Thursday, after work. It’s been a week since I said depression and didn’t find a way to take it back. Though the worst has passed, I’m still a little shaky, a bit out of touch with the people around me. I’m in the car, it’s warm – 45 degrees in February is warm enough – and high school Eric reaches out of the past and takes control. He rolls down the windows, turns on the soundtrack to Rent and sings along to every single song.
High school Eric might be smarter than I’ve given him credit for. It kind of helps.
It’s early January when I first get honest with myself. I’m driving then, too. Writers group is over. There was chocolate custard and wine and confirmation of how utterly, totally in love with ourselves we are. It’s a good day. A really good day. For ten minutes, I am happy. On minute eleven, I want to cry.
I decide I’m feeling bad about the rejection letter I received a few days prior. I have problems with rejection – complexes, even, if you want me to be honest about it – and this one’s been eating at me and that’s all there is to it. I spend an hour tweeting about how rejection letters shouldn’t bother me this much, chat with a friend until I realize it’s not the end, and feel just a bit better. Except I don’t. At least, I don’t for long, and when the supports give way once again I don’t have anything left to blame. Exhausted, I e-mail a friend for help before I have a chance to second guess myself. I ask my friend if she could recommend a therapist, please, because I don’t know what else to do.
I don’t know what’s happening in my head. A week of research has given me facts but little insight. A month of therapy has given me breathing exercises and a habit of writing my actual thoughts in the Moleskine reserved for writing thoughts, but I still lack faith in its efficacy.
When it comes to matters psychological, I’m a hypocrite. I have, on many occasions, urged friends and loved ones to find a professional with whom to speak before things got worse. It will help, I’ve said, because you’ll have someone separate to listen and lead you through. I have, on the other hand, gone through life considering myself the exception to that rule.
It goes like this: Therapy can help you, but I’m smart, and strong, and clever, and very, very analytical and if I can’t lead myself out of the woods, there’s no PhD in a plant-filled office that’s going to be of any use. Either I can make myself feel better, or the problem is beyond human intervention. When defeatism isn’t destroying my confidence, my ego is something else.
The truth of it is that I’m only beyond help because that’s where I’ve been holding myself.
After Friday’s blog post goes up, while I’m still telling myself I should just take it down, a friend e-mails me to make sure I’m not going to run away from it. That’s not how they put it, exactly, but I’m pretty sure that was the idea.
They have cause to worry. Despite the crash that led me here, I’ve gone through a month of therapy focused only on stress and anxiety. The word ‘depression’ has passed my lips only once, caught in a tangle of nervous nonsense, and not returned since. The good month between the scare that chased me into therapy and the one that scared me into writing the blog post has made avoiding that word simple.
I fear being judged. I worry I’ll be told to stop being so sensitive, that I’m fine, that everyone feels bad sometimes and to stop making a big deal out of nothing. This fear isn’t idle. I’ve been told as much – gently, sideways, for my own good, without intended insult – three times since I started admitting to friends and family that I was in therapy. I can’t really blame them. They really do mean well.
I know people can be judgmental about depression because I’ve been judgmental about it. It took years of watching a loved one struggle with the death of their spouse for me to understand how close-minded I’d been. Depression can be potent or subtle or motivated by trauma or born of genetics. It can be some of those things, or all. Regardless, in its grasp, one’s ability to fight on strength alone is bound to erode. It takes my friend’s email for me to admit I’m not an exception.
My therapist asks me if I can write something fictional about a character who feels the same way I do. She’s hoping it will shake some things loose. I try to explain that it doesn’t work like that, not exactly. I can’t force that to happen through fiction. What I can do, I promise, is blog about it.
“Can you really be honest in your blog?” she asks. She’s concerned that since I’ve been holding back with her, it’s likely I’ll hold back even more in public. I say that writing gives me power over it that speech does not. Writing creates a space between me and the person reading. I consider saying that writing dishonestly is almost a sin, but she’s already giving me a look.
Oh, right. Now I’m crazy.
I end up on the phone with my aunt. I explain that I’ve gone into therapy and was asked, for the second time, about my family’s psychological history. I say I mentioned her, but that I didn’t know what the diagnosis was. The therapist had pushed me to find out for certain. I’m expecting to learn it’s depression. I learn something else.
Bipolar, my aunt informs me. (II, not I, for those of you to whom the numbers mean something). She believes my grandmother, though never diagnosed, was the same. She’s patient as I ask her how things have felt, how and when she found out, what it’s meant to her life. I note the things that sound similar and the things that do not. I feel my stomach sink when unexpected things sound too familiar, and feel things shift back to confusion when expected things do not. When I hang up, I’m no more certain of what’s happening in my head, but I know much, much more than I did when I picked up the phone. It’s something to talk about at therapy, that’s for sure.
High school Eric is gone. The Rent-induced goodwill remains, aided in part by a brutal run at the Y. I’m a weekend away from my last pre-vacation session of therapy, and doing what I can to gather my thoughts. It’s taken a week to climb back from the bottom of the last trough and feel like myself. When proper Eric returns, he looks back at those periods as if they happened to another person. It’s made it easy to forget they happened at all, even when sitting in the plant-filled room with my therapist, trying to talk about them. I can already hear the voice telling me that I was just overreacting, that things are fine and to get over it. I tell it to shut the hell up. It keeps going. I tell it again. We could do this all night.
Are there reasons and causes for how I feel during those periods? Yes, there are. There are fears of rejection and abandonment, fear that I am in a continual and worsening state of failure, and a creeping sense of powerlessness and fatalism that scares me deeply. These are issues I need to face before I’ll have any lasting relief. But is my brain misbehaving as well? Maybe. Probably. Getting a handle on how is part of what I’ll be pushing through as the weeks go by.
It’s a Thursday night in February. I have been in therapy for a month. I will be going, I think, for some time into the future. Until my hand is back on the rudder. In the meantime, I’ve got Rent on my iPod and friends at my back. It’s more than enough.