Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Depression (2)

I was sad when I was born. That little black cloud scooted out of my mother’s womb right alongside me and has never stopped making my life miserable.

About the only smart thing I did when I filed for a divorce was to put my daughters in therapy. It was a long nasty divorce and they deserved an objective support system, professionals who would be totally in their corners. I couldn’t do the job because I was one pissed off cookie – scared and more than half nuts.

I took them to three different mental health professionals each and let them choose the person they felt most comfortable with. They chose wisely. This was a raw time for my girls – dad was pulling the usual strings and mother was in la-la land.

They hadn’t been seeing their therapists very long when my oldest daughter’s counselor recommended she see a child psychiatrist. The dreaded bipolar word was dropped. Quickly flashing back over her life – all the way back to when she was a toddler – the only appropriate response I could give was simply, “It fits.”

I knew something about manic depression but not as much as I needed to know to help my very sweet, smart, talented but troubled 15 years old daughter. So I became a mad researcher. It didn’t take very long at all to see these red flags flying smack dab in my face. If the wind had been blowing any harder, they would have knocked me over – all one thousand of them. Even my little black cloud began flashing red lights.

I had been seeing a therapist for several years by this time – trying to deal with “hubby’s” alcoholism and the long periods of intense emotional, verbal and physical abuse. I told her about all those red flags. She immediately connected me with a delightfully witty and brilliant psychiatrist. Diagnosis: Bipolar.

Over time, we learned that I had indeed been born with depression and that the manic episodes had kicked in when I was about 15 or 16. We also learned that this was a family affair – that there was strong evidence that much of my father’s side suffered from various forms of mood disorders. It took forever to find a medicinal cocktail that worked for me, I suppose because of the rapid cycling. Who knows? I view my brain in much the same way as I do my computer. Who cares how it works as long as it works?

Not everyone has the same symptoms by any means but there are guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) that list certain characteristics of bipolar disorder. Mayo has another list. These indicators have been derived at through years of study and research but they’re not cast in stone, they can’t be, but they can help in identifying whether or not enough of these criteria are met in order to diagnose manic depression.

Some of the signs and symptoms – one only needs five - for a depressed state that lasts two or more weeks include, with some personal observations, of course:

Overwhelming sadness day in and day out: You’ve already met my little black cloud. He almost incapacitated me with his weight sometimes. For no apparent reason he caused me to tear up and cry - in the car, in line at the grocery, in a large gathering, or at home all by my lonesome. For hours, days and weeks. Certainly alcohol was a factor but in general I was never happier than when sitting around with my buddies getting wasted, or so I thought.

Feelings of hopelessness: Since I was a small child.

Inappropriate guilt and feelings of worthlessness: This goes beyond insecurity. My conscience could rip my guts out if I so much as dropped a book, spilled something on my blouse, hung a picture crooked, or said or did something inappropriate. A perfect match for an abuser, I already had a lot of practice apologizing for just being alive by the time I married the second time.

I didn’t self-mutilate as a rule but the urge to do so was almost overpowering – like one time when I was ironing and seriously contemplated placing the hot iron on my arm – just to see what it would do. Or another when I had the urge to place my brother’s hot soldering iron on my arm. I lost that battle but I was too numb to feel anything.

Loss of energy or interest in daily activities: Would sit and stare into nothingness for days at a time. Too numb to even feel lonely or give a damn. Or I’d stay home reading for weeks at a time without going dancing or associating with friends at an age when everyone else was doing it.

Irritability: One time in that nunnery boot camp I got angry at one of the nuns, walked into the dorm room, picked up my Underwood typewriter and slung it across the room. My roommate, poor gal, ducked as it went flying past her head. I wasn’t aiming at her but how in hell would she know? I developed quite a pitching arm which came in handy years later as I threw china and anything I could find across the room.

It also shows up in my nasty one-line zingers. But I’m always quick to apologize.

Suicidal thoughts: This is not merely thinking about the fear of dying but it is reoccurring thoughts of suicide. But you have to have a plan. I just think about it – a lot.

Sometimes the lights just go out and there’s no joy in living.

This is long and it's depressing me, so I will tackle the manic episodes in the next post. I can just about guarantee that the ride will be a hell of a lot more fun.

Further reading:

Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Introduction

Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Bipolar 101


  1. Anything I have to say would be inane. I will say I had no clue from reading your blog and the Swash Zone that you were fighting this. My heart bleeds for you just reading it, and of course, even saying that is...I don't know.

  2. Brave and loving of you to share this, Leslie.

    As I said at TSZ, my mother was crippled by mental illness all her life, and her only sister was manic depressive--she was my favorite aunt.

    I lived with this. I know it.

  3. j: Thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure you'd be able to tell from reading my blog that I'm bipolar unless I write about it, as I'm doing here. With top notch doctors and the right meds, I'm probably about as "normal" as most other folks arounbd here. ; )

    Shaw: Thanks, gal. I imagine my daughters would give big bucks to not have a mother who is bipolar, especially my oldest.

  4. Leslie,
    I gathered by your reply to a comment that this series is helpful to you.It's also helpful to us.This post touches on a fear I've had,that my addictions would pass on to my children. Both have had DUI's.I watch closely for signs of alcoholism but don't see anything atypical of their age groups behavior.DUI's much more prevalent these days for many reasons.

    You'd mentioned addictions in some cases are related to being bipolar, then you listed symptoms.I have most of them to some degree, but they are never "overwhelming" and have not increased over the years. This is the first time I'd seen them so this is certainly an education for me, as I stated you are helping us as well as educating us. The "thoughts racing" I experience too, it interferes with sleep. Currently I'm experimenting with listening to pow wow music when I run. Sounds stupid probably, but trying to find a way to clear my mind, maybe train myself to do it so I can sleep better. Trying acupuncture too. Maybe I should start watching Fox, learn how to not think.

  5. Oso: Unfortunately, we do seem to inherit a "propensity" for alcoholism but I'm really not very knowlegable about it.

    What is happening when people self-medicate - at least in my case - is that without realizing it I turned to alcohol because it seemed to help me sleep, to slow my brain down, and quite frankly, to escape my demons and the pain from the abuse. I became co-dependent but the pattern was already there. But what it boils down to in reality is that it's no one's fault but my own that I drank and I loved every single drop of it. I've been told that people really don't like the taste of booze. Not in my case. Keep doing what you're doing.

  6. who doesn't love a whiskey sour? I can drink 'em down like water...

    Anyway, nuff about me. You are very brave to talk about this L. I have often wondered about myself and my mom, and kids. I think we have some problems but I don't know to what extent. I do have a niece who suffers from depression and just plain craziness. Like weird stories about she is being watched by the police, she abused her kids and the school knows it, the whole town knows it.(all not true of course) I was scared shitless when she started talking like that one night, she even had her folders of paperwork and evidence! She spent a month in a mental hospital after her first breakdown.

    There is so much of this, almost everyone you talk to knows someone who has some form of it. It's really sad for all involved. Glad you and your girls got help.

  7. Like everyone else has said, this is very informative and helpful to all of us. It takes a lot out of you I am sure to put this out there, but know that you are breaking ground with some of us!!!

  8. Another interesting read Leslie. I'm curious ... do you work in some type of counseling now, to like work with other's in this field (even part time, volunteer, etc)? I just figured it would be therapeutic in a positive way and at the same time, you can help other's understanding, etc. (plus it's a paycheck!). But it seem's to me like you at least have a clear grasp on the condition, and dealing with it. I cant even imagine what this may be like Dear, so I cant really give any advice even to anyone for that matter, if one actually feel's or think's this way, and I reckon for long I have passed off some of this as being more drug induced or something. And the idea that even your kid's were involved as well, I didnt even know it was like that. Hope at least their fine. As far as mood swing's, etc. we all are going to get happy and sad as I said ... but the suicide thing is I think a different issue too, or the depression thing I reckon. Talking to a blogger once, who said she also think's of suicide wanting to kill herself, etc. I couldnt figure out why, because she seemed to have everything going cool for her at the time. As odd as this may sound to you, I have never even thought about trying to kill myself (beside's talking about it here) ... and I figured the reason why is because I have spent alot of time over the year's trying to protect myself, from being in harm's way and avoiding death, even when I was bleeding once internally in a hospital, from an accident, this crappy (obviously uncompassionate doctor) come's in my room and tell's me that my chance's of pulling through arent looking very well, then of all thing's ... a bloody priest (it happened to be a catholic hospital that the ambulance took me to) come's in to ask if I wanted to talk ( I asked them both if they would just leave me alone at the time )and other crap, the only thing I could think Leslie, was how bad I wanted to "live" (never forget it) and since I was young ... due to my lifestyle, I didnt think I would get to live this damn old of 54 for that matter ... so I alway's wanted to live ... if that make's any sense(?). But I certainly heard alot about this stuff before. You really seem to know your shit in this field though ... you can probably even write a book or something Leslie ... Hell ... make a few extra buck's while your at it too! I seen your picture too that you posted as a young lady ... you were a good lookin gal too, hard to imagine at a young age like that, a gal thinking like that, or wanting to kill herself or anything for that matter.

    Goodnight Leslie ....

  9. Also wanted to add as far as addiction's, reading these comment's from folk's ... I too had used drug's/ alcohol, never felt though that I "needed" a drink .. I used to attend alot of show's/ concert's/ club's and just commonly drank when out, however I could really put it down too, when I did, and still walk pretty straight! But never at any point just "wanted" to just get drunk or anything at home or not during some celebration, event or anything. I have a small bar at home, and rarely touch anything beside's an occasional double shot of tequila or brandy, or a cold beer or two, mostly because it relaxes me too much these day's, slow's me down ( I reckon an "age" thing ). But for a few year's I also made some run's down to the border year's back for a lil extra side cash, and would bring a few key's of coke up through Texas. Well I made a few extra run's, and due to the long drive's I used to do some coke, and spend a lil time in town's in Mexico, have a few shot's and a lil coke, lil fun, etc. But I started using more and more, freebasing/ cooking, etc. and just had to simply stay away from it, and dealing with it, period. After a bust a court sent me to a drug therapy place as condition's of the court year's back (cause I had a few bust's)I remember sitting in a circle, and everyone was whining of course about there bust's, experience's, etc. (you know, therapeutic stuff)introducing themselves, sharing, etc. When they got to me ... I chose not to share, the counselor got upset, asking why? etc .. I just said there's nothing to share or say ... I got busted, and I'm here. She asked why I was there if I didnt think I had a problem? I said because the damn court sent me there! The problem was ... I needed to clean up ... and just plain and simply "QUIT" ... period! Anywayz ... talk about depressing ... geeezzz! They expelled me from the class/ course for having a "problem of non cooperation, etc" then reported this to my probation officer and had me thrown in jail again! Meaning I had to shell out more money of course in attorney fee's etc, all the goddamn money I was making was being milked by attorney's basically! (you know, like several thousand) (that's another racket!) in other word's ... they wanted me to sit in this group and weep, cry, and whine to other's basically ... where I didnt feel it would do a damn bit of good anywayz ... I need to "quit" basically, if anything. Nothing against anyone in the group or anything, I mean, one poor gal broke down in tear's in the damn class over her bust! I didnt see the point in making her depressed as if she was some criminal. Just thought to share here.

  10. Sue: I choose to look at it as a gift, as odd as that may sound.

    Viki: Thank you. The one reason I shied away from doing this is because I didn't want to come across as self-serving. If I've helped just one or two to have a better understanding of this and not fall pray to all the misinformation, then I feel I've done what I set out to do.

  11. RC: Not only am I not qualified to counsel anyone, I'm not cut out for it. There's been more than one time when I've left my doctor's offices and wondered how in hell they did this all day every day. I really have been ever so fortunate to have wonderful mental health teams in Denver and here.

    Yes, everyone in the world feels sad or glad from time to time but, as I've said, the bipolar experiences these feelings far more intensely - like out-of-control intensely - and for far longer periods of time. We can't just tell ourselves to snap out of it when we're sad because we're too depressed and in too much pain. When we're manic we're too happy to care - or don't have the judgement to do so.

    Let me clarify "suicidal thoughts." This is a far cry from suicidal "tendencies," something I've only had a couple of times but I'm too big a coward to pull it off. I might succeed, and despite everything, I do enjoy living.

    Someone who is addicted can't stop at just one or two, or even three, drinks. They drink for the high or the numbness, if you will.

  12. Thank you for sharing this!!! I have battled a lot of this throughout my life a have yet to find a counselor that helped. My independent streak keeps telling me that I should be able to handle all of this on my own. That said, I'm starting with a new counselor and we'll see how it goes.

  13. Leslie: I cried reading this and your other 2 posts. If I could reach through cyberspace, I would give you the warmest, tightest hug you’ve ever had!

    The first step to healing is recognizing there is a “problem”, for lack of a better word and here is my long-short version: My bio-mother was depressed and addicted to prescription medication, which made her “act” manic and bipolar. I don’t know if she actually was, because she was always on Rx’s as far back as I can remember. There is mental illness on her side of the family. My aunt (the oldest sister) was institutionalized and had electric shock therapy. My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic and also abused Rx’s, and could’ve been manic and/or bipolar, but back then people weren’t diagnosed properly, so who knows. The youngest sister, my God-mother, is the only “normal” one, as I refer to her, but it has taken her a lot of work. We talk about it all the time, because I had/have my own “issues” due to my bio-mother’s neglect and abuse and was in and out of therapy for years and wanted to understand plus heal ME. (I was formally diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in 1989; suffered with manic episodes but never formally diagnosed with either manic or bipolar so I don’t know if they were just episodes or if I have them; suffered from depression for most of my life and was even on medication but not anymore. Only have depression now when something sad happens).

    I give YOU so much credit for loving your daughters, and YOURSELF, enough to get them and yourself help. It takes a lot of courage to do that. There are so many people out there who know they need help but won’t take the step because they’re afraid-- of how society will “judge” them or afraid of the “unknown”. We tend to gravitate toward what’s familiar, and many who have lived with these dis-orders know nothing else, therefore they’re not sure if they can even handle being cured or don’t even realize there is one! It’s oh so complicated! My heart just breaks for those of us who have walked these paths and the loved ones who are on the side-lines just wishing they could walk the path with us! (I’m sending cyber hugs to ALL of you kind, compassionate people!)

    Here is something that will make all of you cry. I bought it in booklet form years ago. I sobbed the first dozen times I read it. Now tears just trickle down my cheeks as I remember Pammy, who used to be so broken that she couldn’t even shed a tear. Pammy’s still in here, but Pamela comforts her and makes her feel safe—safe enough to cry and share her experiences.

    We can never reclaim what we lost as children, but we can live good, happy adult lives.

    Thank you for being brave enough to share this personal but very valuable information with us Leslie. I look forward to your next post with more information that I know will help those of us who suffer from these dis-orders and those who love us.

  14. Thanks for these posts, Leslie. As I mentioned over at the 'zone, I'm familiar with this from the perspective that my sister has it but seems uninterested in treating it. Or rather, she treats the depression but she doesn't treat the mania. I've been told that this can actually make one's condition worse.

  15. I want to take a moment to tell all of you how absolutely flabergasted I am that so many of you have stopped by to read these posts. I'm awed by your questions and your willingness to share your thoughts and experiences so openly. It has been a real learning experienc for me and an indication that this has been well worth the effort.

    My intent has not to be to focus on myself or as an exercise in my own therapy. I pay big bucks for that. Well, actually that socialistic Medicare pays for the bulk of it; I have a hard time making the co-payments. But the point is, if I've been able to call attention to this illness while shooting down so many prevalent myths about it, if one or two people have benefitted from it, I feel I've done what I sat out to do. It is I who should be thanking you.

  16. Kay: I feel very strongly that two kinds of professionals are needed and I'm going into this in more detail in my final post. But for right now: 1) Find a psychologist who has experience in treating people with mood disorders. Unfortunately many of them really don't know much more than what they learned in a six months course. 2) A psychiatrist ((with)) a pharmacology degree is imperative - nothing less.

  17. Pam: Gosh, I'm in such good company. It's a truism, I think, that those of us who need help the most are the last to realize it or get help when we do. When we bipolars seek help, it is usually when we are in so much pain from being depressed and not when we're flying high with mania. Who want to come down to earth from that? Not this gal.

    That poem cries to be read. Thanks for the link to it.

    SoBe: I'm no doctor but from what I've learned, if only the depression is treated and the cycles with mania continue, it may indicate that she's been incorrectly diagnosed - with depression only instead of bipolar - and/or she may need a leveling medication such as Depakote or Lithium which helps to control the cycling. But only a qualified psychiatrist could and should make this diagnosis. I'm just suggesting.
    A lot of artistic people don't like to control their manic episodes because they feel they become zombies and lose their creative juices. I think dosages and medications have improved so much that this is rarely the case anymore.

  18. May I suggest, Leslie, that when you finish your series, create a second blog (like my “Reading Room”). Put your series and comments on there, open it to the public and give it a name that would be easily found through a search engine. This information is much too valuable to bury under upcoming posts. Thanks, again, for all the hard work on this. BJ P.S. If you haven’t saved all your posts and comments, I have copies of everything in Microsoft Word.

  19. Oh my, BJ. I have to think about that one. There really is so much on the Internet already that it would probably just be redundant. But I'll mull it over. Maybe I'll just provide links to it in my sidebar. I've been writing this in Word which I only do for those "special" posts. But thank you for the suggestions.

  20. Churchill called it The Black Dog. It hounded him, too.

    One awful thing about mental illness is how stigmatized it became. Washington state, which prides itself on being progressive (the western part, anyway) has just now required insurance companies to offer equal coverage for mental health. Well, good on you for telling your story. Others will feel less alone.

    "Inappropriate guilt and feelings of worthlessness:" Well, you are Catholic, right?

  21. K: Yes, Churchill's black dog did "hound" him. I think the mental health parity came with that new socialistic health care bill! Catholic? No, but a close renegade. Episcopal. Went to a Catholic camp, though. I don't think the two combined could create such intense feelings but I'm sure they exasberated them. "Forgive me Father . . ."

  22. Leslie, thank you for this highly informative post (and the one from Wednesday, BiPolar 101.)

    I've been fortunate that I haven't had to handle something like depression, but I have had friends who did, so some of the symptoms are familiar to me. With the rash of suicides lately from bullying, every parent needs to read this, both for themselves, and for their children's sakes. Just in case, y'know?

  23. Bee: I appreciate that. You bring up an interesting subject. I once wrote an unpublished essay (I tried) about chilren with bipolar. I've been thinking of inserting it between the post on mania (coming before dawn) and the conclusion, if people can stand yet another article on bipolar. It's a very interesting piece, she says, patting herself on the back.

    Teenage suicide is epidemic and absolutely horrifying. I have a psychologist/friend who has written about bullies. If I remember correctly, she says there's nothing insecure about these kids - they're just flat mean.

  24. Leslie. Bipolar can be managed, it takes a shit load of work and you ahve to learn the signals telling you that you're heading into the black abyss. I'm sure you know this already and I know it from reading about others with this condition.

    It's like being attacked by evil incarnated, seeking Leslie and only Leslie. It is NOT that monthly discomfort you can treat with Midol or the hitchhiker downs/sorrowful days that can go away with a glass of wine. It is absolutely fucking debilitating. You know the kind, you are the kind. You want to strike out at everthing and everyone. People trying to help seem like morons who would have a hard time dealing with a puppy pissing on the floor.