Friday, 29 May 2015

The Kevin Bacon Model of Depression

We'd like to welcome a new contributor called Dorothy Donald (not their real name). This is Dorothy's first post, so many thanks.  
Trigger Warning: this post does discuss suicidal thoughts.
This is a very simple game. You start from a thought – any thought that it is possible to have – whether it’s “My bus is late” or “I’ve been invited to a wedding” or “The sun is shining today.” Next, see what the next thought that follows on from that could be. It might be “I will be late for work” or “I will have to go shopping for clothes” or “I will need my sunglasses.” And then the next thought from that. You get the idea.

Now, whatever your starting thought is, see if you can go from that thought to “I might as well kill myself” in fewer than six moves. 
I am exceptionally good at this game.
I have been playing this game for a long time. I play it a lot. I play it at some of the obvious times you might already have thought of, like when I have a paper rejected (“I’m useless”), or a disastrous date (“I’m unlovable”), or when pretty much anything happens in the news (“The world is a terrible place”). But I also play it when I’m walking around the supermarket (“It’s not possible to be an ethical consumer”), or when I’m making my tea (“I have failed to do anything productive today”), or when I’m in the pub with my friends, laughing (“Everyone here is so much more fun and interesting than I am”). 
Most of the time, I don’t even have to try – I just accelerate from nought to catastrophe as easily as I breathe. This means that no-one notices, which means there’s no problem. But sometimes one win leads on to another, and another. Before I know it I don’t seem to have the time or the energy for anything else like answering my emails or working on that grant or getting out of bed and having a shower. My friends start to worry and ask searching questions about how I’m ‘really’ doing. I find reasons not to talk to them. (All of this, of course, constitutes failure, which gives me a head-start for the next round.)
A few months ago, when I went beyond the mere abstract and started getting onto the particulars, I realised I was not well. 
After rather a long time, I decided that I could use some help. 
After quite a lot longer than that, I decided that the little voice telling me I didn’t deserve any help could shut up for a while. 
After even longer than that, I found a phone number online and stared at it for a while. Then I closed my browser. Then I came back and stared at it again the next day.
Eventually, I made a phone call.
Tomorrow I have my first ever sit-down with a Cognitive-Behavioural-Therapy (CBT) practitioner. I want to learn a new game.
You can find Dorothy's second post here. 
At Depressed Academics we welcome, encourage, and look forward to guest posts. A standing invitation for guest posts is here. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Constant Anxiety is Very Draining

I think the new thing when I went off sick 8 months ago was anxiety. I mean anxiety as a clinical condition instead of anxiety the thing you experience every day. The clinical condition is of course really the same thing, but overdone by your brain and body.

I've been wanting to write this post all day.  But I am finding myself very tired and with little energy to do something as write a personal depressed academics post.  I came home at lunchtime from work (though decided it wasn't a holihalfday or sick halfday since I spent a large part of the weekend getting marking done.)  I had a nap and didn't do much.  All I wanted to do was write this post.

I have been finding over the last week or so that I have been very anxious almost constantly. That means very jumpy, always being ridiculously worried about the next little thing that is coming up, feeling a pounding heart, and generally having the symptoms of anxiety.

Before you say I should see a doctor about this, I am seeing a doctor. And I am going to an anxiety management group. I think the group leader said literally (but possibly a slight variation) that "what happens in anxiety management group stays in anxiety management group", but I can say two things. It is indeed an anxiety inducing thing to start an anxiety management group. And two, I will NOT tell you who the person who sat next to me is a doppelganger for: I mean seriously, this person could get a job as a celebrity impersonator if they wanted.

I've also found over the last week, that I am getting progressively more tired. It's starting to get annoying. I mean tired is nice if you can go to bed or have a nap. But it's just draining me. This morning I was obviously very tired at the start of the day, and it didn't go away. I came home early, and a nap didn't really get me going again.  As well as getting things done at work, I've been finding it harder to get the energy to do gardening or get out for good runs, both of them being things I enjoy, are good exercise, and usually make me feel better afterwards.

A few days ago I just thought I was getting a cold or perhaps was allergic. That might be true, but what I think now is simply this:

Constant anxiety is very draining. 

Shout out to Student Minds

I'm embarrassed I hadn't heard about Student Minds before. They are "The UK's Student Mental Health Charity."  They write:
"Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. We believe that peer support can change the state of student mental health. Our vision is for students to take action to foster an environment where everyone has the confidence to talk and listen to each other, the skills to support one another and the knowledge to look after their own mental health."
Here is a lovely video from the St Andrews branch (my university) which I happened across today.

I can't provide any form of personal recommendation in favour of Student Minds, but I am delighted that students are supporting each other in this way. If this is something you might need, please do investigate.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Popehat on depression and anxiety

Popehat writes well on his own experiences with depression and anxiety.

If you have a loved one in pain, from my perspective the best thing to do is to say "I don't know what I can do, but whatever it is, I'll do it. I'll help you, and I'll take you to others who can help. Let me help you carry the weight." You can help by eliminating the excuses we use not to get help. "I'll miss work!" I'll cover your shifts. "The kids need me!" The kids can stay with us for a month. "I'll lose my job!" No you won't — I'll go to bat for you. "I don't know who to call!" I'll call for you.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

And still it is invisible and a liability.

This StackExchange question makes me sad. The student asking wants to know how to deal with a manic episode that screwed up his undergraduate studies bad: how to frame it in future applications (jobs, graduate school, …)

Answers hovered around:

  1. Don't say anything if you don't have to.
  2. If you have to say something, make sure you show remorse and demonstrate how what happened can never happen again.
  3. If you have to say something, preferably make someone else (in a recommendation letter) say it.
I am unhappy that “I broke my leg and I failed classes” is more acceptable and less of a liability than “My brain broke and I failed classes”. Sure; the discussion in the link includes academic cheating — and I do not condone that — but there is an underlying tone of «don't disclose your mental illness» that really worries me.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Miracle medication

It's been a while since I wrote about my current cocktail of chemicals; I've talked about the grinding feelings of numinous dread — they're mostly gone; I've talked about the nerd sniping of near hypomania — that's mostly gone as well.

I've had a few episodes with emotional crashes. Every single one directly connected to a clear and reasonable stimulus. Most of them the result of travel stress combined with sleep deprivation and jetlag.

I've had a few instances of emotions that I'm, frankly, not very used to. I've been angry, irritated, annoyed, and emotionally touched by movies and books.

And the amazing thing. The one thing that takes all this so very very far from anything I'm used to. It is that these emotions come, but they do not take over. S and I have been talking for decades now about how the end goal is to have emotions, and to be able to let them go. To be able to disagree without it leading to a meltdown. To be able to be angry, meet the anger — even express the anger — but staying in control of myself, my actions and my emotions.

I see a sharp border looking back between before and after I started on my current mix: on Lamictal and Wellbutrin.
Before, emotions were out of my control. After, my mind is my own.
Before, disagreements were catastrophes. After, we can disagree, and I can even be annoyed, and the world still goes on.

I am happy. I am sad. I am angry. I am content. I have a full range of human emotion.
But I have the emotions. They do not have me.
This must be what normal people — what neurotypicals — live like all the time.