Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Restoring balance

Today was a good day for me.

This morning I met with my doctor to discuss my depression. Not longing after starting a different anti-depressant, I started having digestive problems, including the acid reflux of death. She thinks it is probably not related to the medication, so I hope it will go away on its own. For now I chug Maalox.

Otherwise the medication, Wellbutrin, is working for me well. I feel happier and more relaxed, I am laughing a lot more, especially at irony and silliness. My wife calls the way I used to laugh my "fakey" laugh, but now it is the real gut-busting kind. I am more at ease when meeting new people and dealing better with stressful situations at work. When I do get down, I bounce back more quickly. I am drawn again to activities I used to enjoy. All hopeful signs. My doctor renewed the prescription for another two months.

It feels like my life is coming back into balance. I find myself thinking about projects I have shelved recently like my writing and music. I know medication is not a permanent solution but I will take what it gives me for now.

Update - May 18, 2009: Unfortunately the Wellbutrin did not work out either. The digestive problems did not improve, and I was losing weight rapidly, almost 15 pounds after three weeks. It also raised my blood pressure, which was the last straw. Two days ago I stopped taking it, my blood pressure is back to normal and I still feel happy and positive. I wonder if giving up coffee and alcohol these past six weeks did more good for me than either of the medications I was prescribed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Facebook opens up

The other day when I logged onto Plaxo, a new page loaded for linking into Facebook. I hadn't joined Facebook up to now because it had a reputation for not integrating with other social networking sites. But all that has apparently changed. Not only does Facebook integrate with Plaxo, apparently it will soon support OpenID.

So LeAnne and I both took the plunge and opened Facebook accounts. We both found several invitations from friends waiting for us. We've since made connection with other friends. Some are also on Plaxo, but many are not. The nice part is our posts on Plaxo will now be visible to our Facebook friends, and vice versa.

The next thing I'm wondering is if entries on this blog, which show up on my Plaxo page, will get uploaded to Facebook. I guess I will find out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Facing Depression

I haven't posted this month because of having to deal with a difficult personal issue. Now I need to talk about it openly.

I have been diagnosed with depression. That diagnosis has been a long time coming, and I am actually relieved it is finally here.

I now realize that I have lived with depression most of my life, possibly even since early childhood. It is not the core of who I am. Deep down I am a hopeful, creative, sensitive, and caring person. Yet I am also irritable, cynical, unpleasant, and unhappy. Now I know why.

I have achieved a lot in spite of my condition: two master's degrees, good career, a successful marriage, with two beautiful daughters. It was these contrasts that made me realize something was deeply wrong, and the impact my condition was having on my family that made me determined to finally face up to it and do something about it.

Since last summer, my wife and I began working with a clinical psychotherapist on a parent training program based on cognitive behavioral therapy. One of our daughters was exhibiting extreme defiant behavior. The program was working well, but I noticed that my daughter's behavior got worse when I was home, especially on weekends. Whenever our daughter acted up, it would affect me for days, I would become excessively critical of her, even long after she returned to her normal fun and happy self. As I realized that I was feeding her defiance, and unable to stop it, I felt worthless. Then the weekend came again and the cycle repeated.

I have noticed a similar pattern in how I reacted to setbacks and challenges in my life. An unpleasant conversation with my sister over a financial issue led to a series of nasty emails that almost destroyed our relationship. Rude criticism by a manager at worked triggered anger, and fear that I was certain to lose my job despite assurances that was not going to happen. Several layoffs in the past few years, and having to quit one job I never should have taken after only three months, took their toll on me of course. But in each case I was devastated way out of proportion to what actually happened. I also found it difficult to feel much joy at my successes.

When we visited friends in Idaho last summer, I realized that I had not established many new friendships since moving to the Seattle area four years ago. The series of layoffs and job changes did not help, but really did not explain this. My wife and I have gone to the same church for the past four years, yet she has many more "church friends" than I do.

I have also found it increasingly difficult to sustain interest in things. Last year I started working more seriously on my music, then stopped. This winter I started work on a novel, then stopped. I realize that many of the changes in my life came from irritation. Something would bug me, and I would act vigorously to try to correct it, until I ran out of energy or lost interest in it. After a while something else would grab my attention and a new cycle would start. This has been going on since I was a kid. In many cases the cycles were harmless, just shifts in hobbies or interests, at other times the irritation was so intense I felt compelled to make major changes in my life such as moving or changing careers. I have been fortunate to have my wife to talk me down from these states these last few years, but it isn't fair to her to have to deal with it all the time.

I thought perhaps my problem was stress or anxiety, so I began reducing external stressors in my life, but that also served to isolate me from many things that had once been joyful and fun for me. It did make it clear that the source of my condition was internal not external.

I was prescribed Effexor, an anti-depressant. It really helped me to be calm and relaxed, but I found the side effects unacceptable. After three weeks on it, my doctor switched me to Wellbutrin XL, a once-a-day capsule I have been taking for a week. It has much fewer side effects so far, and seems to be helping me to relax, so I am hopeful. I am also looking into therapy as well.

I am hopeful that now that I am facing up to my condition, I will find more joy and happiness in my life. It will take time, and I am sure there will be bumps in the road. But I believe it will be worth it. Everyone has the right to pursue happiness. Everyone.