Let’s talk about something a little dark and frustrating, today; something that usually goes along with chronic illness, but is its own chronic thing too, not to be outdone: mental illness. Because, don’t get me wrong, you can be drug down, without accompanying physical pain, by mental illness alone. You can be knocked right the fuck down, right where you stand, and thrown to the carpet, never to get up again…well, at least for several days, weeks, or even months. Oh, and mental illness can be physically painful too. Exhaustion, aches, pains and the whole nine yards, of course.
I have a picture-perfect life. It’s the same thing we say to celebrities who claim mental illness, exhaustion, or other mental health issues. How can they feel bad, when they have it so good, right? That’s the point. It doesn’t matter how good you have it. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what you have around you; it’s what’s going on inside you, that matters.
This is hard for me to confess, or talk about, and it’s hard for most people with mental health issues to talk about. But, it’s important for people to talk about! It’s time to be aware of these things, instead of pretending that it’s not a “thing,” or that I just get a little down sometimes. Yeah, I do; but it’s a lot more than that. Let’s get real with what it really is.
Here’s what I didn’t know: I’m sick in the head, too. I’ve been sick in the head for longer than I’ve been sick in the body. I thought that being sick in the head was a thing that I’d acquired from being sick in the body, that my swings into depression, and my anxiety, were caused by my failing body, and the frustrations that it brought me. Sure, those things help bring on a cloud of depression. Sometimes, the heavy weighted blanket that it throws onto my body make it impossible to get up off the couch, even when I have to pee so badly that it feels like I may die if I don’t move.
But, I’ve learned that I have had these issues all along. I’ve stifled every real emotion that I’ve ever had, except for anger. I’ve refused to feel hurt. I’ve refused to feel love. I’ve refused to feel anything. I got really good at keeping feelings locked away, and pretending they don’t exist. I’m a good robot. So now, I fall into fits of depression and anxiety, almost at random, rather than to deal with feelings. It’s unbearable. It’s deeply painful, and it’s frustrating for me. I can never predict these sojourns into darkness, and I feel like a terrible burden to those I love.
For those who’ve never experienced depression, for me it’s as if the world stops, but just for you. There’s literally no reason to do anything. Nothing makes you want to move from the spot you are in. It’s as if you are almost paralyzed by immobility. I could be dying of thirst, but not go to the kitchen to get a beverage. It feels as if I’ve atrophied all my useful muscles. It’s as if my mind works, but my body won’t do what it’s supposed to do, and I don’t care about that problem, not enough to solve it. Worse, I can look around and see things I would like to do, like dust, vacuum, or otherwise take on tasks, but can’t be bothered to do them. Thus, I begin to feel guilty for leaving them to others. The same is true for tasks I should do for myself, like getting dressed, exercising, or even brushing my hair. The guilt compounds the depression, which makes the whole situation worse, and the cycle compounds. It’s a terrible cyclical situation. It’s as if the Puritans are there with the stones, slowly crushing you to death, but you are doing it to yourself.
As if that’s not enough though, you throw anxiety into the mix, which jumps in at random times. For anxiety, you just feel like you are dying. Suddenly, there isn’t enough air in the room, then in the world, for you to breathe. Sometimes, I get dizzy first, or my legs start shaking uncontrollably, but that’s just “mild” anxiety. I don’t take medication for my anxiety because it doesn’t mix well with my pain medication. It can cause side effects like death, so it’s generally not considered a good idea. So, I get to suffer through anxiety attacks by just waiting for them to pass. I can try to talk myself through them by gently reminding myself that there is enough air, and I’m having an anxiety attack. This usually doesn’t help. A person having an anxiety attack knows they are having an anxiety attack, and intellectually knows there is enough air. It doesn’t help them feel like they are breathing it. Alas, I just have to wait until it’s over and I can breathe normally, again, leaving me exhausted and numb.
My last visit to the land of darkness has been the worst that I’ve ever experienced. I can always feel it coming on, and I do everything I can to keep it at bay. I try to bury myself in routine, exercise more, take on a project, pretend that I can’t hear the little voice in my head that says, “why bother, everything is useless.” Nothing helps.
This time, the darkness overtook me to the point that I imagined what it would be like to forget suffering through it any longer. I’ve always seen through to the other side. I’ve always kept my son in my sights, even when the voice in my head says, “you don’t matter to him, to anything, to anyone.” I’ve always said to myself that my loss would destroy him. This time, I was able to rationalize that I didn’t care because I’d be gone. It was a horrible time. The moment I realized that I’d put my son aside, I knew that I had to tell Bryon that this wasn’t just a typical dark patch.
Around the same time, I had a panic attack, in my bed, at random, in the middle of the night. I haven’t been able to sleep in my bed, since. I can barely go near my bed. I’ve been sleeping on the couch. That is mental illness. My husband, tucking me in at night, kissing my forehead, and asking me what he can do to help me feel comfortable, and helping me think of strategies to get me back to bed, is awareness that we don’t have to be in this alone.
But, more importantly, we need to be aware of just how hard it is to find appropriate help. Finding a new therapist out here has been an uphill battle. I’ve been white-knuckling my depression and anxiety since we got here, which was a terrible idea, obviously. So, I promised to find a new doctor, especially since this last bad patch has been so rough.
I had only one requirement: I wanted a woman. I had a preference for a close drive. Anyone with severe depression, which I’d recently sunken into, knows that sometimes, even brushing your teeth can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Alas, I couldn’t picture getting myself motivated to make a 30-minute trek. Five minutes seemed more reasonable. But, I’d compromise if I had to.
Eight phone calls later, I’d realized that I’d have to make a concession to accept any doctor with a pulse. That’s right, there are NO female therapists within a 30-minute drive who were accepting new patients. None. Zero. How is that possible? Let alone therapists that take my insurance. With local hourly rates at up to $200, how are we still shouting at people to “get help,” when they feel helpless, or to “reach out?” Where? To who?
I’m lucky to have a support system at home to help feed me, and make sure I’m meeting basic life-sustaining needs when I’m in the throes of a rough patch. I’m also lucky to have someone to talk to about nonsense when I just feel like babbling. I’m lucky that when I confessed to feeling like I was afraid of myself, my support system held my hand and guided me over the hump. Even more, I’m lucky that, even without insurance support, we can shoulder the burden of the bill for mental health care. But, I’m frustrated at how difficult it is to find.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their demons. There’s a little crazy in all of us. All of us has a tale to tell, and a little weird to let out. We’re all messed up in our own way, and we all manage our weirdness. We all have coping techniques, and they all work for us; mine were working just great, until one day, they just didn’t, anymore. I was a driven, successful woman, with an education, career, spouse and a child. Then, I got sick. My life slowed down, and I lost control. Everything fell apart. Everything came unraveled and my marble sack spilled. I haven’t been able to put it all back together, ever since. It was always in there. I just need new coping strategies and some more therapy.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, or to confess your crazy. It’s always okay. Pulling yourself together, no matter how much, is a victory. Being aware of one another and being kind is how we heal wounds. Go out there, be aware, and be nice!
Oh…and PS: No matter how dark it gets, KEEP LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT AT THE OTHER SIDE! Don’t give up fighting!