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.


btm said...

Over the years, nothing has come close to the therapeutic power of writing and saying the things that I feel with the understanding that it is okay to feel however I do. That is, it's okay for me to feel things that I don't believe or consider wrong, and talking about how I feel with trusted folk who believe that as well helps keep me from bottling up too much emotion. For me, this can lead to feelings of frustration and alienation.

Good luck with everything sir.

SeekerKeeper said...

Thanks, buddy. Good to hear from you.