Saturday, May 31, 2008

Staying up all night is GOOD for you!

I'm feeling down today. We had our carpets cleaned this morning and the flurry of activity related to that held the blues at bay until this afternoon. I was in the grocery store with my oldest and she was being so sweet and wonderful that I got depressed. I know, it doesn't make sense, but it was like all my love for her filled me up to bursting and it overwhelmed me and left me feeling, well, depressed. It was strange. This has happened on a few other occasions and I'm still trying to figure it out.

Anyway, I came home and tried to explain it to my husband. He gave me a hug and said that it was probably just the stress of trying to get the house clean for the carpet cleaners (yes, we had to clean for the cleaners!) and staying up late last night trying to finish my entries for the Irreantum contests. I told him he was probably right.

After all, it is conventional wisdom that if you aren't getting enough sleep you will end up depressed. I remember when I was leaving the hospital after the birth of my second and the nurse in charge of discharge information advised me to get at least five hours of sleep. She said that women who don't manage at least a five hour chunk of sleep are much more likely to end up with postpartum depression. Sleep, she said, was key to mood management.(Having had PPD with my first and perinatal depression with my second, I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. The story of PPD is so much more complicated than the amount of sleep a woman gets!) Then, just a couple months ago, when I was talking with my daughter's "feelings doctor" about whether or not my meds were still working for me, she suggested that I get 24 hours of sleep to give my system a boost. (Again, it was hard not to roll my eyes. How am I supposed to get 24 hours of sleep when I have three children?) The basic gist seems to be that sleep renews the body and refreshes the mind. But for depressed people this may not be the case.

It started in the late 1970s when a Swiss neurobiologist, Anna Wirz-Justice, recommended a sleepless night for a severely depressed patient. The results were quick and decisive. In the wee small hours of the morning the patient, who had previously been nearly comatose with depression, began talking and acting like, well, a normal person. Since then numerous studies have been done to test the effectiveness of sleep deprivation as therapy. The conclusions are intriguing. Supposedly 60% of depressed people see improvement within hours of skipping sleep.

Why it works is still a mystery. Some researchers suggest that glucose metabolism in the brain is the reason. Others say it has something to do with the way the depressed mind interacts with the REM cycle. Others suggest it has something to with how thyroid hormone is produced. (Sorry I lost the link to that last one.)

Counterintuitive as it may be, the whole sleep deprivation thing makes sense to me. I am constantly tired. I usually get around six hours of interrupted sleep and I'm yawning before I've finished dishing up my kids' breakfast. I almost always need a twenty minute power nap around 2:30 pm. I can usually rally for the bedtime reading and snuggling routine, but I'm exhausted by the time they are all down. I am always telling myself that I am going to get to bed early. But I don't. Turns out by about 9:00 pm I start perking up. My brain kicks back into gear and I find that I have a couple of hours of working time before I turn back into a zombie.

Of course there are couple hang-ups with sleep deprivation therapy. First, in almost all the studies, when patients returned to a normal sleep pattern (which is recommended since sleep deprivation is linked to diabetes and obesity) the depression returned. Second, it really isn't practical. Most of us live in families and work jobs. Staying up all night would work for me as long as I didn't have to drive anywhere. Or deal with children! Most experts seem to agree that this isn't a long term solution to depression. But, if you have a doctor that will supervise you and you are waiting for your meds to kick in or other therapy to start, this may be a treatment that works in the short term--it may give a glimmer of hope to someone who thought there wasn't any.

What do you guys think? I know some of you readers are way better educated than me and have more experience, any of you tried this? Be sure to comment and let me know.

Friday, May 23, 2008

To medicate or not to medicate?

Antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in America. Which is understandable, considering that an estimated 18.8 million American adults (or 9.5% of the 18 and older population) struggle with some form of depression. But here's the amazing part, 80% of people with depression are not recieving any treatment for their illness. Most of us are toughing it out on our own.

Now, I am currently on an antidepressant. (For the story on why read here.) And I honestly believe it has helped me. However, every time I have started taking the pills I always start trying to calculate when I can be done taking them. I think that's because there are still so many myths out there about antidepressants and it complicates the issue.

So here's my attempt at debunking some of the myths surrounding antidepressants:

Myth #1. If you start taking an antidepressant you have to take it forever. Not true at all, you can quit taking them when you're dead! No, in all seriousness, while 9.5% of the adult population may suffer from some form of chronic depression 25% will suffer some sort of temporary depression. Many of people with temporary (or situational) depression take the medication for a only short time (six months is the shortest recommended time) to help their body readjust its chemistry. However, if you are like me and have the genuine crazies instead of temporary insanity, you usually stay on the meds for longer.

Myth #2. Antidepressants are only as effective as a placebo. This one is only sort of false. Back in 2002 a study was done that concluded a sugar pill was just as good as an SSRI. According to the study, it didn't matter what kind of "medicine" a participant was on. They all saw improvement. Some people take issue with the study because of all the extra care involved. Study particpants got checked on so frequently it basically amounted to therapy--and we all know that therapy is good for almost anyone!

Myth #3. Antidepressants are only for really crazy people. Let's just say that if they are the most prescribed drug in the nation then there are a lot more really crazy people out there than we thought. Oh, and most of us really crazy people look just like you.

Myth #4. Antidepressants are a miracle pill that will solve all your problems! I wish. Actually, antidepressants are most effective when combined with talk therapy. Turns out to manage this illness you have to do some hard work--usually solving the situational/environmental problems that contributed to your depression in the first place. Let's face it, when we're sad, there's usually a reason.

Of course only a doctor can help you figure out what's right for you. But I say, if you're struggling, why not try them and join one of the biggest clubs in America (but don't worry, we won't tell anyone who you are. We know you want to appear normal)! What myths have you guys come up against when considering antidepressants? I really want to know!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Something to Be Grateful For

For our ward's quarterly Enrichment meeting we decided to focus on gratitude and President Eyring's talk "O Remember, Remember". For part of the program we asked several sisters to keep gratitude journals for one month and then report on the experience. Their stories ended up being the highlight of the night!

One of my favorites came from one of my visiting teachers, De. De has been with me for a few years now and has listened to me jabber through a lot of ups and downs (I talk A LOT and my poor VTs just listen. I love having a captive audience!). She is a wonderful listener and I'm grateful for her gospel insights and patience. De also happens to be blind. She has some residual sight which allows her to see contrasts but she has a hard time going from low light to bright light and, I think, most things are just a blur for her.

Here is what De said that night:

I was asked to keep this journal to record things I'm grateful for. I'm not a gifted writer, but I started out trying to write something each evening. I think I was trying too hard to think of things that were "out of the ordinary" (maybe bordering on the miraculous), but there were a lot of days that were just ordinary. So I decided that I was overthinking it. I don't have to try that hard to think of things to be grateful for. So I started thinking about all the blessings I receive every day. I'm alive - what a wonderful gift that is. I wake up every morning in my warm, cozy bed in my own home. I can hear the birds singing and I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I should be on my knees constantly thanking God for all the wonderful blessings I have. I was ashamed to realize that I had been taking all these things for granted.

Diana [our RS pres.] mentioned in her lesson Sunday that we should be grateful for everything in our lives, even the bad things. That got me thinking about the trials in my life...have I ever felt grateful??? When I bang my head for the 100th time in a day or lay something down and can't find it again, do I feel grateful, or do I mutter, "Lord, life would be so much easier if I could just see."

I hadn't given that a lot of thought before, but I did find some things to be grateful for. I should be grateful that I haven't had a concussion or permanent brain damage. I can't see the grey hair, wrinkles or turkey neck, so in my mind I'm still the same person I've always been--I'll never get old! I don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about what to wear. If I get dressed and my clothes are on right side out and I don't have on 2 different shoes, I'm good to go.

Seriously, there are blessings. I see things with my heart instead of my eyes. When you can't see what people look like, you see who they really are on the inside. I think being visually impaired has made me a better person. I'm more patient & compassionate & I've had to develop a sense of humor. If you don't laugh, you cry. So once again, I don't have to look very hard to find things to be grateful for.

And now for the really big blessings (and this is miraculous). Because of the atonement, I will be resurrected with a perfect body and I'll be able to see. And because of temple ordinances, I've been able to do baptisms for my parents & my son, and I'll be able to see them again.

So what the gratitdue journal has done for me is to make me think seriously about all the many blessings in my life, and to be truly grateful for every one of them (even the trials) If I actually made a list of all the things I'm grateful for, this little notebook wouldn't be big enough to hold it. It's my prayer that I will always be aware of the many blessings in my life and never take them for granted and I hope that someday I will be worthy to return to live with Heavenly Father & Jesus Christ and to be able to thank them personally for the life they have given me.

Maybe it's because I know De personally that her story meant so much to me, but I don't think so. I think it was meaningful because she whole-heartedly embraced what gratitude can do for us. Gratitude is such a powerful state of mind. (Even WebMD thinks of it as a part of depression therapy!) Not only does gratitude makes us more alert, enthusiastic, determined, optimistic, and energetic, it also opens our hearts to God. And for that, I'm grateful.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mormon Literature Roundup

In my effort to read one a book a week this year I've been using the Inter-Library Loan desk a lot. I cannot say enough good things about the ILL program. If you people don't know how to use or aren't using it, you are missing out! It has been especially handy lately as I've been on a Mormon book binge. Here's the roundup of my latest reads:

Book #17--The Backslider by Levi Peterson. This is single-handedly the most male (or should I say phallic?) book I have ever read. It was all about brawls, hunting, drinking, the male sex drive, and, oh yeah, the Church. It covered every touchy Church subject from polygamy to inter-faith marriage to birth control to 'jack' mormons (does anyone know the polite term for that?; I hate using 'jack', but the concept is different than a "less-active" or "inactive" member. . .). I believe it was published in the 80's and maybe part of the author's goal was to break down some barriers and talk about things LDS church members don't usually discuss, which I appreciated. (For reviews read here.) I'm not sure, though if I would recommend this book. I know a lot of my LDS friends would be offended/shocked by it. And, because the main character spends most of the book misunderstanding our theology and relationship with God, I would hesitate to recommend it to any non-LDS readers. That said, I think I liked it. There were so many golden moments in the prose; I just had to stop and read them over and over. The characters were strange (especially Alice--who is a man who castrates himself on a hunting trip), but real. The vision at the end of the book about the Cowboy Jesus was tantalizing (the fact that the vision occurred in a urinal, I'm not so sure about. . .) I don't know. Maybe Peterson is sort of the Dostoevski of LDS lit. The book is dark and full of guilt and sadness, but the redemption is nice and, perhaps, justifies the journey.
If any of you readers have some insight about this book, please comment on it! I wish I read this in school so I could talk about it with people.

Book #18--The Pictograph Murders by Patricia Karamesines (who would be my mentor if only I lived close enough to really pester her. As is, I just have to wait breathlessly for her to post on AMV or Times and Seasons or BCC). I LOVED this book. I wasn't sure about it at first because the main character did not seem very likable. I don't know what it was about Alex that bothered me, but I just didn't get her vibe. Of course, as I read more I think that was intentional. Alex's character unfolds and reveals itself not only to the reader but also to Alex. This, in the end, made her a relatable character. The novel is a murder mystery, but really it's more. The reader has no doubt about the "whodunnit" question. It's the why's and the what if's of the book that really get you. My favorite aspect of the novel, the thing that won me over, was how Karamesines interwove Native American coyote myths with the story. It gave the book a Madeleine L'Engle feel (who would also be my mentor, if she wasn't dead. As is, I just have to reread her books and published memoirs all the time). This is a book I would recommend. In fact, I'm doing so now: Read it, people! Read it!

Book #19--Hooligan by Douglas Thayer. Um, this was another male book (although not so phallic). I really didn't get it. I read Thayer's Under the Cottonwoods and other stories a few years back and appreciated it. But his memoirs, not so much. Maybe it's because I'm the mommy of little baby boy, but I found a lot of the stories horrifying. I can't believe Thayer and his friends would trick other boys into climbing into underground tunnels and then try to collapse the tunnel on top of them. I can't believe they killed SO MANY birds, rabbits, and other small animals all the time. I can't believe those boys gathered piles and piles of cardboard to build cities out of and then set them on fire for fun. However, the most horrifying story to me was that if they were mad at someone they would tie the boy to the tree, light a fire at his feet, and then pee on it so the tied-up one would have to smell the horrible fumes and get splattered by hot urine. ICK! Where were their mothers?!? (At home ironing and washing dishes and scrubbing floors and working to make ends meet during the Depression . . . all right, fine, I won't blame it on their mothers.) All I can say is, if these are a boy's natural inclinations I can see why the Boy Scout Program is a must.

Book #20--Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell. This might actually be my favorite Mormon book to date. Barry Monroe, the protagonist, had such a distinct narrative voice and the way he interacted with LDS theology was so on track with how I experience it that I felt like I had (sort of, since Barry is a guy and a missionary) found myself. Funny thing about it: it turns into a romance novel at the end. Normally I hate romance, but it caught me so off guard I found myself rooting for the characters and really hoping they'd end up together. If a book can make me do that, it must be doing something right! I'd recommend you all go out and buy it right now except that it's out of print! So, hey, go ILL it!

Book #21--Salvador by Margaret Blair Young. I wasn't such a fan of this one, but then I read this review and came to appreciate it a little more. I guess I'm just not sure of the why behind this book. The book revolves around a young woman, named Julie, who is waiting for her divorce to be finalized and ends up traveling to El Salvador with her parents. In that idyllic setting Julie discovers which parts of her faith are misplaced and which parts are not. Maybe my problem with it is that it never got to the heart of our religion (and by extension, our culture), which is our relationship with our Savior. Plenty of the characters claimed revelation and witnesses from the Holy Ghost, but it seemed like they were all doing it as spiritual manipulation for their own gain. And Julie never had a spiritual "aha moment." She had an intellectual and emotional one, but she never reconciles herself to God. Which I'm actually okay with. I know that life and our spirituality aren't an after-school special with clear endings. Spirituality is a messy journey. I just needed the author to comment on the mess of it all. To paraphrase Simon from American Idol (forgive me, but he used an apt metaphor) this book was like ordering a hamburger and only getting the bun and condiments.

So, if you are still reading this incredibly long post, please comment and let me know what LDS books you like and what you think of any of the ones I've mentioned!

Monday, May 5, 2008

We'll look back on this and laugh?

Being only 26 years old and the mom of three little ones, I get a lot of bizarre comments from people. Things like, "They're not all yours are they?" and "That's too bad" are ones I've heard. A month ago I was waiting in line for a prescription, since at least one of my children is ALWAYS sick, and the man in front of me commented on how I had "so many" kids. He then said, "Yeah, I don't have any. It just seemed too hard and really they'd just get in my way." In my mind I was thinking, "Wow. So that makes you selfish and a coward! Good for you!" Part of me still wishes I'd said it out loud. Of course, the one that takes the cake came from Santa Claus at the mall last Christmas. I walked up with my kids--so that they could stare at him, because of course none of them would actually sit on his lap or talk to him despite the fact that they begged to see him-- and Santa said to me, "Are they all yours?!" To which I replied, "Yep! I sure am lucky!" To which he muttered, "Well, I guess it's your choice. . ." Right joy old elf, indeed.

Anyway, the comment I get most often is one that is familiar to parents the world over. It usually comes from a little old lady or a well meaning checker at the grocery store when one of my girls is pitching a fit or the baby is wailing his guts out. The commenter get this simpering smile, nods a little, tsk-s, and says, "You know, someday you'll miss this. You'll look back on all this and just laugh at how wonderful it was!" I generally try to smile back and say, "I know. I really am lucky aren't I!"

I wonder, though, how much of this will I really look back on and laugh about? The tantrums in the grocery stores could be funny if told in the right manner and at a prime occassion (first dates? wedding receptions?). I think I'll hold onto to all stories involving poop and vomit for when my kids' kids are flinging bodily fluids madly about their houses. But, then, schadenfreude--while pleasant--isn't the same as having a good belly laugh. I know I won't look back on the sleepless nights and the angry outbursts with glee.

I think this is true for other things in life too. It's not just with kids, but when we are faced with anything hard we want to tell ourselves that we'll look back on this sometime and laugh. That someday, somewhere (anyone singing West Side Story yet?) we'll feel better about all the tough things in our lives. But will we really?

Maybe in an effort to look back on all my depressed days and laugh, I've been scouring the Internet for jokes about depression. Turns out there aren't any. Well, at least not any good ones. Read on, if you dare!, because I am about to post some really UN-funny jokes. (I got them from this website.)

Q. What's good about depression?
A. You always have your funeral planned in advance,

Q. What's good about being depressed?
A. Nothing. But it's no worse than anything else since life sucks anyhow.

Q. What's good about Treatment Resistent Depression?
A. You qualify for all the Clinical Trials!

Q. What's an advantage to Major Depression?
A. You never have to make your bed, since you're always in it.

And a final note from Woody Allen: "On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down."

If you guys know any good jokes be sure to post them here. We could all use the laugh!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Good Days

Today is May 1st and it is snowing. Big soapsud flakes falling from dense, gray clouds are covering my newly greened grass. In our morning family prayer I thanked the Lord for the snow because it would make our spring plants prettier--there IS a method to this elemental madness.

I feel like I blog a lot about the bad days (and if you want more bad days read here. That feels good. You know, getting the feelings out of my head makes them less overwhelming. And the process of articulation always facilitates revelation, so that's worthwhile. But, on some bad days, what helps is to remember the good days. So that's what I'm going to try to do today. If the bad days feel like never-ending roller coasters and deep pits of angry water, what do the good days feel like?

The good days are like cotton candy: light and colorful and sweet. The good feelings dissolve through my body like sugar on the tongue.

The good days make me feel like a kid tucked into my mom's bed: everthing is so big and comfy that I never want to get out. It's almost like magic because I can jump and roll and even do sommersaults and still be surrounded by softness.

The good days are like a good book: I get absolutely lost in it and when it's over I wish it wasn't. It leaves me wanting more.

The good days are like my children's laughter: spontaneous, infectious, and sometimes gone too soon.

The good days are like sunshine: they make everything clearer and brighter. So many things look better by daylight.

So tell me what are your good days like?