Whenever I change shoes, I endure a period of time when my feet have to press themselves into the insoles and teach my new chassures their ways. The friction and the emptiness between them leads the balls of my feet to fill with fluid which grow large and painful. Then they pop. An annoying flap of skin hangs in their place.
My mother used to tell me about how Calvin Coolidge’s son died because he popped his own blister with a needle. I have since learned that this isn’t bad if you have a clean needle, but recently I did something very stupid: I stripped the loose skin where the blister had been and paid for it in soreness and risked infection.
Only after I performed my little surgery did I learn that one shouldn’t do that. The skin forms a natural bandage and eventually reconnects with the foot to form a callous. I had to rub the exposed spot with antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. When a large blister formed on the other foot, I left the skin in place, covered the area in ointment, and held it in place with a bandage. Oh, what a difference it made!
My dermatologist had me strip down to my underwear while her nurse watched, then had me lie down on the examination table while she scanned my skin with a black light. The white spots on my well-tanned arms gave her no cause for concern; the moles on my extremities seemed normal. But then she took out a can of freon and sprayed an area on my left cheek bone.
“There was only one pre-cancerous area,” she announced. “It’s gone now.” She went on to explain that it wasn’t unusual for basal cells to form on the left side of the face because that is the unshaded side when we drive. After she told me to make an appointment for next year, she told me to get some sunblock and use it.
Now there is another test that I routinely get: my endocrinologist measures my Vitamin D levels. A few years ago, they were lower than they should be, so she urged me to start taking supplemental doses to bring them up. The main symptom that I felt was a sustained, moderate depression. Weeks after I began taking the extra gel tabs, I started feeling better. I also started wearing shorts when I walked so that a larger area of skin would be exposed to the sun.
We get our Vitamin D from two sources, primarily: fortified milk and the sun. Vitamin D production is our version of photosynthesis. This is why psychiatrists and other doctors recommend that we get enough sunlight. But the recommendation clashes with what the dermatologist wants of us. Too much sunlight gives us skin cancer.
The most tiring piece of advice that you can receive when you live with depression is “Get some exercise!” There’s merit in the suggestion, but the nature of the condition is such that getting out of your bed and onto your feet can be difficult. The accusation that melancholy is due to laziness wraps its sufferers in a ball of stigma that takes some effort to escape. Buying into the belief that your sickness is due to your stubborn unwillingness to do anything traps you in a downward spiral of self doubt and anxiety.
The advice is overstated. Research shows that exercise has a moderate effect on depression. You’re not inflicting your depression on yourself by not exercising, it seems, but the lack of desire to exercise is one of its symptoms.
Those who want to help us who live with depression or bipolar disorder need to understand that we cannot just throw aside the crutches of our coping with the illness and start to walk again. I would urge helpers and caretakers to review this helpful publication from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance before proceeding with this blog post. Sufferers stay with me. I have secrets to impart.
Ten feet separated the canyon wall from the railing. Ten feet. But a busload of Chinese tourists crowded the asphalt. A surge of electric panic chilled me. My shoulders shook. My heart thudded. A deep unease roiled in my gut. Every time someone touched me I jumped. A ripe odor worse than a rancid cheese concentrated in my armpits. My fingertips led the rest of my body in a terrified creep along the cliff. A pair of tourists walked towards me along the wall. Unable to speak to them directly, I waved my hands frantically. They saw my terror and conscientiously gave me space.
You’ll never see me doing this!
I edged towards the rail, remembering a trick that I had learned from a photographer buddy who was also scared of the mere proximity of a sheer drop. The camera went to my eyes and I looked at the world through it. Everything was contained and manageable as long as no one bumped me. But they did. I snapped off a few quick shots and scurried back to the wall. The other travelers paid me no heed as they surveyed the wonders of Bryce Canyon from the head of the Navajo Loop Trail. The Bryce Amphitheater yawned as I scrambled back to what my mind told me was the more solid — and protected — ground of Sunset Point.
The heat of the day is oppressive, but you’ve taken care to bring along a full Camelbak plus a couple of extra bottles of water. A nice apple lines your pack. You’ve been sweating profusely. This does not faze you because you follow the rule of drinking water before you need it. So you know that you are well-hydrated and you still have plenty to drink.
Then it hits you: a headache combined with nausea. Oh, this is easy, you say to yourself. “I’ll just drink more water.” You slake your thirst but the headache and nausea do not go away as they usually do. Hmm. Maybe you need something to eat? You pull out your apple and reduce it to its core. The syndrome is getting worse. You throw up your emergency meal and the water you drank. What is going on?