Saw a Shrink: Depression, Battle Fatigue, or Doesn’t Really Matter?

Two Wednesdays ago (3/16/11)  I had a session with a psychologist friend of mine.  He was kind enough to see me for free between patients that afternoon.  I said in my last Utah Medical Trip update video (October ’10) that the hardest part for my recovery is the mental and emotional part- not physical.  I remember posting on twitter about a month ago that my blood tests came back “better than normal.”  I was ecstatic!  But the high soon faded and I felt more tired and unmotivated.  Weird isn’t it?  The better I’ve been getting the more tired and depressed I got!  Since my last Utah Medical Trip the doctors said it’d be a good idea to see a psychologist, but I put it off for months thinking maybe I was just fatigued from 26.5 years of 60/60/24/7/365 survival mode.  But after talking to my friend DD, I finally went just to get an unbiased opinion.  Maybe I was too close to the situation to make an objective decision.

Here’s some of what I thought were the problems, then I’ll list my friend Dr. G’s insights:

  • Maybe because the better I got, the less I had to worry about, finally relaxing an iron-hard mental grip on survival. But I guess that iron-hard grip is in everything I do that once I started releasing that grip, I let go of a lot more than just my allergies and pain.  I explain it like cramming for finals week or the bar exam.  There’s usually a high of excitement and relief the first week of summer, but a lot of people fall into couch-potato-ness as decompression occurs.  So I wondered…what’s the normal time to decompress from 60/60/24/7/365?
  • To get as well as I’ve gotten in such a short time, the doctors say it’s nothing short of a miracle.  But I’ve sacrificed a lot to commit to getting well: leaving the house just 2 or 3 times a week, half of those times is just to go for my light treatment.  I love all the great friends I’ve made online.  I wouldn’t have made it this far without these friendships.  But the lack of physical human interaction-seeing people’s expressions, body language, activities together, just can’t be replaced.
  • Not really eating food. My diet is basically the Elecare Amino Acid prescription powder, then some plain Carl’s Jr. hamburgers from time to time (with Coke so the acid calms my stomach).  About a year ago getting to have a burger was the greatest thing in the world!  But after a year of just that, I can’t even taste what I’m eating anymore.  Maybe what’s harder is so much of social activity and what people talk about is food, where to eat, what’s your favorite dish, etc.  When conversation turns to food, I have ZERO IDEA what people are talking about.  I wrote before that part of what was contributing to my illness growing up was eating ANYTHING…since I’m allergic to EVERYTHING.  But still, people talk about how happy eating makes them, and I’m sure it’s a great mood booster.
  • A soldier needs a war to fight. The only life I’ve really ever known is making it from moment to moment.  My mind was always focused on all the itching and creative ways to scratch everywhere (a person only has 2 hands and they’re already scratching).  During asthma attacks, it was just focusing on taking the next breath, but the scratching continued on automatic.  That is a much different pace of life and focus that I am able to do now, but I am at a loss of what I’m actually supposed to do, especially because I’m still far from normal and being able to go out to do normal things.  I’m in limbo.

Dr. G gave me these insights after we talked for a bit:

  • I violated my fighting, never-give-up spirit.  I wrote that in 2006, on the pavement outside a Chinese herbal doctor’s house, I fell to my knees, cried my heart out, and for the first time in my life gave up.  Lost the will to live, not because I didn’t want to, but sometimes you’re just so far past the darkest hour the only logical conclusion you reach is that “it’s over.”  Friends, teachers, and family always said how happy and how much of a joker I was even though I was always in pain.  That all stopped that day on the pavement.  But I miss that part of me.  I missed the Jeffrey that still tried to do everything everyone else did.  School, basketball, football games, marching band, Rose Parade (playing trumpet with severe asthma!), top engineering college in the country, designing medical devices and satellites.  So Dr. G’s advice was to get that part of me back.  Live hard.  Do all the things I’m doing to get better, but find activities and projects that are beyond my comfort zone but which I love.
  • Healthy is unnatural for me. So, I’m having to learn a whole new life and leave behind the old life, body, and mentality that I grew up with.  Handicapped veterans and athletes talk about how hard the transition is to the handicapped life from being able to walk and do whatever they wanted.  I guess I’m on the other side.  I’m learning FOR THE FIRST TIME many things (social, physical, emotional) that other people at 28 know naturally.  Dr. G’s advice was to just learn what I can each day or week.  If I don’t know what’s going on, what I’m supposed to do, or how I’m supposed to act, it’s normal for a beginner to suck.  Released inmates, immigrants, injured athletes are all learning a new life unnatural to them.
  • Yes, I have some depression and mental fatigue.  BUT SO DOES EVERYONE.  Single parents going to school, with jobs, being a parent, and making ends meet.  I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.  But the human mind is a very powerful thing.  He’s sure I had depression and mental fatigue years ago, but I never felt it and still did a ton of amazing things and survived when every second more I lived was against the odds.  Again, the changes and maybe more downtime to think let these negative thoughts of depression and mental fatigue creep in.  Why didn’t I feel this way when I was 12, or why didn’t my strength carry me to my 50’s?  Why now?  Because I had mentally given up.  Now it’s time to MENTALLY GET BACK IN THE GAME.  and start WINNING.

Summary?  Do I have problems?  Yes.  But is it a big deal?  No.  I’ve always had a drive to keep pushing and enjoy life.  Honestly, I never worried about dying.  It’s something I have to live with everyday so I made peace with it before I can even remember.  But now I’m worrying about a lot of new stuff.  Coping with the new, BETTER, life.  Worrying is debilitating, and useless.

So that’s the psych evaluation update!  Have good thoughts about “Becoming the Perfect Version of Yourself” I’ll write about next.  Let me know your thoughts on what I wrote here, and anyone else you know with similar experiences.

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