Tag: Depression

10Aug

Despair and Contrast

I’ve been doing a bit of blog spring summer cleaning over the last few days—super-gluing links, spit-shining categories, that sort of thing—and I found myself reading back over the first two years’ worth of entries while gravity slowly condensed in the room. My God.

The summer we packed up our lives to move to Italy, my head was unstable territory. I had been juggling four part-time jobs which suited me not at all, my plans for graduate school had been shot down for the second time, and I had stopped writing… which meant I was no longer checked in to my own life. On top of this was the vast unknown of our future. I was in my second trimester of pregnancy with Sophie, and the delay in getting our Italian paperwork had left us literally homeless and living off the generosity of friends.

It was during one unsteady weekend curled up in the guest room of our friend’s house that I started this blog. I was desperate for the outlet, the perspective, the satisfaction, and the community, though I couldn’t have articulated those reasons at the time. Blogging still only registered as a hobby (I had no idea how much the blogosphere had changed since our first fling; Dooce was now a verb?!), but it got me writing and connecting with kindred spirits again, just in time for the greatest upheaval of my life.

We moved. I adjusted piecemeal to the new culture.  I pined for friends and set up house and gave birth, and somewhere in the rock ‘n’ reel of it all, depression yawned up underneath like a sudden sinkhole. I’ve had melancholic tendencies my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for the following year and a half. I never admitted here on my blog just how bad my depression was, but the utter hopelessness in mind still left its imprint on posts about frustration, insufficiency, and unrelenting exhaustion. My personal journal entries delved into far darker territory, and reading over them now recalls the pain so intensely that my lungs flail against its memory.

Have you seen those “depression hurts” commercials with the sad-faced people blankly going about their daily routines? I only wish my experience had been so serene. For an eternal year and a half, my mind was trapped inside a darkness that I couldn’t measure, couldn’t make sense of, couldn’t get enough of a grasp on to fight. I couldn’t describe it without sounding crazy, so I tried to pass it off as allergies, nutritional deficiencies, standard new mom tiredness, even weather-related gloom. (In retrospect, maybe my doctor would have helped me more if I hadn’t done such a good job playing down the crazy.) I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t know what I needed except OUT, and I didn’t have the courage anyway to admit my problems to our new Italian friend-quaintances.

I knew the stigma of mental disorders as faux illnesses, socially unacceptable displays of weakness. I had judged people before for not being able to “get a grip” and even for seeking counseling. So I kept the darkness within the walls of our apartment and only wrote about it on the good days… days in which I could handle getting out of bed and putting on some makeup, maybe even taking the girls to the park for ten minutes. On the other days, the not so good ones, life pressed in from all sides with an impossible weight, and continuing to breathe was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t want to survive.

Yet I did. No matter how unbearable the panic of being, I couldn’t leave my daughters or husband bereft, and flickers of hope from here in the blogging community helped me keep that resolve on days when darkness started to win. Encouraging comments from kindred souls. Liz’s virtual hugs. Nino’s information on long-time postpartum depression (up until then, I had never heard of it lasting beyond six months). Jennifer’s honesty about her own time in the valley. Prayers from people who read between the lines and got what was going on. Together, they lit the way to my freedom.

And now, more than two years on the other side of endless night, I’d like to follow Jennifer’s lead and show you a photograph from the very worst stretch:

Tackling sick Mommy

It was taken mere days before I started to get better, and it kills me knowing that the me in the photograph had no idea. I wish I could slip back through a shortcut in time and promise her that spring is already there, even if she can’t feel it yet. I want to tell her that in a few short weeks, she’ll be tossing sun-drenched hair out of her eyes and chasing those sweet little girls through streets full of stories. I want to assure her that she’ll laugh again and that her daughters will forget the tears. I want to show her the beauty masquerading as a demolition project, the grace dissolving her terror of motherhood, and the art whispering promises, and I want her to see this next photograph of an August afternoon two years later on that same red sofa:

We like each other

There is hope.

16Sep

The Hope

Part III
(Preface here, Part I here, Part II here)

As I reached my teenage years and my privacy began to be invaded in increasingly traumatic ways, I reached out to friends I had met through our on-again-off-again homeschool group. My parents found out and cut off my contact with them, my lifeline. I plunged into a depression so severe that only my dysfunctional view of God kept me from suicide. I knew that God was on my parents’ side, which meant that he was against me, which meant that I had a one-way ticket to hell waiting for me just on the other side of death. No matter how unbearable my life seemed, it was still preferable to being burned alive for eternity.

Around this time, I started being sent to seminars and camps where I was taught how to debate with anyone who might try to sway me from my parents’ beliefs. My desperate knowitallitude was in danger of growing insufferable, but it was during one of those courses that everything began to change for me. I was fifteen and going through a class that fit the entirety of history into our fundamentalist worldview. I had heard it all before, but something clicked in my head that year and I realized with startling clarity how limited our little group of God’s elect really was. We were so adamant about being the only right ones that we were proudly dooming all other ethnic groups, political opinions, religious affiliations, and even hairstyles throughout all of time to a hell that was already overpopulated with abortionists. It just didn’t make sense anymore, and the most startling thought of my life took hold of my mind: What if God isn’t exactly how we believe?

Within a year, I left home to go away to school. Looking back, I regret that I didn’t do anything to help my siblings at that time, but thinking for myself was still so new that I was feeling my way in complete darkness. There was hope in the darkness, though, and that hope was worth pressing through every doubt and fear to grasp.

Hope that I wasn’t some sort of cosmic mistake.
Hope that God loved me.
Hope that God loved other people too, even people with mohawks.
Hope that the pain I had gone through wasn’t my fault.
Hope that doubts wouldn’t destroy or doom me.
Hope that I would be beautiful one day.
Hope that peace and authentic happiness were waiting in my future.

I’m still finding my way, and I probably will be for the rest of my life; formative years are not easily replaced. However, every one of those hopes has proven itself true—and not just true because an opinionated author said so but because I’m living it.

(To be continued…)

18Nov

Cherry Tree Creed

I’ve hinted on here before about my rather extreme religious upbringing, but I’m hesitant to say much more about it. One part of me goes a little giddy at Anne Lamott’s quote, “If my family didn’t want me to write about them, they should’ve behaved better.” Yes, yes, yes! I cheer, until it comes to actually putting the ragged parts of my story into words and I inevitably whisper No. I can’t tell whom exactly my people-pleasing brain is trying to protect, but it balks when my honesty tries to reach back more than a decade. Some details are too ugly for the light of day.

Nevertheless, the way I was raised is relevant to who I am today. Painfully relevant. After all, the frequent religious apologetics classes and brainwashing camps were my introduction to doubting God’s existence. The behavior I saw in the churches and cults our family was involved with taught me about the tight-lipped smiling delusion so many people define as Christianity.  The forced hours of Old Testament reading every week took me beyond disbelief in God into the dark territory of hatred. You get the idea, at least in part.

I  spent most of my life under such a heavy religious terror that my sense of logic had to be locked up along with my emotions and honesty. The most redeeming thing that could have happened was when I gave up caring and let my doubts and anger tumble out of hiding. Depression helped, oddly enough. I already felt so low that keeping up my pretense of believing God no longer mattered. Deal with it, I told him. I may have tried punching him a time or two as well.

I see now that it had to be completely destroyed, that old belief system with its blackened stone walls and bloody gouge marks.  I had to lose enough hope to operate the wrecking ball myself. And slowly—slowly enough to be revolutionary in the we-could-die-and-face-judgment-any-minute mindset I had been taught—a new belief system is being reconstructed in my heart. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor cherry tree, and I suspect it will be some kind of spa once it is finished. There are no longer any shadowy nooks for shame, eternal damnation, party politics, or generational curses to hang out in.

A friend lent me The Shack to read a couple of months ago (the amount of time I’ve spent “forgetting” to return it makes me think I should probably just buy my own copy already). Reading it felt very much like having my rib cage pried open and all of my struggles with God exposed to the operating room lights… and then gently re-formed into such an expansive hope that my body has trouble accommodating it. Between the fresh perspective offered in that book (I can’t tell you how much I love that God reveals herself as an African-American woman) and the radical kindness of Jesus’s words, many of my questions are finally finding their perfect fit in answers — ones that don’t traumatize me or require me to suspend logic or darken my soul atmosphere. I don’t have everything figured out yet—for instance, I’m still searching for an explanation for the contradictory, violent God depicted in the Old Testament—but I am so relieved to finally have a creed that lets my heart breathe deep:

(I refer to God with female pronouns because in that way I  can comprehend her differentness from the patriarchal judge of my childhood.)

I believe that:

The Bible…
is a picture of who God is and what a relationship with her is like,
not a comprehensive encyclopedia for all the facets of existence,
and not a textbook,
and not a list of rules
(as if we could follow the rules anyway).

Free will…
means God values humans enough to give us the freedom of choice
and limits herself by not overriding those choices,
even the bad ones
(which hurt her too),
but always providing opportunities even through the bad choices
for us to clearly see her love.

God…
does not instigate tragedy, only works through and beyond it
as the life-force of the universe,
the energy, the concept of light, the goodness,
merciful enough to do away with justice
because she is love
(and not gender specific ☺).

Jesus…
is God in human form,
not a human with divine superpowers but human-human,
with emotions and needs and frustrations,
whose life flowed from his relationship with God
(who neither orchestrated his death nor abandoned him,
only worked incredible good through it).

The Holy Spirit…
is their divine presence—undiluted love—
landscaping the beautiful mess of our hearts,
the piercing loveliness we feel during a certain song
or a beautiful day or moments of profound peace,
always here and never finished.

Prayer…
is simply the ongoing dialogue
as the four of us live together,
acknowledging that the unseen is real
and that relationship is all that truly matters,
and that God cares…
which could probably be called faith.

Life on earth…
is a process that won’t culminate until all is made new,
blessedly temporary
(which I know when I agonize over the too-few hours each day),
but  a good time for the element of choice to get worked out—
a messy and necessary step for a God who respects us
and who continues to participate in our stories
outside the bounds of time and breath.

Then heaven…
will be all this as it was meant to be
without the violation of a single free will,
every heart finally connected to God’s,
finally capable of channeling her extravagant love
and enjoying complete creativity and fulfillment along with her,
seeing the beautiful face of our planet unscarred—
life on earth, redeemed.

And I…
am not a convert or a heretic
or a warrior or a one-size-fits-all
or a guest of honor on the doorman’s list
or a project to be finished
but one member of a completely unique relationship with the Divine
who values me enough not to impose rules or limitations
and promises  a never-ending process
toward fullest life,
beautiful change accomplished hand-in-hand,
and a love I am just beginning to absorb.

4Aug

Navel Date in 2025

August decided to play a practical joke yesterday and turn into October, and our modesty-optional summer wardrobe gave way to long sleeves and socks. Socks, people. I gave into the iron-hued weather and blew off chores to read The Kite Runner, which left me feeling more Octoberish than ever. Even today, motivation only glimmers from behind clouds in fickle bursts. Oh sun, wherefore art thou?

Since I laid off the poison pills in April, I’ve slowly felt more and more normal, and I’m just now normal enough to realize I don’t know what constitutes normal anymore. (Please tell me you get what I’m talking about.) I read through old journals and shake my head at the stranger on each page. Nope, don’t recognize that one either. Was she really me? Am I really me?

Burrowing somewhere in my stomach is the awful suspicion that I like the eighteen-year-old me better. She was often confused and always dramatic, but she had energy and passion and a crazy, glowing sense of life purpose. I feel like I’ve acquired a bitter aftertaste as the years have mellowed my personality; my vim and vigor are sprouting mold. Is there any chance I’ve retained some of my positive characteristics through the constant upheaval of college, married life, and babies (not to mention seven moves in the last six years)?

I suppose this could simply be disorientation after so many months of mind-fog. Maybe I’m still too bewildered by the clearing view to recognize me for myself, to notice the residual beauty. After all, my husband claims to still like me, and I don’t think he’s entirely delusional. On the other hand, I know I’ve lost a lot of touch with the better aspects of life. Maybe this is a call to attention, a prescription from the lazy psychologist in my brain to do some navel-gazing, stat.

~~~

Heavens to Brawny, Sophie just decorated the walls of our newly-painted entryway with a bright green marker. It seems the navel gazing will have to wait for another day, one in which my toddler can be trusted to coexist peacefully with our house. Perhaps by 2025?

12May

Uncaged

When I’m 85, the smell of Bath & Body Works’s peach nectar lotion will remind me of that unsettling coaster ride of an autumn with my first boyfriend. The smell of carpet shampoo will remind me of walking into my college dorm room with an armful of books and giddy expectations. The smell of hand sanitizer will take me back to the NICU where infant Natalie recovered from surgery, and the smell of lemons will remind me of this spring.

The lemon trees and perfume and homemade limoncello and lemonade (more on that soon) have swirled deep into my perception of life this spring, and I have to tell you: I am infatuated. With lemons… AND life. Remember how crap-coated existence looked in January? And in February? And in March? Man, March was a doozy. I didn’t share most of the horror that was my brain this last winter out of embarrassment and pride and a respect for your collective wills to live, but my personal journal entries are like something out of Mordor.

But then… One afternoon toward the end of March, I was researching psychiatry in Italy in preparation for the next day when I was going to beg my skeptical doctor on my hands and knees for antidepressants. If I was going to grovel, I at least wanted to be prepared. I learned that “antidepressant” is “antidepressivo” and that “panic attack” is “attacco di panico” and that around 75% of women taking Yasmin end up on depression medication. Huh, I thought. Could this be as easy as going off the Pill?

It was. Only seven weeks later, I am a completely different person. Actually, I was a different person within seven days. I can hardly believe how easy it is to get out of bed each morning now that homicidal hormones are no longer running around chewing holes through all my happy thoughts. That endocrinologist who assured me I certainly did not have a hormonal imbalance owes me one year of lost happiness and a delivery truck of Lindt chocolates, at least as I see it.

I figured I owed you all an update now that I’m on the outside of the cage. So many of you have encouraged and supported me through a truly crap-filled (and -coated and -battered and -fried and -garnished) time. You’ve sent me e-mails and earrings and reminded me that I have some worth as a human being after all, and I am a thousand kinds of thankful. The future holds promise again. The world is habitable again. My creativity is waking out of its coma, and when I look inside my brain, I finally see myself. And when I’m 85, the smell of fresh lemons will remind me all over again how lovely it is to be.

6Apr

Genesis

Hello to all of you up there in the land of the living. Hello to you in the land of make up and home-cooked meals, to you who leave your front door on a daily basis, to you who get up the first time your alarm rings. You’re within my sightline now, and that’s good.

Civilization has been clouded from view lately, or rather, limited to a dim series of doctors’ offices. The four of us have been trading sickness like collector’s cards for weeks now, and our schedules ordered by nebulizer sessions and naps. Sophie and I are the lone holdouts at this point—she fussing inordinately and rubbing yellow goop from her eyes, I holding my cough-wracked sides together and sleeping while my husband cooks dinner. However, I left the house twice yesterday and realized I haven’t forgotten quite as much Italian as I thought. I can still say “buon giorno” to friends, and that’s good.

My list of failures is extravagant at this point. I have consistently been two days behind on house cleaning, and I’ve only managed to make one grocery trip in the last month. I’ve abandoned my friends and my inbox and my fingernails. The balcony planters are still sprouting last year’s twigs. Editing work is piled up around my ears, and the many blank pages in my writing folder feel like the worst failure of all. There is one and only one thing I’ve done well in the last week: loving my little family. I’m hopelessly smitten with them, my daughters with their sunny imaginations and deep blue eyes, my husband with his warm smile and oh-so-scrumptious hugs. Tender moments are alive and well in our family, and that’s good.

And spring is here.

Our wardrobes are switched out, the windows are open, pink and yellow flutter in our periphery. The world is a hundred shades brighter, and… well, that’s good.

23Mar

Malady Du Jour

Today’s malady du jour: vertigo. I woke up this morning to a head skipping like a scratched disc, waves of dizziness repeating ad nauseum. The doctor, diagnosing by phone as I was in no condition to leave the house (or, um, the bed), suggested it might be an inner-ear infection, which I want to make sense. I could use some extra sense right now, and perhaps a mysterious bug caught in the mazes of my head can explain the host of physical-mental symptoms I’ve been muddling through. Like headaches, great and small. Backaches. Stomachaches. Leg-aches. Heartaches. Draft folders crammed with half-written e-mails and blog posts I can’t seem to finish. Telephones ringing off the hook while I put another pillow over my head. Panic attacks. My body closing in on me until I have to force each breath. Loss of appetite. Loss of motivation. Loss of that little  somethin’ somethin’ that used to add sparkle to my days.

“It’s probably a milk allergy,” assured one friend. Another one told us of an endocrinologist where I could get my thyroid checked. Another friend suggested I ask for antidepressants, while yet another one told me about some great counseling services… 6,000 impossible miles away. Suddenly it’s not just the vertigo making me dizzy as I spin through the options and consider the frightening subjectiveness of medical diagnoses. I start to feel claustrophobic at the thought that I live in a non-English-speaking country, but I should be honest: I wouldn’t know where to start looking in the States either.

I go to the doctor in a few days, and I desperately want to solve myself before then. I am reluctant, embarrassed, to explain the multitude of ways in which I am sucking right now, and I would love to tell him, “Look Doc, I seem to be suffering from a food allergy. Please to medicate.” Doctors appreciate it when patients diagnose themselves, right?

The one good thing about this prolonged mystery illness is that, as it slowly drains the color from life, my priorities come into sharp black-and-white focus. I may not be able to accomplish much right now, but I can snuggle my girls for a long afternoon nap… and realize how much more important that is than cleaning or shopping or worrying about everything I’m not getting done. The world won’t stop if I’m unproductive this month, and perhaps marinating in the love of my sweet family may be my best treatment plan.

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