In My Experience Articles

Take off your watch. It’s making you depressed.

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

I don’t wear a watch. I have watches, very nice watches, in fact. I don’t even know where they are – probably in a drawer somewhere.

I don’t wear a watch because I have a thing with time. I learned early on in my recovery from alcoholism and depression that “time” was a problem for me. A very big problem.

I didn’t realize my “time” problem until a friend in recovery asked me one day, “What time is it?” I looked at my watch and told him the time. Then he asked again, “what time is it?” shutterstock_164743622And I looked at my watch again and told him the time.

“No,” he said. “What TIME is it?”

I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t know. You tell me, what time is it?”

“Now,” he said. I had a D’oh Homer Simpson moment and then understood what he was trying to tell me. I was not in the present. “That’s why I don’t wear a watch,” he said.


60 hours without my antidepressants?

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

I went to visit my daughter this weekend. She lives about 2-1/5 hours away. Half way there I realized I had forgotten my medications.

I take three medications, two antidepressants and mood-stabilizer. I have been taking them for 7 years. Every day. Morning. Night. I don’t mess around and skip a day here or there. I take them without fail.

I did the math in my head. I took my last dose at 7 am Friday. I was not planning on getting home until at least 7 pm on Sunday. That would be 60 hours without my medications. Once I forgot to order a three-month supply of one of my antidepressants and ran out for about three days so I knew what it felt like to skip a few days without one of the medications.

shutterstock_151831541I had a headache – like my head was simultaneously going to implode and explode. My thoughts were thick, like I was thinking in mud. I was tired.

I had never gone as long as 60 hours without all three. I knew I would feel some kind of withdrawal. I just didn’t know what to expect.


Get me a sledge hammer: Depression as anger turned inward

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.

This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.shutterstock_178702403

My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.

I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.


Mentally ill now and forever…amen.

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.

It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years.  I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.

But for the last two weeks I have been under an unconscionable amount of stress. I say “unconscionable” because I allowed it to happen.shutterstock_176869352

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.

Recently, I accepted  an assignment which today I realize I should not  have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.

I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.


As she lay dying: Depression and my mother’s sad memories

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Shortly before my mother went into hospice we sat alone together in her bedroom and she said: “If you want to ask me anything you should ask me now.”shutterstock_141509170

I was stunned.

My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.

I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.

He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.


Botox: The new antidepressant?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Halle-freakin’-lujah!

We have a couple more studies that suggest that paralyzing key facial muscles with Botox can reduce the symptoms of depression.

In a recent 24-week randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, done by Michelle Magid, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas, 30 participants with depressive symptoms were randomized and give injections of Botox or a placebo between the eyebrows (which happens to be exactly where I need it.)shutterstock_124462930

The men were injected with 39 units of botulinum and the women were injected with 29 units. At week 12, the placebo group crossed over to treatment, and the treatment group crossed over to placebo.Participants were evaluated at weeks 0, 3, 6, 12, 15, 18, and 24. The primary outcome was a reduction from baseline of at least 50% in the 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score.

In a yet-to-be-published study in the in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Eric Finzi, a cosmetic dermatologist, and Norman Rosenthal, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, randomly assigned a group of 74 patients with major depression to receive either Botox or saline injections in the forehead muscles that enable us to frown.


Bullying people with mental illnesses

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Imagine a bulletin board on the internet that allowed anyone to comment – anonymously – on your job performance.

Anyone can say whatever they want about the work you do. Some praise and thank you. Others mock you and trash a project that you painstakingly researched and produced. You must always always put your name on your work and claim it as your own. Still, anonymous critics swipe away at your work, leaving you unable to confront your accuser.

shutterstock_92850706That’s what it’s like to be a newspaper reporter these days. It used to be that when readers wanted to criticize or comment on your story they would write a letter to the editor. Newspapers didn’t publish anonymous letters. They called the author and confirmed the person actually wrote the letter.

Then came the internet. Anyone can anonymously say anything about your work – and you – without any consequence. It ‘s unfair but as my mother used to say – “Life isn’t fair.”

You were right, mom. Life isn’t fair.

I am also an alcoholic. An alcoholic journalist. It’s been 15 years since I had  my last drink but I am still an alcoholic and still a journalist. Always will be. I’m not ashamed of being an alcoholic or a journalist. I understand there is still a lot of stigma associated with being an alcoholic. But I am at a point in my career, life and recovery where I am comfortable with who I am. I don’t hide either but I don’t mix the two in reporting the news.


Humor as preventive mental health care: Doberhuahua

Friday, January 31st, 2014

I am totally into preventive health care – especially mental health care.

We hear a lot about preventive health care, such as mammograms,  monitoring blood pressure and testing cholesterol levels. We don’t hear much about preventive mental health care.shutterstock_150200261

I practice preventive mental health care. It’s a program I came up with on my own based on a bunch of stuff I’ve read and been told by people I trust. It’s based on this simple premise: my brain is constantly producing or not producing chemicals and hormones. If there is too much of one chemical and not enough of another, I can sink into a black hole or leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The single, most powerful preventive tool in my little toolbox is exercise. Exercise prevents both depression and mania. It releases endorphins, hormones that activate my opiate receptors. As for my mania, exercise is like a fire extinguisher, snuffing out that burning desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound.


Depression: The absence of gratitude

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

There was a time when I wanted a really big house. A two-story house with big bedrooms and bathrooms with his and her’s sinks – even though there is no “his.”

My siblings have huge houses on big chunks of land. BIG – as in having an intercom so the kids can ask mom to bring some snacks down to the basement, where they have gym, pool table, bar and movie room. You can put a 20-foot Christmas tree in their living rooms and it won’t hit the ceiling.shutterstock_152710781

My house is 1,332 square feet on .17 acres. No basement. No upstairs. Right now, I absolutely love it. I have the windows open and it is raining. When you live in a very small house and you open the windows during a rain, it sounds like you are actually outside, in the rain. Surround-sound rain but you are cozy and dry.

In the words of the philosopher Crow: It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.

This is gratitude and it is an entirely impossible state of mind when you have depression. If you want to get a taste of what depression feels like, it is the complete absence of gratitude. It is compounded by friends and family trying to cram gratitude down your throat…”You have so much to live for…”


‘Tis the season: Depression and seasonal-affective disorder

Monday, January 6th, 2014

For those of you with depression who live in areas that are expecting life-threatening cold weather this week, I am not going to say “I feel your pain.” I don’t and I won’t insult you by saying it.

Although I have felt your pain in my lifetime, I do not feel your pain now because I live in Florida. I also won’t insult you by telling you what the weather is like in West Palm Beach right now.

I was born and raised in northwest Wisconsin and southwest Michigan. Phrases like “wind chill,” “lake effect,” “black ice” and “sub-zero” were part of my daily vocabulary for about five months of the year.shutterstock_24869581

The only thing worse than the temperature was the sky – so uniformally gray that it looked like someone had painted it one solid color. There were no clouds per se – just one massive, flat gray cloud that covered the entire sky for as far as you could see. Nine hours separated sunrise and sunset but it would be months before you would ever see the sun again so it didn’t really matter if it was day or night.


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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