I wrote a post a couple weeks ago about how I was going through a tough time. I appreciate everyone who commented and made me feel like I had a safe space to talk about what was going on with me.
Once I entered recovery, I heard the phrase “everything happens for a reason” so many times that it soon became a part of my own vernacular. It wasn’t because I had been conditioned to parrot the expression, but because I had experienced it as truth in my own personal life. It was one of the most important tools in allowing me to stop an overreaction to a negative situation and look for the positives or what lessons I could take away.
Looking back, I realized that even the most negative situations had happened for specific reasons, even though at the time I may not have been able to understand them. Being incarcerated for nine months gave me the time I needed to take responsibility for the actions that had put me there and forced me to a crossroads where I had the decision to turn my life around or continue down the same path. Without any of that happening, I wouldn’t have this blog, I wouldn’t have my marriage, and I wouldn’t have the life I lead today. Funny how things work out.
One area where this phrase got me into trouble was in the realm of mental health.
I was a happy child, although I have been told that my favorite color was black and my earlier writings, while good, prompted a phone call or two home from a slightly concerned teacher due to some heavy subject matter. As I got older, some of my best writings came from being able to tap into a place that felt much deeper and more real to me than what I felt was a “superficially” happy existence.
I felt safe in sadness. It felt warm and inviting, more tangible to me than periods of time when I would live happily and above the curtain of anxiety that also tended to drop in on me from time to time. In grad school when the control started to slip away from my abuse of prescription medications into harder and heavier options, it only made sense that the depression I felt would increase.
The difference between these feelings and those I had as a teenager and college student were that sometimes I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My sadness was crushing and I often felt hopeless about what lay ahead. What started as most likely a way to self-medicate had spiraled out of control. As my addiction progressed, the depression got worse, yet I was still able to show up for classes for a time. I was a remote student, which meant that I only had to go to campus for labs and exams. I completely isolated myself, but didn’t seek help because I had lived with sad and survived. Plus, I assumed
The reason for my depression is my addiction.
Once I got help for my addiction and decided to live a different way of life, I felt substantially better. I got a new job, I got a new relationship, I got a new life. I was content and fluctuated somewhere in the middle of happiness and debilitating sadness. Fast forward to this past spring and summer when Neil and I ended up on the verge of separation. We had both begun deeper journeys of self-exploration and what we were discovering was that the life story we planned together may not have the ending we anticipated.
I had trouble functioning. I showed up for my job(s), but with a little less heart in them than before. I felt like I was on a precipice and I wasn’t sure which way I would fall. Some days it took everything I had to pull myself out of bed. There were tears, there were fights, and there were times when I felt absolutely nothing at all. We started couples therapy and came thisclose to separating.
Obviously I was sad since my relationship seemed to be crumbling around me, so this time
The reason for my depression is my marriage.
At one point during all of this, I had a fleeting thought that everything would be much easier if I could simply take an eraser and erase my existence. At no point during my hormone-ridden adolescence or the lowest points of my addiction had I ever thought that the world would be a better place without me. If those thoughts had ever come up, I always immediately came back with an extensive list of reasons why that was a horrible idea.
This time the thought of non-existence seemed like a totally coherent idea, which immediately alarmed me. I told Neil and I told my therapist, both quickly and in passing like this was a normal thought that everyone has from time to time. “How was my day? Oh, the usual: worked out, took some pictures of food, wrote about my musings on life, thought about erasing myself, returned some emails…”
My therapist told me that she thought I was clinically depressed and that she wanted me to try medication. I immediately felt a sense of relief that there may actually be a biological reason for my behavior and my feelings. It took me almost two months to finally take some action, but I did and started on an antidepressant near the beginning of October.
I wrote this post about a week into the medication and it was a horrible time. While I was acclimating, I felt scared that the medication wouldn’t work and I would have to start the process of trying a new one all over again. What scared me even more was that the medication would work and that I may lose my ability to write since I always connected with the darker parts of me to do so.
It has been a little less than a month since I started medication and after the initial hurdles, I feel so much better. It’s not that I am always manically happy, but I am able to do so many more things without the voice in my head that for so long told me I couldn’t. I care less what people think about me, I can fully wake up at 5:30 am to train someone, and I’ve gotten some of the best feedback from teaching my classes than I have since I’ve started. My anxiety has significantly decreased, and I simply feel like a cloud has lifted. Also, as you can see, I’m still capable of writing you a novel.
I’m going to pat myself on the back for a minute and say that I am a strong person. Where that has been a liability is in not realizing a problem sooner. It was always much easier to attribute my feelings to situations I was going through and since I had made it through all of them, I convinced myself that feeling depressed was simply a byproduct. What I came to realize after years of forcing myself through the motions is that
The reason for my depression is depression.
For the record, it’s completely normal to be sad if you are stuck in the depths of addiction. It’s normal to be sad that your life explodes in your face. It’s normal to be sad when your marriage is on the rocks. What’s not normal is not being able to come out of that sadness. Going from sadness to feeling nothing at all is not normal. Wanting to erase your existence is definitely not normal.
My only suggestion to anyone who may find themselves grappling with similar feelings is to stop and take a look at what’s going on. As I mentioned, feelings of sadness are a completely normal response to warranting situations, but if you find yourself having trouble functioning or start thinking the world would be a better place without you, ask for help. My email is always open (literally, and compulsively checked), so feel free to drop me a line if you need someone to talk to.
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud!