Friday, September 16, 2011

I Like Me... Today, Anyway

I'm in a good mood today. I feel like I'm doing something positive with my life, taking charge of my well-being, making real progress. And I thought I'd say so, in hopes that I won't forget this feeling next time I feel like utterly utter crapola.

Last week, I finally met with my psychiatrist, and we discussed my increasing depression, fatigue, and joint pain. For the depression, she upped one of my antidepressants, told me to take the other one regularly (which I haven't been doing) and do whatever I had to do to make sure I took it every day, and told me to take fish oil capsules for the Omega 3's; for the fatigue, she told me to stop taking Advil PM altogether, to start taking my Seroquel earlier in the evening so it would knock me out by bedtime and its sedative effect would wear off by morning, and to stop drinking caffeine earlier in the day, preferably more than twelve hours before bedtime; for the joint pain, she hoped that getting my depression and sleep sorted out would take care of it.

She also recommended that I take a Depression Management class. I took one a couple of years ago, but I missed a lot of classes due to vacations and illnesses, and didn't get much out of it... partly because the educator and two of the participants were really cute, so I had a hard time concentrating, and partly because the educator wasn't really interested in structure, so it was just discussion without exercises.

But there was a new class starting that very same day (last Thursday), a couple of hours after my appointment ended... and so since I was already in the neighborhood, why not start right away? And so I did. I went home first and got a sandwich and told Grandmother I wouldn't be home for dinner (I don't live very far from Kaiser), then went back and took part in the class.

I really liked it... I was uncomfortable at first, a room full of strangers, mostly middle-aged women, all of us staring uneasily at each other. But the educator is really nice, perky but not annoyingly so, and she started us off with an interesting ice-breaker exercise: rather than introducing ourselves, we were paired up and introduced each other to the group. It was really interesting, a different kind of listening, finding out what to say to the group about this other person.

At the end of the session, we all went away with a goal for the week: to find a "healthy pleasure" that we could schedule and look forward to. After considering and discarding a lot of things that I should do but which either weren't very pleasurable or would require a lot of effort, I decided that my Healthy Pleasure would be hot baths. This, I thought, would kill two (or actually three) birds with one stone: aside from the Healthy Pleasure, it might help with my joint pain, might make getting to sleep at night easier, and would help with a problem I've been having about showering... lately I've had a hard time making myself shower, sometimes going as many as five days without cleaning myself (which even by my non-sweaty standards is kinda gross).

You know me, though: no new undertaking can be launched without shopping for stuff. I took a bath Thursday night, but I didn't have anything to put in it to make it nicer than plain water except some Dove cucumber body-wash... which is nice, but if I'm going to do this frequently (and I was aiming at daily baths), I'd need to switch it up some. So after work on Friday I went to Body Time (three blocks from the office) and got some Dead Sea bath-salts (which they scented for me with bergamot essence), a China Rain scented fizzy bath ball, some China Rain (I love that scent) bubble bath, and a nice new loofah.

On my way home, I was trying to decide which additive to try first, and decided that what I really needed to make the bath nicer was one of those little wire trays that stretch across the tub, where I could prop a book and a scented candle and maybe a cup of herb tea. So I detoured down to Jack London Square for the Bed, Bath & Beyond. There I found the exact thing I wanted, as well as a cute little waterproof pillow on which to rest my head. Oh, and Cost Plus is right across the street, so I jaunted over there and got some green tea and lemongrass bath salts, jasmine and ylang bubble bath, Sevilla orange bath creme (like bubble-bath but not as bubbly), and verbena bath oil.

So I took a bath that night with the Dead Sea salts, which made the water bouyant as well as skin-softening and bergamot-smelling... it was the nicest bath I can remember having. I had my little tray with a pot of Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer and a cup, with my laptop on the bath stool beside the tub playing Baroque and Romantic selections on Pandora; I brought a book, too, but I can never read in a tub, I like having my hands under the water and then I have to dry them before I turn a page, and it gets tedious.

I bathed every night, enjoying it ever so much, and showered after to rinse off the bath additives. And I instituted the changes my psychiatrist ordered, as well: not one Advil PM did I swallow, I took my Seroquel and my doubled-up Zoloft before I got in the tub so I was good and sleepy by the time I got in bed, I did not forget my morning Wellbutrin (which I augmented with 1200 milligrams of fish oil as well as a glucosamine/chondroitin/hyaluronic acid supplement for my joints), and not a drop of caffeinated beverage passed my lips after 10 am.

Of course, I felt better immediately. I wasn't groggy in the daytime, my mood was much better, and my joints didn't hurt as much. I'm not sleeping as well as I'd like, I wake up at least twice in the night every night (which the Advil PM used to prevent), and I get very tired at work in the afternoons. And on Tuesday I fell into a depression that got steadily worse until the middle of Wednesday, when it started slowly swinging back up and I felt almost manic yesterday (Thursday).

I've also noticed that I'm taking more interest in my appearance. As a result of thinking about what I'm going to use in the bath each night, and then being all clean when I go to bed, I've also been thinking about what I'm going to wear the next day, rather than just putting on whatever's at the top of the pile. And being dressed nicely, not necessarily more dressily but with some thought to color and form, wearing blazers instead of hoodies and coordinating my hats and scarves, improves my mood more than I thought it would.

So when I went back to class yesterday, I had good things to share with the group (which was suddenly a lot smaller, several people who were auditing the class decided not to stay... now it consists of two young women and four older women plus me), and my excitement about the baths was infectious... three of the other ladies are going to try it.

Hearing other people's good results from getting more exercise or spending more time with friends was also encouraging. Our homework for next week is to come up with another scheduled improvement, and I have decided to start un-cluttering my room... not just cleaning it, but getting rid of a lot of the tchotchkes and books and magazines that take up the surfaces in my room for a cleaner and simpler look. I'm just going to get some packing boxes and start editing; I don't have to throw them away, just put them in storage, but I'm hoping if I can simplify my room that might improve my mood some more.

Then after the class, I went to an AA meeting... my first in over two years. It was the same Thursday meeting that I used to attend, after I gave up my Tuesday homegroup meeting due to taking on earlier work hours. But last time I went, I had a panic attack, and I have been afraid to try it again. However, it is around the corner from my Depression Management class, and a half-hour later, making it very easy to attend... too easy, in fact, to talk myself out of it. So I went, and though I didn't come out on a big pink cloud, I did realize during the course of the meeting that there was one really big thing missing from my life since I stopped going to AA: a spiritual practice.

I don't think I'd prayed in years, before last night. I know I've never once asked my Higher Power for help with my depression... it had always seemed such a separate thing from my alcoholism. But I don't know why I've thought that, why it never occurred to me to work the Steps around my mental illness; I guess because I've always thought of my alcoholism as a mental/spiritual disease, while my depression I think of as a physical/medical issue. But it makes so much sense to work a Program around this problem, considering that I've successfully worked the Steps around other problems in the past... like smoking and relationships and such.

So here I am: I feel good, so good that I forgot my cane this morning and don't miss it; I look good, clean and groomed and a little foppish in a midnight-blue velvet blazer (which I got at Out of the Closet for $10), wearing it with jeans and sneakers and an untucked French-cuffed dress shirt; I have hopes and plans for the near future, Alameda Imperial Coronation and Solace on Saturday, my depression class and AA meeting next Thursday, SF Ducal Coronation and Caroline's birthday next weekend, and more. And I feel like I have tools to handle things when this mood leaves me flat (as moods always do, good and bad).

Let's see how long I can get this to last. I know from past experience that I often feel very forward-looking this time of year, I think it's the deeply ingrained habit of starting to school in September, and those plans tend to fall apart come November; but I want to feel like I feel now lots more often. So I'll keep trying.

I may be powerless over my depression; but I'm not helpless. I think that was my most important take-away from last night.