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A cheerful way to start off December
galadriel helpful
So I went in for my quarterly med check three months ago, and about a week later had some long-postponed-because-ehhhhhh bloodwork done. Yesterday I went in for another quarterly check and finally bothered to find out what the results were--my psych had mailed me a copy of the results, but I just... well. I was anxious about it, I was afraid to find out, and I figured that if I was dying, someone would probably tell me. No thyroid issues, my blood sugar was (surprisingly) okay, no diabetes, something something blood count something MCHC low, my good and bad cholesterols were a little out of whack but that's probably the American way--

"Wait, blood count? That means--anemia?"

I love how she just kept going on her merry way like I have any idea WTF MCHC thingits are. I took biology, chemistry and anatomy in high school and then tapped the fuck out of science, my friend. Science is a wonderful and necessary thing and all the kids should take it because the children are our future but I know a lost cause when I see one, and that lost cause was named French/Spanish Double Major With A Concentration In Writing, y'all. ¿Qué significa? L'anémie?

"A mild anemia, yes."

She couldn't understand why I started laughing.

@cleolinda: Soooooo apparently I'm somewhat anemic. This explains a lot.

@westonian: So, wait. You're saying you need blood? OMG VAMPIRE

@cleolinda: Or... have I been *visited* by one? Should I check the corner of my bedroom? Should I buy a rocking chair?


I think it says a lot about the emotional baggage of depression itself that my third reaction (after being startled, then laughing my ass off) was, YAY ANEMIA! WOOOOOOO! I had been dragging around for months talking about how tired I was, assuming it was just depression (this can be a major symptom), but there's not a whole lot you can do about that. I mean, I have a pretty thorough regimen (antidepressants, vitamins, full spectrum lamp--I inevitably list these over and over to save people the trouble of trying to be helpfully redundant), but it's an ongoing treatment, you know? Whereas a mild, simple anemia is just, "Get more iron." (And I suspect it's as a result of appetite loss from the depression--I just can't eat most of the day. I'm not trying to do a quasi-bulimic starve-binge kind of thing, the way I did on purpose as a teenager; it just happens when I'm too depressed to feel hungry, but then at night I'm starving and overeat. For months. Thus, the multivitamin wasn't solving the problem.) Because even when you grasp the idea that depression is an ailment and not a personal failing... it still feels like a personal failing. You know you're clinically depressed, but you feel like you're just lazy, lonely, hopeless, pathetic. Or sometimes you don't realize you're ill, because those feelings of anxiety and shame and helplessness sneak up on you and feel legitimate, and that's why you don't realize you need help. I mean, I've been on medication and under quarterly medical supervision for fourteen years now and my own mood cycles still sneak up on me, over and over. It's hard to teach yourself to say, "You are an awesome person, and your awesomeness is a default, and so if you feel less than awesome, you need to get your awesome tuned up." Because your sadness and fatigue and anxiety feel mild at first, and they seem like rational responses to things going on in your life, and then you end up missing some deadline or not completing some goal or not living up to your own expectations because you're already sad and tired, and then the negativity does seem justified: "I'm not depressed; I'm a loser."

And it's so hard to learn and re-learn this, over and over and over again. I'm getting better at recognizing it, but... I still hate myself for being dragged down by it, for not fighting it harder, for not conquering it fast enough. Depression makes you feel bad and then it makes you feel bad for feeling bad. Meanwhile, I had gotten to a point, through this October and November particularly, where getting up every morning, being downstairs by 7 am, wearing real proper clothes, and sitting down at the kitchen table with my laptop every day was a fucking accomplishment. And it only happened because Sam is little and aging and blind and incontinent, and needs a seeing-eye human to whisk him outside six and seven times a day at a moment's leg-hike. But that need provides structure. It's also the reason I'm afraid to live on my own (which is the answer I never actually give to people who ask about my living situation). I need people and pets around me on a daily basis to put on that mask of functionality, which I think most depression sufferers do automatically--people can tell you're at least somewhat depressed, but you converse and joke and talk about what everyone did at work and what movies you want to see and what dumbass thing some politician said today. You don't want people to see you like this, so you automatically try to act functional. I've hidden severe depression for months this way, even living with my family; I've tried to be a lot more honest on a daily basis about feeling really, really shitty, just so someone knows. I sat down at that table and booted up Lizzie every single day and whether productivity then happened or not, I was being there, goddammit. And Being There was more than I could manage that last semester of college where I nearly failed out of everything because I was left to my own wan devices and hid in bed crying, not actually oversleeping, just watching the clock to know that my most difficult, early-morning Spanish literature class was over and I could stop begging myself to get up and go, because it was, at last, too late, and I could have the blessed awful relief of no longer being able to do something about it and failing to anyway.

But by God, you have anemia, and suddenly everyone understands. Even though that anemia was caused by the depression.

I write about mental health experiences so often because depression itself feels like shame, and is easy to mistake for disappointment in yourself, but I'm not actually ashamed of saying that I'm bipolar, struggling with episodes of chronic depression, and dealing with it using as many resources as I can find. I'm ashamed of some of the circumstances resulting from it, from what I feel is my failure to cope--not living on my own, not finishing projects, not accomplishing things--or perhaps, sometimes, what depression tricks me into thinking is my failure to cope. But I'm not ashamed of it as a medical condition. And I don't think anyone else should be, either; I feel like talking about depression in casual, matter-of-fact ways normalizes it, shows that it's an illness, that it's not just deserved sadness and self-loathing, and that helps others. I mean, judging by the emails I get, it seems to.

So I almost feel like it's a betrayal of my own principles to be glad I have a "real" medical condition, even a slight one, even just for a few months, because if you told me the same story about yourself, I would say, "But depression is a real medical condition." All I can really do is point out what that says about depression itself, the way it feels, and the way we view it. Otherwise, I'm going to feel bad about it, and then feel bad about feeling bad, and we just climbed out of that rabbit hole.

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Thank you, Cleo. As a depression sufferer myself, it really does help to see other people like me speak up about having the same kinds of feelings I do.

Agreed. We have to look out for each other.

Tell me it wasn't The Littlest Edward! My faith in vampire nature will be SHOT.

(Oh, wait -- I have no faith in vampire nature. Whew.)

I don't know much about depression, but I wonder if the discovery of a related physical condition brings some relief just because now you know what's causing this particular symptom, and it's concrete, and you can do something about it. I have a minor hereditary blood disorder that resembles anemia, and I know it was a bit of a relief to know spefically WHY I feel draggy so much, and to get an idea about what kinds of food and supplements and so forth are particularly good for me.

And btw, as someone who has several relatives with bipolar disorder who aren't handling it well (going off meds, refusing to even admit there's a problem, etc.), I admire you tremendously for how you're dealing with it.

Edited at 2011-12-01 06:06 pm (UTC)

Oh, how I hear you, my lovely. <3

I wouldn't feel bad, honestly. Hell, if I had a reason for why I felt tired no matter how little I do or how much sleep I get other than this bipolar thing, I would embrace it. We want to feel normal, no matter if that normal is hiding your disability or feeling happy about the fact that you have a reason for why you were feeling wiped out. It's a natural social response because we're genetically wanting to fit in so the pack doesn't kill us off or leave us for predators.

(No, I don't play a doctor on TV. I'm just repeating what my shrink told me when I was seventeen, completely depressed, and hurting myself by running into things due to refusing to use my red tipped cane. But that's whole other kettle of fish.)

I will say that you have given me the best ever laugh that I had this week. So ♥ for that. :)

Because even when you grasp the idea that depression is an ailment and not a personal failing... it still feels like a personal failing. You know you're clinically depressed, but you feel like you're just lazy, lonely, hopeless, pathetic. Or sometimes you don't realize you're ill, because those feelings of anxiety and shame and helplessness sneak up on you and feel legitimate, and that's why you don't realize you need help.

That's interesting to read because with Crohn's, even if the physical symptoms are eased off and you're not living in the bathroom, you can get hit with fatigue, which is another symptom of Crohns. But nobody ever seems to realise that and you start wondering like the above, am I lazy? Why am I so tired? Why am I hitting the bed the minute I walk in the door from work, etc, etc. And yes, you start to feel anxious and ashamed that you're not a dynamic go-getter.

I mean, even now there are days when I think, I should be back in full time work (oh that the economy was better and there was more work!) but sometimes even holding a Guide meeting and Brownie meeting can tire me out and I think, why am I so useless? The Crohn's is in remission, I should be gallivating out and about. So I have to remind myself that I don't absorb many vitamins anymore and I'm going about my business with no large intestine and still doing most of what other people are doing.
I also get what you mean about routine. The different medications for Crohns such as steroids and the like, can really do a number on your mental well being and that's on top of the physical symptoms that had me crying and feeling like death warmed up on a regular basis. I know now that if Momo and her dog, Lucy, hadn't lived with us when the disease was running rampant on my insides back in 1996/97, I would have taken to the bed in a huge funk and probably not come out for a long long time. As it was, I had to pull myself together enough some weeks in order to go through the motions and get her what she needed. It wasn't easy but left to my own devices, I dread to think what state mentally I'd be in.

I think that sometimes we hold ourselves up to these impossible standards or sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break.

My husband's been living with Crohn's for five years now, but I don't think we ever knew that fatigue was considered a symptom. Thank you! This will be helpful in the future. ♥

We've come to realize that Crohn's is another one of those kind of 'invisible' conditions, as evidenced by his boss being very obnoxious whenever he needs to leave work to see a doctor. "But you look fine!" *headdesk*

When I was first diagnosed with anemia, I spent several weeks talking myself out of a conviction that it was a character flaw. (Even though I had been borderline for years and it's not that uncommon in women.) I had become so accustomed to being constantly tired and unmotivated and without energy, and to beating myself up over that, and thus it seemed entirely reasonable in the depressed/anxious part of my brain to assume that the anemia was my own fault. So even a completely physiological medical condition can be turned into something to beat one's self up over, with a certain mindset. :\

I'm in total agreement about normalizing our medical conditions. It can be very hard to talk about the mental ones, or the ones that come about as a result of trauma, but every time we find the strength to do that, it makes things a little easier for everyone else dealing with it. I know I've benefitted from others' openness, and I'm very, very grateful for their openness. I try to do my bit to pass it on.

I hope you get good treatment for the anemia; having the physical effects of that removed from your other conditions will help.

It always amazes me the link between physical and psychological ailments, although it shouldn't, give my knowledge of nutrition and its part in keeping a person "healthy". Something about a physical manifestation almost feels like a legitimiation of the disease, that it's not "all in your head," which in turn makes me angry because of cultural constructs of mental illness and now I'm just rambling.

Yes, yes that's it exactly. I have bipolar, type 1, and there are days where being there is about all I can handle. As much as I'd like to believe we live in a better world that at least knows a bit more about mental illness, this stigma is still very much present.

And yes, it does help the depression to live with other people. And pets. I'm not sure I'd still be here if it wasn't for my cats.

I find it rather telling that studies show that having children decreases one's level of happiness, while having pets raises it. I mean, not that children suck, but they are stressful a lot of the time. Pets can be stressful if they're having a problem, but mostly they're stress-relieving.


Okay, so when I was in college I tried to donate blood at a campus blood drive. And the nurse pricked my finger and checked my iron levels and said "You are SEVERELY ANEMIC." And I had no idea, and she said "I'm amazed you're upright." This was also the same semester that I got diagnosed with depression and started taking antidepressants. Guess which I got more flack for, the iron supplement or the antidepressant? Yeah.

And now I've been moving and realized two days ago that I had completely stopped taking my multivitamin and iron pills, and maybe that was why I felt like I was going to pass out on the T when I had my period, and duh. And yet in the same week I was realizing that my antidepressant scrip was out of refills, but I don't have a new doctor here, and maybe I can just get away without them, maybe I don't need them anymore, and jesus, why am I beating myself up for another pill for another legitimate condition? That would probably be an EVEN WORSE idea, and I will call home and beg my old doctor and get over myself.

Please do--sometimes I get low on meds and go, "Eh, I can make it a few days without my three different pills" and no. I cannot. Not because of what they do for me, necessarily, but because of the withdrawals, which at one point involved crippling back pain and severe sudden depression. It's so easy to just let things go and feel bad, I do it too, and it is such a double-plus ungood thing to do.

I hereby welcome you into the Anemia Fold. (That sounds like the name of a particularly weird trip-hop group.) And yeah, it makes no sense that people understand an iron deficiency when they don't understand a neurotransmitter deficiency, but there you have it.

I also compare chemical depression to diabetes a lot--the insulin metaphor.

Thank you so much for this post, and for being vocal about your mental health issues. All I can say is THIS OMG THIS THIS THIS

In the midst of serious discussion (and a lot of learning and soul-searching about my own depression) I bumped into your icon and brust out laughing. Thank you for the smiles!

That's...well, I was going to say great, but having had anemia for years I know well enough that anemia is not great. Still, unless you have 50 gazillion other diseases like me it's pretty treatable; just take iron pills, and make sure you don't take too much or it'll make you constipated. You can just go to a Walmart or something and pick up a bottle for a couple bucks, and ask the pharmacist which one to get. And remember that while treating the anemia will make you feel better you do still have the depression so don't be surprised if you don't feel 100% better.

I'm a fan of the slow-release iron tablets. Helps keep the constipation/other side effects down by releasing iron over time. Also, then you don't have to worry as much about eating/taking things that decrease iron absorption, like calcium supplements or caffeine.

You make me feel better about feeling crappy. Thank you.

When I finally saw a therapist in college, he asked me why I'd never seen a therapist before. And I will always remember, I told him it was because I was afraid that if I did, they would tell me there was nothing actually wrong with me and to just suck it up. And I do get that, still, from some people, but I'm on medication and there are other people in my life who get it, and you and others write about it, and that actually gives me moments of clarity that pull me through, a bit at a time.

It helps. Believe me. Knowing I'm not alone, hearing from someone who can describe in the perfect words exactly what I go through helps a whole lot.

There's an awful lot of noise to be heard out there in the big, bad world about how I'm not trying hard enough, how I'm just manipulating people because I'm lazy, about all the things the mean little voice echoes back at me when I'm in a bad place.

Hearing words, ANY words to help counter those, to fight back, to feel less alone, is such a great help. It's a weapon to use against that mean little voice, and every weapon diminishes it.

"You are an awesome person, and your awesomeness is a default, and so if you feel less than awesome, you need to get your awesome tuned up."

Ahh, I teared up. I've been fighting depression and a whole slew of side-issues since that bloody earthquake in March -- not really surprising I know, but. And it's been really hard. And sometimes -- often -- I feel like I used to be awesome, but now that's stripped layers off me and the awesome has gone away, and this is just how I am now. It's good to have a reminder that what I'm really trying to do is get my awesome back into gear. It's there, it's just... hard to find right now.

During that senior-year-of-college depression I mentioned... people ask you what the best moment of your life was, what the worst moment was, and I truly think the worst moment of my life was right after a professor took me aside after class and yelled at me for not doing the work (living up to my potential, basically, and I don't blame her), and then I went into a lonely upstairs rest room and sobbed for fifteen minutes in a stall, and then I somehow managed to walk back to my dorm room. I lived with my two best friends in an apartment-like suite, and it was empty at the time. So I locked myself into my little shoebox of a bedroom and bawled for--I don't even know how long. Another half hour? An hour? And I just kept sobbing, why, why, why is this happening to me, what happened to me, where did I go? It was like I had lost the person I was, the overachiever who set up poetry readings and loved translating, who came up with ideas for new things and worked on school publications--I STILL have nightmares where suddenly the literary magazine is supposed to be published the next week and I, as editor, suddenly remember that it exists and run around some dreamscape campus posting fliers for submissions in terror. I just felt like this empty shell, and I had no idea how to get "me" back. Honestly, it took several months to feel like "me" again. I was terrified that I never would. Worse or more important things have happened, I'm sure, but I've never felt that much despair and hopelessness since.

And honestly? I had a very similar, if not as severe, crying jag two weeks ago. About half an hour of the "Why, why, what happened to me, why is this happening again?" sobbing. This is why I was so thrilled to have the Breaking Dawn thing go so easily the very next week. I was afraid it would be weeks, if not months, before I felt "me" enough to pull that off.