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.