On Depression, How to Tell if It’s Getting Bad Again… and Vibrators. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It Is What It Is.

Once upon a time, I went on a trip with Greg to Southern Italy, which should have been AMAZING but was, in truth, the Most Terrible Vacation Ever. I felt the whole time like I should be able to Gratitude my way through it. Like, WHO GETS TO GO ON VACATION TO SOUTHERN ITALY, BETH? I mean, other than people who live in Southern Italy. Like, people from Oregon, you know? Who gets to go on vacation to Southern Italy from Oregon? Who have 5 kids. And a mortgage. And who shop at discount grocery stores and refuse to replace towels no matter how threadbare they get because towels are really expensive, guys. REALLY , REALLY EXPENSIVE. The good ones cost $20. EACH. Or lots more. And it’s not like you can buy one towel and tell the family to share it. You have to buy at least 4 at a time. That’s the Rule of Towel Buying. And if we don’t want the humans in our household yelling at each other over Who Gets the Good Towel (“HE HAD IT LAST TIME!”), then we have to buy seven. SEVEN NEW TOWELS. For $140. 😳😳😳 Who has that kind of towel money, friends? Not me. Which is why trips to places like Southern Italy always feel like a MIRACLE to me. We can’t buy new towels, but, by God (and by my dad because he’s a pilot with travel benefits) we CAN magically arrive in places like Southern Italy upon occasion. If we stay in super cheap AirBnbs. And if we eat only cheese pizza and gelato and zero fancy restaurant meals. 

Southern Italy isn’t a hardship. Or it shouldn’t be. If there’s one priority Greg and I have had throughout our marriage, it’s travel. We finagle it every chance we get, and we scrimp and save in other areas (see: towels) to make it possible. But we’ve always understood it’s a privilege. We’ve never taken it for granted. 

And we didn’t take it for granted on the Most Terrible Vacation Ever, either. Which is part of why it was so horrific. I spent the time knowing it was a privilege, knowing literal millions of people would’ve happily traded us places, and it was still just awful. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in the throes of Massive Depression. And that’s one of the funny (not at all funny) things about depression — you can’t actually Gratitude your way out of it. Massive Depression sets its own agenda, and it takes neither your plans nor your privileges into consideration.

So we went because we said we would. We went because we didn’t want to regret not going. We went because we believed time away together would be good for our marriage. We went because we could and because Travel Is A Priority. And I went because I didn’t want to disappoint Greg. 

But I also knew my Children Would Die while I was away. I knew because Depression told me so, and Depression on a roll is way louder than Logic.

We drove through the Italian countryside, but we’d elected not to Spend Money on international cell service thinking we’d just use WiFi when we could get it, so there were hours and hours — and hours and hours — I had no way to contact the kids, and their caregivers had no way to contact us. Logic tried to get a word in edgewise. Logic kept saying Constant Contact does not = Children Stay Alive. But I was in a full panic mode and unable to hear it. Short, shallow breaths. Tight muscles. Tension headache. Rising shoulders. Staticky brain. Masking my distress and fear and clenched jaw with bolts of anger like lightning. 

Greg was having a blast. Note: Greg was not having a blast. Depressed Beth was having None of It. But, I decided in an abundance of wisdom, we might at least have good sex while we were away. I mean, God knows Greg deserved Something Fun on the trip, and I figured an orgasm might calm me the eff down, you know? Besides, I was Very Savvy and had packed my best, most powerful vibrator which we’d be able to use to get me over the mental hump* of Panic and into the mindset of Team Work necessary to accomplish our goal. 

I hadn’t packed the converter, though, for my vibrator with a cord. 🙄 Oops. Which means it took less than half a second to burn that sucker out on 220. For future reference, an appliance built for 110 doesn’t work on 220, not even if you set it on low, cross your fingers, and hope it works. 

At least I’d packed my Kindle with books and books and books and books which can Almost Always help me live in another world for awhile and forget my own bizarre terror. 

I dropped it on the tiled bathroom floor. It smashed into bits, taking my library with it.

To sum up, I went to Southern Italy with Greg in the midst of one of my largest despressive episodes, unaware of my mental state, without cell service to contact the children I was certain would die in my absence, burned out my ability to achieve sexual release, and ended up with one of Greg’s Horrible , Mindnumbing Science Novels with Zero Erotic Vampire Sex as my sole source of entertainment/mental escape. 

By the time the vacation came to its blessed end and Greg inadvertently gave me the wrong directions to drive to the airport that was the Gateway to Home (aka Hope), I lost my everloving shite. All of it. All at once. Shite just EVERYwhere in a terrific, toddler-style meltdown the likes of which has never been seen before or since. There was screaming. There was crying. There were recriminations. Snot and spittle flew involuntarily from my face while my head spun around, exorcist-style. Red laser beams emerged from my eyes. Logical Beth floated above my body, watching in stunned disbelief at how thoroughly I lost control of myself. Logical Beth was stuck there for a while because there was no room for her inside. She’d been shoved completely apart from the tangible experience. She was assigned an Observational Role only, and she was all, “WHOA” because she had no better words to describe it. 

We were on our way to the airport years later to go to Germany when we turned around and went home, instead. One of our kids was sick which made me feel panicky, even though Logical Beth reminded me it was only a mild fever. We’d learned a thing or two about marriage, though, after our ill-fated Southern Italy trip; namely, I’ve learned to Say When Things Are Not OK, and Greg’s learned to Listen. We made it 5 minutes from home when I said, “I’m sad,” and “I don’t want to leave him,” and “I’m trying to be OK.” And we made it one more minute before Greg, instead of saying, “It’ll be fine,” which I already knew, said, “We don’t have to go. It’s OK. Let’s just stay home.”

Last week, we finally took that trip to Germany.

And we had fun. 

Together.

Which feels like it’s own miracle, honestly.

And not just because I remembered to pack the converter. 

Coming to terms with Mental Illness means understanding I need to always be on watch. Vigilant. Paying attention. Assessing and reassessing. It means learning from failures and painful pieces of the past but not letting those be the whole story, nor define the future. But that’s easier said than done, and I find myself often tiptoeing toward events and treating trips like they might bite. I’m wary, I guess, because I don’t want to harm myself or others, but I don’t have a great track record of knowing when I’m about to bite the dust. I have a hard time trusting that I know more now or believing that I have the correct tools in place to appropriately manage my own mental health. But I suspect starting to believe in and trust myself is an Important Step toward Living Well with Mental Illness.

I’ll start by celebrating One Success. This one. And I’ll hope for more. And, because you and I spend time waving to each other in the dark, I wanted to celebrate this success out loud. 

Sending you love, and waving in the dark as always,

 

 

 

P.S. I’ve found this helpful lately. Maybe you will, too. 

P.P.S. Pay attention. Send that to someone if you need to. Highlight which ones are falling apart. Ask for help. Taking care of mental health is a series of baby steps. ANY steps are to be celebrated. Any at all. They accumulate and make a big difference eventually. I promise. Keep looking. Things will get better. You just may need a hand to get there. 

*P.P.P.S. Speaking of Mental Hump, I think there should be a trashy novel about a young, beautiful, self-disciplined psychiatrist-turned-best-selling-author in Hollywood who has to move back to her small town in the Midwest — a town she’d NEVER planned to return to after she promised herself she’d make it big and show the mean girls from high school that it was a GOOD thing to be smart instead of something to be mocked — to care for her ailing father where she becomes reacquainted with the One Person who was kind to her back then, the carpenter’s son who’s taken over the family business. There, she has to confront her long-repressed feelings of lust and love for the only boy (now man) who made her want to let loose and laugh and truly LIVE, unfettered and free to be her full self, as smart and lovely and savvy and funny and wild as she can be. In other words, the doctor who’s become a nationwide household name for her advice and books teaching others how to tame their fears and implement a strict regimen of self-control to achieve success discovers she must choose; maintain the rigid structure and aloof demeanor that lead to all her dreams (but one) coming true or give in to the vivid dreams that plague her nights (and increasingly her days), filled with one carpenter in particular. The novel  shall be titled Mental Hump, and the readers will be left to discover… can she overcome her mental hump? So all those hot mental humps might become reality? Or will she keep herself “safe,” well out of mental hump territory, and live the predictable — and strangely unsatisfying— life she’s made for herself?

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
23 comments
  1. I was sure I’d commented, but since it’s not here obviously it didn’t happen. I suspect I fell down the rabbit holes of googling that amazon link and dreaming of Germany and pinning the list of signs that things are getting worse and getting distracted by towels (Costco had some really nice big, thick towels for $5.99 last week, maybe I should get some?) …like, I did everything but hit send and then closed the page or something. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    I’m glad you finally took your trip and it was successful.

  2. I can relate in so many ways, Beth. And I love how beautifully you executed that last post script in quite nearly just one sentence.

  3. Note to self: pack the converter for the Italy trip.
    And the trashy novels.
    Can’t wait. ❤️

  4. I’ll add weeping (as said before) as well as “things don’t taste right” for my own signs. Thank you for the checklist. I will mark my calendar to make sure it’s not just a “dip” and see if it lasts past two weeks. Sometimes hormones SUCK and sometimes it’s not hormones. (Sometimes it’s grief, complicated with anxiety, mixed in with other “suck”.)

    *waving*

  5. So when will the book be out and will there be an audio version?

    Learning to say I’m sitting this one out and not beating yourself up for it can be hard.

  6. My first sign that things are slippin’ and slidin’ into dangerous territory is that feeling of watching myself totally and utterly lose my shit, while thinking, “Shut up, Alex. You’re being a bitch and your husband does NOT deserve this madness! Shut up shut up SHUT UP! Stop being such a nutball!” You know — when you see yourself flipping your lid over something totally inane, being really mean when it’s unwarranted, feeling soooo sad because the little boy just gave his dog a bone in the commercial and one day that dog will get old and the boy will lose him and OH GAWD nobody is ever really ready for the kind of death and he’ll just cry and cry…and suddenly you’re weeping and snotting all over hell’s half-acre… That out-of-body moment of realising “That is some seriously messed up behaviour, right there!” is generally about when I should call in the troops for help…and never quite get out of my head enough to do it…

    Thank goodness for friends who see the crazy coming from a mile away. And a husband who loves me through it. And a doctor — a brilliant, beautiful soul — who has those glorious little pills that bring me back to centre…

    And THANK ALL THE GODS IN ALL THE HEAVENS for bloggers like you, Beth, who make it all feel so normal and fine and relatable. And who give us the space and the words to speak out truths aloud, so that we know we’re never alone. xoxoxoxo

  7. You have an amazing ability to so poignantly describe the hell that mental illness is. Thank you for that! And, for the love of all things holy, WRITE THAT BOOK!

  8. I love you for many reasons, but one of the most important is helping me see my sister. I see her depression better through you. She’s been hard of hearing for years and my other sister and I heard that Costco did free hearing tests (she had been saying she’d get her hearing checked and never had), so I called and made appointment for all three of us, telling them which one of us needed personal attention. She tested as deaf as we thought she was and she came out with hearing aids in to walk around and hear the difference. I whispered something to her and she heard and when I told her I had been whispering, she had tears in her eyes. I was thrilled, she could hear! She paid for the aids and set a date to pick them up, she didn’t go and she didn’t go. My other sister and I decided she was too scared of being able to hear that she couldn’t get the aids. Her son finally took her and she was in tears when she got there. Her son is a poot and I thought he had somehow diminished the glow of hearing, but no, he told her everything would be ok. When we spoke the next day and she said she wasn’t crying with joy, she was crying because she was depressed about the hearing aids. Why?!! You’ve been deaf for years!. She was severely depressed about getting hearing aids even though it meant that she could hear. I didn’t and don’t understand, but today through you I got a glimpse of her.

  9. Thank you for the checklist. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between sad and Sad. Also, it sounds like you’ve got the novel all worked out and I would totally buy it and recommend it to all my friends.

  10. Thanks for this. I needed the checklist. ♥️

  11. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I also suffer from depression and have since childhood. New Motherhood 33 years ago tipped me over the edge. Thank god for meds. And people like you who share so we don’t feel alone and sucky.

  12. You say things I am thinking. You list was a good checklist to remind me: it is getting bad again. And that’s ok, not now, but it will be ok. Your story gives me some space to grant myself grace for the trips to Chicago to see my daughter in college that should be joyous events but, feel like an exercise emerging therapy for people with anxiety. Or, the blessed family events like Easter that make me want to hide (granted there are 60 folks assembled and that’s a lot of energy and humans). You always help me remember the both/and nature of my life and that sometimes you can’t gratitude your way out of situations, which I have convinced myself I should always be able to do. Thank you for you!

  13. Ohhhhh I was very worried that “once upon a time” was, like “last week.” (Though I couldn’t figure out how you were able to write about it already, so I guess that was a clue.) I am SO GLAD you enjoyed your trip to Germany, and SO GLAD that you are here, constantly reminding us all about those mental health things that just–they don’t–argh. You know? (That articulateness is why you write this blog, and not me.)

    1. Also, I MAY have clicked the link and it says right there “Not compatible with 220 volts.” I’m pretty sure that’s the Beth Woolsey Disclaimer.

  14. I’m thankful I’ve never had to deal with depression, but I know what it’s like to be the “we must always stick to the plan”-type person. I feel like being able to turn away from the airport–because ultimately it would be better for everyone involved–represents a level of maturity I’m not altogether sure I’ve reached (even at 50). I’m also the person who has threadbare living room furniture and the same towels we got as a wedding gift 27 years ago because travel is a priority, so I feel you there.

    Kudos on leveling up in life, congrats on making your planned trip to Germany a reality, and learning a valuable lesson about electronics.

  15. P.S. — cause someone started yelling and fighting between finishing and hitting submit, of course…

    I am SO GLAD you and Greg got to travel to Germany at last!

  16. Yup. That list is me. Right now my 3- and 5-year-olds are singing to the baby. Which is precious and sweet And Also stabbing my last two neurons into a misophonic rage. I tell myself OUT LOUD, “It is a joyful noise. YOU PRAYED FOR THIS.” Which is true. For years and years. They are a blessing. They are also sensory overload, (which is not hard to hit at the moment since the baby was up for FOUR HOURS last night). Both/And, I guess.

    I did see my counselor yesterday. I made cynical comments at her. We went over self care plans and mental time frames and also how once upon a time, Jesus was having a spectacularly bad week this week, also. She reminded me that It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Coming.

  17. That reminds me… I have one of your towels! Glad you made it to Germany! And what a great reminder of self care. ❤️

  18. And that just might make the best Hallmark movie ever!

  19. I’d add uncontrollable weeping for no apparent reason to How To Tell If It’s Getting Bad Again. Thanks, as always, for being so ridiculously and wonderfully honest and vulnerable about ALL of life.

  20. I’m so glad you had fun! Waving! ♡

  21. I love you. That is all.

  22. I’ve said this before, but you are my very favorite blogger anywhere. I am so grateful for your honesty and your vulnerability and how you tackle hard stuff head on. I’m celebrating your baby steps with you!!

    And while I’m at it, I want to celebrate my own baby steps…I’ve been through quite a life tornado for the last year or so – and I finally (because my therapist said so) started blogging for my own emotional well-being. I’m less than a week in…but I’m quite proud of the title: http://www.mysonsemotionalsupportdogatemyworkshoes.com

    Waving in the dark.

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