March 17, 2020. 39 years old.
Some people celebrate the entire month. I hardly wanted my day.
2020 has been unkind to me, a feeling-sorry-about-myself sentiment that I don’t often allow myself to have. I was physically ill, and emotionally ravaged. I started the semester strong, and a month in found myself weak. The strength it took to get out of my bed, to take a shower, to dress up, to drive to campus, to walk from the parking lot, to climb the steps and to open my office – each step a bit more burdensome than the one before it. Collectively? Impossible. And so many days, I simply did not do it.
I’m big on trying to live without shame about my mental illness. Shame hides in secrets. And I don’t keep secrets. The only way I know how to live is honestly, and honesty to me also requires authenticity, authenticity means openness.
People say I’m brave for being so open. But it’s not hard for me to do so. Often I feel like I’m living outside of my body. I look in the mirror and see this body and this shape and I am surprised. It’s not me. Other times, I am so inside this body that it hurts. I can feel the bones and fat and skin around me and it’s completely suffocating. In either state, however, I don’t feel fear.
Except when I’m depressed. As I’ve talked about on here before, I have bipolar II, and I have predominately depression. Bipolar depression is thought to be different than unipolar depression, major depressive disorder. My depression is deep. I can’t take traditional anti-depressants because they can trigger mania. And, like allergy medicine, sometimes my body just stops responding. That’s what happened at the beginning of the year. It’s actually more complex than that, but it’s near the end of the day on my birthday.
And I’ve been so afraid. Fear of being hospitalized. Fear of wanting to die. Fear of not mattering. Fear of being insignificant and stupid and not good at my job and a horrible mother and wife. Fear that my friends will grow tired of me being depressed. That they’ll stop calling and checking in and not wanting to call them because nobody wants to talk to a depressed person who isn’t depressed about anything because that’s not how it works.
Once Covid-19 struck I was a bit encouraged. I didn’t have to do the get showered, in my car, to the parking garage stuff anymore. I just had to get up out the bed. Easier. But then I realized that online teaching is hard. Harder than any other teaching I’ve ever done. You can imagine where I am now. Or maybe not. I’m not sure where I am now either.
My FB friends have been following me in this latest episode, providing support and love from wherever they are in this country and abroad. And I’ve appreciated it.
Today is my birthday. And while others are asking for donations, I asked for a donation of another type. A donation into my heart. I asked for people to tell me how I’ve been kind to them over the years, how I’ve helped them, or touched their life.
Depression lies to you. It tells you that you are unlovable and forgettable. I told a friend that I knew I was just living for my children and my husband, that they were the only people who would feel my absence. And she told me I was wrong, that my absence would affect many people.
I allowed myself to be selfish, to attract attention, to test her belief. I asked the question, and I got answers. I am completely overwhelmed.
I won’t repeat things people have said. Suffice to say it’s been … just…wow. Complete astonishment. The sheer number of comments — 111 at the current count, 111 people who think I’m good. 107 more people than I thought I was important to. And there are other comments and notes I got not even in that amount.
I’ve been in therapy enough to know what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m depressed. One thing is to recognize when your mind is lying to you, recognize when it is likely that reality is really different from what’s going on in your mind. My list of comments — and it’s mine, I know it’s about me, I can somewhat recognize that person they are talking about — will be saved and cherished forever. And when I notice I’m being lied to, when I know that my mind is literally playing tricks on me, I will put out my comments and read them and cry. Cry knowing that I mean something to people. And that just might be what saves my life.