How to 'splain? How to describe the past month? How to describe moving out from the white water ride that has been my journey through severe depression and crippling anxiety, into the mostly-smooth water that seems to be my Now?
Well, there really is too much—so, so many tiny details. Steps back, steps forward, steps back again. So, let me (try to) sum up.
I'm heading into better.
I've spent the last month head-down, treating an illness that I've realised is real, and can be as life-threatening as any I've heard of. Sound kind of melodramatic? Not when I look back at what Rock Bottom was like. It was terrifying. I didn't end up in hospital, but I got close. I didn't try to leave off being, but I got close.
And it was heartbreaking too, because I have an amazing family. Like, extraordinary. And I have love. Gobs of it. To feel so bad with the life I have—that told me this was an illness. To have doctors and counsellors calling almost every day, to have a mental health team come to my house, then call every few days to check in, a team who got concerned if I didn't call back—that cemented it.
I have always known logically that depression is an illness, but looking back, I think I believed I could just will it away. When the signs started to appear again, I thought, "I'll just flip it. I'll just think of the good things; I will find the joy. And if I want it to disappear, then it will." Poof! Gone! Magic.
Not so simple.
I have been very ill with a very real illness. It's all encompassing—it's chemical, neurological, psychological, physical, and environmental. It's not something I can just wish away. And I'll probably always be dealing with it. For the rest of my life, I will always have to monitor and keep up my seratonin levels, exercise exercise exercise, eat right, and check in with a counsellor or doctor on a regular basis. If I stopped all the treatment and self-care I've set up, I am certain I would get sick again. Maybe not immediately, but sometime.
But I am one of the lucky ones: this is treatable. Isn't that amazing? That's what the psychiatrist said—This is treatable. It is fixable. Those were such welcome words.
The best part? By treating this illness, by asking for help and doggedly claiming wellness, I get to be part of the grand adventure that is "Saving My Life." Yes, it feels that big. Hand in hand with kind others, I am saving it.
And every single day, I am finding my way out.
It feels…it feels…?
Like waking up.
These are some of the things I've been doing to find my mostly smooth water, to find my mostly better.
These are my small steps forward:
First, I asked for help.
I have spoken to doctors, counsellors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and psychiatrists.
I've talked about everything with my husband.
I've explained things simply to my kids, so they aren't confused or scared.
I've talked to friends and family, and let them know how much they mean to me.
I have reached out. The support has been unfailing, and incredible.
I go see a psychiatrist every week.
He's the kind of capable that feels like someone is literally holding a net beneath me. His office is in the oldest building in my town. It's gorgeous. It has a wraparound veranda and an inner courtyard filled with ferns, lush plants, and a huge old fig tree; its branches reach out like the curved arms of a dancer. So beautiful.
I should mention: My psychiatrist has assessed me thoroughly, and last week said that I do not have Bipolar Disorder II. I have all sorts of other medical-sounding labels, but I don't have that. Howabout that. Howabout that?
I'm about to start treatment with a clinical psychologist.
He specialises in anxiety, and does something called ACT — Acceptance Commitment Therapy. It's based on mindfulness—a lot like meditation is based on mindfulness—and that's about all I know, for now. But I have so much hope for it. I hope it'll help me mend the breaks inside me, the ones I've kept blocked and locked forever. (Think of someone holding their hands to their ears and saying, La! La! La! La! for oh, about 35 years.)
I have begun natural therapies.
Woah, acupuncture—it's been extraordinary.
On the first session, the guy stuck a pin into some magic spot and instantly I burst into tears (and no, not because it felt like an ice-pick but because it was like a tap someone had turned on, or perhaps like a fire hydrant that broke, for all the neighbourhood kids to dance around in).
The acupuncturist looked kindly at me and said, "I think you've been holding that back a long time."
As I kept on bawling, he said, "Let it out. You're in a safe place here."
Every time I get pricked and more hedgehog-like, I feel better. Each time, the effect lasts longer. At some point, the treatments will get further and further apart, and I'll only have to look like a porcupine now and then, for maintenance. That's the plan, anyway.
I'm taking a supplement that has this seratonin booster in it called 5-HTP. It's a natural seratonin replacement and it's helping. My supplement has other things too, but I can't remember the technical names, all of which help lift me up. The cool thing is, my doctor was the first to recommend it, years ago. (I love when doctors believe in, and suggest, alternative remedies. Isn't that how it should always be?)
I'm drinking Anti-stress Ginseng tea every single day. It brings a single word into my life: Clarity. That's the word it makes me feel without fail. Clarity.
I make a protein smoothie every day (usually), 'cos I've read that protein helps keep your seratonin up. Right now my smoothies have berries, banana, nectarine, spirulina, oat milk, and big ol' spoonfuls of pea protein powder. That's a lot of mixed colours! Mix yellow, orange, white, pink, red and dark green together, and yep, you get a dark grey smoothie. It's the look of wet concrete. Mmmm Mmmm. It's kind of like drinking wet concrete, too, but I imagine goodness going in, some kind of golden loveliness, and just like that, it turns yummy. For real.
I am exercising.
Every day. It has been wonderful. I can say absolutely now, that exercise is a truly effective treatment for depression. Not to say it's the only solution, or that it resolves underlying traumas or suffering, but wow, it makes getting better easier. It makes living finer. Clearer. Better. Add it to your day, your every day, and you feel wellness rising. Literally.
My mum loaned me her stationary bike (longer story: she actually loaned it to my sister a year ago, who—the moment I asked to borrow it from her and knowing I was in crisis—got the bike to me the very next day. I love my family). So if I haven't gone for a brisk walk or a swim in the day, I get on the bike. I ride hard for half an hour. I drip sweat. I drip! I ride hard enough that I can't talk while I ride (unlike people in the movies who do all that chatting, flirting or plotting while they jog). It's glorious.
I go to a meditation class.
Every Monday evening I go to my class with a friend. We sit and mindfully breathe. We listen to a talk on an aspect of life, like happiness or acceptance. And then we meditate on an idea, like love, or breathing out the dark and breathing in the light. I think some sessions I've gone to sleep… but it's a peaceful almost-sleep, with the WahWah sound of the teacher's voice floating in the background like waves on a beach at night.
I am still homeschooling.
I think some people thought perhaps I should stop. Even I wondered it, briefly. But the minute the school year started and we went back into our routine, everything settled into place. We have had small weepy moments, like anyone might, but so many more good ones. We've been to the movies, we've read, we've played music and talked about dna, electron clouds, whales getting beached, learned about kittens who can glow in the dark. (True!) We even made a silent movie! (Now that was fun.)
The best part: we have SIMPLIFIED. We've stayed at home when we were expected to go out. We haven't gone to all the groups. We have let go some classes. We haven't said Yes to absolutely everything. The days have space in them again. Sweet, sweet space.
I have been listening to music.
Which has been like curling into a lap. I put the headphones on, and I'm a cat padding my paws into the soft belly of someone, curling around and around, purring, 'til I am a warm circle. Complete, clear, contained.
(And just this moment I found this video of a song I have completely fallen in love with and listen to every day. It's such a beautiful video—gave me goosebumps.)
Finally, I have been given a script for medication.
I keep it in my wallet. I keep it there as my back-up plan to my back-up plan. I have accepted that if I try all these natural remedies, do all the things I've listed above, get all this help and still get sick again, I will fill that script and start taking medication again. I will not be ashamed. I will not think I have failed.
It's like a dance, you know? (Though in the beginning it was more like a race, under water, with an anchor tied to my waist).
There are so many steps—so many of them back and back at first—then there is the slow gathering of sound and movement and that sense of rightness and tranquility…as you learn the steps you need to keep the dance going. You learn to keep upright, to move with all those around you. To keep a rhythm like a heartbeat, like a life. A good life.
You learn to move with yourself, peacefully. To see the space ahead and all around you. To feel light again. You smile to see yourself, dancing.
And THANK YOU.
Such deep, big, heartfelt thanks to Karen, Simone, Deb, Lyndell, Ingi, Kim, Debra, Nikole, Susan, Jackie, Misty, Tracy, MJ, Lou, Kimberley, Joanne, Greg, Jan, Alicia, Clare, Sally and Sally, Suzie, Theresa, Hi Kooky, Jessica, Jessie, Adam. Thank you for reaching out, for your comments, your friendship, your messages of love and support. I have felt every warm hug, every smile, every kind thought and prayer. Thank you.
And thank you. To my American Mom and Dad. To my sister. My mother. My son. My daughter. My husband (who listens whenever I need to talk). My husband (who loves me unconditionally). My husband (my funny, gorgeous, inspiring man). My beautiful family. Thank you.