Finally— remission

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I don’t want to jinx anything.

But almost two weeks ago, I felt it. And it was a moment worth remembering.

I walked outside to go for a run. I started my app, jogged down the driveway, around the corner, and onto the sidewalk that parallels the main road…

And it happened.

I noticed the sidewalk stretching out before me. Saw the azure blue of the sky. Smelled the dew on the grass.

And was grateful. And awake. And content. And alive.

The run wasn’t anything special. I think it was maybe two miles total with several walking breaks.

But for the first time in a long time, it felt like all of the gears in my brain were finally in sync and running smoothly.

The first time in a very long time.

It’s taken eight months.

Four medication changes.

Numerous psychiatric visits and emails.

Side effects from withdrawal from medication and adjusting to new medication.

Insurance company squabbles.

But the darkness has retreated for now.

And even though I’m hesitant to celebrate, I need to share it.

Even though I question why I’m not sleeping, or why I’m tired, or panic if I have a negative thought, I need to share this.

It gets better.

For anyone out there who fights the darkness, you need to know that there is always a light.

Sometimes from a completely unexpected place.

When your brain lies to you and tells you you’re worthless and you don’t matter and nothing matters and what’s the point of it all, read this:

YOU are worth it. YOU matter. YOU are loved, and valued, and treasured, and make the world a better place.

This is my third episode of major depression. Each time I needed help. By the second episode, I realized how to ask for it. With this episode, I decided to share the journey with the hope of helping others understand the struggle.

I have no regrets.

And I have many people I am grateful for.

Even though going “public”was frightening, it helped having support from so many. Some I know and some I don’t.

Thank you.

I am experienced enough to realize that the odds of another episode are likely. And that this illness will return, come out of remission, and try to take over.

So for now, I’m going to breathe. And enjoy the contentment while it lasts.

I’m going to enjoy the ability to be present in the moment.

And try to remember that the light may fade, it may be obscured, but it is always there.

I’m sorry if I scared anyone

My poor mom. Whenever I have a sensitive post, I try and warn her ahead of time so she’s not blindsided. It’s the least, and I mean the very least, I can do.

So she read it immediately as I knew she would and a flurry of texts ensued about her fears and questions and need for assurance.

I’m really, really sorry, mom.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to read these things about your daughter. I know my friends are concerned when I write things like this. I’ve been offered all kinds of help and I am so, so appreciative of the outpouring of love and support that I almost think I deserve it.

That’s a joke.

As hard as it is to read, it’s equally hard to write. Because even though some might deny it, it alters their view of me.

And that’s ok.

I’m no different than I have been my entire life, but this part has been kept secret for years.

As I told my mom, I understand why she’s upset and scared because it’s the first time she’s reading about these things, but as I assured her, it’s not the first time I’ve felt them.

I remember the first time wanting to cut myself, but it was more of a “he’ll be sorry” kind of thing. I took a steak knife in my room, sat on my bed with ugly sobs blurring my hands and thought about what would happen.

But I was scared. Of getting in trouble.

So I waited for the sobs to subside and put the steak knife back in the kitchen drawer.

But there’s more than one way to harm oneself.

Over the years I’ve picked my cuticles until they bled, pulled out eyelashes and eyebrows, worked out to collapsing exhaustion, eaten myself into oblivion, drunk myself into forgetfulness, and starved myself.

All ways to distract attention from what was causing pain on the inside.

Coping mechanisms, but destructive ones.

So I get it. I may not fit the profile of someone you think of when you think “mental illness.” My eyes aren’t wild, I’m not a loner, and I get out of bed. Well, most days.

But there are more of us than you might realize.

Erasing the stigma is a HUGE goal of mine. Helping people see that you CAN learn coping skills and have a functional life, a family that loves you and laugh and play and not just survive but truly live with mental illness.

And every time I’ve gotten punched by a new episode, I end up going to my corner, getting new strategies, new meds, more love and more support, and I have been able to win.

This is just another one of those times.

And I can win.

I’m tired of writing about it and you’re probably tired of reading about it…

But I promised I’d be honest.

These are some of the things I’ve been thinking in the last few weeks.

It will get better when school is out.

It will get better when baseball is over.

It will get better when I’ve caught up on sleep.

It’s not better.

Yes, I haven’t been questioning the value of my existence, and that’s a huge step. Not one to take lightly and I truly am grateful for that.

But things still feel forced and are life draining.

I’ll have one day where I get up, get dressed, have a plan and fulfill it, checking items off my list like the productive, organized individual I used to be.

But then the next day I am completely spent. I sit in my chair and read. I don’t bother to make a list. I take a two hour nap. I dread appointments because then I’ll have to socialize. I order pizza for dinner and play mindless games on my iPad.

The other night I was so tired of broken sleep with disturbing dreams I took some Restoril and slept really well. The next day, even though I was clouded until 10, I actually had energy and weeded and planted and sprayed and watered.

The next day that energy vanished.

This past Wednesday was the worst, and it prompted me to try and schedule an earlier appointment with my doc.

The separation of children from their families was something I knew would tear me apart, but then there was an article in the Detroit Free Press that told of two centers that were receiving kids and were extremely low on supplies and caregivers for these children–some still in diapers.

I researched and donated and flooded my Twitter and Facebook feeds with articles and statistics, but it didn’t alleviate the anger and helplessness I felt. And that led to feelings of hopelessness.

By that evening, we were driving to my son’s last baseball game and I had an overwhelming desire to replace the emotional pain with physical pain. I wanted to cut myself. Feel the blade. See the blood. Focus on something outside to avoid my inside. The urge, fortunately, passed.

So here I am. Weeks into a drug regimen that should have reached its peak efficacy by now, and I fear I’m going to have to start all over again. I compare it to drug roulette. Maybe this one works, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the side effects will be tolerable, maybe they’ll be horrific.

And my greatest fear is that when all the drugs have been tried and nothing helps, what next?

I’m willing to try, but I guess this is one of the reasons depression is so hard for others to tolerate. Because it doesn’t just go away magically. There is no perfect cure that works for everyone. Something may work and then not work.

Depression is an incurable, chronic illness. Remission can be achieved, but there’s no guarantee how long it might last.

And when it does come back, it might be mild or severe. It might vary day to day. It might expose itself as rage, fatigue, restlessness, overeating, undereating, sleeping a lot, insomnia.

I get it–having a friend or family member with depression is exhausting and frustrating.

We’re exhausted and frustrated too.

Just please try and be patient. It’s a lot to ask, but we want to be normal as much as you want us to.

I want to be me again.

I’m at 85% and I don’t know if that’s good enough

The meds are working. That I know.

Are they working well enough?

That I don’t.

I go in every month now and see my psychiatrist for updates. This last month he asked how I was doing and I said I felt at about 85% of what I was. He replied that by this time, maximum relief should be present.

So what now?

Ha asked about work and of course I mentioned that it stressed me out. But doesn’t everyone’s to some degree?

He said he was looking back at his notes and noticed that work was a constant stressor that never seemed to abate during the school year and he asked why that might be.

And yes, there are stressors related to last minute changes, parents, being rushed, administrators and all that, but that’s not the main issue for me.

It’s the kids.

I’ve posted about this before, but every year the kids come in with more needs than ever. They come in with tougher backgrounds, secrets few people know, and hardships beyond most people’s imaginations.

And I encourage these kids to write about it. Talk about it. Release it just a bit from their conscience and allow them to work through it safely and somewhat objectively.

So I know they have been sexually assaulted. I know their parent has committed suicide. I know their sibling has died of an overdose. I know they were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. I know their dad beats their mom. I know they have been traumatized by gun violence. I know they suffer crippling anxiety. I know they are homeless or living with grandma because mom or dad are in prison or abandoned them or died.

And I think about how I can help them. I wonder what I can do, I feel guilty that this is their reality, I feel angry that they have had their innocence brutally stripped from them.

And my mind turns.

On my drive home. While I’m grading papers. In the middle of the night. In the morning.

All day.

Every day.

I can’t shut it off.

After explaining this, he said that being in a constant state of high stress is horrible for my mental health and asked if I had considered trying anything to help buffer that pain.

Other than an early retirement? Which I can’t afford? No.

He said, I’m not going to say straight out that your job is making you ill, but…

Say no more. I know. I really do know. It’s not an accident that these episodes come at the same time every year. It’s not a coincidence that the summer and other breaks provide a temporary lift.

So what the fuck do I do?

He suggested therapy— figure out why I take these stories to heart and possibly learn strategies to buffer myself from them.

But I think I’m just wired this way.

And in my head, I don’t get how people aren’t wired this way.

I wish I knew their secret.

My school year is over. I haven’t run since a girls’ weekend in May. I had to quell an oncoming panic attack last night. Yesterday I looked around my house that resembles a city dump and felt like a failure as a mom, wife and teacher.

Is 85% enough?

I don’t know.

I forgot how much this hurts

This is a tough post to write. First I didn’t have the energy for it. But then I was afraid to write it. To try and put into words what it feels like when your brain’s been hijacked by itself. To adequately explain what it’s like in the depths of darkness.

So here goes.

I have been over the max dose of my medication, so it was time to try a different one. The idea was to wean off the first while building the second.

And everything went to hell.

I felt like my brain was mis-firing on every level. I had symptoms of withdrawal from the first drug, and side effects from the new one.

The fatigue was overwhelming, and my body felt like I had the flu. Headaches raged for days at a time. I felt nauseous, dizzy and dumb. My concentration was shot and I had no appetite.

And those were just the physical symptoms.

My brain is kind of s shit show right now. I can feel ok and think about a goal, and the next feel so exhausted I have to sleep for the next 12 hours. I cry about being a burden to my family and my inability to be there for them, and I get numb with complete apathy for anyone or anything. I second guess everything until I have to mentally shut down and go into safe mode.

About ten days ago, on a Tuesday, I actually had a pretty good day. I sang to the radio on the way to work. I laughed sincerely. I asked students questions and really wanted to hear the answers. I joked around.

I felt like I was maybe turning the corner.

And then the next day, I had less energy. I tried to play it off, denying that I might not be as well as I had hoped. By Friday, I was about as low as when this all started.

And I felt hopeless. Defeated. Weak.

My poor colleague took one look at me, asked what was wrong and I burst into tears.

It sucked.

I haven’t run since spring break. I haven’t left the house unless necessary. I have buffers with me wherever I go— I bring Ginger, or keep score, or have one of the kids, or my parents. I have pre-planned places to escape if needed. There are some nights where I just can’t do anything but be quiet and stare at my iPad.

Otherwise it’s too exhausting.

I’m afraid of going backward, afraid this medication won’t work, afraid I’ll damage the kids, afraid I won’t be able to finish the school year, afraid I’m too much of a burden.

I’m afraid I’ll never feel well again.

But I haven’t lost hope.

I snuggle cats, hold Ginger close, pour my fears out to Bill, take my medicine and stay in constant contact with my doctor. I take a day off, let the grading slide, lie in my bed and push the snooze button. I go to track meets and baseball games and work and function as well as I can.

The fact that I can write this shows I’m a little better.

But I’m not sure these are the right words to communicate what’s going on. How depression makes your soul hurt. How it steals the belief in everything that’s good with your life and replaces it with numbness and pain. How it tells you you’re worthless and without value. How you question the point of your very existence and wonder why anyone bothers with you.

Just typing this— and it’s taken all day— I feel the fatigue closing in and the ache in my arms.

But I still believe it will get better. I have to. Because the alternative would drive me to madness. And I need to get better because I still believe that being a mom in my current state is better than not being a mom at all.

I don’t even know how to end this, except “to be continued” because it’s not over. It will never be completely over, that’s not how depression works, but it needs to go into remission. Slowly, I hope to pack it away— a little tighter, a little more carefully— so it can’t escape again.

My brain is on fire, but I need to make it a rainbow

My brain is rattling rattling rattling and running running running. It’s zooming and pinging and bouncing and banging and thinking and asking and full of worry but I’m just so tired it

Needs

To

Stop

Papers to grade, plans to make dinner to cook, practice to drive, visits to schedule, things to buy, plans to set, people to text and pets to feed.

Nothing in focus, nothing in memory, nothing gets done, it’s halfway or midway or half paid and then it zooms away and in comes something new.

And I’m tired, so tired. Coffee to get me out the door, to stay awake on prep, to stay awake to drive home, but I need to grade and run and drive and cook and be nice and prepare and bathe and

Just

Lie

Down

But then it’s night and the meds didn’t work and I fell asleep but not totally asleep and the dreams came and I was in grandma’s house and I was sleeping in the dream and trying so hard to wake up and looking at the clock and watching TV and drinking a can of Coke— not the big can, but the small can— and the sugar and syrup tasted so good and I looked at the clock and it was late morning.

And in my dream I wondered why Grandma wasn’t up yet and what would happen if she died in her sleep while I was visiting and who would I call— Blair Funeral Home— and what clothes would I send— the outfit in the back of her closet— and what would I do— call EMS first, then my parents— and then, still in the dream, I realized

Grandma was already dead.

And this was her house and it was empty except for me and I got up and walked to the bedroom door and that’s when my alarm

Went

Off

And I woke and I brushed and I clothed and I drank and I fed and I walked out the garage door to face the day

A day of running and talking and explaining and helping and caring and encouraging and raging and commiserating and moving and I’m now

So

Tired

But I don’t want to disappoint

Anyone

My greatest fear

And I’m hanging on to my appointment like a lifeline and hoping there’s a life preserver and the end and not a frayed end to find out what the hell is wrong THIS time and what did I do and what can be done and how long will it take to

Feel

Normal

So tonight I will run

I will take a shower that runs out the hot water

I will snuggle with my pup and cuddle my cats

I will play mindless iPad games

I will scroll through @dog_rates

I will breathe in

And out

And in deeper

And out longer

And I will begin anew

What’s helping

Thanks to all of you, and I’m sorry if it scared you. I think it’s scary too.

But it’s real, and like any issue, there are things that help alleviate the darkness. I wanted to make a list of what’s helping right now so I can look back and either add things or remember things that bring me joy today. So here they are in no particular order.

Seeing the sun rising as I drive to work

Daylight savings time

Awesome friends that keep inviting me places and treat me like a regular human being

Naps with Ginger

Snuggling with cats

Encircling my girl with my arms, telling her I love her, and she doesn’t resist

Sharing my chair with my boy while he shows me his Minecraft house

Sharing my kids’ triumphs

Running outside

Sleeping in

Because of the way the mental health care system works, I don’t have an appointment until the second week in April. And as any high functioning depressive will tell you, we don’t usually decide to make the call until we’ve already tried everything else. So I’m doing what most people struggling with depression do.

I’m going to work, driving to practice, fulfilling most obligations, making dinner once in a while, showering, washing my hair, going to my kids’ events, being polite and kind to my students, friends and neighbors, and sleeping… kind of. But I’m taking things day by day, or hour by hour, or breath by breath.

And right now, it’s ok.

Thank you to all who let me know in so many ways that you care. And if you didn’t say anything because it’s awkward or you didn’t know what to say, it’s ok. It’s taken me 13 years to be able to talk about it, and I still do a shitty job and don’t completely understand it.

Right now I’m just going to do things that make me smile and feel good. And if that includes destroying a box of Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts, so be it.

Self-care, y’all.

I need help. Again.

Warning— this is not a funny post, or uplifting, or positive. When I first started this blog, I wanted to open a dialogue for anyone dealing with mental illness and provide some insight into regular person (me) who has dealt with this and will continue dealing with it for the rest of my life.

Sometimes depression goes into remission, but then it comes barreling back.

It’s back.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been denying, ignoring, rationalizing and negotiating these feelings and why they’ve returned, but as usual, that doesn’t work, so now I’m admitting that my brain has become reckless and ruthless and I need help to stave off its lies.

It’s really uncomfortable and upsetting when you have no idea what your brain is going to tell you every day. And it can switch at a moment’s notice.

There are days when it lies to me from the moment I wake up. It says that I’m useless. That nothing I do matters. That no one would miss me if I was gone. Yeah, they’d be sad, but they’d get over it and move on because life is for the living.

It asks questions like what is the point of existing? We live, we die, and more people come to take our place. It reminds me of the ee cummings’ poem, “anyone lived in a pretty how town” that expresses the monotony of everyday life and the lack of impact people have in the world. I’m not curing cancer or discovering new worlds or saving lives or really doing anything worthwhile.

Except raising my kids.

They are the ones who I know need me. The ones who I HAVE to be here for. The ones that make me need to fight my brain.

I KNOW with absolute certainty that no matter how broken I am, I’m better broken than non-existent.

But when I’m driving or up at night and it’s just me and my brain, we don’t always get along and it gets tough to tell it to shut the fuck up.

And it gets so confusing because I’ve always relied on my brain and trusted it. It’s my sense of humor, my intelligence, my drive, my skepticism, my ability to see things from multiple perspectives and I LOVE my brain.

Until it starts being an asshole.

A lot of people have asked me what depression feels like, and I can’t speak for everyone, but this is the best analogy I can make for how it feels right now.

Imagine that you have a gallon of milk without the cap, and from the time you get out of bed until the time you go back to bed, you have to carry that gallon without spilling a drop. At first, it’s not bad. You figure out how to drive to work and maybe congratulate yourself for your strength. Maybe you even mock people who say that this is a difficult task.

Then you get to work and start your day and your fingers start to get numb. So you switch hands. Then you notice a ridge of plastic that’s cutting into your fingers, so you reposition the milk to avoid it.

As the day goes on, all you can think about is the milk.

You can’t concentrate, or do your job, or experience joy because all you can think about is how painful the fucking milk has become and you know it’s just milk and you shouldn’t be such a baby, but no one else has to do this and you hate them just a little bit because don’t they see how much you’re struggling?

So now you’re obsessed with the milk and you hate the milk and you wish you could just dump the whole damn thing and just end it but you know you can’t for real, but you think about how light you would be without the milk, and how the pain would stop.

But you manage to make it through the day. But you’re exhausted and have a headache and your stomach hurts and you have no energy to do anything and you’re irritable and impatient and miserable to be around.

You finally get into bed.

And the milk goes on the side table.

And you think of all the mistakes you made, and all of the strategies you’ll try tomorrow and all of the guilt you feel because you could only focus on the milk and you finally fall into a restless sleep at 2am.

The alarm goes off at 5.

Time to carry the fucking milk.

So, I’ve started the process. Again.

I’ve come clean to Bill and emailed my doctor and requested an appointment.

I’ve researched if the meds I’m on lose their efficacy over time and what can cause a recurrence, and I’m doing what I can do be nice to myself and trying to ignore my brain that says I don’t deserve to be nice to myself.

And right now, in this moment, I’m ok.

But I’ll apologize now for saying no to plans, or making a quick getaway, or changing my mind at the last minute, or staying in my house and cuddling with kids and animals rather than talk to humans.

And I’ll say thanks for reading, and hopefully understanding.

When you’re in the darkest dark, an ember lights your way

Darkness has been closing in, in many ways, through various forms.

Some are derived from the usual sources.

News headlines.

Judgmental eyes.

Weather.

But lately, they have been accompanied by an avalanche of stories.

Tragedy.

Hopelessness.

Futility.

Pointlessness.

And they link, and spread, and envelope, and engulf, and overwhelm, and suffocate.

And you think, “Why keep breathing, when it’s such a struggle?”

You see no one, hear nothing but your thoughts.

And they lie.

Tears roll down your cheeks and you have a tinge of relief that you still feel.

But that’s part of the problem.

You feel.

For the dogs left outside to freeze. For the little girl tortured and killed by her mother. For the girl in class who is hungry. For the strangers you never met. For the loved ones who are struggling.

And it becomes a swirl of black and gray and indigo and it’s chalky and it gets in your eyes and ears and mouth and nose and lungs and you choke and sputter and almost relinquish and stop fighting.

Then, inexplicably, the corner of your crusted eye sees something.

It’s so small and weak you have to stare intently.

It glows.

A tiny ember.

And you stare, afraid to blink, afraid to scare it away.

You sweep your hands through the darkness, trying to get closer.

The closer you get, the larger it becomes.

It is warm.

It is a beacon.

You reach it and stretch it and pull it around you like a blanket, tucking your arms into yourself and curling your legs to your chest.

You feed from the light.

Slowly, your eyes begin to clear. The chalky darkness begins to fade from your body. Its inky blackness drains from your mind.

And at last you see the full picture.

The rescue group saving the dogs. The prosecutor guaranteeing this mother will harm no child again. The offering of food. The people who are helping the strangers. The outpouring of love and support for loved ones.

So you hold on and keep breathing. And you take notes, remembering this experience. And you realize that there is always an ember there when you need it.

Even in your darkest days.

Always, always search for the light.

It’s there.

I love Christmas, but it can be tough

Anxiety doesn’t know that the kids are excited for Christmas, and it doesn’t give a shit that you have a million things to do. It pops up unexpectedly like a jack in the box without the lyrical cues.

Last night I texted my dad asking what time he and my mom were planning to come over today. It was 9pm, so of course I was texting from bed. I played a few games on my phone, went to turn out the light, and saw the clock–9:40.

No reply.

My dad always replies and he goes to bed later than I do. So I did want any sane person would do. Various scenarios of them dead began to play in my head.

They have been having some remodeling work done on the house, so of course one of the workers broke in, robbed them and bludgeoned them to death in the process. The scene was gruesome. The police came and carted them off to the morgue and I was called to identify them. I would have Bill stay with the kids and tell them I just had to run an errand. I would get there and the drape would be pulled back and I would see their swollen faces.

What would I tell the kids? Not the truth because they would be afraid of the same thing happening at our house. It would have to be an accident of some sort until they could understand when they were older. Would my brother be able to get a flight home? Probably not right away because it would be Christmas Eve.

And we’d have to postpone Christmas. I would have to take weeks off of work for the trial because I would want to know every single detail of the case. Which prosecutor would take the case?

What would happen after? I’m not ready to lose my parents. They are finally enjoying the retirement they worked so hard for. It’s so fucking unfair!

STOP THIS SHIT

Finally, my other brain breaks through.

My conscious self says, This is bullshit. You are tired, stressed and overwhelmed and are vulnerable to this crap.

You need to STOP. Right now.

I take a deep breath. Notice my heart beating visibly through my T-shirt. Feel tears release from the corners of my eyes. Unclench my fists and feel the divots from my fingernails. Ginger stares at me.

I inhale

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Hold

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Exhale

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

I remind myself where I am. Concentrate on the weight of the sheets and blankets. The breeze from the fan.

I tell myself they are probably watching a movie. The phone is on vibrate. They are talking to my brother.

Sometimes after an episode, I feel really stupid. Ashamed. Weak.

Sometimes after an episode, I feel confused. Shaken. Weak.

I scooch over to Ginger, pressing my leg against her body and feel calmer.

I look at the clock.

12:37

I love the holidays. But sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes it’s hard for different reasons. I’ll have my mental armor on tonight, and will wear it for the next several days.

Just in case.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.

If you think you have everything handled, and you’re good, and then suddenly something happens and you’re not, it’s ok.

You can get through it. We can get through it.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Be sure to give yourself some love, patience and care.