Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Horses and Depression

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 Health Organization (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.” 

Definition of Depression from
“... depressive disorder 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 disease cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, 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.


EllMagCoop said...

Mugs- I agree completely that horses draw in those with 'brain induced issues.' This is something that I have often discussed with other horsey friends, which could help to explain why so many in the horse world are fickle. I think horses provide a safe place, someone that can sense our mood and doesn't require justification for the off days. Remember- you are not alone, even when you want to be. You have a whole cyber world of horsey people who are under you to lift you up when you need a little push.

rockymouse said...

Mugs, this is just to say that you are wise and brave and good to post this. You are likely helping more people than you ever know.
Carry on!
(and, as a p.s., I know that the blue meanies are on me when I don't even want to go down to feed/pet/ride my horses. big signal for me there. if I can make myself interact with them, I almost always feel lifted.)

Heila said...

Thanks for this. I talk about my depression whenever there is a gap as I feel the more we educate people, the less the stigma will become. Like rockymouse I also know that when I don't go to see my horse or don't feel like riding it is one of my danger signals... along with not wanting to speak on the phone and losing compassion for my loved ones. Horrible disease, this. Interaction with horses almost always make me feel better, as if they can draw the negative energy out of me and make me feel lighter.

Joy said...

One of my siblings and my closest friend both suffer from bi-polar disorder. They have both experienced very serious depression their whole lives. I have seen how impossible it is for anyone with this disorder to just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". That kind of thinking is ignorant.

Going through this deep grief makes me understand more fully what they go through. And I don't even have depression, just sorrow. My sibling asked me how I know that I'm not getting depressed. I know because I don't have a general malaise. I'm still interested in nature and the things that bring me peace and pleasure. I don't have suicidal thoughts or ideations. And I know why I'm sad. To be so sad without understanding why. That is horrible.

One of the biggest problems is those who judge others. Based on what they do or do not know; it doesn't matter. There is simply no room to judge. We do not and can not understand what the disease can do to someone.

I can't imagine unrelenting sadness with no relief in sight. My heart goes out to everyone who suffers from depression and bi-polar.

redhorse said...

I have to give you a pass on the depression with Parkinsons. It's gotta be tough.

I don't know if the brain disorder horsaii thing go together, they seem to, but maybe the number of people with problems is much bigger than we think. I remember seeing a horse and rider for the first time. I was too young to have any issues yet. I wanted to be on that horse, I was dressed for church, frilly dress, patent leather shoes (my poor mother, I was her first and she wanted to dress me like a doll.) I also remember arguing with some adults about why I should be allowed to get on top of that horse until church started, it would help me keep my shoes clean. That was one of my mother's pet peeves, scuffing my shoes and getting them dirty. I thought I had a winning argument, but instead I heard a lot of adult laughter, and it seemed to have a mean edge to it.

A few years ago I had some medical issues and also became depressed for almost a year. I never wanted to end it because I have too many animals, but I thought it wouldn't be so bad if I just died. Dogs are good for kicking you in the butt too, at least mine are. I can tell when I really need to kick myself and get going because of the way they look at me, they even walk around with a different body language. They never went without a meal or any necessities, but I really felt that I neglected them at that time.

You have a lot of good ideas to keep in mind. I think for me, the best thing is to keep moving and get out in as much sunshine as I can. Today the sun is shining, I've walked my dogs, and now it's time to go out and saddle a horse.

Half Dozen Farm said...

Thanks Mugs. I've battled major depression since I was a teenager. I've always thought that I could "beat it" without help, if I just got off my butt. I'm almost 40 now and I've finally decided that I need help so that I can LIVE life instead of going through the motions (most of the time). I really, really appreciated your honesty in this post.

Half Dozen Farm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mugwump said...

Half Dozen Farm -- I am so much better for the work I'm doing.

shadowlake2005 said...

I too have had chronic depression since my teens, I'm 51 now. Early on, I'd bury our big Ford's speedometer every night, hoping to blow a tire & die withought leaving guilt behind. Fortunately I had an excellent college advisor & I wound up committing myself for a while. A good shrink taught me a lot about bein able to handle my life, which worked up until 15 years ago. Since then its been nearly a constant battle with me & the shrink and the chemicals against the Big D. Often the most I can accomplish is minimal animal and husband care. Reading all this gives me hope. Thanks.

Becky said...

I too believe that I battle depression on and off but for the most part stay in denial about it.
I think that there are some people who use it as a crutch because it is their nature to do so. I think that there are others that have fought with it for so long that they don't really remember any other way to live.
I have a friend that battles severe depression, she will come right out and share that and her other struggles, including some very painful ailments. I always try to let her know how good it is to see her when she will answer her door and just try to listen and be supportive.
I have become more and more interested in nutrition and how it affects that whole body and watched a really interesting documentary that talked about how high doses of niacin can help to improve depression in some people who do not respond to conventional medicines or want to try a less medicated route. It might be worth researching for anyone who is also interested in how nutrition affects the whole body system. Can't remember the name of the documentary unfortunately...but it is on netflix. They were using doses upwards of 15000mg with no side effects.
Thank you for sharing with us.

kyrider said...

Hi. I know now that I've had depression since childhood. Going on paxil made a huge difference in my life. I have to tweak the doseage depending on what's going on in my life. Too much and I'm sleepy all the time, too little and depression sneaks up on me. I also deal with anxiety along with the depression. Panic attacks aren't pretty. Depression is a physical condition just like diabetes. No one would tell a diabetic that they were weak, self-indulgent, lazy, etc and should throw away their insulin because it was all in "their mind". Therapy and good friends help too.
Thanks so much for posting about this.

kyrider said...

P.s. My big draft cross Gentleman John is a great help too. :)

foffmom said...

An oldie but goodie. David Burns book on cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. Unless that is where you took the test that says "Seek professional help now!" Funny, my score was there as well. It really is manageable with work. Oh, in times of stress remember to get enough sleep and basic self-care. Otherwise it can sneak up on you.
And mental illness of any kind is suspect by many. Particularly if they have not dealt with it, or seen it in someone they love. Ignorance is bliss, or is that arrogant ignorance?

Pony Lady said...

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." ~Winston Churchill Or Woman if you prefer.

Depression for me was like swimming underwater- around me was distortion and murkiness. Drugs helped but didn't dissipate the fog.

As a teenager, it was my first horse who pulled me through.

Even in middle age it is knowing my horse is waiting for me that gets me through the day and keeps me going. He helps me see the world differently. It is less dark because he is in my life.

It's something my family never understood, nor does even now.

Andrea said...

My sweet old gelding Quincy saved my life with I was a teenager. I surely would not be here if it wasn't for him. Some days I am still not ok, but on the days that I struggle most, I think of my youth and all the medications, the mental hospitals, the therapy, and the doctors that could not help me - and the little black horse that pulled me through it. I will never stop being thankful or him.

Heidi the Hick said...



Ok I just wrote a freaking essay here and erased it because really all I want to say is YES WHAT SHE SAID. Replace PD with ADHD and that's me. And all of your coping strategies are right on. I know it.

So. THANK YOU. For saying this out loud.

MichelleL said...

You have given many a wonderful gift with your latest piece. Wounds heal from the inside out. Ripping off the band aids and exposing those wounds to the light of day is the only way to heal them.
We are our own harshest critics. Most of the time we would never be as hard on other's as we are on ourselves.
Learning how to forgive ourselves our mistakes and move forward with getting a life we love, and living it, is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Unknown said...

A friend of mine sent me your blog. I too fight depression, trained horses, gave riding lessons most of my life. I did not come to horses because of depression but a lot of my students do. I think that riding is a help in staying in the real world, being in your body and the act of riding is a great stress reliever. Like you my depression is not gone but it is most under control
Thank you for sharing. It is a subject that is talked about much but certainly exists. Gloria

mugwump said...

Gloria -- I have long thought that horses put us in the now.
When we ride especially, so much of our body is in physical contact with another being. We join in the feeling of steady movement, heartbeat, warmth, strength, peace, it takes us from our thoughts and puts in a single moment.
An incredible break from our dark places.
Thank you for writing.

mugwump said...

Andrea - Any chance we can get a Mouthy Monday story about Quincy?
They will be back, I promise.

mugwump said...

ffofmom - "arrogant ignorance," I love it. It describes so many circumstances.
I haven't liked a phrase from these comments this much since "benign dictatorship."

maryka said...

It's an awful thing when you feel that death is not a bad idea & it is not possible to just "pull yourself together". Like the rest of the world I do suffer from mild depression at times but not without a cause.Post natal depression was awful,can remember lying on the settee crying because I didn't think I loved our second son as much as our first & hurt for him.Of course never even thought that I wouldn't be breaking my heart over a child I didn't love duh ! This lasted for about ten months & gave me an insight into the world of the people who suffer with depression in a real way. Did become depressed when I had breast cancer & was having chemo but when I slept well the clouds would lift a bit & think the biggest problem was the steroids I had to take so I wasn't sick. These made me so hyper I didn't sleep for days which left me low. I hope that those of you who are suffering with depression get the help you need when you need it & wish I could give you all a big hug,bless you

Jen said...

Hi Mugs,

Thank you for writing this, I read your blog a lot but haven't commented much.

Your post came exactly in the right time. I had depression a few years back, was a while on drugs, then managed to get on without and only had a few dips down. Now...I'm shattered, tired, I cry often, I don't want to struggle anymore.
I loved what you write about analysing yourself, learning to see the warning signs.
Being honest with myself I know mine isn't a major depression, I get to work, I feed my animals, I'm sort of taking care of myself and sort of of my housekeeping. I am functioning.
What I worry about is...when is a struggle just a struggle (everyone has sad and exhausted days, everyone cries and feels tired) and when do you need help? I haven't gone back to the doctors, I don't want to take medication if this is just minor and maybe I can get through it. How long do you struggle before you need medical help?
Thanks again for writing this, today is a much clearer day and you have helped me to think more about myself.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mugs. Today I went to work leaving my husband asleep on the couch, it has been 30 hours now that he has been sleeping. He has benign essential tremors, chronic dizzines and chronic migraines and has this past year talked more and more about "checking out". He's been to a lot of doctors and had a lot of diagnostics, none covered by insurance so he has about 6 grand of medical expense debt to be depressed about as well. Occasionally be "bucks up" and participates in the world. My salvation to endure is in my horses and my cats.

mugwump said...

Jen - I also think it's vital to be in touch with a medical professional when I'm heading in a downward spiral.
The goal for me is balance ('s a bit of a PD joke), if I need medication to find balance, physically or mentally, then I'm going to take it.

Wayfarer said...

Once again, you bring such honesty that speaks so plainly. Insight is a very big step. A lot of people aren't there yet. But it is incredible when people, like yourself, are willing to open up and say: this stuff is real, this stuff can be handled, if you can acknowledge it, seek help, and plan. Because what you are doing is helping to normalize that process for all those who haven't come to that realization themselves.

Be it depression, diabetes, or drugs.

A said...

Mugs--you hit the nail on the head for me today. I've dealt with depression since I was a teen ager, probably even before that if I'm being honest. Horses are what even me out. When I can ride once a week, or even just go out and brush a mane out....I'm ok. Otherwise, I battle it everyday. My kids are fed, all the animals get fed, but that's not to say that I function at 100% capacity. My husband has never been depressed a day in his life and struggles to understand my issues. Thank you for sharing this and making me feel like I'm not the only one in the world that deals with it.

whisper_the_wind said...


Thank you so much for being open about your struggles. The healing you are promoting to all of us out here in cyber world can never be repaid; just know that you are loved and respected by us all.

I have battled depression and have been in and out of therapy since elementary school (4th grade).. Three suicide attempts by age 15, I have survived. Parents and outsiders that's all in your head...duh...and my head is saying to splatter my brains across the living room.

Horses saved me.

Fast forward to grad week with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (106.7 F temp) and I can say that the episodes have decreased to about once a year (down from over 7 a year).

Horses still save me...all nine.

Anonymous said...

The Scientist Magazine arrived a the office today - featured story is about the recent findings about how insulin affects the brain and directly influences depression. Well, as a diabetic for the past 48 years I can attest to that.....

When my blood sugar is high my horse avoids me. When it is normal she stays right with me. When it is low she gets agitated. Probably because my smell changes along with my brain.

Barefooter, aka Judi, who still can't get an identity to work here.

Maggie Price said...

Thank you, Janet. Depression is an evil bitch to live with, and if it weren't for my dogs and horses, I don't know where or if I'd be. It is so (no adjective appropriate) to know I am not alone in how I deal.

KD said...

Thanks for giving me an insight to depression. I have been blue, but never stuck in a paralyzing depression. My heart goes out to you and all those who have written of their suffering. This post will help me to understand those in my circle who suffer with depression.

smazourek said...

This is like a club meeting- hi, I'm Shannon and I've been depressed for as long as I can remember. I can say that if it weren't for a certain copper colored Arabian I wouldn't be here today, so horses saved me too. That and St. John's Wort. I'm not normal, but I'm better, and most of the time that's good enough. I'm still working on the rest.

mugwump said...

smazourek - Nah...this club meeting is "Hi, I'm Mugs and I'm hopelessly Horsaii."
The rest is just window dressing.

quietann said...

Yep, me too. Welcome to the club!

I have Type 1 diabetes so that doesn't help.

Therapy wise, I did cognitive-behavioral therapy for a couple of years, learned all the techniques, but what made them *stick* was adding medication. I started off on Zoloft, switched a bunch of times, and eventually ended up on Welbutrin. It's a lifelong thing for me, if I want to function well. The medication slows down my emotional response enough that I can get the C-B stuff working. What a lot of people need are both types of therapy, but it's hard to get without paying a lot of money.

Sunstruck said...

Thank you for your post. My son, who is now 36, has suffered from depression since a pre-teen. My favorite comment: what does he have to be depressed about? People just don't get it. Having depression is not a choice that he made. He is no more able to decide to not be depressed than anyone else with a serious illness can simply to not be ill. He's on medication that mostly keeps him balanced, but there are those days. Again, thank you for all your writing and sharing.

redhorse said...

Now, if we could just get our horse expenses tax deductible as a legitimate medical expense. I know it certainly has helped me more than the pills I used to take. It even helps my arthritis more than medication.

Yesterday the sun was shining and I got to ride, which for mid-December (no indoor) was just wonderful. My horse was boring, which is a wonder in itself. Last night I slept very well, dreamed about horses, dreamed about being on an island with horses, I didn't want to wake up, but I was happy when I did.

Hi, I'm Deborah, and I'm hopelessly horsaii, and I don't want a cure.

Anonymous said...

"Hi, I'm commenter #37, and horses saved me from depression, too." LOL

I've had depression for the last 8 years; the first time happened just prior to my husband deploying for 6 months, the second time was when he deployed for 13 months. I had every symptom in the book except two: I didn't want to hurt myself, and I didn't want to hurt anyone else. That's the only reason my doctor didn't put me in the hospital either time.

At first, I didn't understand what it was. Why I had it. How to deal with it. My parents didn't want me to take drugs. My husband didn't know who I was anymore...I was not the person he remembered. He knew I was still in there, but he couldn't get "me" to come back out. I slept constantly. I attended to the basic needs of my son, my dogs, my home. Most days, the only thing that got me out of bed, besides putting my son on the bus, was the fact that I had a horse who was at the barn waiting for me. Even though he was at a full-care facility, just knowing he needed to see me every day, it made me get up. Get dressed. Drive to the barn.

Most of the time, I didn't ride him. I just brushed him, or hung out watching him graze. He always seemed to know when I wasn't doing well; he'd stick a little closer to me than usual. Just the smell of his fur, running my fingers through his mane and tail, watching his lips pick up a tiny piece of grain off the floor was all I needed to feel just a little bit better.

Now I know what my "signs" are. I don't feel like riding. I don't think about what I need to work on for show season. I don't talk as much, and when I do, it's usually in short sentences or even just a word or two. I don't react to situations like I normally would. I don't show emotion.

I'm grateful that I have an awesome doctor, who has worked with me to find the right meds to balance me. I take both Zoloft and Wellbutrin, and it seems to be the right combo for me. I feel better than I have in years.

Needless to say, my husband is happy to have his wife back. My son is happy because I'm happy. My parents are more understanding of my situation, and prefer the "new" me to the "old" me.

And my horse, I credit him above all others for keeping my head above water when it was too easy to let myself drown.

To this day, my favorite thing in the world is to sit in his stall and listen to him munching hay.

Kudos to you, Mugwump, for being brave enough to share your story with us. You are most definitely NOT alone in your struggles.

Monsters Groom said...


I have been following your blog for a very long time. I want to say thank you soooo much for talking about this subject.(along with your AMAZING stories)

I have been battling Depression for my whole life. I believe it is something I was born with. I was an angry moody child. Through my teenage years I spent a lot of time either sleeping all the time or not sleeping at all. I missed classes, had no interest in friends or life in general. I carried a white hot rage around with me. As a small child I would run away from home weekly. I spent more time in the principles office than I did in class. After I turned 11, I would black out and beat the hell out of my sister, mother and my mothers boyfriend. I honestly don't remember doing it or wanting to do it. At 15 I went on meds off and on until I was 18. Different brands, different dosages trying to get it right. Nothing helped, except the horses. From 16 to 18 I left home three times to work on farms. It was the only time I did not need to be medicated to function like a normal human being. In public I would have panick attacks. I couldn't ride the bus or subway without losing my marbles. When I would come back home thinking I was cured I would fall back into the depression worse than before. Panic attacks would happen at home. I couldn't sleep. I would run at 7 am every day to put myself to sleep for two hours, if i was lucky. It got so bad I attempted suicide six times. OD'ing, cutting myself, trying to jump off bridges. I remember the summer before I turned 19 was the worst time of my life. I was commited twice for suicide attempts, my sister stopped me both times. The last time I sat in my room with a knife at my throat just wanting the pain to go away. Life was painful. I could not cry any longer. My body physically hurt from the pain my head created. I could not sleep I could not eat. I would sit on the couch and stare at blank walls for hours on end. Emotionally I was dead. When I was with the living, I fought with everyone. Physical fights would break out between my mother and myself. I cannot count or remember the amount of times I hurt her. I hated myself and everyone around me. My mother sent Me to therapy. I would refuse to talk to anyone. They did not understand. I felt judged by everyone who knew my "story". Finally she sent me away to a friend of a friend who had a farm. It took months for the fog I lived in to leave my body. I spent a long time in the fog. To be completely honest the fog was comforting. Eventually I was able to function like a normal person. I could interact with people outside of the barn and away from the horses.

At 28 I still battle depression every day. I do not take medication. I have learned to read my body and fight away the fog. I can go weeks and sometimes even months without a deep depressive state coming over my body. But I know when it comes, it will be a bumpy road for awhile. My first sign is tears. They come very easily. I tend to become upset over everything. My creativity goes to pot. Then the sleep pattern starts to change. I'm sitting on the verge of it now. I know what it's like to crawl into bed and never want to leave. To think the world would be a better place without you in it. To not eat and not sleep for days. I fight my body daily to "pull up my bootstraps" and get "my $hit together". I keep motivational saying around my apartment as well as things that smell of horse. It keeps me pointed in the right direction until I can get my horse fix. The horses alway help. I am so glad to have horses in my life. Without them I would not be walking the planet today. Of that I am sure.

Thank you Mugs for talking about something that affects us in the deepest darkest of ways. You my dear inspire me, even before you told your story. Thank you for being so brave.

Heila said...

Jen... another of my danger signals is when I'm not doing well but I think if I go and see my doc / psychologist they will "laugh" at me because the situation is really not that bad. If I just try a little harder I can function well enough, I'm just being silly... does that sound familiar at all?

In my experience, when I start second guessing myself about whether or not I need an appointment with my health care professional then I should have made the appointment already. That second guessing is a symptom. It helps if you have family or close friends who know you well and can affirm the need to seek help when you are struggling to make up your mind about it.

Heila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shadowlake2005 said...

Heila, , you raise a very interesting idea with your last post. I will have to think about it for a while, but I bet you are really onto something there. I too fear being told "it's just real life", and while my shrink is excellent and contines to help me enormously, mostly through medications, he did once make that pronouncement. But I think you're right, if you start thinking you may need to check in, you're probably fragile anough to need to already. Thanks.

Val said...

In my opinion, one of the greatest therapeutic qualities of horses and animals is that they do not speak out loud. I think that this promotes self-reflection, which is also therapeutic even if it can be painful. By this, I do not mean wallowing, I mean taking control of the things that matter even when it seems impossible.

I love nothing more than staring into my horse's big eye and seeing him look back into mine. After a very rough couple days at work, I asked my barn mates what on Earth people without horses in their lives do on a Friday evening.

flyin'horse said...

I want to say how impressed I am, Mugs, with your newfound willingness to share your more personal struggles with us all!

I'm horsaii and have the big D too. Been on meds for 12 years or so. Was depressed as a child, although not diagnosed but it became more of a problem after the death of my mom at 52 from cancer followed by the suicide of my dad a month later. I floundered around without much help other than occasional therapy until I quit smoking 15 years later. Then whammo it knocked me down. I'm one of the lucky ones who meds really work well for. Sometimes the black cloud breaks through but it's minor compared to what some of the others describe. I was just talking to my brother about his depression yesterday. He's not on meds because he just has "episodes" and he hasn't found one that doesn't have a ton of side effects. I'm almost thankful, that if I have to have this condition, it wasn't episodic as I think people who have bouts of depression, severe as it may be, are less likely to seek help than those who suffer it on a more constant basis. Medication has been my lifesaver and I encourage people who think they can tough it out to be open to trying it.

mugwump said...

Reading about how many of us deal with depression makes me more determined than ever to keep this blog reader friendly.
Horses give so many of us solace, I really want this to be a safe place to come read.
It's got me rethinking the trolls. Yes, they'll definitely get booted off, but maybe with an explanation of how things work and an invitation to lighten up and hang around.
We could become the anti-trolls.
The Troll Tamers if you will.

Bif said...

I've likened it to type 1 diabetes.

"Wow, you're pretty, and smart, and have a good education. It's all in your head. Your pancreas would work just fine if you'd think positive."

Body chemistry is fascinating and frightening. Certain mental health issues can be influenced by stress reduction techniques, positive thinking, etc. But when your dopamine levels are in the toilet on test after test, and your ammonia levels are high, and your methylation cycles just doesn't run correctly, all the positive thinking in the world means exactly NOTHING.

I'm in the club of chronic dysthymia/depression with all too frequent bouts into major depression. People DO NOT understand how a person can hold it together and do their job proficiently everyday, but everything not that job (and personal hygiene immediately before your paying job) is just too much.


Thanks for being open with all of us Mugs. We salute you! :-)

OldMorgans said...

Moderate depressive disorder, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder--yep, I'm a real alphabet soup, but the anxiety problem is the worse by far. I now not only have a good psychiatrist, but a good psychologist too and am doing REBT (Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy, sort of the father of cognitive behaviour therapy) along w/other things. But without meds, I can't get far enough into clear thinking to do the therapies. Horses help me. I am at my most clear and present when with my horses. I am not worrying about everything while I am with my horses. Of course, when I am having an anxiety attack, I do not try riding since the leader of the outfit had better be in their right mind!
Thanks for your blog, Mugs.

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