Someone told me yesterday that my writing is an offering; that I am giving others a voice. This gave me pause, but on reflection I think there might be some truth in this. It has been telling to see that the stories garnering the largest number of views have been those where I was most exposed and vulnerable, riding an edge, and writing about things that are gritty. Friends and colleagues have recently engaged me in lengthy conversations about my blog. They have wanted to know what it feels like to be writing with such openness and fierce honesty. Is it scary? (Yes) Liberating? (Yes) Most are intrigued; many are inspired; a few are squirmy; but all have been supportive and want more.
Lately and especially, I have been asked to speak about my experience with mental illness and my history of clinical depression over the decades. I am happy to write about this. It feels freeing to do so. I no longer wish or choose to live quietly, with shame, in a world full of secrets.
The earliest memory I have of being sick was when I was eighteen years old. It was insidious at first, like the flu. Then it came crushing down like a vise, pinning me to my bed, burying me under the covers. I could barely speak – for weeks. I was terrified and wanted to end my life. I told my family that I needed help. They said, “Tsk, tsk; this is just growing pains. Happens to everyone. Don’t talk about it.” I was admonished. “You certainly don’t want this on your record. It could go against your getting into nursing school. You’ll get over it.” But I didn’t. Not really. Not then.
I got accepted into nursing school but the depression surfaced again and again. I saw the school shrink who was Freudian. He wanted to talk about my father. I didn’t want to talk about my father. I slogged on. Then… it mysteriously lifted for fifteen years. I was buoyant. Life was good. I forgot about it.
Then it came back. I was living in a small valley town full of giant mosquitoes, sheep, and rice patties. It was claustrophobic. I began to feel the familiar symptoms coming on, the creeping terror as I struggled to hide it. I would sit on top of the washing machine when everyone was out of the house and cry. I was very, very scared. I went to see a local doctor and told him I was sure I had a brain tumor. I asked him to x-ray my head and do an EEG. I said that to feel this horrible, surely there was something terribly wrong with me. I was dead serious. Poor guy. Told me to take B complex vitamins. That’s all he had.
It was such a relief when someone finally named this for me. Clinical depression. I found out there were specialists who could help. There was medicine, therapy. Recovery was possible. It has been a capricious journey. Up – down. On meds – off meds. But slowly I have healed. I am healthy and strong. I have made friends with depression. We have an amusing relationship. From time to time it sends its cousin, melancholy, to visit. She flies in the window and sits on my left shoulder. I talk to her – literally. “You can stay for one day. That’s it. Then you’re out of here.” I take to my bed, eat lots of chocolate and watch movies or sleep or read. Usually in a day or two she leaves. We have an understanding now, and It seems to be working. There is grace and ease in my life. Besides—because I’ve been there and can relate—I have more tools in my life bag to help others. Not such a bad trade off…