With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Posts tagged ‘depression’

Diary of My Death, Post #11

Go to FIRST post –> Diary of My Death, Post #1

Chemo #6

Day 6-1 Chemo infusion #6 (two weeks later)

THIS was a good day, even with the chemo! Once a month, with every second infusion, I also see my doctor. This time he gave me good news! He got the results of my latest CAT scan (which are taken every three months), and they show that Little Fucker (the cancer tumor) has shrunken! I sort of knew that already because I could feel a difference in the ache under my right ribs, but he gave me some very encouraging numbers. I forget all the measurements he rattled off except the most dramatic of them: one dimension was ONE THIRD of itself from three months ago, at the beginning of my treatment!

This gave me a reasonable belief that I will be on the “more” side of the original guess of more or less a year to live. When I was first given my diagnosis, I accepted it rather easily in part because I already knew that pancreatic cancer doesn’t play; it can be treated but never beaten into full remission. At discovery mine was already at Stage IV, so I’m pretty sure it will be what kills me, but now I have hope of more time. Maybe I can achieve a few of my projects, and maybe I can squeeze in another summer of sailing on Chesapeake Bay. Maybe I won’t put my boat up for sale just yet . . .

Also, the doctor reduced my dosage of chemo! The difference is very helpful: instead of six days of being a Zombie, this lower dosage gave me only about four days of being a Zombie-Lite. It’s still days of endless hangover, but not as bad and not as long. BooYAAA!

    • A few quick notes about that:

    • My appetite is holding steady, but my taste is changing. I still like my favorite foods, but some items taste just a little bit different. I’m sure it has been a gradual change, so only now has it progressed enough to become noticeable. Nothing tastes downright bad except for the sandwiches they give me during the chemo infusion (seriously), and that may be only because I’m eating them as the full strength of fresh chemo poisons are being pumped into my body.
    • My left leg quadricep is again tightening on its own (no, not in a way that could be included in Monty Python’s Ministry of Funny Walks), but it is happening to a lesser degree. Instead, when lying in bed, a couple of times I had the sensation that both of my legs were floating. That may have just been because I was in that wonderful state of mind balanced between being awake and being asleep.
    • My fingers felt funny again, and by funny I mean odd. It’s subtle and hard to describe, but I figured I’d mention it because it is probably one way the chemo is creating a little neuropathy.

I’ve mentioned in earlier post that for decades I’ve been dealing with depression. (Actually, I think it showed up in my teen or maybe even pre-teen years.) To reiterate for those who don’t understand, depression is NOT merely just feeling wordlessly sad: it is having your brain functions depressed, pushed down and held down. It’s not feeling sad: it is feeling nothing except the loss of feeling. Usually emotions leave first (so you start ghosting through your life), and close behind thinking ability degrades (at my worst, I could barely form or understand simple sentences. I, who used to do calculus, would mess up basic arithmetic.) You can recover, but statistically the more episodes you have and the deeper you sink, the likelihood of you falling again and sinking deeper increases. Depression is cancer of the mind – not the brain, but the mind, the residency of your awareness of life. You become a spectator, a ghost. It’s living in a horror movie. It fucking sucks. I’ve had it under control for many years, but I know it never, ever goes completely away. Many, many times I have to ask myself if I’m responding appropriately to the common frustrations of life or if my demon is whispering in my ear.
I bring this up now because I do wonder how much my Depression Demon plays hand-in-hand with my “Little Fucker” Cancer Tumor. When I was first diagnosed with cancer and rather easily accepted my death sentence, I must admit that I also felt a small measure of relief. Yes, relief. The struggle was coming to an end.
Now, though, with the evidence of the chemo beating down on “Little Fucker”, I believe I will have more time. In anyone’s life there is seldom enough time (cue Jim Croce, “There never seems to be enough time, to do the things you want to do, once you find them.”), but now I have solid reasons to believe I have a little more life than I thought I did at diagnosis. And that gives my Depression Demon a good kick in the nuts. BooYAAA!

Go to next post –> Diary of My Death, Post #12

People who “don’t believe in Prozac”

Every now and then I hear somebody say, “I don’t believe in Prozac” (or other anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.) It has become increasingly harder for me not to reply. That statement can somehow instantly suck my Zen serenity right out of me and deflate my bubble of hope for the other person.

My first question is, “What do you mean you don’t believe in it? You don’t believe that it exists, like Santa Claus?” Yes, it’s just a little bit of play, an attempt at a lighthearted opening to a non-confrontational or non-defensive discussion. Then I’ll hear some version and combination of the following statements:

“I really don’t like putting chemicals into my body.”

They’ll say something about being very leery of taking drugs – even medicinal, even mild medicine such as aspirin – to alter their brain function, but they’ll tell me this over a cup of coffee, a can of soda, a bottle of beer, or a glass of wine . . . all the while munching on processed foods packed with artificial sweeteners and chemical preservatives. (Yes, I know it is human, but nonetheless it is inconsistent logic.)

Many, many people seem to have this belief that their personality is pure and separate from the meat of their bodies, that their cosmic soul is not hampered by their human genetics and filtered through their day-by-day biochemical balance. It is commonly understood that everything about our bodies – the shape of our faces, the color of our eyes and hair and skin, our general physical builds, our level of innate athleticism, and even our various levels of intelligence – are strongly influenced by both genetics and diet (biochemical balance), so why is it such a hurdle to extend this understanding to the product of our primary organ, the brain?

We know that our thoughts (and their resultant feelings) reside in the brain; we knew that long before science could explain exactly how a “hard knock on the noggin” could severely change a person’s mental functioning; we knew that long before science could explain why women’s moods tend to change with their hormonal cycle; we knew that long before science could explain why normally sensible men became someone else when under the influence of testosterone (in love or war). Hell, we know it when we excuse a friend’s behavior when we say, “Don’t worry about; he’s just had too much to drink.” So why is it that we can believe, that we can empirically and scientifically know, that our thinking is done by our body’s brain – a biological organ subject to biological influences and problems – but somehow completely separate this, disassociate this, from our ephemeral and “pure” personality? (Yes, I know it is human, but nonetheless it is inconsistent logic.)

“I prefer to do without it, to live the way God made me.”

They’ll take their insulin or blood pressure medication, they’ll wear their eyeglasses or contacts, they’ll go to the dentist or orthodontist, they’ll even get cosmetic surgery – but oh, no, they won’t mess with the way God created them, the way they move through life . . . (And again, inconsistent logic.)

“I don’t need it; I’m not that bad off.”

Oh, is that so?   Maybe they should ask the people around them and then not dismiss or discredit their answers.

“I tried it and didn’t like it, didn’t like the way it made me feel.”

Okay, that’s perfectly valid. The big question, though, is whether they tried the right medicine and right dosage for them, and if they took it long enough for their bodies to adjust to it.

This statement is almost the same as the next:

“I’ve had bad experiences with it.”

Slow down; there are a couple of points here:

  1. Yes, absolutely, as we hear in the warning sections of so many pharmaceutical commercials on TV, yes, it is entirely possible that the prescribed drug exacerbated the problem and created fairly-appraised “bad experiences.”
  2. So, again, did they have the right medicine and the right dosage?
  3. Did they try more than one or two medications? If your adult child went out and dated just one, two, three, or four different people then came home and said he or she was not ever going to date again because he or she “had bad experiences with it,” what would you say? Or the same with two or three jobs? Keep looking!
  4. What were the current circumstances of their lives?   If they had several stressors active at the time, can they be sure it was the medicine and not the circumstantial stress that was giving them headaches, clouding their minds, making them sleepy, and so on? As in all other areas of life, most people simply do NOT carefully separate all possible variables to identify the true cause.
  5. THE TRICKIEST REASON to understand and accept just might be that the medication did indeed work, that it made them healthier and strong enough to begin to face whatever problems and dysfunctions and demons were stressing them. Disrupting the status quo and finding themselves in unknown territory can be quite unnerving. (I know a man whose wife stayed by his side for 20 years while he was a (self-proclaimed) drunk, but soon after he finally sobered up, she divorced him.)

“Everyone I know who has used it is still unhappy and kind of wacky.”

Yes, they are.   (Well, actually, maybe not: it is doubtful that anyone is aware of every person around them who uses anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds at a maintenance level.) But, how unhappy and more wacky might they be if they didn’t have their meds? No one can say for sure, but – if they’ve been accurately diagnosed and properly prescribed – they’re probably better off. Ask the properly medicated what they think of their medication use. The meds are not a magic pill; they don’t make you instantly happy and mentally healthy. For that, you have to change the way you live your life and maybe even change the circumstances of your life. Not only does that take time but also it is an endless struggle, for all of us. The meds are intended just to enable you to get out of bed and make it through a day with at least half a chance of being functional enough to make progress on your own.

“It’s a crutch. I’ll be stronger if I learn to do without it.”

Uh-huh, yes, it is.   If their ankle were sprained, would they use a physical crutch? Same with their coats in cold weather, shoes on their feet, etc., no?

Readers, I have been taking anti-depressants for about 20 years now, and there is a clear demarcation between the first “half”, the “before” part of my life and the second, “after” part of my life. The medicinal drugs don’t make me a superman, that’s for sure, but I shudder to think of living without them. You know those futuristic apocalyptic movies where either in the city or in the desert even basic living is brutally hard? Without my meds, that would sort of be the world I would be living in today, here, now (but with less bizarre clothing.) They’d call me (No-)Med Max . . . So, yes, hell yes, I “believe” in anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds.

I have one question for steadily depressed or anxious people who tell me they don’t believe in meds.   So far, I haven’t asked it of anyone, but each time the topic is broached, I can feel that question crawling up my throat. One of these days it will escape my lips, so I hope I can lead up to it gently, and find softer words than I have up till now. Here it is:

Instead of you taking medication, more convenient than you taking medication, are you forcing your family and all the people around you to suffer your behavior and make adjustments in their lives to deal with all the overt and subtle repercussions of your maybe simple biochemical imbalance? Especially with your family, is it fair, healthy, and loving of you to dump long term echoes of dysfunction permanently into their hearts and lives simply because you are afraid of finding medicine that will help you?

Ya, I know: ouch.

Maybe before I get so pointed I’ll say just – when steadily depressed or anxious people tell me they don’t believe in meds – that I have had to adopt a policy for investing my energy where I believe it will do good and not investing it where I’m banging my head against a wall while there’s a doorway open to me. Aww, hell, maybe I’ll tell them I “don’t believe” in helping to solve the depression or anxiety problems of people who “don’t believe” in proper medication . . .

Tears from a Rock

The Rock

The Rock

I recently saw a Yahoo article that was originally published in the June 27th issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine: “The Drive (and Despair) of The Rock: Dwayne Johnson on His Depression . . .

From the article: “Johnson has the ease and confidence to go with it. He projects a comfort level with success that makes you think things always have been this way and always will be. . . . Which makes it all the more surprising to learn this is the same guy who endured massive upheaval as a child; got into frequent trouble with the law as a teenager; was kicked out of his home at 14; and faced the end of everything he had dreamed about . . . sending him into a crippling tailspin of despair.”

About his depression (of which he has had 3 substantial episodes) The Rock said, “I didn’t want to do a thing . . . I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was crying constantly. Eventually you reach a point where you are all cried out.

I’ve always liked The Rock, but now I admire him.  Most Hollywood stars try to sweep their personal demons behind the curtains, and most men won’t let other people – even their close friends, much less the public – know that their emotions have laid them so low that they’ve cried and cried until they were “all cried out.”  So now, all the many boys and young men and all the women, too, who admire The Rock for his manly-man muscles can know that even iconic strong men can be waylaid by their feelings, and that serious depression can drop like an anvil on anyone, and there’s not a damned thing unmanly about it.

I dare you to go find Dwayne Johnson in some place where there aren’t any cameras and tell him that depression isn’t real and is “all in his head” and he’s a sissy-boy punk for crying and talking about his feelings.  I believe he’s a nice guy and would simply educate you, not hurt you, but go ahead, I dare you, go get in his face and tell him he’s a sissy-boy punk for being depressed, that it’s just a ploy for attention.  Go ahead.


You can read the full article at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/drive-despair-rock-dwayne-johnson-712689?utm_expid=19303748-58.yUhA-zuPQGqZ-

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