Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Phoning it in: on Living With, and Surviving, Depression
Note: I've been a depression and anxiety sufferer/survivor for more than 25 years. This is not meant to encapsulate anyone else's experience with mental illness. Only mine. Please do not read if you are triggered by talk of depression and suicide.
There is no one, perfect way to "cure" or "help" someone with depression. All we have is our own, individual coping structures, our own paths to getting better or just getting almost there. But we can find places to share our burdens and a community to lean on.
I write this to remind myself, and others, that we're alone in this together.
A few years ago, one terrible December evening, I called a suicide prevention hotline. I stank of sweat and stale booze. I was curled in a tangle of sheets that I hadn't left in at least 10 hours. My ankle hurt, from where I had twisted it trying to hail a taxi the night before. I ached everywhere. My hands were shaking. All I wanted to do was stay in bed until it killed me. But I googled and found a number. I made a call. It lasted less than five minutes. Once the dispassionate person on the other line established I didn't have an actual gun in my hand or a bottle of pills ready to swallow, I was alone once more.
Alone with my disease. Alone with depression and anxiety that turned me into a person I didn't recognize. One that cried in public, demanded love from people who could never give it and used every dark moment as proof that she was worthless and unlovable. One that used alcohol to punish herself and to drown herself in turns. I'd been on a collision course with rock bottom for months. It was just a matter of time till I had that hard landing.
The call was a rude awakening of sorts. Because clearly there were people who really needed to be on that hotline. If I wasn't killing myself right then I must be better off, right? Or maybe I just wasn't worth the help? I didn't know. But the conundrum, the shame and the guilt for wasting five minutes of that volunteer's time, did keep me alive that night. Of course, what I realize now is that I was dying in increments, and that you can't quantify an illness like depression. It's not something you have "more" or "less" than someone else. It just is.
The next day, Sunday, I showered. I made myself coffee. And I joined an anonymous addiction support website and started hanging out in their chat room to tide me over until I could make a doctor's appointment. Reading the material offered by the site, working a few of their suggestions, I realized fairly quickly that addiction was a symptom of what I had, not the actual disease. Hard liquor and bad choices were my partners in crime sometimes when I thought I had nobody else. Even so, that would be the beginning of nine months of unbearably smug and self-deluded sobriety. When I fell off that shiny wagon, I fell off it hard, and I still regret what happened.
So, yeah, going off the sauce wasn't the solution; it was an ill-fitting bandage on a far larger wound. What did help was seeing a psychiatrist, which I got around to a few weeks after my experience with the hotline. The call to make the appointment was a whisper, full of embarrassed desperation, and I remember telling the doctor a mortified but sincere "thank you" when she called me back with a date and time. It was the right call for me. I'd been in therapy before a few times, but never really thought about getting on a regular medication. I'm glad I finally did.
I'm on Lexapro now for the depression and Ativan for my anxiety. I'm in talk therapy as well. I have more good days than bad. I let myself drop the happy clown act around my friends. I allow myself to have silence if I need it. I try to breathe. I try not to judge myself too harshly. I try to say "yes" when a good thing comes my way. I try to talk on social media about what it's like to live with my illnesses and to erase the stigma of being South Asian and depressed.
But I am still often alone with a disease. And my partners in crime still show up to play on occasion. I slipped last week, in fact. I woke up feeling hungover and awful and ugly...like I failed somehow after being "good" for so long. Because that's what depression does: remind you that you're never really "healed." That you will always fuck up. That this chemical thing in your head is always there. Sometimes it's just quieter is all. Sometimes you almost forget about it.
And then Robin Williams dies and you think, "Oh, fuck. There it is." You think, "If a man that brilliant can still be suffering at 63, what hope do I have?"
And then you think...you really, really try to think..."No. No, there's always got to be hope."
I recognize myself now, and most of the time I like the person I see. That's got to mean something. That's got to mean everything. That's got to be the call I make every single day.
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It's hard to say this next part but I wish you viewed your sober experiment as a positive thing. It wasn't the only answer, but it helped lead you to a better path. Drinking and depression are a dangerous combination. I didn't find you smug about not drinking.