Tag Archives: depression

Some days

One year, my brother sent our mom a birthday card that really made her smile. It wasn’t one of those Hallmark deals with corny poetry and glitter — it was just a cheap little card. It had a photo on the front of a little boy sitting on the steps outside of his school, with his lunchbox beside him and his head on his lap, as if he were crying. Inside the card it said: “Some days, I still just want my mommy.” I think she loved it because she loved feeling wanted.

I think about that card a lot, particularly the sentiment printed inside: I just want my mommy. That thought wandered into my head the other night, as it often does, when I suddenly realized the date. March 8th. March 8th, the absolute worst day that ever was, ever.

In the seven years that have passed since she died, I have never gotten into the habit of honoring the anniversary of her death. March 8th is not the day I choose to remember her. It isn’t the same as those birthdays, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. Or any of the other happy occasions that bring her to mind and make me wish she were with us. The anniversary of her passing is a black mark, a day that got knocked off the calendar in sheer repulsion. A day too sad to commit to memory.

A pattern has emerged in the last few years. The anniversary goes by without my paying any mind — no more than usual, that is, because I think of her every day — but I don’t think about holding her hand in the hospital bed, listening through the night as she struggled for breath and the morphine slowly stole her life away. I elect to avoid that place whenever possible. It is as if I am walking down memory lane, the branches pulled aside to clear the path ahead. The coast is clear and then smack! One of the thin, springy branches snaps back and whips me in the face. I often feel guilty for having forgotten: I mean, here I am years later, still locked in a prison of grief. Should I not have kept count of all the awful days that have gone by and how many times I have needed her? I am forever affected by her death, but somehow, I sometimes forget that she died.

When the realization hits me, I count on my fingers — how long has it been? Seven years? Seven. Years. How it that possible? How I am still walking around with this hole in my gut, like the umbilicus that once tied me to her never healed? But then, maybe it didn’t. What is the shelf life of a mother-daughter relationship after the mother is dead and gone? At what point do I cease to be hers?

When shall I no longer wish to curl up beside her warm, soft body, my head in lap as she strokes my hair? When does a child no longer want or need their mother? I can’t fathom it, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to let go, because she was mine and I was hers and whatever wrong she did — and there were wrongs — and whatever I took for granted — and I did so, regretfully — she is mine. And I am hers: a mournful child crying on the front stoop, waiting for my mommy to pick me up and make me feel good again.

Mean Girls

“Women are such catty bitches!” I said to my friend, completely exasperated. She laughed and I laughed, and we both understood — there is no animosity between you and I, but get a group of females together in any greater number, and shit just hits the fan.

Why can’t we all just get along?

I am not, nor have I ever been, especially popular. I don’t have a raving social life. I am very good at maintaining close friendships, but awkward when in a group. I’ve never been a member of a clique, though it wasn’t for lack of trying in my adolescent years. There was a time when I so desperately wanted to fit in. Typically, people join groups that align with their personal interests, finding kindred spirits among the other members, but I’ve never had success in that way. Maybe I was an ASL student, a writer, a pagan — but whenever I tried to assimilate into an established group of those individuals, I still found myself feeling like an outsider.

Instead, I excelled at close, personal ties with other outsiders. Maybe we’re weird, but at least we can be weird together, we would say. I felt I had my niche. If I couldn’t be popular, at least I knew who my real friends were. I waited patiently for college and for my grown-up life to start. Adulthood, they promised, would be different.

They lied.

It has been ten years since high school, but I still feel like I’m surrounded by mean girls. Girls who view each other as competition, rather than colleagues; potential threats rather than potential sisters. Contrary to what our Mommas told us, it doesn’t always get better — bullying and social aggression is still prevalent throughout adulthood. To add insult to injury, bullying in adulthood is most commonly seen in females against other females. WAY TO GO GIRLS! While we were talking about women’s rights and equal treatment, we forgot to confront the idea that internalized hatred influences how we treat each other.

One might think that those same mean girls from school just grew up and continued to be mean, but studies suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case. Often times, it is the former victim of the schoolyard bully who grows up to utilize relational aggression in order to exert power over her peers. Prolonged feelings of powerlessness awaken the primal need to establish one’s self as an aggressor in order to regain power and control. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reasons that adult women are observed to indulge in more bullying behavior than men. (Because if anybody knows what prolonged loss of self-agency feels like, it us. Right ladies?)

It is discouraging to find that childhood torment can follow you into adulthood. After all, shouldn’t we have grown out of this juvenile behavior? Perhaps not, as evolutionary psychologists have long since established that bullying behaviors can be biologically advantageous, despite the fact that they are also socially damaging to the community. We know that bullying is ubiquitous among all cultures on earth, and while the behaviors of our ancestors are shrouded by the passing of time, we can easily observe bullying behaviors in other non-human primates. It seems that we are hard-wired to be suspicious and untrustworthy of any perceived threats to our resources, and unfortunately, our primal instincts aren’t equipped to differentiate between friend or foe. It’s just part of the human condition.

Our drive to dominate one another is inborn and subconscious, but from a moral standpoint, our society has pretty much unanimously agreed that bullying, ostracism, and engaging in social hierarchies is wrong. Then why do we continue to engage in these behaviors? In some cases, it is because the group dynamic favors the action. In having developed a sense of morality, human beings as individuals are able to justify their most primal behaviors as necessary to ensure the safety or success of the group as a whole. As psychologist Christoper Boehm points out, “we learned to gang up not just against our superiors but against individuals who we feel are so deviant that they deserve to be treated as outsiders.” Even though we know that different isn’t bad, our minds trick us into rationalizing our prejudices so we can act on them, guilt free.

It’s awful, though, isn’t it? All right, so bullying goes way back, and it once paid off in former contexts, and it is a self-propagating social disease, causing it’s victims to become aggressors themselves — but, really, can’t we just agree to stamp out that impulsive lizard-brain bullshit and be good? Perhaps, but it will take more than an after-school special to drive this one home. In media, the female aggressor, or the Iron Lady, is a trope that is highly celebrated and played out in film, television, and books. Movies like the Devil Wears Prada indicate that in order to be a successful business woman, one must be manipulative and conniving, ready to sacrifice relationships toward the end goal of dominating the workplace hierarchy. Does this mean that sisterhood is dead? Not necessarily. But the misconception of “assertiveness” being achieved through “bitchyness” ought to be shown the door.

All signs point toward mindfulness as the key to solving unnecessary aggression. We must all rely on our higher functioning minds to lead us with compassion and morality when the primal need to aggressively assert oneself arises. We must also, as a society, come to the agreement that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable, neither in childhood nor in adulthood. The current movement toward making our schools and other learning institutions “Bully-Free Zones” is a start, but we also need to face the truth about adult aggressors. Bullying is not a uniquely adolescent problem and it needs to be addressed accordingly. According to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, thirty-five percent of adults report being bullied in the workplace. Such a hostile environment increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and is naturally counterproductive to the success of the group. And yet it continues, ultimately because we allow it to.

I’m one of those idealistic freaks who would like to remake the world in her image (perhaps this is another reason why I’ve always been a bit unpopular…). For as long as I can remember, my relationships with people have been contingent on the “you either really like me, or you really don’t” principle, but I, just like most people, would prefer to be taken as I am and judged on my merits rather than my faults. (Or better yet, not judged at all.) In aiming to treat other people how I want to be treated (your Momma really did have that right), I have a fairly laissez faire attitude with people — you are what you are, and that’s fine by me. I will take you as you come.

Granted, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. You aren’t going to be friends with everyone you meet, but you can sure as hell make up your mind to be civil. And if you’re one of those people who have engaged in divisive, bullying behavior — particularly if you’re a women waging social war on other women — it needs to stop. See the bigger picture: how can we change the things that are wrong with the world, if we continue to be a part of the problem?

Coming out

A bad thing happened in October and I’m not ready to write about it yet, but people who have been paying attention will notice that right about the time that I really went off the deep end. (Well, this time around, anyway.)

I have pared my daily life down to the most basic the most and essential life functions because SURVIVAL. I just need to get by. Do my job. Take care of my kid. Sleep. The other stuff will either wait or it won’t get done or it will get frustrated and scream for attention. As the latter has occurred more than once, I’ve been dolling out quite a few explanations and apologies lately:

“I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can.”

“It isn’t that I don’t want to do X, I just haven’t had the time/energy/attention span.”

“Give me time. Please. I’ll get better. I’m doing the best I can.”

Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.
Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.

This Button Poetry video showed up in my Facebook feed. In it, Sabrina Benaim eloquent and powerfully explains to her mother what depression looks and feels like from the inside.  Thank you for those stirring words and images, Ms. Benaim. As I’m sure you could tell from the reactions in the audience, you accurately voiced the feelings of many.

From to her explanation of depression as miniscule and managable one day, then as massive and brutalizing as a bear the next, to her characterization of anxiety as an unwelcome party guest — Sabrina brings it home. After watching that video, I felt like giving her a slow clap.

I grew up in the 90's. I know of few higher commendations.
I grew up in the 90’s. I know of few higher commendations.

Because, you see, my happiness is also a high fever that will ultimately break. That is what mania is. So when someone says to me, “I just don’t know if I really believe that you actually have bipolar disorder — I’ve never really seen you be manic.” What am I supposed to say? Observe: My illness is not so much roller-coaster as it is pendulum, swinging from side to side, and so we shall go from the light side to the dark, and while you will certainly recognize the dark days for what they truly are, you will mistake the light days for health and wellness because you don’t see that I am actually sailing into the Sun. Proof? Really, you need evidence? Ok, here you go, flip through these snapshots of me over the past ten years — I like to call it the “Watch Sarah Gain and Lose and Gain 100 Pounds” Show.

Mania, you fatty bitch.
Mania, you fatty bitch.

If I’m not proving I’m sick, I’m defending my right to self-care: “You know, I feel like our relationship has been really one-sided lately.” You’re right. It has. Because even though I love you and I care about you as a person, right now my head is one big snarly black mess of fluff and lint, and I can’t seem to keep arbitrary things like dates, appointments, or birthdays straight. I love you, but I don’t want to go out –because I don’t want to have fun when having fun just isn’t fun anymore. I just want to sleep and make sure that there is enough energy left in my reserves to properly take care of my child because if anyone is going to be short-changed it sure as shit isn’t going to be her.  It might have to be you. I’m sorry. I love you. I am doing my best. Can you hang on until it gets better? If you can’t that’s okay! Here: have an out: You can hang on until it gets better or you can plead self-preservation in your own right and leave for a while. I won’t be upset. I wouldn’t blame you. You wouldn’t be the first.

I feel like explaining my depression is something like what my non-heteronormative friends tell me about coming out: it isn’t a one-time traumatic release. “Oh thank God, I got that off my chest!” Nope! It’s over, and over, and over, and over. And each time, depending on who I’m “coming out” to, a host of new fears come to the party: will this effect my job? My reputation? Will I lose her as a friend, a colleague? Have I said too much? Is she still going to like me, respect me, want to be around me? Have I frightened her? Overwhelmed her? Will she now turn tail and run?

After a certain point, this whole blog became a calculated risk — people that I know in REAL LIFE read this and will now know me differently! Even if they never bring it up, they have seen behind the mask. My entire adult life I have heard comments like, “You have anxiety? Well, I never would have guessed!” or “You carry yourself with such poise. I had no idea you suffered from depression the way you do.” I am letting that go up in smoke, because I’m willfully telling you: Yes, I am a mess. Yes, I have these disorders. No more compartmentalization and no more hiding. Even if I didn’t know it at the time of inception, that was the mission behind starting the Real Sarah C Project.

But here’s the thing — I fooled you.

For a little while, at least, I fooled you, and now perhaps you will sit back and wonder how many other people in your life are functioning with some form of mental illness — 1 in 5 adults, according to this study — so chances are you know someone. You might even be that someone. And when you consider the masses of individuals coming out and embracing their own non-nueronormativity and fighting to dismantle the systemic stigmatization surrounding mental illness and other disorders, it is plain to see: we are just not as isolated, as powerless, or as dysfunctional as our faulty wiring would have us believe. Perhaps some days, it’s all we can do just to function and to survive, but every so often, we’ll shine.

I feel sick.

Every time the depression wells back up and takes me, I feel like a failure. This time it took me by surprise in a new way because it didn’t start with sadness, it started with success. Yes, I’ve been tremendously busy, but I’ve been on top of it all – managing my appointments, my schedule, showing up on time, in the places I’m meant to be, and feeling good. I’ve been feeling in control of myself, nigh invincible, as I have taken on more and more, chasing that glorious moment of triumph.

Something you should know about me: As long as I’ve had something that needs improvement, I have had something to prove.

This time, my descent started with an up-tick. It started with the slow, steady ascent of a wooden coaster, as the click, click, click ushers you ever onward and upward toward the peak before it surrenders you unto the nothingness, allowing you to fall.

"STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF," she would have said, if she had better foresight.
“STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF,” she would have said, if she had had better foresight.

But this time it would seem the problem is not really the depression, but the mania. The mania (and the anxiety and the paranoia), which previously only lasted for a few hours or perhaps a day at the most, has become recurring.

I can’t think. I can’t write. I am distracted by the tiniest of things. Glitter, stuck to my sweat-dampened skin. Moira, exploring my work area. The feel of the air in the room, how oppressively warm it is with the sliding glass door closed and the humidity inching upward each moment as the sun heats the moisture on the pavement outside. The creeping vines of anxiety as each of these press inward on my consciousness, the feeling starting in my ankles, moving inexorably upwards toward my chest, immobilizing me and robbing me of my words, setting a spark to my fight or flight response. It suddenly occurs to me that I can either sit here self-immolating, or I can get up and start pacing, picking, cleaning, starting with a lint-roller all over my body to get rid of that god-damned glitter because FUCK GLITTER. WHO LET THAT SHIT INTO MY HOUSE?!

Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.
Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.

The depression which has punctuated these last few stretches of anxious upheaval has been an almost welcome reprieve. As I have mentioned before, the contrast between the two states is, I imagine, like being catapulted from a tub of hot water into cold, and back and forth — not unlike what Inigo experienced when Fezzik forcibly removed him from his state of drunkenness in the Princess Bride.

drunkinigoBut rather than restore me to sanity, the effect has been completely destabilizing. I feel like I have nothing.

It’s in those awful moments I want to do truly terrible things to myself. Still. Even with all the treatment, the therapy, the medications, everything, all the improvements I’ve made, all the distance I’ve covered in the last few years, when I feel the control begin to slip away from me, the urge to harm myself screams back into focus with alarming alacrity. I just know, with deep, chilling certainty, that one simple act of self-harm would immediately, easily end the uneasy, frenetic scratching in my skull – the pain would calm me, my stomach would settle, and I would finally feel better.

My heart wouldn’t be fluttering any longer, and my thoughts wouldn’t be racing. My mind wouldn’t be festering with words and stories that refuse to coagulate into coherent stories worthy of telling. I could sit and enjoy my family’s company, my daughter’s play, my husband’s touch, or the simple miracle of a quiet house.

I don’t typically feel that my mental illness is particularly disabling, or that it makes me especially ill. In fact, as a colleague and I were discussing the other day, we take particular pains to obscure our mental “peculiarities” as much as possible, lest the rumor mill start a’ pumpin’. But this? I hate this. This makes me feel as though I suffer from true madness. I am provoked, then, to spit out the proverbial poison – to remove it from my person as if by force (thus, The Real Sarah C Project was born). Well, now that I think about it, it actually was by force! These 800 words took me two very painful weeks of writing, bitching to trusted friend about not being able to write, trying and failing to write other things, and then trying again.

Reader, the thing that I really want you to know is that I feel like a terrible mess. And despite feeling like a terrible mess, in these last few weeks, I have still felt very much myself – on top of my game, good at my job, able, and confident. I’m not sure precisely what that means in the long run, but in the spirit of keepin’ it real, I just wanted you to know: you can still keep it together while you’re falling apart.

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

The other side of the coin

I recently wrote about how I’d rather be manic than be depressed.

Because mania is such fun.
Because mania is such fun.

Well, now I’m depressed, so fuck the me who said that.

What bullcrap.

Depression sucks. Mania sucks.

Mania makes me want to do all the things at once. When I’m manic, I truly, honest-to-God see the madness within myself. Depression robs me of the will to do anything — including things I like to do. Things that make me feel better. This is pretty much all I can bring myself to do:

image
This is not conducive to long-term happiness. Or anything, really.

I need a vacation from my own head.

A work-in-progress

One of the biggest take-aways I ever received from my first interpreting mentor is that we are all, each and every one of us, a work in progress. We never stop learning, growing, developing, and becoming more of the people we are meant to be. For interpreters, this is a fairly common precept: in order to remain relevant in your field and to maintain your credential, you must earn continuing education credits in order to show a persistent commitment to professional development. In our personal lives, though, people tend to think that at a certain age who you are ought to be fossilized at a certain stage in development: your tastes, predilections, personality, mannerisms, et cetera shouldn’t change too much past an imaginary point in time. It’s true, to an extent, that some things tend to remain stable over time. My taste in music, for example, hasn’t been drastically altered in the last 15 years, though I’ve come to appreciate alternatives to my favorites. But what about our looks? At a certain age, if you deviate too much from what people have come to expect of you, you are branded a midlife crisis or said to be “going through a phase”. Change just freaks people out once we get beyond our formative years. But, honestly, shouldn’t all of our years be formative?

Case in point: my whole life, I’ve been more of a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl because it’s easy, if not fashionable. I’ve always liked make-up and looking pretty, but never enough to put a whole lot of effort into it. My idea of professional dress is “a nice top, and nice bottoms”. I don’t accessorize a whole hell of a lot because I can’t be bothered.

And then this happened.
And then this happened.

In the last year, I’ve started getting into vintage fashions, hair, and make-up. I always enjoyed the look of the 1950’s pin-ups like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, but it didn’t occur to me to try it until I was well into my 20s. This morning when I was getting ready for work, I looked down at my pencil skirt and monochromatic saddle shoes and thought, “Boy, I’m in full costume today.” But it isn’t a costume. Not really. Just because I’m altering my outsides doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it to match my insides — what my insides have been all along.

I don’t think we ever complete the process of becoming who we are, even when we are suffering ill-effects in that process. I recently began seeing a new therapist, and while going through my medical history and listing my various small-kine crazy behaviors on my fingers, I mentioned that it was only in 2012 that I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, likely as a result of untreated long-term depression and anxiety following my parents’ deaths. My new doctor said with a smile, “Ah, well, you just hadn’t fully bloomed yet.” I found that very profound. I like the idea that my endless struggle with mental illness is actually part of the process of becoming more of, not less than, myself. So many people think that their internal struggles — depression, anxiety, mania, self-harm, OCD, what have you — detract from their true self. I beg to differ: embracing and managing my illness is helping me achieve a new level of self-actualization that I hadn’t considered before. My pursuit of happiness, I realize, is a journey fraught with pitfalls and set-backs. The long and sometimes treacherous walk down that road has imbued my being with both good and bad, and has made me, Me.

I had to get pretty sick in the head, and come to terms with my ailment, before I could start really liking myself. How’s that for a kick in the pants?

Today is an appropriate occasion to turn to this discussion: April 16th is for the Semicolon Project, a social media movement for those that suffer from depression — who self harm, are suicidal, unhappy, have anxiety, or are living with grief — to embrace their story as on-going. Semicolons represent a sentence the author chose not to end. We are the authors and the sentences are our lives. My story doesn’t end here. I am a work in progress.

Mmm, writer’s block. Yummy.

I’ve been in a real rut lately. The depths of which I haven’t experienced in at least a year, and the lengthening duration of which scares the pants off of me. It’s a real, genuine fear of mine that I’m getting worse, and while I’ve been riding that manic depression rollercoaster, I’ve also been struggling to find ways to talk about what I’m going through in a way that is interesting and meaningful. Typically, my inner dialogue goes like this:

Me: Hey, that would be good to write about… I could word it like this and…
Meanie Me: No one gives a flying fuck about that. What makes you so special? There are literally thousands of other bloggers writing about the same thing, and they already have the audience captivated. Why would the audience want to shift and read your regurgitated nonsense?
Me: … well, I guess you’re right. What about if I were to write something about this depression I’ve been sinking into, and the manic episodes I’ve been having? It might really help me to get some of those words out and…
Meanie me: PUH-lease! How depressing. You want every entry on your blog to make people wanna slit their wrists? C’mon! Lighten up.
Me: … ok. I guess I’ll just go lay on the sofa some more.

So, in between starting to write things and deciding not to write them, I:
— ignored significant obligations pertaining to my personal finances
— worked late
— got into internet arguments
— posted irrelevant things on Twitter
— threw my friend a baby shower
— sat on the sofa
— played with my baby
Well, that’s the round-up for this month. I think April will be the “fuck-off-Facebook-I’m-leaving-you-for-Twitter-where-people’s-negative-diatribes-are-limited-to-140-characters” month. It’ll be swell.