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Atypical Depression- Share Experiences


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I'm new to the DF community. I just started taking Wellbutrin for what I suspect is atypical depression and would like to share my experience and hear what others have experienced in this realm of depression.

A bit of my background: I grew up in an unusual and sad family. My father is a pastor in a small town- so we lived in a spotlight. He is a nice person but "checked out" emotionally. He often does not seem interested in talking to his kids or knowing what is going on with their lives, he can come across as cold. We were a fairly strict, conservative and judgemental denomination of Christianity which I found very oppressive and toxic. In addition to this my mother has schizoaffective disorder (although from my age of 10 at her diagnosis until my mid twenties we were told it was just schizophrenia). She refused medication- would occassionally be hospitalized, medicated and then quickly returned to us where she promptly went off her meds. All of her anger and paranoia was directed at my dad and her delusions were always strange and dark thoughts concerning religion, violence and sex. The thought of them makes my skin crawl.

Somedays I would get myself and my little sister ready for school in the morning and (if she was awake) my mother would be sitting on this tiny love seat in her rosebud print flannel robe, staring out the window, teary eyed and sometimes mouthing words to no one. We would leave and when we returned she might be in the same exact position. Or some days she would be flying around the house slamming things and accusing people with her delusions. One Christmas she was having this kind of Manic delusional episode. She packed up all of our Christmas presents into our van. I watched out the window as my six year old sister followed her around asking questions which my mom ignored. When she had them packed, she jumped in and peeled out of our parking lot leaving my sister standing there. We couldn't find her for four days. In the spring I was picked up early at school by my dad. He took me to stay at a friend's house because my mother had bashed out the windows in our parsonage with a shovel, and then started on the windows at the church next door. This is an example of what my life was like from ages 10-17.

I moved out when I was a senior in high school, just turned seventeen. My family was moving to a different town and I couldn't stand to go with. I worked thirty hours a week at a restaurant to support myself, finished high school and went on to college. Another significant event (which I stuffed away in the back of my mind- I don't think I could deal with it) was that one of my ex boyfriends raped me after a senior party that same fall I moved out. When I look back I can see that around this time I began having mild depression. I'm surprised I was able to graduate from college. Throughout this time I remember struggling with just not feeling right (the mild) and then bottoming out and missing classes (the low). I was obsessed with how overweight I was and battled with bulimia briefly- I immediately put myself in therapy for that. But I assumed most of my depressive "symptoms" were from stress-working long hours in addition to being in school, the sick mother and my parent's impending divorce, relationships coming and going- all of that. Later I struggled to find a career path and after returning to school to get my art teaching license, I came to a job market where entire school districts were being laid off. I also moved to upstate New York (very economically depressed place) to be with my fiancee while he is in grad school. I put myself in therapy again last August and began to feel better. But this summer I experienced another very low period, and to be honest my life is in the most secure and happy place I have been since before my mom got sick. So that blew my theory about my depression and anxiety being situational.

This summer I had a light bulb moment and decided to start taking medicine and researching depression. I started Wellbutrin about two and a half weeks ago.

My low symptoms are (and have been for a decade): major fatigue, excessive sleeping- maybe 10 hrs at night then still feeling sleepy and taking a long nap during the day, huge appetite especially for carbohydrate-sugary type things (at times was binge like, hence the bulimic episode in college) which causes my weight to yo-yo, heavy immobile feeling in body (walking up the stairs with my laundry might as well be lifting a car). I experience a loss of interest and motivation in things I usually love - especially my art. That empty- disconnected- blah feeling is so hard to explain to people and its miserable. I can't work or do anything in that state. It seems people look at you as if you are lazy and say "if you really tried" you could do what you wanted to. Recently I realized I also have social issues. I always considered myself a bit shy, but was good at making a few close friends in high school and college. Long term romantic relationships always come easily to me. But moving to a new place has opened my eyes to how uncomfortable I am with strangers and certain social situations. Even dumb things like seeing my downstairs neighbor in my duplex bother me- I totally try to avoid her. I don't know why. Also related to social interactions- my mind can get stuck in a kind of negative feedback loop when I have a negative experience with a person. This doesn't happen often but when it does, I can re-hash and analyze it forever (what is the point in that??) By doing that, I think I blow things out of proportion. The other person has probably moved on and forgotten the event and yet I fret over it. And if it is brought to my attention years later- I still feel upset! These are my symptoms when I'm very low. They are relatively short periods of time followed by long stretches of mild depression. The mild depression is the same symptoms only far more manageable.

Does anyone else experience this?? It was hard for me to identify this as depression because I had a set idea of depression as crying, deep sadness, suicidal thoughts...etc. I would love to hear your experiences with atypical depression. Does anyone have the weird social anxieties with atypical depression? Also I would love to know if anyone with atypical depression has been on wellbutrin and had success. So far it has been a mix of good and bad for me- but I haven't been on it too long.

This is such a long post! But it feels really good to put my whole story out there and hope that someone can relate...thanks for taking the time to read it. Take Care.

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Hi Lolacat,

I can identify which many of the things you speak of so eloquently and poignantly in your post. I don't think your post is too long. It is very good just the way it is.

It is only just now being appreciated how damaging long-term stress can be: childhood stress, teenage stress, adult stress. And you've suffered a ton of it. Long-term stress can leave an ugly footprint on the brain. This is not a metaphor. Stress has been linked to disease pathology in the brain. One part of the brain called the hippocampus can lose between 8 and 20% of its total volume due to stress. This atrophy, this wasting away, this profound volumetric loss is like molecular scar tissue. Stress has also been linked to abnormalities in frontal coritcal development in children . . . and this is sad because children do not have a lot of frontal cortical development to begin with. Depression has been very strongly linked to abnormal regional cerebral blood flow and abnormal glucose metabolism. It has been linked to reductions in new brain cell birth [neurogenesis].

But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harm depression causes. Depression can lead to abnormalities in hormone regulation, abnormalities in clotting, blood vessel and heart function. It can lead to poor cardiac health. It has been linked to reduced immune responses to infection, to adult-onset diabetes, accelerated tumor growth, osteoporosis and even various dementias in the elderly. So it is a whole-body disease.

I cannot take away the pain of your past. I wish I could. I also suffered a terrible past. But I am so glad you are getting medical attention because depression is a progressive disease. I am glad you found this Forum where people understand depression from the inside and not as mere observers and spectators. I wish you all the best in your future health. All good things to you!!!

Edited by Ep1ctetus
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Hi Lolacat. I have atypical depression. My condition doesn't really fall neatly in any group and it has been very difficult to treat. I have a great life mostly, but sometimes I am still depressed. I also have social issues. I am not really shy actually, but haven't sought out any new friendships for years and prefer to stay at home. I have a lot of trouble starting/finding romantic relationships (even though I would be a great partner lol go figure). I currently take prozac and lamictal and it usually works pretty well.

What a background you have. I grew up for some time in a very strict Christian home. My parents have since mellowed out quite a bit, but most of my childhood and teenage years, I went to a very conservative church. I know that it did affect me. I think it sounds like you have done extremely well for yourself, all things considered.

I have also gone through periods (years sometimes) where I felt pretty good, then would crash and be in deep depression (and even suicidal). I have a tendency to self medicate and have substance abuse issues as well. Not sure if it's related to depression or the depression is caused by the abuse. Which came first, the chicken or the egg kind of thing.

Well, welcome and we are happy to have you. Thanks for opening up and sharing!

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Wow, you had a rough childhood! I'm impressed by how much you've accomplished and how well-adjusted you are in spite of it. Even with depression, you've gained a lot of insight and managed to take care of yourself really well.

A psychologist or psychiatrist would be best able to determine whether you have atypical depression or regular depression. I'm not sure what the definition of atypical depression is. From your description, it sounds to me like you have dysthymia (chronic low mood, or "mild" depression) that at times goes a little more toward clinical (major) depression. This is sometimes called "double depression."

But a lot of these categories overlap. Situational depression can become clinical depression, for example.

As for the weird social anxieties, I have exactly what you describe, the overanalyzing social situations, avoiding neighbors, etc. For me, I'm sure I have social anxiety (what used to just be called extreme shyness). I couldn't say for sure if that's what you have, but maybe it is, or maybe it's a facet of depression.

I tried Wellbutrin but didn't continue on it. I know a lot of people who are on it and love it.

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Thanks for sharing everyone. It is great to hear your thoughts and the physical affects of stress and mental illness in the brain is fascinating to me. I'd like to read up on that more.

Etherize, I have heard some about dysthymia. My therapist thought it may be likely that I have that. And its good to hear someone else has the weird social problems. They drive me crazy and I wish I wasn't like that because I really love people and love having good friends. After moving to a new place this facet of my depression has reallly inhibited me and left me isolated. How do you make new friends if you have this kind of anxiety?

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  • 3 weeks later...

I also had a very strict upbringing. My parents are ultra-conservative and religious. I love them, and I really mean that but I've been seeing a sort of pattern here.

I still consider myself a spiritual person, but not a religious person. I like to believe there is a God, and I often say that, but I also accept the fact that no one really knows for sure.

I've wondered before about how having a religious upbringing with so many reinforcements of what's right and wrong, could play a part in the guilt factor of depression and substance abuse, etc. I think this is like PSYCH 101, I remember reading about this kind of thing, different parenting types, but I don't wanna put blame on anyone or anything. It's all in our heads! It's all in our heads...

Edited by starla1979
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