theicingonthecrazycake

When life hands you lemons, toss them in the trash and eat cake

Archive for the category “memoirs”

Is depression the new leprosy?

I have suffered from migraines since adolescence, and I remember my mother telling me that she had no idea what it felt like, as she had never had a headache – migraine or otherwise. She took care of me even though she had no frame of headache reference, holding a cold washcloth to my forehead and making sure I saw a doctor to diagnose my condition. She couldn’t be empathetic, but she was sympathetic to my pain.

During a bout of major depression in the past year – a battle that I am winning – I have experienced empathy, sympathy and compassion. I have friends and family, both near and afar, who have given me shoulder after shoulder to lean on and much encouragement and unconditional love. Some have been empathetic, having suffered from mood disorders themselves. Others have been sympathetic – like my mother’s response to my headaches – wanting to know more about what major depression feels like and how my treatment is going. I once had difficulty accepting that I was lovable. Excruciating difficulty. Now I know I am lovable even in my ugliest, lowest moments and when, at times, I’ve been incapable of being a good friend or sibling or aunt or adult child in return.

One of the most profound experiences happened two weeks ago. It made me cry. I went for a walk with a friend, whom I had not seen since last year. She had no idea what had happened to me in the last 12 months. I told her my story, and when I got to the part about the mental hospital, she stopped walking, gave me hug in the middle of the walking path and said “I had no idea, you are so brave to have done that.” No one had ever told me that I was courageous for seeking help, except my counselors and psychiatrist. Later on in the week, we went rollerblading together. As we were blading down the East Bay bike path, she said “I know you don’t feel like your old, athletic self, but I still see the spark and energy and soul you had when we used to run together. It’s still there. And I promise you, one day in the future, I’m going to be telling you to slow down because I won’t be able to keep up.” Pass me a Kleenex, please.

Conversely, I have been treated like a leper by uninformed fools who think that this is my fault or just a pathetic excuse for not being social or, better yet, that I just need to “snap out of it” or “be happy” or “change my mood.” How simplistic, how fucking easy. Duh, why didn’t I think of those easy fixes before I “chose” to be depressed?

Do you think I choose to “be” this way, much like people choose to suffer from, say, diabetes or heart disease? Do you think my wildest dream was to sit in a mental hospital for six days last November because it was fun and spa-like, shelling out $1,300 of my own money – money I was saving for a trip to Ireland – to get better? No and no. I saw and heard things in the hospital that I still can’t talk about to this day. People are really, legitimately ill, and thank God we have places where we can go to get help as well as the strength to admit we need help. Hopefully the patients who sat beside me in treatment have informed, non-fools at home to support them through recovery.

When I was hospitalized, I was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as:

A combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.

I fall into the “multiple episodes” category, unfortunately. I have gone into very deep, dark places on and off for almost 30 year, places that I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to see, including starting to cut myself at age 11 and having suicidal ideations in my late 20s. I would look out the window of the equity research firm at which I worked and fantasize about jumping out the window, wondering if a seven-story fall would be enough to kill me. Thankfully, I sought help after having this recurring thought for a week straight.

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Welcome mats and doormats

Yesterday I approached my Meals on Wheels route with a heavy heart. I can’t explain it. I think it was because that damn Bon Iver song “Skinny Love” was playing on the radio as I pulled out of the food distribution center. That song makes me sad. I fumbled with the dial, trying to find Bananarama or something else stupid and peppy and retro. Nope, Bauhaus was playing for fuck’s sake. Radio. Turned. Off.

I ruminated about my mood as I drove to my first meal drop-off. I decided it was because I felt like an empty vessel – and today of all days I needed to be shooting compassionate and patient pixie dust out of my ass. These people relied on me. Yet, I had nothing to give. As my wise friend Karen says to me when I’m facing a difficult task or visit home: “Just send your better self. Just for this one thing. It will get you through it.” So I tried to summon my better self, but I wasn’t sure if she was the one driving the car at the moment.

My first drop-off  was easy – I just had to put the food in the cooler, as was the case with the following two deliveries. No human interaction required, yet I still cried in my car between these easy drop-offs. Better self, where are you? I asked myself.

Next on the list: Ed. Sometimes he waited outside for his food, sunning himself on the back deck; other days he left a cooler for me. With twinkly blue eyes and ruddy Irish skin, he reminds me of my grandfather, had my grandfather lived to see his late 70s, instead of only his early 60s.

I pulled up to his house and headed to the back of the house. The cooler was there on the back deck, in place of Ed. Alas, there was no ice, and I’m not allowed to leave the food in the cooler unless it contains an ice-pack.

I knocked.

“Who is it?” said a gruff voice.

“It’s Meals on Wheels,” my better self cheerfully shouted through the closed door.

“What a glorious voice,” he said as he opened the back door.

I handed him his his meal and asked, “How are you doing today, Ed?”

“Tired. I just woke up. But my day just got better the minute I saw you. You look like a damn movie star. A movie star! It should be a crime to be as pretty as you are.”

Taken off guard, I squeaked, “You know, Ed, I was having a difficult morning, and you just made my day.” Putting my hand on my chest I said with less-squeaky conviction, “I will carry your compliment in my heart all day long. Thank you. You have a great day yourself.”

I practically skipped back to my car, with tears in my eyes but a big grin on my face. Yeah, yeah, Ed is practically blind, which probably makes my bovine-sized thighs look super-model svelte, but perhaps he can sense inner beauty. Or maybe I am pretty. Huh. Foreign concept for me.

After a few more easy stops, I reached Meg’s house. She always tries to give me something: brownies, eggplant, earrings, necklaces, a wooden angel. She won’t take no for an answer. We chatted for awhile and then she showed me her garden, as if for the first time, even through she shows it to me every time I visit her. I don’t mind. I like gardens. Besides, it’s a testament to her strength: 88 years old with a bad leg, she spends hours out in her garden, tending to the tomatoes and zucchini and beans.

“I have something for you,” she said, grabbing my hand and leading me out to the garage.

“Meg, I can’t possibly take anything else from you, you have been more than generous,” I argued.

She opened the garage and presented me with an empty Kmart shopping cart.

“I grabbed this when the store down the street closed. I’ve got no use for it, in fact I have an identical one in the basement.”

I stifled a laugh. A shopping cart? Too bad she didn’t have a job or boyfriend waiting for me in the garage.

“Meg, you are so sweet. I can’t possibly take this. I live on the third floor, in a 500 square foot apartment.”

She signed resignedly and said okay. I hugged her and walked down the driveway giggling to myself. “See you next week,” I shouted over my shoulder.

As the morning rolled by, I visited with two other of my favorites, and managed to coax another one of the clients outside her door. She usually leaves the door open just wide enough for me to slip the food through. Victory.

My better self finally emerged, due in no small part to the welcome mat that always seems to be put out for me. Whether I visit with these people or am left with a cooler (but no person) to deliver to, I feel welcome, needed, maybe even loved.

However, my day wasn’t over yet. On an afternoon walk with my dog, I would find out that the welcome mat doesn’t exist in some people’s lives; instead they seek to treat others like doormats. These days, I prefer actively stepping over the threshold of the welcome mat, not being the passive doormat. And the Cruella De Vil who tangled with me yesterday afternoon was met with my better, non-doormat self’s smart mouth and a sense of new-found confidence.

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