A Closer Look

It’s harder to be transparent than to be honest.  It’s one thing to not lie and another to lay yourself open to other people, to allow light to shine on your shortcomings and struggles and failings and trust that you will still seem worthwhile to others.  And there are times and places when too much transparency is inappropriate, especially when one is transparently wallowing in negativity.

I have a hard time letting people see me when I am non-functional. Some of that is rooted in that good old American “everything’s fine” facade, which it seems everyone is obliged to maintain. I can’t speak definitively to whether it’s a wider phenomenon, but it’s clearly implanted in the American culture, that we’re all just fine, all the time.  Because that mentality is so ingrained in us, when someone is brave enough to admit that they are not fine, the knee-jerk response is to fix things so that they will be fine again.

But some things cannot be fixed like that. Some things must be waded through, and all we want is someone to know we are wading. It’s not even usually necessary for someone to jump in with us, but just for someone to know and to care that we are having a tough time can sometimes shore up waning strength.

There is another element of pretending I am fine that comes into play particularly in blogging and facebooking and twittering and all those social media forums. It is that nobody wants to be around a whiner, and all these services bring immediate contact with every passing thought that’s deemed worthy of sharing. I tend to resort to sarcasm and sharp wit to convey my not-fine-ness without making it seem too serious. To avoid making it whiney.  I am honest, after a fashion, but not often transparent.

I’ve made an effort in my blog over the last two years to talk openly and honestly about my depression and how it affects me, what goes on in my head and some of the things I’ve found to counteract my own personal negative patterns.  I’m lucky enough that my depression releases me enough that I can step back and identify these things objectively. I know many people who cannot do that. My hope is that someday someone might stumble across what I share here and it might help them.  Whether that’s someone who struggles with depression and has never been able to voice their own thoughts about it or someone whose loved one battles depression and has never really understood what goes on inside that crazy head, or how they might be able to ease the load even a tiny bit.

So I’m going to be transparent today, in hopes that it will help someone understand what depression does even to a person who has their situation more under control.

I’ve already shared the recent adjustments my insurance has made necessary to my antidepressant medication. I very briefly shared my concerns that the process of finding another suitable medicine will turn large chunks of the next several months into “lost weeks.”

It is a fact of my life, medicated or not, that sometimes I lose a few days or a week. By this I mean that although I may manage to handle everyday tasks when they are urgent enough, although I may show up at my normal social activities looking presentable and carry on a normal conversation and generally look “fine,” essentially I am moving in survival mode.  If people are coming to the house, it will be clean; if Matt runs out of underwear, I will do laundry; if we can no longer fit dirty dishes on the counter because there are already so many stacks of them, I might empty the dishwasher and run it again (but that’s a huge stretch–usually that falls to Matt when I’m non-functional); when it is time for Matt to eat, he will have something to eat (if he’s not around I’m likely to skip a meal because it would take work to make something).

When I’m away from the house, no one will know that anything is wrong.  I dealt with my depression sans medication for nearly ten years before I went to the doctor about it.  I have a superb mask, and I’m smart enough to fool most people into never realizing it’s on. Also, just because I’m having a rough day doesn’t mean everybody needs to know it.  It’s common courtesy to not let your mood negatively affect others.

I don’t want pity or special treatment or to be let out of my responsibilities.  If I wasn’t expected to do anything, I wouldn’t.  I would lie on the couch with the curtains drawn and snuggle with the dog all day, and I would feel guilty and worthless because I wasn’t doing anything.  If I stop moving, I will never get started again.  I need to keep moving and I need to not dwell on how rotten my mental state is, so I put on my mask and do what needs to be done and most people never notice.  Sometimes I’m glad for that, and sometimes it’s frustrating that nobody notices that I’m not okay.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t given them a chance to see my not-fine-ness; the depressed mind is not particularly logical, and when it comes up with logical arguments it promptly disregards them even though it recognizes they are accurate.  Even if I mention that I’m having a rough week (which I will do in the name of honesty if someone asks) the extent of the struggle is downplayed for both our sakes–most people have no idea how to react to someone in the middle of depression, and it does me no good to wallow.  As I’ve said, if I can keep moving, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

Does any of this make sense?  Sometimes I can’t tell.  I hope it does.

So to the outside world everything looks okay, but the things that are not simple day-to-day tasks, the ones that add value because I choose to do them suffer.

It feels like I’m Tom Hanks on his Castaway raft, desperately concerned with staying afloat on the waves, unable to paddle fast enough after the ship he can see on the horizon, taking his deepest dreams with it.  Nothing he does will get him there in time.  All he can hope for is to stay afloat, try to move closer to the shipping lane, and pray for another boat.  But there’s no telling how long that will take.

I was chatting with a good friend this morning, and I’m going to steal some words from that conversation (my words, not hers) to try to convey this in a non-metaphorical sense.  These exact words did not circle in my mind through the last week and a half, but the sense of them has pervaded my perceptions of things.

i hate the idea that i might lose december if my meds keep being troublesome and i have been trying so hard to actually finish my revisions on the manuscript by december so i can be sending it out, and last week just felt like everything would get blown out of the water and i’d sail past yet another imaginary deadline with absolutely nothing done and no end in sight. and matt’s job and classes are super stressful, and he had papers due and i had to stop working to edit them, and we had people over for dinner and social stuff to do, where i cannot just be unfunctional. and you crashed your bike and i couldn’t do anything to help, except try to talk to you, but neither of us was any good at that last week. it was awful.

Logically, I acknowledge that these are all fairly minor concerns. Objectively, quite a few of them are things I have no power over, and I’m taking responsibility for them anyway. But these are all things that matter deeply to me, and when I feel like I’m fumbling them it’s very hard to acknowledge that.  Even though today is a comparably good day, as I typed those things to my friend I teared up and my nose got sniffly because I hate not being able to act when I need to.  Notice the never-ending sentences… thoughts just run together and roll forward with their momentum and it’s very hard to pull up and adjust my approach.

It becomes necessary to stop thinking about those things and do what I can. Wash clothes, run errands, show up and smile when it’s required, do the best I can with the things that matter most, and hope that tomorrow or next week I’m closer to being able to handle them as I feel I should.  As I want to.

This isn’t something that happens once a year and then goes away for me.  Every morning I might have a good day or a horrible one, and all I can do is try again tomorrow.  My meds make it easier to have good days, so that my good day tally looks more like a normal person’s, but they’re not a guarantee.  I still have to be diligent and aware and proactive.  And when people are messing with my meds, even diligence sometimes makes no difference.

It’s frustrating, but it’s reality.  I am blessed to have friends and family who have sought to understand and support me.  I am so lucky for Matt, whose patience and encouragement lend me stability when I have precious little of my own. All things considered, I am lucky.  But it’s still hard sometimes.

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