Creativity and Depression

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Easier said than done, right?

I am going to be transparent here. I dumped Facebook for the purpose of giving myself more creative time. And while I do seem to have gained more time, I have found that dumping Facebook was not the cure for my utter lack of motivation to do creative things. It’s not that I am trying to force myself to do something I don’t want to do. I really do want to create things and share it with the world. It gives me purpose, and when I finally force myself to do it, I feel good about myself, which is a feeling that has been hard to come by lately.

The culprit of this creative slump is depression. Those that know me well know that I have struggled with bouts of depression since puberty, but since my heart transplant in August 2015, I have had depression that I had been in denial about until about 2 weeks ago. I finally realized how bad it was getting, so I talked to my therapist and then admitted the struggle to my husband. Being the person who loves me dearly and lives with me, he kinda sorta already knew. In fact, he fully understood what was going on before I did.

I can’t pinpoint what triggered the recent depression, but it started about a few weeks into my transplant recovery. My recovery was uneventful. The first 3 weeks post op I was blissed out on opiate pain meds and the excitement of the new life ahead of me. I had a perfect textbook recovery and was only in the hospital for 10 days. I never had to go back to the hospital. Many recipients end up back in the hospital at least once for episodes of organ rejection and other small health issues that often occur after transplant. I only had one teeny episode of rejection 2 weeks after transplant, but all I had to do was increase my Predisone dose. No hospital stays. I was so lucky.

Being a recipient of the gift of a life saving organ tends to make you keep quiet about personal struggles, mental or physical, but especially mental. Why? Because if I can’t understand why in the world I am not jumping for joy and living my life to the fullest, then certainly no one else would. How could I possibly be depressed? How dare I! I constantly feel ashamed of myself. I should be honoring my donor by really using my new gift, a healthy heart that could have gone to someone else. I feel riddled with guilt that all I have done since transplant, aside from a few vacations, is continuously gain weight, sleep, and feel completely useless. My sister, who received a heart 4 years ago, goes hiking all the time, eats a vegan diet, and is superbly healthy. I am acquainted with several recipients online who walk and run marathons, play sports, and go on adventures. The ones who aren’t doing athletic things are still keeping healthy with moderate exercise and enjoying their life.

So what’s wrong with me? No matter how much other recipients inspire me, I can’t seem to make myself get better. Even the prospect of possibly meeting my donor family hasn’t moved me. I am relieved that they haven’t reached out, because I am afraid they would be disappointed. My heart and the rest of my body, aside from the weight, is doing well, so there is no physical reason I can’t get in shape. But if I am not being active, why can’t I at least use all the time I have to go out and take pictures?  Or create art?  Or write? Or do anything, anything at all to deserve the 2nd chance I was given to occupy space on this earth? Why can’t I fight for my life like I did when I was in heart failure?

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It’s easy to dismiss or deny depression when you don’t feel motivated to eat right and exercise. Nobody really enjoys that. But I know my reasons have more to do that just lack of motivation, because I have dealt with food addiction since my mom’s death 20 years ago. I was put on steroids after transplant that caused a huge increase in appetite and rapid weight gain. I lost 40 lbs before the transplant, only to put on 70 lbs after transplant. I blamed it all on the steroids, of course. But I have been off steroids since April 2016, and my weight continues to go up. Still, I denied that it had anything to do with depression. I have always been a night owl, but my sleep cycle is a mess. My current schedule is to fall asleep around 4-5 am, and wake around 12-1. In addition to that, I often take a 1-2 hour nap during the day. Again, I denied the depression and blamed it on the fatigue the meds cause. After all, I never took naps before the transplant.

No matter what I blamed an issue on, I wouldn’t dare admit to anyone that I am living like this, because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for my life. But when I found that I was unable to make myself leave the house to do things I love, or to just sit down and do something relaxing or creative, I had to admit that depression has control of me. Depression is telling me I can’t create….can’t DO. I realized I need to do something before my life is wasted just merely existing.

Tomorrow, I have a heart checkup at Duke. I have them once every 3 months. They are going to weigh me, and I am going to be embarrassed that I have gained more weight since the last appointment. They will lecture me about diet and exercise and taking care of my new heart. But they will hopefully also tell me everything else looks great and on target like they have at every past appointment. And I will finally tell them that depression is keeping me from following their advice, the advice of the people who are tasked with keeping me alive after my heart was literally removed from my body and replaced with another one. And I will tell them that I am seeing my other doctor next week to talk about meds for my depression. I don’t want them to regret having given me a second chance to live. Not just to exist, but to live. And create.

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Some pictures I took a while back.