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.

I’m Nobody’s Chicken Soup

Being a teacher has given me the opportunity to observe a lot of kids over the years. Even with the huge variety of personalities, temperaments, talents and behaviors I can basically sort them into 3 main categories, type I, type II and type III (pretty catchy, huh?)

The type I kid is your garden variety typical kid, fairly even tempered, not difficult to reason with, usually does well in school, and respects authority. There will be the occasional bad decision or judgement call, but this kid learns quickly from mistakes. Raising these kids is not a huge challenge.

The type II category features your “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul” kid. This kid is a sensitive and gentle soul; quiet, slow to anger, and super mellow. The chances of a type II child developing any stress related illness in his or her lifetime is very unlikely. They rarely challenge authority and don’t need much discipline. They step back and watch when their peers do stupid things, rather then succumbing to peer pressure. I have a kid like this and honestly, I’ve had houseplants with more attitude. Type II kids are easy to raise. They respect your authority and on the odd occasion when they are out of line, all it takes is a solid parental stink eye to make them tremble and correct their path.

That brings us to the third category. The kids in this group can give the average adult a full blown anxiety attack in under five minutes. (I also had one of these. He was a real peach. More about him later.) They are hot-tempered, excessively energetic, disruptive, wilful little balls of fire. Their volume levels? Just two. Loud and louder. They make teachers take sick leave or find other careers altogether, and it is not uncommon for their haggard parents to seek comfort in alcohol. These kids are intense.

I was in this group.

When I was very young, I thought I was a normal kid-you know, just like other kids. I made mud pies, climbed trees and played with snakes. I tore jewellery off the necks of ladies in church (their reflexes were no match for my lightening fast ninja toddler hands-hiiyaaah!) and made those same ladies scatter, screaming, at our church picnics with fists full of frogs. Any time there was something stupid or dangerous for kids to do, (often both)  I was either the driving force behind the whole operation, or the first in line (often both.) I also had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. You know that filter people have between their brains and their mouths? I wasn’t born with one of those. I was more than willing to share whatever was on my mind, the very second it popped up. This got me in a world of trouble wherever I went, especially where a certain amount of decorum was expected. Let’s just say I was not a hit at birthday parties.  What was funny to me, was just wildly inappropriate most of the time. It was during the course of my school years that I became aware of the fact that I was different. Kids have a way of letting you know what your “flaws” are. Humiliation , isolation and regret are good teachers. I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. All I wanted was to have friends and for everyone to like me, so I tried hard-too hard-and in all the wrong ways to make this happen.

Years later when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I connected a few dots of my own. After answering “yes” to every single question on the diagnostic checklist for him, (the kid was a textbook case, and a thrill for the group of paediatricians and psychologists that had him under their microscope. A fine little specimen he was.) I couldn’t help but notice how many of those questions got me thinking about my life. I could only conclude that the kid came by it honestly.

Looking back, knowing what I know now about ADHD, I was a fairly cut and dried case. I was immature for my age, impulsive, and my emotions were intense. I had a crazy imagination, a very inquisitive nature, a strong will, and the energy to fuel these characteristics relentlessly. So you can guess that more often than not, this combination of traits proved to be disastrous in most social settings or interactions with folks who liked order in their universe.

One of the main problems was my lack of control over my emotions. Everything was too intense. My mother always said I was like a raw nerve, that I felt everything twice as intensely as other people. When I was sad, I wanted to fling myself out the nearest window. Happiness was difficult to express adequately, having lacked the gymnastic skills to lunge into a fantastic layout of forward handsprings, aerials, back handsprings and cartwheels to convey my joy. And when I was angry, well, I just lost my shit. I could bring on a nosebleed, screaming. Coping skills were yet to be learned, and all those around me waited for the acquisition of these with great anticipation. And desperation.

My overall lack of social skills conflicted with one very important thing. My love for people. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong. I had an extreme need to love and be loved. I suppose everybody has this need to a certain degree, whether they think so or not, right? Don’t you think? Other then sociopaths, maybe. And dead people.

So I’ve learned a lot from observing kids, having my own, and reading. All the information available today is a tremendous asset. I can look up brain differences between ADHD brains and non ADHD brains and learn about the structural and biochemical differences I was born with. The more I dig, the more I can see that I was not entirely responsible for my actions, and that’s helping me hate that little kid in my memory a little less every day.