Tag Archives: depression

authority

Remember last week when I posted about how proud I was of my birthday and thankful to be in a good place?  Yeah, that.

What a difference a week makes.

One of the things that can happen when you grow up in a house with alcoholism and/or other types of abuse is that you spend your life trying to fly under the radar.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself, you don’t want to stand out, you try VERY hard to play by the rules.  You do your best to BE the best because you take the responsibility of the whole world (or at the very least the survival of your family) onto YOUR shoulders.  Failure is not an option.  Yet you KNOW you’re not perfect.  In fact, you feel pretty badly about yourself, so fear and shame and embarrassment of being exposed are constantly hanging over your head.  You can’t let anyone see how imperfect you (and your family) are.  The other thing that happens when you have a history such as mine is that when it comes to authority figures you either develop a tough chip on your shoulder, or you shrink and become a timid, cowering shell (I am the latter).

I’ve worked for YEARS in therapy on this stuff.  I’ve worked for years OUT of therapy on this stuff – which is my way of saying, that “in or out” of therapy, the work is ongoing – because LIFE is ongoing.

So, something happened last week, right after celebrating my birthday, which has brought my sense of pride and confidence to a screeching halt, and it has to do with authority.

I got pulled over by a police officer last week.  I won’t go into details, because honestly I really am embarrassed about the whole incident, and I’m only telling you so I can discuss the larger authority issues and how I’m coping.

Here has been my response.  I stayed pulled over long after the police officer drove away – crying. Sobbing.  Unable to drive.  I called my husband from the car and he was able to “talk me down” so that I would be able to drive home.  When I got home I had a mini-breakdown.  I cried and sobbed and cried some more, giving myself a monster headache, crying myself to sleep and waking up the next morning with my eyes practically swollen shut from crying.  I’ve experienced massive anxiety (although not panic) every time I have gotten behind the wheel to drive since.  While I’m driving my anxiety is high, checking and double checking almost every move I make (or don’t make).  And I haven’t been sleeping well.

Last night I had to go to the same place I was travelling to last week and purposefully went out of my way to avoid the route I took then, because I couldn’t face driving past the spot where I was pulled over.  By the time I got home, I was in tears, shaking.  Another headache…

This reaction is more than the police officer, more than being pulled over.  It’s about how I cope (or don’t cope) with authority figures – with those who have real or perceived power over me.

This is about stripping away the facade.  This is about my failure to live up to the good girl image – of always trying to do the right thing, to follow the rules, to fly under the radar – of being caught and even called out for not being perfect, for falling short and being bad.  The feelings of shame and embarrassment have, at times, been overwhelming.  I’m walking around with a sense of dread, like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and I’m failing.  I’m sure my husband would love to repeat the, “Snap out of it!” scene of Cher in “Moonstruck.”¹  Heck, I’d love to snap myself out of it too! Instead, what he IS saying is, “This happened.  Move on.  You’re going to make yourself sick.”

But moving on, removing the weight from my shoulders, is easier said than done.  Once those old weights of shame, fear and embarrassment hit, they don’t let up very easily.  It’s hard to move on when the ball and chain keep you from picking up your feet.

But there are a few things that give me hope that this won’t turn into a major episode.

  • I am recognizing my reaction for what it is – an authority figure problem.  I know this is more than my interaction with this one particular officer, and I’m not trying to ignore it, or hope it will just go away.
  • I am able to stick up for myself with my husband.  When, at one point, he started to feed the flames of my shame (without knowing it) I told him point blank, “You need to stop.  You are NOT being helpful.” To his credit he asked what he could do/say that would be helpful.  I told him, and he listened and responded (he’s a good guy!).
  • I am practicing good self talk.  Deep down I know that I’m not a horrible person.  This is the biggest change.  It used to be that deep down I knew I was a horrible person and had to convince myself otherwise.  Saying to myself, “You know you’re a good person Lisa, you’ll get through this,” is VERY different than, “This is just proof of how awful you are.”  I am actively combating the negative thoughts, with positive messages of my self worth, and accepting the love of my family.
  • I am using my anger positively to fuel my “moving on.”  I’m angry at the officer for being so cold and robotic.  I’m angry at my father for, well, EVERYTHING.  I was in a good place till this happened, and I will not let this drive me back to a dark place.  I’m channeling my anger OUT, and not IN.

Sometimes these things happen – events that remind us of pain and suffering, being brought back to places of shame and weakness.  Many times they hit us when we least expect it, and that too, is part of our reaction – “Damn it.  I thought I had gotten over this.  I didn’t see THAT coming.”  So the reaction isn’t just about the actual literal event, it’s about connecting it back to our past, and our SHOCK that we still make that connection.

It’s been a week.  Both my husband and I are keeping an eye on this.  If I don’t start to “lighten up” in what we both consider a reasonable amount of time, then I guess I’ll have to call the doctor.²  This is a difference from the past too, when I would keep all this stuff bottled inside and shut him out – a sign that, overall, I’m in a much healthier place.  Still, prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks.


¹My husband has never EVER hit me.  I am the one who is thinking of this scene as an example of his feelings of frustration and concern, NOT him.  Actually it represents my own frustration with myself! I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.

²My reluctance to call the doctor comes not from a disrespect of the medical/psychiatric profession.  If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know I have the HIGHEST respect for both therapy and medication.  I’ve gotten to where I am now BECAUSE of the work I’ve done in therapy.  But finances are tight, so if I possibly can, I’d rather handle this without having to pay a bill in the process.

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the gift of life

Today is my birthday.  I am 50 years old.  Some people lie about their age – not me.  I am proud of every candle on the cake.   I feel like shouting from my rootop, “It’s my birthday!  I’m 50!  I am AWESOME!”  That may sound conceited, but I don’t mean it to be.  I mean it as a sign of true hard work, of fierce determination, of deep thankfulness.

I live with depression.  Now is a good time, but there have been many years that have been quite dark.  I have spent a fortune I’m sure on therapy, hospital bills and medication.  My depression has been serious and deep and dark and lonely and fearful and agonizing.  There have been moments where I was sure I would never make it to 50, let alone 40 or even 30.  I tried to die and was hospitalized TWICE before I was 25.  And for each time I tried to kill myself there were countless other times I just didn’t have the energy or the opportunity.  There were times I couldn’t get out of bed or take a shower, or make it to class and/or work.  I cut and/or burned myself to try to get the pain out of me.

My last depressive episode was just a few years ago – not reaching the point of suicidal ideation but serious enough to get me back into therapy and on medication.  I cried over getting out of bed, over getting my kids up for school, over doing the dishes, the laundry, over cooking dinner, over helping my kids with their homework.  With this depression I wasn’t sleeping all the time – I was suffering from insomnia, so there was no blessed escape in sleep.

Like I said above, I’m sure I have spent a fortune on therapy, hospitalizations and medication.  Some therapists were better than others, one hospital was certainly better than the other, and medication – well, you have to do some experimentation to find which one works best for each situation.  I’ve never done well on just one medication; each episode has been helped by a different anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medications.  I have worked HARD in therapy – confronting demons both real and imagined.  I scraped and clawed my way out of the black hole that is depression and I’m in a good place now.

I’m in a good place now thank God (and my therapist and my medication and my family and my friends and you all…).

And because I’m in a good place, I can truly appreciate the hard work I have done to get to this milestone in my life.  I can truly appreciate the hard work and worry of my therapists (I’ve had quite a few).  I can truly appreciate the worry and care of my friends and family.  I can truly appreciate the gift of these years and the gift of life.

I am happy to be 50 because I KNOW the alternative almost happened.  I am happy to be 50 because I could be dead and buried, never having had a career, a spouse or children.  I am happy to be 50 because I’m getting to see my kids (who at one point I thought I would never have) grow up.  I am happy to be 50 because there were times in my life I thought I’d never be here.

So I am thankful.  I think 50 is awesome.  I think 50 is amazing.  I am in awe.

Is it perfect?  There is no such thing.  I would be lying if I told you I wake up every day with a smile on my face and a song on my lips.  There is NO such pill that can make us be happy all the time.  The first time I went on medication the doctor explained it to me like this:  “Medication won’t make you giddy and smile all the time.  That’s not how it works.  What it WILL do is give you a higher threshold for tolerating pain, so you can deal with it more appropriately and heal.m  It raises your threshold for coping.”  That sums it up pretty well.  There is no such thing as a happy pill.  Life is hard and sometimes life just plain sucks.  But I’ve got it, and as long as I’ve got it I have a chance to work and make things better.

So I am wearing my age like a badge of honor – honor that comes through battles hard fought and victories hard won.  I never lie about my age, because I’m so darn thankful and proud to have made it this far.

I am 50, and it’s wonderful.

Nobody warned me about the fear

There is NO time in parenthood when you can relax.  I’ve been at this for over 15 years now and every new experience just reinforces that sad truth.

My teenager had a horrible middle school experience.  I won’t go into great detail out of respect for her privacy, but it was utterly frightening to watch.  Everytime she left the house, or even when she closed herself in her room we were afraid.  More than once my husband and I almost pulled her out of the school, in fact asked her if we could PLEASE pull her out and either homeschool or get a tutor for her, but she refused.  She was miserable, despondent, hopeless, dark (and yes, she was receiving professional help).

fear photo

She graduated from 8th grade in June, and in September started at our regional high school.  Five towns combine into one high school, which means a whole new mix of kids, and a bigger student population.  Many people told us that she would find her groove at the high school and we prayed and prayed and prayed that would be true.

In the past few months we have had a new person living in our home.  She is HAPPY.  She has made many new friends.  She is confident.  She cares about her classes.  She cares about how she looks (and by this I mean she cares if she’s showered and brushed her hair, not what designer label she’s wearing).  She has a new boyfriend who seems really nice.  I’m thrilled for her.

fear imageBut I’m still afraid.  Before, I was seriously afraid about the possibility of suicide and self- destructive behavior.  I was afraid because she disliked herself, had few friends and no social life.  I’m SO SO SO thankful those fears are gone – but they have been traded for new ones.  Now that she has friends and “hangs out,” I fear adolescent group mentality and the propensity to make poor choices.  Fears of sex (not just of her having it, but of STD’s and pregnancy!), drugs, fears of her expanding freedom and that with her new social life she may find herself in a precarious situation and not realize it or know how to get out of it.  We’ve talked about all these things with her, and once or twice she has called me to pick her up from a situation in which she felt uncomfortable, but still, the social pressures for teenagers are enormous, and sometimes those pressures can override their instincts and common sense.

I naively thought that once my daughter was in a better place I would be able to relax.  Nobody warned me that fear would be a constant companion in my parenting journey.  Sometimes it feels paralyzing, overwhelming.  For the most part I’m able to manage the fear beast though.  I can’t let fear rule my parenting – what an awful experience that would be for both her and me!  I can’t seal her in bubble wrap.  It’s part of the cost of loving – this intense desire for the well-being of the one you love, the fierce protectiveness against all things that might cause your child harm physically, emotionally or spiritually.  It goes against every instinct to let go, yet it’s the one thing we must do.  She has to learn to live her life, and the only way she can do that is if my husband and I allow her increasing freedom.  That means letting her go, little by little.

These new set of fears seem more natural to me than the ones I had when she was in the depth of her depression and self-loathing.  They’re fears that go along with the normal course of a teenager starting to break free, taking those baby steps towards adulthood.  They’re fears that are associated with living a life and not with being held back from life. The trick is knowing when to tell the fear to get out of the way, and when to listen to it – because there ARE times when you have to say to your kids, “Nope, not this time.”

 

big things in little packages

So the medication is starting to kick in again, which is good.  VERY good.  It still amazes me how the littlest things can set me off though.  Last week my husband and I had to have a rough conversation about money (specifically the lack of it) and I just wanted to cry and hide for days.  I needed him to comfort and hold me and tell me he still loved me even though he was angry – but when he’s angry that’s the LAST thing he wants to do!  To my credit, I made myself explain to him why I needed to be held (because I’m the quiet pondering type afraid of rejection), and to his credit even though he didn’t want to he did (because when he’s angry and stressed physical contact of any kind is the LAST thing on his mind).  We’re working this marriage thing!

It’s also amazing that after all my years and hard work in therapy that I still associate anger with lack of love.  What the hell is up with that?  Of course it’s possible to be angry with someone and still love them!  Of course it’s possible to be angry with someone and not think of leaving.  But to me anger still looks a lot like hatred, and it’s hard for me to distinguish in the heat of the moment that they are two VERY different things.  Depression makes it all the harder to see that.  I’m not liking myself very much right now, and I’m feeling very raw, so of course you must really not like me, and this incident is just proof.  Even though you’ve been married to me for T W E N T Y years…

Alright, so maybe the thing with my husband wasn’t such a “little” thing after all.  Maybe it was a big thing wrapped in a small package – a money conversation that exploded the bomb of my abandonment fears.  Gotta watch out for those big things in little packages, they can sneak up on you and knock you over if you’re not careful, especially when you’re just starting to stabilize on your meds.  Problem is that the little package looks so innocent, no big deal.  There’s no label on it that says, “Pandora’s box.”

So the medication is starting to kick in again, which is a good…

untitled

days.  morph into weeks.  weeks into months…

clouds hover, unchanging.

dark grey flatness which shows no promise of sun or prospect of storm.

going through the motions –

waking, walking, talking, loving, sleeping

all the same.

even fighting has no passion, only anxiety.

Joy?  no.

Faith?  perhaps.  difficult when connections are severed, real or imagined.

 

too tired to overcome, yet too strong to stop.

and so…

waiting…

 

 

 

so here’s the thing…

So here’s the thing.  I had my last session with my doctor/therapist last week.  I have found a new doctor who will monitor my medication periodically, but no new therapist.  Why?  Because it’s too fucking expensive that’s why.  Even with insurance the bills are huge, and half-way through the year my doctor/therapist dropped my insurance because she just didn’t want to deal with their crap anymore.  For half the year I paid to see her out of network and our bills piled up, and we just can’t do it anymore.  Why is mental health coverage so difficult?

I had a better relationship with this therapist than I have had with any other therapist I have EVER seen, and I’ve seen A LOT in my almost 50 years on the planet.  It was the first time, even in the midst of a messy desperate depression, that I felt equal to my therapist (which I suppose is a credit to all the hard work done with the therapists of my past, as well as a good relationship with my husband in which I feel loved and valued).   I didn’t feel like putty in her hands – I felt like I needed her help to make sense of the blurriness and chaos around me, but not that she had some weird mysterious power over me.  She talked to me, not just listened.  She praised my strengths, but also told me when I was full of shit.  She gave me her opinions – we had good back and forth conversations.  I’m thankful for the work she and I did together.  But it wasn’t finished.  And that’s too bad.  But we just can’t do it anymore.  In the past year I had gone from seeing her weekly, to every two weeks to prepare for her going out-of-network, to once monthly  when that finally happened – so at least I weaned myself from our conversations.  Again, too bad, because she was really good for me.

But I also tried to wean myself from my medication, which I DO NOT recommend to anyone.   I didn’t tell her, I didn’t tell my husband, I didn’t tell any of my friends.  I wanted to see if I could “handle it.”  Wanted to see if I could stop therapy and my medication and be “doctor free.”  Turns out I couldn’t.  I started feeling heavy and anxious and was beginning to retreat into the internet – the beginning of the slow slide into darkness I’ve come to know.  So now as I’ve just said goodbye to my doctor, I’m getting myself BACK on the medication and going through the motions until the heaviness I feel starts to lift.  She would surely tell me I was full of shit if she knew what I had done.  When I finally told my husband last week, he wasn’t too pleased with me either.  PLEASE PLEASE DON’T DO WHAT I DID.

I will miss my conversations with her.  I will miss the support and wisdom that comes from her clinical knowledge and experience and detachment (distance DOES permit better perspective).  I’m not feeling desperate.  I can “get by” without the talk therapy, especially since I’m taking my medication, but I wish I had more of a support network of people I COULD talk to about stuff.  The online community is fantastic, but it’s not the same as having someone to meet at the coffee shop to hold your hand, whose hand you can hold too.  I will have to force myself to make phone calls and initiate “get togethers” with folks in my social circle, when I’d rather just stay home alone (another wonderful symptom of depression).  But first I have to make it through Christmas…

depression sucks.

 

October 10

Today is World Mental Health Day.  It is a time to educate ourselves, a time to take care of ourselves, a time to end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.  I have a personal stake in this since I have my own history (and present) with mental illness.

Off and on through my adolescence and adult life I have had bouts of clinical depression.  Clinical depression is NOT the “I’m sad and need to have a good cry” kind, but the “can’t get out of bed,” “can’t stop crying,” “don’t want to live anymore” kind.  I’ve been saved by medication and HARD work in therapy.

Why the stigma?  I think because it’s an internal illness.  You can’t SEE it, except when someone’s had a break with reality and is acting out.  There is no blood test for it.  You can’t diagnose it with a blood pressure cuff.  It doesn’t show up in urine, there is no hearing test.  For all the great medical knowledge we have about how the body functions and malfunctions, we know SO VERY LITTLE about the brain.  The medications that have been developed to treat mental illness are still mysterious – some work for some people, they don’t work for others.  And sometimes what works for a person will stop working after a while and medications need to be shifted.

Many types of mental illnesses are also FEELING centered.  It is only fairly recent in history that we humans really care about feelings.  You don’t have to go back very far to find that “just getting through the day” and “doing what you have to do to get by” were the things that mattered.  How we felt about things was relatively unimportant.   People worked too hard to think about their lives.  Those who suffered breaks with reality were shipped off to “hospitals” – really just holding pens.  Treatment then is seen as barbaric now.  Often these folks were never seen again.  This was sadly also true for anyone who was mentally “defective,” including those with Down’s Syndrome, the physically handicapped, or those who were called “mentally retarded.”  Of course this is a massive generalization, but for many people, even in my own grandparents’ generation this was true.

We know so much better now.   We know MOST people with mental illnesses can be productive members of society.  We know there are treatments that actually HELP.  But history still weighs on us.  The history that wants to hide weaknesses of any kind, physical or psychological.  The history that still creeps up on those with depression when they’re told to just “snap out of it.”  The history that leads insurance companies to pay nicely for my medication but pays for a disgustingly small portion of my therapy (just dope a person up, but not pay for the help they need to work on their long-term ability to cope).

The stigma needs to stop, because it serves no good purpose.  It keeps people from receiving the treatment they need.  It allows people to stay stuck in archaic ideas.  It allows insurance companies to not pay for therapy on the same scale at which they’ll pay the cardiologist.  I live with depression.  I take medication.  I receive therapy.  Because of that I am able to care well for my children, hold down a job and pay taxes.   My psychiatric diagnosis doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me.  I am not ashamed of it.  I am anyone you see on the street, in the grocery store or at the gym.

For more information about World Mental Health Day, visit the World Health Organization’s link here.