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Counseling (Depression)

In some ways, talking to a psychologist was even harder than starting antidepressants. In both cases, I was admitting to a problem that comes with its own baggage of shame and stigma and perceived weakness. But with counseling, it felt harder. This was more than hitting my doctor up for a prescription. I would be walking into a stranger’s office and spending hours explaining how I’d lost the ability to deal with things in my life, how I needed help to figure out things I feel like I should already know how to do.

That’s what it all comes back to. I feel like I should be able to handle this stuff. I should know how to be a good father and husband, how to balance the demands of writing and the day job, how to maintain my emotional balance in times of increased stress, and so on. I know how deceptive and nasty the word “should” can be, but that didn’t stop all the crap from swelling back through my brain when I thought about making that first appointment.

I made it anyway.

Eventually.

I’ve had three sessions so far, and while I’m not going to go into as much detail about them, I’ll say it’s been helpful. The first session or two were mostly a get-to-know-you sort of thing. I got an official diagnosis of dysthymia. As I understand it, this is a milder form of chronic, long-term depression. I.e., I’m in a lousy mood most of the time, but I’m not jumping off the Mackinac Bridge.

The funniest moment came in the first session: I was describing my life, the jobs and the writing, taking care of the kids after school, the work I did around the house, and so on.

Doctor P: What do you do for fun?

Jim: …?

Doctor P: When do you take time to just get out and enjoy yourself?

Jim: …I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

I was amused, but it was a good catch on her part. She gave me homework to do something fun just for me. I actually managed to do it, too. The trick now is going to be incorporating that lesson into my life on a more regular basis.

Doctor P has also pointed out some areas where I could improve things at home. We both recognize there’s a lot I can’t change — realistically, I can’t quit the day job; I can’t magically improve my wife’s health so that she can do more at home; and so on — so we’re concentrating on things where I can make changes for the better.

This whole process scares me. Eventually, I’d love to get off of the antidepressants, and I think counseling is one of the things that will help me do that. But given how helpful the pills have been since April, I’m also terrified of losing that crutch and slipping back into the swamp of who-gives-a-crap-about-anything. I guess I’m not yet completely trusting that it can help — or that I can change enough to really make a difference — in the long run.

This experience has also made me recognize once again how fortunate I am to have decent insurance that covers most of the medications and my weekly sessions. As hard as it’s been to admit I need help, how much worse must it be to realize you need help and have no way of getting it? [Rant about U.S. healthcare deleted because the goal is to not depress myself further.]

I’m cautiously optimistic. I like my counselor. She feels pretty genuine, and seems to get me. The first few sessions felt a little open-ended, but we’re talking about more concrete goals this week. Apparently we’ll also be doing a bit more cognitive work, teaching me how to win at some of my head games. I’ve had some speed bumps at home and at work, but overall, so far so good.

My thanks once again to everyone who’s been so encouraging and supportive.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 87 comments — Leave a comment )
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teaberryblue
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:33 pm (UTC)
I wrote a pretty long blog post recently about my experiences with depression and anxiety, and going to talk therapy to manage them. here it is, in case you are interested.

It's always sort of mind-boggling when someone you don't know points out something so obvious about your life.

Goof luck!!!
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:35 pm (UTC)
Sometimes it's so helpful to get that objective outside perspective or reality check.
swords_and_pens
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
1) Thanks for sharing.

2) I had my therapist ask that exact same question at one of my first meetings with him. My reaction was about the same. I hadn't realized that I'd stopped doing things I enjoy "just for fun" until he asked me. It's amazing how that time can slip away without you noticing it. It's also one of the things I still have the hardest time putting back into my life.

As a society & culture, we are very good about emphasizing getting things done, where "things" are responsibilities & duties to others (family, job, spouse, etc.); we're not so good at putting equal value on Me time. Aside from the challenge of simply finding the time, it often feels like we should be getting something done, and not just "[insert fun activity here] and wasting time, dammit!"

When you're focused so much on what's happening on the outside, it's hard to remember what's good for the inside.

Good luck, and I hope things continue to improve. :)

Edited at 2012-06-18 01:49 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
I remember thinking how I'd love to do more fun stuff, but there's so much else that has to get done first, and I just don't have the time.

Then I remember thinking, "Wait, when did I become the kind of person who prioritizes everything else over fun???"

Thanks!
(no subject) - mrissa - Jun. 18th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
threeoutside
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
Good for you, Jim. Hang in there, you have lots of folks here cheering for you.

Um...that would include me, in case that wasn't clear. ;^>
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you :-)
sylvanstargazer
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you had good luck!
Finding a good therapist is a huge part of how useful therapy is.

You don't have to give up meds as long as they are being useful (I had one doctor tell me I had to or I wouldn't believe I could "handle" his techniques without them. I should have told him to go jump in a lake: turned out he was basically a quack.) Instead, someday everything might be so awesome that meds are irrelevant, by which point you probably won't be anxious about giving them up. Therapy isn't really a zero-sum game there: by their powers combined!

I wrote up my Grand Unified Theory of therapy a while ago. I don't know if you're interested, but it's over here: http://sylvanstargazer.livejournal.com/453708.html
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm glad you had good luck!
I know I don't have to go off the meds, but it's something I'd like to be able to do if possible. I'm already on insulin and pills for my cholesterol, and just as a general rule, I'd like to minimize the medications I'm making my body process.

That said, if they turn out to be something I need in the long-term, c'est la vie.

"Therapy isn't really a zero-sum game there: by their powers combined!"

Exactly :-)
suricattus
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:54 pm (UTC)
A good therapist is a lovely and wonderful thing. I had one who saved my life (literally -things were so bad at one point I was thinking "if I can just shut down entirely everyone else will be happy, at least"). One who can/will teach you the skills that you need to maintain (rather than trying to give you 'answer') is a gem.

Luck & fortitude!
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
Sending virtual thanks to that therapist, as I'm very glad you're still around.
j_cheney
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
::sending hugs:: Talking about things like that -is- hard.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It hasn't been too bad yet, but I expect there will be more challenges as we go further.
thinkum
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
Cheers for you, Jim -- you're fighting the good fight, and doing it well! :-)
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And what a perfectly appropriate icon :-)
celtic_catgirl
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:02 pm (UTC)
Yay for cautious optimism!

I judge my level of depression by my desire to do art and create though sometimes I swing past the lack of desire to create into the desire to create all the time but at that point I usually fail to see myself in my art. Usually when I look at a piece of my own art I can see myself in it both from having the memory of creating it and remembering how I was feeling when I was creating it.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
The desire/need to write hasn't changed that much, in part I think because it's become so much of a job and responsibility over the year. What bugs me, and one of the things I'll probably bring up with the counselor, is how much the writing can affect my mood. A good writing day is the best high ever, but when I'm having a lot of trouble, it affects everything, sometimes for days at a time. When I'm already depressed to begin with, that's the last thing I need, you know?
jaylake
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
This really is how it begins. I took the step you're on now, very much against my will, 30 years ago while in the depths of suicidal depression. (Literally so, though I was unsuccessful in my attempt -- what they call a "gesture", I believe.)

I'm still in counseling today, though the reasons have changed over the years, and the frequency has fluctuated with the cycles of my life.

That journey through yourself never ends, but being on it beats the hot snot out of never trying.

So, yeah. Good for you.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
First off, I'm glad you were unsuccessful. And thanks. I'm hoping to eventually wean back from the counseling and the meds both, but that may or may not happen, and it's also comforting to know both of these tools are available in the future when and if I'd need them again.

"That journey through yourself never ends, but being on it beats the hot snot out of never trying."

Nicely put, mister writer man :-)

Thanks.
_ocelott_
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you've got a counselor who gets you. That's very important. And good for you to be taking these difficult steps in your life! It takes surprising strength to get past the "but I should be able to do this" mindset.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't know if I'll ever get past that mindset. But I might get a little better at recognizing when I need help despite that annoying voice in my mind...
wulfsdottir
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad both the medication and the counseling have proven helpful, and all best wishes that they continue to work for you!

Also: View icon to receive hugs, if desired.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And yay, wolfhugs!
barbhendee2
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
Jim, I'm so glad you're able to talk about this openly. I really think you posting your thoughts and experiences on depression might help other people struggling with the same issue . . . or it might help the partner of someone struggling with this issue.

JC has had trouble with depression his whole life, and years ago, when he was having "floating spots" in his vision, an eye doctor asked him, "Are you happy?"

JC just stared at him, and I began to get uncomfortable . . . as if somehow, JC answering "No" would be my fault, as if I wasn't doing enough to make him happy. That's something I've struggled with over the years.
jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 05:55 pm (UTC)
I hope the posts are helpful.

And I know what you mean. It's really hard to sort out that feeling of responsibility, the idea that if my partner is unhappy, it's somehow my fault, or a sign that I'm not doing enough, or whatever. I have a hard time with that one as well.
quirkstreet
Jun. 18th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
Hey Jim, recent reader here, but in the areas of disthymia, meds, and therapy, I've got a few years of experience under my belt.

I hear you about not wanting to make your body process too many medications, but I'm also glad to see that you're ready to give them a while if they seem to be working. From my own experience and others I've known, that seems to be an attitude that tends toward better success.

The "crutch" metaphor, where psychopharm meds are concerned, is an odd one, because few people would be hard on themselves for needing a cancer chemotherapy or insulin "crutch" for other body-chemistry issues.

I tend to use the myth of Sisyphus for thinking about my own disthymia. I can roll the rock of my 'stuff' up the hill--I'm plenty strong--but if I let up, it usually rolls back over me.

All meds do is level the playing field. There's all kinds of real-life stuff we have to do that can feel heavy, like that rock ... but on a flat surface, if we take a short break from rolling the rock, nothing bad's going to happen.

Meds help flatten out the surface my life rolls on. Having the space to stop rolling the rock once in a while is how I can have time for fun. ;-)
ironed_orchid
Jun. 20th, 2012 03:18 am (UTC)
Agreed. Once my meds stabilized, I didn't get so overwhelmed by depressive thoughts and anxiety.

Which meant I could actually make changes in my life, because I didn't have to spend so much time struggling just to get through each day.
dulcimeoww
Jun. 18th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
"I feel like I should be able to handle this stuff. I should know how to be a good father and husband, how to balance the demands of writing and the day job, how to maintain my emotional balance in times of increased stress, and so on."

Talking to a counselor IS handling it. You're not feeling right, you've recognized that fact, and you've taken responsibility for doing what you can to change it, and for learning how to cope with what you can't change. That is everything that is in your power to do about it at this moment.

Life doesn't come with an instruction manual. I don't know why we all keep assuming we should have already read it, or why we think we should have endless resources to keep us operating. Since neither of those ideas represents reality, the trick is to recognize that and work with what we actually have, and figure out the instruction manual as we go. Of course, knowing the trick and actually doing it are two different things. I haven't mastered it yet. I've been in therapy for most of my life, and medicated for nearly half of it now... and despite my initial horror on typing that, I'm kinda proud of it, because when completely better is something I know is unattainable, it means that I haven't given up. I'm still handling it, and it sounds like you are, too.
patesden
Jun. 18th, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
My husband and I went to counseling together years ago and it made a big difference for us as a couple and individuals. But it's easy to fall back into old patterns--aka: your comment about fun was a great thing for me to read just before my vacation. I'm more likely to see vacation as a time to get extra writing done as a moment for my husband and I to do something fun.

I'll think of you while I'm relaxing.




jimhines
Jun. 18th, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
That's one of the things I worry about -- life is going pretty well for now, but I suspect it will be harder to make the long-term changes, and not backslide into old, less healthy habits.

Enjoy your vacation!
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