Friday, March 27, 2009

I Am Not Defective

I am not defective.

I am not.


This fall, I finally worked up the nerve to talk to my doctor about what the hell has been going on with me for the past five, almost six years. I decided to see if I was depressed. This conversation came nearly two years after both A. and Black Sheeped (independently of each other) gently mentioned to me that I might be suffering from this condition.

I could not be more blessed that these two people - and these two people in particular - stepped up and cared for me. I owe them my lifelong gratitude for the increased quality of my life. I thank God every day for them, as well as for my friends DPR, JelBel, and AGR. They have been unwavering in their love and support for me, and I consider myself the most fortunate person I know, in large part because they are a part of my life.

I've been diagnosed with dysthymia, a type of chronic depression, and anxiety.  Anyone who knows me is not the least bit surprised by the anxiety diagnosis. Even I saw that one coming.


As a young woman I was fearless. If something scared me, I purposely jumped right in and forced myself to meet it head on. I was always nervous before leaping into anything that made me uncomfortable, at least initially -- travel, interaction with others and whatnot, but I knew that it helped me be the person I wanted to be. Someone who lived her life on her own terms.

I knew I was strong and I wanted to stay strong. I wanted to keep in the practice of exercising strength, I wanted to do the work that built and maintained my perseverance. So I always pushed myself. I deliberately lived my life on the edge of my comfort level, forcing myself to be engaged. Dealing with my mother's agonizing death from cancer at the age of 16, I learned that not only could I face extreme challenges, I could emerge on the other side of them a stronger and better person.

Fear did not intimidate me. It pushed me forward.


About six years ago, things changed. Quietly and gradually, in just such a way that it was easy not to notice. My "normal" changed, but I did not know it.


I never considered myself depressed. The notion never once floated into my brain. But it explains SO MUCH.

Looking back, with this dysthymia diagnosis as a lens, I know when it started - around the time K., a former boyfriend, and I started having trouble. Much of that trouble stemmed from the depression. K. always said it was like I just would check out for hours or days at a time. I had no idea what he was talking about. I felt fine, just quiet. But fine. No, I wasn't sad. No, I wasn't upset about anything. I felt fine. Maybe kind of blah, but who doesn't feel kind of blah sometimes? I wasn't sad exactly, I wasn't crying all the time, I wasn't suicidal. I didn't see that I always felt blah. Really, though, I was in a "funk" but I didn't know it. It is really, really hard to get out of a "funk" when you don't know you are in one. There is no perspective, then.

Imagine your mood and well-being on an average day. When I look back on who I was in my early twenties, I was steadily at an 8, even an 8.5 (on a scale of 1=poopy - 10=jubilant). I was actively grateful for the people and opportunities in my life, and that helped to generate an overall happiness. Part of this attitude was cultivated, part of it came naturally.

Slowly, though, that 8.5 "normal" slipped to a 6 or a 5.5. I am just kind of, I don't know, dulled. During a funk, I am at a 2 or 1.5.

I couldn't concentrate for shit. Really. Reading more than a paragraph at a time was too much; I couldn't see most projects through to completion, no matter how small. My work suffered a lot, and that bothered me. Cleaning the house - ha! I would load the washer and forget to empty it, I would run water for mopping the floor and forget about it, I would walk from one room to the next, starting tasks and not finishing them. Then I would have a full-blown anxiety attack because I thought my house would never, ever be clean, that I would be living in chaos for the rest of my life. I felt like I was so god dammed lazy I couldn't do anything. How worthless a human being I am, I thought.

There are so many super-fun, totally vicious cycles with this.

When A. broached the idea of depression with me, he didn't offer it as an excuse, or a shortcoming but as an illness that I might as well get treated for, right? He asked me why should I live my life not well, not happy? Hmm, yeah. Why? (I am so stubborn and dense sometimes.) He's been so supportive and is very encouraging about me talking to someone about it. I am the one who put it off. (After all, when I feel fine I see no reason to set up an appointment, and when I feel crappy I can't seem to muster the energy to make the call. Ugh.) I have had two appointments and have regular sessions scheduled with a therapist. Finally.

There have been "episodes" for the past few years where I literally can't get myself out of bed for days at a time. I can barely make the effort to call in sick to work on those days. Hell, getting out of bed to go to the bathroom or to eat seems impossible in the throes of an episode. I don't know how to explain this. It does not matter that at any other time I know it is possible to move, to get out of bed, to function. During an episode it is simply impossible. I can't muster the energy. I can't muster the will to muster the energy. I can't muster the energy to muster the will to muster the energy. It is horrible. It is no way to live. It is humiliating, it is scary. I'll avoid people for days on end when I am in a funk. I never thought I was depressed, though. I thought I was just suddenly, hideously lazy and would then spend the entire episode berating myself for being so worthless and lazy. Because I was raised to believe that nothing is worse than a lazy person. You can see the vicious cycle this produced, yes?

I never told anyone about these episodes; not my best friends, not my family. I would just hide; I would just disappear for days, weeks on end when battling a funk. I didn't want anyone to find out how lazy I was. I was ashamed because I thought I was just being lazy. Turns out, it is pretty hard to hide that from someone you live with, hence why A. figured it out. I never mentioned any of this in earlier sessions of therapy because I didn't want my therapist to find out what a lazy, worthless person I was. Brilliant.

Oh. It explains so much.

The awesome thing about coming to terms with this is that I almost always recognize a funk coming on and also know when I am in one. I can tell myself: Just get out of bed. Just do it. Yes, you can. And more often than not, I do. Sometimes I still can't beat it, but at least it isn't so scary. At least I know I am not lazy. I am not worthless At least there will be the other side of the funk. Similarly with anxiety attacks, I tell myself: This is the anxiety taking over. Just breathe. Ride it out. It really is not the end of the world. You will get through this. And I do.

I am also starting to notice a pattern, see what triggers it. (Money worries is tops, and then, freakishly, a dirty house. That sounds like therapy fodder!!!) I am hoping that regular exercise and meditation (how hippie of me!) will help to keep me fairly healthy, retrain my former attitude of gratitude. Certainly, exercising a life of gratitude has to be helpful all around. It seems to be helping quite a bit lately.

After much struggle on my part, I started meds about four months ago. (Lexapro, if you are wondering.) I am so glad I did. It has really lifted the fog from my brain, my spirit. I am really noticing a change on the anxiety front, holy shit. My tummy isn't in a steady knot, I don't wake up wondering if this is the day A. dies. (Really, my anxiety was steadily through the roof. My doctor started crying when I told her the type of stuff I think about all day long, and how I react. No shit.)  Now I can do the work I need to do, gain the tools I need to handle the funks and the anxiety attacks, so that even though they may always be a part of my life, they won't run my life. My brain is clear enough for that. I can concentrate again, I am living again.

(Side note: This has improved The Thesis experience immensely.)


What I am still struggling with is this idea that I am somehow defective. I still hate that I have to take meds, even though I love that they are helping. I have always been a perfectionist. (You can imagine the extra agony this put me through, thinking I was lazy and totally worthless. That is hardly perfect!) I am terrified of being sick. Cancer scares the living shit out of me. I want to be healthy more than anything.

I know that this is a chemical thing, that the serotonin levels in my brain aren't optimal. I know that this is not a moral shortcoming, or even a physical shortcoming, it just is what it is.

But I am still having a hard time.

So, I thought, well hell, I am just going to say it, say it out loud. Or write it, without hitting the backspace button.

I want to be happy. I want myself back. I want to be grateful and at ease in my skin. I want to live.

Maybe if I say it out loud, to enough people, enough times, I will start to believe it: I am not defective.


  1. Artemisia, I couldn't agree with you more: You are not defective.

    You are a wonderful, gracious, kind, funny and beautiful person. I'm so happy that you are starting to realize this depression isn't YOU, and that you're NOT a lazy person. And I'm so happy and honored to know you and consider you a friend (a friend who needs to live closer to me - ha!).

    I hope your treatment works for you. This is a big first step, and I'm so happy the combination of medication and therapy is helping you realize this small part of you (in the grand scheme of things) does not define you as a whole. {big hugs}

    (Also, would a lazy/anxious person agree to drive around two complete strangers she knew only from the Internet, including one who would make you stop the car so she wouldn't vomit on your seats? Nope!)

  2. You are not defective. You cannot be. We all have issues, demons we must face, and how we face them, whether through therapy, exercise, meditation, medication... it doesn't matter. I mean, it does matter to the individual and it is very important but the method that helps you face your demons does not make you defective. The fact that you are facing them makes you strong and makes me very proud of you. Thank you so much for writing this. I needed to hear about this today.

  3. This is one of the most clear and methodical descriptions of what it's like to get depression I've ever read. Hats off for writing it, and thank you. Good luck, and hugs.

  4. Hey there...
    You are such an amazing person... I guess it is normal to want to seem "normal" Believe me I have been there too.... OUr last year in SIngapore I started having bad anxiety attacks.... I thought I was having a heart attack and couldn't breath during them.... I have also had a bought of postpartum depression -- I know depression is a reality -- not just something in people's heads. I rarely even admit it to people that these things have happened to me.... I guess I want to appear strong even when I am not.
    I think you are showing how strong you really are by posting this. I am glad things are getting better... and I am sure they will continue to do so. I love ya T!

  5. I know so many people that I wish would read this. It describes them so well, and the things I try (probably too subtly) to tell them: I think you are truly depressed, I think you are a wonderful person, I want you to be happy again, I think there is a way you can be happy again if you will admit that you are in fact unhappy. You described your situation with clarity, and I am so happy that you have gained perspective and have found some freedom from this depression by facing it, naming it, and taking steps to heal your body. Good for you.

  6. This was a beautiful read, and I just wanted to let you know you're not alone. I'm going through a similar dark night of the soul, and the cycles of self-denial and self-blame are probably the hardest habit to break. If you ever want to get together over coffee and share experiences and methods of healing, I'm here for you. You know my number ;-)

  7. You are not defective. You are so brave to put this out there. Although I wish we didn't have to call acknowledging an illness brave. I'm so glad that you are getting the help that you deserve. And maybe the more people who are open and honest about depression as a disease, the more likely that others who really need help will get that help. Good for you! (In the meantime, I'll try to ignore how much I overrelate to your story.)

  8. Oh honey. You are the opposite of defective. You are HUMAN. And you are taking care of yourself. That is the most constructive, responsible thing you can do.

    I'm really glad that the lexipro is working for you. You should feel proud that you could take the leap in that direction, that you could put all that second-guessing aside and figure out what you need to do for YOU, and ultimately that's what's best for everyone you care about, too.

  9. Thank you for sharing, this was a wonderful post. I am so glad you have good people to help you in these trying times. Be patient with your Self, and don't beat your Self up. Also, I may not know you in person, but your blog persona totally kicks ass, and I'm sure your person persona does too.

  10. YOU ARE AMAZING. and so, so not defective. what an inspiring post. thank you so much for writing it, for sharing it. you should be so, so proud of yourself for taking steps to make yourself better. depression isn't your fault, it's not something you did - and would you feel bad for taking allergy meds each day to stop yourself from getting a sinus infection? it doesn't mean you're defective; just that we're all human.

  11. This was amazing. YOU are amazing.

  12. Well - they've all said it and I'm going to join in the chorus because it's so true: you are not defective, you are human, and you are not just surviving this life - you are THRIVING. Which is so very important a distinction. I'm so happy for you, that you've taken these steps, to talk about it, to share your story. You'll never know how many people you're helping by doing that. You've written about a very scary subject in such a clear way. I really appreciate that.

    You are so brave. You are also brilliant, creative, kind, generous, sensitive, strong, wonderful and certainly most certainly not defective in any way.

  13. You are not defective Darlin. You are the kindest, sweetest, sometimes quirkiest, bravest, most wonderful and caring person that it has been my pleasure to call a friend for the last, what... 7 or 8 years now. I'm crying like a little girl just thinking of all you've had to go through with this for so long (but I always was a bit of a Nancy). Sweetie, if a little chemistry makes your world a better place to be in, then GOD BLESS CHEMISTRY. I'm so happy that you've found this out and taken this step and so sorry I'm not close enough to give you a decent hug but know that I love you and think of you often. -J

  14. I didn't comment on this when I originally read it because I didn't quite know how to deal with such an honest portrayal...of me.

    Thanks for pointing it out. And helping me know it's not lazy, it's depressed, and it's ok.

  15. What a beautiful, inspiring post. Thanks for sharing. Good for you for taking care of yourself.

  16. This is an amazing description. Thank you for sharing. I hope that is only the first step towards being very happy!


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