mamamusings: August 26, 2003

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Tuesday, 26 August 2003

rest in peace

From Joi’s blog, I learned that a regular on the #joiito IRC channel—Mike Lea, aka mazeone—had committed suicide this weekend.

Joi also linked to Mike’s web site. The diary/weblog portion of the site broke my heart.

07/18/03-09:21:54 PM Friday — touching the rocks and flying i will never be a writer, an artist, a musician, a programmer; i will never be an athlete, a monk, a dancer, a mechanic; i will never learn how to talk to people, meet strangers, make friends; i will never have a happy childhood, another chance to make the connections that i missed, another chance with friends i have lost. i will never be, i will never learn, i will never have.
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control freak

When I was in high school, I went to an Al-Anon meeting with a friend. It was my first exposure to a 12-step program. I hated it. The fact that the whole program depended on my admitting that I was powerless over (meaning not in control of) some aspect of my life was a deal-breaker for me. Because I’m all about control. Always have been. (It will come as no surprise to players of Magic: The Gathering that I typically play a Blue/White control deck…)

Since I’ve been lucky enough not to have needed a 12-step program, the control issues have come back to haunt me in other ways. I was thinking about that this week, writing this post and mulling over whether to post it. The news of mazeone’s death helped push me to change the post status from “draft” to “publish.”

When I started in my job at RIT six years ago, I had a boatload of stress to deal with. My kids were 11 months and 3 years old. My husband and I hadn’t yet worked all the kinks out of our reversed breadwinner/household management roles, and my job was nightmarishly difficult (3 courses with 35 students per quarter, 3 quarters per year, plus the overloads I took to make ends meet—I taught 12 courses that first year, on 7 different subjects).

By the end of that first year, I was worn pretty thin. I snapped at my kids (a lot). I fought with my husband (also a lot). I was tired, anxious, and out of sorts all the time. I tried seeing a counselor, in an attempt to get my emotions under control. After a couple of months, she finally suggested that perhaps I should consider antidepressants. My response to that suggestion was decidedly negative. After all, if I could control anything in my life, it would have to be my feelings, right? They’re mine. And to admit that they were beyond my control seemed as though it would be admitting ultimate failure in controlling any part of my life.

[There’s a lot of history behind that feeling, some of which is tied up in my lifetime role as emotional caretaker and overachiever in my family. But that’s another story, probably not ever destined for this blog.]

At any rate, I forged on for a while. I functioned. But my mood—and my relationships with the people who mattered most—suffered. My husband finally sat me down and told me that I needed to listen to the doctor, that my attitude and behavior were negatively impacting not just me, but also my kids. I knew he was right, and even though it felt like I was giving up, I went to the doctor and agreed to try an antidepressant.

What happened then was a lot like what Halley describes in her after-surgery post. I started seeing the world through fresh eyes. I hadn’t realized how gray my world had become until the colors came back. So did my energy. And my sense of humor. My lightning-quick temper and crying jags subsided. I slept better at night.

The depression had come on slowly, insidiously. I hadn’t realized how very deep into it I was until the medication boosted me back out. After I rejoiced in that for a while, though, new fears arose. “What if I need to be on this forever?” That scared me—I didn’t want to be dependent on a drug for my well-being.

During all of this, I was on a mailing list for women who’d had children the same month that younger son was born. A number of the women on that list had gone through—or were going through—similar problems, with similar outcomes. And one of the things that we discussed on that list was how to come to terms with the antidepressants. It was important for many of us to realize that the depression we were suffering was not a failure on our part to control our feelings, but rather a specific physiological (not just psychological) problem.

When someone develops diabetes, or anemia, or high blood pressure, we don’t expect them to “deal with it,” to show enough personal strength to overcome their problems. We don’t see them as weak for turning to medication to deal with their symptoms. I slowly came to see depression in the same light, and it helped me a lot to understand my initial resistance to the medication, and my fear of taking it on an ongoing basis.

It turns out that my depression is cyclical, and I don’t need to take medication all the time. (I suspect that this is something I inherited, as it’s not unique in my family.) After about 18 months, when many of the external stresses in my life lifted, I tried tapering off of the medication, and I was fine. Some time after that, new and extreme stresses in my life triggered a slide back into depression, and I went back on medication again for about a year.

Right now I’m not taking anything, and I’m still seeing life in technicolor. Exercise helps (though I’ve not been doing it regularly lately), and so does the improvement in my job situation (I’m tenured and funded now, with course releases to lighten my load), and my home life (I love babies and toddlers, but they’re a whole helluva lot harder to take care of than grade schoolers). But I know that I’m very likely to have more bouts with depression in my life, and I know that medication may be my best tool for getting me out of that very unpleasant place. Ongoing external stresses seem to trigger imbalances in my brain chemistry, but medication helps to stabilize it. I can live with that a lot more easily than I can live with the alternative.

It’s hard…very hard…to admit that depression is something I can’t always control completely on my own. And even the second time around, I resisted going back on medication for longer than I probably should have. I don’t know if that will get any easier. But I do know that if I’d known that what I was feeling was so common, and that medication wasn’t necessarily a life sentence of drug dependence, I might not have resisted so strongly the first time…which would have saved me, and my family, from months of unnecessary pain.

Writing publicly about something so personal, and something I’m not particularly proud of, is hard. But some of the webloggers I most admire and appreciate—people like Mark Pilgrim, Shelley Powers, Paul Ford, Tom Coates, Joi Ito, Jill Walker, and others—have emboldened me by sharing even painful aspects of their lives in a way that has helped me to process my own issues. I suppose this is a form of giving back. (And of getting control, of course, since I own the words and control their form. Some things never change.)

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna