The last several weeks have been pretty miserable for me. I just feel down, unmotivated, tired all the time. I’ve had a pretty bad case of writer’s block (No! Really?) and getting myself to do labwork has been a real struggle. Frankly, if I can manage to be in lab every weekday for 8 hours, I’m impressed with my accomplishment.

I get like this sometimes, I know I suffer from major depression (I’ve been officially diagnosed and am medicated and everything) and that I’m bound to have relapses, but each one comes hard. There’s never a good time to be mind-numbingly depressed but I think it’s safe to say that when you are finishing your thesis work is really not a good time. I need to be pushing hard, working long hours, in lab on weekends but instead I’m fighting not to get back into bed every morning.

It sucks.

My psychiatrist and I are working on this problem from the medication aspect. The side effects I’ve encountered so far have been: crushing fatigue (discontinued that med), severe anxiety including the worst panic attack I’ve had in years (went back to a lower dosage on that med) (that was while riding in a car with R; and I’ve got to say that it doesn’t help matters to go crazy in front of your friends–really doesn’t help with the taming of the panic attack; I would really rather be all by myself when those things happen), restless legs when I’m trying to sleep so bad that it wakes me up (caused by the med that caused the anxiety) which went away when I went down on that med, but then we increased a different med and now I have trouble falling asleep because of restless legs. And I’ve had to give up all alcohol because the the increased risk of seizure with the high dosages of meds that I’m taking.

That’s right, seizure.

Giving up alcohol is not such a big deal, because I’m not the kind of person who goes out drinking. But, I did like sipping a glass of wine in the evenings. I like the taste of wine and in my family we only had wine on holidays so having wine for no reason at all was a luxury. It made me feel like I was treating myself. Now, I have hot chocolate with whipped cream, but it’s really not the same.

And to top it off, I had a bit of a kerfluffle with the insurance company and my pharmacy and a medication change that took hours to fix with much calling between me and my psychiatrist and the psychiatrist and the pharmacy that resulted in me walking 10 blocks in the cold when I was so sick with a cold all I did that day was sleep at 9pm so I could get my damn prescription.  On the Friday after Thanksgiving.  And I’m not sure it was worth it because the medication change doesn’t seem to be helping and I’ve got my restless legs back.

I’ve gotta say, it’s a good thing I’m not suicidal because that little episode might have pushed me over the edge.

My lab work suffers when I have these relapses.  My motivation is so low, my outlook so dismal, it’s difficult for me to do anything at all, let alone troubleshoot troublesome experiments.  And my concentration is crap.  I make stupid mistakes–the kind of mistakes that I don’t make when I’m well.  My psychiatrist once said I’m one of the highest functioning depressives she’s ever met, and given the very little that I’m able to accomplish, I would hate to see what a low-functioning depressive looks like.

These little episodes lead to very interesting conversations with my advisor where I go in, shut the door and basically say, “Hey, I’m crazy again, and you know how I can’t get any good labwork done when I’m like this, but I’m adjusting my meds and I should be sane any day now and then it will be business as usual.”  I don’t envy him.  There’s not much he can say.  “Well, I hope things get better soon,” is about the extent of it.

And yet, how reasonable is it to expect me to be mentally healthy at this point in my life?  My husband lives a long plane ride away.  My thesis project has been subjected to an unreasonable amount of bad luck (my advisor actually speculated that the universe hates me).  I feel trapped with no good options.  Option 1:  stay in this miserable existence until I finally, finally get all of my labwork done.  Option 2:  quit, but do so knowing that I’m about 1 month of hard work away from having all of the experiments done.  Option 3:  stay in bed.

I question myself about this almost every day and usually select option 1, although on bad days, I’ve gone with option 3.  Sometimes, I manage a combination of 1 and 3 where I’m capable of getting myself out  of my apartment for the afternoon at least.

This is really not the way to get a PhD finished.

But, I’m not prepared to select option 2.


12 thoughts on “Malaise

  1. (big hug)
    as CPP says, hang in there … you can do it. my dad has depression too so i sympathize and am hoping you’ll feel better soon.

  2. “My psychiatrist once said I’m one of the highest functioning depressives she’s ever met, and given the very little that I’m able to accomplish, I would hate to see what a low-functioning depressive looks like.”

    Of course you’re high-functioning. You’re going to get a PhD quite soon, that’s an amazing accomplishment for someone dealing with this shit.

    Of course, as someone else that is also dealing with this shit, I’m aware that that ‘reassuring’ thought really isn’t the least bit helpful. I am entirely aware that it’s somewhat impressive that I have been able to manage good grades in high school, a full tuition scholarship, and good grades in college while struggling with this shit, but I have two entirely non-helpful responses to that thought 1)that doesn’t really make this suck any less and 2)well then think how much MORE impressive I could be if I wasn’t psycho.

    So I guess the only legitimately useful thing I can say is what has already be said… hang in there. I’m just coming through my first relapse since I started meds, so I understand the meds game, and it sucks (a lot), but the fighting through is worth it, as I’m sure you know.

    Oh, and I’m sure you don’t want unsolicited medical advice, and as you were vague I could be totally off base here, but if the seizure-causing drug happens to be Wellbutrin, I’d double-check with someone on whether you REALLY have to give up your one evening glass of wine. Yes, it lowers seizure threshold, but the major problems are with heavy drinking and major changes in drinking patterns of heavy drinkers, as I understand it anyhow. In my experience, I’ve had no problems with alcohol with the exception of rather nasty headaches if I drink and take my pill within about an hour of one another. But then, that’s an n of 1 and I’m just some random babbling person, so you should probably just ignore me.

  3. just couldn’t read and not comment. That royally sucks, and I for one am impressed with how well you are functioning. Please, don’t give up, don’t choose option 2. ((hugs))

  4. I also have the depression/anxiety/panic attack combo. Usually I’m fine, and then now and then I get into “my wrong mind” and have to let everyone around me know to ignore my craziness for a while.

    I have tried 2 SSRIs, Prozac and Celexa, but they were both so rotten with side effects and so worthless with main effects (the actual anti-depressing) that my prescribers didn’t leave me on them much past a month or so. The idea of inhibiting reuptake and making synaptic transmission fuzzy never made any sense to me anyway. Also, selective, my ass. I was having 5HT receptors activated in my stomach (horrible nausea) and brain stem (could hardly stay awake). The SSRIs definitely didn’t work for me, and most of my friends who have a similar psychological combo also haven’t seen benefit from the SSRIs.

    I recently heard about an SSRE, which is made in France, used in Europe and South America, but not US FDA approved. It’s called Tianeptine, or Stablon. Since it enhances reuptake, it makes synaptic transmission sharper. The FDA allows a person to order their own 3 month or less supply, which is what I did. So far it has been great: it makes me feel like myself, like normal. I’m going to go off of it soon as a sort of control to make sure that it’s actually doing something, but given the stress of applying to graduate school, and given how depressed I was when I started, I think it’s making me completely fine. So it’s something to bring up with your prescriber, if you’re on the prowl for a better medication.

    A last note about the Tianeptine: it’s expensive, but I find I need about a quarter of a typical dose, so that saves a lot of cost. I read that since there haven’t been exhaustive studies about it, if you do get it, it’s a good idea to titrate your own dosage to see what’s best for you individually.

    Good luck with the last push!

  5. Your first paragraph describes me to a “T”. I don’t have severe depression, but I have been seeing a therapist for numerous emotional issues, mostly relating to work. I agree with the “hang in there” statement – do what you can right now, but try to get some rest too. No use pushing yourself when you’re not up to it. Once you start feeling better you can work more.

    Good luck!

  6. I am so sorry – grad school is enough to make anyone depressed, and if you already have the tendencies…

    Definitely hang in there, just take it one day (or hour) at a time and just do whatever you can manage.

    I promise that things will start looking up once grad school is behind you!

    Good luck!!!! Take care!

  7. jut chiming in to bring n=3 with the drinking and wellbutrin…my pyschiatrist is aware that I am a social, light drinker (similar to what you sound like) and is not concerned about ‘mixing’ that with wellbutrin…it seems a shame that one of the few pleasures has to go out the window….

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