Friday, December 28, 2007

La vie en bleu

La vie en bleu

I don't get the blues very often (in fact, like lots of women, my blues are more cyclical).

This time, though, I'd say the slump began in July and has steadily gained momentum in the last six months. I wouldn't call what I have depression. Rather, I feel more like I did in Morocco or France... a feeling of sustained effort to stay optimistic, happy and productive. What I'd really like to do is veg out in front of reality TV and see other people make their dreams come true.

In the old days, no one took drugs for these kinds of emotional downturns. In my family of origin, no one took drugs for much of anything. Jon teases me because when I get a headache, he suggests Tylenol and I say "No thank you." Then he reminds me that the headache will go away if I take the pill. Then I remind him that it will also go away if I determine the source (sleep deprivation, hunger, menstruation, stress) and actually do something about that source. In my case, headaches are almost always associated with fatigue and sleep works every time to cure them.

So I don't like to use drugs for those amorphous things like headaches and nausea, ear infections and runny noses because I feel like I'm adding sugar to coffee or getting a face lift or declaring bankruptcy without having a plan in place for how to budget to prevent it happening again. Addressing symptoms by understanding where they come from seems too important.

But the blues - well today, drugs are often suggested as a way to "reset" the dial of emotional well-being. If you can dig out of the unrelenting pressure of low energy and pessimism, you might be able to get a handle on the stuff that's bothering you and resurface. I do understand this for clinical depression. But I don't think I've got that.

Honestly, the idea that I could get a drug to help me when I'm still sorting out what the causes are rubs me the wrong way. I've identified what I think are the sources of these particular blues: a combination of business related stress in July (which sent me near to the edge) followed by a series of losses for which I have supplied no alternative. Johannah left home, Noah was gone all summer, Jacob started full time high school, I took on two "in person" teaching assignments that were brand new courses (I have to start from scratch, it seems, to teach them), no more graduate school, a painful disruption of online community and very few local friends.

This combination has led me to feeling a loss of place as familiar as moving to a foreign country. It's as though my reliable world of well-being, validation and support got exchanged without my permission and I'm now stuck navigating a new one in a foreign language all by myself. I don't like it.

And I don't know/see how drugs would fix that. Seems to me like what would fix it is a new set of reliable relationships, places that nurture me and don't cost me so much energy going out.

Jon empathized with the burn-out I'm feeling toward my job. The online teaching is a relentless, on-going, daily pressure to be upbeat, on topic, informed, validating, teaching and controlling vast quantities of posts, material and people. He taught three courses this fall and told me he has no idea how I've been doing it for 8 years. He's so ready for a break (which he is taking and I am not). I don't take breaks except a week or two at a time.

As the New Year approaches, I find myself holding my breath. Which is not good, if you know anything about how critical oxygen is to the brain and staying alive. I want to take some time to think about how I can address the symptoms first. Being unhappy isn't the worst thing. Being unhappy and not knowing why is.


Anonymous said...

wow. i have been battling similar emotions myself, not for the same reasons, but coming up with similar conclusions about why i feel this way and what would help.

i dealt with clinical depression in college for 3 years, finally opting to try medicine after failed attempts at counseling, etc. it did help a great deal, much to my surprise. i felt balanced in so many ways. but it did seem as if i couldn't fully feel emotions anymore, if that makes sense. i got off the medicine after 8 months and have been pretty stable ever since (2+ years), but a season of meloncholy has settled in and i am trying to deal with it. its hard, but knowing others are in similar places help. hope things get brighter for you soon.

Dancingirl365 said...

Lol...lots I identify with in this post. The whole attitude toward medicine and the desire to know the cause of the problem - from headaches to being depressed. Amorphous blues are no fun. Ask me how I know. Hope you soon diagnose the cause.

Kansas Bob said...

This year of longest nights got me feeling like you Julie.. only different. A few things that help me:

1) Finding a place of support in the midst of pain has been difficult but necessary.. a few weeks ago I cried at breakfast with two guys that I regularly breakfast with.. I hate it when I do that.. but it is helpful.

2) Finding a place of joy is also hard.. sometimes I have to find it in small things like shooting pool or watching a funny TV show.. I like to laugh out loud.. used to drive my kids crazy.

3) Finding a place of balance is really hard when (my) life has been so out of control.. letting go of control has almost been impossible.. I want to control events that are so out of control.. pretty crazy but where I have been.

Not sure that any of that helps.. I don't feel too helpful these days.

Blessings, Bob

Sandie said...

Boy do I identify with this post! I have been feeling many of these things too and feel the same way you do about drugs. My drepression stems from my mom's illness (which is only getting worse), Dirk's illness (staying about the same with unpredictable flare ups), both the girls gone from home, needing to have my dog of 14yrs put to sleep (but not being able to make the call), my step-father being out of work since July, as well as my dad and my father-in-law both being in the hospital more than out since August. Drugs are not going to fix any of that. On a day to day basis I forget how much has changed in the last 12-18 months. Even the last 6 months are drasticly different, and in the next 6 months my life will radically change some more, but understanding that the depression is because of loss and change helps me see it for what it is, just a stage of grief and it will pass. I think masking it would only make it worse in the long run.

Mariam said...

Hi Julie,

sorry to hear you are feeling blue.

A couple of thoughts

If you're like me Christmas is a time for going into overdrive. This was the first year in a decade I have also been working full-time (and some overtime) around Christmas. I'm really not into CHristmas that much anymore but I am Mother Santa in our house and resigned to lying the bed I've made for myself over the years. I make it happen - from the cooking. cleaning, baking, and shopping to the gift-buying (for everyone - my husband buys one gift - mine), planning, wrapping and driving everyone around. This year because my mother-in-law is too crippled up I was also in charge of that family's Christmas. I'm exhausted and a lot of women who have families are also tapped-out and although I am OK with it, I know a lot of moms who in, addition to being exhausted are stressed and angry and feeling put-upon. One of my co-workers dissolved in a flood of tears when I asked her if she was doing OK and it was all about being overextended and under-appreciated.

This time of year is also a time we tend to reflect on what we've screwed up or missed out on and what we would still like to accomplish and as we get older one of those mountains gets higher and the other gets steeper. Unhappy is usually about coulda, shoulda, woulda. Coulda is the hardest one for me to let go of.

At the worst time in my life - when my daughter was in the hospital after a suicide attempt after being raped by one of the "boyfriends" of one of the women staying at the shelter with her, when my husband was teetering on alcoholism, my mother was in hospital with a stroke, my son was getting involved on the outskirts of the drug scene and I had been diagnosed with diabetes (I kid you not, in 2 months all this was happening - it must be some sort of record for crummy luck) my doctor suggested anti-depressants and I was like "You've got to be kidding. Do I not deserve to be completely miserable? Am I not entitled to a little wailing and gnashing of teeth? As if a pill is going to solve anything." Anyway I did carry around a prescription for Celexa for several months but never filled it. I went to a psychiatrist who told me I had no reason to be unhappy, that I was making myself unhappy with unreasonable expectations that I should have a smooth and easy life. I wanted to scream and throw a shoe at him. But he was right, if insensitive.

How I got through it (and continue to get through it) is prayer. A prayer of gratitude for all the blessings I tend to forget when I focus on the bad stuff, a prayer of repentance for the things I've screwed up and a prayer of hope and sometimes begging - that I can get my old smooth and easy life back (not really LOL, I pray for strength and courage).

I don't think I have ever experienced clinical depression but I've experienced PTSD and profound grief - so that I was teetering on the edge of the abyss. Giving over to a higher power, even if imaginary, helped me step back. Maybe you are missing God a little.

Ampersand said...

I understand completely.

I hope you find the root causes and remedies soon.

Drew said...

I totally understand what you are talking about. I asked the same questions for a few long years and then over a discussion with my sister determined that it was clinical. I went from an OCD ridden type A. I had this absurd obsession with not leaving things incomplete to the point of burn out or pure avoidance. If I was reading a book I had to get to the next chapter and have enough time to do so or I would not read at all. If I was doing a job around the house I had to finish it at the next logical step like getting that entire coat of pain on and dried and the next coat on since the next logical step in my mind was to do the trim. All nighters for stupid stuff were all too common.

Now I am happier and more Type B.

But in your case it sounds like you need to talk through the transitions in life a lot more. Many of my problems and emotional turns have come at those transition moments where you are somewhere in between what you once were and what you are becoming, but you suddenly no longer feel grounded. What sucks is that sometimes you have to live in that ambiguity for a while for your new self to emerge from it. It's definitely something you cannot force and be totally content with the result!

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Hi Julie, I don't really know you so feel free to dismiss my thoughts, but I feel compelled to share them! I understand exactly what you are saying about drugs - I rarely use anything for pain or a cold myself. But I do take anti-depressants because without them, I can't get out from under a dark cloud that sounds a lot like what you are describing. I wish instead of calling these helfpul medications "anti-depressants" they would call them "chemical balancers" because that's what they do....they balance you out. They are not happy pills, they don't change your mood, they just give you a fighting chance to get out from under the blues.

In my case, I still get depressed - but now it's because of life issues, real legitimate reasons. Before being down was just a state of mind that I could not fight on my own.

So there is my two cents. I am not ashamed to admit I take these meds, in fact I tell as many people as I can because I believe its given me my life back and I've seen them help many others as well.

Thanks for letting me share all this!

Maria said...

Julie, I can identify with much of your situation... especially the blues related to transitions and needing new supportive relationships. I've noticed after moving to a new town that it's a bit harder to make new friends at our age, and that in itself demands energy that's getting sucked down the blues trail. Do we just try harder or is there another way?

julieunplugged said...

Layla - thanks for sharing. I totally support the use of anti-depressants because I have seen them work for others. It is always harder for me to think about them for myself and I know I have to think about why (which is a bit what this post was meant to do - help me explore the "why" of my reaction).

If I don't pull out of the slump through other means, I will consult with my doctor. I see her next month anyway and will see what she says.

Thanks for sharing!

Deb said...

I have found the reshaping of my faith has done a couple things that I was not prepared for emotionally: placed me in a very small minority being that I live in a very conservative part of the country. I have wonderful conservative friends but I have to tread lightly on spiritual topics. This shift has also altered where I draw comfort and strength from (Jon's comments about heaven is one recent example). Those illusions of the safety net are just not there anymore.

I think there must be some grieving when one lets go of a idealogy that guided your life for so many years.

Qalmlea said...


I went through something very similar last year, and hit my low point right around Christmas. Some things that helped me get through it:

(1) A meaningful daily routine. In my case, it was meditation and taiji practice. The important part is that it be meaningful to you.

(2) Keeping busy (but not insanely busy). Just helps keep the mind off of things.

(3) Exercise. For me, that was part of my daily routine. But just doing something for ten minutes that gets the blood flowing makes a world of difference. Seems weird, I know, but it does.

Best of luck.

Dalissa 365 said...

This too shall pass. So many changes all at once. I think you've identified the underlying causes and like you said, you need to find replacements. Finding balance is also necessary especially in regard to how your schedule sounds. Like Jeff's business, it sounds like yours takes up more than it's lion share of your time. And, to know that you've added two irl classes to teach as well and still have kids to take care of sounds like you have too much on your plate.

All that to say, is that I hope you find the strength to make the difficult decisions you need to make. Difficult because it sounds like you need to pare down a few things in your life. Difficult, too, because it sounds like you need to tend to your garden of relationships... plant some new nurturing ones, weed out the draining ones, and take care of the established ones. All of this takes time and work. And, the grief experienced from loss of relationship needs time to lessen as well. Also, I think graduating always tends to leave a feeling of loss. At least it did for me. I was happy to be done but at the same time to leave something that you've enjoyed is another kind of loss. It's hard to replicate the kind of intellectual idea and comraderie experience in college in day to day life as a suburban mom and business owner.

I wish you well.

jo(e) said...

I get the blues sometimes. And I think the last couple of years have been especially difficult because of the stage of life I'm in: my kids growing up and leaving home.

I loved the years of having small children and toddlers and babies, and it's just different to no longer be needed in that way. It's wonderful to watch my kids turn into capable, self-reliant adults, but there's a certain amount of grieving that goes with that, too.

When I get the blues, the things that help me the most are spending time outdoors (skiing, hiking, snowboarding, even just walking), spending time with close friends, going on a date with my husband (no talking about work or kids on a date),or reading a comfort book.

j said...

Maybe you should go dancing...

Elleann said...

Hi Julie,

I have also experienced the end-of-year blues all too often in the past and in the old days, also felt all guilty about being a 'depressed Christian', LOL!

One thing that I am learning about right now is about how interconnected our bodies and our minds are, though - biologically and chemically. There are so many factors that change the way we feel and none of them are totally 'in the body' or 'in the mind'. It's all interconnected.

To give you an eg: I might feel down because of a series of losses, which are all real and valid sources of emotional pain. But one of the reasons I'm feeling down is because my body is experiencing that sadness at a cellular level as a lack of certain neuropeptides (serotonin, dopamine, etc). So I start doing things that make me feel better .. positive thinking, prayer, exercise, better nutrition ... and the interesting thing is that all of these will affect the levels of those neuropeptides!

Exploring the sadness psychologically will also cause a change in me biologically as I come to terms with the losses or as I find ways of expressing my grief. The new feelings I now have are also experienced at a cellular level and once again, my neuropeptides kick in with a different set of chemicals or with a rebalancing.

Understanding this helps me understand why it is OK to use anti-depressants in the short term. Doing so alters my body chemistry in a way that enables me to look at the sources of the sadness and deal with them from a place of greater emotional strength.

On a practical level: you might consider trying St John's Wort as a herbal anti-depressant. I have found it to be very useful, non-addictive and in many ways, ideal for the amorphous blues!

SusansPlace said...

Julie, I can relate. I even went so far as to get some medicine but then my blues became less intense and I never started the medicine. I have spent months digging and looking at my thoughts, questioning them and that has helped some. But yea, I understand the blues. Hope you can figure how to move forward to places of nourishment. I think you are wise to really look for the source.


carrie said...

Hi Julie-

Just wanted to say I understand, at least as far as anyone can understand how someone else is feeling. I've been going through something similar for a couple of years now. It seems to come and go in waves for me.

I don't think I'm depressed, either. I blue, and I have increased anxiety. I'm not sure meds would be the best bet for reasons similar to yours. The things that are causing the stress are external for the most part (meaning not biological, not that none are my fault). Worrying about children's futures, wedding, mom getting worse, finances strained, faith questions, etc.

I hope you find some help /answers /relief soon.

julieunplugged said...

Elleann, this is such a helpful post! Thank you. Rob (another blog friend) emailed me to say that it's "all brain chemistry" and we are altering it all the time. When the natural things fail, medicines do help.

I liked your comments along the same vein and also the suggestion of St. John's Wort. I may have to get a small supply.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie - wow - 19 comments on your post - what a lot of thoughtful caring sharing thoughts. I found your post by accident, and just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your eclectic experiences with radio listening - what a ride - from Rush to Air America! you have tremendous courage, amazing power of reasoning and logic, a curious, seeking heart and mind, and a positivity that can deal with the Orwelian without losing hope, future thrust, the ability to trust and reach out and have contacts with other human beings. You are an amazing woman. I want to celebrate who you are and thank you for being who you are. As far as the low spot in your life, my personal feeling is that we all need an actual touch from God - it goes beyond words, medicines, reasons, etc. If we lose that intimate contact, nothing seems quite real and joy grows dimmer and dimmer - joy is defined not as simple pleasure, but the certainty that whatever happens, God is Good. God is LIFE, He is the source, the heart, the creativity, the love, the purity that cannot be besmirched or destroyed. He is not a religion or a dogma, He just IS ..... we need Him like we need rain on parched ground, sunlight to light the day and nurture the world ... we just need Him .... I am thirsty also and hungry - people and events change, but God doesn't change. My prayer is that He would pour out His Spirit on the parched hungry souls, that we would turn towards Him like a flower drawn to the light ....