Getting Better

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

This column, which originally ran on Oct. 17, 2017, was one of three I wrote that took third place in the 2018 Hoosier State Press Association Better Newspaper Contest. The other two are available online already: Call them anything but apathetic and September is Suicide Awareness & Prevention Month.

 

“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

I went to the doctor on Thursday.

I tried going Tuesday, but they couldn’t fit me in. I tracked down my insurance card and my photo ID so they could have them scanned already when I came in Thursday and left to go cry in my car before going back to work.

This sort of thing shouldn’t have made me cry. It shouldn’t have made me feel so overwhelmed, but it did. All I could think was “Thursday? But I’m falling apart now.”

Ask anyone with it and they’ll tell you — having depression sucks. It sucks the joy out of life and, eventually, the life out of you. Being depressed is hard, but when it’s circumstantial, at least people understand. You’re supposed to break a littlewhen you lose a loved one ora job or are diagnosed witha terrible illness. When it’s clinical, not so much. You’re not supposed to be “sad” over nothing. “How can you
be like this when things could be so much worse? At least you’re not [insert something pitiable here].” Or they’re just silent or absent until you return to your “normal.” Unbroken people don’t really know what to say to broken people, especially when they don’t look or act broken most of the time.

When you’re depressed clinically, you’re left wishing it was “just” sadness. You know that feeling where you’re stomach-growling, physical-pain kind of hungry, but nothing sounds appealing? There’s all these food options — restaurants, a full pantry and fridge and a decent set of cooking skills, but you can’t think of a single thing you want to put in your mouth? Or maybe you know what you want and have no way to make it because, suddenly all the pots and utensils are missing? That’s how my brain feels to some degree all the time and it can spiral down from there. And then you have to act like none of that is happening in order to make a living and exist in the world. Until you can’t do it alone anymore.

For years, my depression has been manageable without pharmaceutical intervention. I was able to do what all the people with healthy brains who’ve never experienced mental illness told me to do — I swallowed the pain, the exhaustion, the crushing numbness and soldiered on.

“I’ll fall apart later,” I’d tell myself. “Not here. I don’t have time for it.”

And sometimes I did fall apart once I got home or to my car and sometimes I just internalized it and smashed it down like an overflowing garbage can no one wants to take out, knowing I was in for days of emotional exhaustion after I finally dug myself out of my hole.

Lately, the swallowing has become a choke. I first noticed my upswings going less and less high and my downswings lasting longer and longer about a year ago. I couldn’t do anything creative. I could create things, but they were things my brain was doing on autopilot (to explain that: I’ve taken up knitting, but that’s just repetitive motion, something to keep my hands busy. I’m creating a scarf, but I’m not doing anything creative). My National Novel Writing project came hard last year and while I completed it, I haven’t opened any of the files since. While I have a project for this year in mind, I realized I couldn’t drum up any excitement for it. Then I realized I couldn’t drum up excitement for anything, and I hadn’t really been able to for a while. I haven’t finished anything I’d written that wasn’t for work after Nov. 30, 2016. That’s hard on someone who feels like they need their creativity to be human, who’s defined themselves by what they do creatively since childhood.

It came down to a feeling that I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live like this anymore, either. I wanted to do more than just survive and my brain was not only not letting me do that, but was trying to convince myself I didn’t deserve to.

I’ve always said there’s no shame in going to the doctor for mental health issues. No shame in getting medication for anxiety or depression, any more than there’s shame for getting an antibiotic for a sinus infection or chemo for cancer. But I didn’t go. I wasn’t that bad, I managed to convince myself.

My first words to the doctor when he came in were, “I think my brain is broken.” I felt stupid. I didn’t think my brain was broken; I knew it had been broken for a long time. I watched as he read over what I’d told the nurse — the increased urge to isolate, the numbness, the inability to get excited over things that should have me excited, the increased executive dysfunction, my difficulty focusing. I was getting overstimulated more easily than before and I would sometimes feel like it was strangling me. I needed help to get my brain back.

And, reader, I got it, or at least I took the first step, and I left the doctor’s office anxious, but hopeful.

It’s too soon to tell if the medication I was given is working or for how long it will work. People with years of experience with antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds will often tell you they have to jump around from medication to medication before finding the right one. But it’s a start.

I’m going to get better.

kate@salemleader.com, @KateWehlann on Twitter

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