Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lost, In Tokyo

I'm in Tokyo, it's dawn
and it's raining hallelujahs
down the bright-lit neon canyons
along the sidewalks of Shibuya
I'm trying to take a stance
and rise above my contradictions
but I'm just a bunch of words in pants
and most of those are fiction

                                   "Long Strange Golden Road" -- Waterboys

**Warning -- This post is about mental health issues so if that makes you uncomfortable, well, now you know.**

When I was 18 and less than 2 weeks away from my first trip to Japan, I tore my ACL playing in the high school semi-state finals. In a very short time span, I abruptly ended my tennis career, scheduled an ACL reconstruction surgery, graduated from high school, and flew off to a country about which I knew next to nothing. In Japan, I fell apart so terrifically that I wound up crying most days and paid an extraordinary amount of money to come home a few days early.

Looking back, that was the beginning of it.

Not long after, I started college, and I spent the next four years trying to outwit my brain chemistry. I tried religion, music, theater, writing, therapy, academic overachievement, sports. I learned how to compartmentalize and only allowed myself to think about my studies. And, in the end, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a list of awards and achievements long enough to make anyone blush. But none of that mattered as much as the words the head of the campus counseling center--my therapist and my mentor for the various social issues education projects I spearheaded--said to me right before I graduated. "Moe," she said, "sometimes you can do everything, and it is still not enough. Sometimes, it's really just chemical." So, I relented and went on medication and was amazed by how quickly the dark fog lifted from the recesses of my brain and light filtered back into the world before my eyes.

I stayed on the medication for a long time. But, then we wanted to have kids and so I went off of it. Now that I knew what depression looked like, I could manage the ebbs and flows of life. And, when the darkness started to creep into my peripheral view, I knew to exercise more, read good books, eat well, sleep better, and cut out the diet coke. I knew to write and to reach out to friends because I knew that all of these things would help me cast my anchor deep enough to steady me.

And, it worked for a long, long time. It worked through three pregnancies and babies, through three shoulder and five spine surgeries, through grad school and job hunting and multiple moves. It worked through health scares and unwanted diagnoses.

But then one day, it didn't anymore. A month or so ago, the bottom dropped out, and like Wile E. Coyote, I was running so fast, it took me a minute to realize what was going on before I plummeted to the ground. I've got experience with this and resources, so I'll be fine, but the suddenness of it makes me mad. At first, I just really couldn't believe that my brain chemistry would betray me like this. Now that I know it can and will, I know what to do and will do it. But since it's fresh in my mind, allow me to describe to you what depression feels like. I think it's important that you know.

  • Depression feels like you are on a planet that unexpectedly gets knocked from its perfect orbit sending you careening out into space at breakneck speed as you hold on for dear life with the very tips of your fingers. Every day, you think about just letting go.
  • It's being in the largest city in the world with people swarming all around and feeling like you don't know a single soul. It's being completely invisible in a crowd with a ringing in your ears that makes you feel like you're in a deep, deep cavern, more alien than human, and so far inside your head that you're not sure of the way out.
  • It's knowing that things will get better but not really believing it.
  • It's panic rising up into your throat, clutching at your chest and catching your breath, threatening to choke you as tears well in your eyes for no good reason at all.
  • It's speeding along the road and thinking seriously about veering to the left into the trees or the valley below. Or, waiting for the train and imagining yourself scaling the platform door and jumping headlong onto the track as it rushes into the station. It's wanting to step off the curb into an oncoming bus. It's being able to imagine the feel of the cold, hard tip of a pistol on your temple and longing to pull the trigger. It's knowing that all of these thoughts are lies but feeling drawn in by them just the same.
  • It's working hard and moving fast and being afraid to slow down because you know the depression that threatens to overwhelm you nips hungrily at your heels. It's choosing to live at an insane pace with too much caffeine and too little sleep even though you know you can't sustain it. 

Depression lies. It takes away your ability to be amazed, to find humor, to have hope. It exhausts you. If you are going through this, know you are not alone. You are not weak or a failure. In fact, I'd argue that you probably have more damn grit than anyone in the room. Cast your anchor and find others willing to help steady you. All you need is the tiniest sliver of light in the darkness.

There have been moments over the past few weeks for which I am truly grateful--beautiful sunrises, good meals, a couple of conversations in bars with friends who have reminded me of the beauty and joy and amazement all around me. These things have helped me remember what makes me happy--fresh mountain air, beauty in the chaos, a clever turn of phrase, unexpected friendships, irony, untethered conversations. Twenty five years ago, I would have never cast my anchor so willingly. Today, I know I have no choice.

I don't want this blog to be just a bunch of words in pants. I'm too tired to keep spinning my fictions. We need to be able to talk about these things. If we can't, then what are we doing here?


CS said...

I always enjoy your blog but especially appreciate this post. Thank you for sharing and I'm glad you're getting the support you need.

Mama D said...

Your honesty and candor are remarkable. Bravo to you for having the courage to post this.

Mom on the Edge said...

As a college professor, I advise many students who are experiencing their first bout of depression (as it seems to hit folks in their late teens and early twenties). My colleagues and I tell them it will be okay (and it most likely will) and point them to the appropriate resources, but I think it's really important to help those whose haven't experienced understand it. There is no one single type of person who "has" depression, and having depression doesn't means someone is weak or vulnerable. I'm hoping that's what this post conveys.