Depression and GAD: the sequel
January 1, 2017 8:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a depression and anxiety relapse. It is totally kicking my butt this time around. Does anyone have hopeful stories to share?

I started experiencing the symptoms of anxiety and depression at 16, and I've been able to keep it at a manageable level for the most part, but these few weeks have been horrible. I can't sleep, my body is in flight-or-fight mode all the time, my brain hurts, I am weeping like crazy, I feel like my hair is falling out (it's not, but I feel like it is), and my brain replays all my bad memories, and I just want to stay in bed and cry forever!! And to make matters worse I feel resentful of everything that put me in this position - I get into this victim mentality of 'I work so hard, why did I have to get these genes? Why did these person aggravate my anxiety? How am I supposed to live a normal life now?' :'(

I just don't have the strength to overreach my spazzing brain and focus. I'm already on medicine, I exercise, I eat healthy, I have re-started counselling... I don't know what else I can do. I want so badly to reach my goals but they are ambitious, and I'm started to feel hopeless.

Do you know anyone that has transcended their mental illness? Do you have any tips/hopeful stories?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Hey. I have both these things, all twisted together to where it's hard to tell the difference some days. I'm going to tell you something that is, inexplicably, very hopeful: I haven't transcended my illness. I've lived with it. I'm not reaching out with this comment because I've figured everything out. I'm specifically doing it because I have not.

What I have figured out is: this illness is not a final boss. It's not a test of strength. It's part of me. It's part of us. This doesn't sound cheerful, but I promise you, it is. I have experienced great joy in life since my diagnosis. (I've even experienced it since the election!) A fulfilling life is possible. It truly is.

Recently, I read a book by Sameet M. Kumar that comforted me in my time of terrible ruminations, and I took the cue to look into Buddhist psychological philosophies further. I am, I hasten to add, an atheist and a skeptic, and I know that mindfulness has become unfairly trendy. I'm not urging you to buy any bullshit. One of the ideas I found most comforting in this book was an explanation of the Nine Cemetery Contemplations: meditation on the impermanence of the body, the idea that this body is like other bodies, and (in my case) that is why it does not work properly, does not think properly -- such is the nature of bodies. I can't tell you how freeing this was for me.

The simplest thing is the hardest: we must be compassionate with ourselves. I struggle with this a lot. When I make it there, it's worth it.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:26 PM on January 1, 2017 [27 favorites]

In my personal experience when things get as bad as you describe the only thing that helps is medication. Maybe you need a higher dose, or a supplemental med, or a different med all together.

I'm really sorry you are going through this. Mental illness sucks but it is an illness, it is not you. Treat it like any other sick system, with medicine.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:27 PM on January 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just one more thing: make sure your counselor knows your symptoms are at this level, at this time, and see if you should get your meds adjusted. It might be the answer, it might not.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:28 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi. So, if you're having a sudden and severe relapse in symptoms, the first stop is your primary care doctor for tests to rule out any physical conditions that may be causing this issue. Since you are a lady, a gynecologist visit may be in order too since there may be hormonal issues at play. Also take stock of whether anything has changed on your end. For example, have you started taking any new over the counter medicines or supplements? After all this, I agree the next stop is medication adjustment. I see you've already restarted counseling, so that's good.
posted by unannihilated at 9:49 PM on January 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I want so badly to reach my goals but they are ambitious, and I'm started to feel hopeless.

For this part, focus not on the ambitious end goals, but on the incremental changes that will help you head in the direction of those goals.

If you're in a really bad place right now, it's also OK to put the ambitious goals on hold for now, and just make sure you are taking care of the little things. You mentioned exercise, meds, nutrition & counselling - good. Also make sure your kitchen sink is clean, you make your bed, tidy your room, launder your clothes & do your grocery shopping. Just the simple stuff.

I went through a bout of anxiety / depression a short time ago, a lot of it presenting as extreme sleeplessness, adrenaline & racing thoughts. Turning to a GP for help with the sleep, along with emergency valium she asked what other techniques I use (all the usuals: journalling, making lists, "what's the worst that could happen if X eventuates?", cutting out blue light (screens) before bed, bedtime rituals etc), she offered this new technique which I love:

Slow your breathing right down in bed. Like, 6 complete breaths a minute. Supposedly this bodily reverses your hyper fight-or-flight response, by increasing the CO2 in your blood. It's your body's way of signalling to the brain / endocrine system that "Hey, the threat has passed. You can relax now!"

(This coincidentally echoes something from a martial art I do, which includes a strong emphasis on relaxation & breath control. The instructor had us hold our breaths (lungs about 30% full) until panic almost sets in & you can't hold it any longer. He said this is a great way to get to sleep, BTW. I later made the link between that & the doctor's CO2 explanation.

Anyway, those are some things you might find helpful.

I'd also recommend some meditation, mindfulness, and/or Buddhism, which can be as secular as you like. I particularly like the Dharma Punx / Insight Meditation Centre LA podcast, which is very accessible and generally not overladen with much woo-woo; very down to earth & easy to digest.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:08 PM on January 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can't sleep, my body is in flight-or-fight mode all the time, my brain hurts, I am weeping like crazy [...] I'm already on medicine

Back to your doctor. ASAP. Depending on your medication, it may very well be making a lot of these things worse, whether or not you've actually had an alteration in this recently. Especially an onset of this kind of thing in a matter of weeks is outside the realm of normal "my meds just aren't working very well" standards for me or people I know who've been on medication for depression and anxiety. The thing about these disorders is that the meds that help sometimes can hurt others. I wouldn't even say GP. If you've been seeing a GP for this medication, I think now is the time you need to get to an actual psychiatrist. If you have an actual psychiatrist, you need to go back as soon as possible and tell them all of this.
posted by Sequence at 12:21 AM on January 2, 2017

1. Tell yourself that you did not always feel this way and you will not always feel this way. This is tough to remember but it's true even though depression is an ugly liar who wants you to think otherwise.
2. Get into seeing a doctor for a med check asap, also a physical/blood test. This could be hormones just being assholes.
3. Take as many of what my family calls "miracle steps" as you can handle. We call them miracle steps because being able to do even one of them on some days is a goddamned miracle. These steps include getting outside for a walk, going for a run, weightlifting, yoga, guided meditation, making vitamin-loaded juices/smoothies, eating a ton of clean fruits and veggies, getting a pedicure, getting a massage, going to the library and checking out your favorite children's books, going to the closest big city and people watching, going to a fancy grocery store and getting all the good cheeses and olives, going to an art museum and absorbing beauty, getting yarn and knitting, watching an entire TV series like "30 Rock."
4. Tell yourself that you did not always feel this way and you will not always feel this way and you're choosing to get through the day 10 minutes at a time, or whatever increment works for you. But this will pass.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:03 AM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I did find that PMS and/or hormone changes made my anxiety worse. The insomnia, weird aches and pains, etc., made it difficult to deal with anxiety and depression.

Another thought is to get your Vitamin D and B levels checked, just in case, and it could be that whatever you're on has stopped being effective for you, or you might need something to take on an as-needed basis.

Things I have found helpful:

- Getting outside, even if it's to walk around the yard, or check the mail;
- Making a list. I use a spiral notepad, as I find the act of writing a list to help clear the junk out of my head. I will even write things like, "take a shower, eat breakfast," if I am feeling sluggish, and I do at least 3 things a day from my list. Crossing them off feels good;
- Writing purging emails to no one... well, to a person who has upset me, but I don't put anyone in the subject line, then I save it as a draft;
- Doing the same, by myself, but talking out loud. I have cats, so I can always pretend I was talking to them, if someone happens to hear me (or I will say I was rehearsing for a play). You'd be surprised how it can wear you out to speak all of these things out loud, and eventually, you might be moved to do something else, but I'm just venting here and there, not raving every day;
- Music. I pick whatever music I like that day, and keep in on low in the background;
- Essential oils: I have a lavender spray and some other essential oils that I keep nearby. When I am feeling anxious, I open one, right now my favorite is sweet orange, and take a deep sniff
- Pets. I mentioned that I have cats. I cannot stay in bed due to them, it is physically impossible, because they get in my face and jump on me. I also have to pay attention to them, and feed them, and of course, pet them. I will use the excuse of, "my cat needs me to sit on the couch with them," to take some down time;
- Letting go of ambitious projects when I am not feeling well. I take on a lot of things, then start them, and get discouraged, and then beat myself up. But I don't have to learn all of the things at once! It takes time, and often it takes outside help, a course, moral support, etc.;
- Watching relaxing videos on YouTube. ASMR, or people doing crafts, or woodworking, Buzzfeed, whatever. I often watch an ASMR video before bedtime;
- Reading a paper book in bed, with the light on. I don't take the laptop or phone into the bedroom, ever. I have a couple of books on my night table, and I crack those open, and the combination of a book, warm light, and blankets helps to calm my brain down;
- Getting up and having a snack, if I can't sleep. I like things like hot milk with sugar and nutmeg, or cereal, or even milk over saltine crackers (an old-timey snack that my Mom used to eat, it's surprisingly good);
- Hobbies. I cook as a hobby, and so supper is my project most days. I also keep things in the freezer, and peanut butter and jelly on hand, in case I am not up to cooking that day. I also do beading, not very well, but I can wire wrap crystals, which is insanely easy, and found this past summer that I like trimming the bark off of a stick, and sanding it until it's smooth. For some reason, that held my attention, because I couldn't stop sanding until it was perfect, I'm sure that's why lots of people like working with wood, because it's fun and satisfying. I also collect rocks and minerals, and have several that are tumbled, and use them as worry stones. There's something about holding a rock that calms me down, plus, crystals are sparkly!;
- Light. I get really bad on dark and gloomy days. I have a SAD light if I need it, but I don't expect myself to be all perky and stuff on dark days, I just hunker down and ride it out
- Speaking of light, I hang prisms in windows, that way, when the sun does come out, I see rainbows in random places, and that always perks me up;
- Stuffed animals. I have lots of them. I have a stuffed animal family on the back of my couch, another on my nightstand, and a few by my computer. I don't know why, but their cute little faces perk me up, and I can pick them up and hold them if I feel like it. I have a big dinosaur that I sleep with, before that, I used a scrunched up old velour bathrobe for years, until I found Mr. Dinosaur.

That's all I can think of for now, I have found moving to another room or taking a shower, keeping myself busy, to be the most helpful. My husband left 2 pair of my favorite fancy socks in the dryer at the laundromat yesterday, and it would have been easy to freak out all day over those socks, because they were my absolute favorite, and they were expensive, so I can't just replace them easily right now. But I already had my list made, so I stuck to it, whereas years ago, I probably would have flipped my lid over it for days on end. But they are just socks, and he didn't do it on purpose (he was trying to dry them all the way, because I hate damp socks).

For me, there is no one magic bullet. It's more like, recognizing it when it happens, and doing the best with the resources I have at my disposal, and getting 3 things done a day, even if it's showering, brushing my teeth, and feeding myself.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:43 AM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

My loved one with severe, treatment resistant depression did TMS (Mayo link just because it doesn't read like advertising), and holy shit it worked. Life is not perfect now, but it is bearable and livable. It was covered by their insurance, but obviously check with yours. This would be something to ask your psychiatrist about, as they have to prescribe it.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:51 AM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

N'thing all of the above. I think of depression resistance as being part of my daily algothrithm, the list of things you do habitually every day. I figure my physiology has switches in it like the BIOS on a PC. Set enough of them correctly and you get well being.
Mindfulness is getting the mental programming correct, meditation reboots your head space and clears out the junk. Likewise stoicism, reframing and other mental strategies are ways to manage your internal state.
Avoiding junk news is important to me now as it frames the world in such depressing terms.
I subscribe to lists like 'Barking up the wrong tree' and James Clear. Huge value aimed at optimizing the self.
Like any experiment, you set the conditions then vary the formula over time to test the results. If I have high strssors going on in my life, I can up my game by doing progresssive relaxation and positive statements while lying awake unable to sleep.You talk your stress off the ledge. You can also reframe it, see the positives, and just be mindful without hanging on to it as being permanent.
My really black depression usually manifests when I wake up. If I wait it out it usually ebbs within the hour. The experience of not having that occur is a clue for me to keep doing my process as it is working.
My daily algorithm right now:
- daily warmup followed by weights/yoga/pilates rotating basis 30 min or so.
- meditation
- sad light in morning with coffe then green tea
- high quality supplement w extra vit D and probiotic
- get outside every day at least 20 min.
- journal
and so forth. There's more to it than just these items but they are major habits I try to complete every day. Memail me if you want the complete d/l. The main idea being if you observe what improves your state, you can upgrade it over time. Eventually a light goes on that says "I feel pretty good' and that's your new state.
posted by diode at 8:26 AM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you were not depressed and anxious until you were sixteen then somewhere inside you you have an innate much happier set point. You have the physiological ability to restore yourself to the level of daily cheer and security that you previously experienced.

You may have to do a lot of work to find the way back to that place, but if your metabolism could sustain it then it can sustain it now.

Remember what you used to do when you were happy. It maybe that at sixteen you developed a sense of responsibility or shame, or both, and those things are being a barrier to your being non-depressed. It may be that you developed fear. It is worth doing some mental work to see how you changed and figure out how much you can restore the pre-depression personality, modified, of course to be an adult.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:14 PM on January 2, 2017

As an alternative point of view, depression and anxiety are medical conditions and obviously not your fault, and you deserve the best medical treatment to get you feeling better.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:11 PM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Come to terms with the fact that you are genuinely ill, and that you deserve to rest. I have these issues too, and once I started to think of them like the chronic disease they are, as debilitating (or more!) than many physical illnesses, I got much better at taking the time I need for self-care, and at having compassion for myself.

All the other specific suggestions by diode, Marie Mon Dieu, et al, sound great too. In the past couple of months I have made two daily goals for myself: meditate (even if it's only for five minutes) and get outside for a little while. It has helped a lot.

Good luck and warm wishes to you.
posted by missrachael at 8:30 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I started making some progress on my once abysmal inner contentment level when I began to sort out that the GAD was the primary (and likely congenital) issue and the depression was mainly an offshoot of exhaustion from the constant anxiety. Oh, the years of therapy and misdiagnoses before I got to that point! (About 15 of them, if I'm counting.)

The reason why it helped me is because I finally had something to focus my laser perfectionism on that was good, which was hunting down and soothing root causes of my anxiety one by one using self-taught CBT techniques. That is basically my life now and it provides endless learning and entertainment as well as helping to limit my more destructive or darker tendencies, which are long dormant but will never be gone.

Also, I have to say that becoming a mother did so much for me to externalize my POV. I became more functional. Motherhood is the urgency I need to re-animate myself. It gives me bravery and a sense of adventure and joy --- I think that is because I am naturally drawn into it and want to do my best, when before my strongest pull in life sometimes was just to disappear, be numb, take unnecessary risks or check out when I could.

Find a strong want that doesn't hurt you. Spend some years looking for it and try to tune out messages from people who mean well about how quickly and easily a good attitude will supposedly fix everything. Optimism will help in your search, but it will never numb your pain in the short term as mentally ceasing to care does, which is why doing so is tempting.

Don't feel too lonely, I hope. You can build quality of life. I've spent time inpatient and many people from my past think I'm a lost cause. I've proved them wrong now whether they know it or not.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 9:05 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

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