Marrying Myself.

Initially, my intention was to write a follow-up post detailing my time in the hospital and laying out what our schedule looked like each day. I’ll probably still write that post because I’m eager to share what it was like for me day to day, but a thought occurred to me last night as I was folded into child’s pose during an hour-long yin yoga class, and I thought it was more pressing and worth sharing.

Here’s what I realized: I would not want to be in a relationship with the person I am right now. That thought was enough to jolt me out of my practice for at least five minutes as I turned over all of the implications of this realization. A good friend of mine recently sent me a TED talk in which a thrice-divorced woman talked about the value of marrying yourself. It was a sweet talk about committing to treat yourself the way you’d treat someone you were in love with- in essence, loving and committing yourself to yourself.

I’m prone to extreme loneliness. It’s something I’m continuously working on. It’s not that I’m unable to enjoy my own company, but it doesn’t last for very long, and I find myself feeling hollow and sad and eventually panicked if I’m alone for too long. In the past year I put myself in two emotionally vulnerable positions that ended up really scarring me, and I was left wondering what was wrong with me that I continued to be faced with so much solitude when all I wanted was someone to share my time with. But I have someone to share my time with- ME. I’m here for myself always, and while it feels great to sling my legs into someone’s lap and lean my head on a shoulder and connect with another human being, the person I need to have the strongest connection with is the one I’m with 24/7 for the rest of my life. If I can build that relationship and take comfort in the fact that I can always count on myself, then there’s never any need to feel alone, and anyone else that comes into my life is just a complement to the whole person that is me.

I know who I want to be. I know who I have been in the past, and I know who I can be if I take the right steps and put the necessary pieces in place. I want to be someone I’d be proud to know. This is not completely out of the realm of possibilities, but it’s also going to require a ton of work, because right now I am sad and lonely and frankly pretty boring. I don’t do the things I used to do. I don’t cultivate the interests that used to fulfill me. I let everything fall to the wayside, and now it’s up to me to rebuild. I don’t think this will be some great tale of me overcoming my depression- I think it’ll be a struggle every day for the rest of my life, and I’ll probably have my fair share of setbacks, but I think that if I can keep my sights fixed on where I’d like to see myself, I’ll get there eventually.

That being said, I’m still struggling. Waking up in the morning sucks. It just sucks. Trying to get through the day when my antidepressants make me feel dull and my anti-anxiety meds make me sleepy and my sleep meds give me a hangover…it feels unmanageable. I’m trying to remember that it’s a process, that it’s going to be a long while before I work out a good medication regimen, and that I need to have patience and persevere. Despite the side effects, I’ve been good about staying on top of my meds and taking them on time and getting every dose in.

Things that are still difficult for me:

Writing. Every word needs to be forced out, every sentence re-checked. I have no motivation to write anything creative. I’m having a lot of trouble getting back into the rhythm of writing like I was, where words flowed like a stream and I could bang out six or seven poems a week without breaking a sweat. I haven’t written since I got home from the hospital. I have a weekly workshop beginning this week, and I’m hoping that will help spur me to get writing again, and maybe eventually I’ll find a new sustainable rhythm.

Housework. Really, anything that involves doing anything. I’m still so fatigued all the time, I look around my apartment at the toys and the dishes and the carpet that needs vacuuming and it still all seems like so much work, I don’t think I’ll ever get through it. I’ve been setting myself one task to accomplish each day, and it helps, knowing I just have to do that one thing. Vacuuming one day, laundry the next, and on and on, day by day. It makes me feel like a child, because really, I should be able to take care of basic tasks, but I’m trying to remind myself that if the alternative is being totally overwhelmed and foregoing activity altogether until I’m back in the hospital, maybe one task a day is the way to go until I’m feeling more…functional. Tonight’s task: organize the book room. Someone say a prayer.

Eating. It’s so easy for me to skip meals. I don’t get hungry so much as I crave certain foods, so most of the time when I eat it’s because I wanted that specific thing, not because I’m satisfying a need to eat. When I’m depressed, I tend to throw food to the wayside and eat nothing. That, or I’ll binge on trays of Oreos. I’m trying to combat this by a) not buying Oreos (FAIL), and b) making sure I get to the grocery store as soon as my fridge starts to look too empty. Usually if I’m running low on spinach and kale, it’s time for a restock. I’ve also been making smoothies every morning, because I can load them up with all manner of fruits and veggies and add-ins and they end up being packed with nutrition. I just force myself to slurp down a pitcher every morning. Right now my go-to is: frozen green fig, mango, raspberry, banana, carrot, apple, kale, yogurt, honey, flax, hemp seeds, maca powder, and almond milk. It gets me the nutrients I need and I can just close my eyes and chug it down. I’ve also been making sure to plan a few meals a week so I’m not ending each day wondering what the hell I’m going to cook for dinner. I’m trying to keep it simple- tonight is tomato soup with cashew cream and toasted baguette croutons. Also, steamed southern greens. Totally manageable and appetizing.

I’ve actually been playing around with some meal delivery services- so far I’ve tried Plated and HomeChef, and honestly, they make it so much easier to ensure I’ve got a few solid meals each week. It’s not something I’d do every single week, but if I know I’ve got a tough week coming up, it’s a really nice break for me- all of the ingredients are included and pre-portioned, so all I have to do is put it all together. It’s definitely a nice option to have.

Yoga. It’s not as much of an effort as other things, but getting onto my mat and getting through a full practice is so hard. Mostly I just want to lay in child’s pose all day. I’m going to try to get back to the Yogasphere donation classes on Sunday nights, since the kids are with my Mum then. I think being back in a studio space will really help. In the meantime, I’ve continued my subscription to YogaGlo. For anyone who is trying to establish a home practice, I cannot recommend it more. It’s loaded with classes for all different styles and levels, and it gives you access to so many wonderful teachers, many of whom I had the great fortune to practice with at Wanderlust last year, so it’s a treat to be able to sign on to YogaGlo and experience more of their classes. Definitively, without YogaGlo, there would be no yoga happening for me at all.

I guess in a nutshell….most things are still challenging me every day. The difference is that now I can actually get through the day, even if I’m dragging my feet. I’m not lying in a coma on my couch. That’s something.

I was glad to hear from a number of people about their own experiences with depression. It’s so bizarre and misunderstood, because it’s an illness of how you feel, but it can be physically very debilitating. I find that people are hesitant to open up about their struggles with mental health because there is still such a stigma against it. When I was in the hospital, a number of people close to me seemed to think that I was somehow different from the other people in the ward. I heard a lot of sentiments along the lines of, “well, you’re not like the rest of the people there, you’re just depressed.” And it’s true, in some ways I was very different from many people there. But there were also plenty of people just like me- depressed, unable to function, and in desperate need of medication and psychiatric help. There were husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, boyfriends and girlfriends, people with full-time jobs and stable, fulfilling relationships. One man was a Philadelphia police officer suffering from PTSD. My point here is that mental health issues are not limited to the obviously troubled. I’ve had so many people approach me with their own stories, and for that I am so grateful. While it’s hard knowing that people I care about are facing these kinds of struggles, it’s also good to know I’m not alone, that the problems I’m facing are more common than not, and that there is a huge network of support available to me.

I’m going to keep working and writing and sharing my experience here. I’ll try to type up an overview of my week in the hospital and share the nitty-gritty of what it was like at the week-long pajama party living the no-shoes, no-bra dream. Until next time.

XO

My Week in the Psych Ward.

“Shoot, I am SO far behind on life! I didn’t even post my CSA share last week. I was inexplicably depressed all week long- despairing, laying-in-bed, up-all-night, not-eating depressed. At first I figured I was just a little low, but after a third day of picking my food over and being very much inside my head, I knew something was up. The surest way to gauge my mental state is to watch what I’m eating, and how much. It’s a great way for me to keep track of how I’m feeling psychologically, as well as an entryway into the exploration of my relationship with food. I popped in to see a naturopath, who hooked me up with some camu powder and maca, and talked to me a little bit about what behaviors might help to get out of my funk. Easy: friends, more yoga, meditation, running, writing, something school-associated, and lots of time spent outside. I took the kids to parks, rolled out my yoga mat at sunrise and sunset, meditated for thirty minutes a day, and contacted my closest friends for quality time. I have a tendency toward depression- I think most people do- but if I don’t find a way to come out of it, it can screw me up for months. However, as the years have gone on and I delve deeper and deeper into those things I love the most- the interests I cultivate so passionately- I have found my depressive states to be less frequent. I try to maintain a positive focus, and find enjoyment in everything that I do.

 

That is an excerpt from the second-to-last post I made on this blog, over a year ago. It’s also, though I didn’t know it then, the beginning of a downward spiral into the worst depressive episode I have ever experienced in my life, spanning over eight months and disrupting almost every single element of my lifestyle. For over a year I’ve been avoiding this space, pretending it didn’t exist. I didn’t want to think about that happy person who used to photograph her cucumbers and grow her own tomatoes and bike three miles to do yoga by a fountain at sunset. It’s easier to pretend she didn’t exist- that I had always been this way, overcome by my depression. To acknowledge that I had once been in a promising place in my life would acknowledge the responsibility I had to get myself back to that place, and I didn’t believe I was capable of something so demanding. My path into depression, and out of it, has been long and dark. Every time I thought I hit my lowest point, I fell further down, until finally I came to a stop- right at the ambulance entrance of Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital. On December 28th, 2014, I checked myself in to a psych ward.

I have shared this information openly and readily with anyone who has asked. Without warning, I dropped off the map for nine days, so naturally I came home to plenty of inquiring texts and emails. When I first checked in, I was less interested in sharing my whereabouts. I was under the very foolish impression that my struggle with mental illness was something to be embarrassed about. Now, on the other side of my stay in the ward, I know that it is just another part of myself that requires management and care. For the most part, I don’t feel ashamed, and I don’t worry about what people will think of me when they find out. I’m glad I had access to a facility that could give me help and access to the resources that I needed to begin my recovery. If I hadn’t checked in to Brooke Glen, I would be dead right now. But that’s a story in itself, and my intention here is not to deliver a play-by-play of my long and complicated breakdown. It is to share a slice of my life that I have neglected to expose, but one that I think is very humanizing and relatable.

In a TED talk delivered in December of 2013, (coincidentally) shortly after I began to recognize signs of my imminent depressive episode, Andrew Solomon related an interview he had done with someone who had described depression as “a slower way of being dead.” Solomon states that this was very important for him to hear early on, and that it helped him realize how easily that slow deadening can lead to actual deadness. This is the best way I can think of to describe what I experienced over the course of a year, plus. Slowly, and at first almost imperceptibly, I began to shrink away from activities I had previously loved. I rode my bike less and less. I stopped practicing yoga so often, and eventually altogether. I stopped running. I didn’t renew my CSA share, and eventually stopped going to the farmers market. I became disenchanted with my studies. I didn’t go to the park as much. I didn’t go to the park at all. I moved into my own apartment in June of 2014, and the variety of my life slowed to a near dead stop. I took little joy in the everyday delights of Jack and Carolyn, despite wanting to revel in the experience of motherhood. All of the things I had previously loved to do became labors. I slept less, I ate less, I did less, until finally in December of 2014, when my semester at Temple had ended, I confined myself to my couch nearly around the clock, ate nothing for days on end, and slept in 45-minute spurts a few times a night. My social network had slimmed to a select few individuals, and my conversations consisted mostly of pained discussions of my mental troubles and how I felt incapable of overcoming them. I hoped, if I stayed on my couch long enough, I’d die there.

Of course, there were countless factors and events that complicated the situation. The stress of being a single mother with two young children became overwhelming when Jack and Carolyn hit simultaneous difficult stages. Temple was a huge and not entirely welcome change from Bucks, and I still feel so homesick for the Bucks campus and the professors I had come to love so much. With no workshop in the fall of 2013, I stopped writing. I am not a very self-motivated writer, and I know now that continued involvement in a workshop is imperative to both my productivity and my mental health. There were other things- other factors that added weight to an already heavy load, and I think if I hadn’t been dealing with so many “bad chemicals” (not my term, but I’m using it because it’s a good way to describe it), I would have been able to balance, rebuild, and recover. But I have depression, and because I didn’t know how to seek the help I needed, I crumbled.

I have been home for twenty days. My stay in the hospital was short- 81/2 days- and up until three days ago, I was beginning to believe it had been too short. Last Monday, struggling with side effects from medications and what felt like a relapse into a very dark state of mind, I went to the ER at St. Mary’s and discussed my options with a psychiatrist. Ultimately, I decided that another stay at a facility wasn’t what I needed just then, but it was a close call.

I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever have another stay in a psychiatric hospital. My hope is that it was a one-time event, and that going forward I’ll continue to manage my mental health and my needs effectively enough that I’ll avoid another stay, but I know that isn’t always a reality. There are, however, reassuring aspects of my experience that make the prospect of another stay not entirely unbearable. I had the great fortune of meeting some incredible people during my time at Brooke Glen. Although my eight days there was spent mostly on working with my doctors and figuring out a good medication regiment, I also found myself in the midst of a community of people who were facing the same struggles I was- struggles I had thought were so isolating and exclusive to me. As it turns out, they aren’t. They’re more common than I could have ever guessed, and the people I met in C2 were as diverse a community as I could have imagined. It helped to know I wasn’t alone, and I believe that played a huge part in the success of the initial phase of my recovery. I’ve stayed in contact with many of them, and think of them fondly and often.

I still struggle every day. I wake up most mornings and I want to crawl back under the covers and pretend that the day isn’t happening. Some days, doing the dishes still feels like impossible work, and I’ve skipped more meals this week than I’ve eaten. But there have been improvements- I’m practicing yoga again. I’m on low doses of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, and I’m working to find a sleep medication that works for me. I’m seeing a therapist, going for regular med checks, and I’m taking care of myself more and more each day. I reach out when I need help, and I try to have patience when the people who care about me most- the people who made it possible for me to get the help I needed, who have been loving and supporting me through this entire process- give me feedback on the choices I’m making. I think the most important aspect is that I’m open to recovery. I’ve been reading over my past posts for most of the evening, and at first it broke my heart. I hardly recognize the person who wrote those earlier posts. It felt as if I were reading a dead girl’s diary. I’m slowly beginning to indulge in the idea that I could get back to that person- not exactly her, because I’ve certainly been changed by my experiences over the past year, but someone similarly enthralled with her life. I believe, very tentatively, that it’s a real possibility, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the journey ahead.

I’ll pop in again and share more about my experience at Brooke Glen, because I think it’s a hugely misunderstood idea- that of staying in a psych ward- and I’d like to do my part to break down any misconceptions and share what it was like for me. For now, I’ll leave it here, and hope that what I’ve shared has shed some light on my experience, and serves as a satisfactory explanation for my absence. Until next time-