“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-