I’ve talked before about dealing with depression. Last week’s trip to Buenos Aires, combined with next week’s trip to France, got me paying attention to the ways depression impacts and is impacted by travel, especially bigger trips like these.

It hit me the most on my first day in Buenos Aires, after I’d been dropped off at the hotel. I was exhausted from the flight. I’d missed my pills the night before during all of the travel chaos. I had nothing scheduled that first day, and I was alone in a new city where I didn’t know the language.

This blend of exhaustion and anxiety is just the type of situation my brain-weasels love, and as I settled into my room, I could feel them digging in. I knew intellectually that once I was out interacting with my publisher and doing the press interviews they’d lined up for me, my brain would snap into Performing Writer mode, and I’d be okay. But for now, all I really felt like doing was locking the door, turning out the lights, and waiting for tomorrow to arrive.

Intellectually, I had a pretty good idea what was going on in my brain. I knew I was tired and jet-lagged and overwhelmed, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when depression is getting the upper hand. Unfortunately, recognizing the problem doesn’t make it go away. In at least one way, it made things worse, because it fed right into the self-recriminations.

  • “Think about all the people who were so envious of you getting to come to Buenos Aires, and now that you’re here, you’re depressed? What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Here you are in a brand new country, and all you want to do is hide in your hotel room? Sad.”
  • “Maybe you should stop accepting these invitations. Let someone who’d appreciate them go instead of wasting these opportunities on you.”
  • “Coward.”

Knowing it’s the depression talking doesn’t make it stop. Knowing the self-recriminations are a trap doesn’t stop them from pulling you down.

Ackbar: It's a trap!

Eventually, I made myself leave the hotel and go for a walk. Just a few blocks to look around and get my bearings. (And yes, to catch a few Magikarp.)

It helped. The brain weasels didn’t vanish, but they quieted down significantly as we wandered and looked around, absorbing the new sights and sounds. I knew I needed food, so I wandered into a McDonald’s.

  • “What kind of loser goes to another continent and eats at McDonald’s?”
  • “Pathetic.”

I needed that dose of familiarity, and after staring at the menu for a few minutes, I went up and asked, “Habla Inglés?”

She had just enough English to tell me she didn’t speak English. Pretty much the equivalent of my Spanish. But I managed to order anyway. She asked a question. I had no clue. But after a few rounds and some hand gestures, I realized she was asking for a size. I pantomimed small, medium, and large, saying them in English without thinking, then asked for a medium.

She got a big grin on her face and repeated “Medium,” adding, “I spoke English!” She was so excited she forgot to charge me. (Yes, I reminded her.) The whole exchange left me smiling.

#

This is such an odd post to try to write. I had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires. I’m so happy and honored that I got to go. I was also depressed about the trip, especially that first day or two. Both of these things are true.

I’m going to France next week for Les Imaginales. I’m feeling anxious. I suspect the depression will hit me in much the same way, especially that first day when I’m exhausted and have nothing scheduled. I’m mentally berating myself about feeling stressed instead of excited. I know, intellectually, that this will be another wonderful experience.

But brain weasels don’t give a shit.

  • “Now you’re depressed about going to France? You are such a disappointment.”

It’s just over five years since I got my diagnosis. Since I started taking antidepressants and talking to a therapist. It’s frustrating to be reminded that, like the diabetes, this isn’t something we’ve been able to “cure.” Instead, it’s something I try to manage. Like the diabetes, some days I do better than others, and some situations make it harder to manage.

To everyone I met and talked to in Buenos Aires: It’s not you; it’s me. You were amazing, and I had a genuinely great time, despite this chemical imbalance in my brain.

And to the brain weasels, I’m sure I’ll see you again next week. Hopefully I’ve learned enough to get you back into your cages. But just in case, maybe I should Google the McDonald’s closest to my hotel in Paris…

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

I blogged a week ago about mental illness and antidepressants, prompted by an exchange I had with a troll on the #imnotashamed hashtag on Twitter.

I like and support the stated mission of Team Notashamed: “to spread the message that mental heath conditions are nothing to be ashamed of … [and] helping end the harmful stigma associated with mental heath conditions and advocating for better and more accessible healthcare.”

But good intentions don’t mean you never screw up. Rose Lemberg pointed out the following post on the I’m Not Ashamed Twitter feed.

Screenshot of I'm Not Ashamed Tweet and graphic

And…no. Just, no.

I have no problem with some of the comments here. Mental illness is not a character flaw. It can be incredibly helpful to know you’re not alone. But some of the others are a mess, and problematic as hell.

I am creative and smart. I am, in all modesty, both creative and smart, yes. But this has nothing to do with my mental illness. Depression doesn’t make me creative or smart. My creativity, my work as a writer, these things happen in spite of my depression, not because of it. Depression is an obstacle I’ve had to overcome in order to be productive and creative. Please stop spreading the bullshit myth that creativity and intelligence are in some way enhanced by mental illness.

I’m so strong because of it. Maybe you are. Great! Maybe you’re not. That’s okay too. I do believe it takes strength to survive any sort of chronic illness, but does that mean the illness makes you strong? Because to be honest, there are times I wish I could put that strength toward other things instead of spending so much of it coping with depression. I don’t see my mental illness as some sort of gift, one I should be grateful for because it makes me stronger. If you choose to believe that for yourself, fine. Don’t push that on everyone else.

I help others now. This one didn’t fishhook my attention as much as the previous two until I saw a few Tweets by Corey Alexander, talking about the imagined trajectory of “graduating” from trauma to helping others, and the pressure on helpers to focus their energies on others to the exclusion of themselves. It got me thinking back to working with sexual assault counselors, and how many of those wonderful, kind, dedicated people had been through their own traumas. Some were still suffering from PTSD. But the emphasis was always on helping others. I think it’s great if you’re able to help others, and being able to draw on your own experiences can make you a more effective helper. But as Rose Lemberg pointed out, the word “now” makes it seem like you didn’t/couldn’t help people before? Or that this is the trajectory everyone should be on. There’s just so much to unpack here.

#

I’m not going to go through everything. But all right, I get it. Someone wanted to post something feel-good and inspirational. So they Tweeted something problematic, and various folks on Twitter called them out about it.

At which point it sounds like I’m Not Ashamed began blocking people who had a problem with the Tweet. As far as I can tell, they never responded or addressed people’s concerns; they just went straight to blocking.

ETA: They blocked me less than an hour after this blog post was published.

I asked them about this, but haven’t yet gotten an answer. The Tweet that started it all is currently pinned as their top Tweet. We know they’ve seen the criticism, since they were blocking people, so this feels like a pretty clear message that they’re choosing to ignore that criticism.

And that’s the bigger problem here. This is a group that’s set themselves up as advocates for people with mental illness…while ignoring feedback from the very group they claim to support. I don’t know the individuals behind Team Notashamed or their situation, but this feels like symptoms of Toxic Ally Syndrome, where you’re so determined to be an “ally” of Group X that you ignore or argue with members of Group X because you know best. This is often followed by choruses of, “Why are you getting angry at me? I’m your ally! Fine, if you’re gonna be so ungrateful, I’ll just take my allyship and leave!”

I hope it doesn’t go that route. I hope they read and respond to the critiques from the people they’re claiming to want to support, rather than ignoring and blocking.

ETA2: One of the members of that group Twitter account informed me that “All leaders of team not ashamed personally deal with mental illness.” This doesn’t change my sense that it feels like Toxic Ally Syndrome, but I don’t want to erase that these people also either have or deal with mental illness themselves. Hopefully that makes sense?

I’ll wrap this up with a Storification of Rose Lemberg’s Tweets last night about mental illness and identity and the pressure to feel or act certain ways, generally for the comfort of others.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

Last month, Rachel Griffin started the #imnotashamed hashtag on Twitter for people to talk about and try to destigmatize mental illness. Naturally, there were a handful of people who took this as an invitation to try to undermine that message.

This is the example I ended up arguing with, which led to me designating a brand new subspecies of internet troll: a genital sensitivity concern troll. She asked if I was still in that relationship, what meds I was on, talked to me about how my medication usually causes emotional numbness and sexual dysfunction, and so on. Gosh, it’s nice to know that whatever else happens, some random stranger is Very Worried about whether or not my genitals are fully functional.

Well, I’ve been on Zoloft for more than three years now, and I’m happy to say that not only has it helped my life immensely, everything (with the exception of my pancreas — and that’s a totally separate issue) remains fully functional.

Data - Fully Functional

Too much information? Maybe. But @jailina was just so worried about all of us people on antidepressants, and whether or not our various bits still worked. She also seemed convinced that antidepressants were just a conspiracy by Big Pharma to sell drugs, and we all get depressed sometimes, and so on.

Now, she wasn’t entirely off-base. Mostly, but not entirely.

Most medications have potential side effects. For Zoloft, those side effects can include sexual problems, as well as sleepiness, nervousness, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, skin rash, headache, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, stomach pain, changes in appetite, dry mouth, and weight loss.

Sounds intimidating, eh? But so far, the only side effect I’ve run into was some dry mouth in the beginning.

Shall we compare that to the “side effects” of my untreated depression? Because those effects included oversleeping, impaired relationships with my children, impaired relationships with my wife, reduced productivity as a writer, and oh yes, a major reduction in my sex life. When I was younger, there were also effects like suicidal tendencies.

Side note: suicide also has a negative effect on your sex life.

The More You Know

I get the fears. What if medication turns me into an emotionally numb zombie? What if it takes away my creativity and spirit as a writer/artist?

Let’s start by busting that last myth: Depression does not make you a better writer!

The myth of the tortured artist is bullshit. Not only do you not have to be tormented and miserable to be creative, you’ll almost always be far more productive if you’re mentally and emotionally stable. I almost doubled my writing output the year after I started getting my depression under control. Every writer I’ve talked to who has a mental illness has told me they do better when that illness is managed.

As for the side effects? Tell your doctor what you’re worried about. Talk about the potential side effects and what to watch for. The first medication you try might not be the right one for you, or the dosage might need to be adjusted. It can take time to find the right treatment. If you encounter side effects, you and your doctor can adjust your medication. You’re not damned to an eternity of dizziness, dry mouth, and numb genitals.

Depression is not just a bad mood. Mental illness is not something you can overcome through stubbornness. I liken it to my diabetes. I can’t tough my way through having a nonfunctional pancreas. Trying to do so would quickly put me into a coma, and then into a grave. Likewise, stubbornness isn’t going to straighten out neurochemical imbalances in your brain.

Don’t let the genital sensitivity concern trolls scare you out of asking for help if you need it. Educate yourself, yes. Ask about side effects and treatment options. In my case, the combination of medication and talking to a therapist is what worked best.

“Antidepressants destroy love?” That’s some Jenny McCarthy-level ignorance there. 100% pure, uneducated ass-talking.

Without exception, my relationships are stronger, healthier, and more loving today than they were before I started antidepressants. (They’re not perfect, mind you. No pill can do that. But they’re so much better than before.)

Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. And getting help isn’t something to be afraid of.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
( Jun. 30th, 2015 07:33 pm)

It’s been a bit over three years since I was officially diagnosed with depression and started with therapy and medication. I can say without hesitation that overall, my life is much improved over 3+ years ago.

Lucy and Charlie Brown: Psychiatric Help Five CentsI can say with equal certainty that I haven’t been “cured” of depression, any more than insulin and regular visits to the endocrinologist cured my diabetes.

#

I mentioned Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory over on Twitter earlier today. Spoon theory is an analogy about living with chronic sickness or disability. I know the analogy doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found it helpful in understanding and talking about and explaining some things.

“I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of ‘spoons’. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many ‘spoons’ you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting.”

What I’ve been finding in recent months is that I don’t actually know how many spoons I’ve got when I wake up in the morning. On any given day, I might be able to deal with the pressure of a looming book deadline, a crisis at work, a puppy destroying something important, an unexpected bill, a family argument, and whatever else comes my way. On another day with similar troubles, I could end up burning out like Biggs Darklighter over the Death Star.

I’ve gotten a bit better at recognizing when it’s happening. Just like I can generally feel when my blood sugar starts to drop too low, I can feel when I’m all out of cope.

It’s not a pleasant feeling, mind you. It’s a cold, congealed soup of anger and despair and exhaustion and shame. And recognizing it doesn’t necessarily mean I can do anything to fix it.

#

My wife took me out for dinner and Jurassic World on Sunday. This was a good thing. I needed to get away, to relax and recharge and just enjoy myself for a few hours. It’s self-care, and as such, it’s something I wouldn’t necessarily have done on my own.

Medication is one thing. I’m pretty good at remembering to pop a pill every night, checking my blood sugar regularly and doing the math to match insulin to carb counts. But self-care is a murkier kind of medicine, one that takes more time and effort than programming an insulin pump. It’s also one I’m more likely to assume I can blow off.

Oh sure, I haven’t been getting enough sleep, but I’ll catch up on the weekend. I’ve missed some exercise, but I had other important things to do. I haven’t socialized much, but I’ll get to that as soon as the book is turned in.

How do you quantify self-care? How do you prescribe a given dose to be taken daily? (Those questions are rhetorical, by the way — I’m not asking for advice right now.)

And of course, there’s that other voice arguing that your self-care isn’t as important as those other people’s needs. It’s not as important as Doing All the Things.

I know self-care is important. As Morpheus said, there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. But here comes Red Riding Hood to remind you that walking the path is all well and good, but it’s even harder to stay on that path once you’ve started.

#

I remember growing up without email. I think email is an amazing tool, one that’s made my life so much better and simpler in so many ways. I remember getting my first email account as a college student, and how amazing it was to reconnect with a friend who’d moved to MIT.

I also hate email. I hate the neverending inbox, and that nibbling sense of failure that comes with every message that sits there waiting too long for a response. I hate that it takes spoons to answer some fucking emails, and knowing if I don’t, people will feel disappointed or hurt, or will wonder why I answered one email but not the next, and will start to second-guess whether they did something wrong when it’s just me trying to juggle a bunch of damn spoons without dropping any.

#

We’re going on vacation soon. That will be a good thing. It won’t be 100% stress-free, but the stresses will be different, and hopefully fewer.

I’m also looking at some potentially big changes later this year. Stressful and anxiety-making, but potentially very good in the long term.

In the meantime, I was Guest of Honor at a convention last weekend, did a radio interview last night, was part of a Baen podcast recording today, and am getting ready for my 11th novel to come out in just over a month. All wonderful, amazing things I only dreamed about when I was younger.

Good things can use up spoons too.

#

It’s easy to take progress for granted.

I’m not fine. I am, however, doing a hell of a lot better than I was three years ago.

I just need to remember that it took a lot of work to get here, and that if I want to stay here — which I do — I need to keep doing the work.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
( Mar. 24th, 2015 08:49 am)
  • Depression lurks in the corner.
  • Depression waits for an opening.
  • Depression is exhausting.
  • Depression has little patience for others, and even less for you.
  • Depression remembers every mistake, real and imagined.
  • Depression is afraid of change.
  • Depression is “fine.”
  • Depression teaches you to lie.
  • Depression is ashamed of you.
  • Depression is forgetful.
  • Depression doesn’t want you to go out tonight.
  • Depression thinks you deserve it.
  • Depression tells you not to talk about it.
  • Depression is abusive.
  • Depression is seductive.
  • Depression disguises itself.
  • Depression is always tired.
  • Depression thinks you’re weak.
  • Depression wants you to read the comments.
  • Depression doesn’t care about the good things that happened yesterday.
  • Depression expects you to fail.
  • Depression doesn’t believe things will get better.
  • Depression is overwhelmed.
  • Depression wants you to think you’re the only one.
  • Depression knows you more intimately than any lover.
  • Depression is a glutton, and depression can’t stand the thought of food.
  • Depression demands perfection.
  • Depression undermines success, and magnifies failure.
  • Depression is comfortable.
  • Depression is a bully.
  • Depression lies.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
( Dec. 30th, 2014 08:19 am)

UnboundCongratulations to Ariela, who won the audio book of Libriomancer in last week’s giveaway.

We’re down to a mere seven days until Unbound [Amazon | B&N | Indiebound] comes out. It’s possible the book might already be showing up in some brick & mortar stores. Eep!

Coincidentally, Sarah Chorn at SF Signal just posted her 2014 look back for her excellent Special Needs in Strange Worlds column about disability in SF/F. She lists her top ten posts for the year, and coming in at number two is my post about Writing with Depression, in which I talk about both my own depression and that of Isaac Vainio in Unbound:

“In the beginning of Unbound, [Isaac is] on the verge of losing his job at the library. He’s not sleeping or eating enough. All of his time and energy go into trying to undo certain mistakes from the last book. He’s irritable and angry at himself, his loved ones, his friends…pretty much everyone and everything.”

Given the events of the first two books, it made sense to me that Isaac would be struggling hard at this point. He’s won some impressive victories, but each one has come with a cost.

To be honest, writing Isaac as depressed scared the hell out of me. Characters are supposed to be likable, right? Well, on those days when I’m losing the battle against the Depression Brain Weasels of Doom, I don’t like myself that much:

“Isaac’s depression is truer to my struggle. I worry that he’ll be too unlikeable…because that’s how I felt at the time. I worry people will say he’s too weak, that this character should just man up and get over it, because that’s how I felt. That’s what I expected to hear if I talked about it. I worry about readers who don’t understand that depression isn’t something you just snap out of.”

I can reassure readers that Isaac does end up in a better place, and that there’s still plenty of smart-ass humor, not to mention Smudge the fire-spider doing his thing with flair and style. And I’ll say that I’m proud of the book. I’m proud of Isaac’s personal journey, as well as that of Lena and Nidhi. (Nidhi gets one of my favorite scenes early in this one.) I’m also proud of where Unbound ends up, which is a place I’ve been working for three books to reach. But I’m still scared of how readers will react.

I’ll end with one last quote from my column:

Unbound is a book about battling monsters. Some of them are human. Others less so. Isaac has spent two books fighting monsters out there in the world, but sometimes the toughest monster is the one inside your own head.”

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

I have a guest post at Sarah Chorn’s Special Needs in Strange Worlds feature over at SF Signal today: Writing with Depression:

I get anxious every time one of my books comes out. Will this one sell as well as the last? Will people like it? Will Spielberg finally call me up and offer me an obscene amount of money to turn my books into blockbusters? Will this be the book that tanks and destroys my career, forcing me to live on the streets and hunt rats for food?

From what I’ve seen, that anxiety is pretty typical for most novelists. But I’m particularly nervous about my next book, Unbound. This is the third book in my current series, and will probably be out in very early 2015, give or take a few months. I’ve put my protagonist Isaac through an awful lot in the first two books. As a result of those events, when we see Isaac again in Unbound, he’s struggling with clinical depression.

Thanks to Sarah and SF Signal for running these essays!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

My therapist shared something interesting earlier this week. With the caveat that this is all a bit simplified, and human brains don’t fit into neat lines and graphs, it still helped me to think a little differently about depression and anxiety and stress, and to understand both myself and certain other people in my life a little better.

She started by drawing the following graph:

This fits pretty well with my experience. There’s a relatively straightforward relationship here. The more depressed you are, the less productive you are. (Giving lie to the myth of the tortured artist who’s most productive when they’re depressed.)

Next, she drew a graph of anxiety.

This one also made sense, once we talked about it a bit. If you have absolutely no anxiety, you end up with a lot less motivation to produce anything. Take away all of my deadlines, and I’m definitely less productive and more likely to spend an evening bumming around on the couch watching Doctor Who. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

On the other hand, too much anxiety can be crippling, with the far extreme being someone who can’t even leave their room or home.

So basically, we want to minimize depression and find a healthy and moderate level of productive anxiety. Got it. So far, so good.

What gets interesting, at least for me, is looking at the implications of the two models. If depression is more of a linear thing, it means you have that straightforward goal of getting as far to the left as possible. This also means small steps to fight the depression are more likely to have small steps in improving your productivity. It tends to be a long, slow battle.

I’ve been in therapy and on medication for depression for about two years now. This has had a pretty large impact on the depression, and when you look at my productivity these days … well, I’m doing two books in 12 months instead of my usual one. Smaller improvements have led to smaller changes in productivity, like being able to keep up with washing the dishes. Again, it’s not a perfect graph, but it makes sense to me.

I sketched in two sample changes in mood. If the depression improves by X, productivity also improves by X. That tends to hold true whether you’re really depressed or in a generally good space. (Yes, I’m simplifying the math and assuming a 1:1 slope.)

Anxiety, on the other hand, resembles a bell curve. That means any given change in your anxiety can have drastically different results, depending on where you happen to be on that curve.

Look at this next graph. Both of the horizontal lines, indicating a change in anxiety, are the same. The vertical lines, showing change in productivity, are not.

For someone near that ideal middle-ground, a small increase in anxiety of amount X could have a relatively small impact on productivity, perhaps X or even X/2. On the other hand, if you’re more anxious, the same increase of X in your anxiety could have a much larger impact, hurting productivity by a factor of 2X, 3X, or more.

Likewise, for someone who’s struggling with anxiety, removing just a small stressor could have a very large impact, and help exponentially.

And the exact same increase in anxiety can actually boost productivity for someone to the left of the curve as much as it hurts someone to the right.

This was an AHA moment for me. I spend a fair amount of time working with people and trying to motivate them, whether it’s my employees at the day job or my children at home, and looking at that Anxiety graph helped to crystallize why the same tactic can have very different results for different people … or even for the same people at different times.

Someone on the left side, who seems to be slacking because they don’t really care? Maybe their anxiety needs to be turned up a bit, by talking about potential consequences. On the other hand, for someone on the right side of the graph who’s already close to a panic attack, potential consequences are likely to push them even further, making things that much harder for them. In that case, trying to take a little of that anxiety off their shoulders can help tremendously.

I see some of the same effects with the way stress and anxiety intertwine in my life. There’s a certain middle ground where I can add or remove things I need to get done, and it doesn’t have much of an impact. But once I hit that tipping point, just a small increase in stress can drag me down hard.

Like I said at the beginning, this is a bit of an oversimplification. Human beings tend to be pretty complicated and messy. But seeing depression and anxiety drawn out like this was really helpful for me, so I figured I’d share it in the hope that it might help a few of you as well.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

The UK mass market edition of Libriomancer is out today!

The folks at Del Rey UK have been absolutely lovely to work with, and I continue to be thrilled that one of my series finally has a UK edition.

#

Now on to the more aggravating part. I received a very polite email earlier this week from an anthology editor, asking if I was still planning to contribute a story … seeing as how the deadline was March 1.

And there was much swearing on my part. I had committed to this a year ago, and I knew this anthology was on my list of things to write, but I had somehow gotten it in my head that the deadline was later this summer. (I think I managed to mix it up with another deadline for an anthology that has now been cancelled.)

Regardless, the editor was kind enough to give me until the end of this month to get something written and turned in.

Looking back a few days later, it was interesting to see how this screw-up on my part crashed head-on into the Depression. Being a writer is a pretty core part of my identity, and one of the things I pride myself on is making my deadlines. There’s a line in Friends where Joey snaps, “Joey doesn’t share food!”

Well, “Jim doesn’t blow deadlines!

Between feeling a bit stressed already with the novel-writing schedule and the realization that I’d messed up, my mood for the day went down like a level 2 thief who lost initiative against a Beholder. The fact that I had also gotten stuck on the novel just made it worse. Look — two different sources of writing stress at once! Oh, joy!

The up side is that I recognized what was happening, and I knew — intellectually — that I was overreacting. Not that I’m okay with blowing deadlines, but it wasn’t the end of the world, and the editor was very cool about it. It wasn’t enough to drag myself out of that slump, but I think it kept me from getting as deeply bogged down by it as I would have a few years back.

I’m not asking for comfort here. I know I’m far from the only writer to ever miss a deadline. I know it’s unreasonable and unfair and egotistical to expect perfection from myself when I wouldn’t dream of holding anyone else to that kind of standard. And I know the best thing to do at this point is let it go and start working on the story.

Which, for the most part, I think I’ve been able to do. It took several days, but I sorted out the novel chapter I was stuck on, and I started brainstorming story ideas for the anthology. I added the new deadline to my To Do List in HabitRPG. And I woke up this morning without the ghost of that Beholder following me around, zapping me with its eyestalk-beams of, “OMG I suck!!!”

It’s still hitting me with various minor eyestalk-beams of life stress, but I’ve got the hit points and saving throws to deal with those. And I’m back in a space where I can enjoy the fact that the new edition of my book is coming out, and people are talking about it and saying mostly good things.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Two sick kids. Up late last night. Brain sleepy.

Guest post about depression at Maurice Broaddus' site. Part of the preliminary conversation for Mo*Con 8.

Also, random LEGO Iron Throne, by Jacob Nion.

Tags:
jimhines: (Default)
( Aug. 22nd, 2012 09:30 am)

What if I don’t want to pretend to be happy today?

That thought ran through my head as I hung up the phone at work after helping another user with our applications.

It’s been just over four months since I started taking Zoloft for depression, and about two and a half months since I began seeing a counselor. Overall, I think my life has gotten better … but it’s certainly not perfect, nor is it ever going to be.

Release week for Libriomancer was amazing and wonderful and a lot of fun. It was also exhausting and at times incredibly stressful. I can’t wait for Worldcon, but I know it’s also adding stress and anxiety to my life.

A lot of what I’ve been working on during therapy deals with stuff at home, which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice it to say, some things have improved, while others are more of a work-in-progress.

I think that’s what I’m running into now: the “in-progress” part of it all. This isn’t an instant fix. And the early energy of “Yay, I’m Doing Something About My Depression!” has worn off.

And sometimes things slip. I woke up with low blood sugar at 2 a.m. the other night, which meant I was exhausted the next day at work, and the whole day just kind of steamrollered me from there. I give myself permission to have fun and spend an hour playing the Star Wars game we borrowed from a friend, and then feel guilty and more overwhelmed by the stuff I didn’t get done.

On a personal level, this week has pretty much sucked. And that’s going to happen. Nobody gets all good days. But it’s hard. In the back of my mind, I start thinking that maybe the meds aren’t helping as much, or maybe the therapy hasn’t done enough–

No, that’s not true. What I really start thinking is that I’ve failed. That if I were doing a better job of listening and understanding and working in therapy, the conversation that spiraled so out of control last night never would have happened. That all of the relationships and issues I’m struggling with would be better. But things that made sense in the doctor’s office get all murky and messed up when I try to apply them to real life.

Maybe it is my failure. Or maybe that’s just life. (And these are not mutually exclusive possibilities.)

What I think I need to do is remind myself that this is a long-term process. To recognize that things have improved, overall. To give myself permission to have bad days, and to cut myself some slack when things fall apart.

All of which is easier said than done.

Dear Depression,

You win this round of lightsaber duel. But next time I talk to the therapist, I’m asking her for the cheat codes, and when I come back I’m going to slice your giblets off.

Sincerely,
Jim

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

In some ways, talking to a psychologist was even harder than starting antidepressants. In both cases, I was admitting to a problem that comes with its own baggage of shame and stigma and perceived weakness. But with counseling, it felt harder. This was more than hitting my doctor up for a prescription. I would be walking into a stranger’s office and spending hours explaining how I’d lost the ability to deal with things in my life, how I needed help to figure out things I feel like I should already know how to do.

That’s what it all comes back to. I feel like I should be able to handle this stuff. I should know how to be a good father and husband, how to balance the demands of writing and the day job, how to maintain my emotional balance in times of increased stress, and so on. I know how deceptive and nasty the word “should” can be, but that didn’t stop all the crap from swelling back through my brain when I thought about making that first appointment.

I made it anyway.

Eventually.

I’ve had three sessions so far, and while I’m not going to go into as much detail about them, I’ll say it’s been helpful. The first session or two were mostly a get-to-know-you sort of thing. I got an official diagnosis of dysthymia. As I understand it, this is a milder form of chronic, long-term depression. I.e., I’m in a lousy mood most of the time, but I’m not jumping off the Mackinac Bridge.

The funniest moment came in the first session: I was describing my life, the jobs and the writing, taking care of the kids after school, the work I did around the house, and so on.

Doctor P: What do you do for fun?

Jim: …?

Doctor P: When do you take time to just get out and enjoy yourself?

Jim: …I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

I was amused, but it was a good catch on her part. She gave me homework to do something fun just for me. I actually managed to do it, too. The trick now is going to be incorporating that lesson into my life on a more regular basis.

Doctor P has also pointed out some areas where I could improve things at home. We both recognize there’s a lot I can’t change — realistically, I can’t quit the day job; I can’t magically improve my wife’s health so that she can do more at home; and so on — so we’re concentrating on things where I can make changes for the better.

This whole process scares me. Eventually, I’d love to get off of the antidepressants, and I think counseling is one of the things that will help me do that. But given how helpful the pills have been since April, I’m also terrified of losing that crutch and slipping back into the swamp of who-gives-a-crap-about-anything. I guess I’m not yet completely trusting that it can help — or that I can change enough to really make a difference — in the long run.

This experience has also made me recognize once again how fortunate I am to have decent insurance that covers most of the medications and my weekly sessions. As hard as it’s been to admit I need help, how much worse must it be to realize you need help and have no way of getting it? [Rant about U.S. healthcare deleted because the goal is to not depress myself further.]

I’m cautiously optimistic. I like my counselor. She feels pretty genuine, and seems to get me. The first few sessions felt a little open-ended, but we’re talking about more concrete goals this week. Apparently we’ll also be doing a bit more cognitive work, teaching me how to win at some of my head games. I’ve had some speed bumps at home and at work, but overall, so far so good.

My thanks once again to everyone who’s been so encouraging and supportive.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

In early April, I went to talk to the doctor about depression, and walked out with a prescription for Zoloft.

It’s been an interesting month. One of the things that surprised me was how many people talked to me about their own experiences with depression, both on my blog post and in person. When I went to Penguicon, the depression post came up in conversation almost as frequently as my cover poses. Depression is far more common than I realized … which reinforced that I had made the right decision to blog about it.

Almost immediately after I left the doctor’s office last month, I started feeling a little better. Since it takes time for the meds to build up in your system, I ascribed that initial improvement to the fact that I was doing something about the problem instead of feeling stuck and hopeless.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the pills. I wasn’t convinced the meds would help — I wasn’t even entirely convinced that I was really depressed as opposed to just feeling stressed out — and even if it was, I wasn’t sure the dosage I was on would be enough. But damn if I haven’t noticed an improvement. I’ve been able to take things in stride that would have been far more upsetting a month ago, from the suicidal raccoon that busted up my headlight to schedule snafus with my wife and kids to the Great Flea Invasion at home to assorted work stuff.

It’s not all happiness and rainbow-farting unicorns yet. The other day, something knocked me back into that ugly/hopeless/fugitall morass, and it took about two days to pull myself out. But overall, I’m doing better.

I feel more like me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Back in 1998 when my pancreas took early retirement, the diabetes seriously messed me up before I got diagnosed and brought my blood sugar under control. I was, to put it bluntly, a cranky, miserable asshole. And it had snuck up on me over weeks or months, so slowly I hadn’t even noticed. When I finally got on insulin, I was amazed at how much better I felt, how much I had missed me, if that makes sense.

It happened when I lived in Nevada, too. Elko did not agree with me, and looking back, I was seriously depressed by the end of it, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I quit my job and moved back to where I had friends and family, and just like in ’98, I found me again.

I missed me. And I’m a little disturbed that I seem to make a habit of losing myself…

I’ve kept an almost paranoid eye out for side effects. I noticed a little bit of dry mouth early on, but that might have been psychosomatic. I’ve heard people talk about antidepressants making them mentally fuzzy, which was probably my biggest fear. I don’t think that’s happened, but I’m not completely sure. I’m struggling with the sequel to Libriomancer, but I was struggling before I started the meds too. I think it’s just a pain-in-the-ass first draft, not a consequence of extra mental sluggishness on my part.

The current plan is to stay on the Zoloft for six months to a year, then reevaluate where I’m at. I’ve also got a list of possible referrals for counseling that I’m planning to follow up on. (I’ve been procrastinating, partly due to lack of time, and partly due to the lingering shame of needing help.)

I really dislike the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals for my happiness and mental/emotional well-being. Insulin for a messed-up pancreas? No problem. Medication for a messed-up brain? That’s harder to accept. But I’m even more scared about the idea of going off the pills and sliding back into the space I was in earlier this year. I’m hoping the counseling will help with this and give me some longer-term solutions.

For the moment though, things are pretty good. I’ve been able to enjoy more of my life than I was before. The good parts actually feel good, and the bad parts, while still present — damn fleas! — aren’t as overwhelming.

Score one for the happy pills.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

A week ago, I went in for a doctor appointment, the end result of which was that I’ve started taking Zoloft for depression.

I feel like there should be a punchline here. “This is what I get for reading about Arizona politics” or “I blame the mess that is my current first draft.”

This hasn’t been a paralyzing, debilitating problem. I’ve been going to work, writing, taking care of the kids, going to karate … everything I’m supposed to do. But I haven’t been enjoying it. I’ve had less patience with my family. It’s gotten steadily harder to find the energy or motivation to do things. I’m spending more and more time feeling annoyed or apathetic.

It should not feel that draining or overwhelming to answer a simple e-mail.

I took any number of those depression self-assessments, most of which told me I was either mildly or moderately depressed. Even so, it took me close to a year to finally call and make an appointment to do something about it. Why did I wait so long? Probably the same reason I hesitated to blog about this.

I have no problem blogging about my diabetes. I’ve never felt ashamed of that disease, and I’ve never hesitated to talk about it, or to do whatever I needed in order to take care of myself.

This felt different. I’m diabetic because my pancreas took early retirement. That’s not my fault. But in my head, I was depressed because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with everything.

I know better. I was a psych major, and I’m married to a licensed counselor. I’ve watched people close to me start antidepressants, and I’ve seen how much of a difference it can make in their lives. I’ve never thought of them as weak, or of antidepressants as a sign that they’ve somehow failed at life.

It feels different when it’s you. There’s a double-standard. I know perfectly well that depression isn’t something you can simply will yourself through. I understand that neurochemical imbalance can be a physiological problem, just like a lazy pancreas. But I told myself it wasn’t really depression. I was just stressed. I needed some down time. I could tough it out. Eventually it would get better.

I can’t remember exactly when I stopped believing it would get better.

These aren’t things I’ve talked about online. There are aspects of my life that don’t make it onto the blog, and this certainly wasn’t what I wanted to project as Jim C. Hines, World Famous Author/Blogger/Cover Model!

We’re starting with a low dosage, and it will probably be a month or more before the medication starts to have an effect. Maybe longer. I was extremely hesitant about this. I don’t like the idea of messing with my brain … except that depression is a sign that my brain has already gotten messed up. I’m a bit worried about side effects too, though I’m told those should be minimal.

I have felt a little better this past week. I’d blame it on the placebo effect, except that I know perfectly well the meds don’t work this fast. Instead, I think it’s because I’m doing something. I don’t feel stuck, and there’s hope that I’ll get back to feeling like me again.

I am not asking for advice. If that changes, I’ll let y’all know.

Anyway, this is why I’ve been a bit slower to respond to e-mail, though I’m trying not to let anything slip through the cracks. This is why the rape fundraiser this year is a little less organized, and I didn’t get it posted right at the start of the month.

I’m not going to turn the blog into all-depression, all-the-time, any more than I blog about diabetes all the time. But given how open I’ve tried to be about the latter, it felt dishonest to not talk about the former, too. It felt dishonest to me. And, after all, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledgment, right?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags