Saturday, April 26, 2008

Depression and Meditation

As spring blooms, and we all expect to have our spirits lifted, leaving the dreary feelings of winter behind, there are those whose spirits do not lift.

This was written in the fall of 2006 when depression was being discussed in another group and I think is still valid today. So many people suffer with depression without support or finding ways to help themselves.

Meditation has been a major tool in bringing my own emotional state back to as close to balance as we can hope to achieve. Balance is that point in a pendulums swing that is neither to one side or the other of it's arc, and can exist only for an instant before it moves on. Like the pendulum, we are always in motion. Meditation can help us to mitigate the length and duration of the downward swing and help to prolong the duration of the near-balanced state ... Meditation is not a substitute for medical attention, but can help in conjunction with it. Depression or bi-polar disease is often caused by an imbalance in the brain chemicals, and one needs to seek medical help in addition to any self-help.

I do know quite a bit about depression, having had a mother, brother, short, four very dear ones close to me, who all at one time or another suffered from deep, deep depression. It is hell. It is hell to watch helplessly while a loved one goes through it. It is hell for the person experiencing it. It is hell for all who are affected by it. It is not a place one goes by choice, it is not a place that one can climb out of by one's self. It can not be cured by bludgeoning, or by appealing to reason, or lecturing, or abandonment, or wishing.

Some depressions are caused by situations and mitigate themselves with time and with love and support. Those experiencing this type are the lucky ones, and I have been down that road a time or two. My first personal encounter with the dark days was at the age of 25 when I lost a 5 year old daughter to encephalitis. Even with another child at home, it took me a year to find a reason to want to get out of bed in the mornings. Obviously I did it, I got up. I went through the motions of living each day and got through it somehow, until finally the pain was lessened enough that I could take pleasure in life's daily events.

The second time, I was just 40 and was struck down with a hereditary neuromuscular disease. I went through about 3 months of getting weaker and weaker and being able to work shorter and shorter days, until finally I was in hospital for 6 weeks. I was never able to return to my flourishing career. My professional life and the income it brought in was OVER at 40. Again, it took me a year to adjust. Each night I would write in my journal the things I had done that day and what I needed to accomplish the next. Not only was my professional life over, but I knew that an uncle had died from the disease 5 years after it showing up, and my mother in less than 10 years. I was a ticking time bomb. With my husband's help, we changed our life style, moved to the country and decided that we would fight it with every fiber of our beings. That was in 1984! We made a conscious effort to make the best of whatever time was left for us to be together and we have done so. I have no regrets on that score.

The third episode is just now easing up. As you all know, on April 6th, 2006 I died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They were successful in resuscitating me but nicked a lung in the process which left me with tubes coming out of every orifice of my body, plus one extra under my arm that led into the lung they had collapsed by accident. For one week they kept me comatose with a drug that made life in my head worse than any hell one can conjure up. I was crawling over burning hot, broken sharp, stones in the blazing sun with no way out, and only the occasional hallucination of a room somewhere with kind people in it, but I could not find that room except for a couple of times by accident. After a week of this, my husband demanded that the doctors wake me up so that he and my daughter could communicate with me for a short time. Under duress, they did! That saved my life because they were both able to tell me that if I needed to go, it would be alright, but that if I wanted to fight, I could win. Seeing their faces, I chose to fight. The dose of the medication that kept me comatose was reduced immediately and within 2 days, was replaced with morphine which did not have the same effect on me. After another week, there was real concern that the respirator tube would cause permanent damage and/or infection and they wanted to do a trach to replace it. I was reluctant, but they convinced me and it did hasten my healing immensely. The doctors and nurses expected me to be in intensive care for months at least, if I recovered at all. When I told them I would be going home on a day pass, the third weekend and home permanently on the fourth, they laughed but humored me. I went home on pass the third weekend and home for good on the fourth. Since then, I found that the trach would be permanent, to be changed every 4 weeks in hospital, I have been in and out of emergency and had to go back on prednisone and antibiotics frequently. Every cold and every germ that passes by stops in for a visit. I have had to have more scopes, tests and whatever than you can shake a stick at. The emergency department is always interesting as I have one of the only two trachs walking around outside the hospital in this area. I am a rarity here. It has been two years now and I can not regain the strength I lost that month. There were days that I was not sure I made the right decisions, but with the help of my loving family, by birth, marriage and choice, I have learned to live and enjoy what I have been left with. My on line family and friends have also played a large part in my recovery.

That is what I know personally about depression. Now let's visit the other kind of depression caused by chemical imbalances and exacerbated by life's events. What I know about it is all from the outside looking in, right from the time I was a child.

My mother was given to depression all her life, and in my very early teens, I repeatedly had to go to the neighbor's house and phone the family doctor to come and get her through the newest attempt at suicide. He finally told me that I must leave home at the earliest opportunity and pursue my own life or I would never get away. Over the next number of years, she was in and out of hospital, on and off various drugs and had a number of series of shock treatments. I really never understood it and resented her very much. It was only after I had also dealt with others in my life who suffered a chemically induced depression that I began to understand and to empathize.

My daughter inherited the same chemical imbalance and has also battled her whole life with both depression and ADHD. She does well with the new generation of antidepressants, therapy and the love and support that we all try to give her. There are bad times, sometimes brought on by life's events and sometimes by the medications no longer working. It is a life sentence, but she is making the best of it and finding her happiness where she can.

My husband, whom I love with all of my being also suffers from chronic depression and during the diagnostic phase, life was hell for both of us. He would go to sleep in the middle of conversations, could not motivate himself to do anything, became capable of causing himself harm and ended up in hospital for both diagnosis and treatment. From that point, life began to improve but when it got bad again, he self-medicated as they say. He could not leave a gathering if there was a drop of alcohol around. No matter how hard he tried to escape, the alcohol simply made it worse. We even separated for a year because I could not cope with the whole situation. He quit drinking and we got back together. The whole vicious circle started up again and one night it was finally all I could stand and told him that he had better like wherever he got drunk because he would not be coming home again. That was his last drink and he has been sober now for over 15 years now. We have both learned. He takes antidepressants and increases them when necessary, backing down the dose again when the crisis is over. If I notice he is falling into apathy, I mention it, he denies it, thinks about it and then increases his meds again. One of the good things is that the new generation of antidepressants does not stifle the personality or flat line the emotions, it simply allows the person to cope with life and enjoy the things that others enjoy. I would not be alive without him and I have learned so very much from this wonderful man with one little flaw that could have destroyed his life and mine.

I could go on, but the other stories do not vary enough to add anything material here.


Swahilya Shambhavi said...

yes meditation is the ultimate cure for many a disease of the body and mind.

Zareba said...

I agree. Without it, much that we can do is not possible.

Anonymous said...