I want to tell you some things up front. These writings are a part of my therapy, therefore, the topics that I will write about will be what I need to write about. But I am also doing this to be helpful, so I want to make this educational as well. There is still a stigma in our country surrounding mental health and I want you to get to know us, the millions of us that have gone through major depressive episodes. The millions of us that battle mental illness daily as a chronic medical condition.
In all of this, I also don’t want you to think that I am trying to be judgmental, not trying to compare anything that anyone has felt, I am just here trying to let you into a world that we simply don’t talk about.
While there are some common experiences and symptoms across the broad term of depression, and I’m not saying mine is worse than anyone else’s, I can only describe mine. And although I will dig as hard as I can into my brain and into my vocabulary, you still won’t understand, not truly understand unless you are “one of us.” Everyone has been sad, has periods where they are down, but depression is more than sad.
Let me try and describe it this way. I know what it feels like to be burned. Over the course of my life, I have been burned by hot stoves, hot exhausts, boiling water and all kinds of other stuff, and I have had some nasty burns. But what I don’t understand is what it would feel like to have my whole body burned. The excruciating pain of 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 50, 60, whatever percent of my body. Someone who survives that what it is like to be burned in a way that I, hopefully, will never understand. Harsh analogy I know but it was what came to mind!
As I have learned in therapy, I have now had 3 major depressive episodes in my life. The first was about a year after Kenny died. The second was in the fall of 2010 when I left the school district, and now this one. They have gotten progressively worse, as the bipolar side of me had either was just starting onset at the first one, or it simply wasn’t diagnosed and untreated.
Looking back on all 3, a major break for me, a nervous breakdown, whatever you wish to call it doesn’t happen all at once. I have a long slow burn in period to my depressions and they always follow a long manic period.
We all have ups and downs. None of us just has an average day every day. You have good things and bad things. Wins and losses so to speak. Think of moods as a wave. No, not the beach kind, the wave from math class. We all have a baseline, some of us are naturally more happy and upbeat than others. My baseline is toward the lower side to begin with. My mood swings are not at a high frequency. I’m not constantly up and down. Mine are long and slow. But they do grow as time goes on. The amplitude of each up and down cycle growing more severe each time. But never really rebounding all the way up. The highs aren’t as high and the lows get lower.
My manic periods are not necessarily happy. I get hyper productive and can’t seem to ever slow down. I accomplish a lot of things personally and professionally during these periods, but then the downward slide starts.
This time, the downward slide that led me to where I am today started a year ago. So what happened that made me depressed? What caused this to start? Who caused this? Those questions can’t be answered. It was every thing and every person, while also being no thing and no person at all. And I can’t point to any one day where all of this started, no root cause, but several things started happening at once. My life and career were changing, and a lot of people were coming and going in and out of my life. I entered my late 40s and it was justs one of those periods of change that come in life.
And then one day, the negative started. That little thought in the back of your head starts with just a little negative seed. Then that thought grows louder and more frequent. Then it is joined by another and another until they are legion. Anything that anybody says gets interpreted by my brain to be negative. As I lose my grip on the manic side, I lose my concentration. I can no longer do 20 things at once and it takes all of my focus to do one thing at a time.
And the thoughts grow and grow, unchecked now and they scream at you, demanding attention. You try and stop and take a break, but you can’t get a break. Not from all of the thoughts. They invade every piece of your life. You can’t get a second of quiet time. They simply outnumber you.
Hang on, let’s back up a second. No, I am not hearing voices. When I talk about my racing thoughts, it is easier for me to describe them as a voice, but it isn’t a voice. Actually, for me, it would be more appropriate of words flying through my brain. Like the old Windows screen saver that used to bounce words around the screen. No, I am not seeing things either! They are thoughts but it is like they are trapped inside your head and can’t get out. (See, this is MY stuff and I am struggling to describe it.)
Then all those thoughts get mad at me and they turn mean and nasty. What were once things that chipped away at my self confidence and what I saw in the mirror each morning, they were now assaulting my every insecurity. The little snide comments that we all overhear that we usually just brush off now cut with a surgeon’s precision. When word gets back to you that someone inside your circle is talking about you, the surgeon cuts again. By the end, it is destruction by a thousand paper cuts.
Sleep? Forget about it. Panic attacks come in the middle of the night. You grow to hate the dark, yet never want to get out of bed. Again, I’m not talking about “I haven’t slept good the last couple of nights” kind of sleeplessness, I am talking 2 and 3 hours of sleep on a good night, and even that came in 20 minute increments. It is being at the point of tears in the middle of the night because you….just….want….to……sleep. But you physically can’t. Because of my travel for work, and the “hangover” effect of my sleeping meds, I can’t always rely on my old buddy Ambien. And even when I can take it, at my worst times, I can take an Ambien and still be awake 3 hours later. You truly CANNOT SLEEP. And you do it night after night after night and NOTHING work.
You worry about everything, but care about nothing. You want to feel better, but each day is worse. You want to be alone, but are lonely even in a room full of people. It is feeling every negative thought and emotion, but without hearing or feeling anything positive. And it goes on for days, then weeks and then months until you are so deep in the hole you can’t get out. You can’t talk, you can’t feel, you can’t even think the anguish is so bad. And somehow, despite your every effort, life continues to kick you while you are already down.
And then you stop seeing hope.
The climb out of this hole is just as difficult as falling into it was easy. I am working my program every day and doing my workbooks. I am reading and researching and learning a lot about myself. After the last 10 years of putting everything and everyone in front of me, worrying about what anyone else thinks, it is time to devote full time focus on myself.
I will close this post with what will be a recurring theme: If what I post looks familiar to you or you are going through something similar, I encourage, no I beg you, to seek professional help. Find a LICENSED counselor to talk to. Regardless of what your mind is telling you, this isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.
This is a medical issue and can be treated. It isn’t brave or strong to continue to fight on your own, it is brave to step forward. To admit that you can’t fight this any more.
Don’t wait until you can’t figure out a way out of the hole. You just have to reach your hand up.
Remember to love yourself first and always. It is what I am finally starting to learn.