The chemistry of depression

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 7, 2020, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

This week has been pretty rough. With all of the tropical moisture getting thrown around out of the tropics, we've had day after day of rain here in Central Florida. Yesterday, I spent all day on the couch binge watching TV. I didn't really understand it for the more than three decades that I lived in Cleveland, but I get seasonal affective disorder. It hits me hard and fast even with a single day of clouds, but several in a row put me into a blob state where I'm not motivated to do anything. In my case, it's not really seasonal, because I don't get depressed for most of winter since moving, but the feelings are definitely real. It was a strange discovery when I finally moved out of Ohio to find that my periodic unhappiness was connected to something I couldn't control. I'm super conscious of it now, given the history of depression in my family.

For a long time, I thought that experience and environment, and certainly some hereditary traits, were the biggest contributors to depression. Indeed, learning to be happy is a skill, but it's not entirely a choice when your brain chemistry won't allow it. I'm glad that we're getting to a better place in our culture where we can talk about all of the things that go into positive mental health.

Having a child diagnosed with ADHD certainly opened my eyes to the part that chemistry, and drugs, play in mental health. Mix in the constantly changing body of a child, and you see how certain drugs don't even work to treat it for very long. It's a constantly moving target. I was resistant at first to him taking meds, because I was worried that he wouldn't be Simon. But I've seen it work in practice, and if anything, when the drugs work, he's more himself.

With my own mini-health impending crisis late last year, I did take the doctor's advice to use lorazepam to fend off what he believes are panic attacks. The short story is that I had physical feelings that felt like something serious, with chest tightness and shortness of breath, but I didn't have any of the markers for heart disease. These sensations don't necessarily coincide with in-the-moment stress either. But I've taken it a few times, and it works really well. The symptoms go away within a half-hour, and my mind is in a peaceful state. I use the metaphor of a freeway, where there are express lanes and regular lanes. That drug makes me feel like the fast lanes go away, and the mind stops racing. The rest is happy to go at whatever speed makes sense, and I'll get to where I'm going whenever. 

I still worry about that altering who I am. I was given Vicodin once to deal with a painful sinus infection causing headaches, and I only took it once because it made me feel completely out of control, worse than any night of drinking ever. That experience, along with a history of addiction in my family, is probably why I'm so hesitant about drugs that impact mental state. I need to get over that, because I've seen how these substances have helped me and Simon, for different reasons.

The weather going forward this week has rain, but it doesn't look like there are any washouts, fortunately. I actually love thunderstorms, but the usual m.o. for Florida means sun and rainbows right after. I hate feeling like this, because it feels more like a personality flaw than it does brain chemistry. You'd think I would know better.


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