Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sleep Loss = Depression (Some sciency type stuff!)

I'm usually fairly long-winded when I blog. It's a general weakness that involves ALWAYS giving long answers and an aversion to single syllable words. BUT I'm not going to tax your eyes today, friends. I just have a short, science-y snippet to share. This is taken from the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

"Perhaps most fascinating [about sleep loss], the emotional context of memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine."

So, if you need another reason to go to bed earlier, there you go. Now get some sleep already!! (Says the mother of four small children, two of whom wake up at least three times a night. . .)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Medicine and Confessions

Okay, so I've really been touting my feeling-good-all-the-time thing here lately. And it is true that I am enjoying better mental health than I have in years. And it's true that I'm happy. And it's true that I am loving life. And it's true that I'm reveling in it.

However, I feel like I should probably own up to the fact that I've been having some ups and down with my meds.

I've really shied away from putting this up here for a couple reasons but the biggest reason is that I really like pretending my recent stint of peace has very little to do with the medicine and everything to do with me. There's a big part of me that wants to say, "See? That depression thing was just a fluke. That's not really me or a part of who I am. I'm normal. I don't have problems." Never mind that normal is a basically undefinable (and impossible) state of being and that it would be abnormal (whatever that is) to not have any problems. It's just that there's this huge part of me that likes being able to live up to so many high expectations and doesn't want to admit that I need/have medicinal help.

Here's the situation: I take my meds (Paxil 10 mgs) every night right before I brush my teeth. Except for when I notice the bottle getting low. When I notice that there is only about a week left I start to take them maybe every other day. Then when there are no pills left I usually forget to call in the refill. I think part of this problem is because my psychiatrist will only prescribe two months of meds at a time and calling her office and asking them to fax in a refill request is a pain in the heiney. But I think it also comes down to me wishing that I didn't need medicine to be pulled together.

The first couple days off the meds I have this exhilarating feeling of freedom. Around day three I start to crave sugar--lots of sugar-- and my mood starts to cycle up and down faster. By day five vertigo sets in and I'm tired and grouchy and easily confused. So I work out the refill (which sometimes takes a few days) and start taking my meds again. Usually my irritability skyrockets those first couple days back on, but then I even out and I'm good for then next three-ish weeks.

I sort of talked about this with my psychiatrist and she made the comment that it seems like I'm using my antidepressant to manage my stress. She said it in passing but it made me panic a bit. I immediately said, "What? Oh no! Am I allowed to take this for stress management?" She looked at me quizzically and responded, "Well, I don't know what you mean by allowed." That was the end of that conversation. (My psychiatrist is not very chatty or interested in probing the depths of existential questions. She's more of a practical kind of gal.)

I think this too has something to do with my love/hate relationship with my meds. I think in my mind I feel like it's appropriate to take medication for postpartum depression. You know, that's a valid diagnosis. It's real. I'm a little more wishy-washy when it comes to taking it for run-of-the-mill, day-in-day-out depression. I mean sure that's a real condition but it's harder for me to accept it as something I have--especially when I feel so good! But taking a pill for stress management? That seems ridiculous. I find that I mentally chide myself for being too weak or dumb to handle stress without some crutch. And I berate myself for creating a stressful life. It's like my inner drill sergeant is saying, "You got yourself into this mess and now you need to get yourself out."

One thing I got out of all the time I spent in therapy a few years back was that labels are of very little use when it comes to mental health. Labels are handy for doctors and insurance companies and in general conversation, but they are not handy for individuals. When we accept labels their attendant definitions usually end up circumscribing us. The labels change how we see ourselves and who we will let ourselves be.

I was comfortable with the label of postpartum depression. I could mostly embrace regular old depression. And I thought that meant progress. But now I'm thinking it doesn't. I'm thinking the next step is learning to be okay with the fact that my mental health is an individual thing and that I am the source of acceptance. Regardless of the label my psychiatrist uses in my chart, what is important is that I have a plan that works for me. I don't need a label to tell me that the choices I am making for myself are good ones. I just need to trust myself--and take my meds.