Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lost and Broken

I want to preface this post by saying that this was very difficult to write and took a great deal of courage to share my own story. This post is not a garnering of sympathy, but rather a recognition of a bigger problem. I dedicate this post to those who are touched by depression every day. To those who live in fear, severe anxiety that they can barely function, to those with a chronic illness that no one can comprehend, and to those who couldn't take it anymore and saw no other way out. I see you.

I want to talk about two touchy subjects. Depression and chronic illness. I'm writing about them both in the same post because one can relate to the other. But I also want to address them seperately. It's no secret that the world has seen an increase in posts and articles about depression and suicide. We've heard of more people who have committed suicide in the last year than any before that I can remember. We've become a society that is chronically and acutely depressed. How did this happen? I think I've discovered a few ideas.

Let's start with depression. I'm going to share my own personal story for context. I've always suffered from "a touch" of depression. You know, the kind that you can pull yourself out of...the kind that leaves you sad for a moment or a day or two and then you are right as rain. It comes and goes, but doesn't come all that frequently. This is common for most people. I've also suffered from bouts of anxiety. Sometimes I get really anxious (like when I have to talk myself into going to work when I loathe my job) and sometimes I only have a little anxiety (like when I have to go to the doctor). But I've always been able to go about my life and eventually get to a point of contentment or even semi-contentment again.

Recently (about the last 2 months), I have fallen into a severe depression - one like I've never known before. Everything became dark and desperate. Everything became more lonely (which I didn't think was possible) and isolated. Everything became more hopeless. About two weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a hot tub to try to relieve the ache in my body (we'll get to my chronic illness later) and I started thinking about a friend of mine who died several years ago. She was 27-years-old when she passed away. She drowned in her bathtub after being well intoxicated. We all knew she had a problem with alcohol and I'm pretty sure most of us knew she had a problem with depression. In fact, I had just spoken to her a few days before her death. She was a dear friend to me and we were all devastated by her passing. Now back to the hot tub...I was sitting in the hot tub looking at the water when a thought occurred to me - I wonder if this is how she felt before she drowned...did she look at the water and say to herself 'I could just let myself slip under...' (It was never said that she committed suicide, but the thought has crossed my mind and I wouldn't put it past her.) This was when I realized I was suicidal. I had this very thought. It would be so easy. What if I just let myself slip under the water? This thought frightened me like no other. I cried the tears of desperation. I had no idea how I had gotten to this point. I never saw it coming. I kept asking myself 'how did I get here?' There's no easy answer to that.

Like anyone else who goes through depression, I think the biggest thing you feel is like everything piles up. Everything falls apart and comes crashing down on you and all around you. You have no idea how to pick up the pieces. My work environment is toxic. No one is happy there. I started in February and already 6 - 8 people have quit. The person that was supposed to be my significant other isn't. My health is not the best. I had a new diagnosis of Asperger's and have been trying to deal with undoing a lifetime of bad compensations for the things I struggle with because of my Asperger's. My work won't accommodate me for my health issues. And the list goes on and on. But what people see is someone who has a good job, a nice apartment, food, a vehicle, and who goes out to sing karaoke on the weekends. Only two people knew I was suicidal when it happened. One of them berated me. I clammed up and shut down. I spent days in bed (partly due to depression and partly due to illness). My chronic illness reared its ugly head into one of the worst flares I've had in years. I couldn't even bring myself to go to the grocery store. I'd barely convince myself to get out of bed, be awake for a few hours and be so exhausted I needed a three hour nap. I talked to very little people and they were very short conversations. I barely ate. I felt like I was physically, mentally, and emotionally dying...in a very literal sense. My saving grace was my therapist that I see weekly for my Asperger's. She's been trying to help me hold on. She recommended a medical leave of absence, but I wouldn't get paid and that's a different kind of stress.

Now to the chronic illness...I have fibromyalgia. I've been diagnosed since April 2004. This was back when some doctors still thought it was all in our heads and thought we had a mental problem. We know that isn't true now, but it was a tough illness to be diagnosed with back then. It took 1 1/2 years to diagnose me. As time has gone on, it's gone through stages of flares. In my early years (the first 5) I flared all the time. I could only work part-time and was sick more often than not. I was in an abusive marriage and the stress and anxiety were contributing to my flares. I could barely walk. After my divorce, I felt better than I ever had. I started to learn to listen to my body to control as many symptoms as possible, but as with any chronic illness, this means your life is permanently altered. I couldn't (and still can't) do a lot of the things I used to. Symptoms for fibro range from pain all over the body to fatigue to digestive issues which include IBS, nausea, and acid reflux. This doesn't include the headaches (migraines), "fibro fevers," "fibro fog," language issues (double for me with Asperger's), and the constant "you don't look sick" comments (if you haven't read the spoon theory, I strongly recommend you read it as it applies to all invisible illnesses). I've learned that stress, anxiety, and depression contribute to my flares, so I work really hard to rest and keep my stress levels down. Unfortunately, I can't control everyone else. I can't control every situation or circumstance. And here I go into a flare again. Last year, I broke down and bought a cane. I should mention I just turned 37-years-old last week. And now I'm the owner of a cane.

Anyone who suffers from a chronic illness (especially an invisible one) knows that it's no cake walk. People don't understand when they aren't in your shoes. You get everything from funny looks to rude commentary. I got yelled at by a lady once because I parked in the handicap parking. Apparently, you can't be handicapped if you are young (eye roll). She had her elderly mother with her. She didn't even bother to see the handicap sticker hanging on my rearview mirror until I pointed it out. I know people that could tell us all some horror stories worse than that. Disease sucks. It knows no age or gender. It doesn't care if you are a nice person, smart, work hard, have kids, are married, are single, or what race or religion you are. It affects us all.

Yesterday, I walked into a spot I normally hang out in - with my cane (which was not the norm for people who normally see me). Naturally, people were concerned. I also have a foot injury which doesn't help. But what really irritated me was that I was actually mocked by someone I've known for a long time. And it got me thinking - 'what if this cane becomes a part of my every day? Then what? Am I still going to get mocked by people who should be supportive?' Probably. And as I sat there and looked around, I grew very tired. It was just a sad reminder that people don't get it. It was also a sad reminder of other people's ignorance.

Again, I brought up chronic illness because it can lead to depression. Again, my story is just for context.

You don't have to have a chronic illness to suffer from depression. And you don't have to have depression to suffer from a chronic illness. But sometimes they meet. The thing that has bothered me most about having severe depression is other people's ignorance. This isn't a single person's fault. This is our fault as a society. Let me explain: when we hear about people being depressed or suicidal, we say "reach out to someone if you are depressed." It's a lovely sentiment. And sometimes it happens that way. But more often than not, depression has a way of isolating you from others. You don't talk to other people about it. I had a recent conversation with someone who was my childhood friend. She told me if I ever felt suicidal again, to call her. My response? "If I am truly going to hurt myself, I'm not calling anyone. No one will know anything. At that point, people should have already known." I am not removing the responsibility from the person who is depressed. By all means, you should talk to someone if you are feeling anything that doesn't feel good or normal. You should talk to someone if you don't think you can help yourself. However, as a society, we need to be responsible as well (more on this in a minute).

I can tell you that I'm still depressed. I'm still not better. I'm still having fibro flares. I'm still exhausted. I still don't talk to many people. And luckily for me, there's something deep inside of me that has an innate will to live. Some people are not as lucky. I still have to take one day at a time. It started out really small - this road to recovery. And I still have a LONG way to go. It's still a small victory to get out of bed, but I do it. It's a bigger victory to go to work (I didn't on some days), but I try. It's a victory to stay at work once I'm there. It's a victory to eat. It's a victory to get in the shower and get dressed. It's a victory to take care of daily responsibilities (I finally cleaned my kitchen and bathroom. It drove me crazy, but I couldn't bring myself to do it sooner). It's a victory to go to the grocery story and to answer the phone. My therapist says I'm good at being "fine" even when I'm not. I'm sure many people can relate to that. She recognizes that I'm quiet rather than say what I think or feel because I don't know what's socially acceptable sometimes (Asperger's). And she's challenged me to look at how I waste my energy and the people I waste it on. She's 100% right. Time is the most precious gift you can give someone. It's the most valuable commodity. This is more apparent when you face death and realize that you are running out of time.

As I began to look around, I started to realize how many people in my life are either fair-weathered friends or just acquaintances. I was extremely disappointed by the people I thought would be there the most. And surprised by the people who actually were/are there. Today, I finally said what I felt to someone who had been unsupportive during this time. This is a person who said they loved me very much. I called them out. I got excuses. For the first time, I realized this person doesn't belong in my life. And even though the realization is bittersweet, telling that person how I felt and calling them out on their words versus their actions was a big victory for me. It's not something I enjoy doing. But as my therapist knows, this is an important skill for me to learn to do. Depression has a way of making you "eyes-wide-open." This is when you really see who stands with you. This is when you really see what you are made of.

Now this is important. I mentioned earlier about our responsibility as a society. I understand that many people have NO IDEA what to do when they realize someone is depressed. I also realize that depressed people cannot get out of depression alone. I know personally, I was quite upset that I couldn't do this on my own and that thought also scared me. That's how you know it's bad. But what kind of society - what kind of friends - what kind of people - have we become when we stop checking on people in our lives? When we stop checking on people who we say we love? Sure, I get that we are all busy. We all have lives. We all have obligations. And then we all have that friend/relative/loved one that we may have helped to save if we had taken 1/2/3/4/5 minutes out of our day to let them know we were there for them. That they are loved. That they are not alone. Because nothing - let me say this again - NOTHING is worse than feeling like you have no one in the world. It's horrible to be in a crowded room and feel an emptiness and a loneliness so deep. So, if you don't know what to do for someone you know who is depressed (this does not mean telling them to call you when they need to) read on.

Send a text message. This is especially important if you find someone is not responsive to your calls. Do this daily. It doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as I care about you or I'm here for you. The reason I say to do this daily is because you will eventually get through to that person - it might just take a few times since depressed people don't always like to answer the phone.

Stop by. Just be aware that they may not answer the door unless you are relentless. And be prepared to see the ugly once you are allowed in. They probably haven't cleaned, eaten, and in some cases, showered.

Make sure they eat. I can probably count on one hand how many times I ate during those few days I spend in bed. Food helps fight depression. The depressed person doesn't always know or think about this. Food is essential to their well-being. Even if it's just a snack at a time.

Give Hugs. Depressed people may not always seem like they want hugs, but I can tell you that I wished for hugs a lot (and I still do) when I was in my darkest moments. And not those generic one-armed hugs (you all know the kind...), but real, powerful, significant hugs. The kind that instantly let the person know you care that much.

Offer help. Not just a listening ear. Honestly, I'd rather talk to my therapist than people I know. Offer other kinds of help. Offer to take someone to the grocery store. Offer to get them out of the house. Offer to go for a walk with them. Offer to do the daily stuff they can't at the moment.

Intervene. We have become a society that doesn't want to be involved. We keep saying "well, I've been busy" or "I've been dealing with a lot" or "I can only do so much." Newsflash - we ALL go through a lot. We ALL are busy. We ALL can only do so much. The difference is, we need to learn to recognize when someone is in trouble. The signs are usually there. They are just subtle and we suck at recognizing them. So, when I say intervene, I mean be the kind of person that says "get dressed. We are getting you out of the house!" And then follow through. When someone is depressed, they really don't care where you take them. You may only get them out for a short amount of time, but it helps. It's a small step forward. Heck, someone could have taken me with them to run their errands and I probably would've just been glad for the company.

Don't assume. Don't assume that someone else is reaching out. Don't assume someone is okay just because they are going to work. Don't assume that they can't be depressed because they have their basic needs met. Don't assume that they have friends or family that check on them. Don't assume anything. Period. Assumptions are wrong 9/10 times.

Help head off depression early. Check on your friends. Check on your relatives. Check on people you care about. Constantly. Whether they are depressed or not. Tell someone you care. Tell someone you love them. Tell someone you are here for them. And then show it. Always back up your words with actions. If we start taking care of each other, we just might save more lives.

Author's Note: This is based on my experience and observations. A blog is typically one opinion and leans biased. I welcome suggestions for other things that can we can do to help others with depression and chronic illness. If you are suffering from depression, you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 when you feel like you have no one else. Depression is one of the biggest pandemics we face in this world. Let's do something about it.