Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Grind

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front for a goodly number of months now. Yes, I’ve been struggling to have enough energy, stamina, to write – but that’s not really it. Really, it’s that I’ve been pulling my punches. I’ve been avoiding going within too much, delving too deep. Writing forces me to turn a pretty glaring light on sometimes – and I’ve not liked the sight every time I’ve flicked the switch lately.

Doc called me on something, at our last visit. His argument:

“How come you feel that it would be OK, it would be justifiable, to choose to postpone pregnancy, or forgo it altogether, if you had a physical illness – such as a uterine problem, or severe anemia – because you recognize that you would never choose to knowingly potentially endanger a fetus; and yet you don’t feel that it’s OK, it’s acceptable, to do the same due to a mental illness? That a pregnant mother experiencing chronic sleep disruption, poor appetite, debilitating mood swings, anxiety-induced breathing difficulties doesn’t pose the same level of potential danger to the unborn? How come you can come to terms with having a physical illness affect your reproductive choices, but not a mental illness?”

Huh.

Damn.

So, it turns out, that I carry that mental-illness-does-not-equal-real-illness stigma after all.

I’ve been so doggedly determined to not let my depression get the upper hand for so many years now, that I’ve delegitimized my needs.

The session ended with Doc wresting a promise from me to consider putting my next potential pregnancy on hold, just for a while, a month or three or six, until I felt that my mental health was stable enough not to unduly affect my physical health.

I fear this.

I fear this time of waiting. What if that delicate balance never comes? I don’t fear another difficult pregnancy (just an unhealthy one); I don’t fear having another four years of early childhood being as demanding as the last half-decade has been. I fear waking up twenty years from now and not being able to forgive myself for having only one child because I wasn’t strong enough to have more.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Yes, I have what’s called major clinical chronic depression – but I’m not impaired by it. I’m highly functional. Having a sister who isn’t really brings home to me what that truly means. It means that my depression does not get the best of me. It does get the worst of me – it gets my punctuality, it gets my attention span, it gets my even keel, it gets my sleep and my peace. Sometimes, many times, it gets the better of me. But it does not get my words. Or my painting. Or my voice, or my love for my son, or my sheer get-through-it-despite-it-all grit. Depression does not get my soul.

And so, I tell you, as I’ve told all the well-meaning and caring people who have tried to offer me fixes in the past few months, especially immediately surrounding my recent miscarriage: I am not broken.

It enrages me that depressives have to fight this fight, while bearing the burden of our disease, in a way that very few others do. If you were in a wheelchair without the use of your legs, we would not encourage, chivvy, or outright order you to get up and walk. Grow new legs. We would not admonish you to stop being such a useless lump. Or to take better care of yourself. We would descend down in righteous wrath upon anyone who made you feel guilty or inferior or incapacitated for not having the use of your legs. We would demand wheelchair access entry for every building, boycott en masse those inaccessible entrances and hallways and bathrooms, renovate for you, and stand, sit or shout in solidarity for your challenges. And yet, when it comes to depression, and all mental illnesses – where inaccessibility is invisible – that wrath is private. It is silent. We do not wear mental illness proudly on our sleeves. Depressives run marathons, yes – it’s called making it through the day. But there aren’t any cheering masses.

The last few months have been eventful. Yes, of course, I’ve gone through the hormonal, physical and emotional demands of a constantly changing body, first due a couple of months of early pregnancy and second due to the sad end to it. Throughout both experiences, I’ve had the additional burden of a chemically unbalanced mind, as my hormonally-triggered chronic depression has ridden the resulting waves. But it’s actually been talking about depression that has been the biggest burden.

Through one of those wacky turns that social media brings us, my mother learned about both my pregnancy and my miscarriage in the space of about a week, through a friend, rather than in person from me. These things happen to those who blog. It gave my mom and I the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart, which ended up centering around depression. But it was a struggle for me, because despite the fact that I’ve been battling diagnosed depression since adolescence, and despite the fact that my eldest sister was also diagnosed at the same age with a much fiercer, and debilitating, permutation of the disease, and despite the fact that I’ve been both proactive in addressing and open about depression, my illness was news to my mom. It’s not that I hadn’t told her, many, many times in many, many ways – it’s that it hadn’t gotten through.

Now it has.

And by extension, it’s gotten through to her closest friends, as she reaches out to them to help her find solace. They, in turn, flooded me with well-intended advice, right about the time when I was struggling to breathe due to weeks of sustained blood loss.

I think this is a battle everyone with depression faces. We get to be educators, advocates, defenders and truth-tellers – all while also living with the disease.

Luckily, many people who have a brush with depression have it once. Maybe twice. This is called episodic depression – often due to life events, such as losing a loved one, losing a job, moving to a new city, serious stressors. It’s still depression, and it’s still serious. It requires the full range of treatment options and support. It can be life-changing. I say luckily only because for those people who suffer episodic depression, it can come – and it can go.

And then there’s chronic depression. Chronic depression differs from episodic not necessarily in terms of intensity – both hurt. But it does differ in terms of frequency and duration, and these can lead to more severe outcomes and combinations with other disorders. Treatment isn’t just about treating the depression when it occurs, it’s also about treating the depression when it’s not occurring, to prevent or lessen relapses. Think about it like cancer. When you have cancer, you are either in remission or you are not – but you always have cancer regardless of its current state, and you are always treating it whether symptoms are present or absent.

Chronic depression gets diagnosed as such once you’ve had multiple episodes – you go through one to get to the other.

To be honest, I can’t even tell these days whether I’m in the midst of, or recovering from, a depressive episode, or if I’m just plain burned out. Work is an exhausting conveyor belt of short deadlines, constant reading and research, little to no feedback, fast footwork and political messaging, and increasingly, soothing frayed tempers. Home is a series of scheduled visits and errands and chores, little to no feedback, and even more frayed tempers. In neither place do I feel like I’m achieving anything. This is what they call the grind.

And just like a ground stone, tiny pieces of me are flying off and dying little deaths every day. What’s left is simply trying to survive – let alone trying to shape my life into the kind of space and structure that I would need if I were to actively try to manage and prevent recurrences of depression.

I feel the overwhelming urge to take a vacation from my life.

Which brings us full circle, to Doc asking me whether now is really the right time to keep trying to have another baby. I cannot express how much it hurts, the jackhammer that this is inside my core, to have to accept that after all this time, after all this effort – to have come this far battling my depression, to have struggled so to regain some health, to have left the best job I have ever had, to have nursed my husband back onto two legs, to have seen the other side of four years of not-sleeping-through-the-night, to have finished my Master’s degree, to have tried and failed to have another child, after all this and more – it’s still not enough. I am still not healthy, nor stable enough to have another baby. I cannot will my way through this.

So, I guess what I need is someone to picket that rampless restaurant. I need someone to boycott that conveyor belt. I need some solidarity.

I am not broken.

I am still lucky, in my way, in many ways.

But I am also very, very tired.

I know – oh, how I know – that the best of me is the only part of me that matters. And I still have the best of me. Even if it’s not enough, not right now, to make another baby. There is still enough left of me to wait, to try to recover, to try again eventually.

There’s enough of me left to punch back.

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The Mirror

I am beginning to see the edges of me.
Cheekbones.
Collar bones.
Hollows.
Shadows.
Here, a grey hair.
There, an etched line.
This way, a curve.
That way, a carving.
The image is still blurry,
somewhat indistinct.
But, I am taking up space.
Present.
I see long sweeping lines,
textured veins.
I am more faded than I thought.
But getting brighter,
stiller,
clearer, every day.
I am an outline –
annotated
by years yet to come.

Gone… but not forgotten

Chèr Grandpapa,
All my life, today has been your birthday.
Ushering in the spring, Easter, the return of songbirds.
Do you remember introducing me to pussywillows? The softness of their fur on our cheeks?
Every jigsaw puzzle reminds me of you, every reference to Reader’s Digest. Bridge. Jarred artichokes and palm hearts. Velour sofas. Foreign currency.
These are the memories you’ve given me, stored in a faded silken jewellery box in my mind. A jumbled treasure trove of happiness and comfortable adventures, resulting in – somewhat mysteriously – my love of bright colours.
Today is no longer your birthday – there are no more candles.
I smelled your cologne on a passing whiff of wind today, though, heard your voice in the sound of the birds. And this refrain, however faint, poking, peaking through the moments just like the crocuses peeping cheekily up from the no-longer barren earth:
Chèr Grandpapa, c’est a ton tour, de te laisser parler d’amour…