Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thoughts about Depression

Depression and intense anxiety have been my primary symptoms when I have had acute Lyme flareups. The depressions have been sudden, quite scary, and sometimes long-lasting. It is as though my brain and emotions fall into a deep, dark well. The closest description I have found was wriiten by William Styron in his little book called Darkness Visible. Here it is:


After reading this and sharing with family members, I felt less alone. I knew that at least a famous writer really understood. I was a struggling author and so his story was one I could relate to. Then I started serious psychotherapy, and even earned a masters degree in psychotherapy, at age 55, to better understand myself and to help others.

When I saw my psychotherapy clients who were experiencing clinical depression I really understood that depression is a truly dark hell-realm. When I was in this depressed place, it was nearly impossible to remember that it was the result of how my brain was working, that it can be temporary, and that there is fun, lightness, and happiness waiting for me at the end of the tunnel. As anyone who has been clinically depressed (not just sad or grieving due to a loss -- these are natural and approrpriate responses to life and loss) knows, it can feel like you are in a nightmare that you just can't wake up from. A dark veil has fallen in front of your eyes, and the whole world looks and feels bleak.

I can now sense when my depressions are physical (organic) vs situational (or both). Two or three days ago, I felt it coming up again. I find mindfulness practice to be very helpful nowadays when depression starts creeping in. I don't panic, I just notice it ("Oh, hi depression, it's you again..."). I remind myself that it is probably temporary, and I try to do something nice for myself. A hot bath, see a friend, take a sauna. I also hit the Omega-3's, and get some exercise and sun. Usually it lifts. I also observe my thinking patterns. Have I been thinking about some mistake or 'failure' I have committed? Am I beating myself up about something? If so, I try to correct the thinking.

Of course, the way a chronic illness affects our lives IS pretty depressing. Losing my health, my job, my money, sex drive, ability to be in a relationship effectively, and my sense of well-being is depressing! It certaiinly isn't a cake walk. So it's actually pretty reasonable for many of us with chronic Lyme, Parkinson's, or other chronic diseases to be prone to depression.

My psychopharmacology professor used to say the best treatment for depression was dancing naked in the sunshine with your lover. That gets you touch, exercise, and Vitamin D. All three will increase seratonin. In lieu of a lover, getting a massage will meet our need for touch (well, sort of).

Last week, as my old friend depression was lurking about, hiding behind imaginary trees and standing in dark corners, I decided to really give him a run for his money. I packed up my car with my musical instruments and accepted an invitation to play a gig with a rock band. It's a group I play in a few times a year. I joined them in Yosemite National Park where they were playing at an annual bash called The Spring Fling, in El Portal. This is a small town just outside of Yosemite.

I had been on the fence about going. Would it tired me out? What about my medical regimen? What if I got sicker? Where would I sleep? Could I even play a keyboard on stage in front of an audience, when with just the smallest bit of anxiety I start to shake like a leaf??

In the end, I had a ball with my musical buddies. I stayed for five days and really enjoyed myself. Music, sunshine, amazing natural beauty, tons of young, vibrant people who work in the Park. Of course, at 59, I feel like a relic in their company, and also I want to tell them all to protect themselves from Lyme-carrying ticks, but I decided not to be the harbinger of bad news, and just to drop it and enjoy myself. Getting out in that beautiful nature, and having a nice drive for five hours each way was just what the doctor ordered!

It was not easy to do (especially because my Parkinsonism makes me shake really badly under pressure, and at times I was barely able to play my keyboard), but I took my PD meds regularly and got through it. A couple of times during the gig I had to stand up from my chair and keyboard and just dance around to shake off the nervousness and tremors. Luckily that looks pretty normal in a rock-band dance hall! (It doesn't go over as well at a classical piano recital.)

I guess what I'm saying is just an echo of what our hero Dr. Joe Burrascano says: People who get better are the ones who don't identify themselves with their disease. They continue to live their lives. They don't structure their lives around their illness. They still enjoy their people and their hobbies. They smell the roses and they cuddle with their pets. (My paraphrase.)



  1. :-) good for you!
    I was an adult when I was told my maternal Grandfather suffered depression to the point of seeking shock therapy,in the late 40s/50s...he was also hooked on sleeping pills, at one point was critically anemic. I do suspect generational Borrelia infection was underlying, due to my ancestors exposure levels , on both sides of the family tree going far back as I can go, to the 1850s. That is due to where they lived, worked, played and their known health histories , which now make sense, even 2 Spinal Bifida births. If Lyme lives in the spinal fluid, it makes sense THAT mystery birth defect could be a result of the spirochete, too.

    Music IS medicinal,..I find days without it, are not near as sunny and bearable. Thanks for posting both your reflections and the Salt Therapy--had read it, have not tried it tho.

  2. Thanks, Laurie. Interesting connections you have made in the multi-generational spirochetal pathway. My maternal grandmother was in and out of psych hospitals in the same timeframe. Post-partum depression. She, no doubt, was further messed up by electroshock, and various pharma-drugs. Lived in rural VA all her life. Plenty of ticks there, possibly where I got mine, although we lived in PA and I worked in the woods A LOT, both in PA and in NJ. Ticks were just an annoyance, like mosquitos or poison ivy were. We knew NOTHING about tick-borne infections in the 60's and 70's when I was doing that work. My LLMD assumes, based on my strong neuro symptoms, that I contracted Bb, etc., about 40 years ago, at least. I had mono, severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart symptoms, etc. etc. at age 17. Again at 30, and again at 50.

    Yes, music is sooo helpful, when I can actually coordinate my hands and fingers. There are a few hours a day when I can do that. Otherwise, playing is simply a reminder of what I USED to be able to do, and can't now. Sort of depressing. But I keep going, in order to still have my chops when we find an effective treatment.


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