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Saturday, July 14, 2007

“Fight the Black Dog” #3

“Fight the Black Dog” #3

In this weeks edition of “Fight the Black Dog” you will find the following:

1 – Alcohol and depression – some thoughts

2 – a contribution from another “Black Dog Knitter”

3 – how to contact me and/or show your support

4 – a brief disclaimer


1 – Alcohol and depression – some thoughts

As mentioned earlier in the week, I’ll be discussing a bit about alcohol and depression. My full disclaimer is down the bottom of this newsletter, but I just want to re-iterate that I am in no way a professional and this is based on my own experience and self-education.

I have seen quite a few doctors and specialists in regards to my illness, and have had some varying advice regarding alcohol consumption – from ‘try to remain true to your life-before-depression, including social activities and drinking’ to ‘avoid it at all costs’. I am neither advocating the use or avoidance of alcohol here, just trying to let you know that there may be some unexpected outcomes. If you have more questions regarding your illness and alcohol I suggest you discuss them with the professional responsible for you treatment.

The first item I need to bring up may sound a little obvious – alcohol is a mood amplifier. If you are happy, you generally get happier, but if you are drinking to for get your sorrows, more than likely you will end up with tears in the bottom of your glass. Sometimes this can be a good thing – one doctor suggested that I have a drink or two with a trusted friend so that I could have a good cleansing sook and generally talk about what was going on. Sometimes, just having a good cry can be the best therapy. Depression usually means you put up walls between yourself and your friends, and sometimes alcohol can be a way to breach those walls. However, I strongly recommend that you drink with close, trusted friends. The flip side of the mood amplifier is rather dark and scary - a few years ago I was at a friend’s house for a party when one individual decided that we did not like him and locked himself in the bathroom threatening to slash his wrists. The isolation he was feeling within those walls was unbearable under the influence of alcohol. Luckily we managed to break into bathroom and get him bundled up in the back of an ambulance before anything else happened.

The next issue you need to know about alcohol is that it is a depressant – sure it may lift your spirits for a while, but generally, if you drink enough to get hung-over, be aware that it may not just be a sore head that is making you feel sorry for yourself – particularly once the hang-over has gone. Alcohol slows down your brain functions, and this includes production of ‘happy’ chemicals. If you are suffering from Depression, you already have problems with you ‘happy’ chemicals, so the effect that alcohol has, albeit prolonged or temporary, may create a more sever impact. Be aware that you may experience a ‘low’ period for a day or so after alcohol consumption. If you know that the alcohol is responsible, it can be easier to make it through these times. Once again, if you want more details speak to a professional, either a doctor or a pharmacist.

Everything else I am going to discuss here involves anti-depressants. If you are on a prescription for these, your doctor or pharmacist should have discussed these issues already – but sometimes in a busy world things can be mistakenly overlooked. If you are on these drugs you probably understand that your brain is having problems making ‘happy’ chemicals – the most commonly known one is serotonin. Anti-depressants (or, as I like to call them, “happy pills”) try to motivate certain areas in your brain to start producing more ‘happy’ chemicals. (Slight digression – just replacing the serotonin, which is what party drug ‘ecstasy’ does, will make you incredibly happy for short durations of time – however, these too have a long term depressive effect. With all the extra serotonin floating around your brain, the areas responsible for production may decide to pack up and leave for good. This is why you need to ‘retrain’ your brain to produce the happy chemicals.) The reason that there are so many different types of anti-depressants on the market is because everyone has a slightly different chemical make-up in their brain and drugs that are extremely effective on one person will have a zero effect on someone else. This leads me to why alcohol and anti-depressants can have rather surprising effects.

Anti-depressants, by their nature, play around with the chemical relationships within your brain. Alcohol affects these relationships too, resulting in your brain ‘slowing down’. With these two drugs in your system, the level you usually call yourself ‘drunk’ at can be severely warped. The week I first started anti-depressants, I went around to a mate’s place and had an alcoholic beverage – after half the drink I was well and truly ‘blotto’!

Sure, if I was breathalysed I would have been under the legal limit, but the combined effect of alcohol and happy pills convinced my mates to hide my car keys. I have also heard that this can work in reverse – someone can think they are stone cold sober, but in reality they would have quite a surprise if pulled over by a booze-bus. The general rule of thumb I follow is that I am either the completely dry designated driver, or I am a passenger.

The final issue I am going to bring up really involves the excessive consumption of alcohol, and the need to take your anti-depressants regularly. If you miss a day you may suffer terrible withdrawal symptoms – which are why you always taper down rather than stop taking anti-depressants cold turkey. If you drink to the point of throwing-up, be aware that you may also be discarding a dose of your ‘happy-pills’ and inadvertently end up with something terribly worse than your garden variety hang-over.

Hope this helps you to make your own decisions regarding alcohol, or understand a friend or relative that may be acting a little different under the effects of a drink. I just have to state again, that it is probably best to talk this over with a professional first, such as your psych, doctor or pharmacist.

2 – a contribution from another “Black Dog Knitter”

I heard about your post on Sticks and Strings and I felt compelled to read your post and now to reply. Yeah for saying it out loud! I am on a depression roller coaster and have been for a total of 10 years now. Before it was me being "overwhelmed" but it didn't go away. Then I thought it was my marriage not satisfying me as a person. I was married to a pretty okay guy but felt something was missing. Two months after I was alone with my child thinking life would turn around now that I was separating and "happy" I ended up in my doctors office weeping and telling him how I couldn't get out of bed every morning and everything in life was an effort. And I mean everything. It was so easy to lay in my bed and stare at the ceiling for 10 hours! He said it was normal, people my age get depress, single mom, jobless, alone was enough to do it this day in age. Three weeks later I was a brand new woman and with so much energy. Amazing what an anti depression med can do.

Years later, it is still a roller coaster. I am way up or way down, the downward swing is like a plummet into despair but it seems to pass quickly. I tried talking to my mother about this the other night who is equally depressed and compounded since early May with the passing of my father. She said meds to her were not needed, I had always been strong and she "knew I would be fine". Well no, I am not fine. I am some days but not others. I realized then that she doesn't want to know that her daughter suffers with an illness, mild illness compared to most, but still, most days are hard.

So, I knit. When I find that darkness overcoming me and my mood swinging downward I know I will see more into everything than is there as the paranoia sets in, it is time to push everything away and knit (or spin). The fiber arts is incredibly healing. It slows the pulse and centers the body and mind.

Recently my blood has been tested and I am borderline normal with my thyroid which would explain a lot of the symptoms I have been having. I rejoiced to my best friend who happens to be in the mental health field and said, "IT IS MY THYROID, I am cured once I am taken care of for it!!" So kindly he smiled and said, "Honey, you still have good old fashioned depression. It will be good to get the thyroid part taken care of but you will still have some of that depression to deal with". Le sigh. Oh well, so I will knit! :)

3 – how to contact me and/or show your support

if you would like to contact me, you can do so at ginger_nut(at)bigpond(dot)com – if you are sending me a story of your particular battle, please try to include whether or not you want me to include your details. I received some emails from anonymous email addresses, and that is fine as well. I’ll include those stories later one.

I was happy that people have posted about depression on their own blogs, as well as sharing the button I created. If you would like to show support with the button you’ll find details of how to create the link via the first weeks post.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has mentioned my campaign on their blogs, podcasts or web-zines – I have tried to visit everyone who left a comment, and if you look at my sidebar you will see my bloglines list has grown quite a bit. If I have missed you, please leave a comment or send an email.

4 – a brief disclaimer

I need to point out that I am in no way an expert or professional in the field of mental health – everything I share with you here derived from my own personal experience and treatment in conjunction with ‘self-education’ from wanting to know more about this condition. I have started this campaign to raise awareness of Depression and mental illness and to help support others who are affected by this (whether directly suffering or knowing others who suffer) If you are in need of help, please contact your doctor and speak to those in your family and circle of friends.


Ginger_nut aka Meg


Christina Franklin said...

Hello, I am nearing the end of the PhD in clinical psychology and I came across your blog. I think that what you are doing is truly, truly, fabulous. So many people suffer from depression. There is one thing I would add about alcohol and depression and that is this. Alcohol also increases disinhibition, which means that while using alcohol you more likely to do things that you are thinking about (but may not neccesarily act on sober). For example, suicidal thoughts are pretty common among individuals with depression and a disproportionate amount of attempts and fatalities from suicide occur in conjunction with alcohol consumption.