* Note: This post is a jumble, because my mind is mishmash of emotions, but if it can help one person to know they’re not alone, then my making myself vulnerable on such a public forum will not be in vain*
Something I haven’t talked to anyone about for almost a decade if my disease; the one I’ve been in remission from for almost as long. Without meds or any kind of treatment. I bet almost of you made the leap to the Big C, but no, I’m not talking about cancer. I’m talking about depression. I know that I shouldn’t be ashamed of it, but there is still a stigma attached because you don’t look ill, or if you just think positive thoughts, everything will be easier, or there’s nothing wrong with you or you really need to just learn to cope better, or I listened to a motivational podcast which said you only really find true strength when you’re alone. I can list hundreds more of these snap out of it! things people say because they’re either plain ignorant, or think they’re being supportive. In the case of the latter, I get that they mean well, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Looking back, the signs have been there, all through the remissive period. I just did well to hide them from everyone, even those closest to me. For a long while my blog entries have leaned towards something being off, but I never thought it could be that I was spiralling downward into a relapse. It had been almost ten years, for goodness’ sake!
When I was diagnosed, I didn’t have psych therapy – I was merely given anti-depressants for six months (told I’d drink them for at least three years) and left to my own devices. I grew to a whopping almost 80 Kg’s and I didn’t care.
The photo on the left was taken in April 2012 and the one on the right was August 2018. I’ve subsequently lost about another 9 Kg’s since then as a result of my illness.
I was a happy, fat person (and I mean no disrespect to anyone that is overweight), until one day I was brushing my hair and I saw my mom’s reflection in the mirror. She had tears in her eyes because her daughter was gone. The girl in front of her had a smile, but it was empty and she her size was exacerbating other health issues. In that moment, my brain dropped a gear and I made a change. I started gymming (which I am now able to admit became an addiction) because the endorphins replaced the meds which I cut cold-turkey shortly after. For reference, this is not the right thing to do, because it can have immediate, dire effects. It may also give the prescribing physician a heart attack. In my case it didn’t, but it could have.
This round I’m seeing a psych (along with taking meds – different ones than before), but will have to stretch the consultations out due to constraints on my medical aid benefits. I have an amazing support structure, so I should manage. If I can’t, I will seek help; that is one promise I have made to myself, and I will keep it. I can’t speak for all people suffering from this silent, often invisible disease, I can only speak for myself. I want to be heard, I need to be heard – with understanding, empathy and no judgement and the psych is helping in a way my well-meaning friends are not equipped to. He gives objective advice, with practical tools that I am learning to apply in my life. Some days I win, some days I lose, but I’m trying. Friends sometimes offer ill-informed-although-well-intended-advice, but sometimes I just want to say please don’t, because I’m confused enough already. Platitudes have their place, but for me in a fragile state of mind, hearing something in the line of life is a metamorphosis, or nobody determines your happiness except you or you have a life some people could only dream of, you should be grateful is enough to send flames flaring out of my nostrils because I didn’t choose this! I would give anything to be the person I know is somewhere inside this shell that comes to work every day. It’s not like I want to be on this emotional rollercoaster, but I am, and for now, the machine operator doesn’t seem to be slowing this (not)funfair down any time soon. I have to just ride it out.
I’ve been told by many people that my personality and sunny disposition are my best traits; that people gravitate towards me because I’m open. Truth be told, I don’t make friends easily; If you are my friend, then as arrogant as it may sound, you can count yourself lucky. As Harriet so rightfully pointed out the other night over a cup of jasmine-infused-rooibos, (my) friendliness costs nothing, but (my) friendship is an expensive gift. Once I’ve let you close, I am probably the most loyal person you will ever meet, often to my own detriment, because I often allow people to get away with murder, but I’m working on saying “No!” Despite what many people see as a friendly, outgoing person, I’m awkward and shy and I either hide behind humour when I’m nervous, or I sit at a vantage point where I can merely observe, until a polite amount of time has passed and an “out” presents itself.
I’ve never thought of myself as attractive, and after being told by my first ex-boyfriend, “You’ll never be a pretty woman”, the picture I had of myself was cast in stone. It’s been extremely hard for me to accept compliments about my appearance and it’s been going on twenty years since those words stung my soul. Last year at Sarah’s wedding (my first time ever as a bridesmaid) I was told you look beautiful and I had to fight the noise in my head telling me anyone can look beautiful with professional make-up and hair and an expensive dress, but it’s only for a few hours. I’ve come to realize that the debilitating voice of depression is always there, even when I think it’s packed its bags and buggered off to the Bermuda Triangle.
I’ll admit, for a very long time, I was the proverbial ray of sunshine, living in my oblivious little bubble – I refused to watch- or listen to the news because it affects me negatively and sometimes I hear things that trigger bad memories for me. I am extremely sensitive too, with the memory of an elephant. It’s a blessing and a curse. As far as I’ve been able to, I have tried as far as possible to have the mindsets of be grateful, count your blessings, live and let live and everything happens for a reason or everything that is happening to me is taking me to a higher level of consciousness. It is only now, for the first time ever that I am seeing a therapist that is helping me understand that through almost the entire time I thought I was fine and over it (because that’s what people expect of you), the depression was still there, just well hidden.
At this stage, I am not going to go into what triggered my relapse, or just how deep the degeneration is, partly because I’m scared of being perceived as weak and because I feel like I have failed myself and others. These are things that I must work through (and my support network is being amazingly patient and caring) but until I have, the story of my setback will remain mine. Maybe down the line I will, maybe I won’t. I’m not going to make promises, unsure if I’ll be able to keep them.
Someone I know through work, Ida (or as she’s known Awesome Ida) popped in today. She has a debilitating disease of her own, so understands what I’m going through. I haven’t shared much with her, but somehow, she’s always touched base with me when I’ve needed it most. She said to me this morning, “You need love now girl, and you need to love yourself. If you have a good day, celebrate it! If you have a bad one, remember that it’s okay not to be okay. You have to have the same love and patience with yourself that you do with others. Some days will be easier than others. If you need to take things ten minutes at a time, do it. And remember that you are loved.”
Last night I went to have my nails done; something many people question because it’s a luxury or it’s expensive or surely you can just paint your own nails. Not that I need to explain myself, but it is something I do for me. For my self-care. It makes me feel good about myself and the art is representative of what I’m feeling. And I’m supporting a friend’s business, which on some level makes me feel like I’m contributing to a bigger picture.
Once Elena’s previous client left, she took one look at me, having last seen me before I was admitted to hospital following the Major Depressive Episode that resulted in my relapse and my resolve crumbled. Completely. I spoke, she listened. I cried, she squeezed my hand. She asked me if I have suicidal tendencies, because I told her I don’t want to be awake, but I was honest that while I’ve thought about it, there is still a sane part of me that knows I have a purpose (even when it feels like I don’t); I explained that the reason I don’t want to be awake is because when I’m asleep, it’s the only time my thoughts are silent. She was awash with relief and I was comforted to know that she had the courage to call me out on something potentially fatal. In that moment, her care touched me very deeply.
I already had an idea of what I wanted to do with my nails, a thunderous sea-storm because I feel like I am in a storm being tossed by the waves. This was the final result.
I’m glad I opted for the lighthouse, because even though I’m up and down most days, when I look at my nails, I will be reminded (for the next fortnight at least), that there are steadfast beacons in my life that will guide me to safer shores.
As is custom I sent the photo of my nails to a number of my friends, and Carmen replied with this zoomed-in screenshot, caption with “Do you see the face, Misfit?”
I did see the face (on the finger next to the lighthouse) and I sent it to Elena. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. I like that it looks distorted, almost alien-like, because it’s how I feel – a foreign creature in a familiar pod, a lost Misfit in her bodily shell. On some level I think maybe God, or The Universe or Some Other Higher Power is telling me that the storm is indeed raging within, but that light will drive out the darkness eventually. I just have to keep taking things as they come, even if it is just ten minutes at a time like Ida said. Time, it’s said, is a healer. I know this to be true. I just need to have grace with myself and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Will you look at that? I just platituded myself 😀