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.
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.