Tags: depression, disability, medicine, TMI
In my last blog post, I wrote about losing about ~8 months to another bout of depression. I’ve had long episodes of depression off and on since I was a child. It’s been years since the last time I had depression. Frankly, I kind of figured this was going to happen again sooner or later, based on my own mental health history. For a long time though, the depression wasn’t an issue… or whatever depression I did have, could easily be attributed to a more pressing concern – chronic vulvar pain & painful sex! The pelvic pain problems were priority #1.
Eventually though, the depression came back, even though at this point I have most of the pelvic pain under control (most of the time, for now…) (I’ve often thought to myself, ‘If I have a lid on the painful sex and chronic pain, why am I still depressed?! I should be happy for that reason alone!’ Nope. It worked that way for awhile! But then it didn’t anymore.)
As I said in my last post, I started seeing a therapist for mental health counseling… with little to no improvement over about ~6 months. Things came to a head when I developed a new, unrelated pelvic problem – a vulvar cyst. Given my history of vulvar pain problems, the cyst was the last straw. The stress of the cyst + depression pushed me over my personal minimum thresh hold required to justify taking on the risks of sexual side effects due to antidepressants – and the risks of Stigma associated with medical treatment for mental illness. Some of you have heard the litany of Stigma before – I’m talking about having overheard and read stuff like, “Big pharma is inventing new illnesses and making big cash over it! The risks of side effects aren’t worth medication! Haven’t you tried alternative, natural medicine yet? You just need to take some extra vitamins, get some sunlight, exercise, etc. Americans are all over medicated anyway. You should be thankful for what you got! Willpower/Bootstraps!” (Obviously I’m paraphrasing; basically channeling stuff like this.)
I tried it the way proponents of more natural, less invasive, more holistic treatment options suggest.
The non-medical stuff didn’t work out for me.
I wasn’t making progress with talk therapy alone – or rather, talk therapy + the stuff that came out of talk therapy like: recommended reading + some homework exercises + goal-setting + etc. Unfortunately, additional supplemental holistic treatments in conjunction with talk therapy aren’t a practical option at this time either. I no longer have the time, transportation or cash up front to pay for acupuncture treatments. (Plus I no longer have access to my old, trusted acupuncturist.) I’m not comfortable with light therapy because there are questions about light therapy and eye problems for certain people (I’m at elevated risk of being one such person.) Vitamin D & multivitamin supplements don’t do anything on me as far as depression goes. And finally, the last time I joined a gym to work up a sweat regularly, I developed a series of months-long vaginal infections.
So the non-invasive, natural, etc. stuff maybe isn’t in my best interests after all.
Certainly the pressure to conform & minimize what I was feeling – or not feeling, more accurately, since I was shuffling around feeling completely Dead on the Inside – was making things worse. I felt so much pressure…
…Pressure to please some, vague ~idea~ of an expert.
…Pressure to behave, to “Get over it,” to continue to haul around the responsibility for other people’s actions. “Honey that was a long time ago, let it go.”
…Pressure to please all those people, journalists, and Ph.D.’s who claim to be ~just looking out for us after all,~ in steering me away from medical treatments…
…And unfortunately, that pressure to please others played right into the depression to prolong it and make it worse. When I went on the antidepressants, one of the first things I did when I got home with the medication was break down and cry about what a huge failure of a person I am, for actually needing medication. For “Giving up.” For “Taking the first easy way out.” For taking the path of least resistance, instead of confronting my fears head-on. Etc. Etc. Internalized bullshit.
And of course, I wasn’t a failure for needing medication or any other reason really – I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am in fact, not a failure at all. (We’re not quite there yet due to residual depression.) I wasn’t giving up, taking the easy way out, or running from the past.
I was just a person who needed more help.
Not that I should have felt forced to try the other holistic ways in the first place at all. It’s easier to find pressure from Big Pharma to attract customers and try new (or re-patented) old medication in the form of Big Marketing. But the pendulum can swing the other way too, and in my vulnerable state, I got pushed off of the other edge.
I asked my primary care physician to put me on Bupropion, better known as “Wellbutrin” or sometimes “Zyban.” I got a prescription generic for a half-dose (150mg) of extended release bupropion, for $10/month with insurance. I had the option to bump it up to a full (300mg) dose after 4-6 weeks of being on it, if I wasn’t satisfied with the results at half-strength.
It was not a decision I made lightly. In addition to the stigma of depression & using medical treatment for it, I had to anticipate the medication’s potential side effects. I selected bupropion because SSRI antidepressants have the potential to cause sexual dysfunction. SSRIs may cause some patients to experience things like, lower libido or difficulty orgasming, or more rarely, post-SSRI sexual dysfunction. I don’t have those problems; I have a history of pain. But I figure, I’m already stacked behind the 8-ball as far as sex problems go, so I should probably avoid medication that could throw something new into the mix.
One other factor to consider: I am aware that low-dose tricyclic antidepressants can be a treatment for vulvodynia. Part of the reason I stayed off of the tricyclics and opted for surgery all those years ago is that, at that time, I wanted to leave the option for using antidepressants for depression open in the future. I still don’t know if you can a tricyclic with another type of antidepressant, or if you can bump the tricyclic pain-treatment dose up for mental health, and still keep the pain effect in place.
After crying for awhile, I took my first pill. Then another the next day, and so on.
The antidepressant worked.
The bupropion kicked in surprisingly fast – I felt changes within like the first 2 weeks. The incessant, nagging, self-deprecating voice in my head quieted down. I was able to concentrate on my continuing education studies. The knowledge was sticking. I was doing better at work. I was starting to take interest in old activities again. I started to make more progress in therapy. I was remembering stuff I hadn’t thought about in a long time & making connections from prior events to my current beliefs & behaviors. I could actually feel feelings again, including anger! and sadness! and hope, oh god, the hope! The iceberg of depression started to melt & develop cracks… And it was still inherently me underneath the layers of Ice.
It wasn’t perfect. There were some side effects. I lost some weight. The tinnitus I’ve had since I was a kid sounded louder in my head. I had to take the medication in the evening before bed since it made me sleepy. My libido stayed at the same level, and I actually had an easier time orgasming on the medication than I did off it – Not that orgasm was ever a problem for me to begin with; I just felt more physically sensitive to touch on meds. The mental health improvement was noticeable and positive, but not complete. I felt about a 50% improvement in the depression on the 150mg dose. I was getting ready to bump up the dose to the full 300mg.
Then I started losing my hair.
Or more accurately, my hair stopped growing back in. One day I was getting ready to go out, I tied my hair up and saw a bald spot on the back of my head. That’s never been there before and it’s a problem.
It’s not like the hair fell out in big patches or clumps, or like I was shedding any more than normal. The hair was still falling out at the normal rate, there just wasn’t anything new coming in replace the old stuff. The effect was subtle, but over the next few days – and after comparing my current hair to old photos – I confirmed the hair was definitely thinning overall compared to before I went on medication. It’s subtle – probably something only I would ever notice.
Unfortunately that was the deal-breaker for me and bupropion. Please understand that me and my hair are very attached to each other. We’re planning on traveling to Paris together one day, you see. After a few days of deliberation (and feeling self-conscious,) I decided I wasn’t yet ready to change my hairstyle to something better for thinning hair. I talked to my doctor, and I went off the bupropion.
I had one withdrawal effect from going off the bupropion, a headache that varied in intensity from low to high for about a month. It responded to OTC painkillers and eventually went away. I’m still waiting for the hair to grow back though.
This is the point at which I could get angry and shake my first at Big Pharma for causing my hair loss. But actually, when I did the homework to figure out which antidepressants might work for me, I found out ahead of time that hair loss can be a very rare side effect. I was optimistic that I would be in the majority and not experience this side effect. It only happens to something like less than 1% of bupropion users, and usually kicks in after a few months. It’s weird because it kicked in fast on me – I noticed the hair loss about 6 weeks in. (Just to be on the safe side, my doctor ordered some blood screens to make sure the hair loss wasn’t related to some other medical problem. Apparently not.) It’s possible for depression to cause hair loss in and of itself, if it gets bad enough too. So although I’ll never know 100% for sure that it was the bupropion all along, it seems to be the most probable conclusion.
For me, the mental health effects of the medication were overall good enough so that I’ve decided, if I get depression again later… I’m just going to order a hairpiece, go to a nice salon and change my hairstyle… and then go back on meds. I’m annoyed about the hair loss but not angry… because the medication did something nothing else could do. It actually broke through the depression and gave me a rest from the self-loathing. It was worth it.
Unfortunately, I’m now back to relying on talk therapy for further mental health improvements. The medication did what it was supposed to do, but I couldn’t stay on it. It is a conundrum.
I’m not back to square one with the depression, but I’m not “All better” either! I switched therapists and I’m doing better with the current one than my old one. But it’s been rough. There’s a lot of bullshit in my past that I have to address now, and it still derails me.
What, exactly, in my past is so hard to recover from? What got triggered in the first place by recent events? This isn’t exactly a depression blog, and I’m still not 100% comfortable talking about the depression. It figures; I can go on for hours and hours about vaginas and feminisms and sex, but ask me to open up about what’s inside my head and I slam shut.
So let me put it to you this way:
It is simultaneously deeply liberating
and completely devastating
that all those times, when I was a little kid,
saying to myself, “No one loves me,”
Actually, I was right.
Ouch. Ow. Owwww. Oh come on, that’s the revelation?! So that’s what I have going on now. Emotional and verbal abuse?! Generation upon generation of fucked up parenting?! An actual paper trail of documented abuse and bullying?! All culminating in this one moment?! Mainfesting their legacies now?! Of all times?! And now I have to address the current thought patterns and the past stuff?!
What kind of revelation is that?! Why couldn’t have been something like a surplus of excess puppies, or something good. Brain, you’re really going to make me go through this now? Really? If I go through this now, will I feel better about it later?
I feel like Sgt. Hiller (played by Will Smith) when he’s dragging the unconscious outer space alien across the desert in Independence Day.
[Right about at this part of the movie. Remember this? Party like it’s 1996. Description: Actor Will Smith in military clothes, bare arms, sunglasses, mouth agape. Leaning/walking forward. Part of a parachute is draped over his right shoulder; you cant’t see it in this picture but he is dragging an unconscious space alien behind him, along the ground, wrapped inside of the parachute. Erin screengrabbed it @ Hellogiggles.]
Cuz I’m all like, “But no, now I gotta integrate this depression and family history of mental illnesses and develop into a something that I’m not, to get to where I want to be now, except you can’t do that right now, because one day at a time. Especially when you are minus the support that you’re supposed to be able to draw upon internally. Dragging your sorry ass across the desert… And what the hell is that smell!? I could have been at a barbeque!”
The antidepressants helped me crash & then punch out the alien thoughts inside of me – “Welcome to EARTH!” And the thoughts really are alien! But now that they’re quieter, I have to still have to deal with them, take them somewhere safe and figure them out.