Thursday, June 12, 2014

A piece of me.

When I was in my early 20s, I disappeared.

I don't mean milk-carton disappeared, thank God, or that I went off somewhere to "find myself". I was nowhere in particular when I vanished.

Depression had always walked by my side growing up. I considered it my Dark Passenger, to borrow Dexter's phrase. It crept up when I was defenseless, taunted me when I failed and whispered promises of sadness even as I was smiling. Towards the end of high school, I went to therapy. The psychologist pushed me to a psychiatrist who prescribed me meds. I'd spend the rest of my life--up to even now--wrestling with the pros and cons of medication, and the sometimes eager and corrupt psychiatrists who love thrusting medications at you because $$$$$$$$$.

The medicine didn't do much. He tried another and it made me have horrific panic attacks, so he tried another. Nothing. Still, I fought hard against the weight of my unhappiness. I got good grades, ignored Depression's incredible and dark pull and managed somehow to graduate from college. Truly those years are a blur. I was on auto-pilot. I ate the food but didn't taste it. I wrote the essays but I don't remember the lessons. I went to parties but hid in the corner.

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention the crippling anxiety that sometimes snuck around Depression to remind me everything was scary and unknown, including the people who had the potential to hurt me. What my Anxiety never told me was they could love me, too. Depression and Anxiety fed me lies mixed with the truth. Those kinds of lies are the most powerful.

Once I was back home and "in the real world", as everyone loves to say, things began to unravel. I began to unravel. The economy sucked, I didn't know what I wanted to be, most jobs involved marketing or retail (working with people and selling them shit AKA my biggest fear), and everything had become black and heavy. My close friends were moving on with their lives--either going to grad school or becoming interns. Everything around me was changing, but I was stagnant.

I tried a few different jobs. Paid a thousand bucks for an insurance agent class. Worked with medical records. Withered away in retail. I hated everything and was terrified of everyone. Secretly, of course. No one really knew how everything frightened me because I'd developed an impressive poker face.

It wasn't long before I'd quit each job. My anxiety would build up and finally going to work would become insurmountable. I distanced myself from friends. From everyone. Most days I didn't get up until 4PM. Some days, even later.

It's hard to describe Depression to someone who has never had it--the kind of Depression I'm talking about here. Sometimes I tell people it's like being submerged in  dark, murky, filthy water with no surface. Or you could say it's like being in a dark room, and you're frantically searching for the doorknob that's not there.

The movie Proof (2005) with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins (a fairly good movie) focuses on "insanity". And Math, but I ignore that part. Basically her father was a great mathematician but he lost his mind in his later years, and Paltrow's character Catherine takes care of him. She's also a great mathematician but she fears she's going to eventually end up like her father. Later, she wants to go back to solve this math problem (and come back to life) and she has a really great line that I think can also describe Depression:

"How many days have I lost? How can I get back to the place where I started? I'm outside a house, trying to find my way in. But it is locked and the blinds are down, and I've lost the key, and I can't remember what the rooms look like or where I put anything. And if I dare go in inside, I wonder... will I ever be able to find my way out?"

I lost my way, somehow. Whatever grip I'd had on the world before was gone. I worked here and there. Then my Depression gained an edge and I really went wild. Did crazy things. Ran with the wrong crowd--only temporarily, because I was out of my league there. Made a shitload of mistakes. Someone might say "well, you were living then, you were making mistakes like many young people do". They would be wrong. I was self-destructive. I often wonder if I did want to disappear permanently, since it seemed like no matter what I did I couldn't put my feet on the ground and keep them there.

More than a few tattoos and fights and embarrassing situations and crazy drunken nights later, my family didn't know what the fuck to do with me. And neither did I. If I kept on the track I was speeding along on, I'd likely be thrown out of the house. What would be next? Death?

It's around then that I had a come-to-Jesus moment. My breakdown had to end. I needed help, and that help couldn't be found at the bottom of a wine bottle (or two) or with the friends I hung with... who sadly weren't going anywhere, either. I was tired of hurting. I was tired of seeing the sadness painted on the faces of my loved ones.

I tried a different therapist (the one I'd had through most of my lost time SUCKED. I have been to many and I'd call her the enabling kind) and she is great. I relied heavily on the psychiatrist I'd been hooked up with, who is brilliant. My diagnosis was shifted to Bipolar II. I cried at first because I thought great, another fucking thing but through time I'm glad that someone finally got me.

I believe I'm on the right medication, I have the right mindset and certain things are looking up for me. I'm clawing my way up to the surface of that horrible water, I'm scratching my nails on that wall looking for the doorknob and I'm going to fucking find my way out because I've had enough of being lost.

This was on my mind today because someone I know has begun going to therapy. He resisted for a long time because he didn't want people to think something was "wrong" with him. God, I wish everyone knew the severity of depression and anxiety. And Bipolar Disorder. It's still so stigmatized, and so misunderstood. Someone I knew--who had battled with depression, herself--kept telling me I had to pick myself up, had to pull myself together. How I hated those expressions. It's clearly not that simple.

My breakdown has ended, or is ending.* I'm sitting here, somehow. I don't exactly know what saved me. Near the end of last year I was walking blocks and blocks home from a bar barefoot. I was paying a lot of money for a tattoo I wasn't even sure I wanted. Now I'm writing on this little blog. I am flesh and blood, and I am here. No more disappearing acts for me.

A combination of things helped. I had an excellent psychiatrist, which is incredibly hard to come by these days. I had an epiphany that I had no choice but to fight. I got mad. I was furious with my illness, that it wasted years of my life (I like to think of them now as learning years). And I was lucky to have people around who loved me no matter what. If you know someone in your life battling with these horrible afflictions, be kind to them. Listen to them. Try to understand. It might sound cheesy, but it could be the reason they seek help.

And if you're suffering from any of the above, it can seem impossible... but there is hope. I'm no fucking guru or professional, okay? Get help. Try out a few different therapists.

I'm aware that I'll have this "Dark Passenger" with me for the rest of my life. It doesn't just go away through medication. Therapy is important. I think everyone should be in therapy, happy or not. A strong support system helps. And I keep reminding myself that if I can feel like this now, then it'll be harder to slip back into what I felt then.

Thank you for listening.

*the psychological community doesn't recognize the term "breakdown" but I've yet to find a better term to describe what happened to me.