Finding Hope

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There are times like tonight when the reality of my own life is overwhelming. It usually happens when the house is quiet and all the kids are in their beds. It’s at this time of night I have a chance to really think about things. Every day seems to move faster and more furiously toward too many events I cannot understand or control.

In the quiet night air is where anxious and stomach churning thoughts often disrupt what should be a peaceful end to the day. It’s hard to ignore the pain I feel at the end of each day when my body starts to feel the repercussions of any physical activity I may have been a part of. It can get so intense that it feels like punishment for participating in my own life.

It’s when I retire to my own bed earlier than almost every other person my age that I think of my sick little boy sleeping in his own bed. I worry about seizures that may go unheard. I sicken over the knowledge of my own weakness when he is in need. If an emergency arose, would I reach him fast enough? Could I physically do what is necessary if needed? I usually push these thoughts from my head the moment my husband appears in the doorway of our bedroom. “What would I do without him?” A thought of appreciation but also a bit of a morbid one, but a thought most parents with a sick child have frequently. We wonder how the delicate balance of our family could be repaired if we lost one of us. The magnitude of such a reality is frightening.

Often, when I recall my own thoughts of the day, I realize death lingers in my own mind more often than I am willing to admit. I have a chronic disease. My disease is running rampant while I am holding on with any last scrap of optimism I can muster. I wonder how I have any thoughts that even resemble positivity because life certainly hasn’t handed out a fair share of difficulty. It seems like the scale is not tipped in our favor. When one terrible event happens, another is rushing toward us.

The big issue with chronic illness is the “chronic” part of the phrase. It’s definition; constant or having a long duration tells me what kind of hope my son and I have at a release from disease and pain. With incurable disease, the disease never ends and freedoom from it comes only through death. With pain a constant companion to incurable, chronic disease, it isn’t a wonder why my thoughts seem quite morbid. It’s also easy to understand why I’m depressed. There isn’t an end to the pain or side effects of disease…….. there is no end. There are no cures or a remission for us. Medicine and surgery only treat the symptoms and based on the drastic measures we are taking to treat our son’s symptoms, it sometimes doesn’t feel like much of a life at all.

Dreams are put on hold, plans are cancelled, and hope seems lost. But it’s that small word almost at the end of the last sentence that have given strength to so many in worse circumstances than my own. Sometimes it’s the only thing people who feel weary and burdened use to overcome. Hope.

Hope is a word manifested through people, actions, and words. Hope is sometimes given, sometimes it’s stumbled upon, but hope is often the only thing left when everything else feels lost. On those days when I am focused on going back to bed because of the relentless pain, I cling to the hope that tomorrow will be better. I have hope that I can make each day wonderful in spite of it. Hope is the echos of a good deed. Those echos reverberate in my heart, especially in recent times, and have often brought me to tears. From gesures of kind thoughts or prayers to giving generously with no ask of recognition, we have felt more love than we may have felt in a lifetime with no difficulty. We have been humbled by pain but also by love. What a feeling it is to have a breaking heart also feel so full.

When it feels like life is too much, I don’t have to look far to find happiness. It’s the smile on our children’s faces. It’s their endless desire to love and be loved. It’s those who see past our absence from their lives due to the circumstances we can’t control and choose love us anyway.  We feel loved when we finally crouch out of our darkness and into the world and there are people still waiting with open arms.

I have hope when our children display compassion learned through circumstances that ask them to miss out on so many things by no fault of their own. Every time they offer me one of their little hands so they can help me up the stairs or care for me in concern, I have hope. They have compassion learned by trials. They don’t get to do many of the things other kids their age do like play summer T-ball or take swimming lessons. Our abnormal circumstances don’t always allow normality. I make myself sick thinking about what disease takes from everyone in this family. I feel like the little part of their childhood taken away will be the big things when they get older so I hope we offer them other beautiful memories in return. Right now, it’s that quiet time of night when they are asleep and I am awake to think of these things. I think about the smiles on their faces. I think about how much love they have for me regardless of how I feel about myself, or still, how others feel about me. They see me at my worst and still love me and I them. I realize I have much to look forward to tomorrow.

***Look for hope, even of you have to make yourself. Wake up and make the best of the day, even if you require help to do it. This doesn’t mean trying to do things beyond your capabilities, it means trying to smile or laugh, even of you have to spend the day in bed. Love to the fullest of extent, even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. You aren’t guaranteed a long life, you’re not even guaranteed a fair life. Take it from someone who knows how unfair life can be, good things are not promised and someday, the end may seem closer than it has ever felt before. Take time to cry when needed. Don’t expect to feel great about every person or thing that comes into your life. Sometimes you have to work at what’s important and let go of the rest. Most importantly, find what makes today beautiful, I bet it’s closer than you think.***

*d*

The Clean that Holds the House Together

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If someone were to walk in my house, they may be tempted to say, “Wow! Her house is so clean and organized, she must have herself together!” And that’s exactly what I’d want you to think. The honest truth; what is going on inside of me looks nothing like what I allow to show on the outside. In fact, if I kept my house in the same condition as my mind, I’d be the next to appear on a television show that exposes hoarders. I can imagine a host strolling up to a tiny little door and hyping up the audience at home by saying, “This will be the worst hoarder ever exposed on television!!” The door opens and there I am in my ratty pajamas standing knee deep in the dark and dirty crevasses of my mind. Spiderwebs hanging where a college degree should be, rodents are gnawing holes in the time I take to care for myself, and I’d be balancing knee deep in the garbage of disease. Behind him come all those shocked faces of my family and friends who thought they knew me better.

As sad as that exposition would be, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I admit that I am sometimes a prisoner to my need to keep the world around me in order. If I know someone is coming over, even if I know they won’t be coming into the house, I straighten it up. I make sure I include cleaning the house as part of my afternoon routine. I squeeze it in between baths, making supper, starting homework, and all before my husband gets home. I’ll even do it if I am already running on fumes. He never asks to have the house clean when he comes home and he knows the mess I can be on the outside and inside but I still want him to know I am trying. I still want to feel like I have a purpose despite my disease or difficulty.

I have been this way for a long time, way before my son or I was diagnosed. It started with a family saying, “Everything has its place, everything in its place.” I think I was told this every time my childhood room looked like a disaster, and that was most of the time. I had the smallest room in the house and the most junk. Trying to keep it organized and clean was like trying to take out the weekly trash in a lunch bag. No matter how hard I tried, I never could get it clean. I eventually mastered the art of making things look clean when they really weren’t. I learned many tricks to accomplish this task, there was stuff the closet and hurry up and shut the door before it all comes out, shove it all under the bed and leave the comforter hang over to hide the mess, or my least favorite, don’t play with anything. I never really dealt with the mess, I just mastered how to keep it looking like I didn’t have the said mess. I was a kid, I hated getting rid of anything. I am still that way. I won’t get rid of anything that could be of use to me someday (yes, this thinking has come in handy). My house has refurbished decor of all kinds. I use and reuse things when I can. I don’t like to re-purchase something I once owned.

I get my hoarding tendencies honestly. My paternal grandmother is known for her need to collect things she sees as valuable. Anything antique is her specialty. I admit, the older the better when it comes to many items I wish to collect, but with limited funds and space, big or expensive items are not for me. I, like my maternal grandmother, find value in the little sentimental items that are easily collected and easily hid. My attic is full of school papers and artwork of my children that I don’t want to let go of. This spring I bought two extra large three ring binders and filled them with my favorite papers that the boys brought home from school. I filled up both binders right away. I know I should let go of certain items, stop cleaning my house to portray a less than chaotic life, but it’s how I cope.

Everyone has their own ways of coping with life. Some people shop (yes I have been known to do a bit of that when I have been depressed), my husband prays, some people drink, and other shut down. The list is limitless. It is important to cope with the difficulties of life in a healthy manner. Poor methods of dealing with these issues can lead to further destruction. I don’t know of any cleaning anonymous groups out there but if my habits were going to further stress my life, I’d find one. Thus far, I take the hurt or negative energy and channel it through a can of dusting spray or a vacuum cleaner. A can of cleaner is the only thing that has to worry about meeting my angry or distressed hand. At then end of my cleaning rage I can look around and feel a small sense of accomplishment. I know that sounds silly. There are many things in my life that feel out of control; my health and the health of my son, his autism, and our mounting financial concerns worsened by the burden of our diseases so I keep trying to do my best at those things I know I am good at like loving my children, trying to be a good wife, and yes, keeping our home kept nicely. It reminds me that I am still trying my hardest despite my difficulty. Since my job is to be a wife and mother, I’ll do the best I can at what I have been given. The day of concern will come when my house really does look like it should be on a hoarding show because that will be the time I have given up. Sadly, the illusion of a put together life is the only thing that sometimes holds me together. There are so many days when I feel like I can’t give anymore and any bit of accomplishment is a big deal.

I am continuing to work on those areas of my life that seem out of my control. Every day is a new chance for me to clean up those tattered crevasses of my mind and not just my house. Someday, I do dream of having the confidence of being able to open up my mind without fear of the mess inside.

*d*

Chasing a Diagnosis

We sat on her family room couch sorting through her photos. Occasionally one of us would stop and show the other a photo, laughing or reminiscing about the story behind it. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my childhood home reliving old and happy memories with my mom. Then she paused, her fingers resting on a photo. The smile had vanished from her face. “What? What is it?” I asked. I noticed her demeanor had changed.

“I don’t remember having this taken,” she said in a somber voice. I leaned over to look at the photo she still had between her fingers. It was a photo of her at the hospital two years ago after a major surgery called a Whipple Procedure. She looked at me as if to question if she was really the one in the photograph.

“That’s you,” I assured her. “You looked awful,” I said, trying to hold back my tears. “I am glad you don’t remember.”

“Me too,” she said as she slid the picture from her fingers into my hand.

I sat and studied the photo for what seemed to be an eternity. She was sitting upright in a chair next to the bed in her hospital room, a pillow draped over her lap. The hospital gown barely covered all that was coming out around her. A tube was coming out of her nose and one was also coming out of her neck. Looking at the photo seemed to leave my mom in some sort of disbelief. She had no recollection of the days following this surgery and although the photo looked like her, she acted as if she had just seen a ghost. I knew it was my mom in the photo, but I too thought she looked like a shell of the woman I have always known. Her pain was so intense after this surgery that I can only describe the look in her eyes as empty pain. It’s the kind of pain that demands complete submission to it. And there she was in a photograph, a momento of pain.

She and I had a haunting glimpse of a time two years ago we would both prefer to forget. It was the first time I seriously doubted whether or not my mom would make it through a surgery. This surgery was different than the ones she’s had previously. This was a rare procedure that required a skilled surgeon and would not guarantee her a better future or survival. When faced with such uncertainty, I thought about the holidays we had shared over the last year and wondered if we had truly enjoyed those moments together. I didn’t want to think about having the next holiday without her. It also made me think about my own selfishness and the times I didn’t grasp what life has been like for her. As long as I can remember my mom has been battling an invisible enemy. My mom was born in 1953 and in 2008 she finally found out what has been causing her life-long pain. She has a hard to detect birth defect called Pancreas Divism (an abnormality of the ducts of the pancreas) and Spincter of Oddi Dysfunction (a dysfunction of the muscle(s) that help control the flow of pancreatic juices). This and the treatment of which caused Chronic Pancreatitis. These abnormalities cause the syptoms she has felt since childhood: pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen or in the back, epigastric pain (especially after meals), abdominal swelling, nausea and/or vomiting. All of these symptoms during her lifetime were mistaken for various other ailments, so mom spent 55 years of her life undiagnosed and suffering.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered from under my tears.

“About what?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“For not being more supportive,” I continued. “I can’t imagine what it was like to be in so much pain, especially when so many people stopped believing you.”

“I had to keep going. I knew something was wrong, but I hate that it took so long to find out what it was.”

Her problems began in childhood. She had unexplained pain that grew more intense into adulthood. Because she so desperately sought an answer, she has had a staggering number of surgeries in her lifetime. Some surgeries to fix specific problems and others were an attempt to find the source of the returning pain. There is no doubt it was hard for her to continue to fight for her own health when others had given up.

She hugged me and we sat silently, maybe pondering the moments we lost. Her story has touched me more deeply in the last year. I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and I too will most likely be dealing with a lifetime of chronic pain. The difference between her story and mine is defined by one word: diagnosis. When my blood was drawn last year, I didn’t want a diagnosis but once I got it, I was validated. My pain wasn’t an illusion and I could begin treatment. My mom had spent most of her adult life chasing a diagnosis.

So, why was it so hard for her to chase a diagnosis? The hospital and medical bills became a rotating door for my mom even though she and my dad were already struggling financially. Money wasn’t the only reason she was discouraged from returning to the hospital or seeking out another specialist. She’d frequently hear comments like, “If they can’t find anything wrong, then what is it?” or, “You don’t look sick.” And all the while she would feel discouraged and invalidated for her suffering. Years of hearing other’s doubt made her doubt herself and that led to depression.

“How have you done it over the years?” I asked. “How did you live with chronic pain, especially when you had no idea what was wrong? Weren’t you angry?”

“It isn’t easy,” she explained. “Getting angry about it wouldn’t have helped. I knew my body and I did what I had to do. I have also learned not to hide from my depression.”

When my mom finally had diagnosis in hand, the only treatment available was risky and didn’t guarantee a better quality of life. The first procedure landed her in the hospital with acute pancreatitis. I visited her during this acute flare in 2008. Her pain was so intense that she was given large doses of pain medications and food was held until her pancreatic levels decreased. When I saw her, she was out of her head and desperate for food. Every year since 2008 is speckled with memories that she and I would rather forget. Awful memories where my mom and I began having an unspoken understanding about her health and death. These moments would shame the people that would doubt her illness when they’d say, “You don’t look sick,” doubt her pain because she wasn’t constantly folded over from it, or those who were perplexed because they couldn’t see her disability with their eyes.

“Mom,” I said, “you are amazing. I can only hope to have half of your strength.”

“I’m not any stronger or braver than you.”

I heard what she said but doubted the truth in it. I didn’t have the same difficulty before I had my answers. There are many people, like my mom, who are chasing a diagnosis. They spend every day in real pain and desperate for answers. They persevere even if they have to do it alone. My mom did what she knew was right despite adversity. Fighting the unknown is one of the bravest battles one can face. She isn’t the only undiagnosed individual fighting for answers so don’t judge someone based on outside appearances or speculation. Offer support because even when someone is fighting the unknown, they are still fighting.

*d*

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Why "You don't look sick" isn't a good thing to say.

Signs of acute pancreatitis:

Sudden intense pain in the middle of the upper abdomen and the pain may radiate to the back. This pain may begin 12-24 hours after a large meal.

Fever, nausea, vomiting.

Cammy skin or rapid pulse.

Tenderness or distention of the abdomen.

Signs of chronic pancreatitis:

Abdominal Pain that may radiate to the back or chest that is intense and long lasting. It may be intermittent or persistent.

Stools that are excessively foul or bulky.

Nausea, vomiting or abdominal distention

Weight loss because of malabsorbtion of foods

Development of diabetes if pancreas becomes damaged.

Source: webmd.com

The Invader

It’s a rainy Monday morning and a very pregnant woman arrives with her husband, bags in hand, at the hospital. Today is the day she will welcome their new child into the world. She can hardly contain her excitement. She also can’t hide her obvious worries. Despite all the birthing and breastfeeding classes, as a first-time mother, she still has lots of questions. No matter how many times she was reassured that her motherly instincts would kick in once the baby arrived, she felt no indication of it. Before all of that, she will finally experience childbirth. From the time she announced her pregnancy, every mom she knew shared every birthing horror story with her. All these thoughts swirled in her head as she was lead back to her birthing suite.

Her heart skipped a little as she looked at the rocking chair where she’d soon be rocking her baby. Her suite had a large tub, big windows and a cheery feeling. Soon her bags were put away, she was changed, and resting in the bed. The staff began checking her vital signs, asking questions, and preparing for the forthcoming arrival. She felt a sense of peace come over her. Over the next few hours, she was encouraged to walk the halls to help speed up labor. She thought this would be the perfect time to visit the nursery where they would be bringing the baby shortly after the birth. As she approached the window she gasped at what she saw, snakes… There were snakes in the nursery slithering inches from newborn infants. “What’s going on here?” she cried.

“It’s okay,” a nursed comforted. “We have had a snake infestation for years and we have never been able to completely eliminate the pests.”

“Why wasn’t I told of this ahead of time?” asked the now crying mother.

“No one ever talks about it so we have learned to ignore the problem. Besides, who wants to hear that in birthing class, right?” she chuckled.

The mother stood stunned in front of the nursery window. The air escaped from her mouth when her husband turned to her and said, “It should be fine, just go back to the room.”

“Yes”, the nurse agreed, “very rarely will one of the snakes actually bite one of the newborns.”

The mother, now completely dismayed, wandered back to her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. She certainly couldn’t have been the only one to notice the invaders, yet the birthing suites were full and babies were making their way down to the nursery. The new mom now had a choice, remain quiet or speak up. If she spoke, she wondered who would believe her and worried if she would sound crazy. She wondered if this was all in her head and became too scared to speak up so she decided to take her chances with the snakes.

This story itself may sound crazy but something just as vile is invading birth experiences everywhere. No one would allow snakes to roam freely in a nursery but there is a very real problem that does happen every day, it’s Postpartum Depression (PPD). And here is the reality; Postpartum Depression is just as sly as a snake lingering about a nursery. It’s waiting to strike and squeeze the life out of what should be a beautiful moment in a women’s life, the birth of a child. It can strike so quickly that it can even interrupt the bonding experience between a mother and child shortly after birth. Yet, many people are still tight lipped about PPD and some women don’t feel like they can be open about it. These women often feel brushed off, just like the mother in this story, and end up deciding to take unnecessary chances with an invader rather than speak up. This is why the discussion about PPD needs to happen and turning a blind eye to PPD can no longer be acceptable.

I struggled with depression after my first son was born and anxiety with the subsequent three. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and a knowledgeable family physician that worked with me when the hospital and gynecologist failed. After his birth, I had experienced unexpected complications and by the time I was released from my six day hosptial stay on a mere couple hours sleep, I felt like I was falling apart. I  began to sicken over the reality that I was expected to care for my child alone when I felt no will to take care of myself. I felt worthless as a mother and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame were crushing. My husband felt very alone as I was deteriorating before him and he had no idea what he could do to help. I was a shell of myself and I couldn’t make myself better. Thankfully I had a common sense family physician who removed me from the counterproductive medication I was given at the hosptial and a supportive family. They assured me that my feelings were common among many mothers and in time, I would feel like myself again. It took me weeks before I begin to feel better. Getting the proper help and listening to my body was a must. I had to realize that it was okay to open up and ask for help, but it wasn’t easy. Like many mothers, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help because it felt like if I wasn’t able to care for my child, it meant that I didn’t love him. Or, others would judge me and deem me a bad mother.

Over the years I have personally witnessed other women struggle with PPD in various degrees, most more severe than my personal experience. The biggest issue I saw  was the judgement these women faced. Comments like, “Shake it off,” and “You just have to get on with life” invalidated their struggle and made them afraid to reach out. PPD has nothing to do with how strong or weak a woman is anymore than someone dealing with physical pain. If a woman broke her leg on a icy sidewalk, she would be encouraged to seek medical care, so the same woman suffering deep emotional distress cannot be asked to brush off her emotional pain and steer free of a qualified professional.

Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful and natural. The changes that has to happen to a woman’s body to sustain another life is astounding but it can also come with a price. Women experience very real hormonal and physical changes before, during, and after pregnancy.  It is very important to emphasize this: hormones and the effect they have on a woman are real! With all the recognition of all the amazing things a woman’s body can do, why is there still a stigma around the emotional changes that can happen during any of her body’s natural processes?

Real change about PPD needs to happen long before a women ever gets pregnant. Healthy conversations about how hormones can effect mood and cause depression need to couple the with the discussions explaining the physical processes of womanhood. Young women need to know that jokes and sneers about a woman’s monthly cycle further add to the problem and she should never feel ashamed of it. Young women need to know they are supported and loved even when they are struggling with the real emotional effects of hormone fluctuations. So if the time comes, she can feel like she is able to be honest and speak up about how she feels.

PPD and Depression is real and treatable. Seek help and discuss depression with your daughters (and sons). Don’t feel ashamed to seek help. New moms also need a friend in which they can speak to with honesty without judgement. Please be aware of some signs of PPD:

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and emptiness.

Trouble sleeping.

Lack of concentration.

No interest in every day things.

Loss of appetite or weight loss, a sudden weight gain is also possible.

(Source webmd.com)

There is hope but we have to start talking about it. We have to discuss it often and we have to support each other. When we fail to acknowledge the mere existence of PPD and depression, we are all failing.

*d*

After The Rain(e)

I was kind of a cute kid.
I was kind of a cute kid.

My middle name is Raine, pronounced just like the precipitation. (My mom’s always been a bra-less, free-thinking, interesting woman, to say the least.) I hated the name when I was a kid—probably until sometime in high school—most likely because it was different. Being different was highly undesirable then. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve embraced a great many of my quirks and decided I don’t care what most people think. I understand that a great amount of nastiness in people springs from jealousy and all I feel about that is pity. And the truth is, I don’t remember anyone actually making fun of my middle name. If they found out what it was, I’d get “That’s weird” or “That’s cool” but nothing glaringly negative. It was just the fear of that potentially awful reaction that kept me tight-lipped about my middle moniker.

To this day, when my mom or granny says my first and middle name, there’s a notable southern twang. It’s like it was built into the two-word phrase. My granny was born and raised in Kentucky and for a time, my mom worked there on the horse farms. It’s where the father I’ve never met lived. Where he probably does still.

When I was in elementary school, I remember visiting “down home,” the farmhouse Granny grew up in and where her brother Fred, or Uncle Heavy, as I knew him, still lived. I will always remember the lack of an indoor toilet more than anything. And the fear of sitting over that black hole in the spider infested privy. Now, my memories of him are kind of hazy but one thing that I remember in detail was the way he liked to tease me. I’m sure he picked on me about lots of stuff but what I really held onto was the way he called me Thunderstorm. Lindsey Thunderstorm, instead of Lindsey Raine. I remember constantly correcting him, getting more and more frustrated when he refused to listen. I can hear the growls and indignant retorts now. Even then I was a hothead. Maybe he saw that in me. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. I’ll never know since he passed away before I was old enough to wonder about it.

Uncle Heavy
Uncle Heavy

What he couldn’t have known was just how stormy I’d end up. Along with some unfounded rage issues, I fight depression. It’s hard to pinpoint when the clouds of this invisible, torturous illness moved into my life but when I think back, I’m inclined to believe it was around puberty. Something changed chemically. A switch was flipped. Couple that with the already tumultuous experience of being a teenager and you have a recipe for some fantastic highs countered with incomprehensible lows.

I was angry. I was sad. I lashed out. I earned another name I didn’t care for. Bitch. The worst part was, I, as well as everyone around me, didn’t see what was happening. I knew I was miserable but I didn’t know why. In the beginning, Mom liked to attribute my moodiness to the birth control injection I’d opted to get as a 15-year-old instead of the pill. That very well helped elevate my misery—as well as my weight, which did nothing to improve my mood.

After my junior year in high school, I dumped the goofy, ponytail-having-boyfriend and switched to the pill for contraception. I felt like a different person, for a while. The clouds never fully parted. It felt like the darkness was always there but as my hormones leveled out, I learned to hide it. More than Geometry, Algebra, or English, I mastered the art of acting. I learned quickly that no one understood why I might feel gloomy and introspective. So, I hid it. But not for long. The driving rain from the storm raging in my head shoved me farther and farther into the darkness.

All I really remember about my senior year was prom, being inducted into the National Honor Society, graduating, and the weight in my heart, the blackness seeping into every corner of my mind. And one other moment. I wore a perpetual frown and often put my head down on my desk in school. “Whatever” had become my go-to response. The once interested participant in class was obviously gone, traded-in for a heavy-sighing, eye-rolling lump. If anyone noticed, no one said anything. No one except my college-prep English teacher. I’d always really liked her, having her my sophomore year as well. She supported my writing and love of books and was a generally fun person to learn from. Senior year that changed. At one point, our CP class had seventeen different projects/assignments we were working on simultaneously. I understand that she was trying to prepare us for college, hence the “college prep” course. But when I learned that the general English students were playing board games during their class time, I was disgusted. I was already struggling to get out of bed every day and her harping and piling on the tasks was enough to make me hate her. My loathing didn’t go unnoticed, even if my depression did. After a particularly snarky reply to some question she asked me, she followed up with: “Why are you being such a bitch?” In front of the whole class. All I could do is shrug and collapse in on myself, staring at my desk.

I know I deserved it. My attitude was terrible. For years after that, I didn’t like her. I eventually forgave her, like I’ve forgiven and continue to forgive those that don’t understand.

At some point during my last year of high school, my mom, having a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a keen perceptiveness, had finally taken me to the doctor, being the only person who realized I might have a problem beyond being a moody teenager. Though I remember very little about the actual appointment—I went kicking and screaming—I know nothing was prescribed. The magic number for receiving anti-depressants is 18. I graduated at 17. When I returned to the doctor in August after my birthday, I was placed on Zoloft. To this day, I find it ridiculous that one day as a 17-year-old I couldn’t have the medication, and the next day as an 18-year-old, I could. It might not have been literally overnight, but the difference was mere months. I suffered through my entire senior year with no help, medically or otherwise. It’s upsetting to think about it now and to realize someone else is probably facing the same thing.

I’d like to say that things got better after high school, that I grew out of the funk so many people assumed I was in. But I’d be lying. And though I’ve gotten so good at lying about how I really am, what I’m really feeling, I’m tired. It’s exhausting pretending you’re fine because trying to explain the pain inside to most people is impossible.

I’ve spent the years since graduation in varying states of depression and on multiple medicines. I’ve hated the detached feeling most of them cause and on several occasions, I’ve stopped taking them. While on them, it’s easy to feel like I’m fine, that I can handle my mentality. But every time I walk away from them, the darkness eventually overpowers me. It’s made it clear that it will never go away.

Now, I feel like I’ve come full circle as I’m back on Zoloft. After a roller-coaster ride of deep sadness, numbed passiveness, the inability to stop crying and crawl out of bed, sexual dysfunction, and sickening withdrawal symptoms, I’ve come back to the first medication I was put on. It had worked well then, but eventually stopped, prompting me to try something new. My doctor put me back on it since 15 years has passed and my body chemistry is completely different now. It’s also good for someone like me who doesn’t want the glaring side-effects or the extreme emotional deadness that some of the other meds cause. Luckily, it’s working well at a very low dose.

The key word here is "less." Somethings never go away completely. ;)
The key word here is “less.” Somethings never go away completely. 😉

The last time I came off of my anti-depressant was terrible. At the time it was a pretty high dose of Effexor. The withdrawal was a delightful medley of dizziness, shaking, and weird flashes in my field of vision. I thought I’d stepped down slowly enough but apparently not.

I was sure I never wanted to go back to the drugs. I was sure I could handle the depression. It was during this time, and the many others where I was trying to be normal, non-drugged, that I had to put on the Academy Award winning performances. No one wants to be around someone who mopes around all the time or has mood swings that would make even a pregnant woman raise an eyebrow. No one wants to hang out with someone who cries all the time. About everything. Broken plans. Being late to an appointment. Watching a Campbell’s soup commercial. So, I would summon all my skills and be someone else.

When Robin Williams killed himself, I’d been off my med for a year and three months. I was struggling. I’ve never actually cried over the loss of a celebrity but the tears welled up in my eyes as I read about his death.

I probably would have cried even if I'd been medicated...
I probably would have cried even if I’d been medicated…

Not just for the beloved actor, so familiar he was like family, but for the man I knew had suffered silently for probably most of his life. My heart broke because I knew why he’d put on the mask. And I also knew why he’d left this life behind him.

Awareness about depression and other metal illnesses is growing, but it still feels like an awkward conversation. It still feels like I need to fake my way through my days and the discomfort of others is apparent when I actually bring up my depression, which isn’t often, for that very reason.

I’m not likely to try to step off of my medicine again. The coming off, the full-force depression that always returns and the going back on, have only gotten more difficult with age. I’m done fighting the fact that I need a pill to chase away the clouds. I realize it doesn’t make me weak any more than a diabetic is weak for needing their insulin.

When I’m on my med, it’s easier, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where the rain clouds begin to gather. The difference is that I can pull out of the growing darkness and make myself refocus. There will always be a part of me that exists in the middle of a drowning downpour but I’ve learned to embrace it, to use it. It’s where my writing comes from—from the deep thoughts and emotional responses. It’s true I’m a more prolific writer when I’m not medicated but needing the medication is something I’ve come to terms with too. I’ve learned that there is no shame in using an umbrella to get through a thunderstorm—that after the rain, there’s often a blue sky.

After The Storm

~L~