Just focus focus focus. Just focus.
Just focus on what you need to. Focus. Come on. Focus.
Please focus. Focus. FOCUS! Just focus.
Just focus focus focus. Please please please.
And so it goes round and round, the thoughts in my head.
Even now, I just looked off to the side and blanked and then thought about something else entirely, even though I’ve been trying to compose this post for a while.
I’ve written before about my struggles with what I had self-diagnosed as depression.
This post is from back in November 2010, when my blog was anonymous:
I feel like I am constantly drowning and there are brief moments where my head breaks the water and I catch a breath. But almost instantly I am back under, flailing, trying to do whatever it takes to make it to the surface again. The panic of my day-to-day is crippling at times, it makes it so I can’t do anything except focus on it. This, of course, causes more panic. More flailing. Inevitably crying and more crying.
That whole post was about whether I would quit academia all together, my dissertation more specifically. I don’t mention depression in that post but, WOW, when I read that paragraph, it maps so perfectly onto the feelings I’ve been having for the last two weeks. And my breath leaves my body. That was November 2010.
And today, finally, after years of suffering, I was diagnosed officially for the first time in my life with depression and anxiety.
In the midst of this bout of intense depression, one of my best friends said something to me that jarred me into really taking stock of own reality. She said, “Jessica, I think you’ve been depressed for years. And I think most of the time you manage it. But you need to consider seeing a doctor about medication because your management is failing you and you deserve better than this.”
It was effective messaging.
When I get really sad and overwhelmed, I often retreat. I retreat most fully from the people I am most fearful of failing, the people closest to me, who mean the most to me. I know this is related to the rise in my anxiety and so I stop responding to emails, I refuse to talk on the phone, etc.
What’s hardest about all of this is my son. He’s 4. And he’s totally aware of what’s happening. He wants to know why I’m sad. We talk a lot about what makes me sad (I’m still saying what he said a year ago, “Mommy makes mommy sad”) and I reiterate that he does not make me sad. When I feel good enough, I try to interact with him as long as I can.
I think everyone who parents has fears about failing their child. And I have no false ideas like that I will never fail him. That will happen. Everyone at some point fails everyone else and the more someone means to you, the more acutely the failure is felt. We are just people making our way through complicated relationships, major life events, every day drudgeries.
But my child drives things home for me and with him, the stakes feel the highest. He is only 4 and there is only so much that can be explained. His world is so incredibly small and I am such a central part of it.
On Saturday night I could not sleep. Or maybe I did sleep but then woke up in the middle of the night. So many restless and sleepless nights recently it is hard to remember each one specifically. In the end, I calculated possibly 3 hours of total sleep. After an early morning run/walk with yet another wonderful friend, I needed to nap on Sunday afternoon. I was dragging hard that day both due to my energy level and my depressed, anxious thoughts. I lied down and was asleep in moments. I remember my son coming in and out of the room, one time to give me a picture he had made and another time to see if I was awake. The final time, after hours of me napping, he came in, got right in my face, and said, “Mommy, when are you going to get out of bed?” I felt like I was living in a depression medication commercial and my son was an unwitting supporting player in my mini-drama. It also felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on my heart.
I pulled myself out of bed and I did my damnedest to give him the attention he was clearly craving. But I kept thinking, “How did it get to this point? How did I let it get to this point? My son deserves better than this.”
In the last few weeks I’ve boiled everything down to small victories. Sometimes that is just getting myself up and dressed. Sometimes it is preparing a meal and then another victory if I can eat it. Sometimes it is going to the grocery store or making a meeting. Other times, it is finally responding to that outstanding email staring me in the face.
Today’s small victory was going to the doctor. And then it was getting up and going to the pharmacy and getting my new meds. And soon I’m supposed to go to a happy hour for a local politician and if/when I make it, I will remind myself that it’s no small feat that I am there.
Lack of motivation and inability to see things through has been one of the largest obstacles for me. Of course, this is easiest to see in the writing of my dissertation (or rather, lack thereof). This has been the unending project that should really have an end. I can literally see it all sketched out in my head. I know what the main argument is, I know what needs to be written, I know what sources from which to pull. I believe the project has worth. And yet. And yet. And yet it is not finished.
I credit this as procrastination, a classic problem. It’s then something controllable that I can overcome if I can just limit distractions. The problem is that the distractions are not all external.
But this lack of motivation can also be seen in the laundry basket that I’ve filled with dirty clothes but haven’t taken out to the garage to put in the wash. It can be seen in the reviews I start to write that never make it out of draft form. It can be seen in the hours of time that lapse between when I’m going to start dinner and when I actually do.
And it’s these smaller moments that get translated in my own mind as laziness, something much more sinister than procrastination (idle hands and all that, I guess). And part of my fear is that when the meds kick in and I finally start feeling like “my real self” (whatever that means), it will turn out that I am just lazy, I am just a hard core procrastinator, I am just easily distracted. It is just me and I am unfixable.
I feel better when I write. I feel better when I tell the truth about my situation and my personal experiences. I feel better when I have time to think through things and craft a narrative.
I spend a great deal of time in social media. That’s no secret. And I love it. But it’s interesting with the depression. Because what I do in social media is, for the most part, a carefully crafted narrative. I put forth what I want to people to see and I’m keenly aware of this. So, as my day-to-day world feels like it is crashing at my feet, I go online and write blog posts, send some tweets, tumble a quote, and post a picture to instagram. Things look managed, ordered, in their proper place. I appear together and with it and accomplished.
Appearances can be so incredibly deceiving. I think part of why I do it in the midst of all of this is to try to deceive myself, to believe my management of this situation is actually working and I can pull myself out of this.
And then I repeat to myself, “You deserve better than this.”
I have a lot of good friends. I have a family who cares deeply for me and I never doubt it. I have a partner who does not always understand what is happening but who continues to hand me tissues as the tears keep falling.
Thank you to everyone who has sent me a kind word, a note of encouragement, checked up on me, let me know I’m not alone in this struggle, etc. I’m not the best right now at getting back to people but it all has helped and I’m forever grateful for the giant network of wonderful people who surround me in my everyday life and virtually.
Depression sucks. Anxiety sucks. I am extremely fortunate that I have the means and time to see both a therapist and a doctor and to afford the long-term prescription that my doctor thinks I need.
I’m now debating whether to publish this post that feels incredibly self-indulgent, that is tied to my name, and which reveals my weaknesses.
But reading other people’s words, knowing other people struggled as I do, that has been helpful to me. So I’m going to hit “publish” now and put this into the virtual/social media world. And I’m just going to hope that maybe it does some good. Writing it has certainly been good for me.