Thursday, January 14, 2010

Singin’ the Blues - Part 1 of 3

© 2010
by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

My dad had the best name for depression-- a soggy day.

He was lucky. He only got down for a day at a time. This is a characteristic I was blessed to inherit, even though I’m adopted.

My husband wasn’t as lucky. He suffered a long period of clinical depression. But even before it finally lifted, he was a lot like my dad in taking the blues a day at a time. No matter how down, my beloved would always tell me, “Tomorrow is another day.” He is the original inflatable Bozo the Clown toy, the jolly old punching bag. You hit it and it bounces right back up. I am still wowed by his resilience.

I learned a lot from his overnight optimism. Like most artistes, I sometimes suffer from acute bouts of depression. They don’t last long—a day or two tops—but they are so debilitating, I have the utmost compassion and awe for folks who deal with more prolonged bouts of this too common malady.

Winter often brings depression because it is a time of dying. Like the trees and flowers, we have shed our leaves and feel barren inside.

Another more common type of depression we’ve heard more about in recent years is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as winter depression or winter blues, SAD is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer, year after year. SAD appears to be linked to lack of light, and there are numerous treatment options mentioned in this Wikipedia article. (We have replaced all lights under which we spend a lot of time with full-spectrum bulbs. It helps.)

Depression is a serious subject, especially when it doesn’t lift quickly. If you think for a moment—or even wonder—if your depression is cause for alarm, Google “signs clinical depressionnow. You’ll find plenty of self-tests that will give you an indication if its time to talk to your doctor. Err on the side of safety. If in doubt, and just do it.

Take a tip from our household and Been There, Done That. No matter how terrific your primary care provider is, he or she is unlikely to know the delicate art and science of combining modern psychiatric drugs, if it turns out you need them. Get a referral to a shrink, the kind with the initials M.D. These days your psychiatrist is unlikely to do more than medication management. A counselor—perhaps a marriage and family therapist or licensed clinical social worker—often handles the talking part of therapy. Drugs are not the only way, but another tip from Been There. Depression is a chemical imbalance. No matter how holistic your beliefs, experience, or intent, you may have to fight fire with fire and chemical imbalance with chemistry. I avoid drugs like the plague, sometimes cutting off my nose to spite my face. I have also seen them give my husband back his life. It’s up to you, your professional experts, and the people closest to you to find the path that’s right for you. That might take some trial and error, and some tweaking, even once you’re on the right road. Be patient with the process.

As to the more garden-variety depression: Like every other temporary illness to which humans are prone (colds, flu or falling arches), we need to have some home remedies at hand when the blues strike. What would you put in your Blues Buster First Aid Kit? Each of us should have one. It could do more for you than you know.

Start by thinking it through, if it’s not already obvious to you: Are you an introvert or extrovert? (A) Do you get energized by crowds or being around people? or, (B) When you need to recharge your batteries, do you need quiet, solitude, meditation, soft music—to withdraw. If A, you are an extrovert. If B, you are an introvert. Don’t get too hung up on the label, just the recharge style. I love people, but I am an introvert. I need to withdraw in direct relationship to the amount of time I spend around large quantities of humans. I’m highly sensitive—wired for sensory overload— and I have an enthusiastic nature. I dive into everything with gusto. This means my head spins afterwards and I need time alone to digest intense experiences.

Remember in all instances: You need to plan and create your Blues First Aid Kit at a time when you’re up, not down. When you’re already down, you’re too lethargic to do any of the things I’m suggesting. They’d just sound silly and impossible.

Start thinking what you’d like to put in your kit, because the more customized it is to you, the more helpful it will be on a soggy day. In the next two posts, I’ll offer some suggestions for the contents of your Blues Buster Kit. What’s inside will differ depending on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.

Meanwhile, introduce yourself to your resilient, Inner Bozo!


Photo credit: OLD MICROPHONE © Damianpalu... |

Disclaimer: This article is provided purely for informational purposes. Readers are asked to make their own determination regarding the quality of the services and products described above. This article is not meant to be advice, and the information is not meant to replace medical or psychological treatment.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of the Blues kit, Joyce, and "do it while you're up" can't be emphasized enough. It would be nigh-on to impossible to do it during a blues session. Someone told me once, "When I start feeling blue, I get up and get busy." That makes a huge difference, too. Physical activity can relieve the mind. Great post, and thank you.


Joyce Mason said...

Thanks, CJ! Especially for the reminder about movement. It helps so much. Just like our medical first aid kit, a blues kit won't help if it's not already waiting. Who would be scrambling to buy band-aids when they're already bleeding?

What I didn't mention that I hope would be obvious. In addition to winter bringing more depression, the current economic and political climate casts big blue shadows. Hope the blues kit idea catches on.

Eileen Williams said...

This is great advice for anyone feeling like a soggy day. I think January is especially fraught with blues-making triggers: the weather is usually cold and gray, the holiday hype is over, and many of us are just plain tired.
You give some great suggestions for addressing the symptoms of depression and SAD. When it lasts far beyond January, I agree it's time to seek medical help. Why suffer when there's so much that can be done!

Joyce Mason said...

So, true, Eileen. I really have a huge emotional crash after the holidays. Thanks for expounding on possible winter blues triggers!