Author Archives: shannonmagda

Famous Christmas Villain: Krampus

It’s Krampusnacht again, which means this may be the last time I talk to you. If this is the year Krampus finally stuffs me in his sack and takes me away, that’ll be it.

I think.

I mean, what if he makes himself look scary and makes being taken away sound horrible just to avoid being harassed by people who want to go to the fun place he usually lives? What if being snatched by Krampus is better than The Rapture in terms of blowing this earthly popsicle stand of misery and woe to go to a mythical paradise by dubious means?

I’m not convinced that all of our traditional Christmas villains are really evil. I think a lot of them are just unloved and cranky af. Which isn’t that far from what it feels like to be depressed, honestly.

I’m going to keep talking about Christmas villains because I think they’re good object lessons in how not to deal with depression. The lesson in Krampus is Don’t Walk Around With Your Tongue Out Scaring The Crap Out Of People And Threatening To Steal Their Children. Please make a note of it.

The Crazy Meds Doc

by Shannon

The Crazy Meds Doc is how I refer to my psychiatrist, but not to his face or anything. Let me start by saying that I don’t actually think that you or I or anybody else who takes antidepressants is actually crazy. Crazy isn’t even a clinical term. I just call my psychiatrist the Crazy Meds Doc because I believe that it’s important to have a sense of humor about difficult topics. Also, I feel more comfortable telling my friends that I’m going to the Crazy Meds Doc than to “my psychiatrist,” you know if I need to tell my friends I can’t go to lunch or something because I have to go to the Crazy Meds Doc. (I’m a big believer in being specific whenever possible about the reason for going to the doctor. Otherwise people assume you are pregnant. Should something medically embarrassing that necessitates a doctor’s visit come up, I just say I’m going to the dentist. Nobody’s ashamed of having teeth.)

Also, I think people should probably know that the state of mental health care today—for those of us lucky enough to receive it—consists of 15 minutes or less with a medical doctor, and any more talking that you want to do better be with somebody who has a Master’s Degree, because your insurance isn’t going to pay for all that MD time.

So a few days ago it was time for my twice-annual visit to the Crazy Meds Doc. I should mention that I always feel proud when I get on a twice-a-year basis with CMD. When you’re really down and out he says he wants to see you in six weeks. Then you graduate to three months. Every six months is the best you can do there because after that the doctor gets afraid he’ll be cited by the DEA for writing prescriptions without properly monitoring patients.

Despite the fact that the Crazy Meds Doc is the least invasive of my routine medical visits, I dread it just as much as the dentist or the gynecologist.

Some of the dread just comes from the logistics of it all. CMD moved offices recently, and now it takes me about half an hour each way to get there. The waiting room is always packed, and I think everybody there has the exact same appointment time as you do. So, an hour of driving, 45 minutes in the waiting room, and 5 minutes with the actual doctor … and you’re out two hours of your day.

But the driving and the waiting aren’t really what I hate about the Crazy Meds Doc.

What I really hate is that going there reminds me that I am broken. And not just “grab a prescription for antidepressants from your internal medicine doctor” broken. “You need to see a specialist” broken.

I will tell you this. CMD’s new office is located in a big medical building, one where you have to park in a certain place so you can be in any kind of proximity to the entrance nearest his office. In a layout overly fraught with symbolism, you step through the glass doors and immediately face a large and imposing sign indicating the entrance to the Cancer Center. It’s only by making an immediate right that you find yourself in the corridor that leads to the Crazy Meds Doc.

And every time I go in there, I say a silent prayer of thanks that I get to make the immediate right and not go straight into that Cancer Center.

But I’ll also tell you it wasn’t always like that. When I was at my worst, I wished I could have cancer instead of depression. Obviously I was not at my most logical then, but hear me out. With cancer everyone rallies around you. They set up fundraisers and Meal Trains. You’re forgiven for missing work.

With depression you suffer in silence and only tell people when it’s absolutely necessary.

Thankfully, these days cancer has regained its spot in my long list of catastrophic anxieties, one that pops up every time anybody in my family or I have any kind of weird symptom.

Anxieties like these are why I need medication. And that’s why I have to go to the Crazy Meds Doc.

I hate it there. I hate seeing all the other people who struggle. I hate hearing the receptionist tell somebody on the phone that the next appointment the doctor has is in three months, and if you’re really struggling you need to go to the Intensive Outpatient Program. (I did that program too. I called it Crazy Camp.)

The appointment itself is always really quick and simple. I’m fine. Everything’s the same. I’ll take a refill. Bye. 

And yet I can barely make it out to my car, past the Cancer Center entrance whose lesson of gratitude is now lost on me, before I start crying. The tears are a release of all the emotion of the whole experience.

I wish I didn’t have to go there.

I’m thankful for antidepressants. I’m thankful that, although they are certainly not perfect, today’s antidepressants are a lot better than what was available a generation ago. And yes, I know taking an antidepressant to boost the serotonin in your brain is no different from a diabetic taking insulin.

I know. I know I know I know.

But going to that place … it reminds me that I’m broken. And that the only thing that stands between me and total dysfunction is a few tiny pills.

I don’t want you to tell me I’m not broken. I know that. I don’t want you to think you’re broken. You’re not.

I want you to know that if you feel broken, you aren’t alone. And that together, we will cobble together our broken selves, band together, and survive.

 

 

Back to Our Roots

by Shannon

It’s hard to believe this is our fourth year writing the Advent Calendar for Depressed People.

Allow me to reflect for a moment.

It all started back in 2014 when I was talking to Magda—and by “talking” I mean “chatting on Google Hangouts,” because I don’t actually use phones for talking
—about how to help a friend battling depression. It occurred to me that although I had a lot of experience being depressed, I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do when somebody else was depressed. Somewhere in the course of that conversation, Magda came up with the idea for the Advent Calendar for Depressed People.

A few minutes later she sent me a message. “The domain is available!” she wrote.

“Hard to believe,” I replied.

I loved the idea of helping depressed people feel less alone, especially at the holidays. I wanted people to know that just because “everyone’s telling you be of good cheer,” it doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

And that’s how it started, as a safe place to land when, as Magda’s tagline says, the sparkle is too bright.

Through the years we’ve tried to keep up that message, but I’ve started to feel like my posts have strayed from our roots.

And why? Because in the last year, my life felt uprooted by the presidential election and subsequent administration.

Last December I had no hope. I may be a shoe-in to be elected as the President of the Cynic’s Association (well, maybe Vice-President), and I may require the finest generic antidepressants a $4 co-pay can buy, but I always believe in the power of hope.

The only times I’ve ever lost that hope were a particularly bad depressive episode and after the 2016 election.

Last year it felt like the majority of the country was depressed. And it was all I could write about on this blog, post after post after post.

Obviously we aren’t out of the woods yet. (You wanna make my eye twitch? Just say the words “second term.”) But this year I feel hopeful again, because the resistance is working. And, somehow, I find myself believing that good will overcome evil, that the truth will prevail.

I feel like a survivor this year. And now I need to be there with all of you other survivors, reminding you that we can do it.

So, I’m hoping to get back to the roots of this blog. Our message is very simple: it’s okay to be depressed at Christmas. The cheerful, Christmas-loving people are literally the loudest and brightest, but that doesn’t mean they represent everyone. The holidays are hard, for many reasons, and you aren’t the only one who feels that way.

I often say (mostly to myself) that you don’t have to be happy all the time. You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep fighting the good fight—and if you can do that, you are awesome. If you can do that in December (or November or October or whenever the holiday season starts now), you are a freaking superstar.

One foot in front of the other …

How low can standards go

I was a real jerk yesterday. I was sweet to my kids in the morning (it’s hard going back to school after break) but the rest of the day I ranged between meh and vicious to everyone else I interacted with. And then I fell asleep at 5 pm and didn’t wake up until 9. If you guessed that I was getting sick, you’re right. I woke up this morning with a fever and feeling like my entire body had been made into cube steak. Turns out I’ve got some bug that’s going around and I’ll probably feel better in another 24-36 hours.

I feel such relief that this is temporary, even though I feel horrible. For the last couple of years my body has been collapsing in big and small ways, mostly as a result of the hormonal changes of perimenopause. When I wake up feeling bad I can be pretty sure that that feeling is just my new normal, unless months of trying lifestyle changes and supplements and whatever else I can throw at it will reduce the pain a little. It’s been demoralizing and scary, and what makes me feel even worse is knowing that it’s happening to millions of other women at the same time and all of us are feeling this same decline in health.

So while I feel lucky that this thing yesterday and today is just a sickness and not some new condition, I’m also mad that I have to feel lucky. Why aren’t we all feeling healthy all the time? Shouldn’t the expectation be that our bodies are going to change so let’s get waaaaay out in front of it to prevent and solve the pain? This crappy bug that’s making me be a big jerk to everyone should be a problem, not a relief.

If you are feeling extra crappy today I hope that it’s a short-term illness and not just the way things are now.

We’re back for 2017!

Yes, actual Advent doesn’t start until next Sunday, December 3, but depression doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar.

So here we are. Standing on the brink of a reeeeeeally long wait until Christmas. This is the second-longest stretch possible between American Thanksgiving and Christmas (next year is going to be the longest) which means those spirit fingers are going to get cramped earlier than usual.

This is the first of a whole bunch of reminders that a) you’re not the only depressed one, so don’t feel guilty or ashamed of it, or like you can’t say anything, b) the outsized expectations for this season say more about our culture than they do about you, and c) you don’t have to if you don’t want to. For real.

You can do it.

New Year, Same Stuff

I like New Year’s. A blank slate, a new start—those ideas appeal to me. Yes, I know New Year’s Day is just an arbitrary date on a calendar, but you have to draw the line somewhere. And I love drawing lines. I like putting things into neat little categories. Here and there. Then and now.

Last year and this year.

It’s a pretty well-held sentiment that last year was terrible. It’s nice to think we’re on the right side of the line between last year and this year.

Except, you know that whole “arbitrary date on the calendar” thing? That means last year was yesterday and this year is today, and most of the terrible stuff from 2016 didn’t just disappear at midnight. And, sure, it’s true every year that the whole world doesn’t change just because the calendar changed. It’s just, maybe most years we’re so caught up in our resolutions and our this will be my year declarations, that we’re blind to ongoing problems.

But the arrival of 2017 feels different.

I wanted everything to be okay as soon as the calendar changed to the new year. I wanted everything be okay because that’s how human beings are—we want to fix and heal and make it all better.

And it’s not all better. All the same problems are still here.

Now, lest you think I’m writing the biggest Unhappy New Year post ever, I’d like to say this: there is some solace to be found in accepting that things are the way they are. Not everything gets better. There isn’t always a silver lining. Sometimes your greatest goal isn’t improvement, but acceptance.

You’d think having a chronic condition like depression would have taught me a long time ago that some situations are ongoing and unsolvable. Yet somehow that was a lesson I never learned. I can’t explain why.

But seeing the whole world ripped apart in 2016, and understanding that we weren’t all fixed up just because it became 2017, that drove the message home: Some problems have no easy fix. Some things just suck.

And so, I think the wisdom to accept the deep flaws of the world is 2016’s gift. It’s not all better.

It just is what it is.

Wishing you a 2017 of acceptance,

Shannon

 

The last day of 2016

I don’t know how long you’ve been depressed. I’ve had depression since I was in high school. Sometimes it’s been worse, sometimes it’s been nearly unbearable, sometimes it’s been just a light dull gray, and sometimes it’s been in remission. But it’s been 27 or 28 years now. And at the end of every year I wonder how many more years I’m going to close out knowing I’ll still be depressed in the new year.

I just want you to know that if you’re like me and the end of the year reminds you that depression is always with you, that’s ok. You’re good, exactly the way you are. You have depression, but there isn’t anything wrong with you. And this isn’t everything that you are.

An Embarrassing Story About Something That Actually Happened to Me

A few days ago, I was staying at my in-laws’ house. We had a very garlicky dinner.

Later that evening, I went down to our little basement guest area and swallowed my nightly medication. I then proceeded to brush my teeth with my new Sonicare toothbrush, which shuts off automatically after two minutes of brushing.

Eager to achieve this important tooth-brushing time goal, and also eager to eliminate some of the garlicky-ness of the dinner, I took some time to thoroughly brush my tongue.

Except I wasn’t used to the pointy head of the new toothbrush, and I hit my gag reflex. And then I puked in the sink. I noticed a somewhat soggy, regurgitated version of my antidepressant pill in the drain.

Also in the drain: a dead daddy long-legs. My in-laws live in a somewhat rural area. There are a lot of critters.

Now, being on a trip, I didn’t have any extra medication on me, so I couldn’t just pop another pill. I weighed my options: take the pill and ingest some dead daddy long-legs germs, or be an emotional wreck.

I chose daddy long-legs germs.

I think some of you can relate.

Still alive despite recent contamination,

Shannon

Peace Be With You

When parting with people for some period of time, we often express some sentiment that references the time until we are reunited. On a Friday, you might tell co-workers to have a nice weekend. You may wish your friend a happy holidays if you’re seeing her for the last time before Christmas. Yearbook inscriptions often read, “Have a good summer!”

Nice. Happy. Good. 

These sentiments are, of course, socially accepted platitudes we’ve all come to agree on as normal parts of communication.

But nice, happy, and good are not depression words. Nice, happy, and good are words that mock your depression, knock it on the ground, kick it, and spit on it for good measure.

Which is why I always appreciated the parting shot my former therapist used every week:

Have a peaceful week. 

She knew that many people were dealing with situations in which good weeks just weren’t possible. The nicest wish she could bestow on them was a hope that they might find some peace.

So, that is my wish to you, on this sometimes-troubling day that falls at the end of a troubling year in a troubling world.

Have a peaceful day. 

It might not be peaceful at Aunt So-and-So’s house. There might be so many sugar-high children running around that the line is crossed between “seeing Christmas through the magic of children’s eyes” and “complete chaos.” Rarely-seen relatives may be inquiring too much about what you’re doing with the next phase of your life, or why you haven’t gotten to some socially-expected point in the current phase of your life. And if all else fails, there’s probably an argument about politics going on.

Sometimes it’s just hard to find peace when you’re just not feeling very merry and you’re dealing with the pressure to put on a happy face.

But my hope is you’ll find peace somewhere. Maybe it will be on the drive home from the relatives’ house, when it’s finally quiet. Or maybe it will be in those moments when you’re finally alone, say, like, while taking a shower. Maybe you’ll have to make your own peace by taking deep breaths.

And no, there is not Peace on Earth, despite the greeting card inscription wishing it so. There may not even be peace on your little corner of the earth. But you can still find a moment of peace inside yourself.

Wishing you peace, with a little help from my friends The Eagles, one of whom was a victim of the cruelty of 2016,

Shannon

 

 

 

What’s a normal day anymore?

I was busy all day today, doing life and work stuff. It was really weird.

It feels like the New Normal since November 9 has been panic and anxiety on top of my normal depression and anxiety, so it’s been a long time since I was busy enough to not be freaked out for more than five minutes.

Today I sent emails and read up on some procedures and spread some information for the resistance, and then I did work and life stuff and got so busy I actually forgot that things are horrible for almost an hour at a time.

It was kind of amazing. To only be depressed and my normal self.

I hate to say this, but this horrific election has made me a better person already. And part of that is sorting out a hierarchy of anger and terror. I think it’s shifted my whole happy face pain scale. It’s weird, after an entire lifetime of feeling bad, to realize that feeling bad might not be quite as bad anymore.

Weird. (And if you have any energy to spare, I could use good wishes or prayers for two big projects to work out.)