How do I deal with the depression stemming from a really bad year?
October 13, 2007 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I have been beset by crappy luck and chronic health problems in the past year. It's been extremely stressful, worsened by the fact these very health problems prevent me from employing my normal methods of dealing with stress. I'm spiraling quickly downward into mood-swings and depression and I don't know what to do. How did you deal with your stressful periods?

In the past year, I've contracted HPV, had surgery to deal with the subsequent cervical dysplasia, developed bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections on multiple occasions, and due to the necessary multiple antibiotic regimens I'm now into the eighth month of a yeast infection that is not even responding to strong anti-fungals. In the past six months I've also managed to pick up ovarian cysts and chronic kidney stones. I have two sports injuries that prevent me from doing any exercise besides slow walking and just found out I have a repetitive stress injury in my forearms. I've had multiple emergency-room trips for some of these conditions, as well as one a few months ago for an absolutely vicious bout of food poisoning. To make matters worse, in the past year I've also been sexually assaulted and a victim of check fraud, both which were a multiple-month legal headache to deal with, not to mention the psychological toll.

My schoolwork is suffering. I'm completely stressed out--I have never had health problems and they're now all piling on at once. I could deal with any one just by itself, but the sheer mass of them is driving me crazy. I get a lot of relief from hard exercise, but the sports injuries prevent any form--really, any form, I've tried. I get relief from sex, but that's only been possible twice in the past three months due to the yeast infections. Can't drink because of the anti-fungals. Can't even bake, cook, pet my cats, or escape to the internet due to the RSI. I've tried coping with ice cream, but that provides short-term relief, long-term stress due the expanding waistline, and I gotta cut that out again in another effort to treat the yeast infection (I was on a meat-eggs-vegetables diet, the infection died down, I included the sugar again and it's come back with a vengeance).

I'm incredibly depressed. I'm getting inexplicable mood swings. I hate my sick, deteriorating body and want to escape it. I want to lie down somewhere and cry. I have had deep depression before, beat it, and have remained pretty optimistic and upbeat--but after a year of this shit I can't anymore. I've joked with my boyfriend that I hope I get cancer, as that would be a sure sign from the universe that it didn't want me in it and I could take it as a cue to just kill myself.

What did you do with your bad luck year? Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the stress (besides meditation--that hasn't worked)? I'm living my life waiting for the next thing to come around the corner and punch me in the face, while attempting to nurse the bruises I've already received. It's no life at all.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Try Tai Chi with a really calm, patient instructor. That's the main thing that brings me back to myself when the going gets rough. Good for you for trying to be proactive about getting beyond all of this. It WILL pass.
posted by pomegranate at 3:14 PM on October 13, 2007

Okay, let's get the first, obvious thing out of the way: you should consider therapy. Different approaches work for different people. I've found that cognitive behavioral therapy works best for me, but I've known people who've been helped by psychoanalysis, both Freudian and Jungian, as well as other methods.

Other than that, I can recommend, when you're having an anxiety or stress attack, to write a dialog down on paper, asking yourself what's going on and what to do about it. Here's an example:
Why am I worried?
Because I have a ferret gripping my right shin.
Why is that a problem?
Because it's a damn ferret and he's gripping my damn shin!
Is he biting me?
Why panic?
He could bite me!
Wouldn't he have bitten me already if he were going to.
I suppose.
Okay, then stop worrying about that for now, you have no control over it.
These kinds of exercises always help me a great deal. Obviously, in a real life situation, I'm panicking about real things, like losing a friend, and not ferrets attaching themselves to appendages.

On a broader level, I'm going through a rather spectacularly shitty year right now. I've been helped the most by (in order of importance) talking to my friends and family, doing things outside that I enjoy with other people (e.g. going to movies, caf├ęs, shows), doing creative work, reading and sleeping well.
posted by Kattullus at 3:28 PM on October 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

If I were you ...

I would get back on that meat-eggs-vegetables diet that seemed to help you.

And buy or rent that DVD, "The Secret." Yes, that DVD that was splattered over the Oprah multi media system. You need to get power from somewhere and it works for me so there ya go, my two cents.
posted by scottMontgomery at 3:37 PM on October 13, 2007

It helps me to write down a list of everything that's stressing me then mark the things I can and can't control or influence.

Everything I can't alter, or that are beyond my control, I try and work out what the worst possible outcome would be and how I'll deal with it personally.

The things I *can* alter, I make another list of what I'm going to do, babystep by babystep about them.

Once it's all down on paper and I know what I'm going to do (or not do) about stuff, instead of it all swirling around my head, I feel heaps better.

The other thing I do is try not to be too hard on myself if I feel down or stressed in stressful times. Feeling crap is a pretty natural reaction to awful circumstances and it sounds as though you have had a truly awful, awful year. So, be kind to yourself.

Also: I try and eat well and take time to do something I really like everyday. For me, that's lots of veggies, minimal coffee, and watching old movies on DVD.

Last: if you haven't, could you find a sympathetic counselor to talk through this stuff, and come up with some strategies to deal with it? That's helped me in the past.
posted by t0astie at 3:42 PM on October 13, 2007 [6 favorites]

Don't hit me over the head for suggesting this, but I find that stress feeds into illness, so that if I'm already prone to being sick, it gets worse because of the stress/depression/anxiety.

So, yes, do try therapy. You might also try some really light yoga, something that focuses more on the meditation and breathing elements than on the physical. If you do try yoga, make sure you only participate in physical exercises that don't hurt you -- you can always sit down on your mat and breathe while everyone else jumps around.
posted by brina at 3:46 PM on October 13, 2007

I'll second some kind of therapy or intense friendship that can help you boil down a few of these horrendo coincidences and figure out your response right now, as well as help to formulate a plan of attack. I know that health problems really really mess with your mind, confidence in your self and body and can be hard to dig out of. But you will, one step at a time, and then you'll have a completely new take on life - one that doesn't take it for granted, nor let it entirely dictate your mood or response. Take nice slow long walks in pleasant environments, learn tai chi, learn mindfulness meditation, play with puzzles, watch old favourite movies. In general - be kind to yourself in the ways you know how.

Also: what about swimming? I would seriously try water aerobics, or slow, easy laps and using a kickboard or fins as necessary.
posted by barnone at 3:52 PM on October 13, 2007

There's also 'restorative yoga' or 'rejuvenating yoga' or even yoga for folks with illness or injury. They are fantastic classes for learning how to get back in touch with your body, your breath, your spirit, your capabilities.
posted by barnone at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2007

just a thought, but have you considered taking a leave of absence from school [i'm assuming you're in college]? a sexual assault on top of everything else sounds like something you need months to recover from, without having to worry about stressful school stuff.. then try therapy during that time, and give yourself some room to breathe.

I have never done this myself, so I guess I'm not properly answering your question, but if you've got the will to go back to it, and the financial stability to do so, this seems like a perfect opportunity.. again, something to talk to a counselor about, or someone close to you..
posted by ethel at 3:59 PM on October 13, 2007

Get outside as much as possible. If you're sitting around talking to boyfriend and it's at all nice, go outside to do it. If you're studying, go to the park.

For the rest of the time, Netflix.
posted by anaelith at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2007

Are you eating yogurt or taking acidophilus (you can get it in milk, or in capsules at your health food store) at all? That will probably help a lot with kicking the yeast infection, at least.

The rest of it sounds physically and emotionally grueling, which is probably making you feel even more sick and tired. Ask for help, and I don't just mean therapy. See if your boyfriend or other friends can do things to help you out with exercise, motivation, or handling schoolwork. It's very easy to want to curl up and block everything (and everybody) out when you feel this way, but this is the exact time that you need to reach out and invite people in to help.
posted by stefanie at 4:08 PM on October 13, 2007

Voice recognition software could get you back on the Internet.
posted by Soliloquy at 4:10 PM on October 13, 2007

nthing ethel re: considering a leave of absence - it's not permanent, but just a stop gap until things get a little calmer. Be gentle with yourself - you've truly been through so much in one year, it's remarkable you're able to keep your head above water.

And yes, the food, the outdoors, all of this helps. Do what feels good. Take care of yourself - take advantage of any services your school offers - any counsellors, etc. Treat yourself to little gifts here and there, and make sure your boyfriend and family help share the load.

I wish I had some better advice other than "I've been there, will probably be visiting soon enough again", and sending good karma you way. I hope things start to get better soon. We'll be rooting for you.
posted by rmm at 4:31 PM on October 13, 2007

sugar free ice cream! (provided milk's not the problem, but I bet there's sugar free sorbet out there)
posted by fermezporte at 4:48 PM on October 13, 2007

I'm living my life waiting for the next thing to come around the corner and punch me in the face, while attempting to nurse the bruises I've already received.

I've definitely known this feeling at times -- like you're a giant jinxed bad luck magnet; after enough freakishly unusual bad things happen, you go around almost visibly cringing just to brace yourself for the next wave while still trying to regain your footing from the last one.

It doesn't fix anything, but a dumb, comforting thing I do at these times is try to take note of each piece of good luck or non-bad-luck that occurs. Not to get smug or convince myself that I'm back on a winning streak, because that's just asking for more trouble, but just as a way of reminding myself each day, "Even if life is a huge shitstorm right now, it's not 100% shitty." Just taking a moment to enjoy the fact that, for instance, I changed the bulb in the kitchen light fixture and didn't fall off the chair and break my ankle or land on a dog can be calming.

And seconding others' suggestion to spend every moment you can doing any (non-destructive) pleasant, escapist, self-pampering, life-improving activity you can think of. Even a slow, short walk out in some fresh air can be restorative. All the illness and injury and emotional trauma have probably trashed your resistance and immune system, and so you do need to take it easy, eat healthy and get professional advice on coping and stress-reduction strategies.

Things do get better eventually -- maybe not completely or exactly as they once were, and it all seems very frightening and disheartening when you look around you and think, "This is not me or my life; where did they go?" but bit by bit you'll get yourself back again and be OK.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:57 PM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


they don't make you happy, they don't fix your problems for you, but once you're on them, and not suffering from that mind-numbing can't do anything kind of feeling you can get out and do something productive, which makes things better.

certainly helped me turn my life around.

oh, and don't stop taking them abruptly. your doctor will yell at you, rightly so.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 6:06 PM on October 13, 2007

yes, see a psychiatrist. antidepressants may help, therapy certainly will. that little crack about getting cancer so you know it's your cue to kill yourself? i'm sure that's not a joke. make the call to your student health center or student counseling center on monday morning.

keep walking. every little bit helps. yoga is a great idea. ditto pilates. is it possible for you to try swimming?

get back on that diet. get sunlight and regular sleep. take a multivitamin.

take a leave of absence from school if it's contributing to your stress. if it helps distract you, however, then stay.

and hang in there. the year is almost over...the only way to go now is up. good luck.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:58 PM on October 13, 2007

Celebrate the small victories.
posted by 517 at 8:56 PM on October 13, 2007

Other people have already addressed the most important and urgent need, so I'll just nth that: please contact a therapist right away. There's so much they can do to help you cope with, or get out from under, the stresses you're facing.

If you do decide to stay in school right now (and I agree that you should think about whether that's one burden too many right now...), get in touch with with the university's office for disabled students. You'd be surprised how much support they may be able to offer you. Those service are not just for people in wheelchairs, or with dyslexia. They're there to serve any student with a legitimate medical problem, physical or mental, that's restricting your ability to get the education you're paying for. So it's very likely they can introduce you to some assistive technology to work around the RSI, hook you up with a tutor to help you get caught up, refer you to some support groups on campus or in the community, arrange for you to get temporary academic accomodations like more time to finish papers, etc. At many schools, it's completely free, and regrettably underused by people like you who most need and deserve help getting back on track.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:42 PM on October 13, 2007

Nthing the therapy and some beginners yoga as well... the yoga especially for the meditative effects and flexibility more than the exercise. Also, with a psychaitrist's help (not just a general practitioner), try some anti-anxiety/anti-depressants. A psychiatrist is best experienced to help you find the right combination and dosages of meds (along with therapy) that work best for you. (Effexor XR and Xanax XR work best for me, other meds did little or nothing). Your doc can often help you with free samples or generics to help save money.

You might also look into your food intake and see if particular foods also aggravate your symptoms. Food allergies sometimes mask as stressors.

Is there anything relaxing you can do to treat yourself? Relaxing at the beach or a through massage? You don't need a reason beyond you deserve to be good to yourself.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 10:46 PM on October 13, 2007

PS Don't feel like you are chained to anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds forever. Many people just use them to help them through a particular rough patch and then cut back or quit (under dr. supervison) once their stress levels return to normal. The medication isn't to make everything all wonderful and rosey; it's to restore your balance so you can be functional again until you don't need them anymore.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 10:51 PM on October 13, 2007

Like stefanie mentioned, you should look for some acidophilus supplements. Look for things labeled "probiotic". They really help balance things out after anti-fungals or antibiotics and are just generally good to bring things back on track after you get totally (medically) derailed.

And like everyone is saying, stress and illness are very prone to feed each other. Therapy, friends (as lame as that sounds, and as tired as you may feel of them, just talk to them, online, or whatever), and getting your body back to baseline will all help.
posted by blacklite at 12:26 AM on October 14, 2007

I've struggled with multiple chronic illnesses for the past 13 years, often while juggling school as well as work. The key for me is to find things that bring me joy and anticipation in spite of the pain. You've lost the key things that do that for you, so you need to find other things that bridge the gap. That means exposing yourself to opportunities, and new experiences even when you don't feel like it.

When things are at their very worst make a list of things you can do that are distracting and not harmful--watch funny movies, having friends over for a popcorn and board games night, etc. Go have a massage if you can afford one. Take up herbal teas as a hobby. Learn to do things that don't aggravate your RSI. Sing, for example.

A lot of what you're going through makes sexual/romantic relationships hard right now. I can guarantee you're having depression about that. What you need to realize is that while it will make your dating life more interesting and difficult, that part of your life is NOT over. Remember that. There are those of us out there who can definitively tell you that.

And yes, do get into therapy.
posted by tejolote at 4:45 PM on October 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

As for radical mood swings, talk to your therapist about anti-depressants, and read "Feeling Good." The language is a little condescending, but remember it's written so that *everyone* can read it. Just ignore that, and take the good stuff. It is a useful book.
posted by tejolote at 4:47 PM on October 14, 2007

i second massage. I also have had a ridiculous shitty year of death, injury, depression, stupid legal problems that i couldn't control etc. One thing that a very kind family member did for me was give me a 6 month gift certificate to a massage therapist who also does a little chiropractics and sports medicine. she's been fixing things in my body i didn't know were broken and in the meantime has been incredibly relaxing and helping me focus on my body in a good way instead of a hateful you-suck-everything's-broken sort of a way. if you can swing it, I would definitely recommend getting into a regular massage regimen.
posted by Soulbee at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2007

I look to the people I respect and who I care about and ask them for help finding perspective.
posted by plinth at 6:35 AM on October 15, 2007

« Older Et tu, Maytag?   |   Where can I find these metal things to hang a sign... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.