This time of year

It’s that time of year.

Christmastime.

And it’s not for everyone! In fact, I’m writing this for people who don’t love Christmas.

I kinda do. And I kinda don’t.

And this year it’s more like – don’t.

I recently wrote about depression and anxiety. Then, I buttoned it up, information-wise.

I’ve been avoiding the topic, secretly wondering if my depression and anxiety have managed to return like magic with jazz hands. I haven’t felt like admitting that. Nor have I felt like writing a word, because depression saps me of creative energy while simultaneously and confoundingly energizing the negative voice that spurns every word I write, every move I make. And I know the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and those were adverbs, right? And I know I could do without it being dark by 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time! Just like I know depression and anxiety, above all else, make no fucking sense.

I quit journalism and moved to the Washington, DC ahead of my family, who was still back in Oklahoma City until just a few days ago, wrapping our lives up. Well, they’re all on the way to the DC area now, to start, yet again, anew. And it’s exciting. And my job is so cool, and I get to be a professional activist and my co-workers are just incredibly capable and kind.

So why t.f. am I sad?

And am I sad? Or am I depressed? I can’t tell the difference this time of year.

There’s so much change afoot. When I’m not working, when my mind is unoccupied, often on my lonesome commute, waves of sadness knock me over. Is this a natural reaction to stress?

Is it normal to always stand against a pillar and exercise situational awareness because you think you’re going to be pushed onto the metro tracks? Is it normal to wonder each day which white dude is gonna bust out an AK out of his trench on and mow us all down? Ummmm……

To make myself feel better I’ve been listening to a new podcast called the Hilarious World of Depression. There, depression is called Clinny D, a phrase I will immediately adopt, with credit to the podcast.

The podcast entails comedians and other artists talking about depression. All of these funny, successful people are suuuuuper fucking sad.

I don’t remember the part in my life where I picked up Clinny D in Oklahoma City and told it to come along in my luggage to Washington, DC. I thought I left that all behind.

Nope.

Not to live in the past, but I’ve totally been living in the past. Because without my children here to keep me busy, my mind is unoccupied and wild, and it wanders, sometimes traveling to its dark little nooks. If ruminating were an Olympic sport I’d have eclipsed Michael Phelps long, long ago!

After Eli was born, we were in the NICU for 30 days, including on Christmas.

My mind has wandered backย  there in these last few days, revisiting extreme isolation and sadness. And I still remember taking breaks from the hospital to run errands, affronted by mother after mother with healthy baby after healthy baby after healthy baby ensconced in car seats perched on shopping carts.

I’d think of those healthy babies and lucky mothers while looking at my empty bassonet.

Would my son make it there, to the bassonet?

Or would he die an infant?

I didn’t know.

This time of year is when the phone rang and we learned Eli had a deadly illness.

This time of year I was in the NICU sitting next to my son in the incubator when the dumb fuck nurse loud-talked with the dumber-fuck lab tech and I overheard them say my baby had CF and his sweat test results were off the charts.

The lab tech sounded excited about how obvious my son’s CF was, and I still remember the sound of his scientifically satisfied chortle.

This time of year that nurse left the room and told me that, yep, Eli had CF, and then she didn’t call in a doctor.

A candy striper walked in and asked if she could take my son’s picture and I burst into tears, and I will never forget what she said next.

“Being here is traumatic, and they forget that.”

Yes they sure AF do.

She sprinted out the door and got a doctor to explain to me what the hell was going on.

God bless hospital volunteers.

Then m mind wandered to the present. I thought about other families in the NICU this time of year, how they must feel forgotten and sad and robbed of the life they thought they’d have, how their babies may never make it out of there.

I called my sister and informed her of my NICU flashbacks and empathy binges and she instantly diagnosed me with PTSD. She has no clinical background, but I fully accept this diagnosis.

This time of year I’d love to talk to my own mother about this. This time of year I feel her absence more than other times of year. This time of year I think of that time we had Christmas in August, because we all knew she was about to die.

What kept me afloat this week, because I’ve been too doomy gloomy to shop or partake in Christmas cheer / commercialism was to plot a little plot to stop my head from returning to the past.

My extended family donated the money we would have spent on each other to give seven foster children a Christmas morning. And, with what’s left over, I’m going to send hot meals to Ronald McDonald family rooms – the living room-style break rooms for families within children’s hospitals – in Oklahoma City and Washington, DC.

Not in December, but starting in February, when those in the hospital become even more invisible to the rest of us, who will have moved on to weight loss schemes and spring break plans.

This time of year I think back to my breaks in that hospital family room, to the little gifts and meals that made our hospital stay better. I went to write in that family room. I could breathe in there.

The other silver lining of this time of year is that we decided when Eli was hospitalized on Christmas to make every Christmas day like the end of “A Christmas Story,” and go get Chinese food.

I think I’m gonna re-up the effort to find a professional to sort it all out. And another one to keep tabs on my medication. Because, oops, I did that thing again where I pretended I could just take a pill and then sadness-or-is-it-depression-and-anxiety would go away and leave me alone forever. It didn’t

GUH. This time of year.

Advertisements

Breathe. It sounds so simple.

I’m trying my hand at meditation.

This is unlike me. I don’t have patience for such woo woo things, things like stopping and breathing.

I began to see a therapist this week. I arrived 20 minutes late.

It stressed me out. Which is the opposite of the point of therapy.

I noted that unlike seven years ago, when I tried a few sessions out for the first time,I did not feel shame walking through the door, which was not in a giant academic hospital satellite, emblazoned with the announcement ‘Depression Center ‘- sheesh why not just put it in neon? – but in a one-room office embedded deep in an 80s office building maze.

I wasn’t sure where to begin my navel gazing, so I sat down on a cushy white love seat embroidered with a white sateen brocade – not my style- and told her about my medication switching that I suspected ran afoul, and caused my panic attack.

Nothing had upset me the day of the panic attack, during which I could not stop crying or seemingly breathe. My son starting at a new school could be ma trigga, I said. He has an illness. Growing up is getting sicker, and even as we focus on the happiness and beauty and joy Eli (and of course buddy Laila ) bring our way, and that living with illness close at hand ย snaps into sharp focus, milestones are bittersweet. I told her I burst out sobbing to a school administrator a week or two before the panic attack, airing a fear that other kids would tell him he would die. Would make fun of him if he coughed. If I tried to put him in a hospital mask during the winter which I had at his last school, where no one batted an eyelash, because most kids there were there because they had health needs, often much more serious than Eli’s.

I told her I tried to shove depression and anxiety into a secret closet, where I fed it a pill through a slot each day and otherwise ignored it, even as seven years back it tried to kill me. I told her that shoving it into a dark locked closet wasn’t working out so hot for me. I told her about my heart palpitations amd insomnia and hands gone numb and dizzy spells. I reported that those all went away with Wellbutrin, though my chest has felt occasionally tight heading into Week 4 and I suspected SSRI withdrawl after seven years on Zoloft, the last three at 100 mg a day, had been behind my panic attack.

She told me that was a high dose.

Really? I asked. Because when my doctor doubled it three years ago when I told him my depression symptoms were returning he’d said it was a low dose, that he had patients in it for decades, some of them at 300 mg, which made me think NBD. Until I quit cold turkey, at his advice, while starting Wellbutrin, and experienced what I imagined was like a low-boil speed freak out that lasted a week. Except for those moments when it went high boil.

She took notes and told me she is a solution-oriented type of therapist. I told her good, because I’m a solution-oriented type of girl. She told me three times a day I should find time to take ten deep breaths, and showed me how to do this, from the belly.

I told her this is how we were trained to breathe in choir, but it had been a long time since I had the time to sing. Three times a day? When? Before I get out of bed, that should be No. 1, she told me. ย That worked. I’ve been deep breathing before work in my car, after I park and steal time to put on makeup and listen to the radio. I’ve also already been taking deep breaths at night when my children hold me hostage while they go to sleep.

1,2,3, badda bing badda boom.

I told her I have refused to afford myself any intellectual curiosity whatsoever regarding my depression and anxiety, which I pretended not to have, until a few weeks ago, when my husband sent me an email with a single line in the body, a link to a PBS documentary on the depression epidemic, which I watched.

I felt both enlightened and disappointed, because while the documentary illuminated the subject and especially the stigma, those they picked to feature could not have been more damn gloomy, which depressed me. I mean those motherfuckers were gloomy. DoomyMcFugginGloomy.

I told her the next link YouTube suggested was a TedTalk featuring the psychologist and author Andrew Solomon called “Depression, the secret we share.”

I hadn’t heard of him, but his book “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” which he spoke of, sounded fascinating.

I decided to give his book a chance, even though he started the talk with a super depressing and dramatic reading of an Emily Dickinson poem.

He lulled me back with the follow-up point that spoke to me: “Half of art is suffering.”

I’d put it at about 85 percent, Mr. Solomon.

The therapist gave me a few more YouTubes to check out. Another author to try, one specifically who addresses stigma around mental health.

I decided a few weeks ago to give this breathing business she had suggested a try.

Yes, I am already top of your class of one,therapist. Haha!

I downloaded the app Headspace, and tonight completed my first 10-minute unguided breathing.

Thus far, I gathered that while you shouldn’t try to suppress wandering thoughts, you should ‘touch them like a feather to fine crystal,’ which is a visual deserving of all the mockery.

I settled in nevertheless and attempted to deep breathe in my room whilst lying down, my children shrieking outside my door, playing games with dutiful Mark.

A sampling of my wandering thoughts included: Is this app voice Moss from the IT crowd? I love Moss from IT crowd. Seriously is this him? *reenacts IT Crowd Moss-isms in head* Christmas shopping – should I get it underway? Oh, here comes the memory of our trip to The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, considered by Mark a hellscape, but it did allow me to start Christmas shopping in early August. Monarch butterfly eggs- are they in my garden and should I go looking for them with the kids? Does meditation have some overarching point? I’m a whore for goals, so what’s my goal here? Should I stop setting goals. Yes, I probably should. Oh shit, I better focus on my breath.

You get the picture. In between those thoughts, tickled with my feather to fine crystal (or not, but acknowledged), I did think about breath, of my cozy blanket, the screeching children, the cacophonous cicadas, my breath. There may have been microseconds of a fairly clear mind in there. Maybe.

Just breathing is harder than it sounds.

I’m a goal whore. Look how much breathing and nothing else I’ve done!

SSR BYE: breaking up is hard to do

Dear me where was I…

I went to the ER the other with what turned out to be a panic attack. I next visited my doctor’s office as I didn’t just want to take whatever the ER had prescribed without talking over a plan first.

At our family doc, who I adore btw he is the sweetest man ever, I described how my emotional range spanned 0-100. And by that I mean I was either a zero or a 100, crying or screaming, zero stops in between, which I found humiliating. And somebody please send my husband a bottle of gin. My chest was still tight, I told doc. I still felt like I couldn’t  breathe a deep breath.

He put me back on 25 mg of Zoloft i.e. sertraline to take this edge off of the 150 mg of Wellbutrin, which will take a few weeks to kick in. And then I got BuSpar, an as-needed or up to thrice-daily anxiety medicine.

And I lost six pounds in a week.

“Maybe I’ll finally get the bikini bod if my dreams, I told my doc. “Inhabited by the dragon lady, though!”

And I thought about what had just transpired, from the weeping to the screaming. 

Is that what I’m like under all the pills? Is that the real me??? I asked doc. Dear God that’s depressing!

He told me no. 

It was either the meds coming in or those going out that made my emotions go haywire. 

I felt relieved. Because I don’t want to release the cracken . ever .again. 

I tried the new-new medicine schedule. I couldn’t sleep, and today, my chest is still tight.

It occurred to me that I may have taken two Wellbutrin by mistake yesterday. I remember holding the pill bottle in my hand, thinking “Why does this feel like dejavu?”

Like, was that a panic attack or Wellbutrin rager ala speed freak out? I’ve heard good things about Wellbutrin. It is non-addictive. Energizing.  No one told me I’d have a speed freak out. And come to think of it I had a lot of coffee yesterday since that had become my habit, slogging through with the help of caffeine. Will I freak out on a wellbutrin and caffeine? Is that spelled out anywhere? I hadn’t thought to ask even after being told the drug was a stimulant. I want to give it a month. I need to get a pillbox. I’m old and forgetful. 

On Zoloft I spent six sedated years fighting weight gain and feeling feelings between 0 and 100, not often on one extreme or the other, but sometimes, yeah, of course. When sorrow visited I let it in and then I let it out, because sorrow is a manageable guest, and I’ve had to learn to live with it right next to joy.  Eli started school and I felt so much happiness and then immediate sorrow because he does have an illness that means every year older is another year sicker. Right in the palm of my hand, sorrow and joy, all the time. But beauty is more beautiful next to sorrow. Happiness happier. Joy more full when sorrow is always so close. And I felt by and large normal for so long right up until my hands started going numb. And an invisible vice squeezed my heart, which even in a compressed state started skipping beats. And I became dizzy at random. And I couldn’t sleep. And I have too much to do to deal with extra fatigue. And I remembered how I could slide so easily into darkness, just over the way. Sorrow was pulling me there, beckoned by darkness. Following sorrow would be easy and familiar. Joy needed a little kick to turn me around. Just a boost of Wellbutrin for good ol Joy. But then we were zooming all over the valley, moving too fast, up the mountain and down.

That can’t  be my only alternative. 

I still need to find a therapist. I know I may.

Please someone send Mark a bottle of gin. 

The end

Mental: The manifesto

I’ve written here for a long time, and for a long time, I’ve been lying. I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve been lying to every reader.

Continue reading Mental: The manifesto