Friday, October 12, 2007

Writers and Depression, Part II

I've talked about my struggles with depression in previous posts. A couple of months ago after my grandmother died, I had another severe bout of it. And I found a technique to get out of it I'd like to share.

In my case, depression seems to come paired with extreme anxiety. I'd find myself sitting there bouncing my knees in a frantic attempt to burn off nervous energy. I couldn't sleep. Worse, I had the horrible feeling that my battle was pointless -- that sooner or later, I was doomed to kill myself. There was no point in even trying to fight it any more.

I was so frightened, so out of control, that I went over to my sister's. She's been my dearest friend all my life, and she knows all about the way anxiety has tormented me. So I sat down on her couch, bouncing my knees and trying to put my fear into words. And she looked at me and said "You don't have to do this. You have been through this often enough to know what you can do to regain control. You can choose to do something about it, or you can choose to let it destroy you."

It was like having someone splash cold water in my face.

She reminded me I had already found out that exercising helps the anxiety and depression. She also suggested finding a tanning bed and spending about five or ten minutes in it, being careful not to get a sunburn. And she said I could also get a massage.

These are really simple things that are very effective.

I had also just started back on Lexapro, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug that, unlike some, reduces appetite and weight gain instead of causing people to put on more weight. Thing is, I have found that right after I start back on Lexapro, the anxiety and depression actually gets worse for a couple of weeks. Around a month out, it finally kicks in and stabilizes the mood, but you need to be aware of the effect, or you'll think you're getting worse.

I seized on my sister's suggestions with the enthusiasm of raw desperation. The gym is open until 10 p.m., and it was 8, so I drove over there at once and spent the next half-hour on the treadmill and the elliptical machine, working up a sweat and burning off all the agonizing stress I'd built up. That night, I was able to sleep for the first time in days.

The next day, I had an appointment with my personal trainer. I really pumped hard on the weight machines, forcing myself to push despite the pain of my burning muscles. By the end of the hour, my muscles were aching, but the anxiety had burned off again. A sense of well-being filled me.

Unfortunately, I quickly found it didn't last. Whenever the anxiety started clawing at me, I'd head for the gym and the treadmill and the weight machines. Soon the anxiety and depression began to lift, especially after the Lexapro finally kicked in. But I am truly convinced that my workouts stabilized me and got me through the worst of it.

My sister was right. I wasn't helpless. I could fight depression and anxiety. I don't have to let it kill me.

My trainer says exercise is an effective treatment because scientists have found it returns the body to hormonal balance. Someone else wrote in response to an earlier blog that one recent study compared anti-depressants, talk therapy and exercise in depressed patients. Scientists found the ones that exercised did the best. However, I think combining the three would be even more effective.

By the way, I think Lexapro also helps my creativity. I know there is a big difference in my writing when I'm taking Lexapro and when I'm not. Lexapro works by liberating the brain chemical serotonin, which is also affects mood, appetite -- and creativity. (The only bad thing about Lexapro is it tends to decrease desire because it turns testosterone into serotonin. And testosterone is the hormone that is responsible for sexual appetite. I have found I can reduce that affect with a testosterone cream prescribed by my doctor, who had used a blood test to determine that my testosterone levels were too low.)

I know, I know. People are always telling you to diet and exercise -- it's supposed to be a cure for everything from cancer to Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, exercise is also tiring, and it hurts, which is why I was never much interested in doing it. It's much easier to stay at home and eat a box of Godiva's.

But I swear to you, my workouts have made a huge difference in my mood and my stress levels. I really believe that if you're struggling with depression and anxiety, working out will help you. It won't be easy at first, but I think you'll notice positive effects on your mental state very quickly. Then, if you're still having a problem, you can try an antidepressant like Lexapro on top of that. But you need to stay on the antidepressant and keep working out two or three times a week to make sure you don't backslide into depression.

You can survive this disease, but it's like heart disease or diabetes -- you have to treat it. Ignoring it will only allow it to kill you. Exercise is one hell of a good treatment.

There are other benefits too. As of today, I have lost 137 pounds since I had gastric bypass surgery Aug. 29, 2006. I feel 20 years younger, and I'm no longer in constant pain from my knees and joints.

When I started working out, I could only bench press about 15 pounds. Now I'm up to 37, and I've increased all the other weights I use too. Because I work out, I don't have as much loose skin as many other gastric bypass patients who have lost a lot of weight. And at 46, I'm stronger now than I have ever been in my life.

On the other hand, my mother is 67, and is morbidly obese. Being overweight for so many years has destroyed her joints, and she's in constant pain. She's going to have to undergo painful joint replacement surgery. I wish it was possible for her to have gastric bypass surgery, but at her age, it's just not a good option.

I urge you to exercise and try to do something if you have a weight problem. I think you will find it's more than worth the effort, especially if you're dealing with depression, stress and anxiety.


LindaK said...

Thanks for this blog. As I was reading it, a lot of it was like looking in the mirror. I'm so with you on the knee bouncing. I do it multiple times daily. Sleep has just become catnaps. Control? What's that? I haven't had control in so long, I've forgotten what it's like.

I've tried the Lexapro but it wasn't working for me. I'm on Effexor now and it seems to be doing okay. It's just not enough by itself.

I'll be hitting the gym asap. Desperation is a great motivator.


BarbaraK said...

I recommend exercise also as a tool to fight cancer. It's been a wonderful help for me to combat my cancer and any depression I have because of the cancer.

Angela Knight said...

Linda -- ACK! Hugs! Yeah, not all drugs work for all types of depression. If something doesn't work, it's best to try something else. But you should also remember it's going to take about six weeks for anything to kick in. Which is a long time to wait. That's why I like working out in the meantime.

Barbara -- yeah, I've heard that exercise does help cancer, in concert with other things. I suspect that as long as your health is good enough to exercise, working out is just about always a good idea.

E.B.L. Gorton said...

This is insightful.

Something I never noticed before now as I sit jiggling my knee up and down tired but unable to sleep at night wondering why the hell I keep trying, to do anything.

I love the tanning bed idea. I have access to a tanning bed too.

I usually ignore these symptoms. After a while they go away. If I feel too self destructive I make myself do things and find after the initial mental griping I enjoy it (like walking three miles to the bank yesterday on a whim)

As wife of a bodybuilder I can attest to the positive feelings it brings out in a person.


Congrats on the weight issue, that is so wonderful.

p.s. I am reading your books in reverse order :P and loving every one of them!

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Somebody posted this link for me and I really appreciate it.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I needed to know I'm not the only one AND I don't have to stay there.

Angela Knight said...

Jennifer -- Nope, you're definitely not alone. Women in general and writers in particular have a big problem with depression.

ebi -- Thanks for the compliment. About waiting for it to go away -- As long as it DOES go away. If it goes on too long, make sure you get some help!


Jenna Leigh said...

I can still remember driving and thinking that the windshield was coming in on me that first time, my heart pounding so loud I thought it going to pop out of my chest. At that moment, I knew without a doubt I was going to die and leave my 3yr old child alone.

After that, whenever it happened I'd take off walking, just to get out.. trying to get away from myself which was of course, impossible. I took Prosac for about five months, but it just made me more panicked and bitchy (if that's possible).

My solution finally, was to make sure Mozilla knew what to do in case something did happen. "If Mommy falls and won't get back up, go next door and have them call Nana at 111-1111." That's a horrible burden for a child and I felt so guilty, but it was necessary because of a very real health problem that I do have. When I married, my hubby took on the job, and he does it admirably.

The fear still lurks under the surface, waiting to strike again, like a tooth that only hurts if you eat something cold. My heart pounds in my ears, and I get the vision dimming whammies. Sometimes it's a drill, telling me that I'm not totally out of the woods yet, but sometimes, it's the real deal and out I go. When it happens, well, she might be Teen Mean but at least she's big enough to take care of herself and me if the need should arise.

Angela Knight said...

Jeeze, Jenn -- that sounds SCARY. Hugs to you and Mozilla! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.


Kate Douglas said...

Thanks, kiddo! I think your post was the kick in the ass I needed. The doctor has me on so many drugs right now for the health crap and I haven't walked anywhere in weeks. Time to pull out the weights and take control of the situation!

Cynnara Tregarth said...

Thanks for the reminder, AK. You're right in exercise helping. I've put it off because of some fears and the lack of energy and time of late, but I need to get into my regular habit again.

*hugs* You're a special lady and I'm glad you've managed to get yourself back into a good groove where things are going your way again.

E.B.L. Gorton said...

Usually they do go away. I have sought help the couple of times it didn't. :)

Thank you again for such a great post.

B.L. Foxxe's Blog said...

Hi Angela,

I've been through mind numbing panic, I don't even drive. I was having major problems keeping a regular job. On the 3rd of October, I finally went in for an assessment.
I have a learning disorder, a brain dysfunction, but don't know how severe it is, and what kind of stuff I'll be dealing with. Ever have the sensation of walking through heavy suffocating liquid? I deal with it every single day, but no drugs because they make it worse.

I find what I can do about my problem on the 31st of October, so I know there's hope out there yet. Have a good day or not. :)

Angela Knight said...

BL -- My thoughts are with you, my friend. Best of luck in getting that horrible problem fixed!


Darla said...

Congrats on your weight loss! I'm thinking about you and your battle with depression. I've never had to deal with it at that level. Your in my prayers.

I recently had the light go on in my own life...I'm over weight by about 135 or so lbs. I decided I needed to do something about it before it was too late so I started going to the dietitian and so far have lost 28 lbs. I live in KS and in May of this year my daughter moved to Oregon. I plan on visiting her next year in May...but the suprise is that I'm not telling her that I'm losing weight! Gives me the extra little umph I need to keep going.

Angela Knight said...

Darla -- Best of luck with your weight loss efforts! It's not easy, but it's REALLY worthwhile! Hugs!


Diana Castilleja said...

What an incredible post! Thank you for your insight, your experience, but mostly your pain. I am taking the steps to improve, but you aren't kidding... IT HURTS! In so many ways.

I'm walking my home from school instead of driving him twice. If he can hack it (he's K-5y/o) we'll shift to both am and pm walks. I'm also looking into a procedure.

My mother is obese, diabetic and has joint problems compounded by accidents she's had over the years. I do NOT want to be like that.

I've lost weight before and felt wonderful, but I can't do it alone, and excercise alone depresses more than the depression episodes do. I recognize the depression, know it's not severe and move on.

I wish you the best with your choices. I hope to learn from those who have gone before me.

One of the sagest remarks I've ever known. Learn from other's mistakes. You don't have time to make them all yourself. HUGS! And many many thanks!

Lisa Andel said...

Hi Angela, Hi Darla.
The one thing I noticed when I started exercising was how good I felt afterwards. (I really didn't think I would)

I'm still fighting the fact that I hate devoting the time to it though.

Caffey said...

Angela, I too know that it helped me before, especially walking which I loved. I'm dealing with alot of physical pain right now so the exercizing has made it worse, but I can do some different exercizes that strengthen me in different ways, but can't do the walking right now. So I can't wait til I can again. You've given me hope too!

Angela Knight said...

I sympathize, believe me! I have injured my back, and now I can't walk on the treadmill either. I'm in so much pain right now I wasn't able to work out with my trainer. //sigh!

Laurie Likes Books said...

Angela -

I've suffered from depression for years and years, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I admitted it wasn't a sign of weakness and could be helped by medication and other things. Exercise is a really good thing, particularly because it can get out some of the stress that produces anxiety that leads to further depression. Because I work at home, when I realized I was heading into a downspin a few months ago, I started going to my local Starbucks every day with my laptop to work and just "be out" for a couple of hours. My husband says it's worth the price of a daily grande for me not to hide under the covers. I don't take as much medication as you do, but because one of the manifestations of my depression is insomnia, I've taken something for fifteen years for that. Little did I know that the original med I took caused horrendous weight gain, which only made my depression worse for years until I got off of it and onto something else...and lost most of the weight.

Good luck to you and I hope you are able to manage it. If not, try anything.


Angela Knight said...

I'm glad you found something that helps!


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Knight,

Has anyone ever tried telling you there is nothing wrong with you? I mean, not to trivialize anything becaue you have gone through some ordeals.

I know, it seems overly simple and cruel sounding, but I believe none of us were born with these so called defects.

If I had to classify myself, I probably appear to be depressed AND an alcoholic AND have anger issues AND be a cutter. All because someone told me I was not worth bothering with.

Well, I AM passionate, do love a good adult beverage and enjoy dark fetishes but it took a long while for me to realize it.

THis of course is not intended for those with a chemical imbalance, but I do believe that we tend to become what people tell us.



OH, PS, your books inspire me and refill that part of a writer's soul that is drained from the process, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing if I may, have you considered acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine?

Forgive my intrusion, but I have a compelling nature to nurture.


Angela Knight said...

Thanks for the encouragement. And yes, everybody has a cross to bear. Or a bear to cross. Or something like that... :)