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    POOKASLUAGH   117,581
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Stress vs Depression

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One fact about me: I'm extremely susceptible to stress. Actually, chronic stress is pretty much a way of life for me. And chronic stress? It doesn't make me gain weight. Because it is my state of being for 90% of the time, it's the place when I'm most stable, the place when I maintain my weight without trying, and when I can lose weight very slowly and with a lot of effort (more than losing normally takes - losing at about half the rate of my calorie deficit). It's my "neutral."

That other 10% of the time? Roughly split at 2% happiness, 8% severe depression. Let me clarify this.

(Don Knotts flashbacks, anyone?)

I have plenty of little happy moments and little sad moments during my neutral periods. This is not to say I'm only happy 2% of my life, and only sad 8% of my life. The 2% happy periods, however, have a distinct biological as well as psychological change. They show up rarely, and often last for about 4-8 months, though they are strongest for about 3 months, then start mixing with stress thereafter until the stress/neutral takes over completely. During that time, I am happy almost constantly, and nothing can damper that. In addition to being happy, it's like my body comes to life. I see more clearly, I sleep better, I have more energy, I laugh a lot, and I get stuff done without effort. (I'm always getting stuff done. It just takes effort during the neutral portions of my life.) And my body starts dropping weight pretty quickly, no matter how inactive I am, or how badly I'm eating. If I eat well and exercise well, I drop weight even faster, at a rate that is above my calorie deficit. My theory is that hormonally and chemically, my body is simply running very efficiently, and thus burning a lot more calories just in every day living, plus it's dropping all the calories it stores up during chronic stress periods. Note: I do not become happy because my weight drops, but the opposite - I become happy, and then the weight starts dropping effortlessly until the happy period is over.

In my adult life, this has happened to me three times: the summer/fall of 1999, the summer of 2006, and the spring/summer of 2011. Each instance is proceeded by some sort of "waking up," a moment when it's like my brain chemically transitions from its normal state to one that is happy and active. Two of those three periods, the waking up moment was so dramatic that it was literally like waking up from one mental state to another, while my body was already awake. Also, I can trace these happy periods and waking up moments all the way back to puberty, though they were more frequent and shorter during my adolescent years.

The transition to severe depression is not as dramatic, and it often creeps up on me unaware. The periods are a lot muddier, and can last a very, very long time. The best description I've ever heard for this sort of depression comes from a book called The Believers by Zoe Heller: "a toad that squatted wetly on your head until it finally gathered the energy to slither off." Yeah. And just like my happy periods, there are distinct biological changes when depression claims me. It's like my body shuts down. I become absolutely still. When I'm happy, my body seems to vibrate even when I'm lying down reading a book, like I just finished a workout and the blood is running through me. When I'm depressed, I can barely get my heartrate up when I work out, and it drops down to below normal immediately afterwards. It's like my body has pulled into itself, sluggish, and is conserving every ounce of energy possible. Of course, there is the corresponding physical result: no matter how well I eat or how often I force myself to exercise, I just keep gaining weight. It's not the stress - I can deal with stress - it's the absolutely shutting down of all unnecessary activity within my body. My personal theory is that my metabolism goes into overdrive when I'm happy, and virtually shuts down when I'm depressed, so that my base calories burned every day differs enormously.

These depression periods happen far more often than the happy ones, sadly, and often much longer. I've not yet found anything that can lift them. Medication hasn't helped in the past - it just sends me into a sort of manic energy that is miserable and painful while I'm still sad and exhausted - but it's possible that something might work someday. I won't stop trying to find a solution, of course. And, I do have to say, since my teeth were fixed in Sept 2009 and I got off the emotional roller coaster those symptoms gave me, I haven't once suffered from severe depression - until now.

(My new tattoo, upper left shoulder blade)

In late April and early May, depression claimed me, and continues to get worse every day. Unfortunately, this is a depression caused by outside factors, rather than anything internal. I still can't talk about it here, no matter how much I wish I could, because it involves other people and is very private for them. I will say, though, that it has nothing to do with moving across the country, and I would be thrilled and excited about the upcoming move if there wasn't this painful thing happening at the same time. I can only take so many blows, however, and April/May delivered enough of them that I bowed down, and that toad climbed back onto my head. Or my neck, is really what it feels like, because the weight is so heavy that I can't unbend my back.

Periodically, I get a little burst of energy. I am nothing if not determined, persistent, and aggressive about trying to control my body and mind. I can't sustain the energy, though, and go back to being very, very still. And I'm scared. I've now gained 15-20 lbs since the depression took over. Anything I lose, I gain back when I no longer have the energy to keep pushing. And right now, there's nothing I can do about it. I can't change the circumstances around me that have led me here. I can't just will myself out of a chemical problem in my brain that is exacerbated by problems outside my control. I have no doctor to go to, and I don't have time to find one in town, so I will have to find one after we move up north, and then hope that I can at least get on a medication that *might* bring my BODY back to neutral, if not my MIND. The mental part won't improve until the external situation is resolved. :(

I have worked so hard. I've discovered things about my body, about how the right foods and the right amount of exercise really helps keep depression at bay - when there aren't outside factors that are pretty much forcing me into it. It's been five years since I last fell into this kind of dark chasm, and eleven years since I fell this badly. I have no idea what to do or when this will get any better, and I can't tell if that frustrates me into a sort of anger-induced burst of short-term energy, or makes me want to give up completely.

Thanks for listening, those of you who are. I'll see y'all again when I've made it to Boston in a couple weeks.

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
HOLLYS_NEW_LIFE 8/5/2014 8:50PM

    I'm sorry I've been such an absent friend. I've been dealing with my own battles as well, including gaining about 30 lbs. I don't know what kind of help i can be, just know I'm back and I'm here for you.

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I wish I had some great advice, but I can say that I'm here to listen.
There's a dawn after even the darkest nights.


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SHIRE33 7/28/2014 6:36PM

    Hi, Pook. Just checking in and saw this post. So sorry that you are in this struggle. I wish the best for you. emoticon

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CRABADA 7/26/2014 4:37PM

    xoxoxoxo to infinity.

I'm here if you need anything.

And -- I freaking love your tattoo.


Comment edited on: 7/26/2014 4:38:04 PM

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MEH50BEWELL 7/24/2014 8:06PM

    Good luck with the move and I hope the new surroundings spark a new energy to help you overcome your depression. Peace.

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FORMYDARLINGS 7/23/2014 6:49PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

Been way down there, Done that. xoxoxoxo


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    *hugs* you're not alone. I wish you the best on your move.

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C8TSON 7/23/2014 11:29AM

  Amanda, I'm so saddened as I read this. I keep hoping that things will get better for you soon. I'm just going to keep my hope alive that things will turn around for you and you can find some answers. I'm always here for you. emoticon

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TENNISJIM 7/23/2014 6:22AM

    Good luck. Wishing you the best.

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JERSEYFLOWER 7/22/2014 10:17PM

    I'm sorry you are feeling this way. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression, I feel for you - I really do. Sending lots of warm wishes your way.

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    I'm so sorry you are going through this. It sucks - there's nothing that can be done about it sometimes except ride it out. Please know that even though you are hundreds of miles away, you still have the love and support of your San Antonio Spark family. I'll be sending positive thoughts and energy your way.
emoticon emoticon

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ARUNNINGKAT 7/22/2014 1:57PM

    I wish that I was filled with fool-proof advice and help for you, but unfortunately all I can offer is a supportive friend. I am here for you along with your other commited Spark friends. Good luck on the move! I know that you are indeed a very determined woman and I know that you will pull out of this, if for no other reason than you won't stop trying until you do even if there are some days that you want to give up. emoticon emoticon

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MJ-SHE-BEAST 7/22/2014 12:02PM

    I have no useful advice. All I can say is I'm sorry for the blows you suffered a few months ago and I am here if you need me...and even if you don't. My thoughts are with you.

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PEGGY11 7/22/2014 10:58AM

    Sending prayers of healing to you. You will get better soon. We love you and wish you well. emoticon emoticon

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WORDLILY 7/22/2014 10:23AM

    I'm here.

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    Although I've never analyzed it and figured it out as well as you have, I have "been there, done that." My heart goes out to you! Depression is just the worst, and like you said, it doesn't go away very easily. You are in my heart, and my prayers. And also whatever the situation is that is inducing the depression!

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MOMMACASSEY 7/22/2014 9:53AM

    Your friends will never stop being here for you. I know I appreciate the update--it amazes me how well you're able to verbalize what you're going through; when I'm at a low point my brain stops making words possible to describe myself.

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RYDERB 7/22/2014 9:43AM

    emoticon emoticon

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RADOOGA 7/22/2014 8:54AM

    Good luck in Boston. I know that there are no words that will comfort you, just know that you are supported here. It may not mean anything to you now, but know that there is support and understanding, compassion and empathy here. The only crumb of comfort I might be able to offer, as someone who has suffered badly in the past from this, and you will know yourself; it will pass. Probably a lot slower than you would like, but the sunshine will return my friend, it always does. x

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ANDSHEEWAS 7/22/2014 8:48AM

    Sending you good thoughts that when things get settled you'll be able to get the help you need. My husband just began his journey to better mental health yesterday, literally the day after hitting bottom emotionally. If kismet hadn't had his first therapist appointment already set up, I don't know where we would be this morning. I hope you'll find the light at the end of the tunnel that you need.

If you don't listen to it, I cannot recommend The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast enough. It has helped me better understand what my husband is going through, and it gives a voice to mental health. The website is I hope that can help until you can find a doctor.

Best wishes to you and your family during this time.

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