Monday, November 29, 2010

What shade of blue are you? Monday, November 29, 2010.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I woke up sad this morning. I’m sure this has happened to you: you have that familiar lump in your throat and pressure on your chest the moment you gain awareness, as if you’ve just had a very disturbing dream. But the dream (or nightmare?) has already faded from your memory, leaving the blue mood behind.

I had some chores to take care of this morning, but ruminated on all the things left undone around the house. I worried again about my job and our finances, my ailing elderly father, and my mother who seems to be getting old suddenly and quickly. I cried briefly as my cat stared at me, and then I re-applied my mascara and went to work.

For somebody with bipolar or clinical depression, this nebulous kind of sadness is a scary thing. Does it mean you’re on your way down again? And if so, how low will you go? When I got to work, I filled out today’s Mood Tracker and felt relieved to see I’d gotten the same score a few times over the past month but that it had always improved within 48 hours.

The bottom line is this: “sadness” and “depression” are not the same thing. One’s a chest cold; the other is emphysema. One is a bit of heart burn; the other is a potentially fatal case of e. coli. The anti-psych people say that mental illness “labels” stigmatize people for having normal emotions (I’ll be blogging on our debates soon). The truth is, everyone feels depressed sometimes, but not everyone gets depression – at least not the kind I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, there are many bad doctors who diagnose (and medicate) “the worried well.” Their patients are people who are perturbed by a contentious divorce, or who feel unfulfilled in their career, or who are finding it boring to be a stay-at-home mom. Allow me to be first in line to say that these people probably don’t need a psychiatric label, or the pills that go with them.

Likewise, I cringe when a friend who is going through an immediate crisis, like the death of a parent, is given a script for Prozac or Xanax – especially when they’re not referred to a talk therapist. I agree that you can’t just throw pills at people when their fear or grief is legitimate and must be worked through.

But again, I’m talking about something else.

* Have you ever lost more than 20 pounds because you felt that eating was a waste of food?

* Have you experienced several months unable to sleep for more than three or four hours a night?

* Have you had to lock yourself in the bathroom at work and do jumping jacks because you were so anxious and agitated? Ten or 12 times a day? Every day for two months?

* Have you gone from someone who always enjoyed wearing makeup and pretty outfits to someone who barely showered and wore the same clothes to work for days in a row?

* Have you ever laid down on the floor of the supermarket because you were so overwhelmed and confused by the different colors and labels?

* Have you ever been envious of people on the obituary page?

* Have you wondered whether you are still capable of love?

* Have you prayed for God to take you while you are asleep?

* Have you lost the ability to cry?

* Have you ever felt as if you are already dead?

Then you have experienced the deepest, darkest shade of blue.

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