Every time I got the front of the Suicide Prevention Chat queue, each a half hour wait, the system crashed. Three times. When you’re in a bad place you have a certain blindness. So I just reentered the waiting-line again “There are 64 people ahead of you….” over and over.
I could have used the phone number but I was afraid that whoever answered would be awful. I mean, they’re volunteers and trained, but years ago I called a similar help line to be talked down from a panic attack that was robbing me of reality to be told by a teenage girl who spoke in upspeak? That maybe did I have some music I liked? That I could listen too and it would calm me down?
I hadn’t slept in two days, my body jerking awake with every synapse set to fight or flight, every painful second. A nature show about bats sent me to the floor screaming and pounding our thin coffee table because they were WRONG THEY WERE WRONG BAD BAD BAD and I didn’t know why. I was displaced, this universe was not mine, I couldn’t wake up.
For 8 months.
No. No there was no nice music that would help.
The power of the anxiety disorder I’ve since conquered through years of work, is probably the main reason I forgot I had depression.
Depression is wet wool. It stinks foul, it’s gross and it presses on you too hard. But it’s still warm. And better than no blanket at all. Anxiety was my own brain slicing me to death, cut by cut. After surviving that, who cares if their blanket is wet?
I can’t tell you if I was born with depression. If my childhood incubated it. If something twigged loose in my brain at 19, when the symptoms started. Any of it is true, or none. Doesn’t matter my friends.
I have few memories of 1997, the worst year of my life. A devouring second-to-second pain and no IDEA of how to cope. I tried to sleep at night with the my thick green study-Bible on my acid torn belly…it’s weight a comfort even though it’s words and endless promises didn’t seem to do anything.
One memory was my older sister coming home for a visit. She was…not impressed by my affliction. I cannot remember my behavior…I thought I mostly kept to my room. But depressed people are some of the most selfish people, so it would explain my overhearing my sister scolding my mom in the other room.
“What, she just gets to act like that? Depression? That’s her excuse? That is NO excuse for being a shit!”
I remember thinking, “That is PRECISELY my excuse for being a shit! I have a legit goddamn doctor’s note saying “please excuse Therese for being a shit, she’s got no control over it.”
My 41 yr old take on the exchange? Ehh. It wasn’t beyond my control but I didn’t know that. And, some people take their bad feelings and hide them (poorly, it always comes out). Some wallow. They tend to get really mad at the person who chooses the other method. Also I was likely a shit.
But one good thing I learned about depression is that you can escape it bits at a time. Not like anxiety, where you’re pinned squirming and begging and slobbering with a huge butterfly pin through your gut. No. Depression can be reasoned with.
Food! I spent 20 years going to restaurants alone, doting on menus, filling up holes in my brain and life with starches and oil. I’d buy mass-produced powdered sugar cookies and rectangle beef jerky from the bulk bins at Winco and settle in front of my televsion, which was the other perfectly acceptable distraction, and what a sweet marriage food and TV did make. Since I was in a town that had ALL the fast food restaurants at 19, a first for my mountain-dwelling life, I ate tacos and chicken nuggets and fish sandwiches without ever having to leave my car. It was delightful. They made me poop blood at age 20…well actually it was a hemorrhoid that burst and forgive me for sharing this but it was incredibly scary perhaps you can avoid my folly. Apparently bad eating can do a number on your anus.
Booze doesn’t work for me. A telling factor is that I called it “booze.” I got some nice bottles on a wheeled mid-century drink cart…but I really just like the drink cart and want to show it off. Booze makes me dumb and sleepy. Marijuana makes my thoughts pop like bubbles blown from the slippery serrated ring of a child’s party favor. I hate that. I like my thoughts. Opioids…I has them. But I use them with disappointing sparity. And they take hard edges away. But I don’t exceed my prescription. Again, sleepy and dumb is the only result. They are no fun to abuse.
I assume I would greatly enjoy a nice Victorian opium tincture in a little brown glass bottle. Or heroin. I’m too lazy to make the first and just smart enough to avoid the second. Thank you Trainspotting and Requiem for A Dream. Your dank creepy lighting, disgusting set design, and judicious use of human flesh rot. feces and men screaming over anal dildos sufficiently scared me straight from the fun drugs.
I didn’t need all that tho, to slowly forget about depression. Enough things started happening. Good things and bad things and they all help my attention. I knew everything seemed much more effort for me than other people, but that wasn’t depression. It was just…Therese. I went to college. I fell in love and married. I had small children. Motherhood can be a drug of choice. Parenthood can consume you, all your frisson and energy devoted to this worthy undertaking.
Of course even with moderate depression, trouble starts up again as the kids age and begin to see your shortcomings and sometimes emulate them. Or worse, pity you. If you let them pity you, they will forever after seek their own dose of pity from the world, or find people to heap pity on. That frightens me, my friends. My children are smart, and if I teach them weakness and frailty, they will spend too much of their lives trying to reteach themselves.
But as I entered that less consuming phase of motherhood, I begin to write and succeed at writing. Now, this is good. Truly. It’s an honest antidote to depression to be on your path. I was meant to write. When I do it, it is well within my soul.
But the success was a little too sharp. A needle of adrenaline straight through my breast bone into my heart. Similar physical symptoms to anxiety, but the mindset makes all the difference. Elation accompanies the rapid heart and fizzing blood pulse, not nameless terror. The crackle of electricity through your skin refreshes and motivates, and does not slice! Refreshing Amazon every 15 minutes til my little book stood in front of Hilary Clinton’s new release…if only for hours…no drug can replicate that high.
When adrenaline fades, you feel very dull and heavy and tired. Almost like a wet wool blanket has been tossed back over you. Ah but this isn’t (fusty voice) “DEPRESSION,” I thought. This is simply the boringness of everyday life.
So I forgot I had depression.
Now. You’d think the pills I’ve taken, never missing a single one for a decade now, would have reminded me, but honestly….I don’t know if that Zoloft generic even works. I take two every night as tic, a talisman, a prayer, and superstition.
Last week I listened to Christmas music…my iphone stuck in a little metal bowl to magnify sound while I wrapped. I love that activity. Since I was a kid. I love it how scotch tape smells with wrapping paper, it’s the the smell of anticipation and thrill and pleasure.
So I don’t know…nothing tripped the alarms. I don’t know why. I just let the paper fall off my lap and just…I became, for the first time in recent memory, crucially aware that I was not needed in this world and wasn’t afraid to die. And that living wasn’t…really doing it for me.
Of course that is a lie my brain told me. I am needed and I like being alive. If I DID take heavy drugs, the kind that distances you far enough from reality that you don’t think cause and effect matter, I wouldn’t have made it through the night. But in reality, I’m not suffering enough to euthanize myself. I’ve seen that kind of suffering. This wasn’t it.
My brain lies. Brains are assholes. Your mind, tho…or soul, or God, however you hold it, can be your best friend and true savior. But your physical brain is a conniving false friend. You think you don’t have power over it, but baby, that’s what that bitch WANTS you to think. Never let your jerk brain, it’s just an organ like a spleen after all, overpower your beautiful and supreme mind.
I’d gone months with distractions. First time ever. Not voluntarily… they’d just all stopped offering comfort or become too dangerous to continue pursuing. For one of the first times since my early twenties there was too much peace in life. So much SILENCE with just ME in it.
And I decided I would like to go to sleep and not wake up again. Bury down in that suffocating blanket and not worry about air.
And the Suicide Prevention Line wasn’t available to discuss the pros and cons with me.
My children saved me, of course. They have many times. The pull me out of my own ass, which is a blithe and deeply honest description of depression. Their faces appearing with no idea that I’m anything but cranky, the trust that everything is okay in their lives, and will be the same today as tomorrow.
Plus a quick search of “how does suicide of a parent affect a child” refocused the energy throbbing low inside me. Oh. I’d hurt them so much. My heart didn’t feel the burden of saving them, it was cold and indifferent. I even, as I sunk lower and lower, as the Suicide Prevention hotline clicked down, stuttered and reset…I considered I was raising them to be not very nice people, so my absence was moot.
But my mind, blessed and mine, snatched onto the opening paragraph of that particular website and nested upon it.
Go to bed, said my Mind, who is smart and kind and the best of me and every good person I’ve ever known. “This might be PMS. Shhh shh I know that sounds dumb. Go to bed. Tomorrow we can die if we need to, or whatever. ” She speaks with a light and loving touch and I trust her.
The next day was life-saving. If you believe in God it will make special sense. I was ripped outta bed (usually I swim up to consciousness at my sad and pointless leisure) because my kids missed their bus and needed a hour long round trip drive out to their little school in the forest.
Instead of wondering about purpose and pleasure, my brain was told what to think. “Needed. You…needed. Keys. Pants. Go.”
When I got home, a friend was in a fix. And I could help. Helping people perforates the selfishness of depression, and spending time with someone who sees the good in you helps too.
The Black Dog didn’t want me dead anymore. He lost interest, went back to sniffing in the shadows just beyond my sight. Except now I know he’s there. And that’s good.
Cultivate Vigilance, not fear.
I have Depression, capital D. Don’t care how or why. I always have, I always will. I can not sedate it, I can not pray, diet or life-style guru it away, and no matter how many books I write or speeches I give, I will not succeed over it.
I will live with it. I was right before, everything being harder and heavier is just Therese. Because Therese, beautiful complex thing, has brown hair, latent snark, a tendency to hug people without asking, and depression.
But here is the lesson.
I have to work harder with depression. Not just in the way where you have to work hard to bathe and dress yourself, which, yes, that too. But that’s just treading water and feeling sad for yourself while you do it. And to feel sorry for yourself, ech. No point. I mean, it’s like getting mad at water for trying to drown you. Water ain’t got nothing against you. Water just IS. What are you going to DO in that water?
Do you know how to swim? This kind of swimming will take you years, and lessons, and teachers and books and near drownings. You’ll be too damn tired from treading water for a lesson but make yourself take one anyway, whether it be a therapist appointment, a book on peace of mind, talking yourself through fear without trying to distract yourself. Learn the dog paddle that will become strokes that will move you away, toward where you want to be.
And know it will be so fucking hard. And be okay with that. You will hurt. Pain is part of you now so you might as well pull out the hide-a-bed and make a suitable place for it to rest.
We aren’t fighters anymore. Struggling is…rare in this place and time. We’re so non-confrontational we don’t even take ourselves to task anymore. We sign the “Mental Illness” contract and relinquish control of both that bastard trickster brain AND that soul that could save you, if only you trained it how. “Not my fault. I’ve a condition.” It may not be your fault you’re downing. But…don’t expect the water to accomodate you and recede as if by miracle. Don’t expect a team of lifeguards to charge to your rescue, because you’re not the only person they’re watching over. Don’t expect other swimmers to form a human chain and devote all their energy to saving you…you will just pull them down and they know that.
Swim, damn you. FIGHT.
I have to decide to struggle out of that bilge water. Or, to my other analogy, out of that warm rotting wet wool, and crawl off the floor. But please know I don’t want to. It’s so goddamn COLD out there and I’m already wet and smelly…I don’t wanna meet for coffee. I don’t wanna grocery shop. I don’t wanna to work on myself, my home, my job. To do that would mean over and over body slamming my naked wet self into the hard-hewn down that the rest of the world lies beyond, pushing it open and staggering out covered in bruises and splinters every fucking time.
So go back to your blanket.
And never, ever feel better.
Better to be shivering and stumbling forward than rotting on the floor, my friend, my own dear self.
Do work. It will be hard. But every time you shrug off the stinking sweet folds of depression, shove through that brutal door, it will get easier.
You may never become an Instagram Influencer whose life is the clean vibrant picture of organized good choices. But you’ll be a very good version of yourself. You’ll hurt less and less. The vicious cycle will creak and slow and run itself down. You’ll be free to go in a path of your own navigation, one that doesn’t always end up in the same frightful pointless place.
One more note…take support from other people but be mindful that they are putting all they got into staying upright themselves. They can’t carry you, but they can reach a hand out to help you over a boggy puddle. Be grateful for that, it’s hard for them, too. Then reach back and help them across the next one in their path.
And call the actual phone line for suicide prevention. If you get “Kylie” whose volunteering for college credit, hell, ask her how she’s doing. Maybe you can help her with something. A small reminder of how useful you can be is worth a million calming songs.