt and fed your kids and/or your horses and went to work anyway. My hand is up. I bet most of your hands are, too. I simply do not believe that any significant portion of society suffers from depression so crippling that they cannot function at all. Most of us have the ability to kick ourselves in the ass and get moving again, and most of us do just that. Bear in mind, I am not saying that catatonic levels of depression do not exist – just that they are rare, and that too often, depression is an excuse for lying around like a lump not even trying to improve your life or live up to your responsibilities. (Cue flaming from people who do not understand this paragraph and will feel the need to write 2000 words on their horrible depression and how I just don’t get it)." --
My first reaction was overwhelming guilt and a sense of worthlessness. Why? Well, that's what we depression patients do, right?
Plus, in the past, I have neglected both my family and my animals.
I was busted, outed, caught red-handed trying to shove my dirty little secret deep into my pocket.
I justified the neglect I had allowed to take place, I never had child or animal services show up at my door and talk with me, issue a citation or take away those nearest and dearest to my heart.
My justification wasn't working for me though, I am not one to let myself ever catch a break. Also, I have a basic premise I have lived by for years and still believe firmly in, many of you have read this before.
There are always reasons, but never excuses.
My responsibility was to learn the most I could about myself, physically, mentally and chemically, and make sure I had the tools to take care of those most important to me --no matter where my head was on any given day. I started with making sure I understood what my diagnosis meant. Here's some information I think is crucial when it comes to understanding what's going on.
The Merck Manual - for health care professionals
Major depression: Periods (episodes) that include mental or physical symptoms and are classified as major depression. One of the symptoms must be sadness deep enough to be described as despondency or despair (often called depressed mood) or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities (anhedonia). Other mental symptoms include feelings of worthlessness or guilt, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, and a reduced ability to concentrate. Physical symptoms include changes in weight or appetite, loss of energy, fatigue, psychomotor retardation or agitation, and sleep disorders (insomnia, hypersomnia, early morning awakening). Patients may appear miserable, with tearful eyes, furrowed brows, down-turned corners of the mouth, slumped posture, poor eye contact, lack of facial expression, little body movement, and speech changes (soft voice, lack of prosody, use of monosyllabic words). Appearance may be confused with Parkinson's disease. In some patients, depressed mood is so deep that tears dry up; they report that they are unable to experience usual emotions and feel that the world has become colorless and lifeless. Nutrition may be severely impaired, requiring immediate intervention. Some depressed patients neglect personal hygiene or even their children, other loved ones, or pets.
National Institute of Mental Health
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) :
MDD is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44
MDD affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year
While MDD can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32
MDD is more prevalent in women more than men
Definition of Depression from the World (WHO)
“Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individuals ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities.At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850 000 thousand lives every year.”
“... A is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without , symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression.”
My next, much healthier reaction to the blog post was F#$@%^*# A##H^&#@!
Obviously this woman had never been in the pits of a dark depression. The insult of being lumped in the same group as animal abusers and crazy hoarders was incredibly stupid and cruel.
Uneducated rants like hers don't help anybody, they just feed the fire of ignorance by choice.
So how do I fight back, when all I want to do is crawl into bed and hate myself?
I started therapy, to help me delve into the intricacies of depression and how it affected me. I'm a very private person, therapy is excruciating for me. I didn't have a history of talking about my worries and fears with anyone, especially myself. I stuck with it though.
The next phase for me was learning to let go of my own snap judgments. I worked hard on finding kindness and sympathy, even if I had to fake it. I'll be darned if I didn't begin to understand that most angry people were scared.
Training horses began to change for me. I went deep, worked hard to understand my relationship with horses and theirs with me. Then I let it all go and began to work without all the baggage. My horses got better and better.I got more accomplished with them than ever before in a much shorter time frame.
I began to find balance.
Am I all better? No. But I'm working on it.
Now, back to my no excuses rule.
Depression is a fact in my life. It is my REASON for letting things fall down around my ears. It is not an EXCUSE. It doesn't matter if my depression gets better or not, I can't let it effect the well-being of my family or animals. Here's where I'm at to keep them protected, even if I end up bat-shit-crazy someday.
1. Learn to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming bout of depression.
This is different from person to person. My first warning signs are when I'd rather eat raw cookie dough than cook dinner and not maintaining my fish tank.
2. Talk about it.
You don't have to tell the world, just someone you can count on to keep an eye on you and knows who to contact.
3.. Have help lined up to step in when you are heading into a depressive state.
This can be a good friend stopping by to ask the kids what they had for dinner, or to see if your housekeeping has changed. Maybe a relative can be available to check in and take over some of the responsibilities that are suddenly overwhelming you. Have temporary help available to feed and care for your animals.
4. Therapy, therapy, therapy.
Make damn sure a medical professional knows what's happening.
5. Be Prepared
Get your ducks in a row when you are mentally in a good place, not wallowing in the blues.
Now that I have these precautions in place I don't worry about letting those in my care down, at least not as much. I know being prepared has helped me be more honest with myself. It's definitely made my over-loaded backpack easier to carry. I have also found a third reaction to the writer of that horrid post, sympathy. Does she scream with such anger and judgement because she's hiding from her own night terrors?
I don't know, and until I can ride a mile or two in her boots and spurs, I won't know.
I do know I can ride when I'm sad and feel much, much better without the burden of guilt I carried before.