Saturday, August 26, 2006

recalling the pain...

It's been nearly two years since the lowest point in my life. Since that time, especially at the very start of my healing, I have tried conscientiously to avoid remembering how much pain I was in back then. I can talk about it with anyone without any problem whatsoever, but I don't really let myself truly remember how it felt in any way except intellectually, surficially. The fear for me, and from what I'm told, for others who have dealt with depression, is that to remember too vividly, to dwell, as it were, will bring it back. It's something of a case of 'speak of the devil'.

From time to time something will remind me of the actual feeling - not the description of the feeling - and it will hit me full-on just how horrible it was. When I actively remember, when I empathize fully with that poor sick chick that was me... I usually cry. I want to run and avoid it, fearful that the memories themselves can make me sick again. It's an easy fear to have. And it makes sense. Since so much of the pain of depression is inner turmoil, anger, 'rage turned inward', and so much of it runs in the circles of the mind, it is only natural that to recall those feelings brings on anxiety. Despite whatever healthy and good place you're in, there is a terror that just the memory of the illness will send you back into that black misery.

Today I feel so wonderful, so easy and relaxed and tension-free that I feel safer delving into those scary feelings.

Everyone has bad days. Everyone gets the blues. Everyone feels grief sometimes. The difference for people with Depression is that we don't see it as finite. We can't see it as a temporary feeling. Even if we've been up and down and over and out with it a hundred times. That is primarily because for us, those of us who have been down the dark road, it isn't finite. It isn't temporary. For us, once in it, we're IN IT. End of story.

Oh it's not always completely debilitating, perhaps it would be better if it were. Let me explain.

For the most part my Depressive episodes - there were many... I couldn't count them if I wanted to - were times when I managed to function, managed to work, managed to pay the bills, feed the pets, take care of the child-like parents, deal with the insane boyfriends, comfort friends, make people laugh. No one could see how sick I was because I was functioning. I was surviving.

My first major Depression hit me when I was 17, at the start of my senior year in high school. I was debilitated. I couldn't move. Couldn't get off the couch. Was paralyzed. I barely spoke. I didn't read. Did nothing but sit there. My parents, being the enlightened and caring people they were, let me sit there. I missed between 4 and 6 weeks of school. I barely remember that time. What I do remember is how terrified I was, how much I wished I could die, how I thought constantly of suicide and even more so, how much I wished someone would PLEASE HELP ME!

To call it 'awful' is severe understatement.

I sat there day after endless day wishing someone could understand what was wrong with me - I understood I was very, very sick and sad beyond words, but I couldn't tell anyone, couldn't express it, and no one seemed to see it. But I had always been pretty much invisible so I am not surprised to look back and understand that since they didn't see me, how could they see there was anything wrong? (except of course that a 17 year old girl was laying on the couch virtually catatonic for a month and half... uh... yeah... pretty normal... pass the salt).

If I'd had anything like a caring family life, odds are good I would have been brought to a doctor. Even a general practitioner would have been able to say: get this girl to a psychiatrist! But ... that would have (a) cost money and (b) been embarrassing. So. There I sat until, thankfully, the episode passed and I - oddly enough - became MANIC. Well, wasn't that a lucky break?

Of course as I got older and went through milder and more severe episodes like that first one... up and down up and down... until the last ten years or so which saw a steady falling away of the 'up' and pervasive increase in the 'down'. I saw more and more that, in fact, there was quite a history of manic-depression, bi-polar disorder, suicide, not to mention the prevalent alcoholism, in my family on either side - so who could help anybody? Maybe they DID think it was normal. Though no one really talked about it... so maybe they didn't think it altogether 'normal'.

The point that debilitation is a 'good' thing is when there are people around you who care and SEE that there is a problem. When you are a functional Depressive (or manic-depressive) people just chalk it up to your 'artistic or sensitive nature'. This encourages you not to seek help. "Help for what? I'm not sick, I just have a sensitive personality!" Seeking help is doubtless the hardest thing to do when you're depressed. When you're manic you don't WANT help because you feel so awesomely good. You don't sleep much, but you may sleep with LOTS of people, you shop a LOT, and you sure feel good. Been there? You know what I mean.

But when you're depressed you want so desperately to have someone help. And usually it is impossible to ask for that help. Impossible to admit outright that you are in more pain than you believe anyone can understand. And frankly, if you've never been there, you really can't understand. This is not to say you can't sympathize and want to help and think you have an inkling as to the torture your Depressed friend or loved one is going through. But you can't actually know it, and you are blessed that you can't. Trust me, you don't want to know firsthand.

The Depressed often gravitate towards each other. It's that instinct that tells you: they have been there, they know. The trouble with that is that it's hard for someone who is drowning to help someone who is drowning right next to them.

Since the night I was thrown a life-preserver, albeit unknowingly, by someone I'd never met before but who will always be the great hero of my life - and that's no exaggeration - I have wanted to help someone else as I was helped. To repay a portion of an enormous Karmic debt. Almost two years since that night someone made me feel I was NOT invisible, I am 99% sure I will never be ill again. (When I hit 3 years I'll be 100% sure.) And I wish I had the power to actually help everyone who is suffering the way I suffered. I don't have that power, the best I can do right now is what I'm doing here. Write these little essays that may spark some recognition for someone who needs it, someone who might just need to know that someone else has walked in the dark and is here to tell them that it can be overcome. You can get into the light, and I don't mean the crazy manic disco-ball lights, I mean the calm, warm, happy light. You have the power within yourself to work a miracle in your life. (I'm a pagan, so I'm not doing a christian thing here, trust me!) You might need meds to help yourself along, like I did, but it's STILL helping yourself. Don't think it's a crutch, like I used to. It's a tool that can truly help.

We all walk alone in our darkness, but just on the other side is the light and there are people like me, like that hero of mine, total strangers who are walking alongside you in the light and reaching a hand into that dark place for you to grab onto. There's a song I love, and listen to almost every day... okay, okay I listen to it every day... one of the lines that resonates most for me is "nothing is impossible, as long as we're alive; nothing is insurmountable because we know how to survive". I had always been a survivor, but two years ago I had used up all I had, survival no longer seemed worthwhile or possible. But I got a little help from a stranger, and it changed my mind.

I'm alive. I'm alive. I'm alive. And you are too. Nothing is impossible. Nothing. You can heal, you really can. Feel that hand in the dark? Grab it and hold on tight, okay?

1 comment:

Tony said...

Thank you for sharing this with not only those who need help (as you did), but also with those of us who need to understand that some of the most desperate calls for help are whispers rather than shouts. I have been guilty of some of the presumptions cited in this blog: I too-easily believed the facade of normalcy erected to throw us off; I bought into the stereotype that "this is just how artistic/sensitive people are". I know that your intention here was to inform rather than to trigger guilt, so I'll simply vow to pay greater attention to those I love in the future, to listen more closely in that seemingly-absolute silence between breaths...