Posts Tagged ‘Depression’

This Brain of Mine

BrainofMine

I had some concerning dizzy spells pop up in December. These persisted for weeks and weeks. The dizziness was so persistent and intense that I stopped driving for a couple of months just to be on the safe side. I went to various doctors and had lots of tests to try to find out what was going on. We finally got to the bottom of it, but December through February were difficult months with all of the dizziness, doctors, and medical appointments.

It was difficult to know what was going on and whether the dizzy spells were anything truly worrisome or just one of the non-life-threatening quirks of being me. Considering my infertility saga, my ongoing issues with depression and anxiety, and my IBS, I seem to have a lot of non-life-threatening quirks of being me.

I’ve had dizzy spells like this in the past and I’ve seen doctors about them in the past and never really got answers about why I was having dizzy spells. All the obvious causes were ruled out. I was healthy–wasn’t that great?! But it’s frustrating to be told that my tests are “normal,” when the dizziness in my head has me feeling really off-kilter. I don’t consider “off-kilter” to be a normally functioning state.

Nobody ever said it, but whenever I got my dizziness checked out in the past, I always felt like the implication of the “normal” test results was, “it’s all in your head.”

In time the dizziness would pass on its own and I would go back to normal functioning, not really clear about how or why I got back there, but grateful that the dizziness was gone. Life would go on for weeks or months at a time before another dizzy spell would come on.

Sometimes the spells would come just once and then be gone and that would be the end of it. Other times, the dizziness would come in spell after spell, over and over, multiple times a day, for days at a time. These times were more rare, but always got my attention in a way that forced my hand to seek medical attention whether I wanted to or not.

It was one of those spell-after-spell, day-after-day times that crept up back in December. I felt this dizzy offensive provoking me to go to my doctor but I resisted it ever as hard as I could. I did not want to go through one more round of tests that would all come back normal. I knew the message I would hear was that this was all in my head.

But, I tell you, there is something wonderful about community, about family, about my dear husband, in particular. He saw the way I was suffering from my dizziness, the way I was barely making it through each day, and he urged me to get it checked out. So I did.

I started with our family medical practice and right away something felt different about the care I was getting. After describing some of my symptoms, I asked the doctor, “Does that make sense?”

“Anything you say makes sense,” he replied. “It doesn’t fit what I know to diagnose, but anything you say makes sense.”

To me, him saying, “Anything you say makes sense,” were the most important words of the entire appointment. It was as if he said to me, “I believe you. What you’re experiencing is real. It’s not just in your head.” Well, that’s what I heard anyway. Those words encouraged me to persevere from there to the Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) to which I was referred.

The ENT I saw was also very supportive and encouraging and gave me that same, “I believe you” vibe. I was so very grateful for his approach. He ordered some tests. Those turned out to be normal except for one having to do with my balance system. Nonetheless, the ENT felt strongly that my symptoms indicated a neurological cause, so he referred me to a neurologist.

That’s when things got serious. I mean, I thought I might have an inner ear problem, and now all of a suddenly, we’re talking about my brain!

A lot of doctors will tell you to stay away from the internet. “Don’t google your symptoms,” they say. And I know a lot of folks freak out when they read about diseases on the internet because they imagine the worst.

But I’m not one of those people. The internet is my friend and it’s a very helpful and informative friend at that. I read medical articles with a grain of salt and only look at trusted medical websites.

Reading about symptoms and causes helps me get a better understanding of what I might and might not be dealing with; this gives me peace and helps me take charge of my health instead of just waiting around for my next appointment. So I was thrilled when my ENT offered a couple of possible neurological causes of dizziness and suggested I look them up online.

There are a lot of neurological causes of dizziness. Some of them are pretty serious, even life-threatening. It was good to know about these–even the life-threatening ones. Quickly I realized that a lot of the worst neurological causes of dizziness didn’t fit my symptoms, so that was a relief.

Still, my dizziness remained a bit of a mystery to me.

When I saw the neurologist the first time she keyed in on some really obvious things about my health situation:

  1. I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
  2. I was way over-caffeinated.
  3. I had a history of migraines–since I was 8 years old.

“You’re a migraine sufferer,” she said. “You’ve had migraines since you were…” she looked at my chart, “8 years old,” she looked up and held eye contact with me.

“This is a hand you’ve been dealt in life,” she laid one hand inside the other as if holding a poker hand. “As a migraine sufferer your body is very sensitive to things like sleep habits, and how much caffeine you consume.”

And so she ordered me to get more sleep and wean myself off of all caffeine. Then she prescribed a new medication that is supposed to be really good for treating the dizziness associated with migraines.

She also ordered blood work, an EEG, and an MRI. She had to rule out all those serious and life-threatening neurological causes of dizziness, you know?

The EEG and MRI were loads of fun. And the price was right too! (Read those two sentences with a heavy dose of sarcasm.)

I felt pretty weary with all the tests I was doing. I had this growing understanding that my migraines were a bigger factor in my overall health than I had ever realized. I was frustrated that the doctors who investigated my dizziness in the past never linked it to my migraines! I was ready to just go with that diagnosis and not have to go through all the tests. But once we had set this neurological testing in motion, I had to see it through.

Finally though, when the blood work, EEG, and MRI results came back, everything was normal. There was nothing life-threatening wrong that we found! And that was great news!

So that meant we could be sure about the “dizziness associated with migraine” diagnosis. It was a relief to finally have a firm diagnosis for my dizziness. And it was a relief to know that if there was something going on with my brain, it was related to a condition of mine of which I am already aware.

Still, there was a part of me that felt embarrassed. Even though it was confirmed by a real medical doctor–a brain specialist even–that the cause of my dizziness wasn’t “all in my head,” the cause was something pretty obvious. I mean, I felt like I should have figured that out! My migraines are the longest-running, non-life-threatening quirk of being me of which I’m aware. Migraines have been part of my life since I was 8 years old!

I felt guilty for all that I put my family through just to find out that I needed to take better care of myself because I had been dealt the “migraine sufferer” hand in life. I actually already knew that in a way. I had done some work on identifying migraine triggers in the past and was really disciplined about those I knew about. I just didn’t realize how much my sleep patterns and over-caffeinating were messing with me. And I didn’t realize that the dizziness was a symptom of my migraines.

It was sobering to realize how out-of-control I had let my health become.

Since I started seeing the neurologist, I’ve worked hard at the changes to my sleep habits and caffeine consumption that the she ordered.

I can be a bit of an absent-minded professor type and forget to eat or sleep when I’m supposed to. I get easily absorbed and hyper-focused on one thing and forget about everything else around me. To get a project done, I would often end up working at late hours and consuming a lot of caffeine to see it through.

I thought this was all just fine, despite the fact that I was tired all the time.

At first, changing this pattern felt like an imposition on myself. I didn’t want to be bothered with a schedule! I’m a free spirit!

It was important to stop thinking about the changes as an imposition and to reframe this work as me learning to love myself (that old song by Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All,” with the lyric about “learning to love yourself,” has been the soundtrack in the back of my mind). I needed to accept the non-life-threatening quirk of my migraines as an integral part of who I am and love myself enough to give myself the care that a migraine sufferer needs.

So I’ve been sleeping more and better and feeling more rested than I have in years. I dutifully weaned myself completely off of caffeine and my neurologist approved me to add back in one thing with caffeine per day. With my sleep habits being better, I don’t even miss the caffeine. I’ve also discovered a whole world of herbal teas that are naturally caffeine-free and simply wonderful.

The dizzy spells are down to once-in-a-while rather than the spell-after-spell, day-after-day, and for that I am truly grateful. And I’m glad that I know now how important my sleep habits are in the overall picture of my health, you know, as a migraine sufferer.

Learning to love myself has also meant lightening up about not figuring this out sooner. Even the neurologist said that the medical community is still learning about dizziness associated with migraine.

It’s hard work, but I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can, non-life-threatening quirks and all. I’m learning to love myself, to love this brain of mine, and to play fair with this migraine-sufferer hand I’ve been dealt.

Christmas Glow

Light in Darkness

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. John 1

 

Light has always been an important symbol of Christmas for me.

In 8th grade I wrote a short story about a teenage young woman who was having trouble getting into the “Christmas spirit.” No matter what she did, she couldn’t work up the giddiness she used to feel about the season.

Then in church on Christmas Eve, during the candle lighting ceremony, she had an epiphany. The warm glow of the lights around the darkened sanctuary reminded her of the Good News of Jesus coming into the world to bring the light of God’s love to all people.

The story was a fictional representation of what was in my own heart–and often still is. I don’t get giddy about Christmas anymore like I did when I was a little kid. A lot of the “magic” of Christmas has faded in its importance and impressiveness in my heart and mind.

But this news–that God brings light to our darkness–I need that every-always.

If I’m going to feel anything special at Christmas, it’s almost certain it will involve light (or gel pens, but that’s kind-of the same thing).

During Christmas break in 1994, while I was engaged to my now husband, I got to go as his date to his brother’s wedding in Florida. I was in college in Kentucky at the time and went home to Ohio for Christmas and had my wisdom teeth pulled right after Christmas. I was miserable, but didn’t want to miss the wedding–the first wedding among my now husband and his siblings!

My now sister-in-law Angela was from the area where the wedding was, so she had insider knowledge on local attractions. One of the nights we were there Angela wanted to take us all to a Christmas village of some kind. I didn’t know what to expect and my mouth was sore, and I was weary from travel, so I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go.

But I am so glad I did!

The Christmas village was this whole lot filled with sweetly painted wooden-facade little houses and buildings. All of the little structures were decorated in lights. You could go up and down the “streets” of this village and see all of the places lit up.

I don’t even remember if there was anything distinctively Christian about the display, but the light–Oh! All those lights! They lit up my heart that night and I will always remember the night Angela took us there.

To this day, even if I can’t manufacture any “Christmas spirit,” I am filled with hope, awe, and wonder when I see peeps of light at Christmas in candle lighting ceremonies and light displays.

There’s something about light shining in darkness that speaks to my heart in a way that daylight or a brightly lit room doesn’t quite do.

I often think of my depression as darkness as worries close in on me, and my sense of worth dims. So, I understand darkness all too well. So when tiny lights defy the darkness, I am reminded that God–my God–is bigger than my darkness.

My favorite Psalm says it this way, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:11-12)

Even in my darkness, my God sees me and knows me and loves me.

Once again this Christmas, I can’t seem to manufacture that giddy Christmas feeling of my childhood. But the glow of God’s love fills me with hope at Christmas time–and always.

May you too know God’s love with a tenacious hope that defies darkness.

I Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke…but Not Why You Think

I’m not a big drinker and I’ve never tried so much as a puff of a cigarette. I haven’t said much about all this because what I have come to see is that my Position on drinking and smoking is less about Principle and more about Propensities.

To put it another way, I don’t drink much or smoke at all because I think if I did more of the one and even tried the other, well, I think I’d like it. Too much.

What I share here as to my reasons is very personal and not meant to point a finger at anyone else. For all I know, I’m the only person who’s had such little experience with substances yet craves them something fierce.

Somehow though, I keep feeling like it is something I need (want?) to share. And, you know, I’m on the internet now and my life is an open book anyway.

Over time I have had Good Reasons not to Do Substances. When I was underage, both were, of course, Illegal. As I dabbled in fundamentalist Christian thought, it was rather convenient to forego these substances because I was taught they were Sinful. And regardless of one’s age there are certainly Risks involved.

But those Reasons have faded over time. I’m old enough now that they are Legal, I no longer universally see their use as a Sin Issue, and I know plenty of people who are relatively Responsible about occasional enjoyment of these substances from time to time.

What remains for me personally a Stumbling Block about drinking and smoking though is the Addictive Nature of alcohol and tobacco because I sense in my body the very real and present possibility of Getting Hooked.

I have just enough sorrows that are just enough exacerbated by my stupid depression that I want to Drown Them All. Alcohol especially would be soooo easy…so easy.

My husband picked up a case of beer the other day and he put a few bottles in the fridge.

High Life?

Every time I so much as see the bottles there when I open the fridge, I feel a rush, a craving, a longing…a desire to Drown All The Everything. I want to grab a bottle and feel it course through me.

But I know me…and I know that times I’ve given into that a little, I’ve wanted to keep giving into it.

In this one area of my life, my tendency to Think Too Much has been a benefit to me. My self-awareness of how much I want to indulge has always nagged me enough to stop drinking before I’ve had too many and not even try smoking.

This part is delicate, so I want to tread lightly here, but I also have family history that stands as a warning sign to me. I know that these Propensities can run in families, so I have been especially Vigilant in my own life.

I don’t claim some moral high ground for my choices in these matters. If anything, I feel somehow weaker than others that I can’t just have one drink without Overthinking Every Sip.

But knowledge is power, and I do indeed know myself on this matter which is why I don’t drink and I don’t smoke.

Humor & Depression

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I was in the airport getting ready to board a plane when I saw the news about Robin Williams’ death. I gasped and clapped my hand to my mouth to muffle my groaning, “No!!!!”

I was so shocked and terribly saddened to see that light go out.

Too many lights go out.

Then I kept watching the TV Screen. Suspected suicide. History of depression.

“But,” people say, “he was so funny…so…happy…how could he be depressed?”

Oh, I know exactly how to be funny and depressed. That is my life.

I smile and laugh and joke because, well, I think I have a knack at being funny, of course. But also? I gotta find some way to cope with this damn depression.

Because blackness, dark, dark, dark gets really old and grows very heavy. So I make light of whatever I can whenever I can.

Pluswhich, I think my depression rather skews my take on the world such that I’m just a little quicker to spot life’s little ironies and hilarities. And caring is sharing, so I say the funny things and get the laugh.

Everybody likes that person.

The dark of “what’s the point of getting up today?” just doesn’t go over as well at the old church potluck.

That time I actually thought, “I just want to go throw myself down the stairs,” doesn’t really come up in polite conversation, no matter how nice people are.

And I promise you, the funny girl thing is not an act. I really am that funny. I’m not pretending when you see me smiling and laughing. That is genuine Jennifer.

I don’t hide the depression so much as I just try with all my might to ignore the hell out of it when I can muster it.

And when I can’t muster it, those are usually the times I am not even around other people because I’m just trying to survive until the next minute.

I don’t claim to speak for Mr. Williams and what he experienced. There’s already too much speculation about everything related to his death.

But when people are puzzled that humor and depression can be so intwined, I can offer my own experience as a “case study.” Damn it.

Mother’s Day is My Day?

FlowerForMother

I’m over at Life & Liberty today thinking about Mother’s Day and why it’s hard for me to claim the day as mine. Click the title to read that post:

Why I’m Ambivalent about Mother’s Day