That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key. -Elizabeth Wurtzel
When I was a 15, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school, and it was summer break. Back in those days, we usually got out of school before Memorial Day, and didn't go back until after Labor day. That meant three wonderful months of swimming, riding bikes, hanging out, watching MTV actually play music videos, and all around tomfoolery. But for me, it was the first time I ever truly knew what depression was, and it became something I had to deal with the rest of my life.
I remember sitting around with my friends the day school got out. We were sitting on the hill (ok, a mound of dirt covered with grass, but in Houston, it was a hill) outside the community pool, and every one was talking about their summer plans. They were all enthused about what lay ahead over the next three months, but I wasn't. I was about to start working as a life guard, a dream job for a kid at that time, but I was unhappy, I didn't know why. I also noticed that I would tend to binge eat. Because I had a job, I had money, so I would ride my bike to the store and buy boxes of Little Debbie's snack cakes, or candy or chips and consume them at once. Because I was always active, it never really bothered me, and over time, I learned to turn it toward healthier foods, and this was the start of a life long practice that went with my depression.
I never told anyone what was going on. To be honest, I was embarrassed and ashamed. It seemed as all my other friends had their act together, and I was some kind of reject. I hid my problems behind sarcasm. I tried to take as many people with me as possible by being a smartass. Looking back, I know that I was trying to make others feel as bad as I did. I figured if I felt like shit, then others should too. It was a paradox. I wanted friends, and I wanted people to like me, but at the same time, I would push others away in an effort to keep them from finding out that there was something wrong with me thinking if they knew, they wouldn't want to hang out with damaged goods. I figured I would hurt them before they hurt me. This was a pattern that would occur time and time again throughout my life.
This continued through college and into adulthood, but now, I would also throw alcohol into the mix to start numbing my feelings. It wasn’t until I was an adult in my late 30’s that I even dared to speak up about it and seek treatment. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that depression is not like other illnesses. I began to feel better, so I stopped taking my meds and going to therapy. That mistake cost me my marriage, my house, and my son. Now I speak openly and unashamed, not only for myself, but for others, so that they know it is ok to not be ok.
So what is it like to live with a mental illness? For me, I live with depression and anxiety. The biggest challenge I face every day is getting out of bed. When the alarm goes off in the morning (although I am usually awake and full of dread long before that), I have to decide if I am going to face my demons, or give in and call in sick. My anxiety has already told me that If I go in, something will happen that will put me in an unfavorable position. My depression tells me that it doesn’t matter what I do in class, the kids won’t care, they’ll fail, and it will be my fault. I take my medication that is supposed to help, and I have no doubt that it does help, because the illness hasn't taken over yet. I go through my morning routine, pour my coffee, and get in my truck for the drive to work. Some days I hope that someone will rear end me or t-bone me and put me in the hospital for a few days. Others I wish my daughter was sick. Any legitimate excuse to stay home because I refuse to let the illness win and make me stay home. I will not give in to it, and I will not let it dictate my life.
At work, the same student behavior that I used to find humorous or just ignore, now pisses me off. "This is stupid" or "I don't want to do this," hit me like hot needles under my nails. I want to scream "You have opportunities my son never will! Shut up and take advantage of those chances instead of bitching about it," but instead, I just a take a deep breath, look at the clock, bite my tongue, and count the minutes left in the class.
I hear snippets of conversations in the halls about parties, drugs, and alcohol, and wonder, "Are they trying to tame the monster as me?" If they are, they're going about it the wrong way, as so many of their generation does, but because the monster has become "He who shall not be named," so in the "not my child" era they use what is available to numb the pain instead of what is proper.
Emails scare the hell out of me as well. If I get an email entitled "Meeting" or "Conference" or anything similar, I have a small panic attack because I think I have done or said something wrong, or some parent wants their kid out of my class because my illness might be contagious. To make matters worse, the state of Texas has adopted a new teacher appraisal system that has good teachers nervous, so it has ramped up my anxiety 100% and has me believing my future at my job is in danger. Even though I have been told I am a good teacher, I still an't help but think that I am on the verge of unemployment.
When I'm at home, there are times I'll binge watch Netflix, play Xbox, or lose myself in a book rather than face life because all around me are reminders of Peyton, who he was, and who he never will be. One of my worst habits to to grab a bag of chips or cookies and eat the pain away. I want to hold my daughter close and never let go, but she is too much like her brother, and can't sit still. At bedtime, I rely on Ambien to sleep, otherwise the anxiety of what has or might happen keeps poking at my brain until the wee hours of the morning.
I have to make myself take part in activities, to go places, to do things. The things I used to love to do hardly interest me. I battle daily to be as normal as I can, but it isn’t easy. I know it puts a strain on my family, and that in itself tears me apart. I keep people at an arm’s length because in my mind, I feel like I don’t deserve for people to love me or care for me. I know that I am wrong to think that way, but that is the way the illness works, and that is why I fight it with medication and therapy.
Every day is a continuous battle for me, and I hate that. Yes, there are good days, but they are far outnumbered by the bad. I take my meds, but sometimes wonder if it is even worth it. Maybe I should have the doctor increase the dose, but would that turn me into an emotionless zombie? My job frustrates me to no end because of my inability to remember things, and because I feel as though the subject I used to love has now become nothing more than a test, so I think about what I could do besides teaching, or could I teach a subject that actually has relevance. I also know it affects my family, and they suffer, which deepens my depression even more.
I want to "snap out of it" or just "choose to be happy", both sage bits of advice people have given me, but I can't. I have an illness that tries to control my life. I fight it the best I can, but it isn't easy. Some days I wish it was cancer or gangrene so it could be cut out of me, but it isn't. It is in my brain, and I need that. I never asked to be perpetually miserable, to cry without warning, to hide the tears welling up in my eyes, or to go home exhausted everyday without the energy to play with my daughter. So bear with me. I'm trying. I really am.