These things take time. I’m fine for a few days, a couple of weeks, two odd years, three even. Then one day I come undone, and start all over again.
“I don’t feel my laughter inside anymore…so what do I do? I keep going back n forth, ‘cos I know I have felt it before, I’ve heard it before, and it’s part of me. It is me. And once this tunnel is past, I’ll hear it again, ‘cos it was never gone. Not for one second…”
That was my friend’s status on face book the other day and it felt like she was yanking the words from my mouth before I could even form the thoughts.
I was in that place again. Sometimes, it’s as simple as feeling like I’m sitting on the side-lines, watching life flow by, not exactly sad or anything like that, but neither happy nor joyful or live. At the other extreme, it’s like having this deep dark empty hole, like having this intangible entity in your head, all around you, sucking you in from the outside in and the inside out, it’s like having spiders crawling around in your head. Sometimes it’s this inexplicable desperation, this deep sad you can’t explain, it’s like looking out from a shattered mirror and all you see is a distorted reality. Sometimes, I feel like I totally understand what J.K Rowling was trying to describe when she came up with the idea of Dementors that suck the soul out of you. I have my good days too, my almost manically happy days that just like their sad counterparts, I really can’t explain. The only cloud that seems to hang over those blissfully happy days is the thought that I’ll eventually come down from the high and the crash is usually as bad as the good-feel high was.
I have often wondered if I was crazy (I probably am) or if there was something I was doing wrong because I look at everyone else around me and they all seem so normal, they all seem to have it all together in ways that I can’t seem to be able to. It made me wonder if, just if, everyone else was faking it, I mean, how do you manage not to get swallowed up by that intangible entity in your head? How do you stay sane every single day? How do you balance things out instead of living on the extremes?
Then my friend’s Facebook status goes,
“maybe they just think or hope that if they laughed longer or harder, it’ll banish all the sad from their lives… or maybe they just know something we don’t!”
So I ask myself, what could they possibly know? I wonder if we could trade our muddy spectacles for their rose-tinted ones so we could see the world as they do, see the magic they see, feel it, live it…
I remember quite vividly the first time I experienced a mood swing (at least, it’s the first episode I remember) and I was five. I remember playing with my sister one minute and the next feeling this overwhelming sadness and the need to cry and hide away from everyone. I’m not exactly sure of what triggered it, if anything, or why it started out at all but I know I’ve lived with it off and on for the last twenty some years. I’ve heard studies show that in a lot of cases, a traumatic experience could be a trigger. I have rather traumatic memories of sexual abuse also from the year I was five (what I can’t really remember is which came first, the abuse or the episode). Well, that offers me some hope because it means whatever this thing is, there’s a chance it’s not hereditary and my little girl will stand a chance of living her life whole…
I know that naturally, when we go through some life altering situations like the death of a loved one, the breakdown of an important relationship or the loss of a job, we might experience some depression to varying degrees. What I can’t explain is the unravelling that happens just because. It’s the nothing-ness that just comes for seemingly no reason. It is having twice as much difficulty getting over these life-altering occurrences as everyone else seems to. It’s getting weepy for absolutely no reason at all and being unable to stop the crying. It is living on that edge, knowing you don’t have the strength to be strong, wishing you didn’t have to have to be strong. It’s walking on this road that seems too long, thinking you don’t want to go on, thinking you can’t. It’s thinking you’ve finally gotten a grasp of this horrible thing in your head, only to circle back to the place where you don’t understand a thing. It’s the weariness that comes with fighting the same battle every day and the defeat of giving up on waiting for the day you’ll be fine, realizing it may never come, realizing ‘this really is me’. It is catching yourself thinking about doing it yet again, wondering how you’re meant to do it: right across or a thin straight line down the middle. It is trying to stop the hurting in your head and your mind and wondering why you didn’t just get it over and done with, why you didn’t just put an end to it because you’re going crazy with desperation and all you can think is please, please, Dear God please just let it stop. It is wishing you didn’t have to have to do it. It is the mind numbing fear that you might actually do it one of these days, tumble over that thin line you’ve been threading for much too long into nothingness, a week or a year or ten years from now.
That seemingly ordinary Saturday in October was one of those unravelling days for me. It’s like a wool sweater unravelling from the hem, up until the breast pocket, but not all the way. I still have the wool all around me, in swirly whorls, waiting for me to un-undone it. It was one of those days that the sweater unexpectedly got snagged on something – a nail, a sharp table edge, a memory, a song maybe, – you never really know what exactly it is – and I came undone. It didn’t make sense really.
It was the same day that I completed a Book that I’d been working on for a really long time. This was huge for me, it’s my first complete book project and I’d been working like crazy the last few months, working a full time job, weaving this intricate plot, seeing things through the characters’ eyes, laughing at silly things they were thinking, bonding with them, feeling their rush of adrenaline as they meandered through the plot, I had done tons of research (I became lawyer, marks man, Jason Bourne, gyno, ballistics expert and even Ismaila the mechanic all rolled up in one), scouring the internet (if there’s some secret service agent monitoring my browsing history ehn, they wee soon send a SWAT team to my house), writing every opportunity I could get, editing, writing some more and putting everything into the project. The writing process was a truly magical time for me and at the point that I finished, I should have been ecstatic, I should have been on a high, I should have been popping the champagne, I should have been doing cartwheels! Instead, all I felt was this deep, crushing depression.
This wasn’t just a case of exhaustion, it was like being thrown into a vacuum with the flick of a switch, it was like taking a next step and just tumbling into nothingness without warning, it was like everything you have been, just ceasing to exist in a split second. I spent the weekend crying and almost unable to get out of bed. I just didn’t get it, I still don’t.
Even now, I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back to the finished book, not to read or do the editing or anything. I wish I understood why at least, it would make not knowing what to do about it a little easier to handle. I got unravelled inexplicably, but I didn’t go all the way. That’s something, I think. It gets better. Next time, maybe the sweater will stop at the bottom pocket. Or maybe just around the middle. It does get better, until one day I wake up and maybe realize I’m all fine and this too has gone away. I’ll wake up and not be so tired and weary.
In my twenty eight on-again off-again (I’ve had my good times, I even went sober for about two years at some point without even a little ‘sad’ episode) years of living with it, I’ve discovered some things that help with handling it. One is music. I really can’t describe how worship soothes my mind when I have an episode. It’s not how you would imagine it, not like break out the Tranquillity playlist and poof, it’s gone. It’s a little hard to describe, maybe quite like the saying that peace isn’t the absence of trouble or storms but finding your calm within the storm, something like that. God bless Hilsong United, they’ve been my go-to fix of late, especially the acoustic versions of their Empires and Of Dirt and Grace Albums.
Writing has always been therapeutic for me and it helps to just write out what and how I’m feeling, pour it all out, like bleeding out the poison from my veins. Sometimes, I don’t even necessarily have to write what I’m feeling. Writing almost anything at all helps. Sometimes I write these long, incoherent letters to God (these help because, call me unspiritual if you like, but these are the times that it’s hardest to pray the words, so writing God long crazy letters are my way of talking to Him in these crazy times. These are times when it’s so dark in my head that the notion of God loving me seems ludicrous at best. It feels more like a cruel mockery on some really bad days and on others, I’m absolutely sure He must hate and loath me). Sometimes I write the long crazy incoherent letters to myself or maybe even a good story. Writing just about anything helps and I’m almost always happy when I’m writing.
I’ve kept journals over the years and this might sound counter-productive but writing down all the bad actually helps me look back and see how far I’ve come and how well I’ve done. For me, it’s like writing down your prayer points and then looking back over them and seeing how God has answered them over the years. (If it still doesn’t make sense, remember that these are the confessions of a mad woman, so go figure).
Sometimes, my therapy is losing myself in a book. If I can just pick something up to read, it’ll help me forget my present twisted reality for a while. So, whether I’m writing it or reading it, a good story usually soothes me.
One thing that I’ve found invaluable is my support system; that is people who to an extent know about it and who I usually talk to about what I’m feeling or going through. I see them quite like an Alcoholic’s sponsor. Having a support system is an amazing thing, it helps you share a tiny bit of that burden and it keeps you accountable, sort of. Unfortunately, I have found out that getting that support is one of the hardest things, especially in our culture where it’s almost taboo to even mention anything relating to mental health issues, not to talk of coming out of the closet and saying you’ve got them issue thingies. It’s just not done. We’re all sane, strong, healthy people, God forbid that we’re associated with any such thing! And the Christian community, I’m afraid to say, is even worse. I’ve found it harder to talk to Christians about it than I have other people. Even when I do get to talk to my Christian friends, it’s usually in a ‘non-Christian’ setting.
People have implied (and even said outright) that I’m definitely not really saved or filled with the Holy Spirit if I have mental health issues and at some point, it started me doubting my salvation and everything I know and believe too. Someone’s said to me once “How can you call yourself a Christian and be saying you’re depressed?” This someone (who until that point had been an important part of my life) cut me off totally because he couldn’t handle it and couldn’t imagine what people would think (his words) if they knew I was struggling with depression.
Immediately you even start to say the ‘D’ word, people start to scabbash and bind and cast and I’ve often been left wondering if I’m the evil spirit that is so repugnant to them. We Christians are quicker to judge and slap labels on things we don’t understand. It’s easier than trying to explain how it fits into our ideals of God and Christianity and most times, people with mental health issues do not really feel like there’s a place for them within the fold (okay, maybe I’m speaking for just myself here, but this is from painful experience) so we try to fit in, we try to fix our un-normalness, try to fake it until we make it, but believe me, that might work everywhere else but when it comes to the mad in your head, it just doesn’t!
It’s been extremely hard getting a support system going and I’m ashamed to say that I’m still in the closet to a large extent (who am I kidding? I’m in the closet in the closet!) and I doubt that the few friends in my support system even know just how bad I have it.
I remember my mum once catching me reading a book by Tim LaHaye, ‘Overcoming Depression’ and the alarmed look that came on her face as she asked me why I was reading such a book. I looked at the fear and terror written all over her face and I knew I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, I couldn’t do that to her, couldn’t do it to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to share this with her, my mother. I’m not totally sure of what I was more afraid of; breaking her heart and shattering the picture perfect illusion she has about our lives (I mean, where do I start from? The abuse from all those years ago? The crazy episodes and the baggage they bring? My lowest, ugliest moments?) or making myself vulnerable, opening up my deepest, most painful wounds? Maybe deep down, I was just terrified that I would see that look of revulsion and repugnance on her face as well, that look that said I was damaged and broken, that look that said I was weak and weird and crazy and didn’t fit in. Irrational maybe, but well, that fear was there as it has always been and I took the coward’s way out and told her some dumb story about how it was just a Christian book that I’d picked up at the book store in Church. Coward!
Believe me, it gets really emotionally draining trying to make people understand, dealing with the judgement, especially that which you know isn’t coming from a spiteful place, that which comes from a place of love (and getting over that rejection in itself is usually a trigger for an episode, so it’s just way easier to avoid it). People tell you to snap out of it and stop being such a cry baby, and oh, how I’ve tried! I wish more than anything else that it was that simple. I am going to have this published anonymously (if it ever gets published that is!) because a huge part of me is still very afraid and wary. I’ve learned that no matter how understanding or forward-thinking we think we have become, biases still run deep in our DNA and it’s hard to let go of notions and ideas that have been ingrained in our thinking. I know just how fickle and fleeting acceptance usually is. I’ve seen the unveiled derision, I’ve watched the walls go up as soon as people know. I’ve watched well-meaning people flounder and stumble, trying not to show how uncomfortable they are with being uncomfortable with my damagedness, how they try not to make too much of it and then wonder if they’re making too little of it. You know that whether they judge you or just feel sorry for you, it will still distance them from you, you’ll still be different.
Then, there’s the resentment that creeps in from handling all that judgement and snobbery and misunderstanding, and in a way, I’m starting to pass judgement of my own on people for not understanding (the irony, eh?). It’s a constant, conscious fight not to let these other negative emotions in and not to take the path of offense (see? This thing messes with you on so many levels).
I must confess that in recent times, I’ve sub-consciously started to pull away from my support system as well because a part of me just wonders if, you know, even they are getting tired of my wahala because me sef I have tire. I find myself wondering, what if they’ve had just about enough of these bouts of crying for nothing and the long winding conversations that seem to make no sense. I wonder if they just might think I’m just a spoilt brat seeking attention. Sometimes I wonder if my burden is getting too heavy for them to carry and if it’s starting to drain them as well (kai, sometimes, I worry for the sanity of my Therapist, the things I have told her ehn!). An irrational part of me wants so much to be perfect for them, I want them to see me as whole and healthy and smart and inspiring and intelligent, not the broken toy who constantly needs their help. I want to be giving and adding value to people’s lives, not just needing and taking all the time. I’m trying to work on this but it’s hard because again, those notions and ideas that have been ingrained into our minds by our culture and society.
This road can be a very cold and lonely one to walk. I’ll never ever take for granted the power of someone just being there with their love, even when (maybe especially when) they don’t really understand what you’re going through. Sometimes it’s all that’s needed and it makes a whole world of difference, just knowing you’re still accepted despite everything. It makes the fight easier to fight. Sometimes, it’s absolutely everything because it just might be the reason someone walks away from the edge.
Another thing that keeps me off that line is remembering, even in my deepest, darkest moments, the things that matter, the things that are worth the fight. I remember during my last episode, trying desperately to hold on to something, anything just to keep my sanity. I remember starting up two lists, one for the reasons I just wanted it all to stop, reasons why I needed this overwhelming hurt in my head to end, this was my aye list for silencing the screaming in my head, getting away from that intangible entity that’s sucking the essence out of me once and for all, reasons why I had to end to it all. I do not write this lightly and I know how hard it must be for anyone reading this to understand why anyone would have the audacity or the state of mind to make such a seemingly selfish and self-absorbed decision or to even think of it. I doubt I can adequately put to words or paint a picture of the reality of such a state of mind or how totally you can get pushed over the edge or all the muddling that’s going on in your head and mind. I really can’t. But I’ll say this: it takes more than strength or will power or even a moral or religious code to walk back from that edge each and every time (at least for me).
So, after I finished my aye list, I started out on my nay list and the first thing that came to my mind was my nephews. One of them turns ten in January and I recently started up a project to write him a book for his milestone birthday (he’s already an avid reader too) and in that moment, I burst into tears and became overwhelmed with all these emotions and memories and the elaborate plans for his birthday and the letters we write each other back and forth and the silly things he does and says and the storyline I’ve been working on for his book and how we love to read together and how he tells me stuff that he’s read and how naughty he can get and….that brought me back from the edge. I abandoned my lists and I knew I had to fight one more day, just one more day this time because I just couldn’t afford to give up, not just yet…
Well, it’s been a journey. It’s been twenty eight years since that first day I ran and hid in my mother’s wardrobe and I’ve learned a few things here and there. I made a conscious decision to have a relationship with God when I was about nine and I know my faith has been at the core of my still being – well, – being. In Taya Smith’s voice, my Soul knows well You’re here. Even in the middle of the broken glass shards that is sometimes my mind, He’s always right in there, getting cut and ripped along with me. In the midst of the spiders crawling around the corners of my mind, He’s there, holding me through the worst and the best of it (hey, I have my good/sane/normal days when I’m just the girl next door!). And I know that if while I’m in this broken, damaged body, I never get to be rid of this thing, I can draw comfort from knowing that He’ll always be right here in my crazy head, through the times that I’m aware of Him and the ones that I’m too far lost to even feel Him. I know (even in the times that my circumstances say otherwise) that He’ll always be right there with me, every single time I walk on that awful edge, every time I sit on that thin line, wondering if I should simply silence the roaring, end the emotional torture, He’ll be there through each one and whether it’s a week or a year or ten years from now, He’ll be there through each one until maybe one day, the edge becomes a distant, fuzzy memory too. Through it all, I can say “Even when I have no song, even when the fight seems lost, even when it hurts like hell, even when it makes no sense to sing…” I know that His love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war. I’m taking comfort from the fact that if one day, the wool sweater gets unravelled all the way and I have no idea how to put me back together again, He’ll be there to make sense of the mess and maybe He’ll even decide to make something entirely different from the wool…who says I always have to be a sweater!
And oh, if there’s anyone reading this who is crazy just like me, please know that it does get better, just hang in there…