This is a very belated post, but pretend I posted this in 2014. I’d originally planned to publish it on Nov 2, the second anniversary of publishing my first book, The King’s Sword. However, it proved to be immensely annoying to try to track my production and writing from some random date. Instead, I’m going by calendar year 2014. This skips a bit of the end of 2013, but oh well.
Books Published: 4 (2 in 2014 – Honor’s Heir and Things Unseen)
Books in Progress: 2 (The Dragon’s Tongue, Book 2 in A Long-Forgotten Song, and Book 3, as yet untitled)
Books Backburnered: 1 (Erdemen Honor 4, as yet untitled)
Short Stories Published: 4 (none in 2014)
Short Stories in Progress: 2
Blog Posts: 88 (29 in 2014, 22 mine and 7 guest posts)
Is there anything else you’d like to know?
You’ll notice that I did NOT achieve my writing goals for 2014. In fact, it looks like a pretty dramatic failure.
There’s a reason for that.
WARNING WARNING PERSONAL TMI COMING
Ahem, where was I?
2014 was rough for me in ways I didn’t expect. I expected (and feared) a difficult physical recovery from delivering Baby Boy Brightley in May. My labor was dramatic. We did the whole drive-like-maniacs-to-the-hospital-at-5-in-the-morning-nearly-have-the-baby-in-the-elevator thing. It was like a movie, only more exciting because it was real. Baby Boy Brightley was perfect and beautiful and healthy (except for that whole not-breathing at first thing), 7 lbs, 15.5 oz. But my physical recovery was much easier than anticipated.
But my emotions… not so much. I’d been in a lot of back pain since very early in the pregnancy, and had finally gotten a diagnosis of a stress fracture, still unhealed from when I was pregnant with my 3.5 year old (now). I’m small (4’11”) and being pregnant is rough on me. My daughter was born at 8 lbs, 1 oz, so she was no lightweight. Well, she wasn’t when she was born… her genetics have caught up with her now and she’s a teeny tiny toughie. I’d blamed my mood issues on being in constant pain for months on end. I assumed they would get better after delivery.
But no. If anything, it was a slow downward spiral.
If you know me in person, you know that I’m normally a very happy, cheerful, adaptable, tough person. I have never had a problem with depression or mental illness of any sort. My mom used to say I was just like my dad – “obnoxiously optimistic and happy”! My daughter was born after 9 hours of Pitocin-induced labor at over eight lbs, me lying on my back on the table (a terrible position for labor, but inexplicably popular with doctors) and I didn’t ask for an epidural… it was hard, but I could deal with it. I’m a karate instructor. I know what it’s like to get hit and feel pain and get up when you don’t feel like it.
This was different. I’d be out in the summer sunshine with a good friend, children playing, delicious coffee in hand, birds singing… and I’d either feel absolutely enraged or at the edge of tears. Irrationally angry. Like the happiness was sucked out and replaced with pure rage. I have nothing to complain about. I have a wonderful husband, two happy, beautiful, sweet, well-behaved children, wonderful relationships with my parents and in-laws… and I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. I didn’t listen to music because I felt constantly overstimulated. I didn’t want to be touched because my skin hurt and every touch felt like I was being punched. I’m a karate instructor. I know what being hit feels like. A three year old giving me a hug should not hurt that much.
My OB said I was depressed. I said “Why?” Sure, I fit all the symptoms and diagnostic criteria. That wasn’t their area of expertise, so I went elsewhere. The internal medicine specialist said I was depressed and referred me to a psychiatrist to “eliminate depression as a diagnosis”. THAT’S NOT HOW YOU DIAGNOSE DEPRESSION! My mom had been on thyroid medication for years which helped her symptoms (which were nearly identical to mine and started after the birth of my younger brother), although her blood tests had never pointed to a thyroid problem. We thought I must also have a thyroid problem, even though all the tests came back fine. Depression symptoms and hypothyroid symptoms are virtually identical, and depression is noted as a symptom of hypothyroidism anyway.
My OB mentioned off the cuff, “hey, why don’t we give her folate? See if that helps?”
It basically solved the problem. It wasn’t instant. It was one good day, then a few good days in a row, then I thought it might be helping a little, then I realized I actually felt better physically and emotionally. I’m now on a regular multivitamin, a prenatal vitamin, a B-complex, and D. I feel exponentially better… not quite normal yet, but almost.
Depression is a thing. It is a real thing, and I do not mean to minimize it. Believe me, I know. But the brain is an organ (somewhat) like any other. Depression is frequently diagnosed as a mental illness when it should be treated as a symptom of an underlying medical issue. In my case, it was a dramatic vitamin B deficiency (folate is one of several B vitamins), possibly caused by being so small and nursing my daughter. I eat pretty well, but *shrugs*. If a vitamin fixes it, obviously it was a vitamin deficiency. My mom and I have now spent hours upon hours researching vitamins and nutrition and mental health.*
The medical world does patients a disservice when it treats depression purely as a mental problem of the brain rather than seeking a physical cause that is affecting the mind. The first solution from my OB was Zoloft. The first solution from the internal medicine specialist was to reassure me that not every type of depression required medication; mine might respond to therapy. Neither of those solutions was remotely satisfactory because they presumed the problem was my mind, not my body. They didn’t even look for a physical cause.**
I now have a deeper understanding of depression in general (how it feels) as well as how crummy my mom felt throughout her ordeal of getting a diagnosis (which turned out to be incorrect anyway). Being told you’re depressed and need an anti-depressant when you want and need the doctor to look a little deeper into a physical problem is incredibly frustrating and demoralizing. It undermines you in a way that is difficult to describe. Leaving the internal medicine guy’s office, I was basically crying “I’m not depressed! I’m SICK! There is something wrong with my body and no one will believe me.” I mean, yes, I was depressed… but that’s like saying your leg hurts when the problem is that it’s broken. Yes, it hurts, but a painkiller won’t fix the problem. It may be temporarily necessary, but what you really need is a cast or a splint.
Bonus: My mom has also been taking lots of additional B and other vitamins. She has decreased the dose of her thyroid medication and feels better than she has in the last thirty years. In thirty years, no one ever suggested taking additional vitamins, checked her blood levels for any nutritional deficiencies, or looked for any cause outside of either hypothyroidism or depression (treatable with an SSRI).*** She said it was like de ja vu being in the doctor’s office with me, asking for a deeper look at something physical and being told it was a problem with the mind.
Writing, for me, happens best when I am relaxed and happy. I do good writing during naptime when my children are asleep after a fun morning of play and reading books together. The myth of the creative genius who does his best work while depressed does not apply to me. I’m not sure it applies to anyone; I’m not sure how it could. I can see accessing that headspace for certain stories or scenes, but living it saps the creative energy and motivation. Writing, even at its best, is hard work. When just being civil and not a raging witch felt insurmountably difficult, the last thing I felt capable of was generating beauty out of my fingertips.
I am glad to be over it. I am also glad that I did the research and didn’t just take the first answer that was given to me. I would not suggest that a vitamin deficiency is the cause of your depression, if you’re struggling with it. However, vitamin B doesn’t accumulate in the body so it would be difficult to overdose. It’s extremely unlikely to hurt you and it might help more than you expect. I also say don’t give up; there might be a physical cause for a “mental illness”.
Hopefully it’s obvious, but I also want to make extra-super-duper clear that I don’t think depression is anyone’s “fault” – you’re not weak because you feel bad. You need help. It’s a medical issue, whether it’s a nutritional deficiency or a thyroid issue or a brain chemistry issue. It’s not a character flaw or a sign of weakness.
* Nutrition is vitally important to the body, yet the medical professionals I have spoken to (outside of a doctor’s visit, but actual friends who know me and believe me when I explain how I felt) acknowledge that nutrition and the role of nutrition in the body, particularly in mental health, is woefully neglected in a medical education. Just because I’m now on a nutrition kick doesn’t mean I’m into homeopathy or any weird fringe stuff. I’m just appalled at how such an important factor affecting the body’s health is completely out of the discussion. In the absence of weight issues, it’s never even mentioned.
**SSRIs might be, and probably are, the correct solution for some subset of depression sufferers. I am merely saying that I think they are overprescribed as the easy solution – easy for the doctors. They mask symptoms, but they do not always address the underlying problem. Without addressing that underlying problem, it will never go away.
*** In the course of getting my stress fracture diagnosed, I had previously gone to a chiropractor who did x-rays (before I was pregnant with my son). He didn’t see the fracture because of the angle at which he took the x-rays. I wasn’t thrilled with chiropractic care overall and won’t be going back, but the x-rays showed something interesting. Apparently I have spina bifida occulta, which is the mildest form of spina bifida and frequently completely asymptomatic. I had no symptoms and was getting x-rays done to find the source of the pain resulting from the fracture (I was 32 at the time… symptoms from spina bifida would have showed up much earlier!). One of the causes of spina bifida is a folic acid shortage – another form of folate, or vitamin B. Spina bifida is one of the many birth defects that folic acid supplements are meant to reduce. This means that it was likely that my mom was vitamin B deficient even when she was pregnant with me, but had no identifiable symptoms until after the birth of my younger brother. Her symptoms, like mine, were mistaken for depression and hypothyroidism. I have been on folic acid supplements, as most OBs suggest, during both my pregnancies and while nursing, and I was STILL increasingly deficient with both physical and emotional symptoms. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t done all this research, I would be on Zoloft or something to address the mood issues without addressing the underlying physical problem. If I had a third child and my symptoms had been treated with an SSRI rather than the vitamin B I actually needed, it is possible that the deficiency would be more dramatic and the baby would be more at risk for serious birth defects.