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

The Six Week Check-Up

She started walking two days after,
running within a week.
Each day she ran those miles faster!
Physically, she would quickly peak.

She ran to combat it,
her becoming a disaster.
She was afraid to bring it up,
she was scared they would ask her.

But even more afraid of that,
she feared that they wouldn’t.
They had to bring it up,
she knew that she couldn’t.

It was hidden inside her,
like a wire wrapping her psyche,
cutting into her brain,
she felt the pressure, tightly.

It just might kill her,
if that wire tightened more.
It would shred her to pieces,
it would sever her core.

You look great! They said.
Her appearance fooled them.
She looked healthy. Strong.
She smiled and wooed them.

But she was not okay.
She was sick, deep inside.
She felt weak. Embarrassed.
The disease was easy to hide.

She was wearing herself to the bone,
running from fear, running for health.
She could not be trusted to be alone,
not with the baby, or her own self.

She wore a mask, to appear in control,
as the docs droned on and on.
They didn’t notice the void behind either eye hole,
or their patient, so withdrawn.

Everything looked good, or so they said.
Amazing! Bravo! Congratulations!
Smiling, the doctor shook her head.
But there were serious internal complications.

They never asked about it,
which she thought was bizarre.
She smiled and left.
And cried in the car.

Don't wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression.  Bring it up yourself.

Don’t wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression. Bring it up yourself.

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.

 

 

The Accidental Marathoner

Thirty-two weeks pregnant, and hardly able to walk more than a couple of miles at a stretch, it’s a little hard to believe that a year ago I ran my first marathon. My already-heightened set of emotions surrounding the race skyrocketed when the Boston marathon bombing occurred, six days before my race. As is true with most runners, ever since that day, every time I am out on a jog there is at least one moment where my mind turns to the bombing. While the thought saddens me, and makes me feel for the individuals and families affected, it also reminds me to be grateful for the legs carrying me, grateful for the people around me, and gives me energy to push on. Runners are a willful, dedicated bunch, full of strength, stamina and commitment, and the Boston bombing, instead of tarnishing this, cemented it.

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 Monster’s Comforting Cloak

She had a monster inside her.

He was shadowy and spiny and ran he laps around his home, inside of her heart.  His talons took chunks out of her flesh as he stomped his feet on her. In her.  The bristles on his back scraped and poked and gouged her insides as he turned and twisted.  He dug in. He chomped at her flesh and took sips of her blood; he drained her. He wounded her heart, leaving it loose, saggy, shriveled.  As tiny as he was, that monstrous speck in her heart, he weighed her down.

On the day the woman became a mother, her body opened up and the child emerged. With the child came gristle, blood, and watery fluids.  And also the beast.  The dreadful speck got washed away, expelled for good.

But, while her body was open and vulnerable, a new monster crept in.

The new creature surreptitiously found its way inside and into her heart. It filled the void The Other had left.  Only this monster was not a speck. It was a giant.  It packed her heart full, and crouched inside, with its arms around its knees and its back squashed up against the sides, for lack of space. The woman felt  an intense tightness in her chest from the pressure.  But she did not complain.

Unlike The Other, this monster was not covered in bristles.  It was cushy and downy soft. The pressure from this monster comforted the woman.  It made her feel complete. Warmed.  Full. Even though her heart now held more weight, the woman felt lighter. Over time, the new monster fed on her happiness and it continued to grow fatter and fatter inside the woman’s heart, which stretched and stretched to accommodate it.  The intense fullness usually felt good.

But sometimes it didn’t.

Sometimes instead of filling her with happiness, the distention scared her. Terrified her. Paralyzed her. Because the tiniest notion that there could once again be emptiness where the fullness now was, was unimaginable. Unthinkable. Unbearable.

The woman came to realize that the new monster wasn’t new at all.  The Other had not actually disappeared.  The tiny, barbed monster had simply put on a thick, cushioned, cloak. He was hiding underneath the happiness, growing larger.  Stronger.  And if the soft veneer were to be shed, the stiff bristles, which would have once left only a scratch, would now impale her from the inside, killing her for sure. The monster chuckled menacingly as it leaned back, settled in, and kept feeding, growing more and more obese, stretching her heart even further and further.

monster2

Angry is Easier

In 8th or 9th grade, I remember a light switch going off.  Click.  I was no longer the goofy, somewhat naively happy teen who thought making silly faces was hilarious and who loved sports more than anything.  Suddenly I was angry.   I was angry with society and I was angry with my parents and I was angry with my friends.

I remember getting mad at a friend of mine over something stupid, and I hit her in the head with my notebook at school.  As hard as a spiral notebook full of lined paper could ever be hit at someone.  And I hurt her, probably more emotionally than physically, but either way, we didn’t talk much after that day.  I walked around like a husk of myself, hollow inside, feeling cold and empty and not knowing who the hell this person was who was such an asshole.  I’d like to say this was the only asshole move I’ve ever made, but that would be a lie.  I still feel badly about that day.

Usually my friends were left relatively unscathed, but my dad got the brunt of it. He was an easy target.  My pent-up emotions needed an outlet.  Teenagers tend not to choose healthy outlets and I was no exception.  Why actually deal with my emotions when it was SO EASY to just release them by starting a fight?  YELLING SCREAMING PUNCHING.  As a teacher now I see students do this to their parents and their other teachers.  I’ve even heard some of them tell me they do this on purpose, and I marvel at their self-awareness.  I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, because I was too busy screaming and yelling and punching.

But, every time I got angry with any of the people I loved, and lashed out at them, I got angry with myself.

Because I wasn’t even really angry to begin with.

I was sad.

Looking back, it is clear that I was clinically depressed, not at my all time lowest low, but my first lowest low and not too far off from the all time record.  But, who admits being sad?  Especially if there wasn’t a reason?  Sad is weak.  Angry is strong.  A strong voice.  A strong punch.

Many, many, years later, my husband’s best friend, who he had known practically since birth, died in a horrific motorcycle accident.  He was wearing his helmet, but wearing a helmet doesn’t save you when your wheels skid on some gravel and you end up sliding into oncoming traffic and get dragged to pieces by a semi-truck. Other than high school this was the most angry I’ve ever been at someone.

Yes, I was angry at my husband’s dead best friend. I was angry at him for dying.

“DIDN’T YOU KNOW WHAT THIS WOULD DO TO HIM?! YOU DID!  SO WHY THE FUCK WEREN’T YOU MORE CAREFUL?”  Why the fuck weren’t you more careful!  LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO HIM!   A broken record of yelling inside my head.  For a year.

At this point I was old enough to realize this wasn’t rational, but that didn’t change how I felt.  I was selfishly angry at this happy, carefree, kind, now-dead boy because I knew my husband would forever have a hole in his heart in the shape of his friend.

But bloody hell, I’m 34 years old.  I think I heard somewhere that I’m supposed to be an adult by now.  And adults don’t do that.  Well, okay, some do.  But not the adults I would like to be like someday, when I grow up.

And angry isn’t strong.  Angry is weak.  Angry is selfish.  Angry isn’t even ACCURATE.  It’s just there because it’s easier.  It’s lazy.  I know from experience that if I act angry enough, then I am sure to be left alone and can continue to avoid the real problem for as long as possible. It’s easier to be angry and mean and lash out and push away than it is to deal with my problems, my fears, my out of whack hormones.

So today, 7 years after the motorcycle accident, I’ll admit it.  I’m sad. And instead of yelling and punching, I’ll make silly faces and go to yoga and give those around me a hug.  7th grade me knew what life was all about.

20130512_220026 (2b

 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like The Accidental Marathoner and   Depression is Analogous to Treading Water