A month! My goodness, it’s been a month. This school year is moving at an odd pace. The days each go quickly, but the weeks take forever. It’s not a good thing to wake up thinking, “Friday at last!” only to recall that it’s actually Tuesday.
School is going well. More than that, I’m enjoying my job again. That’s due to what is probably the biggest news of the month, despite being so very small – I finally found a medication combination that works.
A little over a week into dosage/type adjustment no. 8, I suddenly realized that I felt happy. Moreover, I had felt happy for about three days at that point.
I don’t know if I can explain how astounding that was. In the last three-plus years I couldn’t honestly say that I felt happy or even just good. There was one moment, less than a second really, while on the ski lift to the Great Wall that I suddenly felt a flash of happiness. It came and went so quickly, but was so powerful I couldn’t claim that it didn’t exist. The realization that I maybe could feel happiness still and, moreover, what happiness actually felt like almost brought me to tears. It’s like I had spent the last three years convincing myself that Twizzlers taste like real strawberries, then biting into a sweet, plump, beautifully ripe strawberry. It was so good it hurt.
Luckily, just at that moment Jason reminded me casually that we were dangling from a metal chair dozens of feet above wild Chinese forest. My need to tightly grip the side bar and to studiously avoid looking down overtook my teary gut response.
When I realized in August that the meds were working, I didn’t say anything to anyone for a while. It felt too fragile, too delicate to risk upset by discussion. I didn’t believe that the happiness would stay. It couldn’t stay, could it? Three years of not feeling like myself; of finding Juliet’s plea, “I long to die!” running through my mind; of this:
It’s me watching a midnight showing of “Inside Out” with a bunch of students in New York and crying as quietly as I can so they don’t realize their chaperone has tears streaming down her face because all I could think was that Joy wasn’t temporarily lost in my memories. Joy was tied up and gagged in a closet somewhere and I had no idea if I’d ever get her back.
The really screwed up thing about depression is that it’s in the mind. And I don’t know about you, but my existence, my identity, my entire sense of self is very much in my mind. Which meant that a lot of the past eight months has been consumed not only by trying new meds and trying therapy and trying, trying, trying to get better; but also by constantly trying to believe that what I was feeling wasn’t me. That it wasn’t part of growing up or being single or being a terrible person or being who I
deserve to be am. It’s an illness.
If I had a broken bone I could point to it and say, “This splitery white thing sticking out of my leg with all the blood? It’s not supposed to be that way. Let’s fix it.”
Depression is physical. It’s caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. But it’s really, really hard to believe that when it’s not visible or tangible, when it’s very existence inherently changes everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world.
Like Allie Bosch said in her incredibly accurate essay, “I gradually came to accept that maybe enjoyment was not a thing I got to feel anymore.” Part of trying to get better was trying to believe that I could be better and that I deserved to be better.
This is all rather horrible, I realize, and I don’t mean to bring you down. I just want to explain what life has been like for me so you could maybe understand how incredible it’s been for the last month (MONTH!) to feel like myself again. I’m not happy all the time – that would also be a mental illness to worry about; but I feel life again. I care about things and look forward to things and take pleasure in things and I really, really like teaching again.*
And the fact that I can say that when I’ve been battling illness for the last three weeks tells you something. An illness that has been diagnosed by well-meaning yet unsolicited people as
- A cold
- A sinus infection
- Walking pneumonia
- Communal pneumonia (“It’s a new breed!” the convivial wee Germany lady said. “Everyone’s got it!”)
- What you get when you teach for a living
Personally, I’m pretty sure it’s bronchitis. I’m also pretty sure it’s the fault of my adorable-yet-diseased two year old nephew.
The one thing on which all of those well-meaning people agreed was that I should go see a doctor. They are probably right, but I won’t. If it’s viral, there’s nothing they can do. If it’s bacterial, well, surely I’m almost over it at this point anyway, right? It’s not like they can keep me from losing my voice at school or heal my bruised-from-coughing-so-much ribs or anything.** I’ll just put my shoulder to the wheel and push along.
Besides, I’ve had enough of doctors for the time being. I’m ready to be well.
* I also learned by a rather close shave that it is not wise to make make major life decisions like moving or changing careers while depressed. Good grief, wait until you’re back to normal before deciding that will fix everything.
** What’s the saying? “Cobbler’s children go barefoot and doctor’s children die young?” Something like that. I’m pretty sure I read it in a L.M. Montgomery novel.