Saturday, March 25, 2017

Depression and Tattoos

I sat down today with the goal of pouring my heart out. But, now that I'm here, I don't quite know where to begin.  The last couple of weeks have been kind of a whirlwind; so much has happened and yet, with everything going on, not too much has changed. I'm not sure I can explain it any better than that.

Girl-child turned 10 on March 8th. Official double digits. We honestly didn't do very much, which makes me feel like a horrible mother, but I just couldn't get my act together. We did, however, have a huge sheet cake at the Wednesday night supper at church (which corresponded very nicely with her actual day of birth) and everyone who was there sang Happy Birthday to her - to her high embarrassment. But she thanked me later. And everyone had birthday cake, which is always a good thing.

The next day, I had my very first appointment with my new doctor, and that was an unexpected experience in itself. To begin with, I hadn't been to just a regular primary care physician in over a year; for any reason. Filling out all that new patient paperwork made me realize just how sorely lacking my self-care had been. I could not remember how long it'd been since my last [fill in the blank] on just about any of it. Sad, sad, sad. Anyway, when the nurse called me back, she spent almost 30 solid minutes going over my health history with me. She was kind, thoughtful, insightful, non-judgmental, took her time and didn't make me feel as if she had somewhere else to be. She put me right at ease. When all that was said and done, she said the doctor would be right in and, my cynical self thought, "Yeah, right!" Because, let's be honest, who hasn't heard that before and then waited 20, 30, sometimes even 40 minutes before the doctor came right in.

But, miracle of miracles, five minutes later there was a knock on the door and in came my new doctor and an assistant.  He, too, took his time with me. He, too, was thoughtful, respectful, responsive, insightful, and didn't make me feel like he had somewhere else to be. What a different experience from what I'd become used to. We started going over my health - the usual stuff - but then he paused, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "'s your stress level?" And I lost it.

Really lost it.

I cried like an idiot in front of my new doctor.

I fully expected him to find an excuse to leave the room, but he just laid a gentle hand on my shoulder and said, "It's OK. This is a safe place to cry. Take as long as you need."

Once I'd calmed down some, we spent an extremely long time talking about my stress, emotions, moods, etc. In detail. It was simultaneously embarrassing, uncomfortable, gratifying and freeing. To talk about stuff I hadn't talked about in any real way for...well...ever.

In the end, I left with new prescriptions for my asthma (which I was out of, and, other than establishing myself with a new physician, was the primary purpose of my visit), as well as an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety, and a scheduled follow-up visit for a week later to see how things were going.

Well...if I'm being honest...I don't remember much about the following week. The anti-anxiety medicine basically made me into a semi-conscious zombie. I was a good patient, and took the medicine as it was prescribed, but it was - clearly - too much. Finally, the day before my follow-up visit, I didn't take my morning or afternoon doses because I was practically narcoleptic. That seemed to help. So by the time my follow-up appointment arrived, I felt mostly human again.  I relayed my situation to the doctor and he agreed; too much meds. We lowered the dose significantly and I've been fine ever since.

Also, my blood work indicated (as we suspected) very out-of-whack hormones and a severe vitamin D deficiency. So I am now also on a hormone creme which is supposedly going to "change my life" and extra doses of vitamin D.

All-in-all, I do feel better. I couldn't tell right away, but as the anti-depressant builds in my system I find myself feeling clearer and clearer. I'm still not "there" yet - wherever "there" is - but I am on my way. I think.

Which brings me to - at least partially - what I was originally going to write about. This depression thing has been going on since I was 13 or 14. I've either been seeing some form of therapist, or taking some form of medication, almost as long as I can remember. But, I've been without (by choice) either therapist or medicine for several years now. I guess I thought maybe I was as good as I'd ever be, things wouldn't get better, and I might as well get used to things as they were is what it is, right? I mean, at some point I guess I must have consciously decided to just deal with it, the depression, that is. And truthfully, I thought I was doing alright.

But lately, I began to realize I was not doing alright. That I needed help. And I remembered all the times I've said to others that it's OK to ask for help, so why did I feel that it was not OK for ME to ask for help, too? Stubbornness? A desire to be OK even if I wasn't? To not be a failure to myself? To others? The incorrect belief that if I looked OK on the outside, I might fool myself (and others) into believing I really was OK on the inside, too?  I've got people counting on me! I've got a good job, thank God! I've got responsibilities! I cannot, NOT be OK! It was simply unacceptable for me to show weakness - either to myself or to others.

But when my doctor asked, "'s your stress level?" it provided an unexpected opportunity to ask for the help I needed, even though I wasn't really sure what I needed. I know now that this, more than anything, was why I broke down and cried in his office.

Another thing. Last night was my monthly Girl's Night with my girlfriends. Truthfully, they're more my Soul Sisters. The 5 other women in my life who have held me together more times than they even realize. And we got to talking about tattoos (our conversations are always all across the map and are sacred and not to be repeated in most cases) and wouldn't it be neat if we - the sisters - could come up with a tattoo that represented all of us and we would each get one. Yes, I'm all for that. (Another story for another time, really.)  But, during that conversation, one friend asked us about our own personal symbols - a symbol that we each, individually, felt inextricably linked to. Something that we felt defined us, in a way. And though I had a symbol, I felt more linked to a particular phrase: "Do it anyway."

If you read my blog regularly, I think I've talked about this before, so you'll understand. However, to me, "Do it anyway," is my way of forcing myself to be OK. To force myself to get up in the morning, to take a shower, to drive to work and work all day, to do the laundry...sometimes to go tuck my kids in and kiss them and tell them I love them even though I've already gotten in bed.  To do all the little things I'd just rather not do because it would be easier to stay in bed all day and just give in to the blackness I feel. Don't want to do something? Do it anyway! (Within reason, of course, because it certainly cannot apply to everything!)

So I tried very hard to explain to my sisters what I envision when I think about this phrase: "Do it anyway."

Basically what I said was, when I think about a "normal" person - someone who doesn't suffer from depression and anxiety and constantly questions their self-worth - I think of a clear pane of glass, or a beautiful crystal bowl. Perfect. Lovely. Together. Transparent. Unblemished. But when I think about me and how I feel - how my depression and all the rest of it feels to me - I feel broken. Like shards of glass, or shattered crystal. And I see my mantra, "Do it anyway." written in pieces of glass.

It's hard to explain. I certainly wouldn't know how to take this image I see so perfectly in my mind and transfer it into a vision suitable for a tattoo. But you know what? I think I'm going to try.

One of my sisters said, "You know, that kinda shows your strength, actually." (I might be paraphrasing, but essentially that was it.) And I think maybe she might be right.

I want those words - where I can see them and remember what I've suffered through - clear for the world to see, too. I want someone to ask me about it. What does it mean?

For folks who live in their unblemished, clear-pane-of-glass worlds (not a judgment, I promise, just an observation), it might be hard to understand the struggle it is to live with depression and anxiety (among other things).  But for those who know...well, maybe they'll see my tattoo and they'll just GET IT. They'll understand. And they'll know I'm safe, that I'm someone they can talk to about their own struggle. And maybe, just maybe, they'll feel a little bit better.

Again - I feel like I'm having trouble explaining things. I suppose you can take all this (the words of this unbelievably long blog post) however you wish. Bottom line for me, though? I'm finally getting help and I have a vision I'd like to realize in the form of a tattoo. Now, I just need to save up the money.

Really? That's the summary of this long post? Well...I might have follow-ups in the future, but yes, for now, that's it.

I hope this post helps you in some small way. Because if it helps you - even if I don't know it - it will help me, too.



Lynna said...

Not long at all. Here's to bravery and honesty. To kind medical professionals. To meds that help. To community that saves. And above all, to the enduring human spirit fueled by the love of God.

Marcia Walker said...

I would read twice as much and more to know YOUR story, to see YOU a little more clearly. Thank you for sharing yourself here, even when you thought it might be too long or too much. Thanks for doing it anyway.