dark days

My dad told me that when he was young, he’d gotten in trouble for DUI and had to attend alcohol abuse counseling. The counselor he worked with was in recovery himself, and laid down some of the fundamentals of alcoholism, including how the people around you enable alcoholism. When he came home to talk about it with his mom, she came unglued, accused him of blaming her, and he didn’t complete the counseling.

Given what I know of my grandmother’s upbringing, this isn’t a shocking reaction. She herself had to deal with alcoholism, rarely drank, and definitely didn’t have a healthy psyche. Er… not because she didn’t drink, but rather because she never actually dealt with her “issues” (and not many in her generation did, it wasn’t what was done). So as was (and is) often the case, the disease of alcoholism swiftly passed down to my dad, aided by genetic and environmental factors.

Threaded into those factors, almost certainly, is depression. I’ve done the dance with alcohol for sure, but also with depression. The older I get, the more aware I am, and the less I am willing to give in to the completely useless exercise of self-medicating with alcohol, the more I feel like I’m losing the battle.

I was thinking last night and yesterday about how the people around me have reacted to my own struggle to come to terms with depression. The struggle is, of course, ongoing. I recalled when I was first diagnosed and medicated, which was not so long ago. 2007.

Per usual, I spent a lot of time educating myself about depression after the diagnosis. I realized that I’ve always struggled with it, that it probably started to show up somewhere in my pre-teens, and that it dogged me through the years. Instead of viewing my struggle as a struggle with an illness, I viewed it as a personal shortcoming. A lost battle with personality defects. When I had a term and a biological explanation, I felt freed. But then I started talking to my friends and family.

Many of my friends also viewed my struggle with depression as a personality defect, something I could decide not to have. My family was (and probably still is) skeptical of my decision first to abstain from alcohol, and then to try to find a way to be healthy with it. (And that’s a whole ‘nother post topic, which I’ll make some day.) Jeff was (and is) very supportive, though I think he wants to save me from my depression, to chase it away when the dark time comes, and it just doesn’t work that way. Things have changed over time, but that’s the initial reaction I had back in 2007 when I first started to try to deal with depression head on, with therapy and pharmaceuticals.

When I think back to my own reaction to various people I knew who struggle with mental illnesses, I realize that I too once thought it was a choice and a weakness. Maybe that’s why it was, and is, so hard to change that view. Maybe that’s why my friends and family have struggled with accepting it. Maybe if there is such a thing as mental illness, and it can’t be cured by just making a choice to be happy, maybe that’s really fucking terrifying. Because why? Because at the end of the day, I/we have tools to fight it, but it still comes back, every. fucking. time. And I/we have a very small amount of control over that.

I exercise, and that helps a little. I take vitamin D. I take Prozac. I’m experimenting with how food affects my mood. I do little CBT exercises to “cognate” my way through it when it comes. I meditate. I pray. My depression surfboard is an eclectic-looking thing. I surf, and I keep my head above water, but it doesn’t always feel like a sure thing.

This morning when I woke up, I felt like I was losing the battle with getting out of bed. I did it, eventually, because there are appointments on my calendar, people who are counting on me. But I’ve been having mini-anxiety attacks at work for the past week. I fear I’m losing it, at least for the extra things, like planning big events and going out and doing presentations. And I can’t afford that.

How can I explain it?

“I’m sorry, I can’t go do this job you hired me to do because I’m struggling with depression and I can barely drag myself out of bed each morning?”

“I’m sorry, I know I volunteered to do this thing, but right now getting out of bed feels like facing death, no really, and I don’t know if I can do more than the barest minimum.”

“I’m sorry, I know other moms do all the things with the brightest of smiles and happy intentions. I’m an absolute coward and I’d rather stay home and hide.”

That’s probably not going to go over very well, and I certainly can’t quit any of those things.

I have an appointment tomorrow to talk to my doc about all this. We’ll probably do some more pharmaceutical intervention. I’ll continue to exercise and fiddle with my diet. Maybe I’ll pick up a light therapy thingy.

I want to be better. I want to get up every morning like it seems every one else does. I want to be excited and energized about my work. I want to look forward to meeting people, to reaching out beyond my office. I want to be good at organizing and connecting. I want to not only NOT feel like I’m whining, but to know that I’m inspiring people to do their best. I’m just afraid that I can’t. And that is the most terrifying thing of all.

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