Before the funny, though, I have to write about where I've been. And I really don't want to, because it was a scary place and I still find my feet on the path toward it on bad days. I'm certainly not the first person to blog about mental illness (see the excellent http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html for a big leagues blogger's interpretation of it), but it would feel totally disingenuous to skip right over what was a major rift in my life and the lives of those around me and dive into anecdotes about my children (and cats) falling down air conditioner vents (see earlier blogs, I am far too lazy to link them, of course).
I've struggled with anxiety since I was a kid. I internalized so much that I don't know what my parents saw or didn't see, but I remember feeling like my stomach was going to eat my body whole and spit out the bones sometimes. When I was 7, my baby brother died in a crib accident during my sister's 5th birthday party. I don't know if my issues stem from this tragedy as I remember being a nervous kid before his death, but I know it didn't help.
After I had Rylan, I was anxious all the time. On the rare occasions he slept, I couldn't sleep because I was sure the moment I fell asleep, he would wake up. I was afraid to take him places. I was convinced that someone was going to break into our house and hurt him. When I did leave the house, I would pull over frequently to check and make sure he was breathing. I just knew he was going to die. His birth was dramatic and ended with nurses running him down to the NICU before I'd so much as touched him, so, again, I'm sure this had something to do with it and the hormones didn't help.
I hid as much of this as I could from everyone, including myself. I rationalized with the best of them. Something could happen to my baby. People did break in to houses in our neighborhood. He was medically fragile.
After I had Pippa, things calmed down somewhat. It sounds so hippie/Earth mother/pukey-gross, but her natural, uncomplicated entrance into the world was very healing for me. It set up a nice dynamic for our relationship. I don't worry about Pippa. Pippa is robust and brave and all good things. She will follow her own path and be just fine and she'll probably stop to help a few others along the way.
When Ry started having seizures, things were suddenly not fine. But they were so suddenly not fine that I completely shut down. Every negative emotion I felt was locked up tight. I was MOM. I didn't have time for fear. I completely threw myself into caring for him so much so that each time he went to the hospital I refused to leave his bedside. Ever. If nobody brought me food, I went hungry. If nobody came to watch him for 5 minutes, I didn't brush my teeth.
Anyway, so it's clear I've had "issues" for awhile. Fall before last, though, I started having panic attacks while driving Rylan to therapy. They got so bad I would lose most of my field of vision and I wanted to open the window and crawl out of the car (obviously a completely irrational solution to my problem, hello I was bit mad).
I finally "came out" when I got stuck halfway to Powdersville. I had a panic attack that lasted for over an hour. I couldn't drive and ended up sitting in a Hardee's in the middle of nowhere while my husband had a very understanding colleague drive him out to pick us up (interesting side note: I got hit on twice at that Hardee's. I conclude that middle-aged men in Liberty are attracted to apparently single mothers who give off the aroma of sheer terror).
I went on meds and began going to therapy. It took over 6 months to find the right med combo and during that time, things just kept getting worse. A friend of mine lost her son who was just Ry's age following a car accident. I don't mean to in any way appropriate her grief but that was a catalyst for my issues. It just shattered my brain. I got horribly depressed. I lost interest in my husband and children and all of my hobbies. Food had no flavor. I ate when I had to and stopped as soon as I could.
I began having flashbacks. Suddenly I'd be 7 years old, hearing my mom scream my dad's name as she found my brother. This scene would play over and over and I couldn't stop it. I'd be 25, completely alone and scared and numb from the waist down watching people in scrubs wheel my baby away. I'd be 28, sitting in the back of our car next to a seizing Rylan watching him turn blue, unable to do anything but cry and pray, "Baby, baby, baby, no."
For several months, there were a lot of very, very bad days. I could do nothing but lie in bed and listen to music. I slept all the time. I got really skinny. Some nights my poor, bewildered husband would force me out of bed to take a walk with him. I'd shuffle along and he'd talk. Eventually, through sheer power of will he could usually get me to talk back. My mom came to stay with us several times to watch the children, as did my in-laws. They'd ask me what they could do and I couldn't tell them. I forgot how to live. I didn't want to die, exactly, but everything else seemed like so much work.
When I was at my lowest I wrote some very dramatic poetry. This one, I admit, is a bit much, but I felt very, very raw when I wrote it.
Questions I Couldn't Answer in Therapy
1. "How would you describe yourself? Who are you?"
It's the wrong question.
I am not a who.
If I ever was, the who
has been ironed out of me (an inconvenient wrinkle)
by Sunday night hymns,
by years strung together of 3 a.m.s
when I could find no cork to stopper the screams --
mine -- or his -- or hers,
by others and their kind misunderstanding,
their cheery bigotry,
their goals and plans and "So what do you do?"s
I've slipped out of who,
the straps hanging like
spent umbilical cords,
the hem sagging like an empty belly.
I'm when now.
A tiny when.
The whisper of a when before a 64 car pile-up
(27 dead on I-40).
The hanging heartbeat of a when
before Guinevere's lips brushed Lancelot's.
The when of the inhale held
before no pulsating star appears
on the ultrasound screen.
The underworldly zephyr of a when
before Orpheus' head began to turn.
2. "Describe your perfect life. What do you want?"
Desire does not exist in a void.
A black hole may eat planets and stars,
but does it want them?
At the bottom of a dark well
looking up at the night sky choked with clouds,
what is there to want?
A ladder to climb from one blackness to another?
A lamp to throw a brave, gold circle of light
that illuminates nothing?
A bowl of ice cream
when there will be more hunger?
A pill to sleep in darkness
and wake to it again?
When doesn't want.
Void isn't a who.
Give me a map --
please God --
when is the day?
Where am I?
|This is me at the height of my depression. That is not my "real" smile.|
So, what is the point to all of this ranting? I swear this isn't a woe-is-me tale. If anything, I want to tell you that if you feel the way I did when I wrote that god-awful poem, it's okay. I mean, obviously, it's not okay. You need to get help, but it's okay to be depressed. It's okay to be so anxious you think your organs are eating you. It's okay to have PTSD. You haven't done anything wrong. You're not weak. Your brain has just betrayed you. They do that sometimes, they're sons-of-bitches.
Call and get a referral to a therapist. Or hell, have someone else help you call if you're really, really anxious like me. See a psychiatrist. You don't have to take drugs, but it helps to know your options. And please know that you won't always feel this way. Depression feels like an endless grey tunnel. There is hope with help and a whole lot of work. I am eternally grateful to the people who helped pull me out of the tunnel, but I did a lot of climbing on my own, too. I had to face things about myself that were ugly, unlovable, repulsive, and accept them. Accepting them made them lose most of their power and now I'm...not totally out of the woods, but I can definitely see the sun :).