After 37 years of unblemished mental health, one of my good friends from college is currently experiencing a bout of clinical depression. Aware of my own struggles with Bipolar II (or as I call it, “Bipolar Lite” – All the Meds, Half the Nuts!), she and I have been corresponding about her diagnosis and treatment as I try to lead her through territory I’ve been wandering my whole life – although, lucky for me, thanks to medication and therapy, my brain and I have reached a certain détente.
Yet détente does not mean a full cessation of hostilities.
Last Friday, for the first time in months, I had what I call a “dip”: a temporary drop back into depression. (And we’re not talking sadness here, folks, we’re talking depression. After you’ve been bipolar for a couple decades, you can recognize the difference.) Thanks to the meds, though, these dips happen very rarely now, and only last a few days at most.
After I came back up out of this particular dip, I wrote to her, feeling that if nothing else, the dip could be used (in the popular psychobabble) as “a teachable moment.” Well, she must’ve gotten something out of it, because she encouraged me to post it here on my blog just in case it might help someone else – which just goes to show that even at her lowest point, she remains caring and compassionate towards others.
I think some well people could learn a thing or two from Liz.
(Oh, and in order to protect her privacy, I changed her name from Liz.)
So I wanted to tell you about Friday, and then I found this: http://thebloggess.com/2012/03/feeling-a-bit-like-death-warmed-over/
And I was like: maybe the whole world had some sort of depressive flu on Friday, and it wasn’t just me!
But of course, it was me – me and my roller-coaster’s-sudden-drop neurotransmitters – and I figured now was a perfect opportunity to show you how even though my bipolar disorder is mostly “cured” thanks to my medications, there are still times when my brain goes, “Hey, you know what would be fun? For you to revisit the Depths of Despair. Wouldn’t that be fun? Don’t you think we’d have some fun times remembering that place?”
And the answer, of course, is: no, you fucking fuckhead brain! The Depths of Despair sucked my nonexistent cock and I hated it and that’s why I went on the meds in the first place!
However, as it’s been a long while since I had a “dip,” I thought it would be a good time (as it happened only 3 days ago) to describe to you what I feel when these dips occur, so you can compare them to what you feel. Not that two people are ever so similar as to experience the same thing, but so you can see that what generally happens to you also happens to other people (i.e., me). I write this to make you feel less alone, or weird, or crazy – because when I was in your position, that’s what I needed. Again, this is not to say that I know what you need, but on the off chance that it might help, I’d rather say it than not.
I woke up on Friday morning and knew something was wrong.
Wrong in the same way that when you wake up with the onset of a cold or a flu, you think, “Oh, shit. Seriously? I’m going to have to deal with this shit today? Seriously?”
For me, it is just as much a bodily sensation as it is a mental one. I feel as if 50-pound weights have been attached to my shoulders. My back hunches over, my head hangs low, smiling is an effort of incalculable will (in the end signifying nothing; it just feels empty and fake and then I hate myself for being fake), and standing up straight is something I’ve not yet evolutionarily achieved – I’m just bluffing the walking upright so that people won’t notice I’ve stopped being human and started being Depressed Alien Mere.
During a dip, all I want to do is lie down and curl into a ball and hold onto a stuffed animal (not kidding – I have numerous Ugly Dolls for this express purpose – the express purpose being that Ugly Dolls are “cool” and don’t make me feel like some creepy 38 year-old hugging a My Little Pony). You might think I’d cry, too, but the fucking awful thing about depression is sometimes you actually feel TOO LOW TO CRY.
You literally Do. Not. Have. The. Energy. To. Cry.
Which only makes you more depressed, the same way when you have the stomach flu and you really feel like you have to throw up, but then you can’t throw up, so you just feel sicker than you did before.
When I’m in the dip, everything annoys me. Everything. People annoy me. The Finance annoys me. Honestly, even The Finance being nice annoys me. New information annoys me. Having to think annoys me. Having to work annoys me. Luckily (?), this last annoyance doesn’t come into play too much because I can’t think straight enough to work. I can’t think straight enough to have a conversation. And then not being able to think or talk or work annoys me.
I feel this feeling: “I hate everyone in the world including the people I love and I just wish they’d go away and leave me alone in my fetal position except I want someone to come in and lie down with me and stroke my hair and shut up and not say anything and just be there and let me get through this without them thinking they have to save me or somehow know what to say because they don’t get that nothing – nothing – will make this pass any quicker or suck any less.”
So approximately seven conflicting thoughts that no one who hasn’t gone through clinical depression will ever understand. Which also annoys me.
This is what I like to do when I’m in a dip: lie on the couch and smoke pot and watch reruns of “Law & Order” that I’ve already seen 12 times because I know what’s going to happen so I don’t have to process any new information or pay attention to an unfamiliar story and nothing is going to come as a surprise and I don’t have to make the effort to think and all I have to do is lie there and try my damnedest to just wait it out and hope the dip doesn’t last too long and hope I don’t damage my relationships with anyone by telling them to fuck off because I really CAN. NOT. deal with people right now.
Because how do you explain to someone who has never dealt with bipolarity or depression that you wish you knew what the fuck was wrong with you, and no, you couldn’t tell them what it is even if you tried for a thousand days, and you wish you could just snap out of it, and you wish you could maintain some sort of interaction with them without wanting to beat them to a bloody pile of flesh and muscle and bone because you hurt, you just hurt, all over, because you’re angry, hugely, monstrously angry for no reason, no reason at all and you feel like killing everyone in sight, but in reality you’re just so tired and sad and sad and tired that you couldn’t throw a punch to save your life?
How do you pack all that into a conversation you don’t have the energy to have?
Now, thanks to my meds, even when a dip occurs, it is short-lived (comparatively speaking). Here, on Monday, I am just now pulling myself up – although that makes it sound like some sort of volition is involved, and it’s not – I no more “pulled myself up” than I made the sun rise this morning… it’s just a matter of my brain chemicals settling back down.
And while I used to ask myself, “What happened to presage this dip? What situation or action or relationship triggered this slide?” I have now come to realize that sometimes: IT JUST FUCKING HAPPENS. You can be a good girl, and do everything you’re supposed to do: take your meds, work out, go to therapy, strive for healthy relationships, allow yourself some room to have uncomfortable feelings without freaking out – and still, sometimes, IT JUST FUCKING HAPPENS.
Which, while you’re in the dip, seems so infinitely unfair it just makes you want to cry again. Except, you know, you can’t, which just makes you want to cry more. Ad nauseum, sans vomitus.
This weekend The Finance and I got into three extremely unpleasant fights, all of my doing. Whenever you’re in a dip, it’s hard to not be in a fight, because you just want to get all that angry, jagged ICK out of your chest. You want to yell it out, scream it out, take it out on someone else – because then maybe, just maybe, there will be less of it inside you than there was before. The more dips you experience, however, the more you realize this is pure fallacy and the ICK will still be there after the fight, only now it will have been joined by guilt and remorse. Yay.
The Finance knows I’m bipolar – he tries to keep this in mind, he gives me room, he knows I take medication for a reason, not just ’cause I think it gives me an “out” for my behavior – and yet still we fight: because sometimes the ICK in my chest is too great for my body to contain and it escapes and punches him in the mouth. I try to apologize for this, but I can’t… because I’m still too angry. How fucked up is that?
And no matter how hard I try to see this intellectually, when I’m in a dip, all that higher-reasoning shit goes flying out the window because all I am capable of is feeling and I just want to bite things. Bite, bite, bite, bite – people, suggestions, ideas, opinions. I hate EVERYTHING in a dip because what I’m really hating is my stupid fucking brain and WHY can’t I control it? WHY can’t I make it do what I want it to do? WHY can’t I just be normal like everyone else? WHY? WHY?
You slowly rise up out of the dip.
You start to return to baseline and you think: Jesus Fucking Henry Christ! If this is what my dips are like on meds, it’s no wonder my life was a total fucking mess before I started taking them. No wonder I couldn’t hold onto a boyfriend or girlfriend. No wonder getting along with people at work was a futile nightmare. No wonder I did all those horrible and self-destructive things that now make me gape at myself in disgust – and amazement that I came through it without doing irreversible damage to myself.
Because if what I went through just now was only a “dip,” then I truly was in the Depths of Fucking Despair before, and thank Little Lord Jeebus I somehow got my shit together long enough to do what had to be done in order to save myself.
And what an amazing thing a human being’s sense of self-preservation is. And what a blessing to be smart enough to listen to that sense. To pay really fucking close attention to that sense because it will save you. Over and over again it will save you, if you can at all retain enough hope to look for it and clutch at it and hold on to it for dear life when it seems like you don’t have the energy to hold onto anything.
I don’t know if this letter’s made any sense whatsoever, but what I do know is that every single word of it is true. For me, anyway, every word is as honest and earnest as I am capable of. And while yes, it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable writing this, I also know that when I went through my unmedicated bouts of depression, I wished someone would tell me that I was NOT CRAZY, that I was feeling something physiologically real. That I was NOT IRRESPONSIBLE, or WEAK, or PATHETIC, or a LOSER.
I was having the equivalent of a mental flu, and you can no more talk yourself out of being depressed than you can talk yourself out of having a virus.
Okay. That’s it for now. I just wanted you to know that even after 10 years, as “together” as I usually seem and feel and am, there are still dips and peaks that I deal with – sometimes well, sometimes not so well. And it is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you’re doing everything you possibly can to strive to maintain control over your brain.
The only, only, ONLY failure in mental illness is giving up.
Everything other than that is heroic.