Depression, Writing, and What Comes Next

“Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

from “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” by Bruce Coburn

When I go months between posts, you can safely bet that it’s because I’m going through what my therapist calls a “depressive episode.”  If you’ve read my post about how depression affects me, you already know how hard it is for me to shower or brush my teeth.  At some point, I’ll get these things done, but the one thing that I absolutely cannot do when I’m depressed is write.  I can function at work and do the technical writing there, but creative writing is a bust.  I just can’t do it.  You know the line from the Snickers commercials that says, “you’re not you when you’re hungry”?  I’m not me when I can’t write.  So during this time there was no working on the book, no posting on the blog.  Nothing.

This episode lasted fairly long, most of the summer.  I had finally started coming up out of it when I heard the news that Robin Williams had killed himself.  I immediately thought what I’m sure a lot of us struggling with depression thought:  “If the funniest man on earth can’t make it, how in the world can I?”  My answer to that was to sink back down into the abyss.   This time, unlike over the summer, I caught it early.  I knew what was happening, I knew why it was happening, and I kicked and screamed until I broke the surface again a couple of weeks or so ago.  Or, to put it less dramatically, I made myself get out of bed every morning, go to work, do fun things with Ginger, reminded myself that I knew how and had the tools to help myself come back up for air.  Now, here I am until the next episode hits, and then I’ll fight the good fight all over again.  And I will win one more time.

Let’s catch up.  I’ve already told you all about the book.  I may change the title because it’s a big mouthful and also I don’t think it quite lets the reader know exactly what the book is about.  That’s where the book stands.  While working on the book, I thought it turned into a play.  When I was at work today writing all about the joys and heartaches of using Piping Support System software, the play felt like it turned into a chapbook of poems.  That’s when it hit me.  My writing isn’t morphing.  I’ve really got three separate pieces going on here.

The book, for those of you who haven’t read that blog post yet, is about my mom and her Alzheimer’s disease and me and my depression.  The play, for now titled The Session, is about a rape survivor who confronts the psychologist/therapist whose testimony convinced the jury that the rapist didn’t commit the crime.  I don’t want to say more about it because there are twists and turns and I don’t want to give anything away.  The book of poems is tentatively titled Dreams of Life on Another Shore.  I have no clue what the commonality between the poems and, thus, the subject of the book is, but I’ve already started on the first poem.  Right now, I’m thinking that the book of poems will come first and get priority.

So that’s where things stand now.  I’m bathing, brushing my teeth, and writing.  Life is good, at least until the next time the black dog of depression comes to bite me in the butt.  But for now, it’s all sunshine and lollipops.  These are the days I treasure most.

Let me introduce you to my dance partner. Her name is “Depression.”

“When I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know, right now you can’t tell
but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
a different side of me.
I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired
I know, right now you don’t care
But soon enough you’re gonna think of me
and how I used to be.”

“Unwell” by Rob Thomas, Matchbox 20

I took a shower this morning, washed my hair, and brushed my teeth.  Big deal, you say.  Well, yes, it IS a big deal.  Until this morning, the last shower I had was this past Friday.  I hadn’t brushed my teeth since Monday.  Today is Wednesday.  You’re thinking, “GROSS!!” and I don’t blame you.  But it could be a lot worse.  I know because I’ve been there.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’m not bipolar.  I’m not schizophrenic or psychotic.  I “only” have plain old, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety depression.  But I can tell you for a fact that it packs a punch and it leaves a body that’s bleeding.

I was officially diagnosed in November 1995 when I was 42 years old.  My therapist believes that depression first came to me when I was in junior high school.  My school wanted to skip me several grades ahead after first grade.  My parents consented to just one.  Public schools didn’t have a clue how to deal with their gifted students back then.  Their method of motivation and support was to continually hammer into your brain that yes, you’re smart, but you’re not good enough, you’re not doing as well as you can, over and over and over again.  I was blessed to have the occasional saint of a teacher who protected me from the onslaught, but there weren’t nearly enough of them.  You hear this stuff repeatedly over six years of junior and high school and you start believing it.  Then, you go away to college when you’ve barely turned 17 and not emotionally equipped to handle it, so you prove to yourself that all those people telling you how insufficient and unworthy you are were right all along.  I started drinking and popping pills.  I flunked out my freshman year and what little was left of me tucked tail and crawled back home.

Flash forward 24 years.  That’s a long time to feel guilty and bad about yourself.  So much had happened in those years from the hardly bearable to the truly horrible.  I won’t go into any of it here.  There are some things my family doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know.  Like I once told my dad, “If I told you everything I’ve been through, it would make you weep.  You really don’t want to know.”  I’ve survived.  But as 1995 went by, I knew I wasn’t doing well at all.  My work was suffering.  My relationships were suffering.  I was having a breakdown.  I said something to my doctor and she told me to get help and not to wait.  I made the call that day.  I met my therapist the next week, started medication the week after that, and began weekly sessions.  In mid-December 1995, I took a one month medical leave of absence from work while the medication took hold and I found something in myself to grab on to.  Sixteen years later in 2011, I was finally able to stop therapy and take care of myself.  It was a long, hard road getting to that point.  I won’t go into that here either.

Depression is a murderer.  It will kill your sane mind and make you believe there’s something wrong with you.  You become delusional.  When I first started therapy, I couldn’t function in some areas like a normal person could.  There were days when I walked on the furniture because I was afraid that if I stepped on the floor, I would have to be an adult, leave my apartment, cope with the world….and I knew I couldn’t do that.  There were many times when I couldn’t go out.  Even a trip to the grocery store was frightening.  I would put on my coat and hours later I would be sitting on the couch in the dark with my coat still on because I just couldn’t move.  You do irrational things for no good reason and often without being aware you’re doing them.  When I relocated to be closer to work, my Dad helped me move.  We found over 200 cans of Campbell’s soups in the closets of my apartment.  When he asked my why, I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know.  I just kept buying soup.

Worst of all, depression is a liar.  It causes you to believe things that aren’t true and you don’t know that they’re not true.  By the time I started therapy, I knew in my heart that I was worth less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes.  I believed I was stupid, unworthy of the least kindness, a bad person, dangerous in some way to everyone around me.  I had no joy.  I stopped playing the piano.  I stopped writing.  Depression told me I couldn’t play and I couldn’t write, that I was miserable at both.  And I believed it.  That’s when “Little Debby” emerged.  Little Debby was the deep part of me that had endured the hardly bearable and the truly horrible.  She was the part of me that knew best and knew most that I  was so vile that no one could love me or think kindly of me.  I couldn’t love me.  So I put Little Debby in the deepest part of my heart and bricked a wall around her so thick and high that no one could see the “real” me–the vile me who depression told me I was.  No one would ever know the “real” me and then no one could be disgusted by me or hate me.  It was a hard thing to keep inside.  It was like having a pressure cooker in my chest waiting to blow off steam, to tell the world just how horrible I was.  When the pressure would get to be too much, when my life was so out of control that I couldn’t stand it anymore, I turned to the one thing I could control: my body.  Self-mutilation.  Just a small cut or two would let that steam escape safely and I could breathe again.  We do what we must to get by.

But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.  I’m a lot better.  I don’t need therapy anymore.  I’m still on medication because my depression is both an imbalance of chemicals in my brain and emotional, situational, environmental, or whatever you want to call it.  I will be on medication the rest of my life and that’s alright because my life is so much better now and I’m happier.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have bouts of depression.  I battle with it every day.  It’s been a bit worse for the past several months.  When a period of depression starts, the first thing that goes for me is hygiene.  That’s my first clue.  For some reason, I can’t brush my teeth.  Then, I’ll notice that I haven’t been showering.  I put on clean clothes every day, but forget everything else.  I’ll take a wet washcloth and run that across my teeth and wash up, but for the life of me, I can’t do the full job.  It’s okay, though.  I have family and friends who don’t hesitate to tell me that I’m beginning to stink or that my teeth are starting to look like hell.  🙂  Right now, I’m showering and brushing more than I was a month ago, so life is looking up.

There are things I can do to help myself when I feel the depression coming on.  Don’t be alone, especially with my thoughts.  Get out of the house and go where there are people.  Go to a bookstore, a restaurant, a movie.  See a good play or listen to a great concert.  Do some house cleaning or anything that provides instant gratification and a little pride in myself.  Just talk to Ginger, let her know I’m sinking and I need her to get out of the house with me.  Therapy armed me with many ways to help myself not sink all the way to the bottom again.  If I can catch the depression early, I can function and bring myself out of it.  If I don’t and it gets really bad, I can see my therapist for a tune-up.

Now, please don’t feel sorry for me or badly for me.   We all have our cross-eyed bears and this is one of mine.  Don’t feel like you need to comment here or on Facebook and tell me how strong I am or how sad it is or whatever.  I didn’t blog about this for that to happen.  In fact, I’d rather you didn’t comment at all.  So why did I write about this?  One of my brothers once said to me, “I don’t spread my life all over Facebook and the internet.”  Well, I do.  I’m a writer.  Writing is what I do.  And what I write about is often what most people won’t put on paper or Facebook or the internet.  I write the hard stuff and I do it because somewhere out in the blogosphere is someone wondering if she’s crazy, if he’s a loser, if she’s awful for cutting herself.  There’s someone feeling lower than a snake’s belly and wondering if anything can be done about it.  There’s someone going through something truly awful and wondering if she can survive it.  I write about this to tell them all that yes, you can survive whatever it is.  I know because I have.  Let me tell you all about it…..

I’m obsessive (but not compulsive).

It’s been a few months since the last post, so let’s just jump right into the happiness of all you’ve missed.  We’re up to 132 tubes of blood and I get 4 more taken in a couple of weeks.  I tried Prednisone for a while.  It helped with the mystery disease pain, but not enough to make the side effects worth it.  What side effects, you ask?  The constant, pounding headache was so bad that I was ready to rip out an eye just so I could watch it thump.  Then there were the sweats that were 5 times as bad as the hot flashes during menopause.  Ask me how many times I wet my pants.  Go ahead.  Ask me.  The answer is that I don’t know because I stopped counting at 10.  Oh my Lord in Heaven, I would hit the restroom right before I left work, drive the measly 7 miles to my house, and then wet myself before I could get the door unlocked.  It’s just like when the farting starts right after you turn 50:  no warning whatsoever.  Needless to say, we won’t be doing Prednisone again.  I’ve also had something that’s been trying to bite me in the butt for the past couple of months.  It finally did it about a week and a half ago.  My digestive system was in an uproar.  I never did have the upchucks, but I sure felt like I was going to 24/7.  I can handle anything except feeling nauseous.  I am such a baby about that, but with all the pain and crud I deal with every day, I figure I can be a baby about something.  I couldn’t stand the thought of eating.  Up until a couple of days ago I was eating bland foods and not much at all.  I finally started feeling better yesterday and ate two bowls of homemade chili from the freezer.  Yes, I lost my mind.  I was so sick last night that I went to bed early.  Wouldn’t you think I would have had better sense?  But I felt fine this morning, made it to work, and am still doing okay tonight.  So maybe, hopefully, I’m finished with this stuff.

So hey, Debby, how’s the book going?  Don’t ask.  (That should tell you everything you need to know.)

In the meantime, I spent several minutes today putting the cash in order in my billfold.  Besides the diagnoses of chronic depression and PTSD, I also have a diagnosis of Obsessive (but not Compulsive) Disorder.  Instead of OCD, I’m just OD.  As you can imagine, having one less initial makes me feel oh so superior.  Ha-ha, not really.  🙂  Anyway, what it boils down to is that I’m obsessive about things being a certain way, but I don’t have to make them that certain way over and over again throughout the day.  For example, someone who’s only OD might have to wash her hands at exactly 3:08 PM every day (that’s obsessive), but not have to wash them every 10 minutes all day long (that’s compulsive).  About the cash….my money has to be in ascending order by amount with the singles in front and with the heads all facing up so they can breathe.  Yep, you read that right.  I have to be sure that all the heads can breathe.   Otherwise, I can’t rest or think about anything else until I fix them.  If there’s change in my pocket, I will have my hand in there, too, making sure the change is stacked with heads facing up.  Again, I have to be sure that all the heads can breathe.

Any tissues in my pocket have to be folded in a certain way and NEVER EVER wadded up, even if they’ve been used.  I always put my socks and shoes on before pulling on my pants.  I repeat every single letter/number/symbol in my head as I’m typing it.  If I don’t do that, then I know that my writing isn’t good and my spelling is worse.  I never pick a coin up from the ground unless it’s heads up so that I know it’s been able to breathe.  When I fold my underwear after doing laundry, I must stack them in alternating solid color and prints order.  When I put them away in the drawer, the waistbands must be on the right side, never left.  My socks must be folded in half, top to bottom, with the heel on the left side, never right.  The various things on my desk at work must be in certain spots and always facing their particular direction.  Otherwise, I can’t work until I fix them.  Want to mess with me at the office?  Move something on my desk and watch me go crazy!  And don’t even think about touching the screen on my desktop or laptop.  Wouldn’t you love to be inside my brain?  Sometimes, it’s really tiring being me.  Fortunately, I’m only obsessive for the way I do things and not for the way other people do things.  I would have to live by myself on an island if I were OD about other people.

A couple of months ago, I received a letter from my therapist saying that she is retiring.

I think I wore her out!

About that Book

I don’t usually talk about things that I’m writing.  I’m not superstitious or paranoid about doing it.  I just don’t like discussing a writing project until I’ve completed the first draft.  I prefer to keep it to myself for a little while.  But one of the things I plan to use this blog for is to help me as I work on my book, so from time to time I’ll give an update or tell what I’m doing or maybe even share a paragraph or two.  In this post, I’m giving a few details about the book.  This is a “first” for me, so I’m kind of nervous about doing it, but I think it will be okay.

The thing about writing a book is that you can call it whatever title you want and make all the plans you want and then if you’re lucky enough to have the book published, an editor will come along and change everything.  However, these are my thoughts so far, pre-editor.

The title is “Goodbye, Pride: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey into the Dark Mind.”  I know.  What a mouthful.  That will most likely be changed for me, no doubt, but it’s what I’m working with now.  I’m writing the book in parallel about my deceased mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease and my ongoing journey with clinical depression.  What I know for sure about what Alzheimer’s and depression have in common–besides what they do to your mind–is that you kiss your pride goodbye.  Both rip what pride there is right out of you.  When you can’t remember how to eat or how to use a toilet, or you’re walking on top of your furniture because you just can’t put your feet on the floor, you’ve pretty well lost your pride.  I’m writing about how we came to our mental illnesses, how they were diagnosed, treatments, and so on.  That’s mostly the clinical stuff.  But what I’m also writing about is the personal side of Alzheimer’s and depression, and how they affect your life, particularly the “everyday” stuff.

While being with Mom and helping to take care of her as she traveled her road, there were times when something she did would give me a little insight into myself and my depression.  For example, I went to the nursing home one afternoon to find Mom literally tearing little chunks of flesh out of her arms and throwing them on the floor.  (The nurse had already been summoned and was there a few seconds after I arrived.)  There was blood running down both arms, on her hands, and under her fingernails.  I saw that and was sick to the point of repulsion.  For just a moment, I wanted nothing to do with this hideous sight or the person causing it.  But then it hit me: how was what she was doing any different than what I was doing to myself on a regular basis?  I self-mutilated and was doing so throughout Mom’s illness (and before and after, for a while).  How was her action any different than my taking a knife and making cuts on my body?  That was a major “ah-ha” moment for me.  (Before anyone worries, the last time I cut myself was over 2 years ago and I know I will never do it again.  A good therapist, “ah-ha” moments, and wanting to get better can work wonders.)

So, that’s about the gist of it.  I’ll be making changes as I get farther into it, I’m sure, especially while I’m doing some family research for the book.  One thing I won’t change or won’t let an editor change is the book’s dedication.  It goes like this:

For my mother,

Ella Mae Burke Perkins

(October 15, 1931 – August 23, 2008)

and my sister,

Judy Mae Perkins Wedding

(May 19, 1950 – October 24, 2007)

who always wanted me to write

a book about our family.