If you’ve been following my blog for the past year and a half, you’re aware that this blog has been interrupted by periods of silence. That is because behind the scenes I’ve been engaged in colossal, knock down, drag out fights with Winston, my black dog of depression. I’ve won skirmishes but each time, Winston kept returning to mess over everything. He would morph from a little pug to a hulking monster and I needed all my mental resources for the next round. Aside from a short reprieve last summer (remember London?) with a new medication (Cymbalta), we have been battling since February 2011. Things really started going downhill last Fall but I was determined to blog through it.
By Spring, there was no improvement in sight. The medication did not combat the most severe breakthrough symptoms, loss of concentration and extreme lethargy. I’d ceased to function in any meaningful way. I was absent from my job intermittently for about five months. They could not carry me indefinitely, and so they started making noises about either easing me onto to disability or out the door. As a single woman two-thirds to retirement, neither of these was an option for me. In addition, my brother uncharacteristically showered me with calls. My sister-in-law did the same. My close friends descended on me, cooking and cleaning. Friends emailed, texted, and called in support. I learned my family was discussing how to take care of me.
The point made it through my foggy brain that things were dire. Winston was eating me alive.
Panicked, I told Dr. G. that we needed skip from Plan C over some of the less appealing options (meds with horrible side effects) and go straight to Plan G, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It works similar to the ECT treatment of old except without the shock or side effects. However, it would take time to get insurance approval. Dr. G. wondered if I had treatment-resistant depression because all of the new SSRI medications all had the same limited affect on me. These meds all increased serotonin and/or norepinephrine in the brain, two chemicals of the three chemicals responsible for mood. But what if she treated the brain fog with a psycho-stimulant that increased the third chemical, dopamine? So, she prescribed a small dose Ritalin. Yes, Ritalin, a popular drug given to kids with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I don’t have ADHD, I said, but hey, I was desperate.
Long story short, it felt like the difference between night and day, in a matter of hours. The breakthrough symptoms disappeared. Winston disappeared. I could focus, think, and function. I returned to work and have been fine for a month and counting. I feel even keel and a little better than neutral. In other words, I feel “normal.” How can this be? According to Google, Ritalin/Adderall/ dopamine derivatives given to people with ADHD, help them focus and slow down. Without ADHD, it increases focus and stimulates. So, psycho-stimulants in small doses like Ritalin and Adderall are emerging to augment anti-depressants. Could it be that after 20 years of experimenting with medication that we’ve finally discovered that my brain needs serotonin AND dopamine? I’m better due to an offhand throwaway idea? It’s almost too good to be true.
I haven’t seen Winston in a month. This isn’t a cure; the symptoms slowly return if I’m not diligent with medication because Ritalin doesn’t have a long half-life. I must accept that I’m like a diabetic with insulin, but that’s okay. I’m back to the way I was last summer. People have again remarked about the change in my personality. It’s all good.
Right now, I’m marshaling my mental resources and slowly reconnecting with life. Depression is truly a bitch. It steals your life, but I’m determined to get mine back. This post has been a bit long-winded but I’ve revealed all this in the hope that my story may help somebody out there. Don’t give up. The solution is out there.
I don’t know if I’ve won the war with Winston, but like another famous Winston, I shall never surrender.