In December of 2011 I wrote a post titled, Life, Interrupted. It was the first time I ever addressed my struggle with depression publicly. I never really hid it, but I’ve never really talked about it. Soon after, friends contacted me privately to share their own stories. and to thank me for sharing mine. But I felt sort of like a phony. I had shared a moment in such an abstract fashion, that it was just as easy to assume that I was just having a really bad day. I promised myself that I would write my story, the real story, soon. Soon turned into days, weeks, months, etc… I hesitated realizing that 15+ years had not changed that much about how depression is perceived, and I certainly didn’t want to be categorized. But this past week I chanced upon someone else’s story at Hyperbole and a Half, and thought that maybe perception hadn’t changed because we the sufferers were still in hiding. Maybe if I joined Allie and told my story others would begin to see depression as another chronic disease to manage. We, the ‘diseased’ are often functioning, successful people of high intellect. YEAH! So here you go, my story. MY defining moment.
I was lying on the sofa on my stomach with my arms at my side and my face looking towards the television. It wasn’t a comfortable position by any stretch of the imagination, but I guess it’s how I had landed, and I lacked the energy to adjust my body. In fact, my limbs felt heavy and the thought of lifting them seemed like more work than it was worth.
This wasn’t the first evening I’d spent that way, but as it seemed to be many, my mind couldn’t and can’t recall when it began. My body was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. When and if I finally managed to fall asleep, I didn’t want to wake for fear that the next day would bring much of the same. But I had bills to pay and in order to do that, I had to make it to work. Somehow I managed the almost 8-hour workday, only to arrive home, throw myself on the sofa and repeat the cycle of watching,–staring at may have been a more precise description–TV, stationary for hours.
It bothered me in the beginning. I was frustrated at myself for being so tired but unable to sleep, for lacking any desire to answer my friends’ phone calls, for—what I thought at the time—being lazy. But as the days (weeks?) went by, it stopped mattering. I knew that I should want more than the life I was living at that moment, but I couldn’t feel anything about it. I was numb and resigned to this version of myself.
Thinking back now, that should’ve been my red flag: the emotional numbness. “Lacked emotion” was not a term anyone would have ever used to describe me. My entire decision-making process revolved around whatever emotion(s) I was feeling at the moment. In fact, it seemed that my poor logical brain existed solely to try, often failing, to keep my free-spirited heart from running off to chase after the next person, place, or thing that caught its attention. I should’ve ran for help at the first thought of “who cares,” at the lack of tears, but apathy, by definition, doesn’t allow for worry, concern, or fear. What is, really just is what it is.
I was lucky. I had a good friend for a roommate and unlike most of my other friends who gave up on me after the hundredth unreturned phone call, she pushed and prodded and put up with a lot before she finally talked me into seeking help. I probably did it for her. Had my body somehow melded into the sofa, I would’ve probably resigned myself to it, but I was a burden to her, and that wasn’t fair. So off to the doctor I went.
“Why are you here today, Ms. Juliá?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you in pain?”
“But you don’t feel well, I assume?”
“I don’t feel at all.”
I remember that initial exchange like it was yesterday. Trying to explain to the white-haired doctor who appeared to be in 60s that I, in my mid-20s, should be given clearance to return to my life of staring at the TV and could he just reassure my roommate that there was nothing weird about that.
It didn’t fly.
Hours later, my brain on the verge of exploding at the new words that he was using to describe it—depression, neurotransmitters, serotonin– I left, with a prescription for something called Paxil in hand.
I’d like to say that those little blue pills changed my life, but it wouldn’t be true. Well, they killed my appetite and I lost 20 lbs in two months, but the other side effects made me miserable. I wasn’t numb anymore, but I was miserable and in my mind, numb was so much better. I stopped taking them after six months and trudged along, trying to make my way back into my life before them, before the sofa, and into the good graces of the friends I had pushed away. It had been almost a year I believe, and I soon learned that 365 days don’t stop to wait for you. They move with the ticking of the clock, and you’re either living them or not. There’s no catching up, a hard fact to accept but one I eventually did.
I understood that some of the people I thought were my friends were either not ready to be forgiving or not ready to deal with the unknowns of my disease. In fact, they may not have understood that depression is a disease; that I could no more help what I had been through, than a diabetic and his or her insulin shock. I accepted life, for what it was at that moment and decided to jump on with the additional baggage I had acquired, and move with it.
It was a moment in time that defined who I was becoming. My mind, seemingly always the slave to my heart, was not as weak as I had assumed. It had exerted its power and forced me to deal with many realities I had avoided. My lack of conviction in the religious life I had been living and my lack of direction and commitment to anything in my life. So I made some difficult decisions and left the church and began to explore the world outside of it.
The commitment and direction, well, those don’t come so easily for me and I’m fully aware that my mind and I will often be at odds and at anytime it will exert its will again. I refuse to medicate myself with chemicals, but I’ve learned some coping mechanisms—regular exercise, healthy diet, balance of social and alone time—that help keep it at bay, and I’ve managed to be successful with only a handful of episodes in the years since, the last one in December of 2011, which you can read at Life, Interrupted.
People often comment that I seem to always be in my head, and I always want to say, “If you felt the strength of my brain’s grip, you’d understand.”