Exercise, Depression and Drugs, not to mention Fibromyalgia, Hormones and Wisdom (part II)


But I digress—back to depression and exercise.  For decades, I tried to exercise.  I tried every kind of exercise, including calisthenics, jogging, yoga and a bunch of other stuff.  I quit them all because I’d become too depressed to continue.  In the aforementioned article, “Exercise Gets Rid of Depression . . .” it says “Studies often had small numbers of people participating, too many people dropping out, or did not control enough . . .”  What’s with the “people dropping out?”  There needs to be serious examination of those who drop out of exercise programs, and it needs to be done without moral judgment.  What are the commonalities among people who have depression and stop exercising?  Particular attention should be paid to drugs and symptoms of immune dysfunction.  And oh, by the way, are people dropping out because exercise makes depression worse for some people—and which people would that be?

In 2000, I was on inpatient psychiatry after getting out of the ICU and my psychiatrist ordered physical therapy for me.  I told him it made me depressed.  Therefore, he came to see me before I went for physical therapy and again when I came back.  He saw a happy person going out and a depressed person coming back.  Case closed.  For me—and for unknown others at unknown times—exercise causes depression.

But what role do drugs play in all this?  I had fibromyalgia pain before I took drugs, then I took drugs, which ameliorated the pain somewhat, then I stopped taking drugs and the pain completely stopped.  Clearly, there are a lot more questions to be asked and a lot more research to be done before we come anywhere near understanding this.

Likewise, I had depression before I took drugs, then I took drugs, which sometimes ameliorated the pain but more often exacerbated it, then I stopped taking drugs and the depression completely stopped—but not just because I stopped taking drugs.  The drugs were immensely increasing my suicidality, so stopping them stopped that, but the depression was a different matter.

The main reason I stopped being depressed is because I turned around and faced my problems.  I had to—I no longer could tolerate the drugs that pretended to make me happy.  I had to actually deal with life’s problems, not drug myself to be insensitive to them.  I went from passively enduring my circumstances to actively working to change my circumstances, and that is the cure for depression:  fix your life instead of drugging your brain.  In a decade, I have moved from a life in which I was depressed virtually nonstop for months at a time to a life in which I am rarely depressed.

My last episode of depression was about a month ago when something surfaced the post traumatic stress disorder that had been haunting me as a result of the abuse I suffered on inpatient psychiatry.  With the help of some talented professionals, I turned, faced the issues, and moved on.  Now I’m no more depressed than the peony plant by my window.

So let’s go back to exercise and depression.  After I stopped taking drugs, and became physically well enough to tolerate it, I went to physical therapy.  And trust me, I was one totally crapped out broad when I started.  After a couple years of weekly therapy, I moved up to a very active exercise class designed for people over fifty, and I did well.  Heck, I did better than well—I was great!  For one hour, twice a week, I exercised till I was sweating and it did not precipitate depression.  What’s up with that?

Early on, I reported all this to my psychologist.  After exercise, I said, “I feel—I dunno—different.  It’s not as if I’m suppressing feelings, or my feelings are calm.  It’s more like, well, like I don’t have feelings.  Everything’s quiet.  There’s this big blank spot where ordinarily there are feelings.”

And my psychologist said, “Why do you think guys play basketball so much?”

So in a healthy un-drugged body, exercise eliminates depression?  Was it the combination of drugs and exercise that was causing depression?  Was it the effects of drugs on the immune system that was causing depression?  Without drugs, could we all exercise our buns off?  Ultimately, I had to stop exercising because the cumulative effects of drugging had left me with so many chronic diseases that I no longer could.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  It was the normal effects of aging, combined with the drug effects, that sidelined me.  That brings us to another question:  what effect does menopause have on a woman’s psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology?  We know that it affects endocrinology, i.e., the production of hormones changes.  If our psychological state is the result of combined neurology, immunology and endocrinology, and if you change one element in PNIE then what happens to the others?  In other words, might certain mental illnesses spontaneously remit after menopause?

I stopped taking drugs and went through menopause more or less simultaneously so I don’t know, but I kept wondering . . . if the baby-making hormones stop bouncing around, might the symptomatology of mental illness stop?  My depression started when I was thirteen:  how much did the onset of menstruation have to do with that?  Go ask women at what age they (a) got their period and (b) got depressed.  What if, as women get older and their mental disorders settle down, we are attributing their placidity to effective drugging when, in fact, it’s hormones?  Everybody just keeps taking their drugs; nobody stops at age fifty to see if they still need the drugs.  What if they don’t?  What if post-menopausal is also post-depression?

After I quit drugs and went through menopause, a friend observed that I had become a “Wise Woman.”  Have you ever noticed that Wise Women are all post-menopausal?  That hormone thing can drive you crazy . . .

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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