70 minutes until my 50th birthday.
And a year since I gave my wife a present on my 49th birthday by calling a psychiatrist and making an appointment. The downward slide into depression had gotten so bad that even I couldn’t stand being around me. A couple of long years of internalized stress had taken their toll on me, mind, body, and spirit. I lived those days in that awful place where joy had been seemingly vanquished by an unending fog, toxic to breathe, but maybe one just wants to breathe it and deeply to pass the time since tomorrow will not be any better. Or the tomorrow after that. I hated myself, that guy in the mirror who actually wondered out loud if he hated mirrors more than what he saw in the mirror. Thank goodness no one asked me then, which I hated more, since I would have undoubtedly (1) cried and (2) got defensive about it (3) felt guilty about being defensive (4) and gotten angry about feeling guilty.
I know some of you were friends with that guy. Maybe even loved that guy. Likely you didn’t know. All of that acting training from high school and college comes in handy at the most odd times. But that guy, through the fog, through the unending days, one to the next, remembered how much he loved his wife and made the call. And kept the appointment. And talked and talked and talked and wept until there was no more talking to be done. No more remembering. No more tears.
I left with a diagnosis of clinical depression and a few prescriptions and wrote this for one of my first posts on this BLOG:
The 50 milligram Lament
Operating Heavy Machinery is out,
About to cross it off my bucket list,
Rummaged those Tonka Trucks from my childhood too soon,
For this, for all the absolutes, the things I know,
A counter-weight of a thousand questions yet remain:
Like which of me from history shall I be
As the pharmacology re-wires me,
Medicinal Kleenex for tears unexpected, unappreciated;
To soothe breaths and heartbeats that come too quickly,
all that energy paralyzing:
The fear of failing, of being nothing,
The latter of which is, truth be told,
A Christian’s goal:
To be nothing, so that in Christ one could be everything:
In him; For him; Though him.
I wait for everything, but the afternoon brings only rain,
But tomorrow might yet be the day
When by some mystery it becomes a yesterday of yesterday,
When I was someone else less sad.
As it turns out that medication didn’t do the trick – I felt worse, actually.
But the next pair of meds, one for anxiety and one for depression, once the dosing was sorted out and I became de-zombie-fied, began to work amazing changes over time. True, I was diagnosed with lupus just about then, an auto-immune disorder in which the body attacks itself, and collected a new doctor (a rheumatologist) and a new medicine (which I can now pronounce but still can’t spell). Did the lurking lupus cause the depression (it can) or was the depression the lupus’ evil twin or were they accidental companions in my haywire neurology? No idea. Did genetics cause the lupus/depression or the environment or stress or some wacko virus? No idea.
39 minutes to go.
The lupus kicked my ass for months, leaving my brain feeling like it was one fire, me in bed in the afternoon with a compress over my eyes in darkness with my rescue kitten for company (*note: not the current little cutie pie one, but the one who went from near death-totally-sick-with-everything-imaginable to a year-old cat I call Sasquatch – who still loves me). The lupus kicked my ass and then one day, it didn’t. The blood tests indicated the disease was becoming less active. The swelling in my thumb knuckle disappeared. I went six months without crying. I found that I could sing again. I stopped caring about how the glasses were arranged in the cabinet (well, mostly stopped caring.)
This poem was me pre-shrink, pre-meds and before things got really bad:
I forgot the sound of my own laughter
I forgot the sound of my own laughter,
not my name or how to tie my shoes.
Not so bad, I figure, but it would be nice
unless it sounds like a braying ass or something else ridiculous
I forgot the sound of my own laughter like forgetting yesterday
which would be OK if today offered something to hold onto,
even a smile not forced, not faked.
Could you remember for me,
being gentle, what it was like?
Do not remind me that I have forgotten before.
I remember that person, the one who wrote that and hated mirrors and could never imagine being happy or embracing a joy-filled future. Therapy, medication, life changes, prayer, God, my kitten(s), family, true friendships, hobbies, the kitchen sink, throw it all in there; by some order of miracle I am not that person any more. And I am not nearly as afraid of becoming that person again. Not nearly, but nor is that fear gone completely. Let’s just say that I have a healthy attitude about it and leave it at that.
I laugh. More in a day than in a year. More in a week than in a decade.
So am I some perfect form of myself? Maximum me?
Let me disabuse you of that notion. I still get anxious. I still can get in my head and walk that treadmill where nothing seems to move forward. Big complicated projects or a series of them can raise the background stress to uncomfortable levels. I still have moments of profound doubt about things that I am actually good at, but on a good day I might even admit publically that there are things I do well. Progress is still progress and compared to a year ago, I am so much more healthy it boggles my mind.
So happy birthday to me. May the second fifty years be healthier and more full of laughter. But two things, at least, remain the same: That God is for me. And my wife loves me. And that is more than enough for me.