Thursday, March 01, 2018

Not getting better

I recently revised the labels on my blog. If you go to the labels cloud in the right column (in desktop view) and click on fatness, you'll see that I've been obsessed with food, diets, exercise, losing and gaining and it comes down to this: I'm 51 and a half years old and, even though I was thin just six years ago, I will never be thin again.

My struggle with depression has been a big part of this. Sometimes mental illness causes weight gain because medication increases hunger, a cruel and unacceptable side effect of psychotropic drugs. No drug that causes weight gain should ever reach the market.

Sometimes mental illness causes weight gain because we self-medicate with food and/or alcohol. That's my problem: I self-medicate with sweets. I've seen what can happen when I cut out the sweet junk food and just exercise a little: pants fit better and I can bend more easily. But I can't live without sweets for long because the depression comes back and then I need sugar. Foods like cookies and cake give me just enough of a boost in energy, focus and mood to make it easier to get through the day. When the depression symptoms pass, I can stop with the sweets and lose a little weight again. Then the depression comes back and the cycle repeats.

For years I've been thinking that my depression has been getting less severe, with more time between episodes. I've believed that I was managing it better and better, but 2017 taught me that's bullshit. 

In 2017 I had a hysterectomy which might have exacerbated a mild depression that had started the year before. Within two months the depression hit a dangerous stage and I did a week in a psychiatric ward on suicide watch. I spent the spring and summer of 2017 climbing out of that bleak place, completely demoralized, with my belief in my improvement dissolved.

Since the age of 22 I've been working with different therapists and psychiatrists and have used various modes of therapy to work through my fears and neuroses. I've released huge amounts of anger and fear about my childhood, relationships and life goals. I've doubled and tripled my self-esteem and have learned countless skills in interpersonal dynamics and my own inner mechanisms. I feel a big sense of accomplishment about all this; it's my life's work. I've never given up on knowing I can get better.

But now I admit that when the depression comes back, all that hard work goes out the window. My self-esteem plummets, my fears and neuroses settle back in and I lose the desire to work on goals. And my depression is getting worse, not better. The symptoms are more a part of my daily life now than in the past. Each year the number of good days decreases.

Recently I had a session with my talk therapist. I've been seeing her for 24 years and she has helped me immensely, but on that day I was deep in a depression and just sat there, staring into space. I had little to say and there was nothing that talking could do to ease my symptoms, so we spent part of the time just sitting in silence. She commented that it was hard to see me this way and she felt great sympathy for me, but at that moment her words meant nothing. Eventually I found myself reassuring her that I'd be different next time because my symptoms are rarely that bad for long (except last spring. I hate spring).

This indicates that more work on my interpersonal issues is not the answer. The depression is its own entity that can't be talked down. So I'm done putting so much effort into emotional healing when depression erases that work anyway. I'm tired of trying yet failing to achieve even mediocre goals. I'm tired of pushing back against the natural pattern of my mind.

Believing I've improved myself and my life as much as possible, I'll now just try to make the lives of others better, for instance with my depression support group. Helping others doesn't make me feel good either, but it makes me believe my life isn't a waste, and that's just a little better than nothing. 

Recently I hosted an event after which people told me they had a great time. One person said she really needed such an evening and appreciated it very much. I wish those statements could bring me even a moment of pleasure, but with depresssion, hearing such things is like taking a shower through a shroud: it just doesn't get through.

So, this is me at the age of 51. I've adjusted my goals: from earning good money to just not going into more debt; from dating and finding a relationship to just maintaining my friendships; from losing weight to just trying to exercise each day; and from kicking my sugar addiction to staying on this side of diabetes. I hope I can achieve these goals, but life brings no end of disappointment. By the way, I've given up suicidal ideation and I accept that my death will be beyond my control, which seems to make my friends and family feel better. Now I just go on.


Kristin said...

Regina, I started crying as I read this post, and continued to cry hard, after I finished it. I identify with so much of it. Reading it made me feel a little less alone. My family and friends aren't able to understand my depression/illness, no matter how much they love me and how much they try. I might try to use your post as a teaching tool, if that's ok with you.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Kristin, thank you for commenting. Yes, please share this post with anyone you like if it helps with their understanding. I was in a bad place when I wrote this, but as you can see in my other posts, my depression comes and goes. I hope you find what you need to take good care of yourself and get some relief from your symptoms.