Monthly Archives: February 2015

Leap of (Non)Faith

I must do something I do not believe in at the moment.
I must do something I do not think will do me any good.
I must go somewhere, say something, plan something that I’m convinced is futile.

This is part of the nature of depression: going through the motions of life when we think it doesn’t matter. For over a month, I had been postponing making an appointment with my psychiatrist. Why? Because I feel it will be a pointless exercise. Wearily, my mind churns out the tale: I’ll show up. He’ll ask questions. He’ll express concern about my level of depression. He’ll recommend adjustments to my meds. I’ll agree to try them. They’ll do nothing, or worse than nothing.

I have enough observing ego to realize that, although it might be true that our first attempt at adjusting my meds won’t work, the voice telling me it’s all a futile exercise is a symptom of my depression.

I’ve needed several reminders from family and my therapist to make the damn appointment already, and it’s made. I still think it won’t do any good, but I’ll go.

What does it mean, to take a leap of faith when we seem to have no faith? Is it a different kind of leap, or is it just that we do still have faith although we aren’t conscious of it?

The weekend before I went to rehab for (hopefully) the last time, I woke up from a long, overdose-induced period of sketchy flashes of memory and felt empty. Something had been burned out of me, and with it–thankfully–had gone my pride. I did not have hope; I was utterly convinced that I couldn’t live without my drugs and was now also convinced that I couldn’t live with them. I knew I was fortunate to be alive, but had no idea what to do with my last chance. Almost mechanically, I began making phone calls to rehab centers and checked myself in a few days later.

Why did I do it, if I was so sure that it had no chance of working? What made my empty shell put one foot in front of the other long enough for hope to start returning?

The simplest answer would be that I was not truly devoid of hope or faith, and a deeper level of my psyche acted on it. Another answer might be that a divine power lifted my empty self up and walked me along for a bit. A third and logical one could be that my shreds of sanity felt an obligation to try once more before leaving my family with a legacy of my self-destruction.

So here I am, nearly four years later, still free of drugs but not of my other demons. Why will I go to my appointment? Why am I enacting a ritual that feels hollow?

I conclude that all of the possible reasons are true: I care about my family, I am helped by my God, and there is some flicker of faith present.

I believe that I’d already be using drugs if I did not have some kind of hope and faith. What would be the reason not to, if I truly believed everything so pointless? Why would I not have sought a momentary pleasure? Why would I be tolerating so much hunger for the sake of repairing my health?

My actions betray me. So what’s one more betrayal?

I will do something I don’t appear to believe in at the moment.
I will do something I don’t appear to think will do any good.
I will go somewhere, say something, plan something that I appear to be convinced is futile.

Conserving Water

My home state of California is suffering a serious and ongoing drought, and I want everyone to know that those who suffer from depression are doing their part to conserve precious water.

Some of our contributions are obvious…not doing dishes too often, not drinking as much water as people who exercise; this kind of thing.

But consider: a conventional shower head uses 5-7 gallons a minute. A deeply depressed person might forgo showers for days or weeks, conserving hundreds of gallons. Similarly, denying ourselves the comfort of a bath saves 28-50 gallons each time.

Washing a load of laundry takes 18 to 55 gallons of water, so wearing our less-than-fresh clothes again and again is a big help. Keep them in a handy pile for quick access.

It takes water to wash a face and brush a set of teeth–and is it really necessary, when there’s such a shortage? Get depressed enough and you won’t think so.

Maybe this shocks you a bit. It might; it’s one of those aspects of depression that aren’t talked about too much. Not everyone who’s depressed lives this way, or perhaps they’ve been there only for short and specific periods. Depression is a term that describes a continuum of symptoms. In addition, some of us have more anchors to normality than others.

An anchor to normality is something that applies pressure to us to function in the outside world. The pressure might not be sufficient, if we’re sick enough–but it’s there, and it might get us into clean clothes and out of the house when we’d otherwise stay in. Isolation is both a symptom of and a contributor to depression, and its effects can be vicious among the elderly, disabled or anyone who faces no strong pressure to go out.

Anchors or not, I believe I’m not alone in having an odd relationship with personal hygiene. I live in a culture that sees a daily shower/bath as the normal thing. Never mind that many places in the world don’t have this luxury, or don’t see it as necessary every day–this is the culture I was brought up in, so I feel alien when I’m not conforming even if nobody ever notices.

Let’s just say I’ve conserved a LOT of resources over the years.

One time that I was hospitalized, I went in on a Monday morning. My husband took our daughter to school before we went, and while he was doing that I followed the plan we’d made and took a shower. It had been at least a week, and I went through the tasks slowly and methodically. Calmed by the knowledge that we were going to get help, I dug deeply into my dresser and found fresh clothing. It was late summer, and the clean socks I pulled on were the first I had worn in a while. The other clothing felt curiously soft against my skin. Tennis shoes, over the socks, gave me a strange cushion-like feeling when I walked.

As I write this, I am thinking about why I, or we, go through struggles about these particular kinds of self-care. Is it for the same reasons we struggle to do anything else? Is it simply the same impulse-destroyer that steers us past our medications or pleasurable hobbies? Is it the physical effort involved for an aching body? Or is it more psychologically complicated than this?

Did you cleanse and care for your body today? Are you aware of what a loving thing you did for yourself, even if it just felt like a step in your daily routine? Do you know how amazing it is that you’re capable of a daily routine involving more than absolute necessities?

I do. I hope you do it again, and again, at whatever frequency feels healthful for you. Set a timer if you want to be conscious of water use, but if you’ve got what it takes to get in there, do it!

There are better ways to fight the drought.

Our Sickness Must Grow Worse

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
–T. S. Eliot

It isn’t a new concept: wounds must be exposed before healing can begin. We know it; we’ve probably been through the process many times on subjects large and small. But we fight it. I fight it, and try to ignore the deep wound by focusing on the skin rash of generalized anxiety.

I try to explain my distress with my diagnosis, telling myself that the issues going on wouldn’t seem so overwhelming if not for the hypomania and depression. I forget that I am a human being first, capable of real pain and grief that have nothing to do with addiction or mental health. Addictive acting out, such as my recent struggles with food, may be a response to this pain–but the root remains.

Eliot’s words, for me, seem to be saying that we are tied together with pain. For healer and healed alike, wholeness lies not in a lack of pain but in authenticity. It’s the ultimate paradox, this healing found in accepting our state of incurable and defective humanity.

What does this mean to me, to us, especially those who struggle to find enough meaning to resist an immediate and tempting darkness? A life filled with suffering seems an insufficient lure.

Does it mean we should not hope? I don’t think so. Does it mean we should not fear the painful passage to the next round of healing? The gift of fearless acceptance is a wonderful thing, but we are unlikely to have it constantly.

While giving my therapist a workout this morning, I managed to get to some purer emotions that have been fueling my anxiety. To do so, I had to first get through my shame and frustration about recent self-destructive behavior. Angrily, I berated myself and the universe for my being caught in the cycle again…this cycle of falling into the pit, stewing in the sludge for a while, and beginning to crawl up and out. His attitude about it is less judgmental; he believes–as I do in my less judgmental states–that I’m simply enacting the human condition in my particular way.

Beyond all of this, I touched my intense fear, anger and feelings of loss. I witnessed, for a moment, just how strong they are and how much they need some kind of attention.

I know I need help with my psych symptoms too–and it’s quite possible that a lifting of my depression would make me more able to cope with my emotions. But I’ve been putting off going to see my psychiatrist. I’ve been telling myself it’s pointless because he’ll say my depression is situational and I need to fix the situations if I want any relief. Or maybe I just want to lose 20 pounds or so before I go (after all, I wouldn’t want him to think I was having problems or anything.)

But my gateway to needed action is to “grow worse” in the way that places me into a state of feeling broken and not trying to be any other way. Being peacefully broken is what breaks me open–only then am I a canvas for something new or a field ready to plant.

I bloody hate weeping, but it’s been necessary. The kind of weeping that involves a lot of mucus and is nothing like the delicate crystal tears of anime heroines. I feel cleaner, though, and a little less anxious. I’m able to plan some actions without caring as much about how others may judge me. I can wear my metaphorical T-shirt that says “So, you think I’m a failure. And?”