Having finally in the early 90s reached a level of desperation that had me seeing myself in my mind’s eye standing on the edge of a cliff poised to jump, I knew that if I wanted to be able to turn away from the precipice I would need help. I simply didn’t have the strength to do it myself so I went my doctor and, sobbing, told her that I thought I might be depressed. She agreed and arranged for me to begin seeing a psychotherapist.
Her office was practically across the street from where I worked which was a bonus because a very physical lethargy had begun taking me over. Getting out of bed to go to work was like trying to swim up from the depths of a sea of thick, viscous liquid. My limbs felt like someone had strapped invisible weights to them. Every step was an effort. But I did manage to make my way to that first appointment
I crossed the street, went into the doctor’s office, told them who I was there to see and found a seat as far away from other people as I could. I slumped down into the chair and stared down at my feet.
One of the people behind the reception desk came over to me and asked quietly and gently if I would like a cup of tea. I nodded. Easier than verbalizing.
The tea was brought to me with a soft “there you go,”
It occurred to me that this was exceptional service for a doctor’s office but then I peaked around and noticed that no one else had been offered tea. I was being treated with kid gloves. Strange. The tea tasted nice. Something herbal. No caffeine. Then my name was called and I was guided into the psychotherapist’s office.
There I met Dr. Claire. I don’t remember her last name.
After introductions Dr. Claire said she had a questionnaire she’d like me to fill out. Okay. I could do that.
There were lots of questions geared at determining the extent of a person’s depression. I don’t remember most of them. They had yes or no answers. Two of them did stand out — do you have frequent urination? And do you experience excessive sighing. Yes to both questions.
When I was done I gave her back the paper and after looking it over I saw her make a brief notation.
“How’d I do?” I asked.
“You answered yes to 23 questions. 12 yeses is considered seriously depressed.”
I took another look at her notation. Two words, “severely depressed”.
Huh. I knew things weren’t good. I hadn’t realized they were so bad.
Then she started asking me questions about how I was getting by day to day. I told her not well. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t shut off that film in my head that was replaying every unhappy moment in my life with a voiceover designed to remind me of what a total loser I was. My short-term memory was shot. It was making things difficult at work because I’d do something then start to do it again until someone reminded me it was already done. I’d ask someone to do something then forget whether I’d asked and end up sitting there, frozen, afraid to say anything about it because I knew I was starting to come off as a nut job. And everyone had started noticing my sighing. Every few minutes I’d let out this huge sigh like my lungs were trying to suck in more oxygen because I’d barely been breathing.
“Look at the way you’re sitting,” Dr. Claire said at one point
I looked down and saw that my legs were crossed at the knees and the ankles and my arms were wrapped tightly around my torso. The whole time I’d been talking I’d been staring at a point in space a few feet in front of me.
I tried to unclench. At least on the outside
It was at this meeting that Dr. Claire suggested I might want to think about taking some time off work. That thought scared me. Was I really that bad?
She assured me I wasn’t just sad, that this wasn’t all just in my head. She told me I was ill and that my illness needed to be treated. Clinical depression, she said, is a physical, measurable disease. I don’t remember the full explanation but I understood it had something to do with the balance of brain chemicals and the rate at which my synapses were firing. Still, to take time off work. That would mean admitting to myself and my employers that I was suffering from a mental illness. I wasn’t ready for that yet. She didn’t push it. She did write me out a prescription for the anti depressant Prozac and said she thought I should see her twice a week.
I filled the prescription and went home and crawled into bed. I took the first pill and waited to see what would happen. Nothing happened although after a few days I did start to feel very jumpy and shakey. The Prozac was not working for me. I told Dr. Claire this at our next meeting and she said that was no problem, we just needed to find a medication that would work for me. I was relieved.
The next medication we tried was designed for patients who had trouble sleeping. I forget the name of it at the moment but it worked much better for me. At first I had some dry mouth and a little dizziness but that went away after a few days
The thing is, these medications take time to work and by then I was ready to admit that perhaps it would be a good idea to take some time off work. I certainly wasn’t performing up to scratch and it was getting to the point where I was crying at the drop of a hat.
It was so hard to go to my boss with this but I was pleasantly surprised to find him absolutely supportive. He told me to take as much time as I needed and that my job would be waiting for me when I felt better. If you read one of my earlier posts you’ll know that things didn’t quite work out that way but it was no fault of my boss, or me.
It was the beginning for me of directly treating my disease. It took a few years for me to be able to look back and realized how sick I really was. My dark brain had created this new normal for me that was filled with pain, emotional and physical. I was drowning in hopelessness and self loathing and I thought it was all my fault.
Dr. Claire took on the unenviable task of trying to convince me that what my disease was telling me and what was reality were two very different things.
With the stress of having to go to work out of the way for a while I let the last of my defences fall to the avalanche of the disease that swept over my life. When I wasn’t at Dr. Claire’s I retreated to the cocoon of my bed. Not being able to sleep didn’t matter so much when I didn’t have to get up to go to work. When I lay there hour after hour I would at times find myself just staring at nothing. For hours I would lie there just staring. Sometimes I would get out of bed and go lay on the couch so I could turn the TV on
I can’t say I really watched anything, I just stared at the TV. I needed to hear voices now and then.
I rarely showered. The mere thought of expending all the energy involved in getting out of bed and taking off my clothes and turning on the water and using soap and shampoo, it was just literally too much for me to handle. My body and mind felt weighted down. I had no strength, no energy. My apartment was turning into a pig sty
One day when I was feeling lonely and overwhelmed by the mess around me and unable to summon up the strength to do anything about it I called a friend. I told her what I was going through and asked if she’d keep the phone line open, keep doing what she was doing, I just wanted to know there was someone there on the other end of the line. We didn’t have to talk. I didn’t really have the energy to talk much anyway. And hearing the pain in my voice my friend came to my apartment and cleaned while I lay in bed, staring at nothing, amazed by that selfless act.
It took a long time for me to regain my strength, to spend more time out of my bed than in it but that day did come.
If you’re hurting know that it’s okay to say I’m sick and I need time to get well. You’d no doubt take the time if you had any other kind of disease. Why is it so much harder when the problem is with our brains?
Surely it should be of paramount importance that we care for this, the center of our physical being, the place where we as individuals spring from?
We’ll talk more soon. I need a rest. Be well, be brave, ask for help if you need it.