How My Brain and Body May Have Conspired to Make My Depression Worse
Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
The mind and the body are inseparable, part of the same organism. You can’t have one without the other. And each affects the way the other works.
Triggers are a good example. You see (or read) or hear or smell or touch something that unlocks an emotion in your brain. You then have a visceral reaction to that feeling — sweating, shaking, nausea, panic, flight or another physical manifestation.
These reactions are most commonly seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma related to abuse, but they can happen in less severe circumstances as well. Even something as seemingly innocent as tickling can put the brain in command of a bodily sensation. For example, once I was tickled to the point of pain, with the other person refusing to stop when I pleaded for him to. Ever since, my reaction to tickling is both physical and mental. My brain tells my body to shut down the physical sensation of touch. That may seem (and is) comparatively mild, and I don’t want to diminish the experiences of people living with PTSD and reactions to trauma. But it shows how my body and brain interact, almost in a feedback loop.
In circumstances like these, the body signals the brain and the brain tells the body how to react. It’s not like a person can choose whether to be traumatized or not by a trigger. The brain takes over.
Lately, I’ve been facing a fairly deep depression and have faced a lot of things that are triggers for me — financial problems, relationship troubles, overwork, etc. I’ve been feeling the bodily lethargy, exhaustion, psychic numbness and neurasthenia that come with depression. These certainly affect my body, making me twitchy and nervous and unable to sleep (or sleep too much), or unwilling or unable to face the world outside — some of the more noted hallmarks of depression and anxiety.
But after a recent visit to my primary care physician, I began to wonder if my body was influencing my brain in a rather direct way. Of course, before I got to see the physician, I had to fill out the depression screener, and as usual, I underplayed my symptoms by a bit. After all, I’m already under a psychotherapist’s and a psychiatrist’s care for it. It’s to be expected if I don’t present as all cheery and “normal.” After chatting with the doctor about my symptoms (most, I thought, related to growing older), he ordered a bunch of tests for me. I’m to have a mammogram, a ColoGuard test, a bone scan to check my bone density, and had a whole bunch of blood tests.
The mammogram and bone scan I’ve scheduled, though they couldn’t work me in until September. (Evidently there is a lot of pent-up demand for hospital-based testing, as the hospitals weren’t doing non-elective stuff during the pandemic.)
Then the results started coming in. White and red blood cells, OK. Liver function, OK. Glucose and triglycerides, OK. Nearly everything within parameters.
I say “nearly” because I got a call from the doctor’s office saying that he wanted to double my thyroid medication. I had been taking a small amount, but now he figured I needed more.
I looked up the symptoms of hypothyroidism on the Mayo Clinic website, which seems trustworthy. They noted that that the condition may be attributed by the patient to growing older. I definitely noticed those: sensitivity to cold, muscle weakness or aches, and joint pain, all of which I feel.
Then there were other symptoms, which I had attributed either to my psychiatric diagnosis (bipolar II disorder) or to the medications I take for it: fatigue, weight gain, thinning hair, impaired memory, and the biggie — depression.
Between the two sets of symptoms, I could see that the doctor had good reason to suspect my thyroid was out of whack and to prescribe an increased dose of the medication. I am now taking the higher dose and waiting to see what happens.
But it struck me: Maybe my symptoms were a combination of bipolar disorder and thyroid hormone deficiency. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something — that not all the symptoms I feel were caused by my glitchy brain. Maybe some of them were caused by my glitchy thyroid.
I have not been taking the new dosage long enough to see any effects, but I have hope. Perhaps, if and when the new dose kicks in, I will feel less of the lethargy, hopelessness and other attributes of bipolar disorder.
Maybe my brain and my body have conspired to make me feel the way I do. Maybe there is some relief to be had from treating my body with hormones, rather than just my brain with psychotropics. Maybe I’m not spiraling down into depression as thoroughly as I thought I was. Maybe a little tweak in my medication will help me to feel better.
Maybe if my body problems get worked out, my brain problems will not assert themselves so aggressively.
It is devoutly to be hoped.
Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash