I have a goal.  It’s one that appears simple, to the outside world.  But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that things rarely are what they seem.  We are masters at putting up fronts that misdirect and mislead people.  For some, this is done with malicious intent.  While for others, it’s done as a means of survival.  We hide from what we fear.

My goal is to make it through.  To accept the things I cannot change.  To turn my weaknesses into strengths.

It’s not to live without, but to live with.  And to succeed.

What is success?  For me, it’s not riches and luxury.  It’s being able to take my life one day at a time and to relish in the positives, even if and when there are dark clouds hovering over me.  Even when the enormity of my mental health is putting indescribable amounts of pressure and pain on me.

When I was younger my mother coached me through breathing exercises to get through physical pain.  It’s something that has served me well throughout the years, considering the multiple surgeries and emergent care situations I have had to endure.  And it is something that will serve me well once labor pains begin in September.  The idea of these exercises can be used with mental and emotional anguish, as well.

We breathe deeper to regulate our intake of oxygen, which helps to expand blood vessels and acts as a way to slow our racing hearts when a panic attack seizes us.  The physiological symptoms of a psychological event can exacerbate the situation in a cyclical fashion, so we use physiological controls to help slow down the steam of the psychological freight train moving through our system.  But what about when there is a two-pronged attack?

I have many descriptors for my depression.  The most accurate, in my mind, is the black hole.  And while this describes qualities of depression, and to a certain extent some of the physical characteristics of depression, I think it fails to portray the minutiae of depression.

I was recently asked what occurs on days I suffer the extreme gravitational pull of the black hole.  And when cataloguing things in my head, I realized it’s hard to describe, to categorize, to really provide an insightful answer.  And the reason is because there are so many interacting levels that it all sounds like a convoluted cloud of nonsense.

Physically, depending on the severity of what I feel, I stay in bed, I write, I stare out the window, and if at all possible (which occurs rarely, and only when I feel I have adequate energy) I take a walk.  Mentally, I think, and oftentimes too much, or I try to absolve the internal monologue when it is drawn to divisive rhetoric.  Emotionally, this is the simplest answer: I hurt.  I hurt in the same way quiet can be deafening.  So much numbness can cause things to cease working, to die, to atrophy.  And in that way, the numbness of depression causes pain that can be expressed through physical and psychic outlets.

In the year 2010-2011 I experienced, for lack of a better descriptor, life.  Events were unfolding that were slowly tearing apart the fabric of my self-esteem, and I was too immature to handle any of it without becoming a monster and hurting people close to me.  I fell into one of the worst depressive episodes of my life and my days consisted of not showering, not eating, and being so paralyzed by everything that I could not even choose a movie to put on to distract me.  I would spend hours staring at the stacks of DVDs next to the television.  And not because I was engrossed in this decision, because I knew no matter what I chose I wouldn’t pay attention to it, but because the act of choosing was literally too much for me to handle.  I became absolutely paralyzed with it.

And the simplest answer to “how” this happened is that I don’t know, to a degree.  I know that my lack of nutrient in-take aided in the worsening of my condition, and as a result I try to force myself to eat whenever I start feeling the immensity of the black hole, despite lacking any physical desire to eat.  I know lack of exercise, even something as simple as taking a walk, aided in the worsening of my condition, and as a result I try to force myself to move, to take small walks, to exist outside the couch or bed and build upward from there, despite physical pain and feeling laden with lead.

While these take care of some elements of depression, the one I find the most difficult is operating with the inner monologue.  If the black hole had a voice, it would be one that advocates giving up, inducing fear and anxiety, reminding me of all the negative things not only I think about myself, but also of all the negative things others might think of me, too.  I once read that those who suffer depression oftentimes fear judgement above and beyond anything.  At first I wasn’t sure, because it felt superficial, but the more I thought about it, the more accurate this statement became.

I judge myself more harshly than anyone.  And I fear others judgement will only reiterate the negativity circulating in my head.  I do not desire being well liked.  Which is to say my end-goal in life is not to have countless friends, because the idea of anyone knowing me well-enough to truly like or not like who I am absolutely terrifies me.  It means they will have had to get through my insulation, they will have to move through the superficial.  They will have had to get close enough to see the darkness swirling behind my eyes (which also means they need the empathy to understand that the darkness there is not directed at them, but turned inward, and in my experience not many people do).  And opening myself up that much means I open myself up to others judgement.  And we are a judgmental society.

My end-goal in life is to make it through.  To accept the things I cannot change.  To turn my weaknesses into strengths.  It’s not to live without depression, because that isn’t a reality, but to live with depression.  And to succeed.

A comment and a response.

Last evening an individual attempted to leave a comment on my previous post.  As moderator of the blog, I opted to trash the comment rather than address it.  That decision did not sit well with me, and for many reasons.  I shared my story to help open up dialogue about mental health; my case is specific to clinical depression and anxiety.  Part of my impetus was to enlighten individuals about these subjects, because it’s been proven that secrecy regarding these issues reinforces the negative motivation behind them, and therefore the act of doing them.  When we opt to remain silent about the struggles we live with we give them power, we induce a level of anxiety and fear regarding otherwise rational understandings that lead to irrational phobias and deep-seeded fears.  Those who have diagnosed mental illness have an additional hurdle: our bodies’ inability, on a genetic and chemical level, to hasten response and begin operating positively in reaction to stressors.  Where one person’s brain can produce the needed serotonin and dopamine to respond to an otherwise psychically painful day, my brain is less capable.  It produces the chemicals, but not in amounts that reduce anxiety or siphon off overwhelming sadness.  To quote one of my favorite lyricists and artists: “our brains are sick, but that’s okay” (Tyler Joseph).

But, the reason I am opting to respond now is that at the first sign of antagonism I ran with my tail between my legs.  The comment not only reminded me there is still much misunderstanding regarding mental health, but it also highlighted the importance of willing empathy.  This comment was a prime example in misunderstanding.  Every person’s experience is different, and even if there are shared history or genetics, there is no way to completely predict how those genes express themselves.  And forcing an understanding catered specifically to one person’s experience is where misunderstanding insidiously blooms.  It creates harmful, not just hurtful, consequences.

Below I will re-post the comment and then respond with more in-depth detail.  I have chosen to leave the poster anonymous, aside from gender specific pronouns, since I am singling out his comment.

“Nice opening for a discussion of depression. A description… quite articulate… of what depression can be like. How it feels.

But the discussion cannot end with this. It should not end with expressions of how it feels or just empathy.

There are many options for battling this demon. And in our world of narrowly focused experts it is not a good idea to rely on any one expert. Or conclude that popping the right pill is the solution. Or risking becoming an enabler by limiting the response to creating a protective environment for the depressed person.

Psychotherapy and self-awareness can help. But is it helping when 10 years later the problem persists? The war is not over until the demon can be consistently kept at bay through improved life style habits. This takes more work than sitting through therapy sessions or popping pills.

Here is a list of holistic strategies to consider and act on.

Nutrition. Some people have unique or rare or unusual nutritional needs to keep their systems functioning in balance. Much nutritional information is based on statistical studies. Many people do not fit into statistical norms. If you are struggling with depression have you explored your individual nutritional needs? Perhaps you do need mega doses of a certain B vitamin or some other nutrient?

Exercise. We live in this sedentary world. It is not what the human body was “designed” for. Abused systems break down and get gummed up. Can at least one hour of aerobic exercise a day cure depression? Try it for 2 months and find out.

Mindset. Learn about it. Read the book. It’s not about snapping out of depression. It’s about deciding to keep exploring options and taking actions until something makes a difference.

Yoga. Exercises to control and balance inner forces. This one I know little about but it would be on my list of options to explore.

Self Help books and programs. Consume them all. It’s part of the war on depression. You will learn more than any one therapist can teach.

Acupuncture. Centuries of oriental experience must have come up with some great ideas.

Buddhism or other spiritual ideas. The quest is inner peace.

The list is far from exhausted. The point is that a mere explanation of what depression is like is only the introduction. And arguing for patience while going through years of therapy is not good enough. Life is passing by. Winning the war on depression takes an aggressive multi front effort.

I will save my thoughts on enablers of depression for another day.”

I appreciate your comment, and I agree that the discussion cannot end here.  It has to continue to spread outward, and part of that comes from those of us that have mental illness being willing to share our experience, despite knowing there will be open hostility and reprisal, even from people closest to us.  It has been an unfortunate reality of my experience, and I know others have dealt with it, as well.

I commend you for doing research on the subject, and finding a path that works for you.  I, too, have put in a significant amount of effort figuring out my disease (I apologize if you do not suffer from mental illness; I made the assumption based on the detailed list you supplied) and the way it interacts in my life, which is why I feel it is necessary to address your assumption that individuals who derive a treatment plan with their chosen medical profession only “rely on any one expert”.  It is a grave fallacy to believe that those who suffer mental illness do so passively.  There is a difference between accepting the physiological reality that I need help to produce the same levels of dopamine an otherwise “healthy” brain would be able to produce and accepting that I am fundamentally altered and therefore should let this chemical quirk derail my life.

To continue, I have not relied on the advice of any one expert.  I have relied on the advice of many experts, including medical professionals trained in these fields.  I mentioned that at the age of sixteen I was diagnosed with these illnesses.  Since that age I have seen upwards of four psychiatrists, two psychotherapists, a family counselor, a group counselor, my primary care from youth, and my current primary care.  They all come at this medical issue with varying degrees of understanding, as well as individual and unique perspectives.  Each of these professionals, along my path, have aided in developing coping mechanisms that operate on a physical level (my heart rate, breathing, etc.) and a psychic level (visualization and mediation).  Your “holistic” approaches are the exact things being discussed inside the walls of my therapist’s office.  And in-fact, these approaches have been a long-standard in short-term and long-term treatment with accredited medical professionals.  They do not eradicate depression, seeing as depression and anxiety cannot be eradicated, but they do help sufferer’s reach remission and remain in remission.  Again, it is a gross misunderstanding to believe that depression can be “cured”.  My depression is as inherent as my eye color and skin color.  It is derived from genetics and body chemistry, therefore unless I somehow alter my very DNA, there is no way I will not suffer the side effects brought on by these genetic hiccups.  The choice every sufferer has to face is how they handle those side effects.

In order to ease your mind (because I assume part of the reason behind your comment was to alert me to choices outside what you interpreted as me “giving up”) I began a treatment plan with my primary care and psychotherapist in March 2015.  I opted to resume antidepressants and therapy, with special attention towards building mechanisms that act on my physiological self, as they are the stagnate aspects to my depression and anxiety.  Regardless of what brings on an episode, or where my mind inevitably gravitates, the physical side effects of my depression remain constant, and as such meditation and diaphragm breathing have become integral tools in my recovery.  And this is something that has been advocated for by each doctor I have seen through my journey.  (This is the same with nutrition and exercise; it is part of the reason I am conscientious about the food I put into my body, and why I began a consorted effort to prepare all my own meals to avoid any unknowns.)

Though I appreciate the options you provide, please be aware that a majority of the items listed are already being used by the narrow-minded experts you railed against.  Additionally, I find it somewhat disconcerting that you opted to leave a comment that ends with “[w]inning the war on depression” on a post that not only advocates for patience and understanding, but also details the detriment and harm statements like the above can actually cause to persons struggling with mental illness.  To believe, and promote, the idea that depression can somehow be “beat” is hugely disadvantageous and oftentimes helps generate a sense of impending doom when the effects of depression present again, after a believed victory over a hard-fought war.  It’s why the metaphor of a burning building is so apt.  We do not get to choose whether or not we are in the fire, our genetics have already caused our surroundings to erupt in flame; what we can, do, though, is find ways that allow us to remain in that fire and not be burned alive by it.

To further this metaphor, let me add, we can put the fire out.  As a sufferer, as someone standing in the midst of it, I can make choices that help me remain in the flames as I fight them.  Those coping mechanisms – the exercise, nutrition, medication, meditation, diaphragm breathing, etc. _ are all choices that provide a better chance of putting the flames out without suffering too many burns and scars.  I am not sure there is an individual alive that would opt to choke on the ash-filled air over having the ability to gulp fresh-air.  If anything, we appreciate the fresh-air more.  Even those who commit suicide are chasing after that fresh-air.  They just feel they ran out of options.

My final message for you, though, addresses the idea of an “enabler” of depression.  This mythical individual does not exist.  Since depression is experienced via the conduit of our genetic expression – in laymen’s terms it is experienced due to our DNA and how those genes uniquely and non-duplicitously exhibit and interact – no one can provide more “material” or “promote” depression.  Someone can enable the actions of a depressed person, and therefore enable destructive habits, but it is impossible to enable depression.  The reason I delve into this distinction is because there is a fine line between enabling destructive behavior and supporting a person dealing with a depressive episode.  And unfortunately, there are dire consequence if the two are confused.

The reason I called people to empathy was because there is a very simple, yet extremely difficult, truth to depression: it is never the same.  Since this is an illness that is derived in genetics, there is no possible way two people can have the same experience in depression and anxiety.  And because of this simple truth the only way someone should interact with sufferers of depression and anxiety is with willing empathy.  It has to be the bridge that connects everyone else to the person in the depths of the disease.  And to support someone with depression is as simple as acknowledging the necessity of that bridge and helping to build it.

I open this up to further discussion.  By all means, the intent of the original post was to shed light on a very real and very painful issue.  Many people suffer in silence due to fear of reprisal from friends, family, and co-workers.  It was part of the reason I remained in the dark for so long about an issue that has truly consumed my life.  I am twenty-nine, and thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to explore the impacts this disease has on me, and I’ve been given time and space to reflect and garner new understanding (not everyone is so lucky).

It has not been an easy process, nor has it been pain-free, but it is mine and because of that I wouldn’t change it.  And I am not naïve enough to believe that I will wake up and be “fixed” one day.  I am not broken.  Nothing of my biology needs changed.  I do not want to eradicate this disease, I simply want to live with it.  My depression is inherent, so to desire a “me” without depression is to set myself up for inevitable and soul-crushing disappointment.  I have accepted that I will live with this disease – I do not, have not, nor will I ever, let this disease overtake me, even if I can understand, and empathize with, the motivation behind those life-ending decisions.  And that, my friend, is a distinction you failed to see.  Your condescending tone to a stranger (imagine if I was your daughter or wife or sister!) has done nothing to move your agenda or view forward, rather it has very clearly shown your inability to relate-to, support, and empathize, even if you suffer from this “demon” too.  Friend, depression is different for everyone.  I am here if you ever need to discuss the trials of your struggle, and I will not judge you or push unwanted (and I dare say unneeded) advice at you.  I will be here to listen.  And if and when you want me to respond with aid, I will be more than willing to do so.  Until that day comes, though, I will trust you are dealing with your disease in a way that works for you.

Hello, my name is Stephanie and I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

In March of this year, I had a nervous breakdown.  It is the third in my adult life.  A litany of stressors and my lack of effective coping mechanisms brought it on.

I began therapy when I was sixteen.  A doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression and anxiety at the same age.  Though I wanted to believe it was simply teenage angst causing all the emotional upheaval, the reality was my biology made the angst into a typhoon.  Add in the hormonal changes operating on teenage women, and you can only imagine the hell I lived in, and the hell I created for my sister, mother, and father.  But that brings me to the main point of this post.  I am not sure, to this day, that anyone truly understands what that – clinical depression and diagnosed anxiety – means.  It definitely became clear within my family, after this latest event, when both parents sat me down and asked what I was feeling and experiencing, and both seemed taken aback by my mental and emotional state.  My husband often asks questions to decipher my mood and behavior so he can be there for me in ways I need, as well as suggest new mechanisms for weathering the storm.  Truth is, despite mental illness being brought to the public consciousness by social media and other outlets, partly in reaction to high-profile deaths (read Robin Williams), I am not sure many people understand the breadth of mental illness, nor do they understand that their interactions with someone while in duress can impact them in an extremely negative way.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not without my ability to cope or deal, as I am sure others who are life-long sufferers have their methods and ways, and I do not blame others for the origin of my depression, however, there are things that people do – family, friends, co-workers – that actually make these episodic moments worse.  But I cannot blame these people for living in ignorance, though I am frustrated by it.  Societal norms have created a wall dividing those who suffer from those who do not, and I am lucky enough that discussion of these subjects have created small windows so those divided by the wall can at least communicate.  It was not always so.

What does depression feel like?  Only three people, ever, have asked me this question.  I have told others what I am dealing with, and explained to them the nature of how I experience depression, what it may feel like, and the trouble it causes with relating to, and being able to interact with, a wide cross-section of individuals; but only three people, ever, have asked me what it actually feels like, how my depression manifests, the ways in which anxiety has stunted a lot of my experiences, and more.  The reason I bring attention to this is because depression and anxiety are a part of me.  They are inherent.  The same way my hair is brown, my eyes are bluish-green, and my skin is white.  Depression is not a choice.  Nor is clinical anxiety.  It is derived from a chemical imbalance in my brain due to physiological quirks.  It’s why sucking it up, or “turning that frown upside down,” or getting over it, are not options, and they are all things HIGHLY harmful to say to someone suffering with depression.  You are essentially telling that person that their true self is something that NEEDS change, that they are somehow defunct.  Most of my life I grew up with the belief that I was broken because I couldn’t opt for happiness, because I couldn’t erase the emotional and mental anguish of my depression, nor the physical symptoms.  In-fact, it took until many years later for me to realize depression has nothing to do with choice, at least as it relates to what is felt.  The only choice within depression and anxiety is in reaction.  And the most common and notorious of those reactions is suicide.

Robin Williams death devastated me.  Not only did I adore him as an actor, but I adored his willingness and ability to discuss his struggle with depression and substance abuse in the public eye.  Ironically, almost every interview he gave would somehow tie back to his emotional health, and yet the revelation that mental illness played an integral part in his death was a shock to a large portion of the population.  I remember one particular opinion piece from The Huffington Post that brought me to tears.  I don’t remember who wrote it, but it discussed depression and the debate of suicide as a brave choice.  The underlying message was that until you feel the heat of depression, there is no way, no possible way, you can judge the choice of suicide.  I astonished myself by nodding enthusiastically in agreement.  For as much as I would love to close the gulf of space between us sufferers, and those of you who live with us, the only thing that could reach that far is willing empathy, and unfortunately that commodity seems deplete in present society.  This opinion piece went on to use the metaphor of a burning building to describe the ever-present effect depression has on those who suffer; we are left with two choices: jump out of the window to avoid being burned alive by the fire, or hope that you can stay in the flames long enough that the fire itself dies and you walk away alive, but heavily scarred.  It is the most truthful metaphor for depression, and the depression I suffer in particular, that I have ever found.  Live in the flames, constantly in fear and in pain, or jump knowing full well that you will die upon impact, and if you don’t, you will live a half-life or choose to take the plunge again.  There is no true reprieve when you suffer depression and anxiety.  You only have blissful moments where your coping mechanisms make its existence bearable.

One thing I have never done, at least in writing, is discuss how I experience my depression.  My husband knows, and to some small degree, my parents know, but for the most part, even these interlopers who have experienced the flames up close have little to no true knowledge of the devastating effect my depression and anxiety leaves.

I have oftentimes called my depression a black hole.  A massive gravitational pull that sits in the dead center of my chest.  The enormous weight of this black hole prevents light from escaping, and light can mean anything from positive emotion to actual “lightness of character” (i.e. energy, smiles, a bubbly personality, laughter, etc.).  In it’s stead there is nothing but a void.  It feeds on all emotion, not just a spectra of happiness, but sadness and anger, as well.  When my depression has devoured everything it leaves me in a dichotomous existence; I simultaneously feel void and empty, and yet I feel overwhelmed by everything around me.  A great visual for this existence would be the skeletal frame of a barn or a house.  It’s standing, yet there is no interior, no guts, and if a large gust of wind came, the strength of that frame would be put to test.  Simple acts, like showering, can zap me of energy for the day.  I have to pull from a well of strength and hope that I can preform the desired feat before the black hole notices there is more to feast on.  In my worst moments, I’ve done nothing but sit in quiet contemplation staring at a wall (literally; during one episode of severe depression I spent almost all 24 hours of my day staring at a wall convincing myself to not cut my legs or arms, praying that I could withstand the flames, praying for reasons not to make the mad-dash to the window).

The black-hole is always present, much like the reality of true black holes.  And much like the reality of true black holes, or supermassive black holes, my world, or galaxy, has to operate around its existence.  In-fact, much like true supermassive black holes, it devours my existence little by little.  Depression can exhibit in many different ways.  Most people assume someone who suffers from depression will outwardly appear sad, but otherwise look, feel, and sound normal.  Or that somehow manifestations of depression will be observed solely through the guise of mental and emotional understanding, counseling, and discussion.  Reality, though, is much more difficult and convoluted, which is somewhat ironic and hilarious when discussing this in the metaphor of a black hole.  I’ve experienced constant sickness due to a weakened immune system; insomnia; bone-deep pain; I’ve torn my hair out; cut my legs, arms, and stomach; I’ve scratched the soft tissue of my inner arm until it bleeds and scabs over; I’ve banged my wrists, ankles, legs, and arms, against things in-order to feel something outside of the void; I’ve also stopped eating, showering, drinking, and essentially existing, because of the toll of depression.  And the worst part is, I’ve been called weak.  I’ve been told to snap out of it.  I’ve been told to leave the “emotional stuff” at home.  I’ve been told that my mood dictates the tenor of a room, and that I had to pep up because I was creating a negative experience for co-workers.  When I can barely carry the weight of my own emotional health, it is beyond detrimental to hear that I need to carry the weight of those around me.  And I have been told it is my responsibility.  More than once.  And that repetition has created an awkward phobia of my place of employment when in the midst of a depressive episode.  And when I say phobia, I mean phobia (a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational).

This is my existence.  This is a reality, not necessarily the reality of depression, but it is my reality with depression.  I hope that in reading this some of you develop empathy for those that suffer, that you choose to educate yourselves about depression and the positive things you can do to help loved ones that suffer.  The biggest thing that’s helped is having a partner who is willing to listen free of judgement and free of unwanted and unneeded advice.  In discussing my depression with him, I have been able to work through some of the difficult thought processes that lead me towards anxiety, towards phobias, towards worry.  And I hope that by reading one persons experience you are motivated to learn about others, because despite have commonalities in the physiological and chemical spheres, depression is different for everyone.  It manifests in so many diverse ways that you cannot just assume someone is not suffering.  The best possible practice is to look at everyone through an empathetic lens.  You have no idea what is going on in their life, in their mind, in their emotions, just be genuinely kind and nice, because on days I’m at my worst, those moments of kindness are like being handed a life preserver when arms are too tired to keep swimming.

The delusion of happiness.

I have been reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  I think I have read this book for a good three months, but have yet to finish it.  And it’s not because the book is bad or doesn’t suck you in but because there have been so many other things monopolizing my time.  Recently I commented that my full-time job is looking for a full-time job, and it’s true.  During the week I put in a good six to eight hours a day looking for and applying to jobs.  My activities include writing and re-writing cover letters, re-working my résumé, creating writing samples, or pulling from my inventory and editing, searching for jobs and running through applications, along with countless other activities.  I just want to sit out in the sun and delve into Kvothe’s world.

There are moments where everything feels like it’s coming together, but lately I feel unsure of each tentative step I take.  I still say my mantra, I still believe that something good will come and I will meet it halfway, but I’m losing my motion.  I once again feel like an odd man out, like I have worn out my welcome in people’s lives.  I wonder at the possibilities of friendships and relationships and question my ability to move forward.  For those who know me and my history (outside of this blog), I feel like reading that comment may imply some type of inability to get over my ex-fiance.  But the inability to move forward is not because I am hung up on a person, a place, or a thing, it simply means that I am lacking the confidence to take those steps.  I have, for some reason, become very fearful of failure as of late.  I think it has something to do with the stresses that are free-floating towards me daily, like how will I pay bills?  When will this unemployment end?  Will I ever feel confidence when it comes to potential relationships?  Friendships?  How come when I hang out with certain people I feel like they tolerate my presence but are not actually happy to have me around?  The question becomes if it is my own insecurities, or are there really moments or “vibes” I am picking up on?  I am so inexperienced in keeping and maintaining friendships that I truly am unsure of what my next move should be.  Do I really make a new move?  Do these things happen organically?  Is it forced?  Do I make the effort or pull back?

As stated in a earlier post, being alone is beginning to hurt.  Physically, mentally, emotionally, there is a palpable tenor of emotion that just hurts.  Every one of my girlfriends is in a relationship.  I am jealous of that connection.  To have someone hold your hand, give you a hug, rub your back, let you be on a bad day, but still be there to listen, even if all you do is grunt some nonsensical comment, like, “life is a bitch and I wanted to smack her today.”  But there is the counterpart.  The fear, extreme in my case, of what that means.  I believe there is some clichéd comment about being burned and not wanting to go towards a flame again.  clichéd or not, that is how I feel.  And it’s sad because there is a definite dichotomy of desiring and fearing that potential connection.

A few weeks ago I felt confident in the next steps.  I felt like I knew what they were and how to go about putting my foot down and literally beginning to walk the path in front of me.  Now I am not so sure.  Confidence has been leached out of me.  I feel like the understanding that was dawning on me was a lie (which partly inspired my previous post).  And in actuality, it was a lie.  I was lied to.  When the reality finally broke through it helped to disseminate any potential confidence I had in those fledgling baby steps.  I was slowly making my way to open arms, to a caring embrace, or so I thought.  Now I am standing looking around for an image, an idea that could explain why the earth shook; why beneath me quaked and left me red-faced and crying.  But only that answer can come from the culprits, and I am not sure I even wish to walk towards those answers.  Does that mean delusion is my friend?  That I would rather live in a fantasy?  Possibly, but I cannot handle another complete degradation of a part of my life again.  Not this year.

I just got hit with the image of Jonathan and I discussing potential wedding venues.  He was sitting on our bed and I had a magazine in front of me.  We fooled each other so well.  Him sitting there telling me how happy he was to marry me while lying about hidden feelings, and me desperately looking for a way to stay in a delusion so I didn’t have to face the reality that I was no longer in love with him.  I was looking at venues and dresses and lighting designs and decorations, wrapping myself in the gorgeous photographs of other people’s fairy tales so that I didn’t have to face the cracks in my reality.  Deposit in, betrayal.  Betrayal comes out and more betrayal, not just by him, but by me.  Finally focusing on the truth, though not wanting to give up, not yet, maybe, JUST MAYBE, something positive can happen, maybe we will fall in love again, maybe the trials that have gotten us to this point are molding a new, stronger relationship.  False hope.  False being the operative word.  And I’m getting angry just thinking about it.  And I focus that anger inwards, it is anger at myself, for my weaknesses.  I am often told I am strong, and every time I cannot help but laugh at those assumptions.  I think to myself, “If you only knew…” but maybe they know, and I am the one who doesn’t.  That would be a happy thought.  Too bad I cannot grasp it.

And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.

There are times in a person’s life where it dawns on them that maybe they are cracked.  Maybe there really is truth when someone looks at you after you say something or do something and state the little phrase: “You are crazy.”  I used to get so offended by that comment.  My paternal grandmother does have mental health issues, and as you have been able to read thus far in my blog, so do I.  Depression is one of the largest diagnosed diseases in the United States.  I would bet that one in every five people are diagnosed or being treated.  This includes depression in its many forms (i.e. major depressive disorder, bipolar I and bipolar II, etc.).  Today feels like a cracked day.  One of those days where it would be so much easier to just lay down in bed and cry until your muscles hurt from the sheer force of the tears.  It would be such a great relief to let out all the pent-up stress and emotion.  But here I sit, with it contained in my chest, feeling slightly ashamed.

I went out grocery shopping and on the way home I called Jonathan up and for a good fifteen minutes yelled into the phone until all he said was, “Stephanie, you need to take care of yourself first and foremost.”  All I responded was, “I wish I could.  Sorry I called.  I shouldn’t have.  It’s still easiest to talk… well, yell… at you.  Sorry about that.  It was out of line, though thank you for letting me continue and not hanging up on me.”  We said our goodbyes after that.  I need to find a different outlet.  I feel like I have made vast improvements in releasing my emotions, both negative and positive, but for the most part I am still stuck in a rut.  I had a certain way of handling (or, better described as NOT handling) things for six years.  I feel like I am coming out of a cocoon still when I have to deal with certain stresses and emotions.  I unfortunately am turning things inward again.  Despite some people believing I am outspoken, I actually fear confrontation more than anything.  Unless I am the one confronting.  And that only happens when I am pressed past the point of no return and I see nothing but a red blinking light à la Perry Cox in Scrubs.  At that point it is yelling and if someone tries to respond they get a withering glare and possibly my back.  Or a kick in the shins depending on how childish I am feeling.  Okay, not really.  I don’t kick in the shins.  But I have been known to throw a chair, a massive candle, the garbage… I know, NOT good.

Emotional and mental growth is an ever constant battle.  Intriguing that the first word that came to mind was battle and not just left it as “ever constant,” which it is.  There are days where it feels easy, but then there are days where to put a smile on my face, to operate and move through the day and talk with people is difficult.  It would be easier to sit in my room surrounded by the things that I love.  It reminds me of a Simon & Garfunkel song, one that is my favorite and one that I consider an anthem of sorts: I Am a Rock.  I remember the first time I heard the song I immediately felt a kinship with the words.  They spoke to me on such a deep and profound level, even though I was relatively young then.  I also remember my dad having a similar reaction (not on initial listen, but any time he heard the song).  It was like it spoke to him in such a way that I glimpsed into his psyche.  To kind of understand that comment you have to know that my dad is not always the most forthcoming with how he feels.  He often is a stone wall, never really showing emotion.  It’s not that he doesn’t have emotion, it’s that I know while growing up, his mother always held disdain for showing it.  My grandma encouraged my dad and his sister to contain themselves and never complain, but never praise, anything.  So being able to glimpse at a small pleasure or see kinship and acknowledgment register in his eyes was surreal and wonderful.  I believe that a level of my appreciation for the song also stems from those windows my father allowed when relating to the lyrics.

And here they are:  “A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December.  I am alone gazing from my window to the streets below on a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.  I am a rock, I am an island.  I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate.  I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain, it’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.  I am a rock, I am an island.  Don’t talk of love, well I’ve heard the words before, it’s sleeping in my memory and I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.  If I never loved I never would have cried.  I am a rock, I am an island.  I have my books and my poetry to protect me.  I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me.  I am a rock, I am an island.  And a rock can feel no pain.  And an island never cries.”

It’s just been one of those days.

Who needs a gall bladder anyways?

Here I sit.  There my mom sits.  We are two peas in a pod trying to make it by.  My mom is a gimp at her hip.  She has been in pretty much perpetual pain for over two weeks.  I have taken care of her, and then yesterday my turn came.  We had gone out to her chiropractor appointment, drove through our nearest Starbucks, and then went to Jimmy Johns to chow down on what was my sole meal of the day.  When we got back to the house, my mom went into the bathroom, I took the boys – my sister and her boyfriend’s two puppies – out for a small walk and when I came back in, sat down at the kitchen island to begin tap, tap, tapping away on a new blog post.  Turns out within thirty seconds of sitting down, it felt like my lungs had collapsed or that someone was squeezing my ribcage to a breaking point.  When I tried to suck in a breath, I felt the air going in, but could not benefit from it.  There is this moment in the book The Name of the Wind where the main character, Kvothe, tries to trick his teacher by “calling the wind.”  In trying to make it look like he has, he bound his breath to the air outside, and when he blew a breath out, it looked like he controlled the wind.  But when he tried to breathe in, he was incapable.  That was the first thought that went through my head (yes, I am a literary bug, a book-worm if you will).  Desperately trying to pull a breath in as it felt like someone was crushing my ribs.  The second image I can come up with is what I imagine a victim of a boa constrictor goes through.  Each time I sucked in a breath, it felt like the tightening of my muscles and rib cage sucked in further.

I tried standing up with the thought that maybe my sitting position was causing this (mind you, this all happened in about a fifteen second time period so far) and when I stood, I started seeing black dots and fell to my knees.  At this point I managed to get out the words, “Oh shit,” although it hurt to even talk.  I tried standing again and managed to make my way to the stairs, where I crawled up them.  As this is passing, I begin to feel like an anxiety attack is starting (which, when you stop being able to bring in breath, you let me know if you don’t go into shock).  I sweat profusely, turn white as a sheet, almost black out and fall down the stairs I was attempting to go up (I also felt like I was going to throw up hot blood, hence the progression to the upstairs bathroom).  When I crawled the final few steps and made it to the landing the inability to breathe was at a “beyond scary” point.  I checked my pulse, while mentally talking myself down from the ledge that are my panic attacks, and notice that my heartbeat has become frighteningly shallow, and rather than the beat speeding up, has dwindle to almost non-existent.  Going into shock can do this.  It can cause cardiac arrest.  At this point I was desperately trying to pull myself out of the panic and concentrate on breathing.  Getting the oxygen in.  I manage to calm myself enough that I can call out to my mom.

Now, my mom has not been able to climb stairs.  It sets off the pain in her leg to the point of unbearable.  It precipitates the attacks that have caused us to take her to the hospital.  But as soon as I called, she came.  Love is a strong force.  She manages to make it up the stairs, sees me and goes, “We need to get to you the ER.”  I said, “Call 911.  Just call.”  “Do you think we can wait for Aunt Barbara?”  “CALL 911, I can’t breathe.  I CANNOT BREATHE.”  She calls.  The episode calmed down enough that I was able to move down the stairs and walk out to the ambulance.  Once in the ambulance a second episode occurred and the EMTs told me I turned almost blue.

Once we got to the ER, they drew blood and did almost every test in the book to rule out heart attack (EKG), pneumonia, fractured ribs, lung deflation (x-rays), and then we had to request an ultrasound because my mom said my descriptions sounded like the gall bladder attacks she used to have.  While waiting for these tests, they gave me Ativan believing that I was in the midst of a panic attack (although I told them I know how mine track, hadn’t had one in months and months, and I have developed the art of making sure they don’t inflict too much pain; I also told them that given the fact I couldn’t breathe, obviously panic and anxiety were going to play a part in the pain making diagnosis harder to decipher, but this was definitely NOT a panic attack).  Even after the Ativan, I had another attack, not being able to bring breathe in.  They were operating with the thought I was hyperventilating and could not understand why I was still turning white and blue with a high dose of an anti-anxiety medication in my system and going through hyperventilation exercises.

When I finally got my ultrasound, the technician seemed concerned with the area around liver and gall bladder.  He took many pictures and then sent me back to the ER.  The doctor came in about twenty minutes later to tell me the results of the ultrasound where he states I have a polyp and possible gall stone, that my gall bladder had constricted considerably and that there was a (for the non-technical term) sludge in my gall bladder that can precipitate further development of stones (so in laymen’s terms: a GALL BLADDER ATTACK).  However, he then released me with a prescription for Ativan and diagnosed it as a panic attack for the records.  I have never had a gall bladder attack (though my mom, my dad, my paternal grandmother all have suffered, so I am predisposed), so this is something that seems important, in my eyes, to diagnose so that I can work on maintaining a healthy diet and learn preventive measures.  But rather, the doctor decides to latch on to the singular idea that I am a twenty-five year old who is on Lexapro for depression, so the only PLAUSIBLE explanation is a panic attack.  The last two experiences my family has had with this hospital, it has been beyond reprehensible.

So here we are.  Two peas in a pod.  Gimpy and limpy, painful and sore.  And the best part: I have to refine my diet yet again.  I am a vegetarian.  I cannot eat gluten.  And now I have to remove even more from my diet to make sure I do not have repeat attacks.  The worst loss: coffee.  Those who know me know of my obsession with a fine cup of coffee, a jug, not just a cup of it, and a good book.  That is the most devastating news.  I also desperately want a referral to a nutritionalist because with so many limitations, I am afraid I will not get what I need.  One more thing in the books.

I have a killer playlist for the rapture.

I am having an up and down week.  It’s not fun.  It’s like living on an emotional roller coaster… from hell.  Speaking of “from hell,” I hope everyone is having a wonderful rapture.  I wonder how many Jesus look-alikes are out today scaring the shit out of people.  Or how many people decided this could be a second Halloween and painted themselves up like zombies.  If you feel like you need education on how to survive the rapture, you should watch Zombieland.  There are some amazing rules to follow in there.  And don’t forget to search for the Twinkies.  And Bill Murray.  He’s not a zombie.  DO NOT SHOOT.

I usually don’t lead these entries with as many one liners as this one, but I am desperately trying to ease my mind and make light of certain situations.  I am anxious and emotional because my mom is in the emergency room.  For the past week (and longer, though it’s been particularly bad this week) she has had this pain at the top of her leg/groin area.  She will get these immensely painful electric shocks that wake her from sleep or cause her to turn ashen and begin sweating.  She asked my aunt about these pains, and me, because both of us have had similar things.  My aunt and I suggested that she get it looked at because it sounded like what happened to the both of us when diagnosed with ovarian cysts and growths.  My mom is usually calm headed and casual when it comes to health concerns in herself.  When she gets sick, she gets sick, but she rarely sees doctors or goes to the ER because she always believes it’s nothing, that she’ll get through it, that time is the best medicine.  So, with her going to not only a doctor, but now the emergency room, it’s causing my heart to beat faster and worry prickles up my arms and legs.

Not too long ago a family friend received the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and I know that my mom has thought about that.  She told me as much last night.  If it is a growth, the pain may be a pinched nerve, or irritation from its movement.  I know when I had my first ovarian surgery, I had a very similar pain and that was what caused me to seek medical attention.  It was far worse than anything I had ever experienced.  My sister thought it might be a hernia, because it felt better when I pushed the area and there was a small lump.  However, we came to find out that the pain was referred from a massive cyst (they found something like six different tissue samples) on my left ovary.  It was my first real scare that I could have cancer.  They could not identify all the samples, nor could they explain why it occurred.  A year later I had another surgery to remove another growth on the same ovary.  It ruptured as they were taking it out and I lost 85%-90% of the left ovary.  And half my chances of having viable ovum for when I decided it was the right time to have kids.  Ce la vie… but at least it was not cancer.  I always have to remind myself to state the silver lining.  It is the tangible bit of hope in every negative situation, and it is what can propel us forward towards better understanding and positive thinking.

It is really unsettling to have these roller coaster highs and lows.  It keeps me perpetually off-balance.  I wish I had a better understanding of the underlying causes so that maybe, just maybe, I could enact preventive measures.  Though, there is a part of me that realizes that life is just that way.  And I want to live.  I don’t want a perpetual state of fear and anxiety, walking around waiting for the next massive hole.  The other day I was thinking about how much I wanted to just fly, but it felt like someone had clipped my wings.  And it’s true.  I feel grounded, chained, like someone has a gilded cage around me.  And I use gilded because that’s what it is.  I know I am lucky.  I know I have the best parents who have supported me through this difficult time.  I have opportunities in front of me and the possibility to begin again when others would be shit out of luck.  But with those possibilities also come obligations.  In the seat I am in, the grass truly does look greener on the other side.  And that’s not good.  How can I change my view?  How can I begin to work positive thinking into my every day?  Into my every moment?  I thought I was doing good, I thought I was kicking ass, and then this week, as you have read, took its toll on me.  No small wonder that the rapture ends this week.  And it’s beyond awesome that next week begins with my favorite holiday in the world: LADY GAGA’S “BORN THIS WAY” DROPS!  Holler!  (See, looking for the positive…)