Thursday, October 31, 2013

For my friend, and anyone who needs it.

One of my friends has a hard time with today.

Ten years ago, he lost his wife to untreated mental illness.

Today, he told me how brave I am. How much he appreciates that I'm getting help. How I'm his hero.

He reminded me of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Because depression doesn't just hurt me. It can hurt everyone around me. It hurts everyone who loves me. It isn't just about me. And if you're going through it, it isn't just about you.

So for my friend, I'm going to talk about how goddamned hard it is to ask for help. Because "asking for help" sounds so easy. But it's not, and I'm not going to bullshit about that. It's hard. But god, it's important. You can't expect to fix everything yourself. You just can't. It's too much pressure, and you don't always have the right equipment. It's like trying to hang a picture with a bulldozer, or build a bridge with a shovel. It just don't work, and you're going to end up more frustrated and hurt than you were before.

It started two weeks ago. Not the depression, that's been going on for years. The decision started two weeks ago. It was a Friday afternoon. I was trying to make some plans to go shopping the following morning in Austin. I was excited about it, and that felt great. I posted to facebook to see if anyone wanted to go shopping with me.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

On the drive up to Austin (Where my boyfriend lives, and where I live on weekends, for those who didn't know) I suddenly realized that no one had responded to me.

No one wanted to go shopping with me.

I remember so clearly the feeling of deflating. Like a balloon that hadn't been popped, just punctured so the air rushed out. Instead of a balloon, it became a shriveled piece of nothing. That's how I felt.

I started to cry. Not the kind of cry that happens with tears, but the kind of cry that is too big to fit out your eyes. It's silent and crushing. I was crushed. I remembered living in Nebraska, and how there was always someone who would go shopping with me, there. Or have dinner with me. Or come hang out and watch a movie. Or do -anything.- I had people from all over the country saying that they would, except they're X00(0) miles away. I had a few responses from people here, but they were all negative. People were busy.

And I started having really dark thoughts about being in Texas. Why had I left my friends behind? Were any of my friends here actually my friends? Or did they just play along because they're friends with my boyfriend? Do I actually have any friends, or am I completely alone in this state? Why the hell doesn't anyone want to go shopping with me? I started worrying that my boyfriend would ask one of his friends to just go with me because it would make me feel better. And that they would. Not because they wanted to spend time with me, but because he asked him to. Man, how awful would that have been? How pathetic am I, that I can't even get people to hang out with me? In order for someone to spend time with me, it has to be a favor to someone else. God, it's only shopping. How pathetic am I, that it's bothering me this much?

These thoughts essentially swirled around in my brain for an hour or so, and by the time I arrived in Austin, I was miserable. I was angry. I was so, so lonely. I felt like there was a lead blanket draping over my shoulders--Like the kind they put on you at the dentist when you get x-rays. And it just kept getting heavier. It wanted me to collapse beneath its weight. To just fall to the ground and lay there, pressing slowly into the concrete until I was a part of the landscape.

Then I got to Austin, and I was not a pleasant person. I tried really hard to be, but I just couldn't do it. We got in a fight. I lay on the bed, curled up on my side, and I stared at wrinkles in the blankets. My boyfriend sat at his computer in stoic silence. He had no idea what was going on in my head. He was upset. I'd been a bitch. He silently stood and started getting ready for work. He threw his clothing as he changed, and I cringed every time. I thought at any moment that he was going to start screaming, even though that isn't what he does. I thought he was going to leave without saying a word. That was worse. Say something. Say something. Say something. Dear god, please say something. Say anything. I can't bear this silence. Please say something. Oh god what if he leaves?

While I lay there, more horrible thoughts swirled around my head, and joined the existing ones. Eventually, they coalesced into one stream: I was mostly empty space, anyway. Why did any of it matter? Why did I matter? What difference did I make to the world? I don't matter. I'm made of matter, but that matter is mostly empty space. Space between molecules, between atoms. I'd be worth more if they took me apart, bit by bit, and put me in the Hadron Collider. They could learn so much. Then I'd be worth something. I'd be gone, but I'd be worth something.

I started to cry, again. The same kind of silent, invisible tears. They tickled my eyes, and the back of my nose, but they never came out. They stayed there.

When he was ready to go, I looked up. It almost hurt to look at him. Then he beckoned to me, and opened his arms.

I fell against him and fell apart. I tried so hard to hold it together. Tried to wait until he left so he wouldn't have to worry. I'm being stupid. This is stupid. It wasn't that big of a fight, anyway. Why can't I stop crying?

I don't even remember what I said. I don't even remember what I said. What I remember is the concern in his eyes. The way he held me. When I sat down and stared at anything but his face. I couldn't bear it. Everything hurt. Everything in my life hurt at that moment. I remember staring at the carpet and saying, quietly, brokenly, "I...think I need help."

He was quite late to work that night. He stayed with me until I had calmed down enough. He couldn't miss work, it's just not an option. He left, and I sent him a text and said "I think I'll call L. She'll know what to do."

So I did. And god, she did. She somehow said exactly the right things to help me relax, to laugh and smile a little bit. She gave me excellent advice, comforted me, reassured me, and then gave me more excellent advice. Then she adroitly changed the subject until we were laughing again. And she knows exactly how important that phone call was, and exactly how much I needed it.

And I made a decision to call the mental health clinic and make an appointment.

I don't remember if I did it on monday or tuesday. I found the number and stared at it a while. Waited for the right moment. Waited until I was alone. I was shaking.

I picked up the phone. I pushed a button. Was that the right one? I hung up.

I picked up the phone. I started to dial. I can't do this. I hung up.

I picked up the phone. I started to dial. What am I going to say? I have no idea! I hung up.

I made a decision.

I'm going to have a cup of tea.

I went to the kitchen, and I made myself a cup of tea. I went back to my desk and wrapped my freezing hands around the scalding cup. I couldn't hold it for more than a second. I stared at the teacup. The phone. The phone number on my screen. The desk. My heart pounded in my chest. My eyes were stinging. What was I going to say?

It doesn't matter what I say. They're probably used to that. I'm sure nobody knows what to say when they call.

I sipped my tea slowly.

I can just tell them I need an appointment. I'm sure they'll know what questions to ask.

My tea was getting cool. I picked up the phone and glanced at the number on the screen.

I hung up.

I took a deep breath. I dialed the number. It rang.

And I didn't hang up. I clutched the phone, knuckles turning white. I didn't hang again.

A cheerful, female voice answered.

"I...need to make an appointment."

She asked some questions about my doctor that I didn't know the answers to. She asked what I needed to be seen for.

My body went cold. I had been dreading this. God, I'm at work. Don't make me say it. Don't make me say it out loud. Why are you doing this to me?

"...Depression?" It was just more than a whisper.

She asked me some more questions that I wasn't sure how to answer, but I did my best.

My appointment, she told me, was on Thursday at ten o'clock.

Thursday. This week. Oh god, that's days away.

The next few days are a blur of pretending to work, somehow actually working, sweaty palms, and anxiety. God, I want a cigarette. I don't smoke anymore.

Thursday came. I went into work at seven thirty. My heart was pounding. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today.

I couldn't keep my eyes off that clock. Just get it over with. I can't stand it. I can't take this anymore. I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. Texting anyone who knows, and can respond. Killing time. Trying to distract myself.

I get into my car. I haven't ever been to the clinic before, and I haven't been near it. But I Have directions, and I've looked at a map. I manage to get there without much trouble. I park, and sit in the car for a second. The sun feels warm on my skin. I feel cold. I feel tight.

I get out of the car. The clinic is a long, squat building. I climb the stairs. This is like a long, slow heart attack. I stop and read the sign on the door. Always read the signs.

I walk in.

Oh god, everybody is judging me. I swear they are. What problems could she have? What, did she get dumped? Did her cat die? Did her daddy not love her enough? She can't have been through anything as bad as what I have. What is she DOING here?

I'm sure no-one even noticed me, aside from the vague realization that someone had come in. But to me, the quiet shuffle and buzz of the room was deafening. All around me there was judgment, there were accusations. My heart pounded and I felt like my face wasn't quite attached to my head anymore.

I went and stood in the middle of the room, waiting for a receptionist to be free. God, just leave me alone.

One waved me over. A solid, middle-aged black woman who managed to look kind and frustrated at the same time. I handed her my card, and said quietly into the speech-opening in the glass, "I have a ten o'clock appointment." Everyone in this room has an appointment. Why is it so hard to say it out loud? What is wrong with me? Is it really so bad? Do I really need to be here? Maybe those silent judgments were right. Maybe I don't belong here. Maybe I'm not bad enough. I don't know. I'm here.

She directs me to an alcove with a computer and directs me to fill out a survey that will help identify my symptoms, and then sign the privacy form. When I bring it back, she'll let the "provider" know that I'm here.

I do. I'm as honest as I know how to be. I don't know how to answer the questions, sometimes. They're too vague, or poorly worded. I have no idea how to answer this. I'll have to explain to the doctor.

I finish. I go give the receptionist the paper. All around me, I swear I can hear the thoughts of other people. I swear they're staring at me. Judging me, still, for taking up their time.

I sit down. I stare intently at my phone, blocking out the room and its harsh fluorescent lights and nonexistent judgmental stares.

I lose track of everything, and for a moment it's like bliss. Then someone says my name, and reality crashes back over me. It's a white-haired black lady, older than the receptionist. She has a very kind voice. She introduces herself and asks me to come to her office.

I sit in the chair in the warm little room. She sits near me, at a ninety degree angle. As it there were a coffee table there. She asks me questions. I answer them as honestly as I can, telling her that sometimes I don't know how to answer so I'll do my best.

She looks at me at one point, face taught with concern. She sounds surprised, and sad.

"My god. How do you function?"

It's one of the most vindicating moments of my life.

After about an hour, she tells me that I have depression and PTSD related to sexual trauma. She says she wants to refer me to a counselor who specializes in sexual assault, and a psychiatrist for further evaluation.

And my heart starts beating again.

The Me In The Mirror

I had a thought last night that was so terrifying that I could only feel it for a few minutes before everything went numb.

I was thinking really hard about my symptoms, and trying to determine when they really started. I think I decided it was 2008, the year I was last raped, and the year that my brain broke so badly that I don't remember most of that summer. It's largely an unfocused blur. There are bits here and there that I recognise, but can't identify in detail.

That was almost six years ago. I was 23.

Now for those of you who are around 30, like I am, stop a moment and think about who you were at 23. I bet you were a very different person, because...well, that's what your 20s are for. Generally that's when we start turning into the person we're going to be for the rest of our lives. When we become adults for real, instead of for legal.

For me, it's when I think I broke. And if I've been broken since then, I have to wonder...

Will I recognise myself when I'm done healing? Will I be the same person, or will I be different? Will I like the same things? The same music? Will the same things make me laugh? Make me cry? Make me angry? Dear lord, what if I'm a republican?

(Okay. That last bit was an attempt at humor.)

Will I still be the person my friends love?

...Will I still be the person who loves them?

Will I recognise the woman I see in the mirror?

It's a terrifying thought, realizing that all this time I thought I was so self-aware, and I may not know anything about myself.

I'm pretty numb today, still.

Processing...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How To Actually Help [me minimize my awkwardness at normal questions]

I know, I've been neglectful again. Like Silent Bob, I only speak when I feel it's truly important. I hope that this means that you take my words a little more seriously, when I do speak.

Recently, I've fallen into the deepest, most crippling depression I've ever experienced. At least that I'm aware of. (There WAS that one summer that I don't remember. But who knows what I was like then?) I mean it's bad. When I say "crippling," I mean that it's hard to function in the most basic ways--Feeding myself, bathing myself, getting out of bed. You know. Socializing and working tax me more than I knew was possible. I've recently started suffering "crashes" after extended periods of being in a good mood. After the happy activity ends, I feel myself start to deflate. If the crash is bad enough, it results in me curled up somewhere in my underwear (How did that happen? I don't even remember getting undressed!) crying for literally no reason.

Imagine if you got a hangover from eating a nutritionally balanced, healthy, delicious meal. That's what it feels like. Do something healthy and be punished by your body. What?

Anyway, so I finally, FINALLY went to get a psychological evaluation. Turns out I have depression (Imagine my surprise!) and also PTSD. (Okay, that one actually surprised me a little.)

PTSD? Isn't that for people who get blown up or watch their friends die or are in other super violent situations? (Yes, I knew better, I'm citing stereotype.)

Well, it's also for people who have suffered more quietly traumatic experiences. Abusive relationships that take months or years to realize, and more to admit, were abusive. Someone whose name you'll never know dropping something into your drink and taking advantage of you when you can't think.

It's for people like me. And, maybe, for people like you. Weird.

So, I did a thing. I posted on my facebook about it. Because I figure, these people are on my facebook because they care about me. And because I care about them. And there's really no good reason to keep them in the dark when the simple truth is, support of our friends is what gets us through these dark times.

And the flood of support that flowed in was overwhelming, moving, and beautiful. You never know how many people really care about you until they're all moved to display it at once. And frankly, it's wonderful.

Most of the support came in the form of "I know that there isn't much I can do, but I'm here and I love you." There was also "I've been in a similar situation and I understand. If you need to talk, or if you need advice, or someone to lean on, I'm here." Lots of hugs and loves and warm, wonderful things.

And a handful of friends who went white-hot with rage. There were (mostly rhetorical, I hope) threats toward those who have hurt me; offers of violence toward them should I desire it; people who got passionately angry on my behalf, because the thought of my being hurt is so horrible to them; and more horrible still is my being hurt enough to give me legitimate mental disorders.

But there's a bit of a problem. See, when you show me this rage, it makes me feel awkward. On one hand, it's powerfully touching that you care THAT MUCH ABOUT ME. On the other hand...What do I do with this? Do I thank you for your rage? Do I tell you that I don't want these things? That it's too late for legal persuit, and that vengeance doesn't equate justice? That I just want to move on with my life, and don't want more issues to come of this? I don't know. Will that seem ungrateful? Am I supposed to comfort you? I want to, but I really lack the capacity at that moment. Should I tell you it's okay? Well, it isn't. None of this is. And I just don't know what to do.

There's another perfectly well-intended thing that happens that confuses the shit out of me. Questions like "Are you okay?" and "how are you doing?" This is so innocent, people just genuinely wanting to know how I'm doing. It's warm, it's well-intended, it's well excuted, there's nothing about it that should make me feel awkward. But it's so much more complicated than that. No, I'm not okay. I'm in the midst of the deepest depression of my life and I'm dealing with PTSD. We've covered this. I first have to resist the initial impulse to say "Doing alright/fine/whatever generic response I've been giving." Then I have to find a response that isn't awkward or rude.

My dear friends, you have no idea how complicated this simplest of human interactions has become for me. "How are you?" is this huge, crazy question that looms. I have to find an answer that is honest, reassuring, simple, and doesn't seem to scream "attention whore." Which means I can't answer "I've just been curled up on the floor crying." or "I'm awesome!" or "fine." or "Depressed." What on earth does that leave me with? The non-answer, "That's...complicated."

Now I'm not going to just say "stop that!" and end there. Because...honestly? DON'T stop. Letting me know that you're around, that you care, and that you're willing to talk to me about the fact that you care means SO MUCH MORE TO ME than any sort of awkwardness that it gives me. It means the world when people reach out to me. It really, really does. So please. Don't take this as a criticism, don't think I don't appreciate the concern and care. Just take it as what it is: Me expressing how I react to things and, in a minute, offering a few things that you could do instead.

Let's face it. This shit gets awkward. There's not enough press, there aren't a lot of articles about "How to (actually) deal with your friend with depression," there aren't many "dos" and "donts" or "really, this is the right thing to say." Largely, that's because every person ever is different. No, really. Each one of us. So there IS no right to say, universally. So I'm going to give you a few things you can say to me instead, starting with my favourite one:

"How is that going?"

This is the best quesetion someone asked me. How is that PTSD/Depression going? Man, what a great question that was. Now how am I doing, now am I okay. How is that going? You can alter this in a lot of ways. Or you can specify. But it's acknowledging the things we already know, and elaborating by asking for more details of my established state of being. It's also kind of light-hearted, and I imagine people asking it with a smile and a twinkle in their eye. Because this isn't a sudden, huge, dramatic thing that happened. This is a thing that's been going on for, literally, years. I'm the same person I was a week ago, I just have some new words to describe why I sometimes fall down on my floor crying, or can't bother to feed myself or bathe, and some things to maybe help me not do those things anymore.

"How is today/the day?"

This is another question I can get behind. It's not inquiring about my overall state of being. It's acknowledging that things are constantly changing, that my mood can be anywhere, and also silently acknowledging that overall, my state of being is not good. There are bad days, worse days, and days that are actually okay.

"I saw your facebook/whatever and wanted to check in, just to let you know I care."

What a great thing to say. There's no awkward pretense, no small-talk, just genuine sentiment. This equates to "Hey. I'm paying attention because you're important to me, but I know that there isn't really anything I can do and I don't know where to start. So. I care." in my book.

I'd like to repeat something that I posted above, because it deserves emphasis:

This isn't a sudden, huge, dramatic thing that happened SUDDENLY LAST THURSDAY. This is a thing that's been going on for, literally, years. I'm exactly the same person I was a week ago, I just have some new words to describe why I sometimes fall down on my floor crying, or can't bother to feed myself or bathe, and some things to maybe help me not do those things anymore.

The only real problem is that now I can't shrug it off. I have to deal with the fact that I'm not okay. I'm the same not-okay person I was a week ago. And I need to be honest with myself and with you all about that. The awkward isn't coming from you, it's all me. It's all me trying to find the right balance of honesty and...well, tact. I feel a little drama-queen about all this, because it feels like I'm drawing a lot of attention to myself. I don't want to be that person who uses their issues to get attention, and I really don't want to APPEAR to be that person when I'm really just trying to get better. I don't want to alienate people, or make them feel like they're doing it wrong.

I'm going to re-emphasize that. THERE IS NO DOING IT WRONG. You CANNOT try to help me the wrong way. You CANNOT express that you care for me the wrong way. THERE IS NO WRONG WAY. If you care about me, and you're telling me that, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT. The above are just tips on minimalizing the awkward that happens when I have no idea what to do.

Is there something you can do? I have no idea. Am I okay? No. Really not. And, I guess, I haven't been for a very long time. Is admitting it making it better? No, and in some ways it's made it worse. But I'm working on it. And if you want to help, then this is how.

I've spent three hours writing this. Adding. Subtracting. Changing. Re-wording. Wondering who this is going to piss off.

At the end of the day, we're all just trying to help each other. So however you do it, you're doing it right. I hope you think the same of me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My story is up in the Huffington Post...

Well, part of my story, anyway.

Please head to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lea-grover/i-was-raped-and-abandoned-in-the-snow_b_4103516.html and read it.

And if you're so inclined, tweet about #Justice4Daisy.

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