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.