July 06, 2008
A Brief History and Update on My Depression
Hello everyone. It's been quite a while since my last post! I'm amazed at the fortitude of those of you who remain. A testament to the power of RSS feeds. :)
Many of you know that I've been struggled with mild depression for the last several years. I was prescribed medication for it at the end of college and have been taking it fairly regularly since August 2006. It has been a long time, and since I'm not sure how much I've ever put into simple writing, so I offer a brief history:
Circa spring of 2003 is when I date the beginnings of depression for me. They were subtle and I didn't really take much notice of them. In retrospect, it became increasingly difficult to do things I prided myself on doing, like schoolwork and regular devotions.
Spring of 2005 was the worst. It was my final semester at college and the first three letters on my report card summarize it succinctly: B A D. (I had an additional B that doesn't fit on that phrase) I hadn't failed schoolwork so utterly since the third grade. Toward the end of that time I saw a psychiatrist for the first time and was diagnosed as mildly depressed (I'd been seeing a psychologist since fall 2002, but it started as just talking rather than needing/seeking help). A 75mg daily dose of a medicine called Effexor XR (the active ingredient is Venlafaxine) was prescribed for me. I took it regularly for six weeks. During those six weeks, college ended for me and we moved to Washington. My depression dramatically improved in that time, but I wasn't sure how much of that was due to medication and how much to not going to college anymore. So I chose to stop taking the medication and see what happened.
For the next six months, things went well. I loved my job at Logos in Bellingham and didn't experience any significant episodes of depression that I can recall. However, my job at Logos ended in December. This wasn't precisely my fault: it was only an internship and was in fact extended by six months. I was an excellent intern, but the company was fairly small and I wasn't impressive enough to hire full time. Over the next few months, I discovered that Bellingham was a lousy place for a software developer without a great deal of experience. My depression returned, though never as black and severe as Spring of 2005 (or I was more effective at playing video games to keep it quiet).
In semi-desperation, I used a temp agency to find something to do while I continued to look for work I liked. I quickly found a regular job at a small packaging company doing factory-type labor, running machines and doing highly repetitive work folding thousands and thousands of tiny boxes. I continued to look for work, now casting my net far outside Bellingham.
I was interviewed and accepted for a job working as a software engineer for the Navy at a research lab in Virginia. This was every encouraging. However, I had to go through a very thorough background check. I was concerned because my family lived in Iraq of all places and because it would be very difficult to find people to vouch for my pre-college days in Mongolia. Those issues never came up. Instead, the problems I had centered on the fact that I'd taken psychiatric medicine at one point and had stopped taking it without consulting my doctor. When it first came up, I agreed to be re-evaluated by a doctor to see if I needed to continue taking it. I went through this evaluation with a doctor who was a close friend of our family. He determined that I didn't need medication, but that it could benefit me. He left the choice to me, and I chose to go back on medication: I thought the Navy might prefer it if I went back on and besides, I had been fairly depressed over the past few months and figured it might help.
Unforunately, it didn't quite work that way. My security clearance was rejected and I didn't get the job. This was not crushing news; I've always taken a philosophical attitude toward bureaucracies; they follow their rules and there's nothing personal in it. The fact there is nothing personal it it has negative and positive sides; I was experiencing a negative side.
This was now fall of 2006. I determined to rewrite a chess program I created in college as a demonstration of my talents as a programmer. I had learned a great deal in my internship at Logos and was ashamed of foolish things I had done in my first program. I began work on this in November and finished in January. I began shopping my resume around again doggedly.
I was fired from my job working for the packaging company in spring of 2007. I adjust to doing highly repetitive tasks by teaching myself to do it on autopilot and then letting my imagination wander freely. I have a highly talented autopilot; I can easily walk and read at the same time and be utterly engrossed in my book. My autopilot will keep me on course, warn me when I come to a street, and do many other helpful things (though objects (e.g. tree branches) slighly above eye level escape my autopilot; I've bumped painfully into them many times). However, it is an autopilot and makes mistakes. I made too many over too short a period of time (roughly one semi-bad one a month) and my boss was fed up with it. My highly absent-minded nature does not serve me well in manufacturing-type jobs.
This was not a devastating blow. It certainly hurt: the thought that I couldn't even do mindless packaging right certainly occurred to me, but for the most part I was able to objectively agree that I wasn't terribly good at manufacturing. Though neither was I terribly bad. It is a very good autopilot and I think my boss was a little too touchy. He cycled through workers regularly. In the months after I left, he frustrated some of his best employees to the point where they quit and considered suing him. I don't know how that business is doing now.
I continued to look for work.
Oddly enough, putting my resume on Monster.com led to the jobs that led me to my much better current circumstances. I had dismissed the idea of applying on Monster completely, figuring that using it was similar to entering the lottery and had about the same chance of success on either side. But if it was free to enter the lottery, it would make more sense to do so. I have since discovered that while keyword searches may be nearly useless, they are not utterly useless. Or perhaps God "cheated" in my favor. Either way, I got an interview with Microsoft through Volt and with Epic. And a couple others. And the rest you know, or can quickly find out from reading my last few posts. (I'd say my "recent" posts but I'd be lying).
I'd continued to take medication from August of 2006 on. I figured I might as well ... besides, I didn't want to be disqualified from government clearance and figured they might accept me for some other job if I stayed on it. It was not actively harming me. My dose was increased from 75mg/day to 150mg/day to around 225mg/day. Mostly just to see if a higher dose was more effective. There wasn't much of a difference, but it did seem to help a little more.
When we moved to Wisconsin, I did not wish to repeat my earlier mistake; I found a doctor who was here and continued to take it. I had never taken it terribly consistently. When I mentioned this to my doctor, he took it quite seriously. He didn't want to prescribe medication I wouldn't take consistently. Seeing his point, I determined to make a test of it; I would take the medication consistently for a month and determine if I wanted to stay on it.
This I did, from April to May 2008 (this year). I took a daily dose of 225mg of venlafaxine. At the end, I decided the effect was just too subtle to be worth the trouble and expense of taking. (the drug would run in excess of $200 for a month's supply if I had to pay for it all myself (thank God for insurance).) So I stopped again, this time with my doctor's advice and consent. I tapered off and have finally finished; I am taking nothing at all now.
This text file (I write my posts in a text editor before posting them) is around 150 lines long at present. That's fairly long. Dunno how many of you are still reading. But now I want to reflect on my whole history of depression and medication.
I'll probably deal with mild depression all my life. I'm an imperfect perfectionist, so I'm bound to be depressed. :) As my perfectionism deteriorates and is replaced by healthier thinking, I suspect I'll suffer less. And I have a fair amount of experience now. :)
I don't know if medication ever helped me. My wife reminds me that it had some effect. One of the things it suppressed was the thoughtful semi-depressed mood in which I do much of my philosophical thinking. Likely a large part of why I haven't posted reguarly. It did regulate my emotions; I was mostly content while I took it. It was always a subtle thing, though. Without it, I feel almost the same. I'm more prone to sink into thoughful/depressed silence without it. It's been a long time since I've got out alone into the night to talk to God. It used to be more common; I suspect it may become so again.
If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn't take medication. It never made enough of a difference to me. But that's just me; everyone is different and some people it can really help. I would warn people that they should definitely not stop taking it without the advice of their doctors, both because taking my doctor's advice meant that I had a very gradual "descent to normality" and because the bureaucracy that handles security clearances really doesn't like it. And you might want such a clearance one day. :)
That said, I don't long for a "reset" button. Certainly not about taking medication. I do wonder how my life would have been different if I'd chosen differently about taking medication (either time). But not that much. God does work everything out for good. And I love my job working for Epic.
I do have regrets about my depression; I regret the time I allowed it to swallow up. Months of my life were lost to inaction during which I suffered a painful guilt in knowing that there were things I should do and didn't want to. I still deal with that. I still have a lot of unanswered questions, and a fair amount of discontent with myself. But I'll continue to work through it. Without meds (though I continue to see a psychologist).