No Dirt Nap Today

A while ago my brother asked me to describe my thoughts when I’m depressed. I was caught off guard-very few people have asked me that. I stammered and fumbled and finally said I couldn’t, but that maybe someday, I could write it down. He encouraged me to do that. I’ve given it a lot of thought since then. How does one describe something like that? I tend to over communicate a lot, so where do I draw the line? I don’t want to be too graphic and upset anyone. It’s some pretty naked, soul-bearing stuff. And it’s dark. As much as I promote opening up to your loved ones (at least one. Don’t have anyone in your life you can confide in? Find yourself a great psychiatrist. You will have no greater ally) and being honest about your symptoms and feelings, there might be some things better left unsaid until you see your psychiatrist. Grandma might not want to know there are times you have a strong urge to stab yourself and watch your blood circle the drain. So it’s a bit of a conundrum. What goes on in my head? Hmm…I just had a vision of myself spilling my guts to my wide eyed, horrified brother, while the rest of the family is sneaking up behind me with a straight jacket and a syringe.

So what the hell. Here I go.

Let me start with a couple of metaphors from the movies. The first one is a scene in “The Never Ending Story II.” The main character, a young boy named Atrayu, has to travel through the swamp of sadness on his journey with his horse, Artax. He was warned to never stop, to keep going and not give in to the sadness or he would sink into the bog and die. Well, it was the horse that ended up being overcome with sadness and sank while Atrayu screamed and begged it to fight. The first time I saw this scene I bawled and the kids bawled and we were just an inconsolable mess (we’re a sensitive lot.) They thought I was crying about the horse pegging out (you will find me using many of Robin Williams’ death metaphors that he used in one of my favorite movies ever, Patch Adams. If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately. You may finish reading my blog first,) which I was too, but more than that, I was identifying with it (man, how did they make that horse look so sad?) It was a powerful scene, and it hit home.

Harry Potter’s dementors are probably the clearest and strongest metaphor for depression I have found to date (Courtesy of the brilliant J.K. Rowling, whom I am a huge fan of, as are my boys who grew up with Harry Potter). These guys are dark and cold and they suck all the joy, light, and hope out of you, leaving you feeling nothing but hopeless despair. They can even suck out your soul. As I go down in my cycle, I start feeling more and more like my soul, my personality-everything that makes me me-is gone. Detached from everyone and everything, a dead hollow thing, but with huge, overwhelming emotions. Negative ones. I had chills the first time I saw the episode of Harry Potter when Harry and Ron had their first encounter with a dementor and Ron said he felt like he would never feel cheerful again. That’s exactly what it feels like. Everything is dark, grey and shitty.

The dementors also guard the prison, Azkaban, where the prisoners inevitably go mad from always being in their presence and the constant barrage of horrible thoughts the dementors put in their heads. The feeling of going insane is terrifying. It’s a helpless, horrible place to be. I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that J.K. Rowling has experienced depression. You’d have to have been there, I think, to be able to come up with such a perfect metaphor.

Combine these two concepts and you might get a bit of an idea. Dementors circling and swooping around you while you are slogging through that depressing swamp. Everything in and around you is telling you you will never feel sunshine again, never stop feeling heavy, sad, hopeless, worthless, so just give up, stop fighting it, lay down and let go. The idea of giving up becomes more and more appealing the longer you slog along, because you’re just so damn tired. Tired of fighting, tired of trying to be the person you are supposed to be, used to be. It takes such a tremendous amount of mental energy to function normally when inside you are panicking and screaming and wanting more than anything to hide away from everything and everyone (yes, this people person is quite unsociable for a good chunk of the year.) And sad. So damn sad, all the time. Decision making is difficult and brings on chest crushing anxiety. Thoughts are distorted, feelings are too intense, emotions are inappropriate (explosive anger over nothing, guilt for no reason etc.) and that constant self-loathing berating, critical, inner voice, beating you over the head with every mistake and regret in your memory.

I think the hardest thing for people to understand, is that circumstances are not responsible for this kind of depression. You can have the most perfect life possible and have great things happening, but when it’s that time in your bipolar cycle to go down, you will go down. Bad circumstances at this time certainly make it suck more, because your coping skills have buggered off along with all your happy thoughts.

And here I am again. This is my time of year in the swamp.

I’m going to fight it though, like I always do. I have a lot of living to do before I cash in my chips. I know my cycle. I know I will begin going up again by the end of summer. I am working with my doc to get the meds right. They work for a while, then they stop working and I have to try new ones (he says I am very resistant to medication. I’ve kind of noticed that, thanks doc.) I have fought against taking medication and tried to go without. It never went well. It’s different for everyone, but I am pretty sure they save my life. Without medication, I go down to a level where everything I previously described increases to an intensity that is unbearable. Thoughts and reality become warped and self loathing becomes hatred to a degree where you want to hurt yourself. Suicide becomes a real threat when you get low enough to believe that even your closest loved ones would be better off with you gone. That is the bottom of my pit that medication keeps me out of.

With the medication, I’m in the swamp. Without it, I’m in Azkaban.

I am continuously striving to add new coping mechanisms to my arsenal. I’ve started yoga and meditation (any idea how hard it is to meditate when you have ADHD?) and I try to replace bad thoughts with something good, like the names of my loved ones repeated over and over. It’s hard to think about death with those faces flashing through your mind. I listen to others on Youtube, picking up bits of wisdom from their experiences. I read books and I do research continuously. And I lean on my family.

Writing about this has been harder than I thought. It brings back some tough memories. It hurts me to think how close I’ve come to ending it and hurting my family in that way. I would have missed my son’s wedding, my youngest son’s graduation, the birth of my first grandchild-a lifetime of love and experiences that could have been lost. And I have been thinking of you all, my bipolar friends, and how many of you are experiencing this stuff and hurting. I hope you are well and hanging in there. We can thrive and be happy, you know, but we have to fight for it. Take good care of yourselves. Make sure you are getting help, even if it takes going through ten doctors before you find the right one. You deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect so don’t take any shit. Be kind to yourselves. And don’t give up. Get through the swamp so you can get on with your life. Don’t take that dirt nap yet.

3 thoughts on “No Dirt Nap Today

  1. Thank you. I have suffered from circumstancial depressen thanks to meds and couseling i no longer suffer. You are right about Dr shopping like clothing shopping not all clothes are for you…same as Dr’s there is a Dr for you.
    Keep on blogging!!

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  2. I’m pasting this from an article I was featured on in late 2012 regarding how I experience depression. It seemed to resonate with a number of people, so if my words can help describe what you’re going thought, please feel free to use them. The only thing that keeps me here more often than not is family.

    On September 12th of this year my lifelong struggle with depression became overwhelming. I spoke with the therapist that I had only been working with for a few weeks and leveled with her about my state of mind and my overwhelming sense of hopelessness looking forward. The following night I met with her supervisor along with my wife and at his prompting, I agreed to go inpatient at a psychiatric hospital near Boston, MA. Though my struggle has been severe at times, I’ve never been hospitalized. This was both terrifying and a relief for me, as I had been fighting with the idea of giving up for some time. For my wife, this was extremely difficult as she hadn’t realized how bad things had become for me. I had reached the point where after trying over 20 different antidepressants over the last few years with little to no response from each of them and years in and out of therapy without any relief that I had become desperate.

    Living with constant depression is a hell that unless one has been there isn’t conceivable to them. With every passing day your willpower is chipped away at slowly. You become exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. You cease to have interest in anything that you once enjoyed. You don’t return phone calls or emails. If you are one of the lucky ones, like myself, you are still able to get up and go to work every day, but you don’t really engage in your work or your life anymore. You end up working and sleeping, occasionally getting sick since you seem more susceptible to illness. You don’t live anymore, you exist. You unwillingly maintain a pulse in the shell of what used to be you. The emotional pain is overwhelming, so much so that you find it difficult to even cry, much less find some other way of expressing it. People that care about you will ask what it is specifically that’s bothering you. You skim your thoughts and find no reason for it. If it had a reason – a source – you’d have something to fight. As you become more withdrawn your relationship with you spouse/significant other is strained, as well as your relationship with family members.

    The constant questions from others becomes intolerable. Your lack of real explanation becomes irritating to both them and you. Eventually you learn to hide. You put on your fake smile, laugh at jokes and engage in conversations when necessary. You learn to hide in plain sight, even from yourself. If you are like me and the depression lasts for months, sometimes up to a couple of years at a time, people that you interact with every day may only know the act that you put on instead of ever really knowing you. It just further reinforces the isolation.

    When I went into the hospital I had reached the point where this was no longer acceptable to me. If it weren’t for those that would be hurt by my premature death, I would without a doubt, no longer be here. In my early 20’s my best friend, whom I had also fallen in love with but never told her, had killed herself in a car accident. That loss was the single most painful and devastating moment in my life. I refuse to cause that pain for anyone else, but at the same time, I no longer wish to suffer. So, the struggle continues. I love my wife. I love my family. I also love myself enough to take into consideration my own quality of life.

    Before jumping tot he conclusion that I’m all doom and gloom, I’m not. I actually look at most things (politics aside) quite optimistically. I don’t believe that I’m a bad person, or that bad things happen any more to me than they do the next person. I believe that life is truly random – fate isn’t a logical concept to me. I don’t feel or believe that I deserve to feel the way I do, but I don’t hold anyone accountable for it either. It just.. Is. I have a very good life right now. I just seem to lack the capacity to feel the joy that should accompany it. It’s not a matter of just smiling more, or letting go of something, or anything like that. I wish it were.

    I know my depression affects others as well. I know it has a significant impact on my wife and my closest friends. I feel terrible about that. I accept that they love and accept me as I am, but I’d be a fool to ignore that this impacts them in a negative way. I’m a reasonable and practical man. I’ve put forth a stellar effort in finding peace with this over the years. Though it’s not rational, I feel like I’ve failed. I’ve failed myself and those that I love by not being able to overcome this somehow after all this time, money and effort. If it gets to the point where I’m no longer able to work I don’t know that I’ll be able to accept the amount of burden that will place on my loved ones.

    If someone you know suffers from severe debilitating depression and can’t give you an answer as to why they are depressed, please, have compassion for them. To struggle silently with this is hard enough, but to not even know of an underlying reason for it just feels like cruel punishment. They aren’t necessarily avoiding talking about it, but might not know what to say. For me, in my darkest hours, hearing that I am loved, valued and cared for from those closest to me is crucial. It’s not that I don’t know it already, or that I lose sight of it, or anything like that… It’s just a comfort to hear. Knowing someone is still there for you even after years of trying to help you through your suffering is more comforting than anything. Though a solution and a way out of this hell would be nice, just knowing you aren’t on the journey alone might just be the only thing that someone like me has left to hold onto.

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