But this does not mean surrender.


Another week or so of seemingly helpless hibernation comes to a close.                                                                                                                                   
Another stretch of seclusion behind closed blinds and locked doors.  Another cognitive battle between the voices.  One attempts to fool the other.  Sometimes they are neck-and-neck and I can muster a grip to pull ahead just enough to put the keys in the ignition.  Just enough to get up and do the ‘normal’ things.  Sometimes the trickster, with its slithered tongue, runs faster, yells louder, sings sweeter, and all of me falls backward onto its lap and lays cradled in its velvet talons, as I have done many times before.  But this does not mean surrender.

After the past year of decisively facing it head-on, I tire of saying the word, “depression”.  I tire of delivering these kinds of phrases: “I was feeling depressed” or “I fell into another hole”.  However, not acknowledging when you are experiencing symptoms of depression is not helpful.  In fact, ignoring it is detrimental.  One cannot successfully treat one’s own depression if it has not been recognized.   To successfully recover from a depressive episode, one must appreciate depression – recognize its significance and magnitude.   Neither of these are easy to do when you are in the midst of an episode.  Even when armed with years of experience and considerable knowledge of this ‘mood disorder’, it is not necessarily easier to peel depression’s intangible film from your soul’s skin.  The experience of it does not get easier.  You cannot simply ‘think’ it away.  But.  Depression is manageable.  Depression is manageable.

There were times during the past week when I felt as though my efforts to manage this wicked emotional jack-in-the-box were being erased with each successive dark day.  But I have to disagree.  I have to disagree with those feelings and that voice.  This is one part of the lengthy process to snuff out depression’s voice.  If you hear it sometimes.  If it tells you to give up, to give in, to forget about trying to halt its maniacal and cyclical lies.  Lies that you are not good enough, strong enough, smart enough.  _______ enough.  Disagree.  Don’t accept it.  Press on.  See those boot straps?  Get a firm grip and pull!  As my dear friend C texted me today, “U can can can do this.”   And you can.  If you need, ask a friend for reminders like these whenever your dark cloud descends.  Supportive and encouraging statements from people who care for you are immeasurable.  This includes telling these things to yourself.  Amidst a mind maelstrom, I try to hang on to this –  Be kind, compassionate, and patient with yourself.  This is manageable.  Believe.

Another week or so of seemingly helpless hibernation comes to a close.

***

“Watch out for intellect, because it knows so much it knows nothing and leaves you hanging upside down, mouthing knowledge as your heart falls out of your mouth.”
― Anne Sexton
***

Moods and meds.

 

“…it is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening.”

– Mark Epstein, MD, Thoughts without a thinker: psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective

***

***

:: Freewrite ::

 

The shaky weeks – two up, two down – do not a sustainable life make. I’ve given the Zoloft time to settle in. Upped the dosage. But my body spits out the working ones every couple of weeks. Emotional bulimia at the hand of invisible chemicals; at least stomach pumps by my fingers are in my control. I bend and kneel in front of the toilet. Knees callused by linoleum. Fingers callused by teeth. Rubbing and robbing. It’s regular now. I do it mindlessly. So why do I cry? Is it the stomach acid watering my eyes? Like chopping onions for stir-fry or soup? Tears triggered by objective somethings outside my corporeal abode.

But back to documenting my moods and meds. After increasing the dosage of Zoloft, and finding that I haven’t found the magic prescriptive mix to level my life, I’ve tapered off the Zoloft and am trying a serotonin reuptake-inhibitor from a different family – Effexor. It’s day 4. My doctor says to give it 4-8 weeks. It could be up to 8 weeks for my body to regulate and decide if it’s an elixir fixer.

I admit. I get impatient. I feel disheartened and angry when I find myself in a dark room again. I mean that literally – laid up in bed; light switches collecting dust in the “off” position, and figuratively – in my mind. A dark mind with sardonic silverfish fiercely feeding on what allows me to feel OK.

And so I wait without waiting. Carry hope even when not feeling hopeful. It’s carefully zipped in my fanny pack, taut around my waist. This is not a knock-on-wood situation. It requires proactivity despite disorderly set backs; especially in times of disorderly set backs. Each mood must be owned to successfully wade through the sludge of the shitty ones. Hug them, all of them, invite them in for tea and cookies. Tossing them away will boomerang them back with great force and potentially erode the hope you hold and lighten the fanny pack that’s been strapped to your self; the heft and squeeze around your waist that’s helped to remind you to carry it on. To remind you that hope is there for you to hold and get to know again. Any any time.

 

Written Tuesday, January 31st, 2012.

Fun it is to be loved.

“Must being in love always mean being in pain?” ― Alain de Botton, On Love

***

I read a poem today.  A beautifully idiosyncratic poem about love.  About a second love; a reborn and reconfigured love.  Between a man and a woman whose marriage has been soured and nipped by infidelity, but after some time, after living separate lives, the woman discovers that she is living and dying with cancer.  The man and the woman find themselves together again.  And what they feel is “almost as good as love…, / and each of them called it love / because precision didn’t matter anymore”.  This line kills me: “[P]recision didn’t matter anymore”.  It got me thinking about the meaning of love and how it changes as we age.  And with that, how we carry and share love in our lives morph.  As with any emotional experience, reading a definition of what it is to love doesn’t encompass the experience of it.  Knowing love takes time.  It requires time to be nurtured and listened to.  It needs to be fed by heartbreak and pain, and compassion and forgiveness; to the point at which words and definitions no longer apply.  I hope to know this rooted and nameless version of love.

***

***

These are a few poems I wrote as an early twenty-something year-old in the midst of navigating the outer walls of love’s ventricles:

(untitled)

drop the needle. turn the knob
get over here.  pull the covers up.
kiss me here.
I’ll show you how fun it is to be loved.
It’s easier said than done.

Written Wednesday, 7.10.02, on the #105 to work.

***

(untitled)

I like it when you play with my hair
play with my mind. play with my heart.
make me feel beautiful while my
skin is still soft. eyes are still bright.
hips are still round.
I like it when you kiss me right there.
kiss me all over. play with my hair
Make me feel wanted when my
heart is still young.  mind is still
soft. needs are still shallow.
I like it when you touch my face
and feel my lips with your tongue
with your cheeks.  with your breath.
Make me feel sexy when I’m having a
bad day.  when I trip and fall.
when you look at me that way.

Written Thursday, 8.8.02.


***

metro romance

I left it at the bus stop
a small spot of happenstance.
when we danced to traffic,
under a dying lamppost
until the 43 gobbled you up
and rolled along
as you stumbled down the aisle.

Written Tuesday, 8.27.02.

***

***

The ‘beautifully idiosyncratic’ poem referred to at the beginning of this post was written by Stephen Dunn(Thanks, Mr. J, for sharing Dunn’s poetry with me.)

What Goes On

After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet

into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis

of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn’t
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated
and saved her, and one day

her husband asked her to come back —
his wife, who after all had only fallen
in love as anyone might
who hadn’t been in love in a while —

and he held her, so different now,
so thin, her hair just partially
grown back. He held her like a new woman

and what she felt
felt almost as good as love had,
and each of them called it love
because precision didn’t matter anymore.

And we who’d been part of it,
often rejoicing with one
and consoling the other,

we who had seen her truly alive
and then merely alive,
what could we do but revise
our phone book, our hearts,

offer a little toast to what goes on.

Closer to now.

“My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle.” – Patty Duke

***

All is flux.  And moods are no exception.  At some point everyone feels “sad” or “blue”.  Or “Depressed”.  That the word, “depressed”, has been flung about, over-used, and integrated into our language on a colloquial level, does not honor the depths of agony and discomfort that a clinically depressed person experiences.  But how do you convey the depressive experience to those who do not know the illness intimately?

The definition of depression can only be realized in the minds and bodies of those who wear the word.  But even those, whose emotional keels have been rocked by depression’s unpredictable tempest, may forget the embodiment of depression when the mood pendulum swings toward mania or even just toward ‘normalcy’.  This volleying between mood extremes garners a Jekyll and Hyde ordeal.  Your ‘depressed’ self is a different ‘you’ than your ‘non-depressed’ self; so much so that each feels as though inhabited by separately contained limbic systems.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that though the depressive swings will continue to swing, I can hold on and ride it out till the clouds roll out again.

***

Closer to then.

:: poem ::

wet. cotton. heart.

fear fermented
everything turns to plastic
objects hanging
eat with arms crossed
inhale out and exhale in

Written Friday, 8.24.07.

***

:: journal entries::

I’m 28.  I’m 28 and I fear talking to people.  I fear that this fear will never go away.  My life will forever be lived in my head.  In a box.  Lonely.  Apart.

I feel like a fraud.  Like a child.  A mute.  A spot on the wall.  A failure.

How do you back-peddle negative thinking?  How can you – can you (?) – take back and relive youth to make the later years more.  Just, more of something.  Other than this silence.  This distance.  This fear.  This neediness.  This paralysis.

Push me back in the womb.  Before the existence of cries.

My brain has hardened.  Kindness spent.  Patience in small doses.  Obsession with beauty; have’s and have not’s.

Written Sunday, 8.26.07.

***

Time
Too much, I’ve spent alone
to enjoy company
What to say
how to be
opinions
comments
If I could periscope up
and stay under this blanket
my mental megaphone
would surrender things I want to scream
“You fake happy people.
Don’t you see?  Life is a big
black dot.  A wet campfire.
Don’t you hate each day
like I do?!”
It’s more difficult to look
away.  But I do.  I have to.
I fear I might connect
and conversation would reveal
my emptiness.  My empty self.
Too many sighs in minutes.
It’s easier to hide away.
Daylight reveals too much.
It’s too bright for my
dark world.

Written Friday, 10.20.07.

***

***

Closer to now.

:: journal entries ::

I’ve been reading blogs written by people who have some sort of mental illness.  While I find it comforting to know that what I feel is known by others, I’m disheartened in knowing what lies ahead.

I feel like I’ve always been depressed.  I feel like this feeling will never end.  It will be slung around my shoulder forever more.

This life feels less like mine.  Who is this person?  Where did the other one go?  The one who got excited about things, people, anything?  The one who knew optimism and humor?  The one who remembers?  The one who could close her eyes and know she’d get a night of rest?

And so I pretend and do what I think I should be doing.  Life is devoid of enjoyment for now, anyway.  Best keep things in motion, right?

Written Sunday, 12.11.10.

***

Ten days later… eleven…

Today was my first day back ‘out in the world’.

It’s strange to think that up until yesterday I’ve spent most of my days sleeping. Feet and pieces of limbs in and out of sateen marshmallowy comforter.

I got up around 8:15am.  Went to S’s place to get a tour of her house and meet the dogs.  Went in to work for a few hours.  My anxiety level was low enough that I was able to focus (at least more so than before).  I left work early for my initial appointment with Dr. K (I like her).  We have a plan for my meds.  I’ll stay on the 300mg of Wellbutrin and taper up to 100mg of Sertraline.  This will help me with the anxiety.  I also scored some Trazedone to help with sleep.  Oh sleep, how I’ve missed you.

Had dinner with B.  Going to catch up with C on Friday.  This is more contact I’ve made in the past couple of weeks.

The desperation and fear have subsided enough for life to happen in real time.  When will I know I’m back?  How much of this anxiety will stick?

Self esteem – bring it on.  Creativity – show me what you’ve got.

Written Wednesday, 12.22.10.

***

:: poem ::

And just like that
the world tilts back
more firmly into place
I know to tighten the straps
And gag on the stick if I have to.

Written Monday, 7.18.11.

***

“Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” – Abraham Lincoln 

Synthetic baby steps.

“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.” – Dr. R.W. Shepherd

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“The mornings themselves were becoming bad now as I wandered about lethargic, following my synthetic step…” – William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness)

***

:: Journal entry ::

I find myself questioning whether I truly am depressed.  I seem to care less and less.

I’m exhausted.  I want to find meaning in something but everything appears plastic and hollow.

I don’t feel suicidal but I want to close my eyes and sleep forever.  What is that called?  Is it possible to break free from this?  Do I have the energy to claw my way out of this?

Written Monday, 11.15.10.

***

I was in a different head-space when I wrote the above journal entry than I am now.  I’m farther along on the never-ending road to recovery and I know that I can ‘claw my way out’ when the darkness descends, but experiencing a higher frequency of depressive bouts does not equal each successive bout to be easier.  The undertow of feeling hopeless and defeated can pull you under no matter how many times you surface.

I don’t know which phase of depression is more difficult, when you’re trying to hang on to hope long enough to conquer depression’s suicidal siren, or when you’re working your way through the lightness/darkness state of limbo as you try to pry the barnacles of negativity from your skin fast enough to stay afloat and come ‘back to life’.  I’ve been experiencing waves of the latter phase over the past few months.  For a few days or a couple of weeks I feel energized, awake, focused, social, content; dare I say, ‘happy’.  And then I sink.  I sink, I sink, I sink back under the comforter.  Again, my body and mind want rest and darkness.  This will last a few days, and then I will be back to washing my hair and singing along with ‘Wilson Phillips’ on my way to work in the mornings.  And the see-saw continues to see and to saw.

I know that I can get myself out of bed on the lead-limbed mornings, but I’m not always convinced, and then the morning swallows me whole and the rest of the day is shot.  Each time after I tell myself that I will not allow myself to be fooled into shutting down again, I find that I am making the same exclamation not long after, and again, not long after that.  I want to get off this merry-go-round but I know it takes time.  I try to remember that every mood is temporary, and, as with reaching any goal, it takes patience, persistence, diligence and faith.  It also requires taking, as Styron puts it, ‘synthetic step[s]’.  As daunting, overwhelming, or impossible as a task may seem, it’s best (and possible) to get up and go through the motions.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always practice what I preach, but I’m getting there.  Steps, steps.  Synthetic baby steps.  And in the meantime, I seek out tools that help to widen and strengthen my stride.

One of the most powerful practices I’ve found has been to expose myself to things that help me to feel understood in the context of having a mental illness.  For instance, I refer to William Styron’s memoir about his experience with depression to gain comfort in knowing that what I experience with depression is real, and that other people, including successful people, have known and know the disease as intimately as I have and do.  Once you get to this place, it’s easier to believe that you are not your depression and your depression is not you.  Depression is manageable!  Who knew?  Though, the operative word here is “manage” and this responsibility is up to you.  Managing my depression is up to me.

Part of managing depression is learning about it.  During my quest to check out as many books about depression as I could from the Bothell Library, I came across a book by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, Psy.D., ABPP entitled, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track”.  I admit, I almost grazed right over it because the title and cover appeared uber self-help hokey but I was desperate to seek out anything that might help me to bouy up from depression’s deep end.  I am so glad that I found this book.  I highly recommend it if you or someone you know are/is trying to manage depression.  It’s a practical guide that respects and appreciates the depressive experience.  Julie Fast is a writer who has depression and has found a way to cope with it while leading a functional and successful life, and Dr. Preston is a professor of psychology; together they are able to provide examples of personal and patients’ experiences.

The main thing that I am struggling with right now is to find a way to manage my depression when I’m in a dip during the work week.  I am extremely fortunate to work with a team that has been beyond supportive and understanding over the past year, but I need to find a way to work (literally) through the rough spots.  As I stated earlier, managing my depression is up to me, and so, I flip to chapter 14, “Feel the Depression…and Do It Anyway”, for guidance.  Here are a couple of thoughts to consider from Julie:

“Working when you’re depressed is harder and sadder than working when you’re well, but it’s important that you focus on the outcome and how you want to feel when you get to bed.  When you can acknowledge to yourself, I did what I could today despite feeling so sick, you take control — perhaps more control than you thought possible.”

“Expect to cry, feel terrible, be less productive, and feel like quitting…and then do what you have to anyway.”

Ok, Julie, let’s do this thing.