Jan 31, 2009

how badly do i need my brain?

Topomax. The specialist I see in Psychiatry has prescribed me this anti-epileptic drug as a mood stabilizer. I was on Lamactil last year, but was one of the unlucky few who got "the rash". sigh....

Weight loss. Average loss over one year is 6 kgs.
Mood stabilized (hopefully)

Memory loss
Word recall diminished
Affectionally referred to on the web as "Stupimax" or "Dopomax"

The obvious problem here is that I think I need a working brain to stay in my doctoral program. Academics always came easily to me, and now I find myself struggling to get through a reading. Re-reading papers several times over to get their meaning. I can ill afford to have my mind function any less than it already is!

What should I do???

I have tried just about every combo and augmentation available. I have scanned PubMed articles until my eyes are crossed. I am out of ideas. Do I dare risk my frontal lobe?

Any thoughts or experiences would be gladly welcomed.

Jan 29, 2009

a perfectionist get a "B" grade

Confession time: All of my life I was an academic superstar. I attended gifted classes in school, skipped two grades, earned top marks all the way.

When I applied to my PhD program, I had a straight A average from both my undergrad and Masters programs. I was awarded two scholarships and I was ready to change the world!

Fast forward a few months. Seemingly out of nowhere, my intrusive companion Depression makes a visit before Christmas.

Before I know it, it has me consumed. As I try to write my final papers and exams I feel like I am trying to think through a dense fog. Nothing is clear, my memory has holes in it. Concepts make sense in my head, but as they hit the page, they become incoherent ramblings.

For the first time in my adult life, I get a B in a course. This has NEVER happened to me. I feel dumb as a box of bricks. I desperately want to tell my professors that "this isn't me, this is the depression". I want to haul out my report cards, awards, publications...anything to make them see that I am not this fuck up who can't write an intelligible paper. I want them to see beyond the depression, but I am too scared to tell them.

I worry every day that maybe my academic skills are a thing of the past. Maybe I have to accept the loss and move on to something different in life. But I have to hold on to the hope that one day, something is going to work. There has to be a treatment out there that I will respond to.

To think anything else....I just can't go there yet.

Jan 28, 2009

a depression by any other name...

I read this thought provoking post today from Neuroskeptic and it piqued my interest. In the post, he talks about the term "depression" and how people often equate this with feeling "sad".

This got me thinking, the term "depression" does no favours for those of us living with it. Even with the term "clinical" tacked in front of it, it sounds just too...mundane.

There aren't many diseases where the suffering is so great that many people will choose to end their lives rather than cope with the pain. With any other life-threatening disease, people would be sympathetic, concerned about the sufferer.

I'm going to pose a hypothetical example, (not from personal experience) - so if you think I've got it all wrong - by all means correct me.

Say you go to ER with symptoms of a heart attack or stroke - I think you will likely fly pass triage as you are scooted straight into the concerned care of the medical team. Provided you are not obnoxious and, (in US) have insurance, you will not be made to feel like an imposition. You will have made the right choice!

On the other hand, suppose you present to the ER with severe depression feeling suicidal. You will likely sit in the waiting room for hours, it will be debated as to whether or not you have a 'true' emergency. You might get further if you actually attempted suicide, but if you're just thinking about it... surely you can wait until morning to see your family doctor!

So I wonder, would it make a difference if we could re-name and re-conceptualize depression as something that the average person can't relate to? Something more than feeling sad?

How about "Necrotizing-Affectitis"? Would that buy some empathy?

People can be so kind to a person with a broken leg (provided they didn't break it while under the influence). But try telling folks that you've had depression and see what happens.

Depression is not a normal, everyday emotion! From my experience, it is a bit like turning the contrast down on your TV set. Suddenly, everything looks dark and dreary. Physically, the fatigue feels like you are carrying an invisible backpack full of lead. It feels like there is no point going on and being a burden to those around you.

Is it possible that people would be more compassionate if the diagnosis sounded a bit more... severe?

Jan 27, 2009

joe vs the volcano

Remember this little gem of a movie from 1990? Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan long before 'Sleepless in Seattle'?

The story goes something like this: Joe is a hypochondriac in a dreary job. One day his scheming doctor diagnoses him with a fatal "brain cloud"and along with his evil boss, tricks him into becoming a human sacrifice for a volcano - in exchange for a short time of living like a king. Why did the volcano need a human sacrifice? Can't remember, it was a long time ago, but it seemed to make sense back then.

Anyway, the point is this: that in giving up his life to the volcano, Joe realizes how much he wants to live, and more importantly, what a stupid diagnosis a "brain cloud" is. He also learns the value of good luggage.

Somewhere in all of this is a lesson about depression, hope and the need to be skeptical of any test results that sound like weather reports. Not sure you're following me? Maybe this will help.

a day in the life

My alarm went off at noon today, l briefly considered getting up...not yet...too sleepy...then dove under the duvet for another two hours of hiding. Welcome to my life! My nights and days are upside down and I've hardly left the house since Christmas.

I make my way to the kitchen for coffee, but gravity catches me and I'm pulled into the pillowy clutches of the couch. Ooohh...so...sleepy... Must drink coffee...do I really need a shower? Sleeping doesn't work up a sweat, does it?

Suddenly it's five o'clock and the sun is setting. Another day is ending and I'm still watching Law & Order reruns...how many episodes did they make of this show? Hey, I can look that up on Wikipedia...I still have a pile of readings left to study and a final paper to write that I'm ignoring...sounds like time for another nap...

I have been blessed with an amazing life: a gorgeous, kind husband, a beautiful home, a good career...WTF is wrong with me??...I have it all! but I'm on my fifth medication cocktail in two years and lately it is fizzling out.

Must be time for another bowl of cereal. I think that's pretty much all I've had to eat the past few days. It's fast and easy. My cat stretches out on my bed... boy that looks comfortable... maybe just a little lie down?

And that's been what its like lately. This is my little blog about depression. Getting through it, coping, and doing whatever it takes to make it through to the other side...no, not THAT other side!...