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(with apologies to the Beatles)

A bloggy friend asked me this morning how I was doing…HONESTLY.  And I honestly said, “I’m doing better.”  And then this afternoon, I fell apart again.  bleah.

I get so very sick of the ups and downs of myself, even though I know that’s normal for everyone.  Especially normal for me, given hormones and coming down with Kelsea’s sore throat, etc.  (Have to get that out of the way before I start work.)

I have a new therapist whom I’ve been seeing for three weeks.  It’s been about a year and a half since I last saw a therapist, and I was really NOT wanting to go, but I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the depression and knew I needed something more than tears and serotonin.  She really has been a godsend.  Tough on me about facing reality, which is something I don’t always want to do.  I’ve found that I tend to hold onto my dreams, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, sometimes you just have to let some of them go and evolve on their own without you.  That’s a painful process with me this time.  Very painful.

But as I said, she’s helping me teach myself how to rethink things, how to look at the real world without flinching and realize that I am fine – or that I can be fine.  We’ve been using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which involves retraining your brain to think differently about past experiences that caused you pain.  It’s complicated, and I don’t quite understand it myself, but it does feel like it’s making a difference.   Even on days like today, when I get on a crying jag, if I put on my iPod and listen to my bilateral sound recordings of thunderstorms, the ocean, and mountain streams that she gave me, I tend to get through the “episode” a little quicker and feeling a little less traumatized than usual.

God, I hate being this weak.  It pisses me off.  But it is what it is.  And it keeps, slowly but surely, getting better.

I think.

Soldiers go off to war and they know why they are fighting, and who they are fighting.  They know what they have to do to win.  But what do you do when you can’t seem to defeat your foe?  When you feel like you’ve vanquished this foe, and you’re doing all the right things, staying vigilant and yet somehow, this enemy sneaks in through some unguarded window and takes over again?

I’m talking about depression.  I’ve suffered with depression for a long time now, off and on, off and on, for 30 years.  For what sometimes feels like forever.  I guess I’ve tried everything.  Therapy.  Exercise.  antidepressants.  It’s all helped, definitely.  Changing my life so drastically over the last 2 years has – I think? – helped.  (And today is the 2-year anniversary of my moving into the Cottage.)

I had a pretty rough bout of depression in the summer.  Then, with a change in meds and the addition of a lot of aerobic exercise, I felt much better.  In fact, I was cruising along just fine.  Until a few days ago.  I opened my eyes one morning and it was back.  No rhyme, no reason.  It seemed to come with the wind.  Now, I’m sluggish, dull, have no interest in getting out of bed.

Have you seen those commercials that say “Depression hurts”?  It does.  Even though it’s been warm, my old broken bones hurt.  My hands hurt from arthritis.  I barely had the energy to take a 2-mile hike yesterday.  What a difference from the 6-mile hike I took a couple of weeks ago.

I keep asking myself what’s wrong, what’s missing.  And I can’t really come up with anything.  Yes, I’m in a bit of a limbo now, not knowing when or where I’m going next, or what I’m going to do next.  But I don’t think that’s what the problem is.  It doesn’t feel situational. 

I have learned that there are two types of depression: endogenous and non-endogenous (or exogenous) depression.  Endogenous depression is typically genetic.  Here’s what our friend Wikipedia has to say about it:

“A sufferer is prone to become depressed on the advent of traumatic events, exhaustion or when under high levels of stress and may not be aware of the disorder until confronted by symptoms of depression for the first time.

Depressive episodes can occur at any age, but despite the predisposition may never become a serious problem. The severity of depression resulting from a diagnosis can vary greatly, from mild to severe. Worsening of a persons mood may not be triggered by any external element. It is hard to determine its endogenous origin. It is often the case that a sufferer first confronted with life events that might trigger depressive condition and when no particular source of the mood disorder is found, the depression is considered endogenous.”

That sounds like me.  Right now, nothing has triggered it, but yet it’s there.  And it’s bad.  Even Kelsea notices.  She worries a bit that she will suffer from it too.  She’s talked to me about it, and she’s talked to a trusted counselor at school about it.  It’s just something we’ll have to keep an eye on.  Nice legacy her Mother may have given her, huh?

I feel like my work is suffering.  My good habits are suffering.  My relationships are suffering.  I am suffering.  And I can’t just “snap out of it”.

I feel grey inside.  Empty.  Yet incredibly heavy.  Smothered by cold, wet cotton balls.  It feels impossible to generate any enthusiasm for anything.  I want it to pass.  I want to master this enemy.  But I have no idea where to start.  I just want this feeling to go away.  It usually does.  It just takes time.  Damn it.

Chinooks.

They happen in Montana, in Alaska, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  And they happen here.

Strong, warm winds that can raise the temperature by 30 degrees in a matter of hours, that can turn a foot of snow into a mudpile in half a day.

That can create knee-weakening migraines in strong women.  That can cause sleeplessness that makes a morning bed look like a tornado roared through overnight.  That can make the general population irritable as a porcupine in a hurricane.

Their arrival is heralded by a unique cloud ridge that perches behind the mountains.  If you didn’t know what you were seeing, you’d think that a huge storm was coming in.  But if you thought that, you’d be mistaken.

There are similar wind phenomenon across the world.  I thought that they were essentially all the same thing, but research has shown me that they are all characterized by slight, yet significant, differences in areas of origin, flow patterns, and the resultant changes to the atmosphere that they cause.

The Diablo Wind, a strictly California breeze, sucks the humidity from the air and increases the risk of fire danger by enhancing the updraft heat from existing sparks.  It is strongest on mountaintops, complementing its companion, the Santa Ana wind, which thrives in the California canyons.

The Santa Anas, common in late fall and winter in Southern California and Baja, can be hot or cold, but are known for blowing strong enough to clear the smog from Los Angeles – a herculean feat.  Strongest at sunrise and sunset, they, like the Chinooks, are known as a disruptive force of emotional nature.  And if you’ve had a big night on the town, they can contribute to a whale of a hangover.

The Foehn Winds, also known as snow-eaters, and seemingly the original version of Chinooks, are found in central Europe, and contribute to the milder, warmer climate of those countries.  The Foehn wind has the honor of being the first subject of research on the psychological, nay psychotic, impact of wind on the human spirit, by 19th-century physician Anton Czermak.  While not clinically confirmed, Fohnkrankheit (Foehn-sickness) can be seen as an indication on German-made aspirin bottles.

The Foehn winds are known as Zonda Winds in Argentina, Lyvas winds in Greece, Bergwind in South Africa, Favonio in Italy, Hnúkaþeyr in Iceland, and the Nor’West Arch (most commonly occurring in summer) in New Zealand.  New Zealand environmental scientist Neil Cherry stated, “About 10% of people affected by the nor’wester feel elated and wonderful.  But the rest feel depressed, irritable, and lacking energy. People feel they can’t cope with everyday things…There is irrational anxiety and a sense of foreboding.”  Huh.  Maybe that’s why a friend was telling me yesterday that he had a general feeling of unease.   Not that we’re in New Zealand, but it seems the same principle applies to these winds in all countries.

(Please check out other wonderful works from this artist, Annette Abolins, at www.abolinaart.com.)

While I can’t find clinically validated research online regarding the impact of wind on mental health, it’s clear that it’s been noted all over the world, and the “myth” that wind causes unusual behavior has been perpetuated in modern-day film and literature.  The winds create positive ions, which do have a tendency to make people feel “bad”.  Even without documentation, I know the Chinooks have effected me since I moved here, and I see that they effect Kelsea as well.  

The only time I was ever able to feel a sense of peace and purpose to the wind was after I started sailing – with that newfound love came an understanding of the wind as something positive and powerful that can help us move through life.  Since the Captain’s passing, however, that feeling has departed as well.

Native American mythology considered the wind to be a living being that communicated with those who would chose to hear its unearthly voice, such as shamen and medicine men.  As I feel that my feet are kicking up dust at the beginning of a shamanic path these days, perhaps it is something I need to think more about, to journey on.

I am sure that any wisdom I could gain from the wind spirits would be beneficial – perhaps lesseing my desire to take an automatic weapon to stupid drivers, which is how a lot of my irate emotions manifest on Chinook Days such as today.

Please pardon the kitteh’s french.  Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like what I was saying this morning.  Think I’ll take some duct tape with me when I go pick Kelsea.

I have always gotten the Winter Blues.  They’re a little late in their severity this year – they just seem to have hit now.  I am subdued.  I am quiet.  I am teary.  I anger quickly.  I am despairing.  And I just figured out this morning, when I looked at all the bare trees and felt my soul sink, aching for want of green leaves, that SAD had finally struck.

When I first started noticing it years ago, it hit in January.  In recent years, it’s moved up to hitting in November or December.  This year, while I was, as usual, disgusted with the cold, and only satisfied with the snow when it was too deep to leave the house, I wasn’t experiencing the exceptional indigo blues that typically accompany winter.  Yes, I had the blues, but between divorce, the holidays and the cold, that was to be expected – they were your standard Crayola Blue blues.

Today, they hit me like a ton of sapphire bricks.

While Seasonal Affective Disorder is not, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV), a mood disorder with its own classification code, it is what they call a “course specifier”, which means that it can contribute to major depression.  It appears to be a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to the shorter days of winter.  There have been arguments made that SAD is a natural response to cold and an absence of light – a sort of hibernation response that might very well have been a survival technique of our distant ancestors.  I’d believe that.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • fatigue – got it, but what else is new?
  • lack of interest in normal activities – kind of got it
  • social withdrawal – no more so than usual
  • craving foods high in carbohydrates – no, no cravings thanks to Atkins
  • weight gain – again, kudos to Atkins for keeping this one at bay

While you might think that SAD would be worse in countries towards the Arctic Circle, such as Iceland and Norway, it’s actually less so.  Researchers suspect this may be some kind of genetic adaptation, or it may have to do with the large amounts of Vitamin D that people in these countries consume.  (Did you know that Icelandic people eat 225 pounds of fish per person per year?  I didn’t.)

SAD is primary treated with light therapy.  A special light that emits full spectrum bright white light can be helpful.  I used one off and on when I first started feeling the severe effects of SAD.  I pointed it to the backs of my knees (yes, I know, but it seemed to work) every morning for about 20 minutes.  I should probably retrieve it from Pat’s house, but it’s pretty big, being one of the first of its’ kind.  I’m sure they have more compact models now.

Other suggested treatments are:

  • Medicines – already doing that
  • Changes in diet – I can do that – fish are golden on Atkins
  • Learning to manage stress – Bah-Hah! SNORT!  Yeah, right….
  • Going to a sunny climate for the cold months – That one sounds like the best of all plans to me

One of my bosses insists that my SAD should start abating on December 22, when the days start getting longer.  He considers that date to be the beginning of spring.  I have tried, but I am unable to buy into that theory.

I am just going to have grumble and mourn my way through the cold until the first crocuses start appearing.  Until then, just be sure that all knives and sleeping pills are well out of my reach.  And keep the Kleenex handy.

Yesterday, it was ethereal angst. 

Today, it’s jitters like I’m on speed.

What the heck????

IMG_2810

— My depression feels worse.

— My brain seems to be full of minnows, all just swimming around, waiting to grow up or be eaten by some predator.

— I lose sight of my dreams, my goals, my peace, my future.

— Fear tends to overtake me – fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of thunderstorms, fear of sleepless nights and the hamsters that fill them.

— My inner vision becomes cloudy, like looking for a road sign in the fog.

— My heart becomes a dull weight, burdened by trapped words.

— Hope flees.

— My restlessness increases, as if distracting myself with travel will still the swirling eddys of my brain.

— I am not taking care of myself.  Writing is a meditation, a cathartic process as well as a creative one.  It’s like an emetic for the mind.

— I exercise less, eat worse, care less about myself, doubt myself more.

— I am more short-tempered. 

— I feel disgusted with myself for not following my bliss.

Which all leads to one inescapable conclusion, doesn’t it?

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