Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Managing a Depressive Episode (Part 3)

For me, the most difficult part of managing a depressive episode is dealing with people. When I was working full-time it wasn't a problem. My depressions weren't as bad then and I was able to do what I needed to in order to succeed.

Having worked in television news, for two different colleges, for a magazine, and for a number of other organizations, I never really had difficulty dealing with my coworkers. But I imagine other people have had different experiences at work.

What I do know is this: During a depression, I'm far more sensitive and my feelings get hurt more easily. I feel more vulnerable, and it's difficult for me to deal with unpleasant people. I don't feel like being as social and I'm glad that for the last 20 years I've worked as a writer, which is a solitary profession and doesn't require as much social interaction--even in an organizational setting. When I'm depressed, it's far more difficult for me to listen to criticism about something I've written.

Knowing these things about myself was an important coping mechanism. I realized that the people around me hadn't changed, but I had. So...I tried hard to pretend things didn't matter even when they did. I tried not to show hurt feelings or to respond to irritating people. I didn't act defensively if a client wanted to make corrections to my copy.

So, for much of my working life--before I began taking medication and everything became so much worse--I could work in an organizational setting even through I was experiencing a low-level undiagnosed depression. As many of you know, it took 25 years for me to get a diagnosis, so quite honestly, I never knew what was wrong during the "low periods." I didn't know I was clinically depressed. I just thought I was unhappy at work, and that I hadn't found my true calling.

Years later, after the diagnosis and the medication, the depressions got far worse. But, by then I was freelancing. For the most part, what that enabled me to do was to set up meetings when I felt well, and work at home when I didn't. The biggest problem in those days was to try and sound "normal" rather than "wounded" on the telephone. When I truly wasn't well and couldn't attend meetings, I pretended I had the flu or some other physical illness.

For years, I had the same clients and that helped tremendously. Since I had built up a relationship with people for many years, and since they knew the quality of my work, I had far greater flexibility than I might otherwise have had. When the medication wreaked havoc, and the depressions became intolerable, my ability to work greatly diminished.

How do you cope at work? What problems do experience when you're depressed? How do yo overcome them?

Tomorrow I plan on focusing on managing personal relationships during a depression.


Mariposa said...

You're right Susan, people around us (referring to work and outside our inner circle) will not change, but we can.

This is the hardest part, to learn not to let people hurt you, yet at down moments, we are more sensitive and we have to juggle on getting energy to run ourselves, shielding ourselves from harsh environment plus the inner battle that we have.

For whatever reason, politics at my workplace is just at its peak...always, so whether I am vulnerable or not, it is always there. So I have chosen not care...hard but that is how I get by. What makes it more difficult is the fact that it is not my nature to be indifferent and uncaring. I am always an emotionally-involved, always ready to help...the understanding Mariposa. I have rant about this topics many times in my blog, in fact this is how I get to start my blog...until one day, I decided not to enslave myself with such frustration. If they refuse my gift of friendship, I'm going to give to people who needs it and welcomes I started making interaction with people...and now I have my outreach program for children...

And now...I read how people (online and virtually) encourage me with my outreach program...I smile and say, I'm that really bad as people at work tries to make me feel...

Yes, the most dangerous thing that happened to me in my down moments, is what other people try to make me feel get to my system and I start to wallow...I am glad I knocked that out my system!!! I still get the hurt...let's face it...but the most important thing is, I now know where I stand in the order of things...

Yes, I have learn to love myself...and to stopped "whining" and start taking care of myself.

Okay, enough of my random thoughts. My post on B Complex shots will be posted Thursday as I have committed to doing Word Filled Wednesday...oh, that community too helps me a lot, just like the community I have found here.

I am loving your series of topics...and I am hoping to do some reaction post starting on the B Complex! LOL

Wendalyn Love said...

to answer your questions...
I cope with a depressive episode by going to bed, walking away from all of my 'to-do's' and crawling into my cozy comfy bed. My retired husband checks on me from time to time. It has become a source of humour as he comes into the room to see if I need anything, and then he might say "coping okay?" and I will reply "yes, I am coping just fine with this room and this TV." We laugh together about that.
I have a short list of people who I am willing to talk to on the phone when I am in this state. I am happy to say that my depressive episodes don't last as long as they used to. A day or two in bed and I am usually good to go.
Then my next challenge is stopping myself from overdoing things as I get back to living life once again. I will think that it is so good to feel good and before you know it I am doing too much and becoming manic and then crash and back to bed again.
I can't yet tell the difference between manic and feeling good. Then all of a sudden the manic disappears, I am so tired I can't go on and I think "what is wrong with everybody?" only to realize that nobody has changed except me!
Back to bed I go and the cycle continues. So my latest goal is to handle the manic phase better so it does not spiral up,up, up.
Obviously I am a rapid cycling gal.
As usual, your comments are useful and precious and so well thought out. You have a gift! Keep up the good work!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
I understand what you mean when you say, "I have chosen not to care." I have had to do that sometimes as well. Like you, my nature is to be emotionally-involved rather than indifferent and uncaring.

But, there are circumstances where the only way I can cope is by "walking away"--sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically.

In my younger days, I, too, worked in environments where there were so many games, so much politics, so many people who were less than honest, or people who were back-stabbing, and I learned that the only way I could survive those situations was to pretend to be less caring and to harden myself on the outside.

I ended up being far less trusting of people and far more protective of myself.

Ultimately I found a career in writing where I could be myself, and realized that I was far better off working by myself.

But I was never truly satisfied unless I was working on my on material, and that didn't "pay the bills." I am so grateful that my husband is different, and could tolerate a working environment better than I could.

From what I know of you online, it's difficult to believe that anyone could make you feel bad about yourself, however. You are so warm, so joyful, so positive, and so open.

But I'm glad that you've have done what you need to in order to "love yourself" and feel good about the work you do.


P.S. I will look forward to your post tomorrow.

Bradley said...

I never coped successfully at work. I never understood what was wrong with me and those around me thought I was just eccentric due to my mood swings.

Now that I'm on disability and haven't worked in two years, I'm frightened at the idea of going back to a work environment. I'm hoping I've learned enough over this time period to be able to use healthy coping mechanisms

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendalyn,
Thanks for sharing. I think it's so helpful to know what others are experiencing and how they cope. Also, you bring up a lot of important points, which I plan on addressing next week.

I, too, was a rapid cycler for a number of years. Because it was medication-induced, it diminished when I went off the medication that caused it. But it never returned to my pre-medication condition.

I, too, have a short list of people I talk to on the telephone when I'm feeling depressed.

I, too, used to do far too many activities when a depression ended and a hypomania began. I still have some problems with this, but in a different way, which I will discuss.

I also know what it feels like to do so much that I exhaust myself--emotionally and/or physically--and feel the need to retreat from the world.

I, too, have a wonderful husband who's now retired and we do joke about behavioral excesses. We've also developed a system where he can ask me if my behavior is hypomanic or enthusiastic--so I can think about it, and monitor it.

I have written far less about hypomania (and very little about mania because I never go into a full-fledged mania).

But it's a critical topic. While I have far fewer answers, perhaps others will. And maybe posing some of the questions and discussing some of the problems will be helpful as well.

Hopefully, next week we can have a lively discussion about all this.



Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bradley,
It must have been terribly difficult to experience mood swings without understanding why. And I would imagine it's difficult to develop coping mechanisms if you don't understand what's causing the problem.

I know that you've been doing WEB design work for your church. Do you do it at home or on site? If you're doing it at the church, isn't it somewhat like being in a work environment? How are you coping?


Bradley said...


I've been doing the web designing from home and it's been very difficult. I spend a large amount of time just staring at the screen. In the past my minister has offered his pc for me to work at if I need to "go to work". I'd forgotten that until now and may take him up on the offer. It may be the push I need.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bradley,
We can do this offline, but do you think you're staring at the screen because you need motivation or because you're a bit at a loss as to how to proceed?

I know that for me, with one freelance assignment where I had to evaluate a client's website, what I did first was to meet with staff members to see what they liked and didn't like about it. (Actually there wasn't much to like.)

Then, I sat down and decided what I didn't like about it. And then...I looked at competitors to see what their sites were like.

After I evaluated everything, it was much more clear what needed to be done. They hired me to write the copy, not to design the site (I don't have those skills), but since the two were integrated, I needed to figure out one in order to do the other.

Just a thought...

If I was ever at a loss--even for paying jobs like yours--I found that talking to others about the assignment truly helped.

Susan said...

My job has a powerful stress factor. There is a real kindred spirit at my workplace who understands when I am going through a depression. She is very tender and I am grateful to have her. I am coming out of a depression currently. I found that going to bed helps. I missed 9 days of work in the last 3 months. I got worried about my productivity. I have realized during my non-episodes I work really hard. When I am going through a depression my productivity is not what it could be but I think about how hard I have worked in the past.
Depression is an illness not a weakness. We have to go easy on ourselves.

Annie said...

Susan, Good to have time again to make comments. It is interesting that I have been doing so much better I had to think hard about managing my depression. I keep busy writing on three different pieces and have contact with a friend and my sister. We talk daily and i see them weekly. I never thought I would enjoy being alone this much. I kinda rambled! Peace Annie

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for your input on this. I read a story about a guy with Seasonal Affective Disorder who felt really well for six months and somewhat depressed for six months each year. And because he was so productive during the "well" periods, his boss felt it was okay to only be moderately productive during the slower periods. I thought that was great.

Sounds like you're very productive during your "up" periods, which probably makes up for the depressed periods.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
So glad to hear it. If you have to think about "managing a depression," then that's great news. And it's good to hear that you're doing so well in general.


katie said...

hi susan,
well, when i get depressed, really depressed, i don't do much work, it seems like i expend a lot of energy and get very little done. because i am self employed and work at home i have flexiblilty in how i manage my deadlines, and i don't manage them well when depressed. i tend to isolate (more than usual, i'm a solitary person except when i travel for work) and not return emails, respond to phone calls, do anything other than the very basics. it would be easier i think to go to a job than to have to make myself get up and work and complete deadlines when the studio is only 25 steps away from my bedroom. i drink tea, i take bath breaks, i listen to music, i distract myself while i work, i take a walk with the dogs...all those things help. i keep interaction to a minimum - i only stay in touch with my innermost circle... i post on my blog because i feel i 'Must" because of my work, but i can't find it in myself to respond to the weather changes and i recover from the stress of an overly busy schedule, i notice i'm much less responsive, more withdrawn. i just bought one of those lights used for light therapy (SAD) 10,000 lux, haven't gotten it yet but look forward to trying it out. the pacific northwest is very rainy and cloudy these days.
sending you warm wishes susan.,.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Katie,
Thanks for sharing this. I can truly relate to it. Since I experienced so many depressive episodes before my doctor prescribed Adderall, what you're describing is just the way I used to feel.

I had to push myself to do anything, and even when I felt better as the day progressed, it was very difficult to force myself to call anyone who wasn't in my inner circle.

I started this blog in February of 2007, and around this time of year--when I begin feeling my worst--I would stop posting and feel like I was ready to quit blogging. And the reason why was the comments. It took way too much energy to respond to them.

Katie,I hope the light works. If you haven't read it, you might find "Winter Blues" by Dr. Norman Rosenthal to be helpful. He is one of the foremost experts in SAD and has a lot of good advice in his book.

P.S. Thanks for the warm wishes. I appreciate it.

katie said...

i neglected to add that my doctor started me on adderall this past april and it has made a world of difference- its the difference between being able to get out of bed and not, of staying on task better than without, and especially when i'm stressed (like when i travel and teach) it keeps me from 'losing it' and having a meltdown which used to happen all too regularly before...

Wellness Writer said...

Very interesting. I'm so glad it's helping you! Thanks for letting me know.


marja said...

What problems do I experience when I'm depressed?

I think the worst of it right now is the pile of paper that has collected in our kitchen - mail that needs to be looked after, some not even opened yet, bills that I haven't been able to bring myself to pay. Thank goodness we did pay Visa. Every time I look at that pile of mess I get further depressed. Don't know when I'll ever have the energy to tackle it.

And our bedroom is a pig sty. Again, no motivation to clean it up.

I'm doing the important things of looking after my mom in her new nursing home though, and emptying her apartment (a huge job), and my support group commitments. So glad I haven't let the things I need to do for others slide. It's just my own stuff...

I'm making a list of things I want to accomplish before I go to bed each night, being kind to myself. Not expecting too much from myself. Allowing lots of me-time with a book.

Wellness Writer said...

I wonder whether it is a common thing to let bills stack up and leave letters unopened when we're depressed. I used to do that so my husband pays all the bills.

But I find it's the same thing with emails. If I'm feeling under the weather, I don't even feel like reading them.

And like you, even when I wasn't feeling well, I was still able to be there for my mother. And I was able to pack up most of her house, and do all the major chores connected to selling it.

But I hate to talk on the telephone when I'm depressed. I finally have learned how to clean the house when I'm feeling poorly; it's a kind of therapy for me.

But we all have our things...don't we?