A New Normal?

According to the current clinical depression screening tool on MoodNetwork.org, I am not depressed. I was so surprised by this result when I first got it, I answered all the questions again to make sure I hadn’t lied on any of them: Sad most of the time, check. Trouble falling asleep and waking early, check. Feeling tired, check. All these other questions… no, my appetite hasn’t changed, I’m actually more motivated and active than usual, and I DON’T FEEL WORTHLESS!!! (or suicidal). I feel… okay.

a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, "You are not depressed."

screenshot of my result from the depression screening: a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, “You are not depressed.”

I’ve been re-taking the screening for the past few days now, and I keep getting the same result. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’M NOT DEPRESSED!!!

Oh my GOD!!!

I know, I know, it’s just an online screening. It’s not a substitute for a mental health professional’s evaluation. Well, I met with two mental health professionals this week. My prescriber told me, “It seems like your antidote to feeling sad is keeping busy.” She agreed with my decision to stay at my current dose of lamotrigine (50 mg 2x/day) because I don’t want to try to medicate away my feelings. Wakana congratulated me, said that clearly the therapy and medication are working, and told me I’ve been making good progress.

I am not depressed. Part of me wants to scream “I’m cured!!!” – but I think that might be a little bit premature. (or complete bullshit.) I’m… better. I’m okay.

I’m standing at the edge of a cliff with a brand new glider on my back, watching everyone else glide around, and wondering, “Is this thing really safe?”

Wakana said, “baby steps.” She used the metaphor of easing oneself slowly into a pool – which I find ironic because to me that’s torture. I’d rather just jump in, get the “it’s cold!” shock over with all at once, and start swimming oh my god swimming it’s the best thing ever!!! I want to go right now! But, umm, I don’t have a pool. So, yeah, this isn’t swimming it’s life. Baby steps. (I have friends who have a pool, and they’ve invited me to come swim in the past. I should ask them if the offer still stands.)

I guess I’m taking baby steps. I’m (literally) taking thousands of steps (that is, walking) on the days when I meet with her… and I want to take more on the days when I don’t. I’ve been having great conversations with loved ones, including Mom. Composing, making art for the fun of it, spoiling our pet rats… being intimate with Fox…  (I love having my sex drive back – and it takes some… navigating…) In the next few weeks I plan to acquire clothes I feel good about wearing, start practicing music instruments regularly, declutter, meet with my adviser about internship possibilities, and start applying for internships and part-time jobs. I had to re-write this paragraph to sound positive and not “being hard on myself” for the things I “should” be doing; now I’m worried about trying to do too much and burning out before I even get started! But at least I can re-write it.

In the past, times when I’ve temporarily clawed my way out of the bottomless pit that is being clinically depressed have been the best days of my life. For example, my wedding: at that time I was still using the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of my symptoms; on my wedding day my score was 6. That’s “normal but unhappy” (granted, only 1 point off from “no depression”). The best I ever felt – EVER – the best days of my life were what most people would (ostensibly) consider “unhappy.”

These are not the best days of my life. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m achy. I miss my friends, especially Banji. Last night I had a nightmare (in which my husband died). I’m going to go crazy (and spend way too much time playing The Sims 3) if I don’t find some way to structure my time (besides playing The Sims 3). For a while I was starting blog posts, then deleting them. … I think you get the idea.

Today I scored a 10 on the Burns Depression Checklist, which is the highest score in the “normal but unhappy” range. (a score of 11 would indicate mild depression.) I think I answered honestly, despite the temptation to lower my score to fit with the previous assertion that “I’m not depressed.” It seems accurate to say that I’m unhappy.

But something’s changed. Like someone lifted a blanket off me and I can see the sun and feel the breeze and stand up tall and breathe. I feel more confident. Hopeful. Maybe… even… whole?

One Emotion at a Time

Being sad sucks. However, I’ve noticed (since writing my last post) that when I’m sad, that’s it. I’m sad. I’m not also angry or feeling guilty or ashamed or secretly relieved and guilty for feeling that way or some crazy combination of the above. I might get frustrated that my sadness has nothing to do with my current situation and/or I can’t get it to go away. But at least I’m just sad.

This is a huge improvement for me! It’s such a relief to finally be able to feel one emotion at a time. Just sad. And best of all, the sadness doesn’t include feelings of worthlessness or despair.

I’ve finally figured out that there were aspects of my childhood that sucked, and I didn’t receive the support I needed, and I acted out, and adults didn’t respond the way I needed them to, so I did what any kid would do: I blamed myself. I internalized all the negativity around me. I thought that I was wrong, different, that no one could understand me. I’ve felt isolated for a very long time.

But it’s not my fault. I don’t even feel the need to blame (most of) the adults in my life because they were overwhelmed by their own problems. People didn’t handle or understand things the way we do now; most of the programs that could have helped me just didn’t exist. And even if they had existed, it’s not like my mom could have googled them.

The stuff I used to believe about myself just isn’t true. I can let go of it – and good riddance! The truth is, I’m just as worthy as anyone else. And I’m probably more similar to others than different.

I’m finally free to just be sad. Free to grieve normally, as should have happened the first time around. Free to let go and forgive.

I might feel sadder now than I’ve ever allowed myself to feel my entire life, but I’m healthier too. (And there are times when I feel other emotions, each more or less by itself.) This may be the healthiest I’ve ever been. It’s exciting.

Sometimes I Just Need to Sleep on You

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, she said. You’ll feel less tired when you’re not repressing them, she said.

Bull. Shit.

Okay, I let the sadness up. Happy? I even admitted to a pain that’s been brewing inside me for over half my lifetime (the fuck). What else do you want from me? Cotton candy? Let’s go, I’ll buy you some right now. I’m sick of this shit.

There is a thing gnawing on my insides. My stomach and my heart and my lungs. It’s big and ugly and it keeps growing. It’s turning my whole body nasty colors, from the inside out. It causes a deep ache and sometimes it stings and it’s always there.

Maybe I’m just hungry. I eat, it gets the food, but it’s still gnawing on me. Let’s go for a walk. Okay, I walk. Maybe I’m distracted from the pain for a while. It’s still there. You tell a joke. I laugh. It feels good. Maybe it loses its grip for a moment. But then I stop laughing, and it goes back to gnawing. When I cry, that’s it gnawing so loudly you can actually hear it. When I sleep it keeps me from resting fully and fills my mind with all sorts of crazy thoughts and dreams. When I wake – you guessed it! – still there.

I just want it out of me. Can you do that? I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just make it stop!

Bad Day Blues

Thursday was just a Bad Day. A prime example: I accidentally spilled crumbs on my laptop keyboard when I was initially getting ready to write this post, and even hours later my keys keep sticking. I have to press very hard, often multiple times, to get certain keystrokes to register. It makes every word I type painful.

I woke up – or so I keep telling myself, maybe I didn’t really – feeling tired and completely unmotivated to do anything. I was sad for most of the day. I didn’t have fun playing a game I usually enjoy. I wanted to do something, but nothing seemed appealing enough to be worth the effort it would take. I kept falling asleep, having weird vivid dreams, and waking up feeling disoriented. I felt frozen with fear and stayed very still for what felt like long periods of time. I didn’t want anyone to see me, so I hid in my room and stayed as quiet as possible. My thoughts wouldn’t organize themselves.

I realized human interaction might help, but I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to anyone. Quite the opposite: I wanted to withdraw from everything and everyone. I wanted to die. When I’m at my most vulnerable, interacting with others is like walking into battle without armor. Even the most well-meaning people want something from me, and in those moments I have absolutely nothing to give. I need a hug and permission to be miserable.

I scratched myself, leaving a solitary long thin red line down my left forearm. I tried really hard not to do it, to use non-harmful pressure and rubbing instead, but those sensations couldn’t cut through the depression fog. The pain did, at least partially. At least temporarily. Everything became clearer; I was in the world again.

None of the strategies I’ve developed or had suggested to me were even relevant. How can I refute harsh thoughts when they won’t form themselves into words? All I had was feeling sad and lifeless. How can I direct anger outward when it’s barely glowing ashes that refuse to form a flame? All they do is gnaw at me and hurt. How can I use tools when I don’t even have the strength to lift them? What good is it to think about what I can do, if I lack the energy and motivation to get out of bed? All those choices just overwhelm me and I end up doing nothing – and feeling worse.

All I could do was give myself permission to be a bum all day. To feel miserable. And if I did manage to get myself to do something, I picked an activity that would get my mind off my emotions. It sucked.

But at the end of the day I’m still here. I’ll be really impressed if Friday manages to be worse. It’s a lot more likely to be at least a little bit better. That gives me some hope.