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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Night I had a Painful Episode of Depression

I had terrible nightmares last night. And then I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst depression. I often wake with depression in the middle of the night or early in the morning. I don't have any control over my thoughts while I sleep and who knows what nightmares can wreck my chemical balance by triggering the fight or flight response or by learned association re-enact that old depressive neural pattern in my brain. Usually the depressions are all pretty much the same, horrible, but not particular painful body wise. And ordinary in their sameness.

This depression was NOT ordinary. It was not one of those icky kinds of depression where you just feel horrible and feel that life is worthless and why should you bother about anything and have absolute zero energy to bestir yourself, like someone has sucked all the marrow out of your bones, No, that's horrible enough. But this was extremely physically painful. My chest felt like it was full of hard packed pain and it really hurt! I could hardly breathe. It was very unusual in its intensity. I'd almost say it was like a combination of depression and a panic attack. ( I'm very familiar with both although it's been many years since I had a full-fledged panic attack.)

Of course, at the same time depression me, I was also aware of the ANTI-depression neural pattern that was also activated by learned association. I have purposefully built that neural pattern over the years as a safeguard to remind me that I have the power to get myself out of any depression that hits me. And I even had enough presence of mind last night to remember all the philosophy about depression, how it's not "really me," how it masquerades as present reality but isn't really present reality, how my life isn't really ruined, how it's just a chemical reaction, or an accidentally activated neural pattern, and that I have the power to get out of it. I was able to carry on that conversation with myself. My husband snoozing happily beside me with no idea of my suffering. I don't bother him with it anymore.

Since it was an unusual depression, I tried for a few minutes to "accept" the pain, just to see if I could do that.  but I was not successful. It was too painful and I'm not used to that kind of pain so I don't have a lot of practice "accepting" it like the lower-grade icky stuff that sometimes I can just ignore and get on with my regular life. And then later I'll  notice that the depression is totally gone, forgotten with my concentration on my work.

But after a few minutes I thought I'd better start some exercises so I could escape from the pain and get back to sleep. I tried counting 1-2-3-4 over and over and that didn't work. I couldn't hang on to my concentration that well, the pain kept intruding. No problem, I thought. I'll just choose another exercise. So I started up with "Barber, barber shave a pig, how many hairs to make a wig." And that was a little better. Sometimes poetry has a way of capturing your focus that numbers don't. But I still wasn't getting back to sleep. So I opted for an old standby which I haven't used for months. "Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today." It's an old 1940s song I remember my father singing when I was a child

What is interesting to me now, this morning, is that I don't remember any panic or worry that I wouldn't be able to "fix" the depression and get back to sleep even though the pain was unusually intense. It was good proof that, if I even had any doubt, for sure now I can see that I don't fear depression any more. It's just one of those things that happens to me like the flu. I don't fear the flu. When it happens, I take remedial action. But I remember many years where I was so terrified of depression that I feared it would strike me down even when I was feeling perfectly fine and then I would be helpless.

The depression this time was unusual in its intensity and it took a couple of changes of exercises before I "settled" on one that seemed to hold my attention better. But ultimately the exercises worked. The get-out-depression reminder neural pattern activated with  the depression neural pattern, and then I was able to "take care of business" and get back to sleep. I don't know how long it took but it wasn't more than half an hour because I didn't hear the clock chime, which I always do when I wake and night and then have to work to get back to sleep. It chimes the half hour and the hour. I still think it's better to work at using insomnia exercises rather than take Ambien. I have built up a confidence that I can always get to sleep "somehow," that one exercise or another will work. So I also no longer fear that I can't get back to sleep.

Depression doesn't have the power to control us once we understand what it really is--an over-extension of our psychological defense mechanism, and once we understand how our brain actually works, and once we have chosen, ahead, some dumb little exercises to interrupt the depressive pattern. You can actually have complete control over whether your depression continues or does not continue at your expense. Maybe I need to have a big jolt of depression hit me now and then so I don't forget this. A. B. Curtiss


Ginger said...

Sorry to hear that your night was so difficult, but so glad your exercises and tenacity conquered even this deep and agonizing bout of depression. That is great and inspiring news.

A. .B. Curtiss said...

Thanks Ginger. Your posts remind me how important it is that we reach out and help each other whenever we can. Sometimes I think I'm "supposed" to get depressed now and then to keep my interest in depression going so that my work can improve. A. B. Curtiss