Monday, November 7, 2011

Folic fail

I finished off my fourth bottle of the mmthff-whatever a couple of days ago. Apart from the first week which I chalk up to a placebo effect, I saw no change over the many weeks while I took it. This doesn't mean that it doesn't work for anybody, JL and Melanie have clearly benefited from the stuff. It just happens to be that I don't.

So, what now? A reader asked that question back when I started trying the folic solution and I didn't have an answer. I still don't. Maybe I'll look into JL's meditation. Maybe I'll give walking another try. Or, most likely, I'll just sit here and keep self-medicating with booze. I really wish I could afford a therapist.


My father in law visited yesterday. He lives 1100 miles away so it's kind of a big deal when he stops in. On the other hand, we see him two or three times a year so it's kind of not a big deal. Anyway, we had lunch at a BBQ place downtown. I live in an old river town on the Mississippi. Downtown is right on the river and is bisected by a railroad. After we were done eating, we sat around and chatted. I quite like this restaurant and even have a bit of a history with it but, yesterday they were blasting the worst of the '70's and '80's so, after a while, I just had to get out of there.

I left and wandered out in the street, aiming to sit on a quiet park bench near the railroad tracks. As if on cue, a train came screaming up on me. I couldn't sit through that so I stood up, as if in some sort of respect. After the engine passed with it's blasting horn, I was confronted with what seemed to be miles and miles of train cars rumbling past with horrible, magnificent noise. I could only stand and watch.

I wondered how hard it would be to time it to dive under the cars, between the wheels, and put my head on the tracks for a quick and, mostly, painless death. I watched a rusty old car come rumbling up to me as it swayed back and forth on it's unstable wheels and secretly hoped that it would tumble over and take me. In short, I had one of the more suicidal moments that I've had for some time. And, I must say, it was a bit refreshing. I actually feel better now for having had it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Living with depression

This is something I really haven’t given much thought to. If you were to look back at this blog, which constitutes pretty much all my thinkin about depression since I started it, you’d probably find that around 75% of it are posts featuring me whining about my self-diagnosed chronic depression, around 20% about one or another alternative cure I’ve considered, 5% about miscellaneous stuff, and the remaining 37% about how bad I am at math. But, actually coping with depression, living day after day with this dark companion, is something that I’ve avoided altogether both in my head and on this blog, at least as an explicit topic of conversation. I’ve been so concerned about how much it sucks and how great it will be when I get over it that I’ve missed the obvious. To quote Jack Nicholson’s line, “What if this is as good as it gets?” What then? How have I coped and survived until now and how will I continue to do so?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a teenager in Australia. Let’s call him Tom. He is also depressed. It appears to be chronic and he’s getting help. He’s not hiding it and, under the Australian health-care system, he has access to real help. So good so far, right? He emailed me because he felt that I, being someone more than twice his age with roughly the same set of problems, could provide some insight that the best of his counselors haven’t so far. To paraphrase because I didn’t ask permission to quote him, he basically had two questions based on the single premise that, since he seems to be stuck with this depression thing for life: 1) Is it really worth it to go on? 2) If so, then how does he cope with it because all the meds and counseling in the world, though they can help, might never make it really go away.

I didn’t ask his permission because I didn’t know if I would respond at all. I’m still not sure, as I type this sentence, if I can come up with something worth saying. I’ve been pretty flummoxed since I got his email. Given that I’ve never really considered question 2, it gave me a lot to think about. How have I coped? Do I really know or do I plod through the day, fearful of the alternative? I’m still not entirely sure.

Let’s tackle question 1 first. We’re talking about suicide although he never said it. It’s something to talk about. Most professionals and patients seem to treat suicide as the no-no, hush-hush alternative that we must never speak of or even allow ourselves to consider. I don’t really have a problem with it, I really don’t. Who’s to say that a person in a severe depressive episode is in any less pain than something who’s body is failing from a terminal disease. Your conclusion about whether or not someone in the latter situation should be given the ability to kill herself may be different from mine but, in the post-Kevorkian world, I think that we can all agree it’s something that should be considered and discussed. Ah, you say, depressive episodes pass and the person has the chance at life beyond it. True, but a life punctuated by random, unpredictable depressive episodes may be too much for one to deal with. Ultimately, the moral positions on suicide are not unlike abortion – they are too wrapped up in personal ethics, religious beliefs and societal mores for there to be a clear, universal answer. I believe it should be a personal choice. I do not consider someone who commits suicide to be immoral or even wrong. (The exception in my mind is when one commits suicide when he has obligations, financial or otherwise, to his friends or family. It is condemnable to leave behind someone to clean up the mess that he was too cowardly to clean up himself.)

But, none of that really addresses Tom’s question, does it? Is it worth it to go on? Here’s the answer that seems to have evolved in my life. Yes, for the most part, it’s worth it to go on. I have more good days than bad and, most of the time, I’m hopeful about the future. I’m also curious about the future; I really want to know how things will turn out. It seems a little silly to base my mortality on seeing the plot through but it works for me, somehow. I’m also damn scared of killing myself. At my lowest moments, the thing that kept me from doing the deed can only be described as pure cowardice. So, is it worth it to go on? As I said before, so far, for me, it beats the alternative.

Okay, then, on to Tom’s second question. How to cope with it? This is the bit that really stymied me. I really don’t know how I’ve coped. As I turned this question and the answers I could think of over in my head I began to realize that I was writing a commencement address – seek your happiness, be true to yourself, love your family, blah, blah, blah. Like I said, Tom’s a teenager and he’s set to graduate soon enough. I’ll leave the platitudes for the C-list actor who happened to graduate from Tom’s high-school and gives that speech the year he graduates.

So, I tried harder to come up with real answers. The thing about depression is that it is our problem. It is fairly well defined and we kind of have a list of things it does to us. However, everyone has problems, right? I heard of a study a few years ago that says that babies and toddlers feel the same level of anxiety over their little dramas as we adults do. It seems silly to consider that a missing toy leads to the same amount of stress as trying to figure out how to pay the utilities on a limited budget but, apparently, it does. My point is that I think humans tend to look for and focus on points of tension in our lives. We depressives are lucky in a twisted way in that we know the source of our tension and we sort of know what to expect from it. Other people with a different set of less definable problems are trying to deal with them as best as they can. I’m not sure if I’m making my point very clearly here or if I even really had one to begin with. Let’s move on.

As I’ve stumbled through life, I seem to have settled to two key points that guide me.

The first is to know your depression. This means that it’s important to learn when depression is making you feel a certain way or real life circumstances are. Rage, anxiety and sadness are all occasional symptoms of depression. They are also symptoms of the human experience. Whenever you feel extreme emotions, take a beat and try to identify if it’s a result of real life or some meaningless, internal storm. I’ve lost friends and alienated family members over not being able to tell the difference. Innocent comments can be misinterpreted when observed through a depressive filter and turned into insults.

My second best bit of advice is never blame your depression. I’m talking about both externally and internally. Externally is easy. Just don’t do it. Never use your depression as an excuse for your actions. If you are an ass to your best friend because you misinterpreted an innocent comment while you were having a particularly low day, don’t say you did it because you are a depressive. Your depression might have influenced you but final decision to lash out was yours. Apologize, hope he accepts it and move on. This isn’t to say that you never talk about your depression – your friends might be a great source of support for you - just don’t rely on it as an excuse for your bad actions.

More importantly, never tell yourself that you acted a certain way or made a bad decision because of your depression. Once again, depression might have influenced you but, ultimately, you are responsible for what you do. Blaming depression becomes a crutch, relieving you of all responsibility and that can become a vicious cycle: I’m even more depressed now because my life sucks because I made bad decisions because I was depressed at the time so now my decisions are going to be even worse and my life will suck all the more. Depression may be a part of who you are until the day you die but never let it define who you are.

I tried to avoid platitudes but that last sentence came dangerously close, didn’t it.

So, Tom, there’s my answer. I’m sorry it took so long but you really threw me on that one. You gave me a lot to think about and I hope I gave you a little insight, too. Best of luck, brother!

This blog post contains a sponsored link.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fabulous Folic Acid? - A folic acid update from another perspective.

This is a guest post from my buddy JL. She discovered folic acid around the same time that I did and has had much better success with it. So, to avoid yet another gloomy "things still suck" post from me - which is the case - I asked her to tell us about her experiences with it. And, when you're done reading this, go subscribe to her blog, From Manic to Mindful.
In my 32 years, I can say with full confidence that depression has dominated over ¾ of my life: I was an incredibly angry and sad little girl (oh, how the therapists love to hear that!) , who grew to become an overly eager-to-please, must-be-perfect-at-all-times teenager, who finally came down hard at age eighteen, only to be kept afloat on a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine until about eight weeks ago, when I stumbled onto the blog I’m writing for now. Through this blog I found another blog, (Methodical Musings of an Unbalanced Woman) and I discovered Folic Acid- specifically, 5-MTHF.

I’ve spent a lot of time on anti-depressants. To name a few: Lexapro, Cymbalta, Zoloft (thank you very much for landing me in the hospital), Paxil…and those are just the ones I remember. I spent my longest time on Lexapro, and I was pregnant with all three of my children while taking it (after my doctor’s decided that the “benefits” outweighed the “harm”. So far so good with my little ones, but I guess time will tell). Here’s the funny thing about anti-depressants: I was never really not depressed while taking them. I was cushioned and functioning better, for sure, but I still always fought that depression. So when I had the epiphany, if you will, that the anti-depressants were not really doing much for me and acting as a placeholder solution, at best, coupled with increasing difficulties with health insurance to even GET said anti-depressants, I needed to finally go on that search to nip my depression in the bud, or at least keep it in check, on my own.

I knew that an answer must be out there.

When I stumbled on the information about 5-MTHF, all I had to read was “there are studies that show that a large amount of the population cannot properly break down and absorb Folic Acid, and those who are unable to do so are prone to depression, anxiety, and anger (among other diseases and issues),” and I was sold. I emailed said bloggers about it and asked them for more information. As a girl who loved her illicit drugs while in high school and college, not to mention her booze, (NOT ENDORSING that behavior, just being honest with you…) I had zero problem with taking a vitamin supplement I ordered over the internet.

Methylated Folic Acid, in it’s L-methylfolate form, is already broken down so that, basically, the work has already been done for those people who are not able to do so because of their genetic deficiency. I can’t say whether I have said genetic defect or not, since I have not been tested, but I do know that depression runs very heavily in my family, and not only has it been obvious that my maternal grandmother was/is severely depressed, so is my mother, me (obviously,) and I see it in my seven year old son ( a little more about that in a bit). I readily ordered my methyl-folate and anxiously awaited its arrival.

In its early days, (and still, today, because I guess we can still say it’s still early since almost none of the physicians that I’ve discussed this with have any clue about it…though evidently research about this began FORTY YEARS AGO…) methylated folic acid was (and still is) prescribed to go WITH anti-depressants, to make them more effective. I can confirm that this was the case for me, right away. Happy, Joy, Grateful-wow. A whole new world opened up for me immediately. I attributed this to the folic acid and (combined with the fact that I was so desperate to be off of my meds) quickly made an appointment with my doctor to discuss coming off of my antidepressants (Cymbalta. 20 mg twice a day)-I am not one to wait around for things to happen. We agreed on a plan (well, she told me a plan and basically forced me to agree, though in my many years with anti-depressants I knew that “her” way to come off of the pills was too fast…) and I began decreasing my dosage of anti-depressants, and kept with the 5-MTHF (which she knew nothing about, but because she had heard of folic acid, said was “fine”.)

Coming off of those first 20 mgs a day was unusually easy. MUCH, much different than coming off of anti-depressants had ever been before: I was still very much content and yes, even happy. This was a very new experience for me. But I guess I should also stick in a disclaimer: along with the 5-MTHF, I began practicing mindful meditation and using the Silva Method of Meditation, which I have committed myself to doing once a day. I also stopped drinking alcohol as much as I did before- only about a glass a day. This wasn’t so hard, though, because something interesting happened: I didn’t WANT to drink. I don’t know if it’s the folic acid or the meditation or what, but I can’t write a truthful post without putting those other parts in as well.

I have to say that the final 3 (that’s right. A mere THREE mgs) of the Cymbalta were the worst. I felt like a crack whore coming off of the hooch (I have a really good imagination). It was awful and I began to wonder if the folic acid really helped at all. But I had to remind myself that I have been on anti-depressants for MORE THAN A DECADE, and that my adult self has never existed without them, so of course it would be incredibly difficult and that I really needed to cut myself some slack.

Here’s what kept me going during that (not so long ago) time:

My son, who I mentioned before, is seven and has displayed anger and anxiety ever since he was three. Part of me always chalked it up to my divorce from his father when he was one, and his anger about my re-marriage and the two baby sisters he got as a result of the remarriage. But after four years, I finally confronted my excuses for his behavior and accepted the realization that he is probably a “depressive,” just as I am. I do not want this kid on prescription, synthetic, medication, especially at such a young age, and yes, he has been to therapy. Still willing to give 5-MTHF a fighting chance, I decided to see how he would do on it.

In my research and discussions with other people who take the 5-MTHF, I learned that this is one of those supplements that have almost no side-effects, and that it benefits basic human functions on so many ways that it is just fine for almost anyone to take, even children (but I would definitely research that more before you give our two year old methyl-folate.- or anyone for that matter ) My son is a big 7- at 85 lbs I felt okay with giving him 2 mgs of the 5-MTHF a day. Not right away, but after a few weeks my son slowly evolved into being a happy kid. Finally!!! As a parent, this is the one thing you want for your child. Seeing my guy like this is such an incredible relief for me. He still gets angry at times and is as difficult as any other 7 year old boy I hear about, but for the most part our home is so much better. He even told me himself that he “feels so much nicer when he takes his medicine.” (Of course, we have many discussions about how it isn’t really a “medication” but a food supplement…) Just knowing, and seeing what the folic acid has done for him really got me through those incredibly tough days I spent ridding myself of Cymbalta.

Now, I come from a family of researchers- my father has his PhD in Chemical Engineering, as does my brother. Most of my parent’s friends are either chemists or physicians of some sort. I am merely a graphic designer, who has a passion for all things psychological (does it matter that my minor in college was in psychology???) but I do love to do my own research-and empower myself by doing so. I strongly encourage others who are considering anything like this to do their own research as well. My father has been so impressed with what he has seen from both myself and my son (we are all very close) that I have had the fortunate experience of being surrounded by my own personal research team. Therefore, based on my own experience, I feel really confident with my personal dosages, method of coming off of anti-depressants, and giving the supplement to my son. I am not telling anyone to do the same without doing their own research, attempting to discuss this with THEIR doctors, etc. etc. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that depression is an extremely serious disease, so please view this blog post as food for thought but not the official go-to place for information. Be your own responsibility and look into it yourself.

That said,

A couple of key points I would like to mention:
1. Research shows that pretty much everyone can benefit in some way from taking Folic Acid. However, those who are not able to absorb the folate (genetically) vs. those who are will react differently and have very different experiences. For those who CAN’T absorb it, and who take the 5-MTHF, it will work drastically better than those who CAN absorb it naturally and whose depression is not biologically based but perhaps more psychologically or experience based instead.
2. As with any supplement or drug, amounts are key. One person (and these are “random” amounts I’m naming) might “need” 15 mg a day, another 7, and yet another, 5. I have been playing around with quantities (DANGER! YES! I’M NOT A DOCTOR!) and it seems that I do best when I take twice as much as I initially thought (based on my research) I would need.
3. Many physicians have no damn clue about this. And it’s really frustrating but hopefully through blogs and other word of mouth, more doctors will become interested and look into it. But I have to admit I get really annoyed at people who say “okay, I’ll discuss it with my doctor” and then the doctor has never heard of it and the idea is dismissed. I am not “pushing” the 5-MTHF here so much as I am encouraging people to be their own health advocates. After I looked into and actually READ the 42 pages of disclaimers of Cymbalta, I was shocked that the stuff is on the market. And yet, doctors wanted to keep me on it.
4. Traditional blood tests might not show that you do not absorb the folic acid. It might show up, yes, because it’s in your system, but the indicators will not be there whether it is actually being fully absorbed and processed correctly or not. So you can’t really see whether you can or can not genetically absorb the folic acid by saying “oh, I had my blood panel done and my folate levels were fine.” It goes deeper than that, folks. You'll need the actual genetic testing.
5. NOT ALL FOLIC ACIDS ARE THE SAME. Chances are, you will not be able to find the proper L-methylfolate in your local healthfood store. The “L” is the important bit here, which is the folate in it’s “purest” form. Yes, taking folic acid is good. But there is a “good, better, and best” and it turns out, for the “extreme” cases, ie, the people who don’t absorb it, that the “L” is the way to go.
6. There is an entirely different discussion to be had (which I don’t really understand) that has to do with Folic Acid and the B-vitamins. Turns out that it is HIGHLY recommended that you take a B12 with the folic acid (I found a methylated one that both myself, my husband, my mother in law, and my best friend now take because it is AWESOME and the energy you get from it is amazing.) Just thought I’d throw that in there.
7. The drug Deplin is a prescription of methyl-folate and comes in 7.5 mg. and 15 mg pill form. I am mentioning it because it comes up a lot when researching MTHF. I am honestly on the fence about it and can’t entirely trust that it just is what it says it is or whether it has some of the synthetic neuro-transmitters in there that the other antidepressants have, which, of course, is what I’m trying to avoid. There seems to be different information on it all over the place so it’s left me stumped-which means I won’t take it. I’m sure it’s fine and completely legit but I after coming off of the Cymbalta I am so wary of anything prescription anymore.
I know this has gotten pretty long so I need to wrap it up, but I want to everyone to know that right now you’re reading something from someone who has had a pretty rough time. I’ve had the world tell me that there is no reason for my depression, that I have everything to live for, blah blah blah. Yes, this is true, but there is this little thing called CLINICAL DEPRESSION that is very real and still exists no matter how smart you are, or pretty you are, or tall or short or thin…or if you have a loving family or not, a supportive spouse or dog or whatever. It’s like cancer-it can get anyone. To say that I am thrilled to find 5-MTHF is an understatement. Wonderdrug? Probably not. Nothing comes without work: you’ll have to stay on it, to find the dose that works for you, and also be willing to examine your life and make whatever changes that are necessary in order to help yourself. No pill will do that, but it might motivate you to.

I can’t pretend that I know everything about folic acid, and my life isn’t 100 % (or even 90 or 80 percent) rainbows and butterflies since I’ve started taking it, but to me, it is an incredibly huge step and I am so grateful to Ray for this blog, and to Melanie from Methodical Musings of an Unbalanced Woman, for introducing me to this supplement (and also being my depression support group, in a way). My life (and my son’s) has taken its most drastic change to date and it’s really exciting for me. I actually feel like, for the first time ever, that life might be worth living after all. Go figure.
In my own blog, From Manic to Mindful, I write about my experiences with depression, with coming off of antidepressants and how I did it (and my struggles with it), and all of the proactive steps I’m taking to rid myself of depression-without the “aid” of the medical community. Some of it is helpful, I’m sure, but admittedly, some days I just b*tch about how I hate Costco milk containers and how I get so angry at them that I want to throw them across the kitchen. After all, I might take 5-MTHF now and meditate daily, but that doesn’t mean I’m not human.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Again with the folic acid

It's been about six weeks now. I started on this particular acid trip around the first of August and, aside from that first euphoric week, I haven't been much impressed. The second week was a bitch of a week and gave me plenty of legitimate reasons to be depressed and since then I really haven't gotten back up.

I know that for some it takes up to 90 days and I probably should plod on but, shouldn't I have felt something by now? I'm pretty sure during that first week I was caught up in a placebo affect.

I'll probably order more and ride out the full three months but right now I'm feeling pretty pessimistic.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Evolutionary Benefits of Depression

(Guest post by Allison Gamble on behalf of

“Pain or suffering of any kind, if long continued, causes depression and lessens the power of action, yet it is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil.”
-Charles Darwin

For ages, our ancestors have known of the condition we call depression, though to them it was listed under a variety of other names: sadness and the blues, to name a pair. The question that they never asked, but scientists now seek to answer is: has there ever been any payoff from depression from an evolutionary perspective?

Depression is not a rare disorder by any means, and it is suggested that as many as 50 percent of Americans will experience the criteria for diagnosis with major depressive disorder at one point in life or another. It doesn't take a psychology degree to know that's a high percentage of people affected, particularly for a mental disorder. The majority of mental diseases are actually quite rare – how is it that depression slipped through the cracks?

For one, depression may actually have played a role in the process of natural selection regarding infants and young children, in the form of postpartum depression. It has been shown that parents will not invest sufficient care in every one of their offspring if the apparent costs outweigh the benefits of caring for certain offspring. Postpartum depression may be an evolutionary signal to a parent that risks involved in continued care of the unfit offspring outweigh the benefits, thus exacting a decidedly detrimental toll on the caregiver's health and resources. It may also be an evolutionary signal for assistance from others for help caring for the child.

Socially, it may also have helped contain sexually transmitted diseases, as depression frequently causes disinterest in social interaction and sex. In addition, exposure to other diseases would have been lessened by a reduced exposure to events and elements outside the confines of the afflicted's own home.

Plus, with a lack of energy and desire in even the most mundane things in life, our ancestors would have likely spent more time sleeping, which would have replenished the body in a time when stressful and excessive work conditions contributed to skyrocketing illness and mortality rates.

People with depression can focus on one issue and attack that issue as a whole, rather than breaking in down into bite-sized components, which is more taxing on the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). Focusing on a number of problems requires a constant supply of neurons to keep up with the more numerous amount of tasks than can be accomplished by those who can digest the problem as a whole and concentrate solely upon finding an answer to that problem.

This is due to the presence of a receptor in the brain known as 5HT1A, which constantly fires new neurons for the VLPFC. Consequently, the subject can perform better in the functions regulated by the VLPFC, like focus and sustained concentration. Depression activates the VLPFC, while the 5HT1A sustains it vigorously to achieve its intended functions for longer periods of time.

This would have been a very valuable asset to our primal ancestors. Unlike us, they had fewer distractions to occupy their attention, though because of the volatility of their environment, every problem was potentially life-threatening. A chain of priority was absolutely necessary. A depressive mindset would allow our ancestors to take on the most pressing problem first, then adapt to the other problems facing them as necessary.

Another possible benefit is that by concentrating solely on the problem causing one's depression, one has a greater chance for true introspection and self-enlightenment. Many of the greatest sages in the history of mankind probably suffered from one form of depression or another, yet by channeling their focus inwards, they found a deeper enlightenment and the ability to better interact with their environment and problems in a more meaningful and positive fashion.

Perhaps the greatest asset of depression is the most evolutionarily necessary: depression forces the hand of the species to reach out and try to eliminate the suffering of the one for the good of the race. And maybe, just maybe, this response is what separates us from the rest of the animals.

Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing with

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sweet, sweet suicide.

Have you seen Mad Men? This is one of those television series that critics and rabid fans tell you that a) you aren't watching and b) you really suck because you aren't watching it because it is so stinkin' good.

I don't know about all that. I like good movies and I like good TV. A while back I decided to check out Mad Men and, I must say, it really is pretty good. It took until season two for it to really amaze me; overall I'd say it's an interesting and compelling show, especially if you're a US citizen.

But, my views on popular entertainment are not why we're here, are they? The reason I bring the show up is that every time I watch the opening sequence the phrase "sweet, sweet suicide" comes to mind. I'll post it below so you can see what I'm talking about.

The trancy music, the faceless cartoonism, the generic businessmen floating down... It all seems like a beautiful, drifting, perfect suicide. I doubt that's what the creators meant but, being a guy who's spent most of his life thinking about suicide, that's what I see.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not on the edge. I'm okay for now. However, I can't watch this and not think how relaxed and lovely this guy looks as his floats to his death.

I've often wished I could...

A few minutes later: I'm having some trouble with this video. If you can't play it above, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Depression and Atheism

I promised this topic a while back. Sorry it's taken me a while. Actually, I don't know if I should apologize at all. It seems kind of silly of me to think that any of you wake up day after day thinking, 'is this that day that Ray will finally tell us about his atheism?' then being disappointed when I don't. Beyond silly, it's arrogant.

Nevertheless, I've been promising and not delivering for so long because this is something that never even occurred to me and I never really think about. I'm not really sure how to go about addressing the two topics as they relate to each other because, in my mind, they don't. Both things are deeply personal to me and have grown roots that are so old and deep that removing either depression or atheism from the earth of me would be, to say the least, disturbing. I'm willing to do so with depression; I'm not with atheism.

Let me start by saying that I believe I understand theists, specifically their perspective of atheists. I spent most of the first two decades of life as one. It seems hopeless to live without the belief in god. If no one created us, if there is no externally designed plan for my life, and, most importantly, if nothing happens when I die, if there's no reward for the good and no punishment for the bad, then what's point of it all? How can one live in a universe so empty of meaning, purpose and hope?

It's easy to understand why theists can believe that atheism and depression go neatly hand in hand.

I was depressed well before I became an atheist. The first time I seriously considered suicide was when I was around twelve. I had no reason to feel bad but I did. I felt so bad about myself, so unloved, so worthless, so invisible, that I went down into the basement where my dad kept his guns. I spent a long time sitting with a loaded rifle in my lap, bawling and blowing snot bubbles. I never could work up the nerve and when I heard the garage door opening - I had been home alone - I quickly unloaded the gun, put it back on the rack and went to hide in my room until I could calm down.

So, now, I've told that story. Didn't plan to but there it is. My point is that my atheism didn't lead to my depression. Clearly, I've struggled with some pretty classic symptoms of depression for most of my life and well before my, um, conversion.

Even though that's the right word I hate to use it. For me, at least, conversion carries a lot of baggage. When I think of conversion, I think of the scene in the New Testament when Saul is strolling to Damascus and has a massive, singular revelation that causes him to completely change the course of his life and, for some reason, his name.

My crossover from theism to atheism took longer than an afternoon walk. It was probably a very long time coming but, as a process of which I was aware, lasted about 6 months. I won't go into the gory details. I'd reached that time in life when one starts to consider his place in the world and I'd been exposed to enough of the church to understand that it was a very human creation instead of the holy, unquestionable institution that I'd been raised to believe in. These two things gave me the courage to actually consider the possibility that the faith I'd been raised in wasn't necessarily the truth.

I spent a very weird summer living in a crap apartment downtown, working the night-shift at a local factory and reading. I read everything I could about faith, theism and religion. By the end of that summer, I was settling a little uncomfortably into atheism. I still had those questions I mentioned above except without the hopelessness. In fact, as I look back now, I count this time as easily within the top five happiest points of my life.

In time, I've answered those questions for myself. Theistically speaking, I am incredibly comfortable in my skin. In fact, as I struggle with my expanding and contracting emotions, my professional life, and all the relationships in my life that I seem to subconsciously destroy one by one, my atheism is one of the most solid things about me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an evangelical atheist. I'm not crazy about my tax dollars going to blatant theism but I'm never participated in a lawsuit about it. If the mayor of my town wants to put one of those cheesy lighted nativity scenes in front of City Hall in December, go right ahead. I'm just saying that, of all those things that all of us struggle with internally, the theology thing is settled for me.

I don't know if I've covered this at all. As usual, I just cracked my head open a little and tried to give you a look. So, lurking and not so lurking theists, if you have any questions or comments, have at it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Folic acid update and some thoughts about obligation

So, it's been roughly three weeks, I think. I ran out of pills yesterday so right now I'm at about 18 hours since I took the last one. More are coming but I didn't plan well.

Again, I don't have much to report. I suppose I do feel a little more up these days. I'm feeling generally optimistic about the future. I don't know. Trying to get a bead on how I'm feeling, or more precisely, if I'm really feeling better than I did is like trying to trying to see a distant star in the night sky. When you look directly at the fainter stars they disappear and when you look just to the side of them they reappear. How can I describe something that disappears when I try to focus on it? This is going to take time.

In a previous post, I said something along the lines of owing you guys an update. In a few of the comments and emails that you sent me, you guys made it clear that I don't owe you anything. Strictly speaking, you're right. I am the king of this little blog and I can do whatever the hell I want.

When I started this blog, I just wanted a quiet little corner of the interwebs where I could go and whine about my problems. I didn't really much plan for readers. Publishing it publicly was part of the reason that it was therapeutic for me. I was shouting into the universe and not exactly expecting it to answer.

Then it did. A readership, a very vocal one, started paying attention to me. I blog on a number of websites, a couple that are much bigger than this one. One of my sites gets thousands of visitors a day but this blog with 60-90 hits a day produces almost as much reader feedback. My reward for cutting myself open and bleeding a little on the web has been an unexpected support network in you. Faceless and often nameless but support none the less.

It's very gratifying to get notes of sympathy and support when I'm have a tough time. Knowing that I've touched you or even helped a little, as some of you have told me that I did, helps me immeasurably. I'm getting way more out of this than you are.

So, yes, I do owe you.

Listen to this

For the first time since I started this blog, I have a whole stack of things that I want to say. In the past, my intent when I came here has been very singular and it was usually just to scream into the darkness. But, lately for some reason I've felt a new level of engagement with the blog and you guys.

Right now, though, I'm going to talk about podcasts. (Bare with me, this really is going somewhere.) When I first learned what podcasts were a few years ago, I didn't think that they were for me. That's really kinda silly because I've always enjoyed spoken word entertainment from listening to my Dad's Bill Cosby records when I was a kid to political talk radio to a whole host of NPR shows. It took me a while to warm up to podcasts but once I did I found a handful that, now, I listen to regularly: WTF with Marc Maron, Savage Love with Dan Savage, The Moth, The Smartest Man in the World with Greg Proops, and Judge John Hodgman.

Of those, the two that I never miss are WTF and Savage Love. All of them are entertaining and most make me laugh but I get something more out of WTF and Savage. Both men are intelligent, articulate, funny and bring a view of the world that's outside of the normal for me.

Now, here's why I'm telling you about this. In an episode of WTF from early June, Maron interviewed a man named Todd Hanson. Most of you probably don't know who Hanson is; I didn't. He's a veteran writer as The Onion. That alone makes him incredibly interesting to listen to. He's also suffered from long bouts of major depression most of his life. In his conversation with Maron he breaks himself open and gives us all a good look at what he's gone through. I won't say it's fun to listen to but it's certainly cathartic. If you get anything out of my little blog here, you definitely should listen to this episode. Go here to listen.

A few notes: First, I suddenly find that I have a christian readership. I'm sure that there have been a few of you lurking out there all along but lately, well, you know who you are and you know what's been going on. I bring this up because if you have delicate ears when it comes to language and adult topics, you might not want to put this show in them. For the same reason, this probably isn't something you want to listen to on speakers at work. Second, Maron's shows' free availability expires so if you think you might want to listen this sometime but not just now, you should go ahead and download it. It might not be available when to you come back to it later. Third, if you're a weepy kind of person, don't listen to this in a place where you shouldn't produce a tear or two because you probably will.

That's it for now. Go, listen, you'll definitely get something out of it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A quick question

I'm worn out. It's been a long week and I've made some progress on that professional problem I alluded to in my last post. I plan to spend this Friday afternoon playing WoW.

So, the question: Is it wrong that I washed down my lunchtime dose of folic acid with a couple of ounces of whiskey? It didn't feel wrong.

Now, I'm off to kill some evil orcs and dragons!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two and a half weeks update

Yes, Anonymous, I suppose I owe you an update.

I'm writing this later in the afternoon when I tend to be at my grumpiest so do take that into account.

I don't have much to report. Since we last spoke, I've had one pretty big life change - one that's greatly affecting my sleep schedule - and one professional slap. I don't really feel like getting too much into either of these except to say that both are leaving me feeling rather down on myself and in general.

Vague enough?

Anyway, I only say that as something of a way of giving folic acid the benefit of a doubt. I haven't noticed any improvement beyond what I described earlier and I find that I'm sleeping in again. However, I have real life reasons to be a bit depressed, not just the usual unbalance. Perhaps I'd be feeling worse than I do if it weren't for the supplement. It's impossible to say.

So, I'm down but only a little and certainly not out. And, most importantly I suppose, I still have hope.

There's your update. We'll see what time brings.

And, if you're on the edge of you seat about the atheism thing, sorry I haven't done that yet. As you can see, life has me a little distracted just now and since this is a largely non-paying gig, I have to prioritize my keyboard time. I'll get to it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First week on folic acid

Although it is supposed to take anywhere from a few weeks to four months, I thought I'd weigh in weekly so here's the first installment.

I don't discuss my depression much with my wife because it worries her quite a lot. When she was in her early twenties a boyfriend killed himself and blamed her in his note. She doesn't talk about it much but I'm sure it comes to mind when I bring up my depression. I hate reminding her of such a terrible time. But, I felt I needed to warn her that I was trying a new supplement. Other things that I've tried, most specifically St. John's Wort, initially make all my emotions rawer. It takes a week or two for me to stabilize. I suppose this is because they address the mood directly. Whatever the reason, it's not fun for me and even less fun, I'm sure, to be around me.

"I'm not going to come home one day and find you hanging from the rafters, am I?" she asked.

I told her that's what I'm trying to prevent.

Anyway, the mood shock never came. The up and down swings I was expecting never happened. In fact, I really felt nothing.

Then I noticed two things. First, I'm waking up earlier. Being unable to get out of bed is one of the markers of depression and I've become the king of staying in bed. Some days I don't get out of bed until 9a, one of the dangerous side effects of working at home! But, starting a couple of days after I started FA I've been getting up between 6 and 7, even when I don't get that good of a night's sleep.

Another completely unexpected development has been an increased sex drive. I've never had a problem in this area but for the past week or so I've really not had a problem with it. Odd.

So, that's my folic acid update for week one.

A couple of other things have been going on. Melanie, the blogger who suggest FA to me, and I have been corresponding. She's an interesting person although I think if I knew her in person her enthusiasm would overwhelm me. She blogged about me, focusing on my atheism as much as my depression or this blog. Her emails have come pretty close to witnessing which doesn't really bother me, I just find it a little curious.

I'd never really thought about it but I suppose that there might be a few people out there who would be similarly interested in my atheism and how it does or does not affect my depression. I've been turning a potential blog entry about that over in my head for a few days so look for that.

A couple of other people have also emailed. One is a kid with depression who's headed for college this fall. He wants help and is willing to seek out a pro. But, he's reluctant to tell his mom, which kinda breaks my heart for both him and her. This creates a big obstacle for him since he's on her insurance. I suggested that he look see if there's a Community Counseling Center nearby that might be willing to work with him on payments or he can check with the school nurse when he gets to college.

What a burden to take with you to college, that time when the world is supposed to be bright, shiny and full of possibilities. I really hope he finds a way through. If you want to check out his blog it's here.

Finally, another reader emailed. She is working through depression like the rest of us with the added bonus of a dear friend who actually loved life recently having died. He was healthy, in his early thirties and had a fantastic outlook on life. I didn't know what to offer her except commiseration.

We're a raggedy lot, aren't we?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Folic acid? Really?

Folic acid is one of those things about which I know nothing. I've often seen bottles of it on the dietary supplement shelves in drug stores and grocery stores but I never really bothered to try to figure out its use.

Turns out it might be the solution that some of us depressives are looking for. This doesn't seem to be a widely broadcast aspect of the supplement. I just did a Google news search for folic acid and found articles about it being linked with improved grades among Swedish school children, its importance to pregnant women and its potential for preventing colorectal cancer. No headlines about folic acid and depression.

I wouldn't know about it but for a reader and fellow blogger, Melanie. She sent me an email explaining how she discovered folic acid and that it has done great things for her. She encouraged me to check out her blog and consider trying folic acid. So, I did and, as an atheist I gotta say, there's a whole lot Jesus over there! Melanie an enthusiastic blogger, energetic, engaging and eager to share. If you get something out of my blog then I'd say her Methodical Musings of an Unbalanced Woman is definitely worth checking out.

That aside, she has some very interesting information about folic acid and MTHFR. MTHFR is the problem that folic acid corrects. (By the way, my juvenile mind can't let me look at that acronym without filling in letters to make it a rude, two word phrase.) I'll let you check out the link for a fuller description of the disorder but, basically it's a fairly common genetic variation that blocks the body's ability to extract a particular enzyme from the foods we eat. This shortage has quite a lot of nasty side-effects, depression being one of them. Folic acid corrects the problem.

Melanie had her blood tested and discovered she had this shortage before starting the supplement. But, based on what I've been able to find, taking folic acid is quite safe so I'm skipping the blood test and going straight to the pill. I ordered a bottle yesterday. I'll keep you updated.

I was about to publish this post but, I wanted to add, this is the most optimistic I've been about my depression for quite a while. The anticipation of shedding the dank skin of continual depression has me actually excited about my future and its been very, very long since I've been there.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tension Tamer from Celestial Seasonings

A few years ago I whipped up a tea from all the herbs in my garden that, according to Rodales herb book, were supposed to relax a person or otherwise produce a feeling of well being. I can't remember everything that was in it. I think there was some lavender and rosemary and maybe some lemon balm and other stuff. It tasted terrible, something like dirty feet but damn it was effective. I wish I'd written the recipe down because that tea was the best stuff I've ever taken for my depression.

Anyway, I thought I'd see if there was a commercial version out there and Tension Tamer is my first one to try. It's not bad. It tastes kind of weedy and lemony, not the best tasting tea in my cabinet but tolerable. The effect, however, is disappointing. It might bring a small hint of relaxation but nothing like the punch to my mood that my homemade tea gave me. Listening to a George Winston album is better for me than this tea.

I'm still going to drink my way through the box in the hope that there is a cumulative effect.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The inertia of depression

I once asked if I was lazy or depressed. I still can't answer that question completely but I think I have a better understanding of why it's so tough to answer.

A great deal of my depression manifests in self-doubt and often strong self-hate. Any activity I engage in - this blog, a good paying gig with a popular magazine, dinner with a friend, a big party - I approach with fear and self-doubt. My depression tells me that there's no way I've got the stuff to pull of this activity without making a fool of myself.

I call it inertia because it builds on itself. Let's talk about a party. It starts with in invitation to, let's say, an event built around my industry with important people attending. At first I'm pleased to have been invited and excited about making new connections, seeing old friends and generally having a good time.

Then some tiny little kernel of doubt creeps into my mind. Either it's about my ever expanding waistline and how people I haven't seen in a long time will surely notice or it's about an article I recently wrote which I sure somebody there will have read and found completely idiotic and can't wait to tell me why. Or any other of a thousand little quibbling bits of self-doubt. The kernel grows and grows in my mind until it's all I can think about.

This is how I regularly cancel lunches, find excuses not to write articles even though I might need to the money, and generally prove myself completely unreliable. And, in doing so, I create one more very real way to doubt myself. Now, when the next thing comes up, I've got one more piece of evidence to show myself how I'll fail at that, too. It's an inertial cycle of failure.

So, the easiest thing to do - no, the only thing to do that won't further prove to me what I failure I am - is nothing. Outwardly, I appear lazy but inwardly I'm very actively doing nothing. Right now I can point to three things that I'm very specifically not doing.

Somehow, I thought that this argument would be clearer and more convincing. Having written it out, though, it still just seems like a very elaborate excuse for being lazy.

Maybe I should take a nap.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Given up

So, it's been a few months.

I really haven't known what to do with this blog. It didn't serve it's purpose for me; I don't feel any better for maintaining it aside from the occasional email I get from a reader who finds something worthwhile in it.

I'm still heading down. I don't know how to stop it. But, someone might get something out of that so I'm going to try again to keep up with it.

Just saying that I'm back; I've succumbed to what seems to be a lifetime of miserable self-doubt and hate. But, I'll be telling you all about it.

That should be fun, right?