Tag Archives: depression

Not Fine

Dear Whole Wide World,

I’m not fine.

Really, really not-fine. And it seems like our culture is built around a number of fleeting encounters that ask the question, but discourage real answers. Too time-consuming. Too uncomfortable. Too intimate. How am I?

According to the doctor, I’m depressed. Post traumatic stress says one psychologist. Another told me my blood must be pure cortisol at this point.

Which pretty much means I’m a mess. The truth is, it’s been a long time coming. And while we still have nine months of chemo and a pretty sick girl stuck at home this week, this is as close to peace as we’ve had in a long time. Everyone else in the family seems to be doing relatively okay. Which is probably why my body/mind chose now to short circuit.

It’s not what I expected. I’ve got quite a bit of up close and nearby experience with depression and anxiety at this point in my life. I’ve even accrued a substantial resume of grieving for myself, which I’ve always thought of as a close cousin to depression. But seeing and being are vastly different animals.

I told my friend Liz that I knew I was going to break down eventually, and when I did it would be spectacular. I imagined something alarming… cinematic. Michelle Pfieffer in The Deep End of the Ocean when she realizes her baby is missing. Scarlet O’Hara in the face of defeat. Scared Sorority Girl number three.

No dice. I still look pretty much the same. Except my shirt may be inside out and I probably haven’t brushed my hair. Oh, and I wear glasses now, because contacts require effort. I place one foot in front of the other and somehow no one notices. All the screaming is inside my head.

Meanwhile my family gets to see me unravel every day. Playing ‘Pleasant Citizen’ doesn’t work at home; I just don’t have the energy. I crawl back into bed a lot. I hulk out over the smallest problem. My feelings are delicate flowers, wounded by the smallest slight (and I have teenagers, so you can imagine how well that’s going). I can’t fall asleep. I wake up in a panic and run to check if my children are still breathing. I clutch my chest to try and lift this weight off of it. Overwhelmed. At any moment, and sometimes for no reason, completely overwhelmed.

I used to whirl around in a tornado of efficiency – packing lunches and dispensing medications and solving problems. Now I just whirl around and around and around and forget what I’m supposed to be doing. I put the milk in the cupboard. I forget to start the car and am confused when it won’t drive. I need people to repeat things to me several times before they make sense.

I thought depression would be sadder. I still laugh and enjoy things, though nothing is as bright or clear anymore. I’m so touched and grateful that my family is picking up the slack and giving me the constant reassurance I seem to need.

And every once in a while I just feel fine again, confident that the worst is over and I can be myself now… wondering if maybe I’ve been overly dramatic in presenting this to my doctor and counselor. Then I unload the dishwasher and must retreat back to bed for a nap.

So why am I writing an ode to my mental dysfunction for the whole wide world?

Partly as an apology, because as irrational as it may be, I still carry a lot of baggage with me about being selfish and letting people down. I’m trying to figure out where it all came from, but I suspect it’s largely inborn. So, this is me, giving notice that I’m going to be taking care of myself first for a while. Because there’s still a lot riding on Mom, and I can’t take care of them if I’m not a healthy me.

All these months (years, let’s face it) of suppressing my own emotions and needs have been necessary. We’ve done the best we can, and we’ve had SO much wonderful support, but there’s a reason cancer parents have high rates of PTSD. In the face our worst nightmare we put on a brave face, sing a song, make a game of it… anything to make it easier for our babies. And our own trauma gets stuffed way down. Just yesterday I had to bring her in for another blood test. I crawled up into the bed with her, wrapped her in my arms (and legs) and tried to distract her while she cried and struggled and screamed. It was an easier one. She’ll never know how much it kills me inside, because Mom is always calm in the hospital.

I guess I’m also writing because I want the world to know that even though you might see my calm Mom face too, I’m not really okay.

And I’m okay with that.

So, if you ask me how I am, I might give you a polite lie and move on, which is probably easiest on us both. It’s not a social convention I love, but it’s the way things work. I’m getting good at evasive but true answers like “still kicking” or “hanging in there.” Sometimes, probably more often than is socially acceptable, I answer truthfully. “I’m not doing well at all.”

It’s a relief for me. It doesn’t need to be a burden for you. I don’t need to be fixed or saved. I don’t need platitudes or sermons or super-human effort from you (though I know these are coming from a good and generous place inside you). I just need to be seen and heard. “That sucks; I’m sorry” is the best response for me.

Someday you might want to give an honest, but uncomfortable answer too – on those days, I’m your gal. Not Fine is an awful and important part of being human.

 

So here’s me, learning this thing called ‘self compassion’ via counseling, writing, art, meditation, prayer, fresh air, silly tv shows, hot baths, talking, talking, talking, dates with my husband, anti-depressants… and most of all, lying in bed.

 

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Day 2: One Foot in Front of the Other

This may be the least profound and the most important tool I have in fighting off life’s monsters.

Breathe in. Breath out. Focus on the moment I am in right now. Do the next thing. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep going.

There are times when the next five minutes are all I can handle. Keeping life as small and manageable as possible. There is no shame in this. It is amazingly adaptable. I let go of the past, because I can’t change it. I trust my future to God’s hands, because I can’t do anything about it either. I keep my sights on the moment. And I do the best I can right now.

When it comes to fighting the Big Bads in life, we need to keep it basic.

I’ve always been a planner. Lists of goals. Detailed schedules. Purposeful routines.

The first time reality overwhelmed my need to organize the world was the death of my son Noah. Not only was I reeling from his loss, from the trauma of delivering my silent, perfect little baby, but the doctors had removed my kidney the week before. I was recovering both body and soul.

All I wanted to do was nothing. Lie down. Listen to the same sad song over and over again. Stare into space. At nights I wandered the house and surfed the internet.

It was harder and harder to get out of bed at all. And that scared me. I asked my mom “what if?” What if I crawl into bed and never crawl out? What if I can’t do this? What if I’m not strong enough? What if I get stuck?

She told me that she and my husband would pull me out if needs be. That if it got that bad, there would be medication and therapy and they would carry me through. And it would get better. She would know… my brother Bradley was stillborn too.

So I started a strange little ritual. For the first time in my life I started wearing make-up every day. I was less likely to climb back into bed once I had lipstick and eyeliner on. Even if I did nothing else all day, this was the start. It wasn’t a big thing, but it got me out of my bed, down the stairs and eventually back into life.

When B was in the hospital week after week, I leaned on this ritual again. Especially when she was in isolation, so very sick and sleeping all day long. There was little to set the days apart from the nights. Some of the rooms we stayed in were closet sized, others had no windows at all. Daily make-up became a sign of strength for me; very little to do with vanity, much to do with intentional living.

It doesn’t always feel like strength. Some days it’s hard to do even this. But I do it anyway then. Especially then.

Everyone has their own rituals, daily steps forward, simple everyday signs of life. Ones that may seem miniscule and silly to others, but are statements to ourselves: that I am not beaten, that I can do this one thing, that I am still me…

For me it’s make-up, writing, laundry on Mondays, prayer at dinnertime and goodnight hugs. How ’bout you?

When life spins out of control. The monsters at my door are despair, discouragement, and depression. Do what you have to do to get through. Remember that the best you can do, is all that you need to do.

Keep it small.

Keep it manageable.

Keep moving.

 


The Year of Hard Lessons

We have a houseful of books and videos and educational games that declare in cheery tones “Learning is FUN!!!” – usually accompanied by an obnoxious rhyme and catchy tune. Unfortunately, growing and learning in real life isn’t nearly so sparkly and bright. And you’ve learned a lot this year.

Hard lessons – an injury that sidelined you, a sister in danger, a family in chaos, a shift in belief systems, a body and mind rebelling, refusing to be controlled. The kinds of lessons that teach empathy and resilience and important coping skills. The kinds that change you forever. That leave childishness is the dust.

This year you’ve learned:

You can’t white knuckle your way out of everything. This, my hardworking, overachieving, plan-making perfectionist, is actually a good lesson in the long run. But it was oh-so-hard for you of all people. Painful to watch. Painful that we couldn’t rescue you out from under it either. BUT

You can get through almost anything. Sometimes the only way out, is through. We spend so much time trying to avoid and evade suffering in our lives that this can be ridiculously hard. Even that very first step of accepting reality and realizing there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. It takes a lot of courage and strength to press in and press on. When anxiety and depression were weighing you down, I know that you didn’t feel it, but you truly are both brave and strong. Some days just getting out of bed is an accomplishment. AND

You gotta do, what you gotta do. Breathe. Live in the moment. Give yourself permission to take a break, say no, worry about it later, fail, let it go… Sleep is the best medicine. Except for laughter, that’s even better. Drink water. Get some fresh air. Move around. Wear what makes you feel good. Take long baths with candles and music and a pillow. Chocolate. True friends will understand. Meditate/pray/breathe in life. Thinking and Feeling are both important parts of life. Find balance. Sometimes you need your mom. And counselling. And medication. And that’s okay. FINALLY

You never really understand something, until you live it yourself. Knowing this, really knowing it, will give you a depth of compassion, a patience and a humility that makes you a quality friend, and a quality human being. We all struggle, the ins and outs of a person’s struggle aren’t nearly as important as this common ground.

I’m so proud of you – this year more than any other. Part of me wishes it had been a year of simple pleasures and innocent fun for you. But another part is grateful, because I see the extraordinary young woman you are becoming as a result. Who needs normal anyway?

Happy 15th birthday!

Love

Mom

balletishard

Happy Birthday, young lady! After the year you’ve had, you deserve a happy day indeed.

I’m sure when you turned 14 you had no idea you were about to have the hardest year of your life thus far, but life has a way of surprising us like that, unfortunately. It seems so unfair, though, that you should have to deal with knee injuries and anxiety and school drama on top of everything that was going on with B. So many times I have wished I could take some of these trials away from you, and lift the things that have been weighing you down. That’s not the way it works, of course. You’re becoming an adult (faster than I would like!), and the courage and perseverance you have developed during these tough times will only help you in the future.

I have been so proud of you this year. You have shown admirable wisdom in knowing when things are getting to be too much, and discipline in cutting back when necessary. You’ve bravely made difficult decisions, like your choice to change schools in September. You’ve shown tremendous maturity in your relationships, recognizing when you needed to pull back from people who weren’t providing the support that you needed. And you’ve displayed tremendous resilience as you fought through pain to deliver the best dance performances of your career.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that your contributions to our family this year have been invaluable and very much appreciated. As the oldest kid, you’ve had to carry responsibilities well beyond what is normal, as mom and I have bounced between hospital and work and everything else that demands our attention. Thank you for all the hours of babysitting, meals cooked, and the understanding you’ve shown when you get less attention than you deserve. I love you, and I can’t wait to see what your 16th year brings you. (Surely it can only be better, right?)

Love,

Dad

So here we are – continuing our family tradition of letters written to our kids for each birthday. 15 years has gone way too fast…

 


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