I’ve been gone for a while. I needed a break from...well, pretty much everything. I feel like I can’t jump back into this blog until I talk about where I've been. So this is the story of where I've been since I last posted five months ago. Actually, I've been writing this story for almost as long. So please forgive me if it seems a little off, or weird, or the time frames don’t make sense. This is basically five months of brain dump that I attempted to package into something that might border on coherent. And it’s not pretty...but the last two years haven’t been all that pretty either.
I've known for almost two years that I've needed help. I thought that I could manage on my own, that it would pass, that I was ungrateful, that I just needed to try harder to be happy. But some things you cannot accomplish on your own. Like a home in need of much repair, the longer I let this go, the more tools I needed to repair the problems. I wanted to write a flowery story about this seemingly infinite sadness that ends with me telling you that I am all better now. That there is, at the very least, a pinhole of light to strive for in this darkness. I enjoy telling stories that make people happy, give them hope, or at minimum, make them smile a little. That isn't the way this story goes...not right now anyway.
Instead I’m going to tell you about how I've stopped being myself. How everything I present to people is actually a result of me standing outside of my own body and puppeteering my way through the motions of life. The past two years have been a slow but steady decline of depression and anxiety. A variety of issues brought on mostly by bad circumstances but made worse by chemical imbalance. Fatigue, sadness, loneliness, unrealistic and heightened expectations of myself and others, insomnia, agitation, increased impatience (but let’s be honest, I’m not that patient to begin with), hopelessness, panic attacks over simple, everyday tasks, complete inability to fulfill commitments to myself and others, falling in and out of numbness. I have become an expert at avoiding, shutting down, and finding negativity in even happiest moments.
It comes and goes. Some days are dark and hazy; others were not brighter but the haze less opaque. No day ever has full light and just as I’d start to feel hopeful and awake, the darkness would come again. I feel very much like a spectator in life. I’m watching everyone around me grow and flourish. I feel like a small tree in their big forest and they were squelching all of the light that I was so desperately reaching for.
Because I am no longer trying to reach but simply maintain. Every day I become more shriveled and weak.
I am insignificant.
I am needy.
I am a parasite.
I am a burden.
I am tired.
Tired of pretending to be happy – or at the very least, pretending to be okay. I am tired of crying every day, at times literally all day. I am tired of pushing back the tears and the lump in my throat so I don’t make you uncomfortable. I am tired of pretending to enjoy the company of others. Truthfully, I don’t enjoy much – I’m just really good at faking it. I continue to forcibly participate in life but I am simply here…at least my physical self is here. I am not making memories with my husband and child and friends. I am disconnected. I am angry with myself for creating these anchors in my life that kept me from leaving, that make me continue to care enough to make an effort. More than anything, I am angry with myself for creating this burden for them.
I have stopped smiling.
I have stopped laughing.
I have stopped speaking unless I needed to speak.
I could almost stop breathing if it were not for the natural will of my body to force me to gasp for air.
I have to remind myself to react to others; feign interest and emotion for their sake. Don’t complain. Don’t be a downer. Don’t be a burden.
It takes 26 muscles to smile and 62 to frown. Unless you are depressed. Then the frowning simply happens and the smiling requires the whole effort of your spirit, mind, and body. It is exhausting.
For the few that I’ve allowed to see a tiny piece of my pain, I am further exhausted by their platitudes of everything will be okay, you just have to look on the bright side, and sometimes even their simple act of listening. And I hate how ungrateful that sounds. It’s not that the efforts and kind words are not appreciated, they are. But I’ve wanted, needed, just one person to attempt to rescue me. Come take me away somewhere and let me scream and cry and throw things and hurt with me until it didn’t hurt anymore.
But how do you ask for that? I won’t ask for it. It’s not who I am. And don’t tell me its always been available to me as if I’d be asking to simply borrow a cup of sugar.
It was at my first prenatal appointment that I truly realized that I had let this go too far. I was not having a good day. I wasn't even excited about hearing the baby’s heartbeat – though I’d become pretty good at faking the excitement.
I was filling out a battery of the usual paperwork when I got to a form about emotional health. It was a quiz that ran on a scale of 1-10. These are a handful of questions from the worksheet:
Can you find humor in a situation?
How often do you feel down, depressed or hopeless?
How often do you have trouble sleeping?
How often do you feel badly about yourself or that you are a disappointment to others?
Then the question came that I’d been refusing to ask myself for months.
How often do you think about harming yourself or ending your life?
There was no number designation that was appropriate for this question. Ten was not a big enough number. I wrote ‘yes’ and broke down in the waiting room.
The truth is that I had spent at least the last six months, if not longer, fantasizing about ways to die. I thought about it everywhere. At work, at the movies, while talking and laughing with you, in the car, in my bed, everywhere and nearly every minute of the day. I could ‘get lost’ on a run, step off the curb at the precise wrong moment, accidentally rear-end or cut off a dump truck at a high rate of speed. In the morning when I showered, I wondered how difficult it would be to dismantle a disposable shaving razor. What kind of accident could I have that would keep my family from experiencing the pain that comes from living with suicide. Or would they simply be relieved that this was finally over? I just wanted to fade away. I simply wanted to be gone. No muss, no fuss. Just erase me.
My doctor listened and let me cry over everything and nothing and she hugged me and told me we’d fix it. Even now I don’t fully believe that we can. We discussed my options – of which there really were none. Most of my depression stems from a situational problem that I cannot resolve in the foreseeable future. She suggested medication and in my desperation, and despite my objection to medications during pregnancy (including aspirin), with slumped shoulders and a defeated spirit, I agreed.
She explained that the benefit of taking the medication was much higher than the risk of not taking it. In the moment I didn't believe her and immediately felt guilty, as if even the thought of medication meant I was sentencing this child to birth defects. But then I thought about the child I’d already left behind even if I was still physically present. That night I picked up a prescription for a low dose of Zoloft.
At 28 weeks, I've been on Zoloft for almost five months now. It has not been easy to take that tiny pill every evening. It is a pill filled with regret, guilt and worry over what it might be doing to our baby because I am not smart enough, strong enough, rational enough, or some other shortcoming enough to just be happier. I wish I could tell you that it has lifted the haze. I wish I could tell you that I no longer have those thoughts as I pass a big truck on the highway.
The truth is that the medication has only made it different. The tears are fewer and farther between but the sadness is still there. The thoughts of hurting myself only come on the really bad days and can often be pushed away. When I’m around others I can almost always find a way to be joyful - even if I have to expend a huge amount of energy pushing back the darkness in order to get through the moment. But it is all still very exhausting and very real. I’m scared that I won’t ever remember how to actually be happy - if it’s even possible. I’m worried that this fog has already erased who I really am. There is a sense of loss and mourning for my lost self that is difficult to explain.
Some people might find all of this very confusing. If you are friends with me in real life or on Facebook, you probably won’t see much out of the ordinary. I still crack jokes, I converse with others, I do everything that seems normal. More often than not, it’s simply a desperate attempt to not lose my grip on what is left of a lifeline. Just goes to show that you never really know what is happening with people. But this behavior also gives me hope that I’m still lurking in there.
Being here is better. I know this in my rational brain and in my heart. And I often ask myself what happens if I get too tired to go on? What happens if I lose my grip? There’s no way to know...but I’m going to take my chances. Because the benefit of trying makes the risks of ‘what if’ worthwhile. I’m going to find me again.