Monday, August 31, 2015

The Monster Under the Bed

I've decided to write a follow-up to my last blog post, not because I want to really, but because I need to, as I keep coming in and out of one of the worst mental health spells that I've had.. well, probably ever. There's a reason for this. I just lost my job (for complicated reasons I won't discuss here). I found out my best friend has been in the hospital since June 9th with a very rare health condition and she can't have visitors. I was supposed to be adopting a cat but things seem to have fallen through. I have a lot of spare time to think about what's happened in the last few months and frame it terms of only messing up, and I have even more time to convince myself that I've come nowhere in the last year. I have a lot of issues from years past I've shoved aside but haven't yet worked through and it's all put me into a deep, dark well of depression. With my anxiety accompanying it, it's like having a pair of nasty, revolting monsters sulking through my mind.

Of course, many of my feelings about myself are an outright lie. Anxiety and depression love to lie to you. They like to make untruths and impossibilities seem like perfectly reasonable things and all the while convince you that this is the way things are, that you're just awful and wrong and messed up. It's been described elsewhere as constantly fighting a battle against a foe who's entire strategy is to convince you that there is no war going on at all. It's a battle I've unknowingly been fighting my entire life and I'm only now beginning to see. It does, however, help to explain my great fascination for stories that describe fighting some great dark force, be it magical or entirely too human, that have great psychological effects (Harry Potter, LOTR, Wheel of Time, The Hunger Games, etc), as well as stories that contain a lot of internal conflict in their characters (Jane Eyre is the first to come to mind and finally I can begin to better understand my mad obsession with that novel).

I'm struggling now to keep moving forward. In the last few weeks, I've managed to find plenty of things to keep my busy - job searching and interviews, watching movies, reading, writing, and attending the Minnesota Fringe Festival as well as other theater grousp and seeing as many theater shows as possible. But Fringe ended over and things slowed down down. And I felt that darkness roll back in like the tide. Not that it ever was gone - I just managed to keep it at bay, at least until the last day of Fringe when I missed most of the day because I was feeling so down. I spent large parts of the day crying for reasons mostly unknown. Little things would set me off - seeing a post online about Chris Evans and his anxiety, seeing a friend comment on something on Facebook and wonder why they so rarely comment on my posts, interpreting things (from people's comments to social media interactions) in such negative ways I had no clear idea of what was actually going on, hearing a song and bursting into tears because it's so hopeful and I feeling like I've got nothing. Even when I did have better days, I could feel the sadness floating underneath, coming and going in waves, waiting for the tide to overtake me.

Overall, I'm exhausted - and largely because I've been trying to pretend things are okay and getting better. Right after I'd lost my job, the bulk of my anxiety disappeared and I thought, "Well, maybe it was largely work related." Wrong. It's just changed and made itself more subtle, like it was before. Just today I told my parents things were fine until I had a meltdown over dinner. Anxiety has now teamed up with its dark twin depression and reared its ugly head in a way I don't have much experience with.

I've struggled with depression since I was young and I knew it was issue but never thought it was something I'd have to actually clinically face. Even more than my anxiety I brushed it off, telling my therapist I just have "blue spells." I was wrong. It is as much an issue as anxiety, perhaps more so, because I don't know how to deal with it at all. Anxiety, in my experiences, talks to you and vocalizes in metal processes how awful you are. But depression is silent. It creeps up on you and is all the sudden there when you wake up in the morning or read something or drop something while making dinner. It's like a poison and you have no idea what antidote you need to neutralize it. Even when you think you're doing better it comes back and you relapse like someone trying to get over the flu. If anxiety is the elephant in the room, depression is the monster under the bed.

This comic from Hyperbole and a Half is one I've related to for years but here recently have related to even more so. Her depiction of depression and its affects are spot-on for me, especially in terms of talking about it. There's no easy way to tell someone you've had thoughts of self-harm - and this is a terrible time and place to admit it. But I have no idea how else to address it. I've never acted on them - I'm too scared, which is a mercy. When these thoughts appear, I get nauseous and terrified and I know immediately I need to do something to get out of these thoughts rather than let them overwhelm me. I don't know why or how it works - it just does. But the thoughts are still there and are no less disturbing.

I'm afraid of being a burden to people. I don't want to be that person who shows up and mopes around. I've gotten lucky - the last few times I've seen friends, it's been on good days. Yet I know I'm not always going to get that lucky. I'm worried that I'm beginning this trend of "oh, she's feeling down because she lost her job," which isn't it at all. Yes, losing my job sucked and yes, I've complained about it quite a bit. But it was just part of the trigger for a larger problem that's much more difficult to finagle. Even after having two successful interviews, the whole vicious cycle continued as I wait to hear the results.  I also struggle with the fact that most of the time I do pretend I'm fine. I can usually put on a smile even if I feel like I'm falling apart inside. In short, I internalize anything and most people are never the wiser.

I want to be more honest about how I feel, but we don't exactly live in a society that prizes honesty in our feelings. I'm trying to be more direct when people ask me how I'm doing rather than just saying "fine" or "good." But I worry this will cause people to avoid me because they think I'm doing poorly or need space or, my biggest fear, that they think they're responsible in some way. I want to be social but I'm worried that no one wants to hang out with me because of what I'm dealing with. I'm not even sure I'm any fun to be around right now. Even though I have a good handful of friends, I feel like it's often up to me to contact and make plans and, while I never used to mind, it's hard for me to feel empowered to do this right now. So I sit in my apartment mull over all the junk I mentioned previously. I need help but I don't know how to ask and I don't know what I need.

So I'm writing this damn post instead. The good news is that I think I'm through the worst of it and I never want to let myself get this bad again. However, I can also feel it lurking in the back of my mind, waiting for me to weaken again. The end of July was like my immune system getting weak and all of this finding an opportunity to break in. Realizing that I haven't been the same semi-confident person that I was last winter hurt even more and made things worse. But I remember how I was and how I felt and I want that back. These problems are all my own and I'm not going to stop fighting.
And I've found support in a place I wasn't expecting - a horror movie. I watched The Babadook a few weeks ago just when things were starting to get bad. I was impressed at the creepy, suspenseful elements and good plot. But most of all I found the allegory of the Babadook interesting. In the film, he's represented as character in a horrifying children's picture book come to life to torment a grieving woman and her son. However, in the end, it's less important that the Babadook is a physical monster and more that it represents grief, sorrow, and depression in life - and how trying to ignore these issues or letting them take over can have terrible consequences. "If it's in a word or in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook," is a line that from the scary book that is repeated and becomes integral to the story. You can't get rid of depression once you see it, you can only learn to live with it. It's the real monster that waits in the dark and the only thing you can do is face it and fight it and learn to understand it.

Knowing the monsters I've always feared are real - at least mentally - is kind of a relief. Now it's just learning how to deal with them - and how to fight.

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