The tao of depression for a journalist

By Christine Stapleton • 2 min read

About 15 years ago the newspaper where I work sent me to a number-crunching boot camp, where I learned how to analyze data. I became a geek.

As journalism morphed from the old fashioned pen, notebook and musty records at the courthouse to the internet’s ability to gather mountains of data in the blink of an eye, my geekiness blossomed. I attended more bootcamps on advanced statistics and mapping.shutterstock_111114632

I added SQL, shapefiles and string functions to my arsenal of reporting skills. My brain changed, too. I could feel it. A portion of my brain that had been slacking was now firing. I thought differently. It’s hard to explain.

The analytical side of my brain teamed up with the creative side and my thinking became three-dimensional. The skies parted and I realized that 3+2 and 4+1 both equaled 5. There were suddenly many solutions to the same problem. This revelation came fast and hard and not without severe consequences.

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Is the CrossFit Open fueling my mania?

By Christine Stapleton • 1 min read

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I’m on the Autobahn. I have all kinds of great, noble plans but I’m not so hot on following through. The upshot is that I feel guilty or stupid or both.

Photo by April Milner

Photo by April Milner

Take, for instance, my decision a few weeks ago to not do an international CrossFit competition for which I had been training for months. The closer the competition the more I realized it was stressing me out, making me anxious and fueling my mania. My life was out of whack. Mentally, I was a bubble off plumb.

I took a few days off from the gym – something rare for me – and when I went bank, I only did the programmed workout. No staying after and doing another workout or coming back in the evening for more punishment. CrossFit was really fun again.

Fast forward to last Thursday, when the first workout  in the competition was announced. Gee, it looked like so much fun! Why not give it a little try? Nothing serious – just have fun with it. Don’t take your life – and CrossFit – so seriously. It’s just one little workout, right?

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Depression, obsession and rumination

By Christine Stapleton • 1 min read

I once heard a guy say that he tries to wear his life like a comfortable old t-shirt. I like that and I’ve been trying to do it lately but I think I must have shrunk that t-shirt in the dryer because it’s tight as hell right now.

shutterstock_194610269From the outside you might not notice that my comfy t-shirt has morphed into a corset. But from the inside, it feels like it has. I’m carrying around this intensity right now – for work, for working-out and even for finishing the entire seven-season series Sons of Anarchy.

I am driven. I can’t seem to slow down my thoughts. One thought leads to another and another and another. It makes me good at what I do – newspaper reporting – but it’s not good for my mental health. It’s a constant tugging – intellectually I want to slow down – instinctually I want to speed up.

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

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