Depression Redux

This week I have ignored my thesis entirely. I’ve felt some of the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been 2 hours late to work. Twice. I didn’t post anything on this blog. I overslept. I didn’t go to the gym. I’ve felt like giving up.

I’ve been staring at a half-finished blog post and a blinking cursor, debating how much to share with strangers on the internet. Especially if those strangers might someday want to hire me, or supervise me, or work with me. Especially if those strangers are coming here either for some light-hearted archaeology blogging or discussions of Very Serious Issues. Not my personal nonsense. But then again, the idea of this blog is to show what being an archaeologist is really like; the every day, expected and unexpected. And for me, that reality includes feeling like crap a lot.

I’ve been depressed for a long time. It goes in waves, some weeks I feel great, only occasionally reminded of the depths I could sink into. Other times I have to decide how I’m going to spend the precious little energy I have, how I’m going to channel the bit of motivation I retain. Small, everyday tasks fall by the wayside. Picking up the dirty cups that I’ve got balancing across my various surfaces in my room. Folding the clean laundry that’s been sitting piled on the end of my bed for four days. Washing my hair. Eating proper meals. Taking out the trash. You get the picture.

I was going to caption this as “Can’t be dead when you’ve got deadlines” but thought that might be too much…

I pack my life with so much to do, so many daily tasks and stretched out responsibilities, partially as a way to keep myself motivated to keep going. I often joke “I say yes to everything because if I stop doing things I’ll die. I’m like an overcommitted shark.” To clarify, I am not suicidal, more… occasionally ambivalent AND apathetic about existence as a whole. Sometimes you just feel like you want to hit the brakes, and to avoid doing that and just completely dropping all semblance of functional living I just try to do ALL THE THINGS. I also tend to deal with anxieties and fear through humor– I was cracking jokes through both of my parents funerals, and my true comedic moment has come with the advent of Millennial Nihilist Absurdismthat we’ve seen in recent years. All these fears and anxieties and distractions function to keep me grounded, in a way. That was Hamlet’s problem, in my opinion, he had too much downtime to think. Can’t shuffle off this mortal coil if you’re too stressed to soliloquize.

All this is to say: depression sucks, man. It’s never predictable, it’s never the same. And, to add to all of this, I’ve also been recently diagnosed with a fun new, potentially-chronic, condition.

Almost two months ago I started experiencing chest pains. At first I rationalized, thinking it was muscle strain from working out, or from sitting at a desk too long, or from sleeping at a strange angle. Then I thought it was because it was so bitterly cold– I always have trouble breathing during the winter, due to asthma. But then one morning I was getting ready for work and as I bent over to put on my shoes my entire chest seized up. This wasn’t localized, muscle pain, it wasn’t tight airways. It was sharp, all-encompassing, pain, like I had never felt before.

It subsided soon after, and I decided to just be cautious, took some painkillers, and went about my day. Then later that evening, after I had pretty much forgotten about the morning incident, something else happened. What should have been a very light touch on my sternum made me react like I had been kicked. It was absurdly painful. I couldn’t figure out what had caused it, I hadn’t done anything too strenuous, hadn’t even gone to the gym that day. But it felt like I had a bruise on my chest, even though nothing was visible.

So I finally went to urgent care. Got an x-ray, lung function tests, CT scan, etc. All clear. Eventually the doctor told me it seemed like I had costochondritis– inflammation of the joints where your ribs meet your sternum. She gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories, told me to take it easy, and said it should resolve itself in a few days.

It did. For a while. But then the pain came back. There was no rhyme or reason to it, nothing seemed to trigger it. I’ve now progressed from just pain in my chest to occasional pain in my shoulders, and a more “full” feeling in the sternal region– all of which has prompted doctors to diagnose me with Tietze Syndrome. Tietze Syndrome is characterized by idiopathic swelling and pain in the costal cartilage and joints. The only “treatment” is anti-inflammatories, and even those are, in personal experience, hit or miss. It’s usually not, like, lifetime-chronic, and I’m still hoping that it will go away for good sometimes soon, but for right now I’m dealing with some days with “flare ups” of a kind, and other days when I feel fine.

I love that the woman in this generic medical search illustration doesn’t actually look like she’s in that much pain, she just looks kind of mildly surprised. Like she’s watching Great British Bake Off Series 7 and did NOT expect Benjamina to be eliminated that early.

But the other day, when I was 2 hours late to work, it was because I was A.) dealing with unpredictable seizing chest pain that would subside enough for me to move a little bit, only to strike back up again with a vengeance and B.) experiencing hypersomnia. One of my depression symptoms is hypersomnia, excessive sleeping. Trying to wake up when I’m having a hypersomnia episode is like trying to fight your way through glue. Oftentimes I’ll set 10 alarms, use my CPAP machine (for unrelated sleep apnea– woohoo more chronic illness, there’s more where that came from, babyyyyy!!!), and STILL wake up 45 minutes late.

So now apparently my body is just adding another ball to the juggling act. And the balls are covered in baby oil. And one hand is tied behind my back. We’ve got it all, guys and gals, depression, sleep apnea, Tietze, osteoarthritis (aka ‘incurable shitty ankle’), asthma, and many more assorted mental illnesses and chronic disorders!

Hey, at least my blood pressure is still stellar, according to my slightly shocked primary care physician.

But it’s fine. I’ll watch some Chef’s Table, do some data recording, eventually get back into a semi-regular schedule, and start accomplishing things again. And then the next round of depression, or Tietze, or whatever-the-fuck will arrive.

And I’ll deal with it the best I can.

Cheers,
Liz

4 Comments

  1. Dealing with it as best as you can is the best mindset and attitude to have. That’s why we need to build our awareness, to have the knowledge to fight it better.

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  2. You have my commiserations, Liz. As someone who generally enjoys very good health, I’m deeply grateful (not to anything in particular – I’m not religious) for every day without either mental or physical pain. We were just saying the other day how so many people who have nothing much to complain about spend all their time complaining. I hope you feel better soon.

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