Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional. My frank discussion of my personal journey should not be construed as medical advice. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other medical concern, there is no substitute for qualified professional guidance.
Tonight while I was writing I was listening to music – Black Eyed Peas, Gorillaz, Justin Timberlake, Portishead, Tori Amos, and my own Charlie Beyer, to name a few of the artists. I had forgotten how important music is to my process.
While browsing YouTube, I stumbled on this video, a Tori Amos cover of “Dream On” by Aerosmith. Tori Amos is surely a Highly Sensitive Person to evoke the mood I get from this performance. I was totally feeling this while I was writing and if you listen to it while you read the rest of my blog, you might understand it better.
You can listen to it here: “Dream On” performed by Tori Amos
It’s been a month and a half since I last posted anything, so to recap…in May after losing my job I freaked out. My depression got much worse. Anxiety was manifesting in the form of severe mood swings, nausea, panic attacks, and episodes of rage. After the unexpected death of a beloved member of our community in June, I thought I would totally lose it.
But I still had enough gumption left to seek help, and I’m glad I did. I found many supportive friends in our community, and I applied for counseling services at the Women’s Center. I’ve been seeing a therapist there for several weeks now.
At my first therapy appointment with The Women’s Center, the therapist wanted me to get a workup so a psychiatrist could adjust my meds. I was very resistant to the idea. Because…
When I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 1991, I was told I’d probably always have to be on anti-depressants. Back then, the medical establishment was abuzz with new drugs like Prozac, designed to make up for serotonin deficiencies, the theoretical cause of depression (although there is no cost-effective medical test to prove such deficiency).
I bought that for awhile but have been ambivalent about meds since 1998, when I went off Prozac. After the six months of withdrawals were over, I was more inspired, productive, and finding my creative voice for the first time in a long time.
In 2001 I went back on meds. At the time, my first marriage was falling apart and our conflicts were getting more and more violent. My doctor had me on such a high dose of Effexor that I felt numb and withdrawn, so we added Wellbutrin to “bring me out.”
Once I was separated from my ex, my doctor eliminated the Wellbutrin, and reduced the Effexor dose by half. I tried to quit again in 2007. This time I knew not to go cold turkey, but even though I went down gradually, the withdrawal symptoms were much worse than with the Prozac. I’ve since learned that Effexor is a dirty, dirty drug which has lasting effects on your neurochemistry. It’s no wonder I gave up and went back on it.
For the past three years, the Effexor hasn’t been doing much for me. Adjusting the dose didn’t seem to make a difference when I was suffering from an episode that was affecting my work a couple of years ago, so since I left the job from hell two years ago, I’ve been trying to cut down again. At this point, it seems as if I’m most prone to irritability or even rage just after I’ve taken my dose. Yet, if I don’t take it, I’m a complete mess and unable to function due to the vomiting, diarrhea, and panic attacks.
What if I’m Not Really Crazy?
When my therapist asked me to consider a medication adjustment, I talked to my friend Carmen about it. She’s a licensed therapist, though not currently practicing. Carmen suggested, “What if conditions were so bad in your first marriage that you had to be medicated just to cope with it?”
She recommended I read Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person, so I went straight to the library and checked it out. According to Dr. Aron’s extensive medical research, about 15 – 20% of the population is genetically predisposed to High Sensitivity. There are measurable differences in their neurochemistry, but it’s not pathological. On the contrary, Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s) are valuable to society. We are the world’s artists, counselors, royal advisors, ministers, teachers, writers, musicians, healers, and much more.
Highly Sensitive People tend to be creative, even gifted, but they can be overwhelmed by sensory input. Their intuition is strong if they know how to tune in to it. They observe details and subtleties, perceiving things on a deeper level. As a result, they are more deeply affected by environmental factors than the average person. A Highly Sensitive Person who hasn’t been taught effective coping skills will exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety when stressed.
I checked 24 out of 27 on the screening quiz so it seems I could be a Highly Sensitive Person. We Highly Sensitive People need special care and feeding, which I have been neglecting. But I’m making a commitment to taking better care of myself, starting now.
What if I was experiencing an existential depression rather than a medical depression? What if my existential depression became a dysfunctional coping pattern any time I felt overwhelmed and trapped, either physically or psychically? What if taking medication actually prevented me (or at least dis-incintivized) making a commitment to lifestyle changes I need to make for my overall health?
What if meditation and yoga could help me control my anxiety, or at least channel it in the right direction? What if finding the right work and getting paid regularly would tame my angst?
Turning it Around
I’ve been talking with my therapist about The Highly Sensitive Person and the coping skills I need to learn. She concurs, and is working with me on developing more effective ways of communicating, meditation, and other coping skills.
Highly Sensitive people are also more susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We can develop it in response to traumas that would not affect the average person in the same way. Since I experienced some significant abuse in my first marriage, we’re treating it as such. Once I’ve mastered some coping skills, we’re planning to implement a progressive therapy plan, called EMDR therapy, which is proven to eliminate PTSD in many patients.
Since I’ve started learning to meditate and have been more persistent in my yoga practice, things are turning around. I’m also following the therapeutic recommendations of Dr. Aron for Highly Sensitive people, including listening to music that inspires me, avoiding people who are energy vampires, exercising, giving myself plenty of alone time to recharge after social interactions, focusing on my nutrition, and reframing my past experiences in light of my new understanding of myself.
I’m learning to recognize when a mood swing is coming on and take pre-emptive action to keep it from getting out of hand. I’ve changed the time of my Effexor dose from morning to evening, as I seem less prone to the mood swings it causes in the evening. I’m committed to a morning routine that helps me start my day in a positive mood, and on most days it works.
The changes I’m making are starting to manifest material results. I’m more motivated to do the grindingly dull tasks required in a serious job search, and actually getting interviews. No job offer yet, but I feel more optimistic that it will come if only I persist. I say Dream On. Here are the lyrics to the original Aerosmith song — Tori does it a little differently, but boy do I feel her music right now:
Every time, when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way?
Everybody’s got their dues in life to pay
I know, nobody knows
Where it comes and where it goes
I know, it’s everybody sin
You got to lose to know how to win
Half my life is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and from sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you
Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
Yeah, sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
Dream until your dreams come true
- Driftwood Beach
- Haiku Time