Monday, May 29, 2006
One day I woke up. . .
Now, I realize that doesn't sound like a radical realization. But until fairly recently, the last five or six years probably, I've spent a good deal of my life severely depressed and occassionally suicidal. My memories of Episodes (that's what I call 'em) go back to about...eight or nine, I think. I was petrified of water. There was no reason, I just became, suddenly, horrified of water. I couldn't take a bath, because something was going to happen to me if I got into the water. But I couldn't tell anyone that, so I'd take my radio into the bathroom, drag one of my cats into the room with me, turn the music up loud, fill the bathtub up and lay on the floor crying, petting the cat, because I was so, so very scared. And confused. Logically, I knew, there was nothing going to happen to me if I got into the bathtub. I tried all sorts of things to work around it. I'd make up little rituals, moving all the possible dangers away from the tub. No razors, nothing battery operated, certainly nothing that so much as looked electrical. I even put the soap away, so I didn't fall on it. In the end, there was just a plain, blank tub full of water and I still couldn't get into it. And there was absolutely no reason for it, none. No childhood trauma, no near drowning. I was just suddenly, unexplainable terrified of getting into the bathtub. And I stayed that way for about a year and then, just as unexplainably, it went away. Just one day, gone. I could get in the tub, I could go swimming, whatever I wanted. No problem. And no explaination.
I started getting hung up on certain thoughts, after that. Random things. Like I was obsessed, and terrified, with getting my period. Nothing really strange about a girl worrying about her period, but this wasn't normal. I was so stressed and worried, I'd bargain with God. Not this year, okay? I just can't handle it right now. And...there wasn't anything bad going on in my life. Again, no trauma, no abuse, no nothing. I was just obsessed with...things...with all the things I was doing wrong, with how I wasn't good enough or smart enough or how I was 'sinning' all the time. (See previous post on the Evils of Fundamentalism, if you would.) Again, I couldn't tell anyone any of this. I just knew they'd have reacted badly. Or worst, they'd have been dismissive. It was all in my head, I was just being silly. So it all just kept building. I went through stages. When I got my period, that obsession faded. Then it was things like, oh the music I was listening to was evil and God would punish me for it. Seriously, I thought that. (Admittedly, I had shitty taste as a teenager, but I hardly thing God sends people to hell for that. Otherwise, damn, Hell is gonna be HUGE.) So I'd have to read my Bible every night, a chapter a night, or I was in trouble. Then it got to the point where I couldn't listen to anything but Christian music or I was going to Hell. (Yeah. Try finding decent rock Christian music in the 80s. Uh huh. Little did I realize it then, I was IN hell listening to that stuff.)
Anyway, the point is, I kept having these episodes and they kept getting worse as the years past. And I couldn't tell anyone about them, because in my very religious household, this things Did Not Happen. Regardless of the fact that my mother has a history of depression. Regardless of the fact she's got a lot of the same problems I do. These things Do Not Happen. If my mother had a rough patch, she'd just go to church a bit more often or pray more often. And that seemed to work for her. But it did not for me. (Again, see previous post about how the Fundy church warped my brain.) By the time I was 14, I was full-blown suicidal. I was just too depressed to actually act on it. It's a preverse irony, the disease that made me want to die also saved my life. I was too exhausted from just getting through the day to actually be able to carry out my suicide plans.
And I had them. Oh, did I have them. My father, as all good Southern men, is a hunter. And there are guns all over their home. Unlocked, with bullets right next to them. I know how to handle a gun. Dad made sure of that, since it would be irresponsible to not educate your kids about guns when you've got so many. And there were always pills in the medicine cabinets. Sleeping pills, pain pillls, all kinds of things for whatever illnesses my folks got. Then again, we lived right next to a creek. It wouldn't have been very hard to 'trip' and drown. And growing up on a farm, I could imagine a hundred 'accidents' that could quickly dispatch me. And yet, I was just so very, very, very tired. All I could do was go to school, come home and go to sleep. I couldn't physically DO anything else.
And then, I'd have breaks in the episodes. Sudden, almost complete remissions. One day I'd be so very depressed I wanted to die, the next I'd wake up and feel perilously close to normal. When those breaks came, I'd make myself believe I was better. It had all just been a test and I'd passed, so God was rewarding me. And I'd really believe that, until it started again.
And that was my life, for years. Until I was about 22 and in college. I'd gotten really, really sick and gone to the doctor. Who happened to notice I was depressed and put me on Prozac. I know people malign Prozac, but that damned green pill saved my life. It didn't 'fix' everything (because what was going on wasn't strictly depression), but it kept my head just far enough above the waterline so I didn't feel like I was dying all the time. I still got depressed, but my suicidal phases faded to once a year instead of every three or four months. (Yeah, I was seriously THAT depressed.)
But my physical symptoms increased. And intensified. Until I was ready to die, again. And I started going to doctor after doctor after doctor....who kept telling me I was just depressed and fat and needed to relax. For the next three years, that's what I got. So,I just stopped going to doctors. Just gave up completely.
Until the pain got so bad I couldn't stand it and went to one more doctor. Who finally listened. She listened and she did some tests and it turns out, HEY! I'm wasn't just depressed -- I had a serious, chronic illness that had been uncontrolled for years. It had a name (Lupus) and it had treatment and I wasn't crazy and I wasn't imagining things and yes, I was sick and yes, she believed me.
That was almost six years ago. I started out taking fourteen pills a day and now I'm down to two. If I'm lucky, at my next doctors appointment I'll be able to get down to one. It's taken a lot of time and trial to find a treatment plan that works for me, but I have. There are still rough days. There are still days when this illness kicks my ass. (I haven't gone into details about the physical effects of Lupus. I've got lots of those too. But since it's affecting my neurological system, I've also got an extra handful of the psychological symptoms. My doctors think the disease has been working it's evil magic on me for a very long time, but didn't show any diagnosable symptoms until I was in my 20s.) But even when I'm getting my ass kicked by this damned disease, I don't want to die.
I haven't wanted to die in a very long time. Not since someone listened to me. Not since I found out the name for what's wrong with me. Not since I was able to take back some measure of control. I cannot control this disease, but knowing that it's real, that's it's not a personal, moral failing (which is what I was also made to feel it was before) allows me to take some ownership, some responsbility. I cannot control this disease, but I can control how it makes me act. I cannot control the fact that it makes me feel like I'm physically dying, but I can control whether it makes me actual act to kill myself. I can control if I decide to value my life, pain and all.
And the thing is, I really do. I don't know when I started, but somehow it's occurred to me that I'm a pretty valuable person. Not just valuable, but so incredible strong and brave. You don't survive the interal struggles I have without being strong. You don't look at the future, knowing you have a disease that could decide to royally fuck you up at any moment, and say to yourself "Yeah, that's where I want to be" unless you're brave. It's not the kind of strength or bravery this world puts much value in, but it's real and it lasts. Everytime I get afraid, I stop myself. What, exactly, could be so bad? What could possible scare me? What could possibly hurt me so much I couldn't recover? I'm not a fool. I know there are lots of horrible things that could happen to me. And I don't want them to happen, of course. But if they did...I've spent most of my life fighting myself. No one knows the buttons to push like I do. And if I can survive myself jumping up and down on them for 20 years, I can pretty much handle anything.
Anyway, I realized I like being alive. As crappy as life can be sometimes, it's still way better than the alternative.