Approximately Functional

My bloggy friend, Sara, from Laments and Lullabies, has graciously agreed to guest post today and share her story. Many thanks to this strong, talented, and spirited woman who so eloquently describes her journey from The Dark into hope. The details are different, but we share the same story, I just think she  tells it better. Thank you Sara.

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I have a touch of the crazies. Though no hard diagnosis of a chronic mental health concern has been made (bipolar II has been discussed but not confirmed, among others), what is for certain is I suffered a major depressive episode after the birth of my daughter more than three years ago. Essentially, fairly common (unfortunately) postpartum depression overstayed and squatted in my brain, stinking up the place and destroying  property. It brought its friend Crippling Anxiety along for the ride. I’ve always been prone to significant dips into The Dark, but in my life before marriage and children, it was easier to manage. I had developed coping skills that suited my lifestyle but transferred poorly to my new life. I could no longer hide in bed for a few days until it passed. Nor could I pick up and leave town to clear my head. I had a marriage and a tiny human to nurture, and I didn’t know how to do any of it.

Now, after a year and a half of cognitive behaviour therapy, a stint as an outpatient in something called “Day Hospital” (think day camp for people with enough crazy to function poorly, but not enough to be fully hospitalized or monitored), and a promiscuous stretch with a myriad of meds, I’m feeling more stable, more functional, more human again. I can do things like leave the house and bathe myself regularly, which, if you have any experience with depression and anxiety, are not things to be taken for granted.

The most remarkable sign that I am recovering well (do we ever fully recover, or do we, like former alcoholics, always have to work at it?) is how I’m facing stressful triggers. Everyone has stress in their life, but for people with depression and/or anxiety, even the smallest things can knock us down, activating all kinds of maladapted behaviour (my go-to is total withdrawal/shutting down/disassociation and dermatillomania). My family and I have dealt with some pretty serious stressors lately which include, but are not limited to; job losses, illness, financial insecurity, and custody battles. There was a time when all this would have nearly destroyed me.

My greatest triumph, as of late, is staying sane during these trials (more or less). Yes, I’ve had a few melt-downs, a few moments or days of hopelessness, anger, sadness, and debilitating panic, but they are not my constant companions. There has been a sea of change within me, and I owe it, for the most part, to three things: the availability of help when I needed it; my ability to accept help; and my support network, a.k.a. friends, family, and the scads of mental health professionals I’ve seen in the last couple years.

I’m extremely fortunate that, living in Canada, every service has been provided for free. Even my meds are heavily subsidized. Without this safety net, I don’t think I would be in such a good place now. More specifically, I have worked with cognitive behaviour therapy and my gifted social worker/counsellor to rewire by brain, altering destructive thought patterns and behaviours and learning new ways to handle capital “L” Life.

I was invited to guest post here to share how I’ve managed to deal with the poop/fan combo. Partly, I’ve undone things like catastrophic, black and white, and automatic thinking. In short, my habit was to jump to worst case scenario for EVERYTHING. My daughter didn’t eat her veggies? She’s going to suffer brain damage or possibly death by malnutrition. My husband and I had an argument? Our marriage is doomed and my whole life is a lie. You get the gist. For many people, this seems ludicrous. For people like me, this is normal . . . so normal that we don’t even realize that other people DON’T think this way. Dealing with this junk every minute of every day erodes the spirit and the mind. Being unshackled from it is more than liberating, it’s life changing. Now, when I catch the flu, I just eat more super food and ride it out. Thoughts of ebola and pandemics might float through but they are not The Truth anymore, and I can recognize that. I suppose that’s how I’m getting through life right now. I still argue with my husband sometimes, but I know that we are a strong couple, best friends, and a great team. We have survived worse, and for once in my life, I can imagine the other side, beyond the difficult present. They call it hope, and it’s new to me.

In fact, that might be the quintessential difference between coping and not. Hope is simply not available to those of us swallowed by The Dark. It is the ultimate cruelty of depression and anxiety. Retrieving hope, or discovering it for the first time perhaps, is how people keep moving forward. I reckon that destructive behaviours like addiction (booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food, bad relationships, etc.) don’t create hope, but they temporarily and artificially release us from the oppression of hopelessness. Nobody finds meaning in a bottle of vodka, but meaninglessness takes a short vacation. People like me need to learn, sometimes late in life, how to hope. Sadly, many don’t, and they cannot teach it to their children. Sometimes, we lose the hopeless souls forever.

Many things I neglect which would help me even more include doing more for myself, getting more exercise, making more art, and spending less time in front of a screen . . . I don’t have any definitive tips or tricks on how to go from “I can’t do this anymore” to “I’ll get through this.”  Certainly nothing that hasn’t been said. What I DO know is I’ve come from a place where the future was either impossible or horrible, to a present, where I’m pretty damned tired of the BS that keeps visiting me and my family, but I’m not giving up. It’s something I hope for all those who need it.

Hope doesn't solve my problems, but at least my problems won't win.

Hope doesn’t solve my problems, but at least my problems won’t win.

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71 comments

  1. What a beautiful essay. Beautifully written, beautifully conceived, beautifully expressed. Can you tell I really relate to it? And: the instant I saw your drawings my brain shouted YES! YES! This is IT! You have totally captured the essence of what it is to emerge from the cold safety of immobilization into the chaotic and dangerous navigation through recovery. Bravo!

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  2. This was wonderful. Instead of just talking about IT, you talked about HOW YOU WALK THROUGH THIS. Its wonderful. Its hard work, and you are doing it and its not overnight and you are so inspiring Sara!!!! Thanks for this.

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    1. Heh heh heh….I can only imagine what the four of us would be like in the same room. Thank for your friendship and support, Ruta. High praise coming from a distinguished and learned lady like yourself.

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      1. It would be Scott not talking and waiting for someone with a nicotine habit to come near him so he could sneak a smoke – and me talking non-stop – unless Eric is talking non-stop…then us jostling for word-space… you’re probably looking around for a fast escape…

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        1. The great thing about extroverts is they take the pressure off of introverts to be entertaining or “talky”.

          Your hubs and I can sit back and watch the show, nodding occasionally in solidarity.

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    1. Thank you Dani,

      It’s not a post I would’ve written if Kina hadn’t asked me to. I’m glad she did. It made me reflect, and realise that I’ve come some way…and maybe that possibility will infiltrate someone else’s brain….?

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  3. “Hope is simply not available to those of us swallowed by The Dark.”—I think that’s a great way to describe it. Most people can understand that without hope, we feel lost and empty, thus your words allow those unaffected a glimpse at what ‘The Dark’ is like.

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    1. Carrie, thank you. A belief that tomorrow is worthwhile is something taken for granted by many, not through any fault of their own, of course. It’s just one of those things that one doesn’t think about until it changes….

      I’m chuffed you liked it. xo

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  4. Sara, you have such a way with words. When I was first asked to post on BBW about my depression, it was so hard for me to put it into words that everyone would understand. You explain things so well…and the lack of hope is numbing. I have days when everything is just “fine” on the outside, but inside I’m screaming…I’m not normal! Can you see me? I am crazy and there isn’t another soul out there who can see that but me.

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    1. Wendy,
      I feel the exact same way about Sara and how she expresses herself. It’s one of the reasons I was so happy she agreed to do a post here. It’s good to know that wa aren’t the only ones. I’m actually starting to think that we aren’t crazy, just a different brand of normal.

      Blessings,
      Kina

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  5. Wonderful narrative, Sara! My youngest sister is significantly younger than me or my sister- she and I are 13 years apart. When my mom had her, she was much older and in a significantly different place in her life than she was when she had me and my middle sister. After the baby was born, my mom went through a really bad bout of postpartum depression that lasted about 5 years. Back then it wasn’t really a “thing” and I think some of the effects from that time still linger in some ways. I’m so happy that you’ve sought help, and that you’re on the path to leveling things out. You deserve happiness because you’re a good wife, a good mom, a good friend, a good person.

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    1. …and a good pants wearer.

      I’m grateful to live now and not in gmy mother’s or grandmother’s generation. Of course, they had perks no doubt, but for a woman’s melancholia to be ignored, dismissed, or unnoticed I’m sure led to a great deal of suffering (as in the case of your mom).
      Glad she resurfaced, and happy to see you. xo

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  6. Sara,
    I’m so glad to hear that you’ve made so much progress. If even one person who suffers as you did reads this and realizes there is hope it was worth sharing. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Twindaddy,
      That is exactly the reason I invited Sara to share her story here. She has been an inspiration and role model as well as a friend who gets it. Without seeing her move through the things she has and deal with the storms that have happened, I might not have had a beacon of light to help guide me through some of my foggier moments recently.

      Blessings,
      Kina

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  7. Excellent, excellent, excellent. Cognitive behavioral therapy is so, so helpful. It’s amazing how the brain can rewire itself. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible before I started CBT myself. And not being a slave to The Dark is beyond liberating. Kudos and hugs to you, my friend.

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  8. I have a few friends who are hounded by the ‘black dog’. It comes after me sometimes, so this was a really, really great read, thank you 🙂

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    1. I love, love, LOVE that metaphor of a black dog. Reminds me of The Neverending Story, or The Omen…ominous, maybe just out of sight, but present, looming.
      Nice to meetchya, esellek.

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  9. Kina,
    I’m proud of my wife. I have witnessed her raising from her ashes, literally. She is a magnificently™ strong woman, and a beautiful human being.
    Le Clown

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    1. Le Clown,
      I love you both and a significant amount of my own growth and transition through my version of The Dark can be directly linked to your influence and the relationships that are growing between us. I learn something new from you guys every time I turn around and Sara is amazing. I love you both!

      Blessings,
      Kina

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    1. Hastywords,
      I honestly beleived that there are so many who can relate to what Sara shared, myself included. I also know there are many who are bewildered and unaccepting of those of us who experience these things and know that Sara has the ability to take what we all have such a difficult time conveying in comprehensible ways to those on the outside looking in. It is my sincere hope, that her words help create a bridge between them and us.

      Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Human In Recovery.

      Blessings,
      Kina

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      1. I agree…It is the only reason I wrote the post for The Black Box. I believe it is more than a disorder. I have been on both sides of the perspective and there is a bridge needing to be built

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