What’s shaking? This is going to be a heavy one. Lately I’m just surrounded with the consciousness of what an epidemic mental illness is in our society. Living it with myself is a constant reminder of course, but I know so many people in every area of my life, who are suffering the repercussions of this cruel disease right now. And it’s not being talked about enough. This thing is so misunderstood.
Today, as I was driving along I realized that I have the forum to talk about it more. And so I figured..”hey it’s Monday. Mondays are notoriously depressing, it’s perfect!” And so without further ado, here’s the inaugural post in what I hope will be a regular series (although I make no promises-full-on survival mode right now m’peeps). Mental Health Monday on Momedy Sketch. Featuring the Black Dog (of depression).
I’ve actually had another mental health related post all ready to go for a few weeks now, it’s kind of fun and I’m excited to share it with you, but it can wait. This one is more pertinent to my life right now and I saw a brilliant illustration of depression on upworthy last night so it’s now become my mission to pass it on.
Not only is it SO spot on, it is really beautifully executed, a work of art. Please watch it because if you aren’t depressed you know someone who is and they really, really need you to understand this stuff. And then come back here and read on. I’ve got some splainin’ to do.
My personal challenge (well, one of them) in this life is that the Black Dog is never far from my backyard. (PS the only thing I don’t like about this video is likening depression to a dog because I adore dogs and I think they’re actually great help with depression, but for this purpose let’s just take the analogy and run with it. kay?) Lately, the Black Dog has been particularly obnoxious- jumping and licking my face, waking me up at night, whining at the dining room table until I give up and throw him my meals and just generally getting under my feet constantly.
For me, probably the hardest part about his presence is the sense that the precious time and life I have been given is no longer mine. My life is not my own. The dumb black dog calls the shots. It doesn't allow me to enjoy or do things I used to enjoy. Whenever I have plans to go out and have fun with my friends, whenever I get ready to do something I’ve been totally excited about for weeks, it starts barking and whining and tries its hardest to make sure that I stay isolated and lonely at home. When my heart longs to appreciate and rejoice in the blessings that I cognitively know are mine and are abundant and wonderful it nips at me to ensure that I’m distracted by it instead, that the best I can feel is numb.
It makes my simplest tasks seem burdensome and tedious and my large ones seem crushingly hard. It is devastating for those who love me. They suffer. A lot. That part, that part is the worst. It sears a hole in my soul and makes me hate everything about myself, makes me believe they would be better off without me, makes me wish that I could cease to exist-just disappear from their lives and fade from their memories like nothing more than a bad dream.
The Black Dog gnaws at who I am. It takes away my power of speech which is my identity. I lose words all the time, I stutter and stall. I forget things constantly. I feel overwhelmed with irritation, even rage when this happens which only makes things worse. When I try to accomplish things, I feel scattered, as if I’m viewing my surroundings and the task at hand through a kaleidoscope. As if I’m moving through molasses. You know that nightmare where you keep trying to get out of the house or dial 911 on a phone or some other simple yet urgent task that just repeatedly eludes you? Getting out of the house or trying to fulfill a specific task feels like living that nightmare.
The major reason I am becoming a counselor is because I know that I don't suffer alone with this. Well duh, you know that too. But over the years I am stunned, just stunned with how many of us are dealing with some form of mental illness at some time in our lives and how many people are suffering in silence, resigned to the misery or too depressed to do anything about it. The reason I’m becoming a counselor is because I also know there is so much we can do to help one another. So much more than we are doing right now. Starting with talking about it more. Much more. Being more honest and forthright with the truth about this. Erasing the stigma and the shame.
We need to talk about depression and other mental illness the same way we talk about diabetes or cancer or heart disease. That’s how support happens, that’s how education happens. That’s how healing happens.
I’ve tried to do that on this blog. I’ve valiantly tried to be transparent with my struggles with depression. But I need to do even better with that. So here’s what I've got going on right now. The medications I was taking for depression are no longer working for me. I have frequent mood swings. I’m not ever really euphoric or manic but I swing constantly between functional dysfunctional. I am angry a lot. Sometimes frighteningly angry. I’m irritable more often than not. I am almost always tired.
As a full time graduate student and mother of 5 with several part time jobs and responsibilities, I’m stretched pretty thin even for someone who does not struggle in this way. I have a lot on my plate for any person and there’s a danger to that. Like anyone with a chronic health condition, I need to be especially careful about looking after myself, about taking care not to get run down. But it is hard to take that care because life is real, and busy and life just doesn’t really care that I’m a delicate flower. And frankly, I don’t either. I want to live my life. I want to do the things I was sent here to do. I want to do them well. And so I have to figure out how to strike the balance between being wise and appropriately ambitious and accepting my limitation and just being dumb and willful and irresponsible.
I tried to get a flu shot last week but when I got to the Dr. they had just given their last one. I was about to leave when I realized that it was an awesome opportunity to talk to my doc about getting my meds sorted out. I’ve known that I needed to make changes for over a month now. Maybe two months. And so we chatted and are working on a new plan. So that was good.
But it now occurs to me, why didn’t I make the appointment for that express purpose a long time ago? Why did I make getting a flu shot a priority but adjusting the medication that makes my life functional was a “yeah no for real, that is totally important and I will get to that just as soon as I can. Really soon.” ? I study this stuff, I am hyperaware of the need to keep up on one’s meds, about the reality of the chemical imbalances that can create mental health disorders, the fact that we can’t, much as we may want to, ignore it away, or will it away. I write essays for school all the time about the need to make conscious and constant efforts to take of ourselves, to seek medical intervention and counseling when necessary. Yet, still the flu shot came first? I guarantee you that my depression is a lot more debilitating than a bout of the flu would be, but there’s a mindset that trivializes or minimizes the importance of treating this stuff . And even I fall for it. Aware and educated and mindful of this stuff as I am
If I had any other major chronic debilitating disease I would probably disclose some details about my treatment from time to time but right now I don’t have many details. To be honest we are just sort of feeling around in the dark right now. For years, I’ve basically self-diagnosed. I’ve done my own research, and then I’ve gone to my family doctor and recommended a medication for them to prescribe and they generally do just that. I do my homework carefully considering side effects vs. benefits and they trust my judgment and I appreciate that. But it’s become clear to me that I need to see a specialist-a psychiatrist in order to get a proper plan worked out, to get the right balance of meds, and to see if we’re dealing with anything beyond simple depression. So I’m working on making that happen as soon as possible. Like so many other people I don’t like meds. No that’s too mild. I hate them. I resent them. The idea of them grosses me out. I wish I didn’t have to take them, every medication has side effects and that’s just the ones we know about.
Guess what friends?
Nobody loves meds. Diabetics aren’t stoked to inject themselves with insulin, people don’t get jazzed about going to dialysis, cancer patients don’t get giddy about the prospect of chemo. Meds aren’t a picnic. But the alternative is far, far worse. I’m really grateful that I have the option. I thank God for meds. Daily. Antidepressants and ADD meds have given me my life back, have helped me to understand which part is me and which part is my illness. It turns out I’m pretty OK. Depression is a bitch, ADD is a jerk, but I’m OK.
I’ve forgotten that I’m Ok lately though, most of the time I’m in a place when I’m the worst and everything is too hard. When it gets really bad I can go for days without sleeping. Maybe if I get tired enough I can fall asleep but I can’t stay asleep for more than an hour or so. The exhaustion is soul sucking. I almost always feel nauseated. I forget to eat more often than not and so I feel weak and spacey more often than not.
With the Black Dog at my side the pressures and deadlines of grad school alternately defeat and enrage me.
When I’m well, I love studying. I love writing. I love reading. I love high-lighting and note taking. I love a fresh new semester, a fresh new week even. I love little sticky notes and the little page flags. I love paging through textbooks and searching for articles. Mostly I just eat up the subject matter. It’s intriguing, wholly fascinating and it comes naturally to me, it’s my calling. I believe with every part of who I am that it’s one of the most important things I was put here to do, but damn, when I’m dealing with depression…. full time grad school is a lot harder than it should be, (and it’s pretty intense at the best of times when you throw in full time motherhood of five with a toddler underfoot 24/7) and all I can think is, “what the freaking HELL am I DOING?!”
It’s unsettling not to know how I’m going to feel on any given day or hour. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m watching the world go by. It’s sad to feel forgotten and lonely and isolated because I just can’t get out there. It’s completely gut wrenching to hear myself yell at my kids or snipe at my husband, barely recognizing the ugly voice and tone and words I hear myself saying. Hating the sound of myself hurting my loved ones.
Living with a chronic illness is hard. Any illness. Depression included. There’s a lot of judgment, a lot of intolerance a lot of “just snap out of it already, get it together for crying out loud, you self-indulgent little whiner” messages. And that’s just in my own head. It comes from others too, maybe a little more subtly. Usually from well meaning people who are frustrated, who just want you to be you again. I understand. I want that too. I’m frustrated too.
Today is a good day. The chemicals are playing nicely. I feel like a normal mom. I’ve had a normal, fairly productive day. I’ve yelled at my kids but not more than my usual self would. I’ve had fun and laughed with them too. Today I have hope. Today I know that it might be a struggle, but I’m going to take care of the Black Dog. Get it back into a kennel in the yard where it belongs. There is no giving him away but that’s ok. He’s made me who I am. He’s made me a lot less judgmental, a lot more humble, a lot more empathetic, a lot more compassionate, a lot smarter, a whole lot more useful to my fellow (wo )man.
Provided he stays in the yard, we will get along just fine. I hope that tomorrow I feel that way too.
I’ll keep you posted on that. Next Monday, hopefully.
So that’s my story today. If you have a story to tell, I urge you to tell it. Maybe not online or to a crowd if that’s not your scene. That’s totally understandable. Maybe just to someone you love and trust, to a doctor or a therapist. But please tell it. It can feel hard and scary to do that but it’s necessary. You’ll be glad you did. If you want to tell it to me, I’m here to listen. Email me or fb message me anytime.