Monday, August 8, 2011

It's the Recognition

The biggest hurdle for me in dealing with and treating my depression, is recognizing when I'm "off" - when I'm not feeling well.  I've talked about this before, but I think it's really important and I'm going to talk about it again.

When you have a bruise, you can look at it and think "wow!  I have a bruise".  When you have a headache, you can think: "Ow!  I have a headache".  If you have the stomach flu, you certainly know it.  But depression ... a depressed mood (for me anyhow) is much more elusive - until it's bad. 

So how does one know when it's just starting?  Well, I obviously can't speak to other people's experience, but for me it's tricky.  For a very, very long time I didn't know it was starting at all.  I didn't know anything was wrong until my life was literally falling apart (and even then sometimes I didn't clue in).  Getting fired from a job, being dumped by a partner, being completely emotionally paralyzed and not able to handle anything - those used to be my clues ... and I generally ignored them. 

Nowadays, things are a bit different.  After over a decade of low points, endless denial and repeated patterns, I started to wake up and notice them.  I started to pay attention to my own behaviour and not blame everything on other people.  I started to see that my reactions to people weren't due to a change in their behaviour, but a change in my own.  For me it took getting outside of my own head and looking at it from the outside.  Understanding that I was not infallable, I was not the centre of the universe, and it wasn't everyone else's fault that I was feeling the way I did.  After all, it was not their responsibility to tip-toe around my sensitivities and anger, it was mine to control them.

I had to see that if I was feeling super-sensitive to everything other people were saying, then it probably wasn't what they were saying - it was my emotional/chemical reaction to what they were saying.  A simple comment that would crush me one day wouldn't bother me on another. 

I think it wasn't until I had my son - a little baby and then small boy - who had no control over what he did or said - that I really saw what my reactions did to me and to others.  He taught me that I no longer had the luxury of being "off" and not knowing it.  He didn't have the ability to walk away, or to ignore me, or fight back.  All of my emotional shit went straight onto him.  And I realized after a while that this simply wasn't fair to him.  And that I had to start managing it better.  My son helped save my life, really.  Or, if not save it, to make it a whole lot better.

So now I notice my clues much earlier than I used to (most of the time - I'm not perfect.  I still have bad times and then realize it after I've done something embarassing or silly).  If I'm getting frustrated with my son - or snarky with him - it's a pretty good indicator that I'm not feeling quite right (because the truth of the matter is that I don't feel it - I feel normal, but my reactions are off) and I probably need to hit the bike harder that day.  If comments that people make are hitting me hard and staying with me for a long time ... well, I've probably missed the earlier hints and I need to take a pill.  I have to be very conscientious about my interaction with the rest of the world all the time.  And that helps me judge where I'm at.  There's no tool for measuring this - nothing like an emotionmetre.  I wish there was - but only experience and experimentation has worked for me.

And here's the rub ... I know one person in particular, who has lived with this disease for over 40 years and who STILL doesn't know when she is off until after it is over.  It's hard on the people around her (and on her as well).  She has pushed almost everyone in her life away from her because of it.  She's just never faced it, never realized that she could recognize it.  And I'm sure there are a whole lot of people out there who are just like her.  Who live their whole lives not seeing what is going on.  And I find that cripplingly sad.  Because life can be better than that.  But it's hard to face up to.  Especially when you're dealing with this disease that makes it hard to face anything that is even slightly painful.  Because, to see it, to accept it, and to deal with it means opening up to a world of hurt that a lot of people just can't face.

I'm lucky.  I've been given the gift of sight (or perhaps I've earned it).  I can see it now.  Where there used to be a solid black curtain (denial), there is now a whispy fog that I can mostly see through.  But it's taken time (a LONG time) and experience and the willingness to accept it.  I don't think I'm totally there yet, but I am so much better than I used to be.  It's hard work, but my hope is that other people out there will be able to improve their lot as well.

I hope that my sharing these insights will help others on their journey - as the writings of, musings of, and conversations with others have helped me on mine.

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