Gardening on the unit

I wasn’t sure which looked more dejected, the middle-aged woman sitting cross legged in the leather club chair, or the plant sitting slighty wilted in the container beside her. She looked deep in thought, so I let her be. Though I could not let that poor syngonium linger any longer. I returned with some water, and sat down in the second chair next to the woman and  the plant. I went about taking off the dead leaves, and watering the plant. The woman turned to look at me. “I was thinking about how that plant needed water, I just couldn’t find the energy”. I nodded at her, and continued my gardening. ” I know, it is so hard to do anything” I replied. And so started our daily ritual of caring for the plants on the unit. We would often sit and talk, going from room to room. I learned a lot about Joan, and I learned a lot about how depression looks from the outside. I knew what it felt like, and how very hard it was, but I didn’t really know how it looked.

Depression becomes visible eventually. Maybe not in the beginning, but eventually it is plain as day. Everything that makes a person who they  are starts to diminish. That glimmer in your eye when you revel in a memory, or the expression on your face when someone compliments you. All of these small mannerisms disappear. The face becomes just a mask, indifferent to all that is happening around you. Your steps get slow, your gait less ground covering. There is nowhere you want to be, so why hurry? Even your speech slows. Each word quiet and measured, as you barely have the energy to create the thought and finish the act of getting it to leave your lips. Following a conversation becomes difficult, words begin to lose meaning. It becomes easier to just retreat into thought, than to stay engaged. It is that disengagement that is so apparent. Looking at it from the outside, it appears the person is merely a shell. No defining features, beyond their physical form. Yet, even that appears smaller. As they close in on themselves.

I know what depression looks like. I can spot it instantly. It is an insidious slow invader. Only affecting a little bit at a time, though you don’t really know what is lacking till it is gone. The laughter that came easily once is missing. The running commentary and quick wit all but faded away. You are probably wondering, but what is left? A physical body, a being that is breathing and thus living. Though not really living, in any true sense of the word. Existing in this time and place, to be marked present in only the physical sense. There is so much more to living than breathing. So what then happens to a person when they are in this severe depression? Where do they go? What has happened to all that makes them who they are? I think it is akin to some kind of hibernation, or dormancy. The mind switches off all but the most essential parts. yes, breathing. But what of everything else? Well it is very much like a hibernating animal. There is no drive to move, or to think. Stillness becomes the normal. The apathy envelopes you in its entirety. But, we are not meant to hibernate. That is not in our genetic coding. In that state, the mind is in alien territory. It turns back in upon itself. Left to its own devices, in charge of a body that will not do anything. It is obvious where the self-destruction comes in. There are no positives, no goals attained, no ground covered. In that stillness, the options become one. To leave the apathy and the failure, and to escape the place of zero accomplishments. Our minds are meant to work, and play, and to explore. They are not meant to be bound in one place, completely unable to yank free. In the depths of that spiral, when everything is so small and so limited, suicide is inviting. It becomes a way out, a type of escape. But because the depression has robbed our mind of so much, logic has gone too. In a brain working at capacity, death isn’t an option. There is too much to do, so much to complete. No, death isn’t even in the equation. Goals are being met, success is just around the next corner. All it takes is more hard work, and total commitment. No, death doesn’t have a place there. Yet, if you take away those goals being met, and the things being accomplished, in the complete absence of these, death becomes possible. The mind has deemed us useless, discardable, ready to be terminated. Without anything to thrive on, we become expendable. It is depression that leads us down that path. By slowly robbing us emotionally blind, piece by awful  piece. I know what depression looks like. I know what it feels like. I know what it is to have your brain decide termination is a better option than breathing. Yes. depression is a terrifying thing. To think how much can be lost, and how easy it is to slide down that slope.

Joan taught me so much, I learned to see the process of emerging from depression. The subtle mannerisms that return. Just a small smile one day. A glint of expression in the eyes the next. The emerging of the brain from the darkest of depths. Like that poor wilted plant, begging for some nutrients. Joan awoke, slowly but surely. I remember seeing her caring for the plants in the day room, she was almost unrecognizable. Her motions clear and with purpose. The returning of the sense of accomplishment. It was like meeting a new person. It was in that moment that I realized how terrible depression really is, and how it destroys a person. Joan was one of the lucky ones, she responded to medications and returned to a place of goodness and peace with herself. I am blessed to have met her, and am fortunate to have been able to realize all that she had to teach me, if only I opened my eyes and watched. There is hope, and it is possible to come back from the deepest of depths. To return from that place of dormancy, and to once again be whole.

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Fight to be present

and so it continues, my battle to stay here in the present, rather than worry about what happens next. I constantly flip back and forth between being happy and energized and being worried and anxious. For the first few days, when the mood changed all I could think about was, uh oh this isn’t going to be good. All the energy felt so foreign, like some invader from another planet. I was in awe of the changes, but somewhere in my brain I was adrift. Not in the joy of it all, nope, I was too busy thinking how high will this go? how fast will this departure be? As the shift has settled, the worry has changed. Today I find myself wondering if it will last. Will my depression come right back, as I adjust to the medication? Is it too strong to just be cast aside like that. So, it is really obvious, I am anywhere but present. My mind jumps from worry to worry, not pausing to take in what is around me. There is the beauty of this moment, when I come out of my shell. It seems so odd. Even hearing myself talk sounds alien to me. It has been too long. I realize now so much of the difficulty with my partner is probably based in my complete lack of communicating. I know when I get depressed I shut down and withdraw. This is on top of my baseline which isn’t a chatty Cathy to begin with. Every conversation is strained and silent. She seems to just give up trying to talk, and it dies there before it even has a chance to start. These past few days have been different. Not that we are talking about anything too close to home, but we are talking. That alone is huge. I think I need to try to stay here in the present by using skills to communicate more. Spend less time in my head, and more time outside it. It is okay to talk, and banter over the latest news. It feels good to do. I can be okay in the moment. I think with some time it won’t feel so weird. Finding myself laughing, doesn’t need to be startling.

I think I have an opportunity now to try and improve things that have been cast aside in the midst of the depression. Tasks that have been left undone. It is a time for action. A time to move everything along. This may help me stay present. I can engage in tasks with the new-found energy. Finish some projects that got left undone when the exhaustion and apathy took over. Be here, and engage. Chose that option over worry.

Gym day

Well tomorrow will be one week on the Provigil. I am very encouraged by the shift in mood. The past day has leveled out, and I am no longer fearful of mania arriving. When I first started the drug, I did a quick search to see if there was anything interesting about it. What I learned quickly, is that it is a drug that can be misused, and is widely used off label. That was quite apparent when the insurance company said no. One of the more curious uses was as a performance enhancer. It is banned from use in the olympics and most pro athletic leagues. Even Barry Bonds used it in his cocktail to better his performance. At the time I read it, I didn’t think much of it. Considering it is a stimulant. Over the past week I have been dutiful in going to the gym. It is normally good for my mood, and helps with any anger and irritability. Usually it is a drag. I have to force myself to push and put in a decent work out. It is easy to just dog it and call it a day. I’m fairly fit, so dogging it for me, is running a couple of miles. In the past week, I have done more in my workouts than I have ever. Aside from pushing it to perform as a college athlete. But even then, it was not the same as this. I find myself completely detached from my body. When there is normally a good burn, now there is none. I know by where my heart rate is, that I should be calling it quits. But there I was just trucking along. I decided to test it a bit today, and swapped from my normal running to the elliptical. I have to be honest, I hate the damn things, but they give me a better workout, than just running. So off I went, and went and went. I got to the hour mark, of doing interval work, and I think I could have probably done another hour. That is unheard of. I am in awe of this. I know I need to back off, I have done a lot of miles this week. Part of me wants to see just how hard I can go, but I doubt that would be a good idea. Think tomorrow will be a light day at the gym.

Getting it done

As I find myself awakened and renewed, I can’t help but think of all I have not accomplished. Where my life unraveling left me so unable to cope. Completely unable to participate in it. I am so blessed with a partner that picks up what slack there is and soldiers on. She somehow does it every time. Not ever really bitching or complaining that it is too much to carry. I love her dearly, though I can’t help but imagine how difficult this has made life for her. I asked her the other day, on a trip to yet another doctor’s office, Did you know what you were getting yourself into? She quietly responded, no. When we first met, life was as good as it has been for me. I felt capable, and stronger than I ever had. Not every day, but many of them. I was back in school, and working. I was riding everyday. It was so far from where I have been these last ten years. I had a schedule and a goal. I was able to adapt to what life threw at me. In the first couple years of our relationship, this solidity remained. I’m not saying everything was perfect. It wasn’t. But is was really good.

Everything changed with the move up into the country. I no longer had the structure of school. I just had this enormous responsibility of running a business and caring for 40+ animals. It was pretty quickly evident we were in over our heads. From a financial standpoint we had no idea what we were doing. Sure, we could care for horses, but doing books and trying to budget everything we were awful at. Initially we just found our way. Money came in, and we got by. I on the other hand, was no longer getting by. I fell deeply into a depression. It had been a long while since one like this had come along. I had been out of touch with Virgil, just touching base on meds every 6 months or so. I so clearly remember making that phone call. I had to reach back out, I had to try to get out of where I was at. I was standing on my deck with the phone in my hand. It is weird how our minds remember certain events so clearly. I guess my brain filed that under important events. Important because I made the effort to try to get myself out of the hole I found myself in.

I returned to treatment, and we changed up the meds. That is how this last 10 years got started. It has been a roller coaster since. Yes, some years have been more in the middle, okay and not really depressed. But what I lack is that drive, and the confidence I had back when I met my partner. I can’t help but think how much we have lost because I could not pull my weight and get the job done. I know we have lost clients because of it, and I know in the long run it probably cost us our business. We have somehow adapted, and changed what we are doing. Yet, I still feel saddled by the same limitations. Unable to really unleash my potential. I want to find my way back to that place of power and mastery. I just don’t know how. There are days when I wonder if I still have that ability. Will ever be back in a place where life is so very solid. Am I that person? Can I accomplish what I want without my ever shifting mood effecting it?

I know the future scares me. I can’t even briefly think about it without anxiety finding its way in. I don’t have it in me to endure another 10 years like the ones we just went thru. I don’t know that my partner has it in her either. Will this be the rest of my life? More drugs, and more hospitals? All I see is a train wreck, not a life lived with direction and purpose. I guess I have become gun-shy and fearful. Fearful of what I am capable of, and what my mind can do. It is no longer a promising tool to be honed and sharpened. I don’t feel any of that control, rather I feel I am at its mercy. At the mercy of the ever-changing landscape of moods, and emotions. From anger and agitation, to sadness and regret. It is like being lost at sea, swept here and there by the maelstrom of emotion. As suddenly as these storms kick up they disappear, leaving this vacuous emptiness. Nothing but apathy and exhaustion. Leaving me near paralyzed in their wake. When did it all go so very wrong? When did I lose so much control?

I look out at this beautiful morning. Filled with potential, waiting for my next move. I am energized and ready for this new day, but somehow all my head wants to think about is how it won’t last. It never does. I cannot keep myself here in this moment. Rather I fight my mind that wants to be adrift in thoughts of regret and worry. How can I convince myself everything will be okay when it has been so awful? I can reel myself back in, and revel in the sunshine and the hummingbirds that have joined me here on the deck, but it takes but a second to get lost again. I repeat the process, and my mind fights its way back to the doubts and the past. I am having an awful time staying present. I wish to god I could stay present. Let go of the fear and the worry. Let go of the conviction in my head that I won’t last another 10 years like this.

Evening again

It was a long day. I started out quite boundless in my energy. A trip to the gym and 4 miles later I was still feeling energetic. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly. I barely felt like I got started running when an hour had passed. It seemed a bit too bright, and bit too much of everything. I felt myself getting overwhelmed. Once I was back at the farm, without the traffic, and the music and all the people my senses settled down. It became a bit more bearable. Towards 6 o’clock, as we were wrapping up in the barn I felt myself shift again. I tried to figure out why the change, it was so very good all day. I kept getting distracted, but it finally dawned on me that I really hadn’t eaten much in the past day or so. My body just couldn’t keep pace, between the gym and the riding. I have to make more of an effort to keep track of what I am eating. It was fine when I was depressed and barely moving. This is a whole different thing. I’m not as worried as I was this morning about the mood escalating, it seems to have leveled off. I am just trying to adjust to not feeling so awful.

8AM

Sitting here on the deck at almost 8 in the AM, I am struck by how beautiful everything is. I am not usually up at 7:30, unless by force. I’m not talking an alarm clock, I’m talking multiple clocks, and or the threat of bodily harm. Since I was little, I hated to get up in the morning. It was a nightmare. I was nasty and angry and sullen at this hour. Being a night owl has its perks, but waking in the morning isn’t one of them. My dad is quite the opposite. He wakes up as the sun stirs the first bits of light on the horizon. Hell it’s still dark out when he gets up. I never understood that, or how we could be so different. My mom gets up fairly early as well. So, how then did I end up with the nighttime wakefulness?

Needless to say, I have always struggled with waking up, and functioning in the morning. When seroquel became the main med to control my sleep, it got exponentially worse. It will put me to sleep and keep me asleep for 10-12 hours, no problem. Sometimes I wake up in exactly the same position I went to sleep in. It is unreal just how strong that medication is. Needless to say, the coupling of my sleep habit and the medication made it very difficult to be productive. I would awake feeling guilty for having sleep well into the morning. Everyone thinks living on a farm means being up with the roosters. Believe me when I tell you these roosters get up early! I however, was not up with the roosters ever. There were nights I was up with sick animals that I would be going to bed when the roosters got up, but not normally the other way around.

So, I guess I am quite pleased with two mornings of awakening with the life around the farm. The birds, and the animals all stirring. Rather than awakening with guilt, I am awake with wonder. Seeing the promise of the day and the beauty of the early morning.

Where’s Douglas….

It had been a long time since I checked in on Douglas’ whereabouts. The last couple times the sex offender registry had him somewhere in Florida. I wasn’t worried, just happy he wasn’t in New York. I never thought he’d come after me again, or that he would somehow exact his revenge. It wasn’t like he really got punished hard anyhow. Not according to how I saw it. But that is the thing about sexual assault and the law. They aren’t going to go away for life. Needless to say, I liked to keep tabs on him. It gave me some sense of control, over what I don’t know, but it does. So you can imagine my surprise when he came up on my radar. This time in a news article from Martha’s Vineyard. I remembered that is where his family was from. Well looks like Dougie got himself in trouble again. This time he was sent to Walpole to serve 10yrs for rape, battery and assault. He will serve an additional 10 years probation. The system finally saw him for what he was, and his capacity to just keep on offending. Back when he was on trial for assaulting me, the picture was muddied by a decent defense. Sure, he had done other deviant things before, but he’d be fine if they got him help. The defense was also smart enough to ask for a bench trial. But what truly saved his ass that time was the ability of the defense to cast doubt on my reliability as a witness. The pysch history and the meds played well for them. There will come a point where I will blog about it, but for now, I’m just happy to see him behind bars where he belongs.

Is it really this nice everyday?

As the day has gone by I can’t help but notice the colors, the smells and the textures of everything. Was it like this yesterday? the day before and the day before that? Was the sky really this deep cornflower blue? Did the wind actually feel like this as it ruffled my jacket and pricked the little hairs on my arms?

It is like awakening from a dull dream. A dream without color, or sensation. I am in awe of all that is around me today. I somehow existed without noticing. Without being truly mindful of what was here. It is like some switch has been flipped. I have spent the day reveling in the beauty of the experience. The joy of my unfurling senses coming alive and taking in this vast expanse of stimuli all around me.

I wish there was a way to adequately describe the change, but I find my fingers failing in an attempt to put words on the page.

When the DSM describes depression symptoms it gives you a basic rundown of what needs to exist in order for a person to be clinically depressed. It doesn’t come close to actually describing what the existence in a depression is truly like. It takes a day like today, for me to even comprehend it myself. The degree to which it dulls the senses, and the way it blunts the architecture of the world as we experience it. That isn’t there in the DSM-IV. The slowing of time as we move through it. The way it creates a sensation of treading water, never really moving forward, just fighting to stay afloat. The way the days blur together, no defining edges, or moments, just the monotony of existence. A depressed existence. I think it is as much the absence of stimulus as it is the sadness and hopelessness that makes it so awful. Life is so much more than what we feel. It is what we see and taste and smell. The world brims with so many opportunities for our senses to come alive. In a depression there is no response. The world is still there, just as it was yesterday. I just couldn’t see it, or feel it, let alone taste it.

I think it may have to do with the intensity of the emotions and suffering. There may not be any room for all the world has to offer. It would be too much. so rather than allow ourselves to experience everything, our brain shuts down. Only allows the most severe stimuli to register. Only the most powerful of emotions. Our existence becomes so small and confined. So rife with exhausting emotions with nothing to balance them. It is different when our senses are all alive and functioning. The stress suddenly has to compete with the most beautiful of sunsets, or the deep luscious red of the climbing rose outside the window. There is something more to life than just the negative. There is beauty, there is magnificence. If only we are able to open up our eyes and see it. Depression robs us of this ability. It robs us blind.

 

Shifting Center

Day four on the new medication. As yesterday wore on I sensed a distinct shift in energy level. I found myself alert and able to do things in the afternoon. It kind of caught me off guard. It has been a long while since I felt this way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad. I am hopeful. But there is that inkling in the back of my mind, the worry. It never was a worry before my manic episode. Now I always wonder to myself, what is ok, what is good vs. what is too good? I want more than anything for this medication to give me a new chapter, one that does not have depression in it. I feel like I have lived so long depressed. I am willing to try anything to not go down that ravine again.

But, I realize that there is a problem with being too good. It doesn’t take long to be devastating. I know in the course of just a few weeks of mania, I came close to destroying a long-term relationship. With not a care in the world, I looked my partner in the eye, and told her we should see other people. I pursued a relationship, not ever stopping to think the damage I was doing. The risk was lost on me. In my racing mind, I could only see what I wanted. In my skewed thinking sex is what I thought I needed. Needed more than anything in the world. Everything else paled. Not just sex, the adventure of it. Finding someone outside, a stranger. I thought it would make everything okay. I was so driven, so possessed by the idea of it. The happy joyfulness didn’t last long, the anxiety and irritability was waiting in the wings. I know a lot of people think mania is a fun place to be. I can tell you it is not. Sure, hypomania can be quite enjoyable. Especially the first couple days. However, mania is a whole different creature. The sheer speed at which things are going in your brain is unreal. It feels like someone put the gas pedal to the floor and it is stuck there. For me that is anxiety provoking. As things deteriorate is starts to feel worse, but it is very hard know as things haul ass along. I didn’t understand much of what was happening. It had never happened to me, so I was completely unprepared. As things ramped up, I took to smoking pot a couple of times a day. It helped slow things down a bit. It wasn’t quite as fast, not quite so anxious.

The really sad thing is my partner witnessed all of this, she didn’t really react. I don’t think she knew what to do. I know she knew I was way out of control. I, of course, was oblivious to that obvious point. She let me garden illegally, threatening our future and our freedom. She let me pursue a relationship with a stranger. I know she just didn’t know how to stop this speeding train. It must have been terrifying for her, watching everything come apart. But I can’t help but think in the back of my mind she must have initially though everything was better. That the meds were finally working. That I was finally doing better. I know that is what I though initially. That is why the shift in mood and energy with this new medication is bothering me. There is no way to tell one from the other, just time will tell.

I told my partner, right up front that there was a small risk of mania with this med change. I made it very clear to her, that if she was uncomfortable, or noticed any manic symptoms to get on the phone. I told her not to let this train leave the station. I know she would do that for me. She understands now the cost of mania, both emotional and physically. She also understands on the other side of mania is a deep free fall into depression.

I guess what is so striking to me, as this shift happens, is just how poorly I was doing. I knew it wasn’t going well. I just didn’t realize how much the depression had robbed me of. We had to do some emergency fence repair in the late afternoon. Typically this would have been near impossible. By that time of day I am dragging. I can’t get my body going, nor my head. When faced with the task, I would be irritable, impatient and nasty. The longer the task the more nasty I’d be. All I normally think about as the day wears on is sitting down, or going to bed. I just didn’t have the energy or drive to do much of anything. It is so very sad. Here I am not even 40 and I am losing parts of my life, for long stretches of it. I think to myself of all the days I spent sleeping, all the hours lost to the fog of depression. How unfairly this placed the burden on my partner. This farm is no easy job. In able mind and body it pushes us to the breaking point. Add in the depression and it becomes overwhelming and blinding in its enormity. .

I am still hopeful about this medication. I am enjoying the new-found energy, and motivation. Even though that joy is tempered by worry and watchfulness. I think it would be dumb on all our parts not to be vigilant now.

The Horses

I have lost my passion and love of riding somewhere in this mess. I have loved horses and riding since I was a little kid. I first sat on a horse at 3. From there I have spent a lifetime working and playing around horses. We live, breath, and dream horses here. Somewhere there was a dramatic shift. I remember it was in the midst of a bad depression. Somehow, the passion never returned. I don’t get the same sense of exhilaration when I ride. I had to go back to playing polo to get that rush. But, I think that is the aggression and adrenaline of the full contact and speed, not the riding. Regular riding no longer did it for me. It still doesn’t. More than anything, I want that passion back. I want to love it again.

Do we ever truly lose passion for something we have loved for a lifetime? Is it still there somewhere? Waiting in the dark, just dormant now. Has it hidden itself away? Waiting for the time and place to return to me. I don’t have an answer. I only wish and pray it isn’t gone. Horses saved me. They were there during a period of my childhood where all hell broke loose. My family came apart. I had the horses. It terrifies me think about how bad it could have been. I had a savior in the horses. I had a big steady neck to cry on, and a place to retreat to. Some of the fondest memories of my life were constructed around the time I was 10-11-12. They helped offset some of the extreme pain and sadness that was flooding my life. I believe without it I would have retreated into a shell, never to be able to function again. Between books and horses, I had an escape. A place only I knew.

During that period the barn was within biking distance of the house. After school I would be at the barn till dark, weekends I was there all day. There were other kids my age. We would ride and groom and play. We’d clean stalls and sweep. It was an oasis amidst the emotional sand storm that was my life. It allowed me to escape all the terrible emotions. I loved the horses more than anything. They don’t ask you for much. Respect, kindness and consistency. That is what they thrive on. Not much different from a struggling kid. They needed exactly what I did. Together we found our way. Those years spent in a barn taught me so much about life. About hard work, discipline, and respect. I learned to do a job, and to be dependable. All this at 10. This is what horses offer. I also learned about loss. Horses tend to get sick, and can die suddenly. I learned the lessons of death and dying from the horses.

Because they played such a pivotal role in my life, it is all the more painful to have them fade from emotional importance. I want to be passionate about them again. I want to be riding everyday, and enjoying it. I need to feel that connection again. A good friend made the analogy about workers in ice cream shops. When it is a job and you see ice cream everyday, you tend not to eat it anymore. I don’t want that to be me and the horses. I know I just see the work, and the stress, and the pain. I want to see the wonder again. Those blissful days where time stood still, and only the horses existed. Where is my oasis now?

I think everyone needs an escape. A place to call their own. For our sanity, and our well-being, an oasis is needed. Where is mine? How do I find it again?