How to Lose Four Months to a Depression/Spending Death Spiral
In January of this year, after much prodding from my friends, I dragged myself to the doctor because I was sleeping all the time. No really, all the time. I would take a three-hour nap after work every day, wake up still exhausted, and fall asleep again for ten hours if given the opportunity. The doctor found that I had a vitamin D level of 5. For reference, “normal” is considered to be 32.
I had started taking medication for anxiety and depression in the autumn of 2010. It was probably the best decision I’ve made in my life! Getting control of my wayward brain chemicals was a great thing that needed to be done. But just taking your pills every day is not a guarantee of smooth sailing forever. Other stuff can go wrong, and then you spend four months in a black hole where you spend money like a drunken sailor, only to stare blankly at your bank account when you crawl out again and wonder What the hell happened?
Here’s the thing about being exhausted all the time: You stop giving a shit about anything except achieving bare minimum human function. All of my energy was earmarked for functioning at work. The minute I left my job, the needle dropped to zero. Reasonable spending was so much less important than getting back to bed as soon as possible. If my choices were “go to the grocery store and get things I can reasonably and cost-effectively cook,” or “drive through somewhere on the way home from work,” it was a no-brainer every single time.
My doctor didn’t warn me that my messed up vitamin levels would throw off everything else, too. Looking back, I can see that I was extremely depressed, despite still taking my meds every day. My friends knew it, and were concerned about me. I was too tired to worry about it, or even believe it: I was taking my pills every day! Plus the Vitamin D supplements! I couldn’t be depressed! I ignored any discussion of seasonal depression, because I grew up in Michigan, where “seasonal depression” is “the entire year,” and I refused to acknowledge that it might be a thing out of some kind of stubborn internalized bullshit.
My bank records show another story.
As my vitamin levels came up and I was able to stay awake, I remained miserable. I continued going out to eat all the time. I’m a recovering anorexic, and my relationship with food and cooking is really fraught. The idea of buying food and cooking it made me sad(der), so I didn’t. The idea of sitting in a restaurant that had healthy options and having to converse with a waitress filled me with dread. The only thing that seemed workable was fast food, because it would be handed to me hot and ready to eat quickly enough that I wouldn’t have to think or engage. I would walk to the McDonald’s down the block from my apartment. Then I realized I had been going there almost every day for a week, and became convinced the staff was judging me, so I started driving to another McDonald’s, or Taco Bell, or Wendy’s—wherever, as long as it would provide me with hot, greasy, salty food that would set off an endorphin rush and make the misery in my brain quiet down for a few minutes.
Fast food wasn’t the only thing that gave me a fix. I bought so many clothes over those last few winter months, and I don’t really like most of them. Some of them don’t even fit properly. I would just go to the mall, see something that caught my eye, and buy it. I bought a ridiculous number of DVD sets for TV shows I had not heard good things about, or been recommended. They just had a cool cover. I turned on one-click ordering for my Kindle and hit that “buy with one-click” button like a trained monkey, reading my way through a truly epic amount of crap.
In the middle of all of this, my meds became available in generic, and my insurance company switched me over without asking. The generic did not play nicely with my brain chemistry. I crashed lower.
I desperately wanted to feel better, even if it was just for an hour at a time. I bought concert tickets. I bought movie tickets. I spontaneously went to New York for a weekend to see a play. I went out to dinner at nice sit-down places, and bars with my friends. My friends invited me out a lot because they were concerned about me, wanted to make sure I was okay, and knew I was usually pretty good about keeping an eye on my money and saying no when I needed to dial back on spending.
Here’s the tricky thing about my anxiety/depression cocktail, though: I completely lost the ability to say no. You would think the depression would helpfully say, “No, don’t go out, lie in bed and think about how much you hate yourself!” And it did. But then the anxiety would kick in and say, “If you turn your friends down even once, they will never ask you out again and you will lose them forever. Say yes, go out, spend cash, and feel marginally better while you’re there. Then sink back into the black hole on the Metro ride home, crawl into bed, and think about how much you hate yourself!”
Eventually, the sun came back, my vitamin supplements did their thing, and I started to pull myself out of the hole. I went back to the doctor and asked her to submit a request to my insurance telling them that I should be on the brand name medication instead of the generic. I went for walks outside. I took pictures with the DSLR camera I’d bought myself as one of my frantic “I must feel better right now or I’m going to explode” presents. I felt my brain clearing, and my spirits lifting, and on the first payday in May, I really looked at my bank balance instead of just making sure the direct deposit had gone through.
It’s going to be a summer of austerity. I asked a friend to help me make a list of groceries to stock my house with so there’s always something I can eat that won’t set off my food issues, but is easy and at least marginally healthy. I might buy a few new work-appropriate pieces of clothing, but nothing else until fall. No more concerts, except the ones already on my calendar. Just one happy hour with the girls per month, and one fun thing like a birthday dinner or something similar. I’ll be okay, and I’ll build my bank account back up, but it’s been an object lesson in how depression makes you not give a shit. Then when you do give a shit again, you have to clean up the mess. Of shit. That is everywhere.
I have a reminder in my calendar to get my vitamin levels checked in October this year, and to buy a SAD lamp. Preemptive strikes. Also, if you have good friends, listen to them. They are trying to help you out.
Samantha Rich lives in Washington D.C., where in the summer it is too hot and terrible to want to do anything anyway. Photo: Flickr/Astragony