Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas and the Aftermath.

Merry Christmas, Solstice and other festive tradition you may follow.

For anyone who has ever celebrated Christmas, you know it's a stressful time of year. This year, I celebrated it with my immediate family and both of my boys. Introducing my mum to these important men in the same room for the first time was actually probably one of the least stressful things of the day. My brother and sister adored my partner, who they were both meeting in person for the first time.

I may just have the very best family in the world.

Boxing Day was celebrated with an early trip to the local cinema with my fiancee for the first (of many, I hope!) viewings of the movie Les Miserables.

This is not a movie you will go to see because Anne Hathoway is gorgeous. Of course she is. But that's not the focus of this role. The focus of this role is someone that life has treated incredibly harshly. The fact that this movie is a musical means that that horror needs to be depicted in such a way that the main song for her can be understood and empathised with.

Well! Let me tell you. I've been a fan of Anne Hathoway's since The Princess Diaries, when she was a lot younger and so was I. Her role in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland excited me because it was such a different role for her. The Dark Knight Rises had me watching trailers for months before the movie actually came out, and the movie fulfilled for me every promise previously made in Batman canon between the lead character and Catwoman in Batman Returns, another movie directed by Burton from 1992.

This role blew them all out of the water. I'm not going to say a whole lot more, because we are still three days after release date and I know a lot of people wouldn't have seen it yet. Maybe I'll say more on my second, third or fourth viewings ;)

The day after Boxing Day, my partner's daughter flew over from Perth to spend a couple of weeks with us. Melbourne, being the fickle place it is, dropped about 10 degrees and was downright chilly by the time she arrived. Luckily for us, we had a spare jacket for her. Strangely enough, something that is quite well fitting on my partner's shoulders doesn't fit so closely on his eight year old daughter.

I had already made the decision before she flew across that I did not want to be unwell during her stay. A sobbing maudlin mess does not a good carer of children make. It was with this in mind that I made the promise that I would stick to my regime of faux anti-depressants (St John's wort) for a solid two weeks, starting well before

Why is this? you may say. You seemed to be doing so very well on them the last time you posted them. Surely the original two weeks is almost up, you may say.

You'd be correct to say so. But this person over here was just smart enough to decide, 'Well, Self, you seem to be doing well again. Don't need those tablets anymore.'

Big mistake.

So big, in fact, that this ended in a bout of four hours sobbing on my fiancee two days after I stopped taking them, and a shaky several days thereafter. I haven't learned to be happy without assistance yet. It was, maybe, cocky to think that a couple of days would have made all the difference.

So, a solid couple of weeks with them to help me before talking about stopping them a second time around.

As for writing? I have a few ideas brewing, but it's still holiday season! Come back to me at the end of January.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day Four.

The internet is absolutely littered with stories on how anti-depressants have changed lives, saved marriages, saved lives actually, given people back their freedom, made it easier to get up in the morning, etc, etc, etc.

Less prevalent are the stories from people who used anti-depressants for a specified period in time before successfully weaning themselves off it again. Actually, one of the best of these stories that I've come across so far came not from the internet, but from a book I've been reading in the last little while.

You guys might have heard of it. It's a little novel called, Eat, Pray, Love.

Now I haven't seen the movie, so I have no idea how much depth the adaptation goes into about this portion of the novel, but this passage right here struck me:

"I never relaxed into taking those drugs, though they helped immediately. It never mattered who told me these medications were a good idea and perfectly safe; I always felt conflicted about it. Those drugs were a part of my bridge to the other side, there's no question about it, but I wanted to be off them as soon as possible. I'd started taking the medication in January of 2003. By May, I was already diminishing my dosage significantly ... Those pills might have saved my life, but they did so only in conjunction with about twenty other efforts I was making simultaneously during that same period to rescue myself, and I hope to never have to take such drugs again." (Eat, Pray Love, p. 54)

It was something I noticed on Sunday night: nowhere could I find a story of someone who'd taken St John's wort for the mild depression I'd read it suggested for. Now, of course this doesn't mean nobody's ever tried it with successful results, no more than the same lack of online stories telling of people getting off anti-depressants. Just this morning, I saw my last post was reposted on Tumblr by someone else who had also taken St John's wort and another person Tweeted me that they're getting off the anti-depressants right now.

But still, a fleshed out experience somewhat closer to my own, something to give me an idea of what to prepare for (if anything!) would have been nice so, here it goes:

I honestly don't know if I even expected this to work.

I mean, the link I posted last time listed St John's wort as greater than a placebo, but less than an actual anti-depressant. Well, that's maddeningly helpful. Where, exactly, does this herbal remedy fit on that fairly broad scale?

Still, I was game. I bought my little bottle in it's small paper bag, took my first tablet with a glass of water and followed it with dinner half an hour later, as directed.

Actually, 'as directed' is three individual tablets of 2000mg each day 30 minutes before a meal. There are a couple of problems I had with this. Not the smallest one of which: I don't wake up in the morning 30 minutes before I head off to work. It's more like 10. Why on earth would I eat into my perfectly good solid sleeping time each morning? So that put before the morning meal off the table. More importantly, 900mg was the least suggested dosage I found suggested to take an effect for mild depression. Okay, I thought to myself. 900mg may not be the right dosage for me, but I haven't tried anything like this before, and maybe doubling the recommended dosage per day might be a good first place to start, rather than multiplying it by more than six?

Even so, I was making the decision to lower the recommended dosage on the bottle by three and it was just a herbal remedy. On top of that, I had read the expected time to wait for effects to stabilise was a couple of weeks at least.

I really wasn't expecting much more than the placebo end of the scale. But as soon as I took the first tablet on Sunday night I felt much more calm, like I was taking a good solid step on the path to helping myself.

Monday (Day 2, for those who are keeping track), I took the second of my 2000mg tablets. And a strange thing happened to me. Three strange things, actually, which was what made me sit up and pay attention.

The first was a duality that occurred between my thoughts and my bodily response. It was lunch time, and I was with friends who are known (and loved) for their tendency towards disorganisation. We were meant to be having lunch together, but they weren't ready quite yet. This went on for an hour. Usually, when it comes up to a meal and something is making me miss it, that makes me cranky. It's because of this that I previously had blood tests done to see if this was something to do with my blood sugar levels. Nothing showed up then, and this was the first time I actually believed it. For the first time in what seemed like months, I simply observed that I would kind of like to be having lunch now. With no more bodily reaction to go along with the thought, I continued reading my book. There was no tension in my body, no agitation, restlessness or bad mood that usually accompanies that thought. And, sure enough, by around 2.30pm we were having lunch without further issue.

The second occurrence was a minor irritation at a social engagement that night. I remember a moment of feeling disappointed at something that was said, frowning but then, inexplicitly, a feeling came to me that it would just be more trouble than it was worth to really get annoyed by this. The issue was fairly minor, and I wasn't particularly emotionally invested in the cause of irritation. (This might on its own be obvious by the fact that two days later I don't even remember what this source of irritation was...) The moment passed, but it had got me thinking.

The third and last time on Monday was a sexual instance. This is an issue in most talks to do with depression and treatment of it. Because of that, I felt this account would be incomplete if I left this out. When it came to the end of Monday, I was with my partner and, I regret to say, I was less engaged than is usually the case. In this instance, my body reactions were exactly as normal, but there was an emotional barrier that I just couldn't pierce through. My partner described me as 'eerily calm'.

Unfortunately, this triggered me right in the fear place (too much like anti-depressants; it's swallowing up my sex drive, next it will kill every single one of my writing muses!!) and before my Tuesday tablet, I got him to cut a couple of them in half for me, effectively halving the dose from 2000mg to 1000mg: only 100mg over the originally recommended 900mg daily dose.

I am sorry to say, Tuesday and today (Day 3 and 4) have not been so easy for me. Both days have also involved stressors from work and time in hospitals. (Things I have learned: I am not at all interested in having an MRI scan. If, after all, I must have an MRI scan, it is going to have to be in a private hospital, because those places don't have the white walls and florescent lights that scare the bejesus out of me.)

Tonight, after three hours in a public hospital in the middle of the city for something that was only supposed to take 40 minutes, I gave in and took another half dose of the St John's wort. The last thing I wanted was to be a complete bear to my fiancee who, it turns out, had taken care to ensure there was a full table spread of antipasto foods all ready for me the minute I got home. (Awwwwww.)

Whereas, before the tablet, I had stood in front of the mirror in the girl's toilet in the white-washed hospital and told myself not to cry, after the tablet, I stood up with a straighter back, found a smile from somewhere (I suspect it was hiding at the bottom of my bag) and, most importantly, I managed to offer that smile as well as tender words of thanks and love to my darling boy whose attention combined to make things much better.

In conclusion, not a conclusive result as yet. Whether placebo or not, the St John's wort seems to be doing more good than harm and, even if it's just in my head, it's giving me a bit of breathing space right now when I sorely need it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Journeying through mental health.

So, I've been planning another post on here for about a week now. Trouble is, I've not been doing terribly well this last week and the trouble with posting to a blog when you're not doing so well is that it's a bit of an effort to sound genuine when, in fact, you're forcing it.

I'm going to try to explore some of those feelings in this blog post.

I don't even know where to start here. Pretty much an overarching statement for me at the moment. So much of the time when I find myself in the middle of a mental health puddle, spiral or whatever, I'm looking around myself and going, 'How did I get here?' Also, perhaps more importantly, 'How am I ever going to get out again?'

I have been seeing a counsellor for about six months about some of the feelings I have been having for most of this year, and that has been helpful, but it hasn't helped. What I mean to say is that it hasn't fixed the situation. It's not in the past yet. It's still a problem I'm having to pay attention to every day, even on my good days, and counting a win on those times when I've had four days in a row without temptation being to burst into tears. Or just throw my hands up and give up on everything. Or else just stop caring. Just for a little while, but the temptation for that 'little while' to become 'just a little bit longer' is there. Trust me, those times haven't been too often.  >.<

I've also been in to see doctors for blood tests to see if there are more physical reasons for things like the exhaustion I've been feeling for almost two years now, as well as the irritation that has been growing only more increased when I miss a meal or even when a meal is a half hour later than I'm wanting it to be. (Times when I'm stuck in a car in the middle of a long drive and suddenly that need for food is upon me are less than pleasant. When you go from naught to crazy within 20 minutes, truck stops become a life saver). There haven't been, and so doctors' surgeries have become another source of frustration, another reason for self-hate and general upset.

The day before yesterday, I was sitting online with Twitter in one window and half a dozen tabs on anti-depressants in another.

It's important, perhaps, to note here: I'm... heavily against the idea of taking anti-depressants. I write this with a mum who has been on anti-depressants since I was in my mid-teens and several assorted friends and loved ones whose lives have been greatly enhanced through the space that anti-depressants offer in order to stand up again and get through day to day life. For them, it's a great help. For me, I'm terrified it will change who I am. I'm terrified I will no longer be able to write. I'm afraid I will start to gaze at everything through a mental glass pane that will separate me from the rest of the world. I'm terrified again that if I start on them, I'll never be able to get off them again, that an anti-depressant addiction will just be one more problem for me to have to deal with.

Whether or not it's irrational fear that has had me haring off in the opposite direction each time anti-depressants have been brought up, the idea I may end up on them despite all of my feelings against them has caused me uncounted hours of stress on top of the already not great feelings of depression, apathy, self-loathing, etc, etc. In short, not a particularly helpful solution on the surface of it.

So I've been trying other things, like seeing a counsellor, seeing doctors, doing tremendous amounts of exercise, all in the effort of finding more 'natural' ways of solving my mental health. And it hasn't been working. And, you know what? I was having a conversation with my partner on Friday night about how my low moods have been making it more or less impossible for me to write anyway of late. For a number of weeks, actually. And I've been quietly feeling really guilty about it. (Enter: feelings of self-hate, self-loathing, etc.)

So there I was on Sunday night, there I was, having a serious look for myself at the information available on anti-depressants, particularly SSRI medications (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) like Lovan, for example. I'm still not sold on this idea of chemical treatment, but I'm starting to acknowledge that what I am doing just isn't working.

And then, staring me right in the face like a little life saver or life line, there was a warning not to take Lovan/Prozac if you were taking, among other things, St John's wort.

Like it was a rope and I was on my very last breath in very deep water, I grabbed onto that life line.

I said to my fiancee, 'Will you take me to the chemist?'

And he said, 'Yes.'

He read with me some of the information I gathered about St John's wort.

This page in particular was a concise and useful source of information on St John's wort --

Amusingly enough, the brand of St John's wort that I've just started on (Nature's Own) also comes with Tyrosine. This supplement's main job is to aid in alertness following exhaustion, one of the other problems I'd been struggling with.

Why St John's wort instead of a tried and proven anti-depressant? Because I'm a gigantic hippy at heart. And, because it was worth my while, emotionally, to attempt something that was still within my comfort levels just in case it worked. And because, even while herbal remedies may be seen as bogus when set next to modern day medicines, St John's wort has a history of being used to treat mild depression since ancient Greek times (as it says in the above link). All of this, is enough reason for me to give it a try.

So I'm here. It's now Tuesday, day three, and if I'm lucky, tomorrow will be day four without temptation to burst into tears, throw my hands up and give up, or just stop caring. And if I get to day five, or day seven, or even day seventeen, I'll have something I want to write about.

And, maybe, opening up with this post will make it easier to post here next time even if I don't.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Books, books, books!

A month ago, I wrote about the profound feelings that the novel The Stolen Child brought out in me. That was a borrowed copy that I read.

Today I found a copy that I can read whenever I want because it is all my very own!! We have a little rule in my house, where if the cost of something is under $20, it doesn't count. This was implemented as I used to be a stress head about spending after years and years of either backpacking or being a poor student. However, since this rule has been in place, I have been far more relaxed. Why? Because this is my book buying budget! In the standard Melbourne op shop, you can get 5 or 6 books for that!

So, the cover on this version of Keith Donohue's book is different to the last one and I almost didn't recognise it. Maybe I wouldn't have if it hadn't been still in my mind from writing about it here so recently.

Other treasures from today included Gregory McGuire's Wicked, Robin Hobb's Assassin's Quest, A. S. Byatt's Elementals, Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed and Johanna Harris' The Evil Seed. 

The lady at the store wondered at the fact I had so much time for reading. I said to her, If it's going to keep being too hot to do anything outside, at least I'll still have something to do! She asked me if I wanted to volunteer there.