I’m not even going to apologize for being absent from blogging, at this point, you and I both know it’s a hollow apology.
It’s been just under two weeks since we received our puppy to foster for a service dog organization, and I am starting to really understand the meaning of “give your life to the cause”. Because it’s a puppy, which is essentially a furry, mobile infant with razor sharp teeth. I don’t want kids! It should have been a reasonable extrapolation that I wouldn’t really like a puppy either, but hindsight, as they say, passes all its optometry tests.
That’s not to say I haven’t been excited and jazzed to be doing this, both because puppies are cute and because I strongly support service animals for mental and cognitive disorders. But I’m also not going to lie – I’ve cried from sheer frustration a few times. Puppies are very naughty – and very smart. I was outwitted by a dog several times. A dog that is essentially a toddler, no less. He’d bite me, so I’d move away calmly. GREAT because what he really wanted to do was bite the couch, which I was sitting in front of! What a totally clever and infuriating trick.
I’ve never had a dog before, and while cats can be destructive little shits, they don’t usually seem so determined about it. Getting Minnow to refocus on a scratching post rather than the wallpaper took a few days, for example.
It’s hard in the heat of the moment to remember a few things, such as a) depression really skews your mental perception of self, and being a total control freak seals the deal, and b) there has been a pretty good list of small victories that I need to continue remembering. Not to mention, Chris has been very accommodating in sharing pee/poop excursion duties while I snatch a nap or a shower, and more than ever now I’m back in the office. (Sad trombone at my hopes of getting some writing done on my holidays, though!)
I don’t intend to turn this blog into a running tally of “Ways I’m NOT Fucking up This Dog’s Life” but not losing perspective is still worthwhile.
For example, since two weeks ago:
I don’t think I’ve ever done something that’s required me to be so relentlessly positive which has been harder than anything else combined. Having a glass face is bad enough when you’re dealing with people; with a dog, it’s damn near impossible. I’ve seen other puppy raisers at the training classes who are training two dogs simultaneously (usually one young, one ~ a year old), and after spending some time with our friend’s dog, I can better believe they find it simpler. The young dog will more easily follow the first dog’s lead than your own. While that seems counter intuitive, your older dog will sit, leave it, etc, when you say the cues, and your younger dog will sit, leave it, etc when your older dog does and learn the cues that way.
… okay no, I’m not getting a second dog. one is plenty.
It feels weird to cash in on the “Sorry Not Sorry” title for something super heavy rather than pop culture analysis and feelings, but a) it’s clever and I like it, and b) it’s pretty apt for how depression remission feels.
Most of the reason I chose to write about having depression is because it’s still something that is deeply stigmatized, and my usual coping mechanism is gallows humour, which, when you’re also being open about your depression is makes things hella awkward hella quickly.
“How’s it going?” “Things are great, I’ve only wanted to die about three times today!” or during casual lunch chit-chat with coworkers, “You ever wish the rapture was real so the world would end?”
I’ve always struggled with moodiness, and an overabundance of feeling (hello, person who cries when they’re angry, that’s me!) but it wasn’t until the past eight years or so where it got really obvious I was struggling. I was graduating university, having to job hunt, getting married, moving into a new house, deal with personal relationship fall-outs from a few different sources. It was not a great time to be me, and I was lucky to have a GP who was open to getting me both some pharmaceutical and psychological help. The drugs stayed, the therapy didn’t, primarily because you don’t have to interview drugs and make sure you click with them on a personal level. When the one therapist I really liked moved on, I looked for a new one kind of half-heartedly and gave up.
When you’re depressed, giving up is like your favourite thing to do. You get really good at it, because you’re practicing all the time. Grad school looks really hard and expensive, better not apply. Writing makes me feel gutted and uncomfortable, guess I’ll stop writing. Showering is exhausting, get rid of that too. The thought of getting out of bed and facing human people with human words coming out of their human mouths makes you dizzy and ill. Eventually, all you’re good at is staying in bed and staring at the wall. And you get really, really good at it.
As an added bonus, I wasn’t even a weepy, sad sack. I had the angry depression. If you think people don’t want to be around you because you’re sad or apathetic all the time, they get especially itchy when you’re the emotional equivalent of a hissing goose.
I was angry about sexism. I was angry about being tired all the time. I was angry when my husband paid too much attention to me. I was angry when he paid too little attention to me. I was angry when the cats stepped on my hair. I was angry when I was too weak to go to work, but I was angry while I was at work too. Mostly I was angry at my softening, exhausted traitor body.
It was painfully obvious the meds, which worked for a time, weren’t working any more. But I still pushed through for another two years, telling myself, “Oh, we just moved to a new town. Oh, I just started a new job. It’s stress. Oh, I’m just getting used to not having as many friends around.” I might as well have kept writing during this time because I was spinning wild fictions that were so plausible to my fucked-up brain that I believed all of this, even while loading groceries into the car would make me cry.
The one good thing about anything potentially setting you off is that eventually, the catalyst for making a change can be anything as well. For me, someone I knew online posted about their experience with seeing the doctor and getting medication that was making a huge difference in their life. “Whoa,” I thought. “That happens? You don’t just go on meds and they turn into a meat zombie with a brain full of cotton fluff?” The smart-ass part of me put down the book it picked up years ago when I was ignoring it, and said “Wow, finally, welcome to reality.”
So I made a doctor’s appointment and together we came up with a strategy for pinpointing places where we could make changes. She looked into the possible issues behind my meds not working and making me feel ill. I did a sleep study to see if it was anxiety disrupting my sleep, or my insomnia making me anxious. (It was the former.) Progress was slow, as it inevitably is in the Canadian healthcare system but I was doing something! What a strange and invigorating sensation!
Eventually, it did come down to the news I was dreading – we’d have to make some changes in my medication. Obviously what I was on wasn’t working, but I was terrified of the withdrawal process, scared that a new medication would be worse. My current plan wasn’t working but at least I’d come to terms with getting 40 lbs fatter, a little more forgetful, and headachey all the time. Together with my doctor, we made a plan to taper off the one medication and onto the new one, while keeping my second as it was, as a continuity measure.
Day one felt pretty good. Cautiously hopeful. No weird reactions, felt okay about going out for the evening. Day two, Chris and I had plans to see a movie. Midway through, I felt a little weird.
“I don’t feel so hot,” I tell him. “You need to go to the bathroom?” he asks, moments before I barf into the cup I’m holding. WELL DONE NEW MEDICATION. Take a look at the bottle when we get home, and sure enough nausea is a side-effect. I make it through the rest of the movie, nap off the rest of the queasiness and that’s about it.
Aside from that one blip, things have been… good? and yes, everytime someone asks me how I’m doing, and I say “Good?” it’s always with that valley girl uptick at the end because I still can’t quite believe it. It’s only been a few weeks, but who knows what the future holds? Hopefully more “good?” for everyone. And if this doesn’t work out for one reason or another, I know that trying something new isn’t the end of the world.
What’s even the point of telling this story? Well, for one, it’s not unique. I’m sure the person who’s story motivated me has a similar arc. Secondly, because it is a bit of a PSA. I feel better, I feel stronger and willing to talk, which means hopefully, I am willing to answer questions or help people understand some common and harmful myths about being depressed.
Depression is feeling very sad.
This one should be obvious, but no. It can be that way for some people, but it can also be irritability, anger, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, or any combination of those. It’s not even about feeling it – it permeates your entire being. Your body is Silent Hill and depression is the all the gameplay that takes place in the otherworld.
But you’ll get off your meds someday, right?
Maybe! It’s entirely possible I won’t. But to give you an idea of how insensitive this statement is, think about asking a diabetic, “Have you tried tapering off your insulin?” or someone with kidney disease, “You can’t stay on dialysis forever!” I’m not thrilled to think about the cocktail of brain medication I’ll be taking for potentially the rest of my life. I might even be less thrilled about it than you. But if it’s what I need to do, I’ll do it. Not to mention, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Scientology.
Everyone gets a little depressed sometimes!
Not wholly inaccurate. Sometimes people can get so stressed out or unhappy because of grief, or a bad school or work situation that they have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Often this can get better once they’re away from or have dealt with that stress. Not always – sometimes that stress is just the breaking point for chronic depression, rather than situational. Everyone’s different. But if you’re somebody saying this like depression is going through a sad break up, or getting a bad grade in school, well. You’re probably an asshole.
Is depression a disability?
Yes – and no. It’s definitely a mental illness, and many mental illnesses can be disabling, but my depression isn’t so clear cut. Has my depression been a disability? Oh yeah. See: getting really good at staying in bed because getting up is impossible. It’s interfered with my life in a way that is disabling. Can depression be a disability? Absolutely – there are many people on disability leave for issues with depression, or another mental illness. (If you’re Canadian, you might remember the woman who was cut off from her benefits for looking “too happy” on Facebook.) People with major depression and anxiety can qualify for therapeutic and service animals, for example. That said, I don’t personally feel comfortable using my experience with depression to talk about disability in general. It can have physiological effects, and mimics a lot of chronic illnesses that are invisible – but most people don’t understand those any better than depression, so I’m not sure how useful that identification would be for me explaining myself to others.
Depression and PTSD is disregarded as a serious issue.
Despite being more talked about now than perhaps ten years ago, it’s obvious that overall, people with depression and PTSD are not getting the proper care. Suicide rates among soldiers/veterans are rising dramatically in the past few years due to poor handling of mental health in our veteran’s affairs system, for example.
I’m glad I’m able to write about it a little, now. For every one person like me, there’s probably dozens out there who are too scared to speak out, or don’t know what’s wrong with them. Hopefully, in time, respectful dialogue will begin to change that landscape.
jesus, how do you even write a conclusion to this kind of thing? in summary, here’s a dog to illustrate that dogs are awesome, and also depression is hella weird to get out of, if you even can
Last week, a friend of mine was telling me about her new Fitbit One that she was using to track her activity. We both have sedentary jobs, and due to weird work schedules (her own and in my case, my husband’s), meals were sort of sporadic. After doing some online research, I settled on the Jawbone Up rather than a Fitbit, although Fitbit also has a wristband tracker, the Flex. From the looks of things, the Up app software looked more useful to me, particularly in tracking my sleep, which I know is a massive problem for me.
Set-up from the box is pretty easy. Download the app, plug in your band using the headphone jack on your phone, and the start up wizard process walks you through set up. Some marked the Up down on its lack of wireless sync, but for me, the improved battery life is worth the trade off. Tip: sometimes the app will hang up while syncing – I’ve found this typically happens because the volume has been turned down. Turning it back up should allow the sync to complete.
The materials included with the band are minimal – most of the information you need is going to be contained in the app, although the directions are not always as clear as I would like. For example, I’m a huge napper, so the power nap feature was very appealing – if only I could get it to work! Thankfully, google has been pretty helpful so far when I’ve run into a snag – some Up bands have a blue moon, rather than the green mentioned in the app, and in order to recognize different modes, you have to press the button fairly rapidly. So to enter power nap mode, hit the button three times fast, holding down on the last press.
When going to bed, enter sleep mode by holding down the button until the moon flashes. When getting up, do the same until the sun appears. Easy!
The band on the Up is quite a bit thicker than the Flex, and it was one of the reasons I was worried about making my choice, but I got used to it quickly. I wear it on my non-dominant hand, though, because the one area it was obviously clunky was hand-writing.
So how do the various tracking modes hold up?
I like the detailed sleep tracker. The Flex only tracks when you wake up and when you sleep – but the Up tracks deep sleep versus light sleep, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and what times you wake up. It uses this info to run the smart alarm, which wakes you up in your light sleep mode prior to the time you set. If you’re sleeping deeply, it goes off at the time you’ve set. (For example, I’ve set my time for 7AM, and you can see my alarm went off at 6:41.) At the moment, there is no snooze feature, so if you’re not prepared to hop out of bed right away, you might want a back up alarm, just in case. You can also set up to four different times of alarm, so you can sort of build in your own snooze, as well.
You can see the spike in today’s movement where I walked to work. It also tracks your idle time, your calories burned (I take this with a grain of salt, personal) and total movement time. Tying into this is the Idle alert feature, where you can set your band to vibrate after a certain amount of time where you’ve been idle. Mine is set at the lowest number, 15 minutes, and I use it to remember not just to move, but to stretch, or to drink some water. I found at even 30 minutes, I was getting up just enough during those times to check mail or use the washroom, it wasn’t going off enough to remind me to rest my eyes or stretch my legs.
The trends page lets you see your sleep and movement on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Not much data there yet!
Meal summaries are maybe one of the failings of the Jawbone Up, which can be easily remedied with how it syncs with other apps, like MyFitnessPal. I am using mine strictly to track what I eat so I can easily identify patterns where things like sleeplessness or migraines are concerned. The database for food with the Up is somewhat limited, so you may prefer to use another app with their baseline to track food. That said, you can also add food to your own personal library to have things you eat regularly in an easily accessible list, as well.
Another cute aspect of the app is the mood tracker. You can select it manually, or you can set up a recipe in If This Then That to set something automatically – for example, if I get less than 4 hours of deep sleep a day, it sets my mood to exhausted. There is a lot of exhausted in my timeline already.
As I mentioned above, Jawbone does sync with other apps to work in tandem – MyFitnessPal is one, IFTTT is another (and obviously, one I use!). IFTTT is a neat one – in addition to the recipe above, I can have my phone send me a text if I haven’t logged a workout in X days. It can track your sleep and movement in a google drive spreadsheet for you. I personally really like this one. You can also create your own recipes.
Up is an investment, and a pricey one at 129 CAD. I am lucky to afford the investment, and I’m glad it will give me solid data at doctor’s visits about how poorly I’m sleeping or eating, so we can continue to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with my gross bod. It’s a nice curiosity alleviator – apparently it’s ~7000 steps round trip from home to work, or I don’t wake up in the middle of the night as much as I thought I did. I can find out exactly how much you really do walk at Disney World.
I look forward to seeing new updates from Jawbone and how far this band can go.
Now that I’ve officially made my dad proud by quoting Allan Sherman, let’s talk about where I’ve been. which is to say, nowhere, really, except a one-way ticket to monoville.
Getting mono is one of those things that changes significantly from childhood to adulthood, like getting your appendix out. Getting mono in middle school is fucking amazing for your cred: you got it because you had hot make-outs with someone, you get to miss a week or two of school and play video games, and you come back with a sexy story about fighting at death’s door and beating the odds.
Getting mono as an adult sucks. You feel kind of gross for a week or so, figuring it’s probably due to the humidity and month-long drought the county’s been suffering. You make it through the work day just sort of skating on the pile of urgent stuff, while the less urgent stuff piles up in drifts around you. You eventually sort through the less-urgent piles searching for things that are now urgent. You go home to sleep, and wake up three or four hours later, sweat-soaked and dry-mouthed. And you think well this sucks, but it’s normal.
After a week of the work->bed->couch->bed cycle, a couple of rashes, eventually you wake up one morning with the lymph nodes in your neck standing out like goose eggs and you’re like “Well, shit son.” I’ve mentioned this before, but a few years ago I tested positive for ANA, one of the markers for lupus, but I didn’t have any of the usual other problems (aside from fatigue) that point to a diagnosis. But when things start acting up, I decided to go to the walk-in clinic.
“No, it’s not auto-immune, I don’t think,” the doctor says, “Looks like mono to me.” She sends me off to get blood taken, the results of which will take two weeks to arrive (aw bless your face Canadian health care). “In the meantime, is there anything I can do?” I ask. “Nope!” she says cheerfully, “Viral infections don’t respond to much. Sleep as much as you can, take lots of fluids.”
So that’s what I’m continuing to do, in between still going to work, because here’s the thing about adulthood – very few jobs let you take a week or two off to sleep off an unconfirmed diagnosis of an illness while your friend brings you homework to look at, laugh and go back to sleeping with a PS2 controller in your hand.
Although, my desk does have a sweet overhang that would create a perfect napping nook…