For the past couple of months I’ve been feeling a little, for lack of a better word, adrift. Last summer I wrote about my ongoing struggle with depression, and the cocktail of mood-stabilizing drugs that helped me drag myself up out of the bullshit. At the time I felt almost elated, like through Zoloft and Abilify I had somehow found a magic cure that made me feel normal again. And for a while I did feel almost normal, “almost,” I guess, being the operative word.
A few months after I lost my job I stopped taking the medication, in part because of the exorbitant cost of drugs when one doesn’t have insurance ($375.00 for a month’s worth of Abilify? You must be joking me), but also in part because I no longer felt like being “managed.” Okay, the pills maybe made me more pleasant to be around, they maybe chemically somewhat dissipated the weird invisible gray cloud I feel is always following me around, but I felt like I was living a half-life, like I couldn’t be trusted with my own emotions. The very idea of “mood stabilizers” started to sound sinister to me. I don’t want to stabilize my blacker feelings. I want to be able to understand, wrangle, and get past them.
So I stopped taking the pills. Probably not the smartest idea, considering they say you should consult your doctor and be weaned off SSRIs rather than dropping them cold-turkey, but frankly my doctor was kind of an asshole who kept misdiagnosing me and asking me if I was on meth (what?) and didn’t seem to have much of an agenda for me getting better beyond dumping drugs down my neck. Whenever I showed up at his office crying he just increased my dosage and said he was certain I would get past this. For some reason it wasn’t reassuring. So I just stopped.
For the first few weeks I felt strangely OK, a little blurred, a little off, but generally OK. Then, somewhere around November, the full force of my depression started coming at me again. I found myself having weird creepy secret crying jags on my couch in the middle of the day. Sleep wasn’t coming. My relationship ended (for a few reasons, but my depression and anxiety and the ensuing inability to be available to someone else who, incidentally, also suffered from depression and anxiety were clearly a major factor). Social engagements started freaking me the fuck out. My motivation to achieve anything came to a virtual standstill. I felt like my resting heart rate was about 25% higher than it ought to have been. Panic was mounting and I didn’t want to mention it to anybody because I thought, well, Sara, you kind of brought this upon yourself. It was like, here’s your bed, now fucking lie in it.
So over the holiday season I attempted to muddle through, not wanting to mention my shit to anyone. Although anyone who knows me in person will tell you I’m pretty outgoing, at the same time when it comes to matters of the heart and mind I have a tendency to keep mum. It’s a condition that psuedotherapists on VH1 reality shows refer to as “having a wall up.” My friends and family seemed satisfied with my condition and I didn’t want to alarm anyone. Also there’s this whole thing about admitting you are depressed that causes the people around you to treat you differently. I don’t like being handled with kid gloves, nor do I particularly like to talk about my feelings. Keeping my shit bottled up inside prevented both of these things from happening. Friends and family kept telling me I seemed like I was doing well, that I was happy, and these comments sparked a sort of perverse satisfaction inside me: Fooled you. But also, You really have no idea.
Internally I was starting to lose it. My life had become fraught with a neverending series of what-ifs. What if I agree to go to that party and then I have an anxiety attack? What if I get too drunk and start getting sloppy about my feelings? What if while we’re out of town I suddenly really really need to be by myself? What if I can’t get out of this? And, most distressingly, what if the people I love get sick of me for not being able to kick this fucking bullshit? I’ve been around enough other depressed people in my life to know that it can take near-saintly levels of patience to put up with someone caught up in the throes of interior weirdness. You want to shake them and tell them to snap out of it, to get right, to start acting like the person you know they are. I felt like if I could fake my way through this period than I could get out of it on my own and no one would be the wiser.
Because honestly, it’s embarrassing. As if I didn’t already have enough bad feelings to deal with, I was now dealing with the depressive’s guilt about being depressed. Why am I depressed, you know? Like, I don’t have it as great as some people but my life is in no way even close to being bad. People tell me all the time how lucky I am, which I know, and which makes me feel like even more of an asshole for not being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and fucking DEAL WITH IT. I read Allie from Hyperbole and a Half’s hilarious webcomic about her own “adventures” in depression, and I related with what she said:
“It’s disappointing to feel sad for no reason. Sadness can be almost pleasantly indulgent when you have a way to justify it – you can listen to sad music and imagine yourself as the protagonist in a dramatic movie. You can gaze out the window while you’re crying and think “This is so sad. I can’t even believe how sad this whole situation is. I bet even a reenactment of my sadness could bring an entire theater audience to tears.”
But my sadness didn’t have a purpose. Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn’t really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason.”
Man, I feel that. And if there’s something I am good at, it’s compartmentalizing my feelings. I wrapped up my depression and anxiety and put it in a box marked with a big sad face and tried to shove it into the back of my mind.
When I do this kind of thing, this whole pretending-everything-is-okay thing, I tend to fling myself with wild abandon into some kind of pointless but valiant-seeming distraction. I become a one-track mind kind of girl. I’ve had weeks where I did literally nothing but sit around the house with my guitar playing the same few chords over and over again. All those runway photos I used to painstakingly trim the backgrounds from and arrange in Photoshop for days, even weeks on end, back in the WR2BAM days? A symptom of my depression, for sure. The intense spurt of creative inspiration I had at the beginning of my unemployment, when I was pumping out pins and jewelry at an alarming pace? The same distraction technique. It’s like my mind is going, give me something to do — anything — just keep me occupied so we don’t have to think about this other thing.
This time around this obsessive mania has manifested itself in an even less productive form. In my spare time for the past month or so I’ve been doing literally nothing but reading. I’m tearing through three or four novels a week. I guess somehow devoting all my available mental space to other people’s fiction seems like a more lofty, intellectual way of dealing with my emotions than, for instance, parking it in front of the TV for hours on end. “See, I’m not just wasting my life away! I read Anna Karenina in two days last week!” But ultimately, escapism is escapism, and no matter how many Russian classics I plow through, it’s not a replacement for my real full life. And that box I had shoved into the back of my mind keeps dislodging itself and tipping over and spilling everything out all over my brain. One minute I’m reading Jonathan Lethem and everything seems OK and the next minute I’m curled up in the fetal position, crying.
When you are depressed, bearing this shit alone can feel almost noble. I just finished Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot (which I thought was pretty crap), but I did relate to the character of Leonard and how he considered himself to be a “superior” type of depressive. I have found myself thinking similar things about myself over the course of my life when I have struggled with my own mental stability, like being depressed somehow makes me interesting or more valid as a writer. The fact is, though, that that’s all the depression talking. Depression validates itself. But it will never fix itself.
So a couple of weeks ago I broke down and admitted to my family the rough time that I’ve been having. I’m still working up the nerve to talk about it in more depth with some of my close friends, because I know my mental weirdness is affecting my interactions with the people I love. But just admitting to someone, finally, that things are not going well almost felt like the first step in getting myself out of this mess this time. I have made the decision not to go back on medication, and armed with that knowledge and the support of my family I now know that I can’t expect myself to deal with this on my own. I don’t need the pills, but I do need someone to talk to — a good doctor that I can relate to and who won’t call me a narcissist and assume that I’m on amphetamines — and I need to be more conscious of the support system I already have in place.
Ultimately I know this is not a burden that can be shouldered alone, no matter how alone it can make a person feel. I have come to the understanding that this is not something I will ever be entirely free of — and that, in turn, has brought me to the understanding that the sooner I learn to deal with it, to understand it, and to do the things necessary to bring myself out of it, the better. I feel like I’m ready to start the learning process.
I don’t know. I’m not doing well. But I know I’ll be all right.