This Little Light of Mine

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This weekend I bailed on every single social engagement available to me. I slept for 15 hours last night. I barely left the couch today. And yet, because I dwell in Depression Land, I wouldn’t say I’ve been feeling bad. I recently heard someone say that when you have depression, you have a “baseline sadness” that you just live with all the time, a non-alarming level of sad that is more or less a constant and feels normal for you. I really don’t want that to be true, but I think it might be.

As I wrote in my previous post, the DM stopped in for a nice noisy visit early last week and I felt like garbage. The rest of the week was better because I had a fun event on Thursday to look forward to and get ready for. But damn, did it take a lot out of me. Ever since I got out of the hospital, even a more or less typical week with a little bit of work craziness and one or two weeknight obligations, leaves me feeling completely tapped out. And I’m so over it. I’m over feeling so fragile and weird and mercurial, and I’m over not having any energy. I’m over not feeling like myself. I have times here and there that are pretty good and I feel like someone closely resembling me, but they’re fleeting. I don’t know if I have unrealistic expectations for how I should be feeling right now. I try to look at it like I was hospitalized for five days for some other kind of ailment; would I expect to be feeling 100% better 100% of the time three weeks later? Probably not. Not to mention the hard truth that I don’t have the kind of sickness that you get, and you feel bad, and then a doctor fixes you, and then you’re better and go on your merry way. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “100% better” for me. So I really don’t know where that leaves me. I don’t know what’s next. The psychiatrist I saw in the hospital cranked up one of my medications and that proved to be a terrible mistake that left me sick with panic and paranoid delusions that everyone around me wanted to hurt me. My regular psychiatrist fixed that, so now I’m back on the same meds at the same levels that I’ve been on for months. Not sure what I think about that, because these same meds at these same levels allowed a complete suicidal breakdown. But at the same time, having that meltdown taught me the importance of closely monitoring and tracking how I’m doing, because when I look back at my social media activity over the course of the last few months, I can see myself falling apart in slow motion. At the time, I didn’t see it. My therapist and I have discussed ad nauseum that the tricky thing is that when I feel bad, it’s like all I can remember are the other times I’ve felt bad, but then when I feel better, I block out those dark moments and forget they happened. So I recently got an app called iMoodJournal to track my mood. Three times a day, it chirps and asks me to log how I feel using a 10-level scale ranging from “amazing” to “couldn’t be worse.” And if I want to, I can add a little note so that later I can look back and know why I felt that way. Then the app aggregates the data and spits out these really cool charts and graphs that help me notice patterns over time. It’s proven helpful already, because at the end of last week I thought, “Hey, you know, I felt pretty awesome all week this week. Rad.” And then I looked at the app and saw that on Tuesday evening, I logged my mood as a 4 (i.e., I felt terrible). In fact, my mood all day had been lower than average. And I truly had forgotten that entire day of feeling low because later in the week I felt so much better. Tricksy hobbitses.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I feel bummed that every Sunday night I sit down at my coffee table with my pill bottles and medication organizer and divide up my doses for the week. Two capsules and three tablets every morning, come hell or high water. I feel bummed when I look back at my weekend and realized that I only left the house for therapy on Saturday and the rest of the time, I was in bed or on the couch. I feel a sense of dread that every day carries the potential to be absolutely miserable or absolutely fine, or a nauseating rollercoaster between the two. But I also sit here now, at bedtime on Sunday night, and find myself looking ever-so-slightly forward to the week and beginning to settle in to my new position at work. And maybe I’ll feel more stable this week now that training is over and I had a restful weekend. Somehow, that dread and mild optimism manage to occupy the same headspace. And I guess that gives me a little bit of hope. The DM makes me dread everything, look forward to nothing, turn a blind eye to anything positive. But Minerva’s still in here too, and she’s a pollyanna who believes things will always get better and work out for the best, because why wouldn’t they? And as sweet as she might be, she doesn’t go down without a fight, either. I can hear her, more muffled than usual but definitely there, and she’s not about to let the DM bogart the mic. If you’ll forgive me switching metaphors midstream here, she’s like the tiny glow of a Bic lighter in the Great Big Dark. And as I sit here, I’m realizing that maybe I have more reason to feel encouraged about than I originally thought. That little light was pretty much out for a while there, but it’s definitely back. Small, but still mighty.

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Bridge

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When I was in the hospital, we had an art therapist come in and do a session with us. It was my first full day there and I was still very weirded out and art therapy sounded like the last thing in the entire universe that I wanted to do. But I showed up in the dayroom at the specified time anyway, because if I didn’t go I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the cafeteria for lunch, and also because part of me was slightly curious in spite of my bad attitude. I’ve had very little experience creating visual art since junior high, so I groaned when I saw the boxes of colored pencils, charcoal, and oil pastels laid out on the table. Our art therapist, Michael (not actually his name) was a quiet, soft-spoken guy in his early thirties, with big blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses and a slightly tousled head of brown hair and a matching beard. He tended to sit with his knees together but his feet apart, sometimes with one of them turned inward at the toe. He had the kindest face I’ve ever seen.

Our project for that day was a bridge exercise. We were asked to draw a bridge that showed or represented the journey we were on. What kind of bridge was it? What was on either end of it? At what point were we on the bridge, if we were on it yet at all? We took up our pencils and charcoal and Cray-pas and drew quietly, hesitantly at first but then with more enthusiasm.

My bridge was one of those horrible rope-and-plank things, the really wobbly and dangerous ones you tend to see spanning bottomless canyons in adventure movies. On one side was the land of my depression, which had nothing green or growing, just a spindly dead tree clawing at the sky, which was full of ominous dark clouds. It was raining heavily and there was a bolt of lightning coming down. Depression Land sucks. The bridge ran over a dry riverbed, and on the other end was the opposite of Depression Land. There was green grass there, and a tree with leaves and even a hole in the trunk for an owl to live in, and the sun was shining.

Michael murmured, “Don’t forget to think about what’s under your bridge,” and I realized that I’d been avoiding that part. I knew full well who was under the bridge. I had never drawn my depression monster before. I have images of him in my head, of course, and I even have a goofy moniker for him that I use when I’m trying to be dismissive and not take him seriously. (Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it always makes me feel like I’m not entirely at his mercy. My therapist says this is a very healthy thing to do—to view the illness as something that isn’t me, because it helps me separate my thoughts and feelings from the shitty lies the DM tells me.) So I put down my colored pencil and reached for a piece of charcoal, because there’s nothing more appropriate for a monster than that pitch-black smudginess.

I draw at about a fourth-grade level, so my depiction of my DM was not very detailed. But he was darkest, darkest black and had long, long arms with long, long fingers at the end, reaching up to the bottom of the bridge. I didn’t draw the lower half of his body, deciding to just let it fade out at the bottom.

Ever see The Babadook? Turns out my DM looks sort of like that. (Which isn’t surprising, because I’ve read theories that the Babadook is supposed to be a symbol of the main character’s depression and grief over her husband’s death. It also explains why the movie scared the ever-loving shit out of me on a level that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time.)

It gave me the shivers to see him, my ever-faithful depression monster.

When we were done, we went around the table and each of us held up our drawing and explained the various pieces of it and what they symbolized, and then the rest of the group was allowed to ask questions or offer comments. It was really cool to see how different people looked at the same drawing and had so many different takes on it and asked such thoughtful, insightful questions. When it was my turn, someone asked if my depression monster simply waits under the bridge to see if I fall, or if he shakes it or tries to grab my feet. That question stopped me dead, because I’ve used the phrase, “My DM’s got me by the foot today,” more than once. That’s what it feels like sometimes—like I’m walking along minding my own business and BAM, he’s got me by the ankle. I so frequently imagine him lurking below me, I realized. So yes, he hangs out under that bridge and tries to grab my feet, and he shakes the ropes trying to make me fall, because of course he does. He’s an asshole.

It was also brought to my attention that everyone else in the group drew someone with them on their bridge—someone they love and who supports or inspires them. And it hit me that it hadn’t even occurred to me to draw anyone else on mine. That was a big moment for me. I’d already begun to realize that one of my biggest issues is my refusal to let the people in my life help me because I have this dogged insistence on being independent and taking care of my stuff by myself. Seeing it (or rather not seeing it) right there on paper made a loud *click* in my head.

I’ve been thinking about that art therapy session today, because after taking a hike for a while after I left the hospital, the DM came back today. It wasn’t a dramatic entrance, just the old familiar fatigue that creeps over me as the day goes on, making my head and limbs feel heavier and heavier until I physically don’t want to sit up anymore. I’ve heard seen this fatigue  compared to the lead-lined bib you wear when you get x-rays taken at the dentist’s office, only it covers your whole body, including your head. And that’s so, so accurate. I’m changing jobs at my company and training began today, and this morning I hopped out of bed earlier than I even needed to because I was excited to get the day started. But somewhere around 1pm, I felt that heaviness creeping up, and I drank an energy drink because I was in denial, and it didn’t work. A couple of hours later, when I was fully worn-down and exhausted physically, the DM started to talk. That’s his MO: Wear down my body, and then it’s open season on my mind. You’re going to fail at this new job just like you feared you were failing at your old one. Listen to these people—they’re all asking smarter questions than you, taking more notes than you, understanding everything more quickly than you. You don’t belong here…when you interviewed for this job you did a great job fooling them into thinking you’re smart enough to work here, but you’re not, and everyone around you is slowly but surely beginning to notice.

Like I said, he’s an asshole.

So I fumbled my way through the rest of the afternoon, then trudged off the train and got on the bus, and then called an Uber because I was so exhausted I couldn’t walk the three or four blocks from the bus stop to my apartment. And I cried silently into my scarf in the back seat of that nice woman’s Kia (I’ve cried in the back of so many cabs and Ubers on my way home from places that it’s basically become a hobby) until I finally got home, and then I collapsed face-down on the couch for about 15 minutes while my cats poked and prodded me and stuck their snuffly little noses in my ear.

I ate Wheat Thins for dinner. There’s booze in my fridge and I really want to drink it but I have just enough energy left to stubbornly resist. This is a typical evening in the life of Minerva when her monster’s hanging around. So he’s latched firmly to my back and he’s going to stay there until he gets bored, and I’m going to be sad and irritable and think lousy thoughts about myself, interspersed with ridiculous, comically cranky ones like, “Shut the fuck up, Ed Sheeran, I don’t care that her goddamn soul is evergreen and I’m sick to death of hearing about it.” I’m going to watch Bob Ross on Hulu for a while, because he soothes me, and then I’ll put myself to bed early. And in the morning I’ll get up and do it all again, because that’s what I have to do. Getting out of bed might not look like  much, but it’s an act of warfare, and I’m a fighter.

Me, Interrupted

[Trigger warning: Suicide]

2016 has gotten off to an unusual start.

On December 30th, I went to the hospital because I was suicidal to a degree that I’ve never been before. I experience quite a bit of suicidal ideation as a matter of course (so fun!) but this time was different. Before, I would have the “I wish I was dead” thoughts when I was super upset about something, usually crying or paralyzed by anxiety, or so depressed that I couldn’t move. And even then, the vast majority of the time I didn’t think about actual suicide; I’d wish that I could just pop out of existence, or go to sleep and not wake up. I didn’t want to kill myself, I just wanted to not exist anymore. Thoughts like that were scary when they first started for me a couple of years ago, but it’s surprising (and sad) how quickly I got used to them. It’s like once my brain reached out and went there for the first time, it never snapped back into its original shape. It got easier and easier to go to that place, to the point where the thoughts became intrusive and would pop into my head when I was thinking about something normal. Okay, so tonight I have that volunteer meeting at 6 and then when I get home I need to do laundry so my black jeans are clean for the party on Saturday, and I also need to need to run the dishwasher because I forgot last night and hey I could just step out in front of that bus right now and it would all be over. Or I’d be thinking about a problem and mulling over what I could do about it, and within two or three steps I’d somehow arrive at just killing myself because who fucking cares anyway.

So that sort of thing is bad enough by itself. Right around Christmas, though, I had a perfect storm of stressful and upsetting events hit me in rapid succession. They were each upsetting in their own right, but hitting me like BAM-BAM-BAM  was too much and something inside me broke. Looking back, I see now that I was doing really badly for at least at month beforehand, but it’s hard to see the downward spirals sometimes because I’m in them. I’d been drinking more and more in the evenings, ducking into the bathroom at work to cry more and more often, and thinking lots of thoughts like, “I can’t talk to anyone about how I feel because nobody can help me. People mean well but they don’t understand and there’s nothing they can say that would take these hellish feelings away, so there’s no point in telling anyone.” So, on December 30th I found myself sitting at my desk at work, very calmly planning my death. I’m not going to share what the plan was, because I’ve been required to share it with several people already and it creates a tidal wave of guilt and shame and horror and anxiety that doesn’t get any better each time I explain it. I’ll just say that I made a specific plan, which had never been the case before, and when I realized that I was very calmly and deliberately doing the necessary research I needed in order to die, I started shaking all over and got up from my desk at 2:00 in the afternoon and took myself to the emergency room.

I don’t have the emotional reserves tonight to tell the whole story in detail, but I was admitted to a psychiatric unit on New Year’s Eve morning. I have never been more afraid in my entire life. This particular unit was a cross between a hospital and a prison. We couldn’t have cell phones, iPods, laptops, anything made of glass, anything with shoelaces or strings, dental floss, or bras with underwires. We had closets but they had no doors, rods, or hangers. There were no towel bars in the bathrooms. Even the fire sprinklers barely stuck out from the walls. There were a few wall-mounted telephones in the corridor that we could use to make and receive calls, and the cords on them were barely long enough to get the receiver to your ear. There was a fine but dense mesh over all the windows that could only be opened with a key. My unit had two sides, and each side went down to the cafeteria for meals at set times, three times a day, in the elevator that could only be operated by someone with a key. After meals we stood in line at the nurse’s station to get our medications in little paper cups with another little paper cup of water to wash them down.

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Between meals, we had group therapy. Group therapy, quite honestly, was one of the most amazing, powerful, enlightening, and exhausting experiences I’ve ever had. My fellow patients, I came to realize, were truly beautiful souls. We had all arrived at roughly the same time, and we were each bottoming out in our own ways. We were stripped down to the rawest, barest, saddest, most exhausted and frightened and vulnerable versions of ourselves, and we cautiously accompanied each other through those first really rough couple of days and started having breakthroughs together, and breakdowns too, and there was so much pain in what these people were going through, such unspeakable trauma they’d suffered, and they shared it all out loud with an honesty and bravery that made me cry. I learned so much just from sitting quietly and listening to them – I think I learned just as much from listening, if not more, than I did from talking through my own stuff. They inspired me so. It was so hard and so rewarding at the same time.

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I was on the unit for five days and I have lots of things to share from my experience there, but it’s way too much to tell all at once, so it’ll come along organically as I write my way through this next phase, the post-hospitalization phase, which so far has been…weird. It goes without saying that I was overjoyed to come home to my own apartment and my own shower and my own bed, but I also came home to the life I’d been completely sheltered from for five days. Could you willingly surrender all forms of electronic communication for five days? No texting, no email, no social media, no Google when you find yourself wondering about something? No news alerts, no Amazon, no Fruit Ninja, no checking your bank accounts? It creates an extremely uncomfortable feeling of isolation, and that’s exactly the point – in our downtime, we couldn’t fall back on the easy, mindless, sometimes compulsive methods of distraction and self-medication we’d learned to use so well. We had to sit quietly with ourselves and feel our feelings and think our thoughts and sometimes watch ABC because that was the only station the TV in the dayroom could get. So coming back to my couch and my Roku that lets me stream a zillion different movies and TV shows, and my iPhone that basically puts the world in the palm of my hand, felt strange and honestly a little scary. I felt very fragile coming home to the same life that I’d been living in such darkness and despair and fear before, and I had to learn–have to learn–how to live it in a different way. A way that’s more centered on truly taking care of myself instead of just fumbling around for various ways to numb my pain. Because the pain’s still there, mostly. I’m not suicidal anymore, but I still have major depression with a side of anxiety, and it’s possible that I always will. I can take care of myself to the best of my ability, but the fact remains that I may be sick in one degree or another for the rest of my life. But I try not to think that far ahead, because navigating individual days, and even hours, is enough of a challenge. The difference is that it’s a challenge I feel up to, at least most of the time. Old patterns and habits are hard to break, but I’ve come to understand how much better I’ll feel once I break them. It’s a tiring process, and sometimes when I’m alone I break down and cry out of sheer exhaustion, but that’s okay. Everything I feel is allowed – what an amazing thing, to be learning to accept myself like that.

So I’m back in the swing of things, more or less, and I’m starting to feel like myself again (I know I’m getting better when my sense of humor starts to come back). I know I’ll have some setbacks and disappointments, but I’m prepared to accept that. Fighters fight.

 

Yeats, Sunlight, and Big Apple Red

[Originally published on my other blog on June 1, 2015.]

Last week was bad. Really bad. My depression monster would not shut up, and I was basically white-knuckling it the whole time while I waited for my meds to kick in. I slept a ton, I cried a ton, and I thought about dying a ton. At work on Thursday morning I was thinking such dark thoughts that I made a pact with myself that if I still felt that bad when I got home, I would call my therapist and have her meet me at the ER (which is the plan she and I have discussed and agreed to). I didn’t feel safe with myself. Have you ever felt that way? It’s the strangest sensation. I had sunk down in to the deepest part of depression where you don’t feel much of anything. You aren’t sad, you aren’t angry, you aren’t really anything. You’re just numb, and that, for me, is the nightmarish point where it’s possible to hear my own brain telling me that dying is a completely reasonable option. In fact, maybe it’s the only one. The weirdest thing about it is I can think those thoughts in one part of my mind, but another part is saying, “GIRL. NOT COOL. Look at what your brains are doing. This is not okay and you are not safe and you have to do something.” That voice is not as loud as the depression monster’s, but it speaks with a gravity that I haven’t yet been able to ignore. And this time, that voice worked really hard. That voice busted its ass. That voice said, “Listen. You are a person who thinks the world is so beautiful that it hurts sometimes. Sometimes you cry because the universe is so amazing that you’re overcome with gratitude that you get to be here to see it and be a part of it. That girl, the one who gets goosebumps every time she hears ‘What a Wonderful World’ and could write ten pages about how nice it is to hold hands with someone, is still in here somewhere, and she wants to live. That girl doesn’t think everything is awful and pointless. She sees bad things sometimes, but she does her best to do something about them. That girl gives freely of her time and money and inner resources to stand up for what is right and support people who are in a time of fear and uncertainty and great need. That girl has more work to do. She’s not done. She wants to read more books and hear more music and look into more people’s eyes. She wants to get more tattoos and sing more ridiculous songs to her cats. She wants to drink champagne and learn how to crotchet and watch her niece and nephew grow up. SO, that voice says, you need to tell the depression monster to sit down and shut up.

I had a major shift in the afternoon and was actually feeling fairly okay later on in the day. I came home and had dinner and relaxed and didn’t cry and went to bed. I had a nice restful weekend (cannot stop sleeping, could sleep for a year if you let me) and got out of bed this morning feeling decent. (I know these adjectives are underwhelming, but it’s important to remember that after spending two weeks in a waking nightmare, “fairly okay” is something to celebrate.) My new dosage of meds has me feeling kind of puke-y most of the time, but I had a reasonable amount of energy all day, felt pretty steady while dealing with some stress, laughed with my coworkers and caught a few glimpses of my normal fun self. I decided to try to keep up that momentum and made myself an appointment for a mani-pedi after work. I had some time to kill before my appointment, so I stopped by the used bookstore near the salon. I spent half an hour drifting around and filling my arms with books. I picked up an old copy of The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, started to put it back, then opened it and took a deep breath. It smelled so good that I instantly smiled, and I thought, “There’s one. There’s a thing I would be so sad if I never got to do it again.” I paid for my books and wandered out into the street, where the sun was getting low and casting a really lovely golden light over everything, and I thought, “There’s another.” A couple of hours later, I looked down at my shiny, cherry-red (“Big Apple Red,” to be exact) toes and fingers and thought, “And another.”I have to remember these things, and I will. As long as there’s still a part of me that the depression monster can’t get to, the part that thinks the world is terrible and beautiful all at once and that’s why it’s such a mind-boggling place to be, the part that likes being mind-boggled, the part that will never get tired of saying, “Well isn’t this nice?”…as long as that part is still there, I will remember the reasons why I want to be here, why I love being here. And I think that part willalways be there. Parts of my brain are sick, or have faulty wiring, or however you want to describe it…but other parts, really important parts, are just fine, and they’re not interested in closing up shop. So when things get dark in here again, as they inevitably will, I know that I just have to hold on tight and remember.
Nail polish.
Old-book smell.
Champagne.
The sun in the Midwest at 6:00 in the evening on the first of June.
Remember.

Stand Up Eight

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[Originally posted on my other blog on May 21, 2015.]

It’s been a busy winter and spring. I started a new job and have been doing lots of volunteering and other cool things, and a couple of weeks ago, I moved for the first time in six years. The new job is really good, and my new home is better than I’d even hoped. I’ve been feeling great and have only been going to therapy every four to six weeks or so and that’s been working fine. With all these positive things happening, I figured, why not start the process of weaning off my antidepressant? What need do I have for it when my life’s in great shape and I’m feeling so awesome and strong and optimistic? A little over a month ago, I saw my doctor and he cut my dosage by 30%. The plan was to stay there for a couple of months to let my body adjust, then cut the dose again, and so on. The couple of weeks were tough…nausea, dizziness, and that generally lousy hungover feeling that I remember well from prior experiences with antidepressants. Work was stressful during those same couple of weeks and I noticed that I felt more irritable and easily frustrated, but that’s to be expected. It takes time for your brain to remember how to handle things without the drugs, or with less of them. No big deal. Then I had to pack for my move, and hey, moving is stressful! Nobody likes packing their entire life into boxes and then promptly emptying them someplace else. Yuck. So, I mean, not a big deal that was crying kind of a lot during that time. And my anxiety was skyrocketing and I was self-medicating by drinking a lot. And wanting to do nothing but sleep 24 hours a day. And thinking dark panicky thoughts about how nothing was going to be okay and somehow the bottom was about to drop out of my life and I’d end up sleeping at the nearest bus stop.

The move went as well as those things ever go. I’m in my new place and it’s beautiful and just feels like me. So with that ordeal out of the way and things calming down at the office, I was all set to get back to feeling awesome because the stressors were gone.

But I didn’t.

Last Sunday, I felt exhausted and numb. Totally fine, I thought. My parents were here that weekend and we were really busy putting the finishing touches on my place, hanging curtains and such. I drank a bottle of wine while watching Sunday night TV and had a crying jag that lasted about an hour, but whatever, sometimes a girl’s gotta cry it out for a minute or sixty.

Monday, I rolled out of bed. Literally rolled. Then I sat on my bedroom floor in the dark for a solid ten minutes willing myself to get up. Cried a little more. Made it to the shower. Somehow got to work and clocked my eight hours even though I felt like I was going to burst into tears at any moment and my attention span was so shot that it took me all day to do about 30 minutes’ worth of work because I couldn’t hold a thought in my head. I went home and got straight into my pajamas and laid motionless on the couch, feeling like my head and arms weighed a thousand pounds and doing anything but lying there was simply too much. At bedtime, I started crying again because the prospect of washing my face and brushing my teeth was so overwhelming. So I brushed my teeth but left the makeup (I’d cried most of it off anyway).

I woke up Tuesday morning and I pried open my mascara-gummed eyelids and discovered that I physically couldn’t get out of bed. If you’ve never been depressed, this sounds like a bunch of lazy bullshit, but I swear to whatever gods there may be that this is an actual thing. When you’re depressed, there is something about first thing in the morning that is absolutely hellish. You swim up out of sleep and open your eyes and your brain starts working and you remember how you hate yourself and your life and how everyone else hates you too, and getting up and going out into the world is only going to reinforce that knowledge, so just stay the hell in bed. Nope, your body says. We’re staying here. Go back to sleep, asshole, because YOUR nightmare begins when you wake UP. And your limbs and your head throb and ache and weigh six tons a piece anyway so bitch, please, like you’re EVEN leaving the house today.

I called in sick. I slept until 10 am and then got up and trudged to the couch and proceeded to lie there instead for a couple of hours, staring at the TV. Then I fell asleep for another 4 or 5 hours. Woke up and cried for a while and thought about how I wished I were dead. Slept some more. Woke up and made myself eat something that I normally love but tasted like sand to me. Then I went to bed.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t until Monday that it even occurred to me that I might be relapsing. I know perfectly well what my triggers and symptoms are, and I brushed them off for a solid month. How could I be relapsing when I hadn’t even stopped my medication, but only reduced it? Don’t be ridiculous.

I didn’t feel better yesterday but pure guilt made me drag myself to work. I spent the whole day in near-tears again (and in actual tears a few times, in the bathroom) and barely got anything done. By this point, my depression monster was roaring in my head. I’m back, motherfucker! Miss me? (My depression monster is a smug son of a bitch.) You are horrible and your life is horrible and you really should just die already. You’ve got twenty Vicodin and a bottle of vodka at home–don’t act like you aren’t thinking about it, you useless, sniveling twat.

Perhaps, I thought, I should put in a call to my psychiatrist.

So here I am, about to go to bed, and tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and take my full dosage of Cymbalta. And I’ll probably cry, because why wouldn’t I at this point, and I’ll feel like an epic failure even though I know that’s nonsense. My brain needs what my brain needs and I don’t control that. My life is still positive and good and the work I’ve done to make it that way wasn’t in vain. Maybe I pushed too soon to start tapering off my meds. Neither of my mental health professionals thought so, though. I feel tempted to wallow, and quite honestly, I’ve been hard-core wallowing all week, because at this point it’s basically impossible to imagine a point in my future when I’m not going to be terrified of relapse. The sinister thing about depression is that the more episodes you have in the course of your life, the more likely you are to keep having more. So at this point, statistically it’s far more likely that I will relapse than that I won’t. I don’t know how to live with that. I don’t know how to live with the fear that, unless I resign myself to being on medication for the rest of my life, someday I will relapse and maybe there will be a day that I’m just a tiny bit more worn down, just a tiny bit more tired and fed up with this thing, and my depression monster will be just a tiny bit louder than it’s ever been so far, and then it’s lights out. I don’t have words for that particular fear. If it scares you just to read it, take a minute to think about what it’s like to carry it around.

Depression Me sucks and says scary things. I’m sorry about that. A very kind person told me today that I’m a bright light in her life. And I hate feeling like that light is out, so tomorrow I take the damn pills and get myself back on track. If I need pharmaceuticals to keep myself functioning in the world, then I’m going to take them. I’m an adult and I have this problem and it’s my job to address it, so I will. And maybe when I’m feeling better I’ll be grossed-out by these dramatics and not feel as scared as I do now. Maybe. But let’s get me there first.

Fall down seven times, the saying goes. Stand up eight.

The Great Brain Renovation of 2014

[Originally posted on my other blog on December 30, 2014.]

New Year’s Eve is my least favorite holiday. I can’t think of a single new year that I’ve rung in without wanting to smile and cry at the same time during the countdown. I’m always so wrapped up in the bittersweet feeling of another year gone conflicting with the hope and optimism of a new one beginning, and I can’t stop pondering What It All Means. This happens regardless of whether it was a good or bad year overall. This year, though, I have slightly more positive feelings toward New Year’s than I usually do, because 2014 was the worst. Just the worst. And I’m happy to be kissing it goodbye and starting over with a brand spankin’ new year.

I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided that this is the perfect summary of my year:

emma-stone-ice-cream

My depression battle has been chronicled at length; I won’t go on about it here. But it’s been a real bitch. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my job was my own personal version of Hell and I had to spend 40 hours a week in a toxic environment that made me completely miserable. I made a lot of jokes about it because that’s how I prefer to handle lousy situations I can’t control, but the fact of the matter is that working there was extremely detrimental to my depression recovery. This became even more abundantly clear to me when I got laid off right before Thanksgiving and about two weeks into unemployment, I realized that I felt calmer and more relaxed and stable than I had in years, and it was because I wasn’t going to that nightmarish place every day. I couldn’t even find the will to be too stressed about the job search because I was too busy enjoying how good it felt to be free of that knot of anxiety and anger that I’d been carrying around in my stomach for four years. The universe smiled upon me and I accepted a new job exactly a month after losing my old one. And let me tell you, this job isawesome. I feel so fortunate not just to have found something so quickly, but that I found something great. The job is interesting and challenging, the company offers insanely good benefits, the people there are nice…it seems almost too good to be true. I’m honestly a little afraid I’m going to show up on my first day and learn that it’s all a front for an organ-harvesting ring and I’m going to spend the rest of my short life in some kind of human-size Habitrail.

habitrail

The least they could do is give me one with a slide.

My therapy has been working wonders since I started in March, and the addition of escaping my detested old job and finding this rad new one has had an immeasurably positive effect on my overall well-being. I feel hopeful and optimistic and excited about life again, and it goes without saying that it’s been a minute or two since I felt that way. So at long last, without a moment to spare, I’m able to look back on this year and see that while it was really hard and had a lot of dark days, many of those days were spent building a ladder out of the pit I was in.

My therapist is a rockstar. I can picture her smiling and shifting uncomfortably in her chair and saying no, I’m doing so much better because I did a lot of work this year, which is true, but it’s also true that her endless patience and gentleness and quiet but unshakeable support have changed me in a way I could never have imagined the first time I sat down in her office. Therapy was not what I imagined. It’s not like in the movies. I don’t recall many “OH MY GOD, I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT” epiphanies in the 9 months I’ve been seeing her. The changes happened a little bit at a time, sometimes so slowly that I didn’t notice them until I suddenly observed myself saying something or handling a situation in a way that was markedly different than what I would’ve said or done a year ago.  Those moments are awesome, because they’re where I see the work paying off and realize how much better I’m doing. And it’s not just “Oh good, I’m back to acting the way I did before I was depressed.” Not at all. It’s “Wow, I’m thinking and acting in a way I never have before because I’ve learned an entirely new, healthier way to be.”

self-five

I’ve learned not to bail on myself the second someone questions my choices. I’m a grown-ass woman who’s running her own life and is capable of making good decisions. People can have their opinions about me, but I’ve learned to file those away in their proper place instead of letting them worm their way into my brain and undermine what I think is right for me. What matters first and foremost is what I think of me, and honestly, I think I’m pretty awesome most of the time. I screw up sometimes, but who the hell doesn’t? That doesn’t mean that I’m a screw-up or a disappointment or not as good as everyone else. It means I’m a human being. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to finally accept that I’m just a person, and people have flaws, and that is 100% okay. Everything I feel is okay. There’s nothing I’m not “allowed” to feel. That, too, was incredibly liberating. I think a solid 70% of my therapy experience this year has been letting myself off one hook or another. I look back on how unrelentingly critical I’ve been of myself, how ruthlessly harsh and unfair, and I feel sad that I spent so many years treating myself that way. And I’ve learned that it’s why I’ve allowed other people to treat me badly – I was accustomed to feeling inferior and undeserving, so when someone else treated me that way, it didn’t feel wrong. That makes me sad too. But I don’t dwell on it, because the good news is that I don’t have to live even one more day like that. It’s over. And that feels so amazing – to know that I’ve learned all this great stuff and I’ve got nothing ahead of me but minutes and hours and days in which to practice living a happier, healthier, gentler life. It won’t always be easy. I’m not prepared to say my depression’s in remission and I can throw away my drugs and go skipping off into the sunset. I still have hours and days when the world is dark and hopeless and I just can’t deal.

i-want-a-donut
But they’re fewer and farther between lately, and I’m prepared to call that a victory.

I’ve decided that New Year’s resolutions are dumb, but I’ve picked one thing that I do want to work on in 2015: Not comparing myself to other people so much. It’s a completely human thing to do, but I think a lot of us spend way too much time doing it. I know that I’ve spent many a moment worrying about the fact that my life doesn’t look much likes the lives of some of my friends. But I’ve come to realize that this falls into the “unfair and unreasonable” category I was talking about a minute ago. Everybody’s different, and so everybody’s life is different. I learned ages ago that my life is just not going to pan out the way I always thought it would, and you know what? That is totally fine. I mean, how boring would life be if everything always went according to plan? *YAWN.* I am on a different path than I expected, and it’s a different path than a lot of people I know, and one of the major things I learned this year is how to be cool with that. But it’s a skill that takes near-constant practice, so I want to keep working on it in 2015. All I know is it became much easier to be happy with myself and my circumstances when I stopped caring about what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter. They’re not on the same journey that I’m on. There are things that I want out of life that I don’t have right now, and that’s all right – if I really want them, I will get them in due time, when it’s right for me. I’ve come to understand that sometimes not getting what you want when you expect to is a blessing in disguise. So hey everyone – I’ll do me, and you do you, and it’ll all be wonderful, and when it’s time to celebrate your exciting life events, I will always be there. Probably by the cake table.

marnie-cake-face.gif

I think that’s enough rambling for now. Just wanted to do a little review of the year, because it was a doozy for me. I feel proud of myself for making it through such a difficult time and emerging on the other side with something to show for it. A lot to show for it, actually. So I think that tomorrow night when I’m counting down with champagne in hand, I’ll be less wrapped up in pondering What It All Means because I know one thing for sure: Come what may, I’m going to be just fine.

The Hero of the Story

[Originally published on my other blog on December 15, 2014.]

There’s a Regina Spektor song that has one of my favorite lines in all of music and poetry.

The line is: “I’m the hero of the story / Don’t need to be saved.”

I have clung to this line like a talisman for years.

This year in particular.

This year has been my hardest. I’ve had previous years that I thought were worthy of the title, but this one put them to shame.

This has been The Year My Depression Almost Killed Me. For once, I am not being hyperbolic for the sake of deflection or humor. I can say, in all seriousness, that if I hadn’t sought help and started therapy and medication this past spring, I would most likely be dead. This was not simply the moodiness and sensitivity and ennui that have been my trademarks all my life; this year, I got well and truly sick. My brain told me lies that put me in so much pain that I sincerely wanted to die. Some of it is purely chemical. Some of it is simply needing to un-fuck my way of thinking about myself and other people. I say “simply” with a bit of a sarcastic sneer, because there’s nothing simple about reframing the way you see yourself, your life, the world around you. There’s nothing simple about coming to terms with the fact that parts of you are broken and need to be re-built a different way. Seeking help was a relief, but it also was the beginning of a lot of really, really hard work. Things got worse before they got better. I thought I could get through this without medication but quickly came to realize that I couldn’t. That was a blow to the old ego, but I don’t regret making that decision. I’m sick, and sometimes sick people need to take medicine. I got over it. I took the meds, and then I took a little bit more. And then added a second. And I started feeling pretty good.

Then I lost my job.

I’ve never been out of work. It’s a very strange feeling. It’s been almost a month now, and for the most part it’s been okay. My former employer gave me a pretty generous severance package so I don’t have to panic about money or insurance for a little while. For the first couple of weeks, it felt like vacation. It’s getting a little bit harder now because it’s Christmastime and I feel a little cut off from society and am finding it harder to get in the spirit than usual. I bought people presents, and I’ve seen the lights and the Macy’s windows downtown. But I’m not feeling it so much. Maybe it’ll get better when I go down to my parents’ place next week and it’s officially Christmas. I hope so.

I’ve been seeing someone for a couple of months. It was never an ideal situation from my perspective, but I was willing to explore it. I took a risk, because I’m a romantic at heart and believe that many of the best things in life require a leap of faith. But it didn’t work out. There may be a right time for us, but that time is not right now. And I knew that it was going to drag on and on in a painful way unless I took the initiative to end it, and so I did. This morning. It sucked and I’m sad.

So let’s take stock: No job, no love life, and a mental health status that feels a bit shaky lately.

Merry Christmas.

I let myself be down in the dumps for most of the day today. I let myself admit that this sucks and I’m sad and I don’t know when I’ll stop being sad because I have no idea what the next month, or six months, or twelve months of my life are going to look like. Not the foggiest idea. I feel like I’m able to count on way fewer things than I’m used to. I have far fewer givens and far more variables than I usually do, and that lack of stability is not a great thing for someone struggling with her mental health.

But then I decided to be done with my pity party, because I realized that this has also been a year of incredible growth for me. I have learned so much, and I have done an enormous amount of work on myself and come to some truly priceless realizations. The fact that I walked away from this guy this morning is a sign of how far I have come – I could’ve hung around for months and been miserable while lying to myself about why I was doing it. But I didn’t. I realized that I deserve better than what he’s offering right now, and I said goodbye. That seems simple, but it’s a big deal for me. I might not have a lot of certainty about my life at the moment, but I’ve got a far better sense of who I am and what I deserve than I’ve ever had before, and that’s big. I found a cause that I’m passionate about, which is a woman’s right to choose, and I’ve become an activist. Not just someone who talks a lot about being pro-choice, but an actual activist. And that has given me a feeling of autonomy and power and value that I’ve never felt before. It’s making me feel the closest to happiness that I’ve felt in a long time. And I made it happen. I accepted that I was in a bad way and got help and I’m doing the work. I’ve lost a lot of sleep and cried a lot of tears and said a lot of really, really dirty words, but I’m getting it done, because somewhere along the line I realized that I’m a person worth saving, and ultimately the only person who can do that is me. I refuse to buckle under the weight of my illness. I refuse to tap out. I refuse to accept any outcome other than the one I’m working for.

In any story, there’s always a moment when it seems all is lost. But then the hero rises and saves the day.

I’m the hero of the story.

I’ve said the words many times, but this was the year I truly learned what they mean.

I’m the hero of the story. And I don’t need to be saved.

I’m saving myself.