Depression

I can see clearly now…or not

I’ve been using reading glasses for a couple of years now. My eyes have been getting more and more blurry over the past several years. Yet, every eye exam results in a very mild prescription, for a complex combo of issues which include astigmatism and far-sightedness.

I haven’t been able to afford glasses. The last pair I got were covered by my church…up to the cost of a single lens prescription. The progressives were going to cost an additional $200, which I had no way of covering. So, I chose the middle…not thinking it just meant that I was getting what I basically already had without glasses. Silly me.

So, yesterday, I had the opportunity to get an eye exam that will result in a good pair of prescription glasses, sponsored through a partnership between Dress for Success and Myoptic Optometry. For the first time I can remember, I found out the true reason for my blurry vision, which fluctuates in degrees.

Dry eye Syndrome, aka Chronic Dry Eye.

Yay.

Another health thing that won’t be going away.

Fibromyalgia…✔️
Diabetes (2)…✔️
Hypothyroidism…✔️
Bipolar (2)…✔️
Depression…✔️
PTSD…✔️
Chronic Insomnia…✔️

and now…Dry Eye Syndrome…✔️

I can’t really complain. I mean, any one of these things could be so much worse. Plus, there are so many people going through things and dealing with much more major issues.

It’s just that the combination of these things is collectively overwhelming… especially if you factor in the depression’s ability to make everything else seem and feel worse than it is.

Add a night of the worst insomnia I’ve experienced in awhile, and I’m hurting and exhausted. I’ve got a ton of stuff to get done today and all I can do is lie here and be a lump.

Nap time before 9 am.

Thanks for “listening” to me whine. I’ll write something more interesting next time…maybe.

Freya the Fierce

I’m not a dog person.

Really. I’m not.

However, it seems she’s a Lillian dog.

She reminds me a little bit of Falkor, the Luckdragon, from Neverending Story. Which, I suppose she kind of is.

Just like Falkor helped Atreyu battle The Nothing, she’s been helping me battle Depression over the last month.

I mean, who could ignore the demands of a face like that? She’s relentless. Catch. Chase. Tug. She just wants to playyyyy.

Just like I have to stay functional enough to keep my daughter fed and off to school, I have to stay functional enough to keep Freya fed and walked so that I’m not cleaning up accidents.

When the depression got really bad a couple of weeks ago, she was a tangible connection when I would otherwise have been alone.

I’m not a dog person.

Really. I’m not.

Trauma Response

Like the sea cucumber
I protected myself
Spewing my guts
At anyone who drew near

Go away before I get too attached.

Like the abandoned stray
Quivering with hope and fear
Once given scraps
I clung, unrelentingly

No, stay, I need you to survive.

Like the porcupine
Trapped and under attack
Spraying sharp quills
Piercing the inquisitive

I’m dangerous, keep your distance.

Like the sinuous feline
Not to be ignored
Winding around legs and feet
My insistent presence tripping you

Pay attention to me, on my terms only.

Insecure
Needy
Defensive
Demanding

Shaped by trauma.
Forged in neglect.
Informed by abandonment.
Afflicted with mental illness.

Is this at all familiar?

Trauma Is Not Your Fault, But Healing Is Your Responsibility

Two minutes

Two minutes.

That seems like such a short time.

Unless those two minutes are for standing up and talking to a group of people. Especially if the subject is me, myself, and I.

Then, those two minutes feel like two hours.

I have four weeks to prepare this little speech to present to my class as part of my final requirements, in order to graduate and obtain my Certificate of Completion for Peer Support Specialist Training.

Two minutes.

How is that possibly enough time to explain my lived experience with mental health challenges, what I bring to the job, why I want to do it, and why I’ll be good at it?

Two minutes.

How in the world am I supposed to remember a two minute speech when I don’t remember what I was going to say two seconds ago?

Two minutes.

The time stretches and constricts, like a rubber band.

I’ve survived this long. I’ll survive two minutes.

Finding Truth

Some days, it is hard
Opening my eyes to see
I am good enough

There are times it’s hard
Stopping critical voices
Words I tell myself

Often difficult
Gathering my scattered thoughts
I am herding cats

Easily confused
Feeling all the emotions
My soul overwhelmed

Distinguishing truth
Letting go of the old lies
Settling in what’s real

Giving myself grace
All of me acceptable
I am good enough

To the me I used to be

As many of you may know, yesterday was October 31st. Some cultures celebrate it as a sacred day, others don’t celebrate it at all. In my corner of the world it is celebrated as a fun, commercialized way of being in brief community with neighbors you don’t know, with children in costume knocking on doors and acceptably begging for candy, while caregivers observe from a short distance…aka Halloween. (It’s also a way for those same caregivers to get their own sugar rush when they tax the candy haul.)

Anyway, that only has passing connection to why I’m writing today.

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. For some of us who blog, this is Nano Poblano – “the World’s Least-Official November Blog Challenge”

I won’t be writing a post a day, as I have attempted in other challenges. Instead, I’m committing to 10 posts this month. I’ll also be linking to 10 other posts this month.

Welcome to my first post of the month. Now, back to what I was writing about.

Last night I shared the requisite costume pic of my youngest, who will be 11 in a little over a month.

She looks older, huh? Sooo not ready for that.

When I woke up this morning, there were many “👍” and a few “♥️.” The last “like” was from a guy who had attended the same high school as I did. Just about the only interactions we have are reading and occasionally clicking our reaction to each other’s posts. But, he posts nice pictures of nature and other things I find mildly interesting. We reconnected at our 30 year class reunion a couple of years ago.

He may or may not remember, but, we had previously connected on FB back in 2010 or 2011, when I first joined the ‘book. It ended after a contentious interaction when the world didn’t end according to the 2012 Mayan Calendar predictions.

Depression had its hold on me and I posted some joke about being disappointed that the predictions had been wrong. He took exception to that and expressed his disagreement and disapproval.

That triggered anxiety and activated my defensiveness. I felt attacked. I was shaky and feeling threatened for no apparent reason. That was about the time another h.s. acquaintance and I got in conflict over something else, entirely.

I reactively “purged” my FB account, hoping to deactivate my hypervigilant hypersensitivity of the moment. I remember that I still felt threatened in some vague, amorphous way.

Some of that stemmed from my desire and need to be understood and accepted. However, I equated being understood with being agreed with and being accepted meant being justified and approved of. Anything else felt like I was under attack and unsafe.

I still don’t really understand the root reasons I experience anxiety around feeling rejected and not acceptable. I guess that hearkens back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with a sense of belonging being a basic need.

All I know, is that my gut clenched, my breathing got shallow, and my heart hammered when I saw the guy at our class reunion. Our online disagreement had such an impact on me. I wanted to avoid him and hide, because I was certain he would remember our interaction and be judging me by it.

Chances are he doesn’t remember that interaction. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be connected today. If he does remember, it likely doesn’t matter to him one way or the other. Regardless, the fact is that a molehill had been amplified to seem like a mountain, and, I think it’s possible that interaction will stay with me for a long time.

Part of me looks back on that time and sees the degree and type of reactivity and judges past me harshly. However, there’s a bigger part of me that understands and accepts who I was back then.

So, here’s my message to the me I used to be:

I love you. You’re not ridiculous and never were. You were living with the results of trauma. You were living without knowledge or understanding of the mental illnesses in your brain. I’m proud of you. You knew your reactions were signs you needed help and you paid attention to those signs. You had the courage to ask for help. You put in the work to change, heal and grow. You had the strength of character to own the consequences of your actions and behaviors from then and before. I’m grateful to you. You made me, me. You’re amazing. Thank you.

Being depressed and helping others

I’m learning to be honest with myself and others about the current state of depression I’m experiencing. I’m learning something else, too.

I used to believe that I can’t truly be of service to others who are struggling, if I’m struggling, too. Like somehow my brokenness and woundedness means I have no right and no basis for reaching out to help others who are experiencing struggles of their own.

It’s a “relapse” in my mental health recovery process, except it really isn’t. There’s an idea that being in relapse makes one’s knowledge and understanding of what recovery is somehow invalid and insignificant. However, when it comes to mental health, all it ever is is symptom management and a kind of remission. At least that’s true for me.

The brain, which is atypical, continues to be the brain it is. I was reminded of this a few months ago, when I was being very productive, feeling very good about myself, sleeping less than my already minimal sleep, and full of “grand ideas” about how I was going to go about changing my life and circumstances.

I’m as well medicated as I can be and still be cognitively and physically functional. However, I was concerned that I was experiencing a degree of hypomania. It was actually serving me in constructive ways, but, I couldn’t shake the worry that this would end like all the other times – of which there have been too many for me to remember over the past 40 years. I was fearful of the potentially impending period of depression that would follow. Especially considering that I was also entering my “traumaversary season.”

I expressed that concern to a trusted friend and mentor. He reminded me that, regardless of how well medicated I am or how many behavior modification methods and tools I have learned and acquired over the past five years, my bipolar brain, is still a bipolar brain. I needed to recognize that I may be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, but they weren’t anywhere near as severe as in the past and that the depression that might follow wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as in the past either. Plus, I do have tools and I have learned healthy coping strategies, as well as increased self-awareness.

There’s also an idea that experiencing symptoms means I lack the capacity to help others. As if being symptomatic is a weakness that, by definition, consumes all my functionality and diminishes my ability and capacity to do more than survive the symptoms.

To a degree, and in some circumstances, both of these things can be true, however, they aren’t absolute.

I am struggling with significant symptoms of depression. The depression is exacerbated by current circumstances and situations beyond my ability to control, but are inherently part of me and what I’m having to come to terms with. These things are emotionally and mentally exhausting and draining.

Yet, I’m still functioning. I’m not doing all the things that are supposedly normative for neurotypical folks: keeping a clean home, staying on top of nutrition, and generally sociable. However, I’m taking tax prep classes and attending them instead of giving up because the depression and overwhelm have gotten in the way of doing homework. I am still attending my Peer Support Specialist Training and being fully engaged with the class and processes, even when they trigger stuff. I’m still taking care of personal hygiene (mostly). I even followed through with a job interview and was offered a job.

I’m also in or near tears a lot of the time. I’m experiencing the negative voices/thoughts of self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-hate. I barely have the energy to do the things to care for my child and my dog, but I’m still doing them.

In the midst of all of this, through honest conversations, allowing the tears to fall and be seen by others, and sharing the struggles, others are letting me know that I’m helping them. They don’t feel so alone. Seeing me fight and recognizing the little “wins” offers hope and insight for themselves.

So, I’ve decided that if the depression, hypomania, and anxiety are going to fuck with me and my life, I’m going to put them to good use.