One of the scariest things about this journey has been… getting better. Once you’ve encountered the darkness, there’s a kind of “safety” in it. Or, maybe not safety, but… predictability. You know what to expect. You come to expect the hopelessness, the absolute loneliness, the despair. You become familiar with the “downs” and the “lows.” You stop hoping for things to get better.
But, once you start to see the “light at the end of the tunnel,” that’s when you remember how dark it was. How dark it can be again, if – or when(?) – that light disappears. You start to fear the ups because you “know” the down must be right around the corner. You fear the “highs” because of how low you know you can fall… and how broken you may be when that happens.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it was around 6 months after my son was born when my PPD became glaringly obvious to me, and when I consequently sought help and support. I knew I couldn’t fight through it alone anymore. I knew I needed to do something – anything – to change the depressing darkness that had become my reality… the harrowing hopelessness that had become my life. And although I now see that seeking help was the beginning of my journey to recovery, it was also the beginning of the scariest part of my battle with PPD&A. Because once you know that something is wrong, … you know that something is wrong. It has a name. It has a title. It has a description you can google on the internet. It becomes a certainty instead of a possibility. And, once it has a name, you have no choice but to face and acknowledge it. Which is exactly what needs to be done. BUT, it doesn’t make it easier to do.
Because once you know you are struggling through a disease like PPD&A – that you have by no choice or doing of your own – you realize that it IS bigger than you. That you can’t beat it on your own. You need help. Now, there is certainly freedom in those realizations – once you actually accept them and realize there IS help for you. But, it’s also terrifying to fight a beast with no body. A presence with no tangible form. If your “enemy” is a person bullying you, you can attempt to avoid them, or give them a nice punch in the face – although I do not necessarily suggest it. But when the “bully” is inside you, and you can’t tell what’s real or not, or what is truth or lie, or what is or is not in your control, it’s a lot harder to fight. And when you start to fight, but then the PPD&A seems to fight back, it’s even more challenging.
There was a day many months ago that I was at work. I was still in the period of the deepest part of my depression and anxiety, and I had just started a new medication a couple weeks earlier. As a side note, I ended up having to try 10 different medications – TEN. Each medication took 4-6 weeks just to start seeing it’s true effects, at which point – if it didn’t work as intended, or had a significantly negative side effect – I would have to transition off of over another period of 4-6 weeks while simultaneously beginning a new medication. And each time I started a new medication, or transitioned off of an old one, my body and mind had to adjust… over and over and over. It was a very difficult time… but well worth it once I found the medication(s) that worked for me. All that being said, I had started a new medication and was going about my day at work. All of a sudden – and I really, truly mean out of nowhere – I realized that it looked… brighter around me. I literally asked, “Did the lights just go on?”, and I’m pretty sure my co-worker thought I was a little crazy… because the lights had been on for HOURS, and it was rainy outside the window all day… But I will never forget that feeling because I looked around and literally thought and felt like it was physically brighter in my workplace. I left work slightly confused and, coincidentally, went straight to therapy where I explained what had just happened at work.
My counselor was excited and thrilled because – unbeknownst to me – apparently that is a good sign that a medication can start working… You can have periods of “brightness” during the day, often in the afternoon if you take your medication in the morning, that start off just a few minutes a day every few days and, ideally, expand to hours of the day every day until your mood brightens and your anxiety lightens. I remember coming home after therapy that day and being SO excited to tell my husband, my mom, my sister, my brother, my grandmother, … basically ANYone who would listen. But… then, the brightness went away again. And I didn’t feel it again for a few days. Although I began to have those moments – albeit few and far between at first – I kept waiting and waiting, and hoping and hoping, for that period of brightness – when I could finally BREATHE for a few minutes. When I didn’t feel the physical WEIGHT of anxiety pressing on my chest that felt like 100 lbs, just for a little while. And, ironically, I actually found it harder at times to endure the dark periods while waiting for – and expecting – light periods. It’s like how they say “a watched pot never boils” (whoever they are, anyway…)… Even though you know the pot will eventually boil, that knowledge won’t make it boil any faster – and it actually can seem to take longer! That is kind of where my love-hate relationship with the mantra “This is Time-Limited” originated. There were times that it was supremely helpful to know that THIS moment is time-limited… that it will end, even if that end isn’t “now.” But, there were MORE times when I thought, “Who the heck CARES that this is time-limited?! I need it to end NOW so I can survive NOW!! So, SCREW “time limited” and everyone who tell me that that’s what THIS is!!” (Those clearly weren’t my best moments…)
There was another day not too long after the “brighter” day at work when I walked outside of my house to get to my car. I breathed in the air… and realized it was COLD. I actually noticed it’s temperature. It made me stop in my tracks. It was then that I realized I hadn’t noticed – in who knows how long – what breathing the air felt like. What the temperature was outside. How it felt to breathe in cold air. In that moment, I was so excited that I felt the cold air!! But… I also was frightened realizing how out-of-touch I had been with my environment until that point. I mean, WOW – Who doesn’t notice that air is cold in the winter?!, I thought. Not just “doesn’t notice” because they aren’t paying attention, but because the haven’t been capable feeling or noticing things like breathing. Air. Cold. And that was scary, honestly. It was scary to see how disconnected I had been, and it was scary to know I could get to that point again if I didn’t continue to recover.
And that is basically – in a (large, cracked, complicated) nutshell – what this journey has been like for me. I think I used to believe recovery was the easy part. Or at least easier than being unwell. But it’s actually the harder part. The scary part. Having a “bright” day means that the next day(s) could be dark again. Reaching a “high” on this roller coaster of life means that, inevitably, a “low” could be coming. Feeling hope again means that you can lose it… again. It’s true that when you hit rock bottom, “there’s nowhere to go but up!” Because once you’re “up”, you can go up more… or you can go DOWN again.
I remember my counselor warning me of this, and I knew it would be a battle. And it has continued to be one. On the hard days I have now, I still PANIC that “maybe it’s going to get worse again! Maybe this ‘down’ is the start of a downward spiral I won’t be able to stop! Yesterday was a good day, but maybe that was a fluke!” The truth is that I still have these moments more often than I’d like to admit. But, even so, I have to acknowledge that… Wow, I feel hope now! I now remember what that feels like! I feel happiness now – not all the time, but most of the time. Which is literally a miracle to me! When someone else tells you that they haven’t seen you smile in a week – a WHOLE WEEK – or haven’t heard you sing in 2 years – when you’ve always LOVED to sing – you can’t help but be GRATEFUL when you DO smile, and you DO sing. And laugh. And hope. And breathe. And move. And get out of bed. And tell corny jokes. And gain weight back that you’ve lost. And take care of your kids alone. And plan. And dream. And SURVIVE. And LIVE!!!
And THAT – all those things – makes it worth it to go through all the pain and struggle when you’re on the road to recovery. It makes the highs exciting and the lows endurable. It helps you appreciate days and moments of hope, and just hold on in moments of despair.
Although I still hate it and love it, the truth still remains that “This Is Time-Limited.” Whatever “this” is for you, or for me. You can make it through this. You may need some help – or in my case, LOTS of help – and you may need to wait longer than you hoped, but you will see the other side of this. And that means a lot coming from ME who literally had lost ALL hope at some points. Just don’t give up. All of these moments will someday be your proof that you are stronger than you ever thought you were, and that you can withstand things you once couldn’t fathom. Many grains of sand make up a beach. Some are pretty, some are sharp. Some may actually be pieces of long-dried up bird poop. (HA! ISN’T IT TRUE, THOUGH?)
But it’s all “sand.” And I’m still grateful for that precious gift my daughter gave me in one of my darkest hours… a handful of sand. MY own unique, beautiful, literally dirty, infinitely precious handful of sand… that reminds me to find love when I feel unlovable, worth when I feel worthless, hope when I feel hopeless, and beauty when all I see is a mess.