I'm reading "An Unquiet Mind" right now which is about a psychologist with manic depression. It inspired me to give a brief (twenty years condensed into four and a half pages) history of mine.....
I remember when I was a young girl, maybe ten or so, and commenting to my Mom that I did not think I smiled as much as other people. She said that people often did not smile and I said that I thought this was different. I didn’t feel happy like others did.
Shortly thereafter, I was sent to my first psychologist. My fears and desires were very limited, like those of most ten year olds, and her great solution was to get a cat to replace one I’d been very close to up until her recent death. The following birthday, my dad took me to the shelter and I picked out a lovely and sweet black and white cat. Little surprise, a new cat did nothing to quiet the growing shadows that were being to spread from the corners of my mind.
As far as upbringings go, mine was fairly normal on a superficial level. I was the only girl, third born in a flock of four. My dad was in the Navy reserves until I was about seven, at which point he went on active duty. My mom was a part time nurse and full time mother. The oldest brother showed a remarkable interest in architecture and was encouraged from an early age. My youngest brother adored the outdoors and was an active Boy Scout, obtaining Eagle Scout status and his Order of the Arrow. The middle brother has mild to moderate autism and has been in need of constant attention. Then, there was me.
I’ve never truly felt like I belonged with my family. Whether they’ve pushed me away or I left of my own free will, I do not know; the feeling so old and pervasive. However, the distance between us has always been a constant source of inner (and sometimes outer) turmoil for me. Things were about the same in school; my classmates always commenting on how shy or quiet I was. Throughout the years, I’ve become more open with my friends and have a fantastic circle of people that I’m honored to know. In many ways, I am closer to several of them than I am my family, who seem to lead lives rather insularly. This is especially true with my dad who, at this point, I’ve all but given up on developing the sort of close relationship that I so desperately long for with him. There is a bitter irony knowing that we were closest when farthest apart.
The incident with the first psychologist was certainly not my last. From her, I went to a rather well respected and charming one by the name of Rachel who was fantastic at using tools to help me open up and communicate with her. It was she who I first confessed to being suicidal and she who saw the need for my first hospitalization.
To be twelve and sent to a psychiatric hospital is a wretched thing. I remember packing my things in the late evening and the overwhelming sense of embarrassment I felt. My Dad told me he was disappointed in me which only deepened my shame. The drive to the private hospital was dreadfully tense and the admission process equally so. Upon being admitted, I was strip searched and put in solitary confinement for the night. The next morning, I met a slew of other kids my age or a bit older that had been runaways, or depressed, or gotten into drugs; mostly pot. Most of us were military dependents and we all seemed to have “Daddy Issues.” Overall, it was not something I’d ever hope to repeat. I found the doctors interesting and enjoyed the time one-on-one but it was few and far between. Most of the time was spent in the group, being forced to talk about things I felt were deeply personal and no one’s business but mine and my doctors.’ My first roommate drew wretchedly detailed pictures of death and smuggled cigarettes hidden in her vagina that she’d chain smoke in the bathroom. She would threaten me with a longer stay if I told anyone what she was up to. As she was older than I, I believed her and sat at the small desk in our room, looking at nothing and trying not to smell it either.
It wasn’t long before I was switched into a room with a kinder, gentler girl who was very friendly and, on one particular morning, did my hair in a pretty French braid. I looked so much “improved” that morning that they offered me a surprise day pass to see my family; an awkward day of long pauses and feeling more fractured from them than usual. I don’t remember her name but I do remember being surprised to find out that this bright ray of light in my life was equally depressed as I. During that period, I met my first homosexual, an endearingly kind sixteen year old named Mike who was admitted because he tried to kill himself when his parents lambasted him for being gay. I also had my first boyfriend to whom I was not very kind. It was shortly after I moved from the state that I found out he had killed himself.
There were other wonderful kids there whose names and faces I’ve forgotten over the years. I think that I gained a bit of empathy while there and began to realize that we all fight our own battles; not always publically. I also felt like a caged animal, stalking the walls of my prison and admiring the boy that tried to escape. My heart ached most for the few of us who were deemed “LT” that is, destined for the long term treatment facility in Mississippi. Unlike most of us, LTs would not be going home in six weeks’ time. They’d have walls to stare at for eighteen months or more.
Moving to Chicago did little to alleviate the sinking feeling inside. The neighborhood around the military base was rough, the school was horrible, and I continued to butt heads with my father. For a mental break, I began to volunteer at the Naval Hospital. It was there that I met a young ensign who seemed wildly charismatic, charming, and good looking. They called him Dennis the Menace for his mischievous ways. I fell hard for him and we spent many an evening searching out corners of the hospital wing to neck and fondle each other. It was only after a month or so of this intense game, his wife showed up on the floor with their two children in tow. I found out that Dennis was four years older than he had told me and that I was incredibly naïve to think I’d been something special. In fact, I’d been just another knot on his long line of misdeeds. Dennis the Menace indeed.
Shortly thereafter, I was admitted to another hospital after stumbling into the ER blithering about Dennis, the fights with my dad, and the overwhelming desire to die. I’d been lying in bed, staring at the walls, twisting, turning, sobbing and scratching at my wrists. It was to the hospital or suicide. I chose the hospital which resulted in embarrassing scandal for my parents and the return of that horrible caged animal feeling when they were called to admit me.
This stay wasn’t so long which was probably best for me anyway. As I hated the staff and felt wholly uncomfortable being with people who had much more serious problems than I, I felt the best way to get out was to play along, working everyday on perfecting my answers to gain what I ultimately wanted: freedom. While there, I met the man who would become my psychologist for the next three years.
Dr. G was a kind man with an honest desire to help people but I’m not sure he was the best fit for me. Never once could I open up to him about the plethora of boys and young sailors that I began cavorting with. He never knew that I had a friend that had an abortion or the deep feelings the news had stirred in me- or that her boyfriend had shared my bed as well. He didn’t know I was planning to run away until I was already several states east. He didn’t know that gang violence had ended the life of one of my friends and nearly took the life of another. These things, I feel, you ought to be able to tell someone paid to listen. All in all, while his intentions were good, admirable even, I never felt close enough to trust him. Of all the weekly sessions, the things I got most from him were to dye my hair if I wanted to (suddenly the permission halted any longing for blue hair) and to “stop” being Pagan. Fifteen years later, I’m an ordained Pagan minister with a Pagan son.
No, I got better therapy with the horses. Shortly after moving to Chicago, I began riding and was soon offered a job at the stable in exchange for my lessons. Nothing halted a black mood quicker than to see my “babies.” Many an evening, I would go into the stall of a particularly beautiful grey gelding and lay my head on his shoulder. He stood patiently, neither eating nor begging attention, and simply let me stand with him. It was then that I knew Grace and my heart broke a thousand times over when he was sold.
My dad officially retired from the Navy when I was sixteen and we settled in Raleigh, North Carolina. If the Chicago years had been difficult, North Carolina was the worst. I felt wholly out of my element. Attending public school was an outright disaster (I’d chosen to homeschool after the death of my friend) and a few months into it, I found the safety and comforts of my bed to be far preferable to tally interacting with hundreds of obnoxious, lively teenagers. During Thanksgiving break, I resolved not to go back but instead finish high school at home.
My parents found another doctor for me to go to. She was very kind but couldn’t figure out why I was still in therapy. In her mind, I had all the tools to conquer depression. It was simply a matter of using them. Her attitude was more along the lines of: there is nothing that you want that you can’t have. Now, go get it.
The best thing she ever gave me, though, was encouragement to pursue photography. It was in her office that I saw pictures of the Great Wall of China and fell in love. Photography has been a fantastic source of self-expression since then.
Unfortunately, all that prodding to use “I feel” statements and encourage closeness with my family did nothing to ease the tension between my father and me. During a particularly angry outburst with him, he told me that I could leave if I didn’t like the way the house was run. So, I did. I moved to Washington State.
I honestly wish that I could say moving to Washington alleviated my depression. It certainly lessened it quite a bit but it never left completely. Instead, though, of long simmering bouts that were tolerable, I went through shorter, darker bursts. The man that I moved in with seemed to me a completely different person than the one I’d met online and spoken with over the phone so often. He had this manipulative way of wording things so that it was never his fault. Was I completely free of blame? Of course not. A healthy dose of stubbornness combined with the naivety of an 18 year old made me a very tough person to live with, not to mention that my mind is more often focused on anything other than cleaning and general housework. We fought quite a bit but I was never really depressed in the 18 months or so that we lived together.
In fact, I went several years without any real signs of clinical depression. There would be a small bout here or there but I could still get out of bed and function. I had to. During those years I got married and my husband had the most difficult time keeping a job. Every day, I would wake up and knew that I had two choices: to stay in bed and risk losing my job, too, that would send us down a spiraling path of debt leading to possible eviction and the ruination of our marriage or I could go to work and, if nothing else, take care of the financial part of my issues. At work, I was blessed with many friends who showered me with love, affection, support, and an ear to vent to: all the things that keep depression under control for me.
In the fall of 2007, however, that support wasn’t enough. My husband had just spent the last two years suffering from, attempting to diagnose, and ultimately treating an exceeding rare form of cancer. Shortly after his treatment end, I suffered the miscarriage and took it especially hard. Dreaming of our child had been a coping mechanism I’d relied on during those many dark months. To lose that child broke me. When my OBGYN wrongly diagnosed me with high blood pressure and prescribed me a medication that caused heart damage, I had all that I could take. I was not quite 27 with a barren womb where life was supposed to be growing, a broken husband that escaped with more and more frequency into his music and other friends, and a heart that was both quite literally and figuratively broken. Piled on top of the job I disliked and a brother at war, it was simply too much.
One day, when my husband was at band practice, I grabbed a handful of pills- a combination of the drugs that had caused the damage and the pills used to treat the damage. The first had caused a severe drop in blood pressure which caused my heart to race. The second slowed the racing of my heart. It seemed logical that if I were to overdose on a combination of the two, my heart would slowly stop and I would die a peaceful death long before my husband returned. My heart would simply slow down and halt. I took the pills in one hand and a glass of water in the other. My heart, funny enough, was racing and my hand shook. This was something that I’d pondered for weeks. I’d researched each pill. I knew the doses to take. I put on the clothes I wanted to be found in and I had decided that I would commit the act in the bathroom so that if any vomiting occurred (a possible side effect of one of the drugs), it would be one less thing to worry about. Hopefully, I’d vomit into the toilet.
I don’t know if it was the Gods or willpower or a combination of both, but I stopped just short of swallowing the pills. Some little thing flickered inside my head at just the right moment and, instead of swallowing the pills, I dropped them into the toilet. I emptied both bottles and flushed. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t watch them wistfully or regret my choice in the weeks to come.
When I later told my husband what I had done, he called me crazy. He acted, I felt, as if this were a burden unto him. My depression became his annoyance.
The next time it hit was the fall of 2009. My son had just been born and I suffered from post-partum depression. I hated breastfeeding and began to resent my newborn son for it. I hated that my original three months of maternity leave had to be cut to six weeks, and I hated that while I was feeling this way, my husband was out, playing his music and hiding late night visits from a particular female “friend” from me. Although he swore nothing was happening, I often didn’t find out about these visits until much later and then only by accident. When I expressed dissatisfaction in our marriage, he “jokingly” said that if we were to divorce, he’d tell my son I was dead so I’d never see him. Those words hurt me so deeply that I almost went into the traffic right there and then. To him, a joke is a joke regardless of the pain it causes.
I went to a therapist for a couple of sessions. The first was okay and I felt good to know was getting help. However, the one with my husband resulted in him carrying on about how great music is and deflecting all other questions with the therapist doing nothing to steer things back onto track about the crumbling family. The third, and our final visit together, is when she suggested we take out credit cards to support me staying at home with Elijah. To this day, I still cannot understand what would cause a trained professional to offer such foolish advice.
As you know, our relationship deteriorated into regular screaming matches and a long overdue divorce that I celebrated with considerable joy (and tequila).
I wish I could say that my depression has abated recently. The thrill of starting over, of going back to school, of being with my son so much, and being away from my now ex, ought to raise my spirits. In some lights, I see it as a good thing. In others, though, I’m still very much homesick for Washington. While I can’t say I’ve missed my ex for a moment, I do miss his parents and my friends. I miss the drizzling rain, the lush landscape, the wildlife, and the sense of belonging that I’ve always felt in Washington. Plus, it’s no easy task to be with my parents again. My relationship with my dad is the worst it’s ever been and I desperately long for my own space. Plus, I’m especially worried about not having a job in Cincinnati and I’ve made some friends here that my heart is breaking over the thought of leaving. Even doing my best to keep myself aloof (which I’m not very good at, mind you), the idea of not seeing these people kills me a little.
The other day, I broke down and cried to my Mom for a very long time. It’s always a hard thing to do because she always suggests some sort of medical treatment (I feel I ought to be able to do this on my own by now) and the fact that her mom committed suicide must make it incredibly hard for her to know that it’s a thought her daughter has entertained on occasion. But, ultimately, the cry was a good thing. I have honestly felt better since then and am hoping that the city I always referred to as home before I knew my northwestern one will welcome me back with open arms.