Pulling the plug on my mania and CrossFit

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

IMG_4157Mania is a luscious, exhilarating state of mind. All the fatigue and weariness in your bones and soul vaporizes. Your muscles feel bigger and stronger and ready to strike. Your thoughts are clear and brilliant. You are like a racehorse in the gate, wide-eyed and pawing at the ground with your hoof. There is no off-switch.

Medications give you a dimmer but you still have to have the desire and willingness to use it beyond the involuntary waning it induces.  You have to make the decision to turn the dimmer nob further to the left.

That is where I find myself today – turning the nob to the left. I am – of my own volition – taking my life down a notch. I don’t want to but I need to. It’s hard for me to believe I’m doing this. But years of therapy and the wisdom that comes with 56-years of f#*king up my life have taught me it’s time.

I have bipolar II – called hypomania. It’s bipolar lite. My ups and downs are not nearly as intense as those poor souls with bipolar I. Of course, fueling my mania with drugs and alcohol for decades enhanced those ups and downs. But I know I am blessed to have this lesser form of bipolar.

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Father forgive me for I have sinned and have depression

By Christine Stapleton • 3 min read

shutterstock_160212542I am guilty. I’m not sure what I’m guilty of but I’m certain I am guilty. I was brought up Catholic and went to a Catholic elementary school.

The nuns taught us about the different kinds of sins – venial sins, a sort of lesser gateway sin that wouldn’t send us directly to hell, unlike mortal sins – like killing someone – which would send us directly to hell. You would burn in hell for eternity no matter how many Hail Mary’s you said. Of course, as second- and third-graders, we hadn’t committed any mortal sins but they were out there.

And there were those poor little babies who died before they were baptized. They ended up in limbo – heaven’s waiting room. They didn’t get into heaven because there original sin hadn’t been washed away by pouring some water over their little heads. So, your parents better get your little brother baptized or he could END UP IN LIMBO!!!

I got so scared of being bad and had convinced myself that I WAS bad that as soon as I was able,, I went to confession.  In fact, I went to confession so much that they told me I didn’t  have to go so much – which was a huge relief because as a little kid I had better things to do than keep a running tally of my venial sins.

I haven’t gone to confession in years. I like to think I dial direct. When I feel guilty, which is still a lot, I deal directly with God.

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How do doctors distinguish grief from depression?

By Christine Stapleton • 4 min read

Grief intrigues me. I’ve been there and despite counselling, self-help books and prayer, I don’t understand it.

A few years after my divorce, my father died. Sixteen months after my father died, my mother died. Eight months later, my dog died. Several years passed and a long-term relationship ended. Then I crashed, slipped into a deep depression.

Compound grief – that’s what I call it. At some point, all that grief piled up and morphed into depression. There was a tipping point. Despite the time I’ve spent rubbernecking my own grief, I don’t know when or where I reached that tipping point but I sure as hell did.shutterstock_207300925

Even with all the self-awareness and knowledge I have today, I doubt I would be able to identify that moment should I experience another loss and slide into – God forbid –  a deep depression. So, how do doctors distinguish between grief and depression?

Apparently, it’s not easy. According to a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, there is grief, complicated grief and depression. This was the first randomized trial to explore the treatment of complicated grief in an elderly population and it emphasized the importance for doctors to distinguish the differences between grief, complicated grief and depression.

I normally don’t understand articles in JAMA. The articles look and sound like English but they are beyond my comprehension. Even the headlines baffle me. But I found this article on Medscape – essentially an email discussion about the JAMA article – that even I could understand.

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Circling the drain of depression

By Christine Stapleton • 1 min read

Two down, one to go.

We made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s just New Year’s left. I can see the finish line but I’m close to bonking. Yes, I am taking my medications. I am exercising and getting plenty of sleep. I am eating well – except for the gluten-free Pop Tarts.

shutterstock_103856072I thought I had done a pretty good job of fending off my depression this year. I didn’t buy a tree or put out any decorations until about 2 hours before my daughter came home to visit. I cancelled my satellite television service and got Roku – so I wasn’t bombarded by holiday commercials.

I didn’t turn on the radio and made it through my first holiday season without hearing that insanely annoying Feliz Navidad song – although I did hear Paul McCartney’s “Sim-ply Hav-ing a Wonderful Christmas Time,” which is equally annoying.

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Do people with depression need better social skills?

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

I don’t like talking on the phone. For awhile, I disabled the voicemail on my phone to avoid having to return phone calls. People would say to me, “Hey, I tried to call you but I couldn’t leave a message,” or “Do you know your voicemail doesn’t work?” or “You should set up your voicemail,” to which I would simply respond, “I know,” – a response that seemed to baffle them. phoneI don’t know why I dislike talking on the phone or how the whole thing started. I wonder if maybe it doesn’t have to do with not being the girl that was not included in the high-school phone call daisy-hain about who was “going with” whom or whose parents would be out of town for the weekend. Or, maybe it’s because I like to see a person when I speak with them so I can read their body language. I interrupt a lot when I speak with someone on the phone. I don’t mean to but I just can’t tell when they have verbally completed a thought. And I don’t know when the conversation is over. It’s very awkward for me and I devote so much time to thinking about what I’m saying and whether I’m doing the conversation “right” that I often don’t hear what the person said. My dislike of talking on the phone is so extreme that my phone hardly ever rings, which is fine by me. You should see all the minutes I’ve stacked up on my phone bill. I don’t mind talking on the phone for my work but my aversion to personal phone calls has been the topic of more than a few sessions with my therapist. Obviously, the outcome of my phone hate has resulted in what my therapist calls “isolating.” I don’t think of it as isolating. I think of it as being left alone and not being forced to interact with someone when I don’t want to. Is that so wrong? Apparently, it is. Isolating is not good for people with depression – to which I say, “neither is the anxiety created by talking to someone I don’t wan to speak with or being so conscious of my awkwardness that I’m left feeling like a loser. At the core of this mess is one fact: I have no social skills when it comes to talking on the phone. So, when I  saw this headline, “Social Skills Training Needed for People with Depression,” I jumped on the story. That’s exactly my problem. “There is significant evidence to show that people with major depressive disorders experience social situations coloured by their often negatively biased mood states, and they can interpret social signals quite differently to other people” says senior author Professor Bernhard Baune, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide. “The difficulties with social interaction may, at least in part, be due to an altered ability to adequately interpret emotional stimuli and mental states of oneself and of others. This seems to persist even when the person’s depression is in remission.” Halle-freakin’-lujah! Professor Baune says social skills are critical for people to have good “functional” outcomes – such as in the workplace, in social groups, and for successful relationships. “This is an important dimension in depression that often gets overlooked,” he says. Overlooked? How about ignored? I’ve never heard of anyone attempting to study or treat the social skills of people with depression. When your brain is hard wired to go to the negative – always – it is, indeed, difficult to have relationships, friendships or telephone conversations. I don’t know what this kind of therapy would look like or if it’s covered by my insurance. Probably not. But consider the impact on people’s ability to work and to function within a team, or to have a long-lasting and healthy relationship, which is extremely important for people’s well-being. These aspects of life, if they are not working well for people, can further contribute to and deepen depression. “We believe that treatment for these issues should go beyond the normal psychological therapy and pharmacological treatments currently being offered to patients,” he says. I hope his idea of treatment is not being forced to have endless conversations on the phone – you know, like they make people afraid of flying actually…fly. Actually, I just realized that some folks are going to read this and try to call me. Luckily, my voicemail is set up. Leave me a message.  



How much of my holiday depression is my fault?

By Christine Stapleton • 1 min read

Somewhere, probably over some freakin’ rainbow, is the Christmas of my dreams. You know the one with little kids making snow angels in the front yard, a new Lexus in the driveway with a ginormous bow on it and gingerbread houses that don’t collapse.

However, I live in south Florida so the snow angel thing is out. I would rather have a Prius than a Lexus and unless you make a gingerbread house with gorilla glue, it’s going to collapse. Get over it.shutterstock_91076213

Problem is, I can’t get over it. Actually, the problem is the sentence before this one. I think “I can’t get over it,” when in fact, I don’t allow myself to “get over it.” Every year it’s the same thing: I invite a mythical family, with mythical snow in the front yard and mythical gingerbread houses into my head.

I sit on my pity pot and watch them have their mythical Christmas. I get jealous, mad, jealous, sad, jealous, angry, jealous, depressed. I do this to myself. I allow this brain chemistry to happen because I allow myself to have stupid, unrealistic expectations.

And what are expectations?

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For holiday orphans, depression is real

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

I have made it 55 years without cooking a turkey. I used to be ashamed of that fact. How could a one-time wife and mother get this far in life without ever having made a turkey?

It’s a sad story with a happy ending. I don’t have much family and the family I have don’t invite me to holiday dinners. They’re either too far away, or they don’t know me because we haven’t kept in contact over the decades or they don’t invite me to their dinner table. shutterstock_164694644

When I was married we managed to get invited to my in-laws for holiday meals. My ex-husband is in the restaurant business so he was usually working. When we divorced, it was just my daughter and me. A few times I made a turkey breast and we got dressed up, took out the good china and some candles and had a nice little holiday meal – just the two of us and the dog.

We are holiday orphans. No cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings. Just me, my daughter and the dog. When my daughter was much younger and still a believer (in Santa) we had fun – baking cookies, decorating the tree and building a runway in the yard with blue and red lights for Santa to land.

For a few years I had other orphans to my house on Christmas Eve. Fun, but a lot of work and money for a single mom with a full-time job. Then my daughter grew up and spent holidays with friends who have real families. Of course the two of us still eat dinner together on Christmas Eve but we no longer build the runway in the front yard or bake cookies together.

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Why the military can’t get suicide prevention right

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

Last Friday, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense released a report called the Suicide Event Report Data Quality Assessment. I had no idea what the assessment was about but I am devoted to suicide prevention and intrigued by data so I gave the 100-page report a read.

When an active service member commits suicide or attempts suicide, a Suicide Event Report is compiled. The report is an investigation of the suicide and circumstances leading up to it. It is a sort of psychological autopsy that is supposed to provide military leaders with reliable information on suicide risk factors that will assist in designing effective suicide prevention efforts.

The IG decided to investigate how Suicide Event Reports are compiled after finding a high number of  “don’t know/data unavailable” responses to questions in the 2011 Annual Report – the most recent year available.  Here are the questions that received the most “don’t know/data unavailable” reponses:

Table2

You would think that these are among the most important questions in determining why someone committed suicide. So, why couldn’t the folks assigned to complete these reports answer these questions?

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Can depression help your career?

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

A good headline, like a lot of good things in life, will suck you in. This one got me: “How business leaders can use fatigue and depression to their advantage.”

Do tell, I thought, because I’ve been in the working world for more than 30 years and I’ve yet to meet a boss, supervisor or leader who has used fatigue and depression to their advantage. On the planet where I live, depression and fatigue are weaknesses.shutterstock_168524867

Come to think of it, I have never encountered a boss supervisor or leader who ever had to take time off from work because depression or fatigue. That’s only something us worker bees do. So, I had to read this article by Andrew Cave, published on the Forbes web site on Wednesday.

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How I find serenity while staring depression in the eye

By Christine Stapleton • 1 min read

Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of the acutely mundane and profoundly sad that makes “it” all the more painful. The folding of the laundry, inserting the key into the ignition or even eating seems so ridiculous when it is stacked against immense sadness and grief.

It is going from one absolute extreme to another at the speed of light that takes the wind out of you, mentally and physically. Frankly, I don’t know to get rid of this. I only know what it feels like, that dream-like state of this-can’t-be-happening and the-car-needs-gas.

shutterstock_141965581You look around and realize that your physical world has not changed – the paint on the walls is still the same color – but everything looks and feels different. How can that be?

When I look back at my life and my depression, I realize that I had lived in that state for about two years before I fell into my last – and worst – major depression. It was the 16-months of illness between my parents’ deaths and the aftermath that did me in. It was living in that confusing  juxtaposition every single day that took me down.

I know that juxtaposition will be a part of my life any time I am confronted with profound delayed grief or a sudden traumatic loss. I know – from countless hours of therapy and self-help books – that acceptance is the key to my mental health in these times.

I pray for acceptance because I know that if I can accept a situation, I can handle it. I can even be helpful to others. I also know that acceptance can be fleeting. This morning I may think I have accepted a situation but this afternoon I may find myself fighting it. That’s okay as long as I recognize it and pray and meditate on acceptance: “God, please help me to accept this, please, please, please, please, please.”

Then I say the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s that wisdom that will get me through and keep me from the edge of that black hole.

Wisdom definition image available from Shutterstock.

 

 

 

 

 



 
Hoping for a Happy Ending
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Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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