Monday, December 11, 2017

CLINICAL DEPRESSION: What does that mean?

There is a horrendous disease out there killing folks of all ages because it is taboo to talk about in social gathering or even at the family dinner table. First let me present the official definition and symptoms for clinical depression taken from the Mayo Clinic files: 
What does the term "clinical depression" mean? Answers from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.
Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more-severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn't the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.
To diagnose clinical depression, many doctors use the symptom criteria for major depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Signs and symptoms of clinical depression may include:
  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Symptoms are usually severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities, such as work, school or social activities.
Clinical depression can affect people of any age, including children. However, clinical depression symptoms, even if severe, usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two.
Now I will tell you about clinical depression from my own personal experience not to solicit sympathy, but rather to shine a light on the reality of recovery. In 1983, I began having serious symptoms in my neck and shoulder areas. In addition to severe pain, my neck muscles involuntarily twisted so that my head  stayed turned to the right. This caused me to lose my balance, making it impossible to walk or drive. My shoulders ached because of the awkwardness of my head positioning. At first I went to my family doctor who prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine, and ice and heat treatments. After two weeks with no change, my hubby and I sought help from several neurologists. After being pricked, scanned, blood tested, and a ten-day stay in the hospital, none of these men and women could come up with a diagnosis. One told my husband that I was suffering from a degenerative muscular disease that would ultimately kill me in six months. 
It was with that dire announcement that severe depression kicked in. Besides my husband, I had three children that needed me and I was totally useless. I stayed in bed 24/7 in the dark, refused to eat or have any human contact, and had thoughts of suicide. When I looked into the mirror, I didn't see my 'self' anymore, just a hollowed out shell of what once was a person. About three months into this hell, in the wee hours of the morning, I quietly opened my secret stash of pills, spilled a pile of them into my hand, and proposed these two choices: swallow them all and be relieved of my suffering, or face up to the fact that this was my 'new normal' and make the best of it. I threw the pills up against the closet door and watched them rain down like snowflakes, rolled out of bed, crawled to the stairs and slid down to the main floor on my butt. Upon reaching the kitchen. I pulled myself onto a chair and waited for the household to stir. Needless to say, everyone was more than surprised to see me sitting there. By no means did this one act eradicate my depression, but it was a start.
From that day on, it was my mission to find out exactly what I had and to find ways to either cure or curb the symptoms connected with it. Dr. Zorb, a neurosurgeon in Oakland who couldn't identify the muscular abnormality, encouraged me to see a psychologist since he believed certain diseases can be mentally induced. After being diagnosed with clinical depression, for two years of talk therapy with an amazing psychologist, biofeedback, and the right dosage of an antidepressant, the depression as well as the physical torment faded, and I was able to go on with my life! Was it easy? HELL NO! Was it worth it? HELL YES!
In 2000, my symptoms reappeared, but this time I was ready to be proactive. I researched online and found a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic who specialized in cervical dystonia, my condition finally had a name!.  After a thorough evaluation, Dr. Walter began Botox injects in my head and neck, which relaxed the muscles so that the twisting subsided. To-date I still receive these shots  every three months at UPMC, Oakland. 
As far as the depression goes, when my symptoms reoccurred, I immediately sought out a therapist and began sessions again. Within three months, my depression all but disappeared and hasn't been a problem since. However, because I never again want to find myself in that cold, dark hole, a place without hope or allowance for human comfort, I continue to take a maintenance dose of an antidepressant and most likely always will. 
I tell you my story so that when you personally or others you know and love are faced with the two choices that I contemplated those many years ago, you will choose the latter. If I hadn't, I'd have missed out on some of the most awesome times of my life.  Depression is an illness like cancer or diabetes. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and can be treated so that you can return to the living. Don't give in to the desperation, be your own activist, and emerge a winner! If I could do it, so can you!

Blessings and Peace!

One last note: Depression heightens during the Christmas holidays. Be vigilant especially towards folks who seem disconnected from family and festivities. Make a little extra time to be there for them in supportive and caring ways.

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Most Meaningful Christmas Present

One day this week, someone posted this question on Facebook, "What was the most meaningful Christmas present you ever received?" Answers ranged from a return to health to a jet black Jaguar and everything in between. No matter what you perceive to be the gift you'll always treasure beyond all others, that special something is always tied to a specific time and place in your life.

Christmas Eve was a very sacred event in our family when my brother and I were growing up. Since we lived in Zedo's house, naturally his rules on this day were religiously upheld. No one other than the immediate family members were permitted to enter the house and sit down for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Once seated with Zedo at the head of the table, Baba to his right, and the rest of the guests gathered according to seniority, Zedo would pray in Slovak, then lift his shot glass to wish his wife, children, their spouses, and his grandchildren a blessed Christmas. The adults did likewise as they toasted Zedo in return. Next every child would stand and recite Christmas wishes in Slovak. Zedo and Baba would beam with pride to listen to us, perhaps going back in their minds to their childhoods when they'd done the same so long ago.

(Since we all attended Catholic school, the nuns began teaching us a festive speech early in November. No two classes ever learned the same greeting for that particular year.)

The women would then return to the kitchen to bring out the mushroom soup. Everyone received a small bowl and ate the sour mixture in silence. We were told that the meaning behind the soup was a reminder of the suffering we all must face in life. And since it wasn't the most pleasant-tasting soup in my opinion, the suffering started right then and there, at least for me!

When the bowls were removed, traditional favorites like babalki, langosh, navy beans, and fish were passed around the table and enjoyed along with happy conversation and boisterous laughter. At the end of the meal, Zedo again said a prayer of thanks, and after hugs and kisses, everybody returned home. Those who left would be back on Christmas Day to gather around Zedo's table once more, this time including some very special family friends.

As clean-up got underway, my brother and I were told to go upstairs, get into our jammies, and jump in bed! Nobody had to tell us twice on this Night of Nights!
About an hour or two later, we'd hear a loud bang and run to the top of the stairs. Zedo would be standing at the bottom, smiling and pointing to all the presents surrounding the 8ft. tall tree he'd cut and trimmed just days ago.

I know it's taken me a while to get to my most meaningful Christmas present, so here goes. Instead of rushing to see who's name was on the largest package like my brother, I'd immediately go to my stocking hanging from the mantle. It was about two feet long and always contained the same things each and every year until we were practically in our teens. There would be a coloring book, a fresh box of crayons, a drawing pad, pencils, gloves, socks, candy canes, AND MY MOST MEANINGFUL CHRISTMAS PRESENT, the largest, roundest orange I'd ever seen that smelled absolutely heavenly! It was always on the very top of the stocking so I could see its brilliant color peeking out as if to say, 'Merry Christmas, sweetheart, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!' I would hold it gently in both hands and kiss its sweet skin. Just looking at this simple piece of fruit brought tears to my eyes, yet put a smile on my lips.

The orange had and still does have a special place in my heart since it was my Dad's favorite fruit. Baba told me that he'd even eat the peels!

Merry Christmas, Dad, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!
Always and forever!

One last note on our Christmas Eve dinner: By today's standards, our family's traditional meal would be considered a 'poor man's' sustenance, but we felt like royalty at my Zedo's table!