Insides

There was no horrific event, no jarring trauma.  But one day during her teenage years she woke up and discovered she was a totally different her.  The new her was no longer full of light, or love. She no longer housed any cheer or warmth or joy. For a while, she thought her old self had been replaced and she had been filled with hate and gloom and darkness but eventually she realized that her old self had just disappeared and now she was actually just full of nothing.  Her insides were empty.  She was a void occupying the skin that the old her used to live in.

emptyinsides

No one knew she wasn’t in there anymore.  For a long time, she couldn’t believe nobody noticed.  After all, almost all of her volume, her substance, was gone.  She was hollow in the places where she used to be solid.  I suppose she can’t blame them for not noticing. After all, people typically only notice each other’s outlines.  Our innards beneath the surface are pretty well hidden.

She certainly noticed, even if no one else did.  It’s pretty worrisome when your insides have disappeared.  She kept patting herself, pressing gently to see if there was some resistance underneath.  Some sign that herself had miraculously returned.  But every time she pressed, her fingers just sank in.  There was nothing of substance that pushed back. She was an empty shell.  Every once in a while, she worried about someone poking her too hard, or tripping and tumbling onto something sharp, either of which could have ruptured her completely.  

For the most part, though, she stopped caring if she ruptured completely since she knew there was nothing inside to save anyway.  She wasn’t even in there.  She was gone.

Sometimes she thought of just gashing her skin to bits, allowing any minuscule flecks of herself that were left inside to escape.  Maybe there’d be a bit of release in that feeling, or if not release at least a reduction of strain.  It was exhausting to stand up straight and walk and talk and give the general impression that she was still a whole person, when she didn’t even have any bones or muscles or thoughts or feelings.

Somehow, she existed like this for twenty years.

Every single day, for twenty years in a row, she thought about ending it all.  And she used the word “all” lightly, because she knew she was nothing more than a sack of skin.  It would mean nothing to this world to lose the nothing that she was.

Sometimes the Horrible Thought was a fleeting one that came after a thought about what to eat for dinner or before a thought about what was on her calendar the next day. Sometimes the thought was lengthier, and she contemplated the Horrible Thought as she sat in the garage with the car on, but the door still open.

Once she became a mother she knew she couldn’t be a good one with no insides.  A good mama needs working parts.  Or at least needs parts.  Vacuous sacks of skin cannot raise children. Even though she hadn’t ever given up on finding the internal her that used to exist, she now searched for it harder than ever.  She was able to locate a small fraction of herself through yoga and running and diet changes, but that still left mostly emptiness inside where her old self used to be.

Sometimes she felt confused and frustrated about this.  To herself she asked, Why am I so empty?  Where the hell did the rest of me go?  Why can’t I find me? Am I gone forever?  Mostly though, she figured that her confusion and frustrations weren’t really valid. She figured, I’m just being dramatic. I’m sure everyone feels like this, they just don’t admit it.  I just need to suck it up.

Finally.  Begrudgingly.  She told a doctor how she felt. She didn’t think it would help, but she knew she owed it to her children to at least give it a shot. She initially resisted filling herself up with the meds that she had been prescribed.  She wanted to fill herself up with her, after all, She belonged inside her skin, not some pharmaceutically manufactured impostor.

Truth be told, she was a bit afraid of taking the meds. She was afraid they’d turn her into more of a zombie than she already was, afraid they’d make her feel dizzy or sick. That’s what she told the doctor, anyway.  Way deep down, she was afraid that they wouldn’t work. That maybe everything really was fine and she just really did just need to suck it up.  She was also afraid that they would work, but then someday stop working.  She’d read somewhere that meds for depression can lose their effect after taking them for a while. Then what would she do?  After all of these years of lacking a substantive center, the thought of finding her core and then having it go missing again was almost too much to contemplate dealing with.

In the end, she decided that she had already been missing for quite a long time, so even if she only found herself for a short amount of time, it would be wise to take what she could get. She started filling herself up with her meds.

The other day she leaned over the kitchen counter to reach something and she noticed that the counter didn’t threaten to push through her skin and out the other side.  She felt something inside her push back.  She leaned back and then slowly leaned forward again, paying attention to the way the counter felt as she applied more pressure.  She felt it again. Resistance.  

She thought about it and realized that she hadn’t had the Horrible Thought in a long time. Long enough ago that she couldn’t remember when.

She thinks, after all this time, she might be back inside her old skin again.  

Depression Lies

There is no coming out of it.
There is no getting over it.
There is just IT.

It ebbs and it flows and it morphs.
It hides.
It does not ever disappear.

It teases, at times.
It seems long gone.
But, it is never really is.

It always returns.
With a vengeance.
With a downward pull.

It distorts.
It deceives.
It consumes.

It tells you that it is all for naught.
That you will never be enough.
That you’re better off not here.

If you’re in a good place, you’ll recognize the tone.
You’ll recognize the facade.
You’ll recognize the weakness in the argument.

So you counter the exchange with self-talk.
With meditation. Deep breaths.
With exercise and proper nutrition.

You will look like you’ve got it all under control.
And sometimes you do.  But sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes you are out quietly out of control.

Sometimes, you are low.
Sometimes you are sinking deeper.
Sometimes, you’re just tired.  Oh, so very tired.

It tells you it’s easier to let go, that there is no use fighting back.
It tells you things will never be good.
Even if things are already so much better than good.

Depression lies.
Assuredly.
Convincingly.

Sometimes we need to etch this in our skin
To make us remember, to make sure we get the message,
when we can’t hear anything but the deceit.

10 Ways Depressives and Drunks are Similar

1.They tend to have a genetic predisposition.  Something in the brain is a little haywire, slightly imbalanced.  Both are examples of invisible diseases.

2. They get a boatload of judgment.  Both get the, “Aren’t you over that yet?”  Both get unsolicited tips.  “Just stop after one”.  “Just get outside”.  “Just appreciate what you have”.  “Just get over it”.  Rarely does any good advice begin with, “Just”.  One of the most ridiculous is, “Stop being so selfish”.

3. They don’t want to be this way.  As beautiful as a good drink feels, no one wants to be hooked. As needed as a good cry is, no one wants to be unable to fathom happiness. These are not pleas for attention, the behavior is a result of the disease, uncontrolled.

4. They relapse.  Even when the disease is managed, there are still ups and downs. There are depressive dives and days (weeks/months/years) when long-sober alcoholics might contemplate a drink. Or take one. Or more.

5. They take things day by day.  Forever.  It’s not over, not ever.  There is no, “I’m done with that now”.  There is a split-second moment in almost every single day in which the person isn’t sure if they will make it.

6. They push people they love away. They act like assholes, highly emotional and illogical while in the thick of it.  They’re unpredictable.  They say things they do not mean. They are too intoxicated, or too tired to be nice.

7. Sometimes they smell.  Or otherwise don’t take care of themselves. Stress has an odor.  Alcohol has an odor.  Sweat has an odor.  Both are gangrenous, eating a person alive from the inside out, emitting the stench of decay in the process.

8.  They can be a drag to be around.   They can be wildly out of control or barely-breathing, impossible to move from the bed.  It can be exhausting to stay positive and uplifting when the person you are with is neither of those things.

9. Left unchecked both result in a slow, toxic death.  Unpleasant to think about, but all too true.  The alcoholics know it.  The depressives know it.  For some reason the friends and family don’t always know it.

10. They tend to benefit from support groups and networks.  Alcoholics Anonymous, church groups, online groups.  It’s usually helpful to talk to others who understand a situation.  If you fall into either category, you are not alone.  Not even close.

depressives and drunks

Need some help getting some help?  Here are a few relevant links:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Al-Anon (For friends and families of alcoholics)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Reddit: Depression Online Support Group

Supporting a Family Member or Friend With Depression

Three Dirty Wash Cloths Can Put A Parent With Anxiety and Depression Over The Edge

Laundry is not a chore I mind doing. It’s something I can do while I’m doing other things around the house.  It doesn’t require me to get my hands dirty.  It’s not too physically demanding, except when I lug the basket up and down the stairs, but then I can pretend I’m getting some cardio in.  I like the way our detergent smells. I like taking the mess of dirty clothes and ending up with the neatly folded piles.  I like the way it feels when it is all done. Every hamper emptied. Every drawer stuffed full of folded clothes. When I’m done with the laundry, I know I’ve done it right and I really like that feeling.

Most things I do don’t give me that absolute feeling of successful completion, of knowing the job was well done.

Parenting is certainly not a job that leaves me feeling that way.  Especially being a parent that deals with anxiety and depression.

I try to do a lot of things for me, to ward of the depressive slumps, because doing so helps make me a better mama. One of them is running.  Nothing on this planet feels as good as a long run. Running makes every molecule in my body vibrate.  Right now a pretty significant hip injury has left me unable to run for several weeks. WEEKS.  And my body is not responding kindly. Other than the shooting, stabbing, searing pain in my hip joint, for the past four weeks it has felt like my legs are numb.  I’ve been wading through thigh-deep water instead of just walking like a normal person on land.  The other day I stood in place in the middle of my kitchen and had to think, much longer than should ever make sense, about walking to the garage to grab my shoes and then carrying them to the front door, or just walking outside barefoot because I wasn’t sure I could manage the extra trip across my house.  Lately I am moving very slowly. I am dropping things.  I am worried I will not be able to run the marathon I signed up for. I am not happy.

Maybe it’s my mind that isn’t responding kindly.

This month there have been so many days that I’ve felt like I didn’t have the energy to be the best parent I could be.  When I get like this, I worry I’m not doing enough arts and crafts, or taking the kids outside enough, or reading enough books.  I worry about my toddler watching too much t.v.  I worry I’m not giving enough attention to my youngest.

Lately I keep hearing a lot about how if you’re worried you’re a good parent, then you shouldn’t worry because that means you are one.  Which is sort of confusing.  Does that mean to stop worrying?  Because I’m worried now.  Is that good? Now I’m worried that I don’t even know the right way to worry.

Today I was finishing the final fold and had the, “Ahhhh” feeling of a task fully completed.  I exhaled for a minute.

Until I went into the girls bathroom and saw this:

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

I shit you not my heart jumped a beat. How did I miss this?  Damn it, I thought I had done all the laundry, but here are three wash cloths in the sink!  It’s like even though I did five loads of laundry today and everything is folded and put away, it all the sudden doesn’t count because of three dirty wash cloths.  For some reason it made all the more insulting that they were still wet.

And I know it doesn’t matter. I know that by tomorrow we’ll have dirty onesies and socks and bibs and whatnot, so what’s the big deal?   I know it shouldn’t bother me.

But it does.

So even though I’ve come a long way, I realize I am always on edge. My anxieties are raging.  I’m always worried that something won’t be good enough. The kicker? Something always won’t be.  And usually the more I worry about it, the more I screw shit up.  Or at least the more I notice.  Either way – that’s not a good situation to set oneself up for.

I’m working on it.  Usually at the end of the night I do a final load of dishes and clean up the living room and kitchen, making it somewhat presentable before I pour my glass of wine and relax on the couch.  I pat myself on the back on the nights I’m able to step over the baby toys on the floor and just leave them.  I’m happy to report that there have been days that I have been able to do this and let it go.

Today just wasn’t one of them.

Depression ≠ Sadness

Not too long ago, one of my friends, who reads many of my blog posts, said to me that she was always, “reading about how sad you always are”.  Her words rocked me back on my heels for a second, catching me off guard, for a number of reasons (it also made me think that all of those truly anonymous bloggers are really smart cookies). Even though I have a decent number of posts about depression and mental health, here’s the thing:  I’m not always sad.

Not even close.  

If you ask me how life is going or how I’m doing, I’d (honestly) say that life is AMAZING! WONDERFUL! and that I am SO GRATEFUL for all of the good things I’ve got going on. Life is so good, folks! I think I express this on the blog as evidenced here and here and here. But, that’s the misconception surrounding depression, that the term is synonymous with sadness.  I suppose the misunderstanding exists because everyone grasps sadness, but not very many seem to get what depression is all about.  Today I heard two people discussing a recent suicide, “I think she’d been depressed for a while”, one person said, and the other person responded with, “What did she have to be sad about anyway?  She had kids!” I wanted to jump in and clarify some terms for them: She wasn’t sad.  She was depressed.

There’s a big difference.

Chronic depression doesn’t go away like sadness does.  And it doesn’t necessarily feel like sadness does either, even if we are feeling “down”. That’s part of the issue – it’s hard to explain what it feels like. Even when life is at its best, and there is nothing to be sad about, and we’re on an upswing, we are never “cured”.  The depression is still there, a part of us, though it might be barely noticeable, or easy to forget about, temporarily.

I usually use the analogy of treading water, but another way to think of depression is like carrying an added weight around all the time.

For many of us functionally depressive people, who can maintain relationships and hold a job and engage in fun activities, depression can be thought of like a heavy backpack. Most of the time, the weight of the backpack is relatively stable, so we’re able to remain relatively even-keeled.  We can still do everything that everyone else does, backpacks are pretty ergonomic and carrying an extra twenty-five pounds isn’t too hard.  During the good times, the weight is easily managed, and a lot of us make it look effortless.  The bags are hardly noticed.

Sometimes, the backpack gets heavier. This could be due to some sad occurrence it could be due to increased stress or it could be due to nothing.  Either way, instead of twenty-five pounds, the bag weight multiplies, turns into forty.  Or more. And instead of just the backpack, sometimes we’ve also got ankle weights on and a million grocery bags on our arms. You know how you don’t want to make one more trip back to the car, so you load up six bags on the left arm and five bags on the right?  It’s sort of like that, except we are carrying them around constantly, not just from the car to the house. And of course, the bags are invisible, so no one else can see why the hell we are struggling to just walk from the car to the house.  We just look like weaklings.

During big dips, it’s like having to carry all those extra bags around when you have the flu. Same bags, but so much harder to manage.  We fumble over seemingly easy tasks and we can’t hold on to one more thing, so when we’re asked to do so, even if it is something we’ve held before, we might protest and it might look like we’re overreacting. “Just hold it. It isn’t even heavy,” you might think. And it’s not, by itself, but it is too much when you factor in our compromised immune systems and the combined weight of the invisible bags. We can’t just drop the bags, that isn’t possible, so when we’re at our weakest, we just can’t move.  We might not be able to talk to our friends or family, we might not be able to leave the house, or even to get out of bed.  We can’t. We’re too tired.  We don’t make very good load-bearing animals.  Since the bags are invisible, people really get pissy about this one.  “Just get up!” they say, wondering why the hell we are just laying there or why we are being so lazy.

Sometimes when we feel an impending depressive episode coming on, we try tactics to prevent getting pinned down, because we don’t want to be immobilized by the weight. Maybe it’s a med change. Maybe it’s meditation or therapy, maybe it’s drinking, maybe it’s exercise.  Maybe it’s continuously moving, doing All The Things!

Continuous movement is a strategy I employ from time to time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just keep moving because stopping to rest means that getting started again would require dead-lifting the invisible heavy load, and that would just be too much.

For a lot of us, this land of functional-depressiveness is where we live most of our lives. And, it’s where many of us hope to stay, knowing that with just a bit too much weight piled on we could lose the “functional” tag at the beginning.

But, remember this: if expressing the depressive part of ourselves makes you think we’re constantly morose, know that you’re still not getting it. Keep in mind that the other parts of ourselves laugh and enjoy and are grateful for all in our life that is amazingly good.  We’re not always sad.

Even when we’re depressed.

There’s a difference.

So for those of you who are sick of hearing the sad-sounding posts – stop reading them. They really aren’t for you, anyway.  But, for those of you carrying around invisible baggage of your own, they are for you. Because I know that just realizing you aren’t the only one with a heavy load can make your backpack feel a little bit lighter.

If It Ever Gets That Bad (What People With Depression Want You To Know)

Everyone who has battled with depression has their own analogy for it and for me, it’s drowning. I’ve been riding high and dry the last few years but after Baby Grouch Number Two was born, I was swiftly sucked out to sea in a riptide. It happened quickly, a sharp jerk that startled and surprised me. Because, we’re always surprised when it comes back, aren’t we?  We always think it’s gone for good because we are strong and capable and we really don’t have anything to be sad about, anyway. We’ve got it all. Except no matter what, it creeps back in, like a looping vine ruining the landscaping in the backyard that we can never get rid of, even with the strongest of weed killers.

Every depressive sometimes considers how they might end it, if it got bad enough. It might just be a flicker of a thought, a blip of morbidity that occurs right after the thought about how to prepare the chicken for dinner and right before the thought about do we have any vanilla ice cream to go with the apple pie for dessert.

It is a thought that exists like any other, it isn’t special. Did I get the mail out of the mailbox? Is tomorrow trash day? Should I just end it today? When is the Smith-Miller wedding?  Oh, look, Adidas shoes are on sale, awesome.  It is not selfish, it is not dramatic, it is just THERE, coexisting with all the other not-selfish, not-dramatic thoughts.

A million little ideas nag and grab hold of us, constantly running through our heads, repeating in our brains, it’s just that the How Would I End It thought is not benign, and is one that we have to constantly battle.  And I don’t mean the same type of battle as the one about remembering to put the car keys on the hook or the one about remembering to take the coffee cup off the roof of the car before driving off, I mean a real, legitimate, drag-out-fight for our lives.  The How Would I End It thought has a whole military brigade of buddies, it never shows up alone, it’s just one of the many dark thoughts that sour our brains, capable of becoming quite dangerous, when all working together.  For me, the thoughts I am fighting are usually lapping waves, that push at my back at regular intervals, sometimes lightly and sometimes with enough force to knock me from my feet.  I can usually scramble and keep my chin up high, just barely above the surface, while I reach down and curl my toes, grasping at the sand.  I make it back to shore.

I know I need to keep a relatively fit body, and need to practice gratitude and remind myself how good I really have it, to keep the constant tide at bay, to prevent the blips from becoming an all-consuming internal barrage of horrific self-talk.  Those things help, they really do.  But I also know that someday doing those things might not be enough.  I know that the possibility exists for stormy thoughts to create a tsunami.  It’s pretty fucking hard to battle a tsunami.  Most people wouldn’t call death by tsunami a selfish act.

If it ever gets that bad, I will get the names of doctors from people I trust.  And I will actually attempt to call one.

If it ever gets that bad, I will stop lying on the forms asking me to rate my anxiety and depression.

If it ever gets that bad, I will remind myself of some tricks and tips to help make things better, if only temporarily, if only by a smidge.

If it ever gets that bad, know that being angry at me or trying to guilt me into feeling better is equivalent to shoving my head back under water.  It will only make things worse.

If it ever gets that bad, please don’t take it personally.

If it ever gets that bad, please support me by just being there.

If it ever gets that bad, please remind me where I can get help from, and remind me that it’s okay to ask for the help when I need it.

 

 

He Kept Trying To Help

He kept trying to help, but no matter what he did, it wasn’t helping. On the days he made dinner, he left the counter dirty and loads of pots and pans in the sink.  On the days he completed projects around the house, he was busy for so long she felt abandoned.  On the days he stayed nearby she felt smothered.  When he said to wake him up whenever she wanted him to feed the baby, she knew she’d be awake anyway, listening to him feed the baby, so what was the point?  When he asked if he could pick anything up at the store on his way home, she couldn’t think of anything she needed.   He kept trying to help, but she didn’t feel like he was much help at all.

He tried a new tactic.  “Tell me what you need”, he said.  She had to think. What DID she need?

As ridiculous as it seems, she didn’t really know what she needed.  All she knew was that she needed to feel better.

She worked to organize her thoughts so she could come up with a response.  Even though it was difficult for her to do, she made attempts to start telling him when she needed something.  She noticed that he became infinitely more helpful.

One day, she pulled in the driveway, with the kids loaded in the back seat. He greeted her at the car and looked at her face, at her drawn mouth, at her tired eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing”.

But her quivering lips betrayed her.

“Something must be wrong”.

She wanted to tell him what was wrong, but was coming up blank when she tried to think of what exactly it was that was so bad.  She had no legitimate complaints.  She knew she couldn’t say “nothing” again, so she said the first thing that popped into her head.

 “I don’t have time to get anything done”.

“What needs to get done?”

“All I’ve done today is change diapers and feed the kids and the kitchen is a mess”.  

She realized that she didn’t answer his question, but couldn’t think of what to say about what it might be she wanted to get done that she wasn’t able to do.  She hastily added the only thing she could think of that resembled a reasonable answer to his question, “And I didn’t have time to go for a jog”.  

Ah ha.  Something he could work with.  Something he could help with.

“You’re the only one who thinks you don’t have enough time to do anything.  Go work out”. With that, he grabbed the kids and the diaper bag and when she opened her mouth to protest that there wasn’t time, he looked at her and repeated firmly, “Go workout.  Go”.

Instead of arguing, as she was often quick to do, she took him up on his offer to watch the kids while she went for a short run.   As she was jogging, she realized that he helped her in a way she didn’t always acknowledge, or even consciously remember, that she needed help with.

She needed a lot of help feeling better.  She always had, and she always would.

Somehow she kept forgetting that what she needed to do was to make sure she wasn’t falling apart.  She kept forgetting that even though she sometimes felt on top of the world, she would never be capable of holding on to that feeling for very long.  She kept forgetting that her natural inclination was to sink into a never-ending pit of depression and that the only way out was to keep doing what worked to pull her from the darkness, instead of pretending she was cured and stopping her needed therapies.

Running was one of the things that helped her.  Without the movement, without the chemical release, she sometimes wouldn’t feel good, or okay, or even so-so. Without it, she was capable of feeling horrible, or melancholic, or like maybe it would be better if she wasn’t here at all.  She couldn’t be a good wife, or more importantly, a good mama, without feeling better.  

THAT was really the most important thing she needed to get done. The kitchen could wait. Feeling better could not.

She knew she wouldn’t magically feel better just because she wanted to.  She knew she couldn’t feel better solely on her own. Thank goodness he kept trying to help.

 

 

 

Broken Machinery

The floor is lined with well-oiled machines.

They are gleaming models,

producing perfect products.

They hum, whir, purr.

 

Smile.

 

They are lustrous, polished instruments

with safety valves releasing steam,

and automatic shut-offs.

They are controlled and efficient.

 

But one machine is not like the rest.

A single rusty clunker,

worn out, broken down, wearing thin.

It screeches, bangs, clanks.

 

Snarls.

 

Gauges tarnished, valves corroded, sealed stuck,

it is unreliable and dangerous.

It will cough out mangled wares

’til its inevitable collapse.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

The Secret

She had to hide It somewhere. Somewhere safe. So, she cut herself open, quickly, before anyone could see It. It had to be hidden from view from prying eyes. From her own eyes.

The pain of the cut was nothing compared to the pain Exposure would bring. Or so she thought. She shoved it inside her chest cavity, wedged beneath her lung, impeding her breathing, but just a little. She could deal with it. Hopefully.

She cleaned up the blood and hastily stitched up the wound, much more concerned with the functionality of the stitches than the aesthetics.

She didn’t bury it as deep as it could go. It was a somewhat superficial burial, but an effective one, nonetheless. Too deep and It could do some serious damage to the internal organs. Too shallow and It could burst through the artificial seam, undoing all the work she had put into harboring It.

Because of Its relative proximity to the surface, sometimes It pressed against her wrinkled scar tissue, making it stretch… itch… ache. She ignored the nagging tension when she could, and tried to press the bulge down just a little deeper, with minimal success, when it became too much. Eventually It would subside on its own, even if only to resurface later. An internal iceberg she hoped wouldn’t sink her.

She covered up the slight bulge and occasional redness of her jagged scar with a polished wardrobe and a carefree attitude, so no one would suspect she was hiding something so ugly underneath. Inside.

If you liked this post you may also like The Monster’s Comforting Cloak.

Secret:  An internal iceberg she hoped wouldn't sink her.

Secret: An internal iceberg she hoped wouldn’t sink her.