When Depression Comes in Disguise
May 7 2013
I just learned that May is Mental Health Awareness Month which is PERFECT because I just started taking anti-depressants again. Serendipity, friends; I could not have planned this better. Now this story, which I would’ve told you anyway, has a purpose. Awareness. Boom!
This is way better than when I told you about my wrap dress unwrapping in the parking lot which served no higher purpose at all. Of course, during the wrap-dress incident, I wrote without swearing. We’re not going to be that lucky this time. But, you know, we can’t have everything.
In my head, I’ve been handling life just fine. The key words there are “in my head.” Which is a real shocker because a couple of weeks ago I would’ve told you the key words were “just fine.” I began to suspect something was amiss, though, when I was getting ready for bed, pulling on my usual, sexy, threadbare, frayed t-shirt from 1991 — oo la la – and Greg, bless his heart, tried to talk to me.
“I love you very much,” I replied, “but I can’t talk any more today. Like, Not. Another. Word. So. Tired.” Except minus the I love you very much part. It was implied.
And Greg gently said, “Mornings aren’t good for talking. When I get home from work isn’t good for talking. Nighttime isn’t good for talking. When’s good for talking?”
And I realized, um, no time. No time’s good for talking, Greg. How about we just email each other from now on? But what I said out loud was, “I don’t know.”
The conversation played on repeat in my brain, like a bad song I couldn’t get out of my head. I had a nagging suspicion, coupled with other red flags, that something wasn’t right.
Here’s the thing: I’m not depressed. I’m not sad. I haven’t been living in a deep, dark pit of despair like I was the last time I took anti-depressants. I’m happy with my family. I like writing. I have fantastic friends. I’m more fulfilled at this point in my life than at any other. More content. More purposeful. I love getting older; I finally know myself a little, I like myself most of the time, and I can generally figure out a) what I really need and b) how to get it.
But it was becoming hard to keep swatting those red flags out of my face. They were like mosquitoes on crack.
This past year I’ve become more and more reclusive. I’m an introvert by nature, which surprises people because I’m outgoing, I like people, and I’m often loud, at least when I’m comfortable. Being alone gives me energy, though, so while I enjoy parties, I’m something of a dried out husk by the end of them and Greg’s left picking up the pieces, by which I mean ignoring me at my request until I can be personable again.
I found over the past year that I didn’t recover as quickly from group events and people-contact. I found I needed steadily increasing time alone to feel like I could breathe. I found I only had time to focus on my kids and that most other activities, including the “little” things like grocery shopping, helping in kids’ classrooms and going out for dinner with friends, induced dread. Utter dread. I still did them. Mostly. I even liked them, other than grocery shopping which can burn in the fiery depths of hell. But mustering the willpower to see events through was sometimes overwhelming.
And the weight gain. Oof. I tried to tackle this whole thing, in fact, from the diet and exercise angle, knowing I feel much better when I’m running regularly, eating healthier foods, and about 20 pounds lighter than I am right now. But I just haven’t been able to do it consistently. The momentum. The time. The not-medicating-my-feelings-with-food. Indicative of a larger issue? WHY, YES. DING DING DING.
It’s the anxiety that drove me to my doctor, though. Or the panic. Potato potahto. I’ve always loved traveling and Greg and I had an unusual opportunity to travel a lot last year. We did it and there were some awesome moments, but overall I was a terrible traveling companion, almost constantly consumed by the fear that something awful would happen to my kids while I was gone.
So I saw my doctor on Tuesday morning. The nurse came in first and asked why I was there. “I want to talk about anti-anxiety medication,” I said. “Or something. I was on anti-depressants successfully for several years. But I’m not depressed or sad now. I’m wondering if my current symptoms warrant a closer look at anxiety.”
“Tell me more,” she said.
“Well, I’m anxious to the point of paranoia. I’m hiding in my house. I don’t want to travel even though that used to give me joy. I’m gaining weight. Apparently I’m not talking to my husband regularly, but I hadn’t noticed. And sometimes I’m a raging bitch. Do they make a pill for that?”
And when my doctor walked in a while later, she said, “So. It says here you’re feeling irritable lately and anxious?”
And I said, “Yes. Consuming anxiety. And I think I technically said I’m a raging bitch.”
And she said, “Yeah, I’m not allowed to chart that. The profession frowns on putting ‘raging bitch’ in writing. Consider ‘irritable’ a code word.”
Irritable. Good to know.
And then we discussed depression versus anxiety. And my doctor told me that my symptoms are symptoms of clinical depression.
“BUT I’M NOT SAD,” I said again. “I’m not hoping for a car crash that will land me in the hospital where other people will take care of me. You know, this time. I’m not in despair.”
“Just because you were sad last time doesn’t mean you’ll feel that way this time,” she said.
“The symptoms are not the same for everyone,” she said.
“Some people experience increased migraines,” she said.
“Some people have difficulty concentrating.”
“Some people experience anxiety or panic.”
“Some people become reclusive or otherwise avoid engaging socially.”
“Some people are ‘irritable.’”
“And when people have several of the symptoms and a history of depression? Well, you see what I’m saying.”
And everything came into focus.
As someone who’s suffered from depression in the past, I was highly aware that it could resurface. I was on the lookout, even. But it came masked this time as a stranger, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize, and it snuck up and clocked me from behind because, no matter what it looks like, Depression is a dick.
Guess what? I’m gonna kick its ass.
I sat quietly at our giant farm table after dinner the other night while Greg did the dishes and talked. He stopped and stilled suddenly after saying something funny and said, “Did you just laugh?” I nodded, hoping he wasn’t offended and that I was laughing with him and not at him. “Yeah… ?” I said, wondering why he asked. He started on the dishes again and said, “I just haven’t heard you do that in a while.”
I’ve been back on meds for one week, which anyone can tell you is not enough time to tell whether this is the right medication. It takes time to climb back out of the holes Depression pushes us into. But there’s light up there, I just know it,
and I’ve started digging.
P.S. Medication is not the right solution for everyone. It is the right solution for me. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, get help. There are lots of options, and getting help is the right solution for everyone.
P.P.S. If you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself for being depressed, read this all the way through the comments. You’re not alone. And you’re worthy of deep love. Including from yourself. True story.
P.P.P.S. I didn’t mean for this post to morph into a Public Service Announcement about depression, but it did. These things happen. Thanks for tumbling down the rabbit hole with me.