I've never made any secret of the fact that I have clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. I don't keep it a secret from anyone--family, friends, even my students often know that I have a mental illness. I'm open and candid about the fact that I have it because I know how hard it can be for people to seek help when they are having problems, and I very strongly believe that my openness about the subject can help lessen the social stigma attached to getting help for mental illness.
What I don't tell people is how severe my depression is. I'm on several different medications and I regularly see a doctor regarding my mood issues. Most of the time, my issues have been more related to anxiety, but recently, depression has once again become one of the issues that has come back up. Sometimes I honestly don't even notice the depression, except for the fact that I sleep between 12-15 hours a day. (At times, I have slept more, but The Boy has put a stop to that.) It's not until the medication kicks in really well at times and I'm more cheerful than I've been in ages that I remember what it's like to be the person I was in high school before this started.
It's also closely intertwined with my anxiety. In the last few months, I've been so agoraphobic that even the idea of leaving the house has caused me to burst into tears, and the only place I've been able to go has been to school. School, along with home, is safe, for some reason, and I can relax there, mostly. Still, there are days when I hide in my office and sometimes fight the urge to hide under my desk, even though I enjoy all of my officemates. The Boy wanted to go see his parents for several weekends in a row, but I simply could not face the idea of leaving home, even to go see my in-laws, who are as lovely, loving, and generous people as walk the earth.
The hardest part is trying to explain to my husband how I'm feeling. For being a writer, I'm crap with words most of the time, more so when depression is wearing me down, because that is the time when I want to talk the least. Often times, when I do manage to talk, I'm flippant, and I know that frustrates him, because while I'm talking, I'm still not being communicative. In fact, I'd thought about titling this post "The Care and Feeding of Your Depressive," because that's what I do when things get too serious--I make a joke, deflect it elsewhere, hold off the serious discussion.
But it's not a bad idea, in all seriousness. So here's my best shot--for my husband, for my family, for my friends, for the universe--the things I can't always say, the things that people like me can't always say, but need to. It's easier to write it than it is to talk about it.
1. I would give anything to be a Real Girl and to be the person you think I am.
Having depression sometimes feels like you've got someone working your puppet strings. You're going through the motions without ever really living. That's part of the reason it's hard to get involved in things, because it doesn't feel like it's actually you involved in the activity.
You can tell me that I'm beautiful, that you love me, that everything's going to be okay, and the voice in the back of my head is always going to be telling me that it's not true. Sometimes I can make it shut up and believe you. Sometimes I can't. But a lot of the time, that voice is also telling me that you fell in love with someone who was better, who wasn't as depressed, who functioned properly, who was cheerful and fun to be around. That voice is the voice that tells me that you would be better off with someone else who was right in the head.
2. I feel terrible.
I feel terrible on a ton of levels. There's the wet blanket of the depression. There's the heart-racing panic of an anxiety attack. For me, migraines come right along with anxiety attacks. Lots of people just experience general body aches and soreness from depression, actual physical symptoms that are no less real because they come from a mental source. I am tired all the time. A lot of the times, I really don't want to eat much. And I know that makes you worried. But then that leads to:
3. The Merry-Go-Round of Guilt.
I hate this. I already feel guilty for not being everything I think I should be for you. Then you want to help so badly, all the time, and it is so clear that you feel guilt for not being able to help, for not feeling like you are enough. Then that guilt comes back around for making you feel bad. It's less a merry-go-round than it is a gyre, circling around and around and never ending, whereas friction eventually causes a merry-go-round to stop.
Part of this is my fault. The depression makes me overly sensitive, and so I take every sigh, every tiny look of exasperation straight to heart. I appreciate the nods and the soft "Hey, call me if you need anything," but know that I won't call. There are a few people who I will vent to--but only vent, not cry to--because I can't deal with spreading that guilt elsewhere. There are some people who have to deal with it. I don't want to add that elsewhere.
4. Hulk go Smash
I don't want to say I have uncontrollable anger, because my anger is very definitely controlled--otherwise, countless dishes and household appliances would have been smashed by now, and there would be any number of people nursing wounds inflicted by my tongue. But it is always there lately. The urge to throw something, to put hit something, to rip something to shreds is bubbling below the surface, and there's little that would fill me with as much satisfaction as being set loose in a ceramic factory slated for destruction.
I don't know where this is coming from. It's something I've got to discuss with my doctor, because it's something that's been coming up again and again lately, more often as I get frustrated, usually with myself or with someone close to me, usually related to the merry-go-round of guilt because I simply want it to stop, and throwing something would be punctuation, the exclamation point to it all.
5. I'm trying.
It doesn't look like it. It looks like I'm lying on the couch, it looks like I'm diving into a book or the internet, or sleeping to get away. Yes, sometimes that's true. But I am trying. Part of the reason I'm so tired is because I am fighting every minute of the day. I try to do things to keep my energy up. I listen to really awful pop music because the beat keeps me up and going. I had a really awful caffeine addiction going (I have had to stop that, though). I try to have my classes scheduled as early as possible in the morning.
That also means I have to prioritize. If I've spent all day at school, then no, I don't want to go out to eat or hang out that evening. I'm tired, I've spent all my energy dealing with people, and I'm done fighting for the day. I have to put my energy where it's most needed. When you're suffering from agoraphobia, sometimes that means that you don't even have the energy to go to the grocery. And trust me, it sucks.
So why am I sleeping? Or reading some trashy book? Because for a brief moment in time, it shuts my brain down long enough, either by shutting it down in sleep, or by living some other existence in fiction, that my own is not so overwhelming.
As far as panic attacks go, I have no idea what sets them off. Sometimes I have a clear idea. Other days, I simply wake up with them. Sometimes they simply blindside me, and I find myself wanting to start crying for no reason. But most of the time, I can control myself, and you'll never know I was having one. I'd rather have it that way.
There is no "just getting over this." If you've ever said that to someone with depression or other illness, you should be ashamed of yourself for perpetuating the myth that mental illness is not a real, valid illness, and you are partly responsible for every crime committed by a person with a mental illness who was not able to receive the help they needed.
6. The fact that my existence is sometimes overwhelming to me has nothing to do with you.
It is not your fault. My brain chemistry is screwed up. You want to blame yourself? Fine. Then President Bartlet has something he wants to say to you.
You know what else? It's not my fault either.
And I have news for some people out there. I can and do pray about this. But continuing to have depression is not a measure of my faith or a sign that I do not pray enough or a sign that I believe things that God does not approve of.
It is a sign that God has great things ahead for me and that I will need the strength I am learning now to manage them.
Mother Teresa once said "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." But if He trusts me in this, which is so relatively miniscule, then He will trust me with the big things.
This is my hope. This is what keeps me going when I think everything is falling apart around me, even when I know better. This is what helps me when I think that everyone else would be better off if I retreated from their lives and just lived my existence by myself with my cats, away from everyone else.
And hope is a thing with feathers.