Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kissing death and losing my breath...

So much has happened in the past couple of months, but it's only now, hearing that a beloved celebrity took his own life, that I am finally going to admit the truth.

Just over a year ago I posted an entry about my struggles with depression, though looking back now I wonder how I did so in an almost lighthearted way. I suppose because at the time, I assumed that what I was feeling would be fleeting.

Only it's been a year and three months since I wrote that entry, and instead, it's gotten steadily worse.

I wish that I could pinpoint some actual beginning to what's been going on with me, but the fact is that I've struggled with depression time and time again for as long as I can remember. Sure, it manifested itself differently when I was in middle school versus when I was in high school, and again it wasn't the same in college as it was before that. And this more recent bout - which has been the longest one I've experienced by far - is different still.

In fact, I went back to try and find a picture of myself from a time when I remember I was truly happy - consistently, too, not just because I was on vacation or something - and I had to go all the way back to January 2012.

And I still had to choose a picture from when I was on vacation.


I'm not going to say that I've never had a happy moment since then - I've had plenty of them. It's just that the prevailing emotions have been that specific cocktail of anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness that make up my personal version of depression - which I suppose has always been there, like in those Abilify commercials...but until recently, I was able to cope with it. Usually. For the most part.

A lot has happened in the past two years. Some of it involves others - things that happened, things they did - whose personal information I won't divulge, but most of it involves me, of course. There have been things I can't control, like my health; things I possibly could have controlled, like the illness and death of my beloved cat Lilo, gone too soon from this world; and things that I did control, like some terrible decisions that I made. The latter are mostly due to the way I was feeling, but I refuse to use that as an 'excuse'. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it, and all that.

In the beginning it was a combination of having my hours cut at work (thus resulting in a fairly significant difference in my salary), along with the fact that about that time I started singing with a band and having an amazing time (TOO amazing, really), only to have that swept out from under me mere months after it began. I think the problem is that I never really FACED the way I felt about those things, not really, and so as time went on all the negativity just festered, even long after I was working 40 hours a week again and realized that the band had been more trouble than it was worth.

And then suddenly it was one thing after another - the ceiling falling in at my house in the spring of 2013, and the subsequent repairs and renovations that followed - and took far longer than they were supposed to (to be completely honest, they're still not totally finished). Spending a huge portion of last fall traveling for what were essentially volunteer jobs - covering conventions, mostly, which I loved...but which cost a lot of money and kept me away from home and my pets. Sure, it was all very fun, even glamorous at times, but it wasn't a sustainable lifestyle - as I learned to my detriment.

My health was the next thing to take a turn. I found a lump in my neck, and now, not quite nine months later, there are three in my neck and two in my pelvic area. All lymph nodes. At the moment they appear 'safe', but it was only after about 5 months of testing and ultrasounds and check-ups that the doctor would tell me as much - and I just have to hope that they don't get bigger.

We found a lost cat on the verge of death in April. She only lived for another week, though we worked hard to save her.

Two weeks after that, Lilo passed away - suddenly, and almost violently.

And all that time, I was just keeping myself busy. Distracting myself with work and writing and conventions. Never really sleeping or eating properly. No real vacations, and days where I spent at least fifteen of my eighteen-ish waking hours on a computer.

Looking back now, I'm surprised I didn't have a breakdown months ago.

It became second nature to hide the way I felt; if anything I was overcompensating for my depression.
 
It took the betrayal of a friend - the likes of which I hadn't experienced in a good five years - to force me to rock bottom. But that was just the catalyst for the illness that has always been there to mix just right with everything that's gone wrong in the past two years and then, for lack of a better word, 'explode'. (Or maybe in this case I should be saying 'implode'...)

Before I crashed, though, I'd been socially isolating myself - not just from a few people, but from everyone, including my closest friends and family. I lost nearly 30 pounds in about seven months, which may not sound like a lot, but is when you're built like I am. I was tired all of the time, stressed all of the time, and irritated for most of it, as well. I stopped enjoying any and everything I'd once loved.

Speaking of love, the outpouring of support that I received when I told a handful of close friends that I was going to the hospital to get assessed for a mental health program was amazing. It hurts me that for so long, I avoided these people who care about me. Simple things like someone changing their profile picture to one of me and them the day they knew I was going to the hospital are what I remind myself of when I inevitably have those moments, hours, days, when all I want to do is lay in bed and cry.

I found some solace in understanding family and friends. In running with my dogs. In riding my bike downtown to read and write and ruminate in our beautiful park. In driving up to the mountains and losing myself in a long hike in the summer heat.

One night, when I was at my worst, I made myself get up off the floor - literally, I was laying on the floor - and write the names of those I love - and who I know love me back - on my little chalkboard. I wrote names until the wave broke, and then I laid down and slept better than I had in weeks. Months, even.

I'm getting help now, but I can't pretend that any of this is easy; I can't pretend that I don't read these articles about Robin Williams and am at turns saddened and repulsed by them (depending on the 'spin' the writers put on them).

I'm getting help now, but there are still days when only the biggest things (like some children dropping a stray dog off at my house) can pull me out of bed.

I'm getting help now, but there are still times when it seems like a chore to remind myself to breathe, when simply leaving the house brings on a panic attack.

The one thing I wish is that it hadn't taken me this long to face my illness. I was lucky to have the right person to talk to at the right time, but if I hadn't, I would have made my way over to the hospital and checked myself in. I've seen and experienced firsthand what suicide does to a loved one's family and friends; the fact that I was still thinking those thoughts scared me into action.

Please, please, if you reach your low point - whatever that is - or maybe even when you realize you're careening towards it...call someone. Friend, family, hotline. Or go to the nearest hospital. I would never claim to know exactly how anyone else feels, but allow yourself to at least hope, if not know, that the depression is feeding you lies, and that help is available in one form or another.

If you aren't struggling, please just be patient with those who are. Don't forget the old adage that says something along the lines of, 'be kind to everyone you meet, because you never know what they're battling'. Pin It

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