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.

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:

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Never Read the Comments

Over the last few days, there’s been a flurry of news articles about a recent depression study suggesting that it’s possible to diagnose adult depression with a blood test. You can read about it here or in myriad other places, but the gist is that depressed people have different levels of nine RNA blood markers than non-depressed people. Not only that, but the specific combination of these levels in individual patients can predict which kind of treatment will work best for them – medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or maybe both. This aspect of the test is huge, because it can help doctors get their patients feeling better faster by providing the correct treatment right away instead of having to experiment and see what works for them. Also, three of these RNA markers can also be measured to detect a predisposition to depression in a person who is not currently depressed – levels of these three markers remain different from those of patients without depression, even after a depressed patient achieves remission. So these markers may eventually be used to help identify people who have never been depressed before but should be monitored closely for symptoms.

Isn’t science awesome?

This is just one study and it only involved 64 patients, so there’s a lot more work to be done, but this is exciting news nevertheless. I’ve already been diagnosed with major depression and have found therapy that’s working, but I’m still really excited about the potential social ramifications of this kind of testing. I think that being able to biologically test for depression, to prove the diagnosis with quantifiable data, will strike a huge blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness and silence the hordes of ill-informed critics who insist that clinical depression does not exist and people just need to get a grip and stop wallowing. (It is true that not all people who feel depressed have clinical depression. Some people are just going through a rough patch due to personal circumstances and/or need a bit of a life makeover. But many people do not believe there is a difference.)

Needless to say, I’ve been gobbling up every bit of information I can find about this, because it marks a key moment in mental health care. Currently, the diagnostic process in mental health care consists mainly of compiling the symptoms reported by the patient and seeing what they add up to. There are various tests that can be done on paper, but the field is sorely lacking in biological methods for diagnosis. The other fields of medicine used to operate this same way — a century ago. So at last, the mental health field is beginning to catch up, and this can only mean improved quality of care for patients and therefore improved treatment outcomes.

So I read an article about this on Facebook yesterday, and then I did a terrible thing. I knew better, but I did it anyway.

I did the thing a person should never do.

I started reading the comments.

When you begin reading internet comments, you are stepping right up to the edge of a black hole and peering inside. And eventually, if you keep reading, you’re going to fall in. It’s inevitable. And it’s probably going to ruin your day and make you despair for the human race.

I don’t know why I started reading the comments on this article, because obviously the subject of mental health in general and depression in particular is personal for me and reading other people’s idiotic comments will not do anything except upset me. So I don’t know if it was some sick masochistic impulse that made me start reading or what, but there I was.

Out of the hundreds of comments, there were several from people who saw this as the positive thing that it actually is and were remarking on how marvelous this is and how it’s an important moment in science, etc. Then there were the people who have to criticize everything, even good things, and they were chiming in with scoffing, haughty comments about how the test group was ridiculously small so how does this study mean anything, actual mainstream use of this test is years away so why all the excitement about it, etc. Then there were the anti-establishment zealots who see anything related to health care and immediately begin screaming WAKE UP, SHEEPLE, BIG PHARMA IS OUT TO GET YOU and raving about how all doctors are irresponsible pill-pushers maliciously trying to drug the daylights out of their patients instead of actually helping them. (All doctors? Really?)

And then, of course, there were the trolls.

You see them in comment sections across the internet – those people who simply cannot pass up an opportunity to say something ugly and cruel, who flaunt their willful ignorance like it’s something to be proud of, who feed off other people’s angry responses because that’s exactly why they are there – for the satisfaction of making other people feel as angry and hateful as they do, to force other people to stoop to their level, and because negative attention is better than none at all. People who spend a fair amount of time online are familiar with trolls and know not to feed them by giving them the attention they seek. But it’s hard sometimes. It’s SO hard to see someone being cruel and ignorant and not stand up for the actual truth, to not fight back against a person spreading incorrect, sometimes dangerous information in a public setting.

A few of my favorites that I saw yesterday (and yes, these are verbatim):

“There are already blood tests for depression. They’re called [blood] spatter patterns.”

“Depression is a state of mind, not an illness. Smoke a joint and get over yourselves.”

“Depression is a mindset. You people are weak and if we didn’t live in such a cushy supportive lifestyle, natural selection would’ve run its course.”

I wish I could say that I’m immune to the words of random strangers on the internet. That would be a great superpower to have. But these comments left me reeling. I’ve watched people being ignorant and wantonly cruel on the internet countless times, but on a sensitive subject such as this, it really got under my skin. It was devastating to see people being so dismissive of something that’s been a major presence in my mind and my life for almost a year now, that’s often rendered me nearly immobile with sadness and self-loathing and pain, that’s left me literally sitting on my hands to keep myself from raking my skin with my fingernails to see if bringing my pain to the outside would relieve some of the agony I felt inside, that recently caused me to spend an entire evening sobbing and thinking obsessively about the bottle of vodka in my fridge and whether I had enough pain pills in the house to chase with it and never wake up again. To be living this experience and see someone reduce it to a bad joke about suicide, to be told that I could fix it by smoking a joint, that I’m suffering because of a character flaw, or that this is just Darwinism trying to weed me out of the gene pool…I don’t have the words for the hurt and anger that makes me feel, and I don’t have words strong enough to explain how wrong those people are in their thinking and how awful and despicable it is to air that kind of garbage anywhere, much less in a space where there are likely to be a lot of people with a personal connection to depression. The impotent rage almost choked me, because I knew I could respond to these people and attempt to correct or discredit them, but I also knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything. They weren’t there to participate in an intelligent discussion about mental health issues – they were there to provoke people, and unfortunately it worked on me.  But I started to feel better later in the day when I remembered that this weekend I’m participating in an event that will accomplish something.

Tomorrow I’m participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness walk. They have a huge national walk every year, but this one is the Chicagoland community walk organized by the AFSP’s Illinois chapter. More than 4,500 people are participating, and together we have raised over $600,000 for research grants, legislative efforts, and community outreach programs to prevent loss of life by suicide and remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. I am so proud to be a part of this amazing event, and I also feel strong and empowered because I’m supporting an organization that stands up against the stigma and ignorance and cruelty that so many people with mental illness face and works tirelessly to help people in crisis get the help and support they need, because their illness is both real and treatable. Responding to individual jerks on the internet might not make a difference, but supporting the AFSP will, and talking openly about my depression will, and I’m doing both of those things.

Crawl back under your bridges, trolls.

Robin Williams and Suicide Stigma

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[Originally written for my other blog on August 12, 2014.]

Last night was tough.

My phone alerted me a little after 6:00 that Robin Williams had died, and then the media released details indicating that he appeared to have died by suicide.  The loss of such a gifted and beloved man is already painful, but I’m devastated that he took his own life.  It makes the loss exponentially sadder and more tragic, at least for me.

I was already having a bit of a shaky day yesterday.  I’ve been feeling good lately, courtesy of my new antidepressant, but the last week or so has reminded me that I still have a long way to go and that taking an antidepressant doesn’t mean that I’ll never feel depressed again.  So yesterday wasn’t a great day to begin with, and then the Robin Williams news broke and I completely fell apart.  It scares me, all the way to my bones, to see someone succumb to the same illness I have.  Robin was wealthy and successful and admired by (it seems) pretty much everybody, and his demons still got him.  In spite of all he had going for him, his depression hurt so much and made him feel so worthless and hopeless that he thought the only way to make it stop was to die.  And I can’t bear it.  I can’t stand the thought of how he must have been feeling over the last few days and in his last moments.  I can’t stand that this disorder has the power to do this to a person.  When you really think about it, it’s shocking – the primitive urge to stay alive, to survive, is hard-wired into our biology, into every cell of our bodies, and depression has the power to twist your mind so badly that your brain overrides that most basic instinct.  It has the power to make you feel that killing yourself makes sense.  A lot of people don’t realize that, so it’s easy for them to pass judgment on people who commit suicide.  “What a selfish thing to do,” they say.  “He took the easy way out.”

Several years ago, I was going through a period of extreme emotional turmoil.  My life got turned upside down and I was so scared and in so much pain and I truly could not imagine a time when I wouldn’t feel that way anymore.  I hated my life and I hated myself and believed that I always would, so I actually began formulating a plan to die.  I decided on a method and researched how to get my hands on what I’d need.  That was as far as it went, fortunately, because when push came to shove I wasn’t so far gone that I couldn’t find something to cling to and live for.  But I can tell you that there was nothing easy about being in that much pain and feeling too scared to tell anyone because I was afraid I’d be locked up and that stigma would follow me forever.  There was nothing easy about that mental and emotional suffering and believing that I’d never get better.  That is one of the many ways that depression wears you down – in addition to dragging you down into despair and self-loathing, it also tells you over and over and over that you’re never going to get better, so what’s the point of trying?  You have nothing in your future but more of this pain. (Mine also likes to tell me that even if I get better, no one will ever love me or want to be with me because I could relapse again at any time.)  The deciding factor in going on medication this summer was the surfacing of suicidal thoughts.  It’s something you can’t truly understand unless you’ve been there yourself, but believe me when I say that that state of mind, where thoughts about suicide intrude on your thoughts without warning multiple times a day, is completely terrifying and absolutely unbearable.

So to the people who claim that suicide is selfish and taking the easy way out, I say this: Educate yourself, because you have no idea what you’re talking about.  People deep in depression don’t kill themselves because it’s the easy way out.  They kill themselves because they believe it’s the only way out.

People don’t die of AIDS.  They die of an infection (or complications of an infection) that their body can’t fight because they have AIDS.  But we commonly say, “That person died of AIDS.”  I wish we could learn to talk about depression in a similar way.  When a person with depression dies by suicide, no matter the method, what they are really dying of is depression.  You wouldn’t pass judgment on the character or moral fiber of a person who died of cancer or heart disease.  Passing judgment on a mentally ill person is just as unfair, but the stigma surrounding mental illness in our culture makes it an all-too-common practice.  And that has to stop.  Having a mental illness is awful enough already without being judged for having it and feeling like you have to hide it or, worse, ignore it.  I’ve been blogging about my depression because I refuse to treat it like it’s some kind of weakness and I refuse to be afraid of people judging me.  If we’re going to wipe out the stigma, we have to talk about this.  We have to be gutsy and honest, and we have to educate ourselves and each other.

So let’s start here:  Robin Williams is not dead because he was weak or cowardly or selfish.  He’s dead because he was sick.  Period.

In Which I Realize I Need Help

[Written for my other blog in June 2014.]

I’ve had depression in the past, and I’ve been treated for it.  I had my first experience with it when I was in college; my depression at the time was fairly mild, and I wanted to just take a pill and be happy.  I was offered counseling services and refused.  In retrospect, I had plenty of things going on emotionally that I wish I had gotten help with.  My depression was not purely a chemical imbalance like I insisted it was.  I had psychological and emotional issues that were also contributing factors, but I either wasn’t consciously aware of them or I wasn’t willing to face them, so I asked for the pills and I got them, and I took them for years.  I’ve been off them for about eight years now and I was doing fine for the most part…until this past winter.  Looking back, I was beginning to struggle a bit in the fall but it came on so gradually that it didn’t register on my radar as anything to worry about.  I was keeping afloat and it seemed a little harder than usual, but sometimes that’s just how it is with me.

But after the holidays ended…game over.

My psychological state took a massive kamikaze dive and there was no mistaking it for anything other than what it was.  Major depression, if you’ve never experienced it, feels like your well-being is rotting out from under you.  I’ve been feeling sad, for sure.  Very, very sad.  The kind of sad that a manicure or new shoes or a bitch session with my best friend can barely make a dent in.  It’s in my bones.  But depression is more than just that – persistent sadness is one of the main symptoms, but there are so many more, and I have way more of them this time around than I did before.  The feeling of utter hopelessness is the hardest, scariest part.  My life is more or less the same as it was six months ago, but six months ago I felt good about my life, and I looked forward to things, and I felt excited about whatever was ahead of me.  When the depression hit full-blast, it knocked out virtually every positive feeling I had about myself, my life, and my future.  And because I’m someone who fights hard in the name of optimism and positivity and gratitude, that scared the hell out of me.  Suddenly, I felt like I had nothing to live for, nothing to look forward to, no reason to get up every day and participate in the world.  My little mental game of “Let’s turn that frown upside down by making a list of things I’m grateful for” became completely laughable.  That little voice inside that usually speaks up to say things like, But M, it’s really not so bad, is it? was suddenly saying, Why are you even here?  Getting out of bed in the morning became an incredible ordeal, because turning on the shower and washing my hair felt like an exercise in pointlessness.  Why go to work?  I’m no good at what I do.  Nobody there likes me.  I contribute nothing to humanity.  I have nothing ahead of me to work toward and look forward to.  I saw my future yawning open in front of me and it no longer looked like a doorway leading somewhere mysterious but probably awesome.  It looked like a bottomless pit that filled me with dread.  And I didn’t really tell anyone because there didn’t seem any point in doing so.  I’m familiar with the kind of things people say to sad people (because I’ve said them myself) and I knew that it wouldn’t do any good.

And all day every day, for months, there was a relentless despairing monologue running in my head telling me that I’m useless and boring and unlovable and no good to anyone, and I’ll never have anything that I want because I don’t deserve it, who the hell am I to think I deserve anything when I’m such an awful waste of space?  I mentally checked out of my job and I felt myself withdrawing from my social life bit by bit because the idea of voluntarily being out in public and talking to people and pretending to be okay made me want to start screaming.  I had no interest in anything but eating, sleeping, and staring at the TV.  (Being depressed sucks because the only things you’re interested in doing are things that will keep you feeling depressed.)

In real life, depression does not look like it does in the Zoloft commercials.  There’s absolutely nothing cute about it, and it doesn’t feel like I’m rolling along under a puffy gray cloud and feeling a little down in the dumps.

zoloft

Bite me, Zoloft.

It’s ugly, and it feels messy and dark and terrifying.  It feels like I’m fighting with my own mind.  It can alternate between unbearable sadness and an almost eerie blankness or numbness, where I don’t really feel much of anything.  I don’t feel sad, but I don’t feel anything positive, either.  It’s total robot-style apathy.  In a way, I hate those days even more.

The turning point came in mid-March when it was gray and freezing cold and I was crossing the river on the State Street bridge to catch a train home from work.  It had been a particularly bad day; I was so crushingly sad that I felt sick to my stomach and the thought of walking four blocks to the train made me so tired I wanted to cry.  Depression can bring on a level of physical fatigue that’s truly astounding –  a “sit and stare at your ringing phone because you can’t find the will to reach for it” level of exhaustion that makes even the simplest tasks feel like insurmountable feats.  (This does not help with the feelings of uselessness and self-loathing.)  Things had finally reached a point where I was legitimately worried about myself and was trying to figure out what to do about it.  Maybe my hormones are out of whack.  Maybe it’s run-of-the mill seasonal depression because this winter’s been so bad.  Maybe I just need a vacation.  Maybe I need to find a therapist.

Maybe I’ll just die.

martinwtf

The idea slithered into my parade of thoughts and marched merrily along like it belonged there among all the other legitimate ones.  Except it didn’t belong there.  At all.  It stopped me dead in my tracks, and that was the moment I realized that this situation was a hundred times worse than it was the first time around and it was not acceptable, and that trying to handle it myself was not just hubris, but also possibly dangerous.  It’s a scary thing to feel like there are thoughts in your head that don’t belong there and it feels like they don’t even originate with you.  Those moments feel like the depression is a living, breathing thing that’s taken up residence in my body.  A few nights later I stumbled upon the Twitter hashtag #depressionlies and watched people all over the world tweeting about their experiences with depression and how it makes you believe things about yourself and your life that aren’t true, and I cried hysterically because so much of what they were describing hit extremely close to home and were symptoms that I didn’t even know were symptoms – anger, forgetfulness, irritability – and I realized that I may have actually been depressed for much longer than I thought and I was officially in this thing way over my head.

I’m sick, I thought.

So I did what people do when they’re sick.  I got help.  It’s been almost three months now, and I’m making progress.  Sometimes I feel almost normal and get a quick glimpse of what it’s like to be fun and interesting again.  (I miss that a lot – my sparkle.)  Some days the “I wish I was dead” thoughts are back in a big way.  But there’s no quick fix for this, unfortunately.  It’s just going to take time.  About a month ago I had a really horrible week in both my professional life and my personal one, and I had a very bad backslide that lasted about three weeks.  That sucked, but it taught me that if you were to make a graph showing my upward, positive progress, that diagonal line is going to have some dips in it.  Sometimes big ones.

There’s a lot of talk about how mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized because it’s no different than having something like diabetes (which I firmly believe is true), but at the same time, mental illness is a strange bird because you don’t cure diabetes by paying someone to listen to you talk about it for 50 minutes a week.  I’ve read that depression is complicated because in many cases the root cause of it is thought to be chronic stress, which can cause changes in your brain chemistry that may be responsible for the symptoms of depression.  So the question “Is it only psychological/environmental issues that are making you depressed or do you have a chemical imbalance?” becomes really tricky, if not impossible, to answer because one can cause the other.  So I’m addressing both.  The problem is complicated, so fixing it is complicated too.  I have moments of frustration because I wish I could see more concrete progress – I would love to be able to get a lab report with numbers on it that shows I’m getting better and be able to count on the idea that when I attain improvement, I can keep it.  I don’t get that reassurance here, so vigilance is important, along with huge amounts of patience and an equally huge amount of faith.  And now that I’m starting to feel a little bit better, faith is beginning to be possible again.  That inner negative monologue is still there, but I can turn the volume down sometimes so it doesn’t monopolize my consciousness to the extent that it did before.  That’s a pretty big deal, when you think about it – while treating this thing often bears a resemblance to feeling my way through a funhouse while blindfolded, I work hard to remember that in this fight, even the smallest victories are important.

I’m not sharing this because I’m seeking an avalanche of concern and attention.  I’m content with a little bit of awareness, for me in particular and for the illness in general, because it is a very real and very serious thing.  I’m not quite myself a lot of the time these days, but be assured that I’m not going anywhere – there’s help to be had, and I’m getting it.  I’m more sensitive than usual and my fuse is pretty short, and I feel like I’m not able to be as good a friend as I normally try to be because I’m overwhelmed with so much of my own stuff that relating to and sympathizing with other people is really difficult – not because I don’t want to, but because I quite literally don’t have the emotional capacity sometimes.

One thing treatment’s taught me is that I have a lot of difficulty practicing self-care.  I feel like it’s never okay to put me first or say no to something in the interest of looking out for myself and what I need.  I equate that with being selfish.  So I’m working hard on that and also learning to recognize my limitations.  Sometimes it’s okay to say “OMG I can’t even” and just go home.  But I can’t let myself become socially isolated either.  I have a lot of balls in the air, is what I’m saying.  And while it’s really difficult, I also have moments when I’m actually pretty excited about it, because I’m learning how to be a happier person and who doesn’t want some of that?  So I know that I dumped out a lot of worrisome information here, but I don’t want anybody to freak out.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel – I can’t always see it, but I know it’s there, and I’m going after it.