Even With Depression; I Want a Greedy Life
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
I began this year screaming.
New Year’s Day; Minor, my boyfriend, had been standing on the balcony of our hotel room, admiring the vista of snow-capped Colorado Mountains when I started screaming from a dead sleep.
“Why don’t you just KILL ME???!!!”
Minor said it was the loudest he had ever heard my voice when he shook me awake. I burst into tears—in the dream I had just been having, I was begging my mother to kill me.
I’ve always had dreams of dying, from childhood to the present day. I live with major depressive disorder, dysthymia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and mixed connective tissue disease. I take an assortment of medications, some to ease the slow burn of my auto-immune disease, the others to keep my mind in check. I see things from the corner of my eye, I jump at loud noises, I fall into deep crying jags and death is constantly in my thoughts.
I was diagnosed with major depression back in my early teens. I’m sure it was there earlier, but I never thought I was actually depressed. I just felt vacant. I hated crying, I hated showing fear or any emotion. I am the middle girl in a family of six. My mother and father are good people, they tried their best, but their relationship was extremely dysfunctional. I grew up jumping into their fights. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just a kid. I just wanted to shift the focus, the rage my father had, onto someone else. I convinced myself that I was tough, that I could go toe-to-toe with a man desperately trying to outrun his own demons. I made it a point never to cry in front of him, no matter how bad it got. Like I said before, I hated crying, I wanted to be strong. Crying and emotions were a sign of weakness to me, so instead of allowing myself to experience these feelings, I blunted them down to almost non-existence. This became my “normal,” and it was better to be numb than hurt.
I was taken to get help when I was fifteen. By that time, one of my best friends had attempted suicide and my father was being eaten alive by his own substance abuse and anger issues. Looking back on my first encounter with mental health professional, it was a more of a curiosity than anything else. I filled out a form on how I felt and I was assigned a psychiatrist. Strangely enough, the building was in the same complex my friend had been detained on an involuntary psychiatric hold. I have never attempted suicide, but I have been to various psychiatric facilities to visit friends and relatives being held under observation I liked talking to the doctor but I hated the medication. I felt nothing and I assumed it didn’t work on me, so I quit taking it. I never told anyone what I did, not the doctors, not even my poor mother. The prescriptions kept getting filled and I had a collection of pills that I would sometimes give my father when he ran out of his own anti-depressants. I come from such a long line of addicts and mental illness runs wild in our blood. I didn’t want to rely on pills. I got used to being numb and that was my life for years.
When I entered my late twenties, everything shifted. I went from feeling nothing to feeling everything. I fell into deep depressive episodes that never seemed to end. I cried everywhere and I couldn’t shake it, I called crisis hotlines, I joined a support group, I went to Nar-Anon, I tried a therapist. I went looking for something, anything to try to treat the depression on my own. The thoughts of dying intensified when I started experiencing the symptoms of my auto-immune disorder. Mixed connective tissue disease has the same characteristics of Lupus, so I burn with fever during a flare-up. When I am having a flare-up, I’m convinced I will burn and die in my sleep. The fear and anxiety and depression dropped me to my knees and after fifteen years of trying to get better on my own, I had failed.
The first visit to the psychiatrist was hard. He’s a wonderful doctor, very kind and open, but I cried the entire time and begged him not to put me on pills. I told him I was so afraid of becoming an addict, that I didn’t want anyone to know I was on medication. I felt so ashamed I couldn’t hack it at life; that I ended up in the same place I started, but in worse condition. Nothing I had done worked for me. I was a mess, I felt everything and it hurt so much. My doctor walked me through the process. He assured me that the medication was non-habit forming and we started off on the lowest dose….
Four years later and I am almost at the maximum dosage. I still have the same job, but I don’t run to the restroom to cry or sob at my desk like I used to. I’m still scaring Minor with the dreams, they’re not as frequent, but he still stands watch until I fall back asleep. I feel like I’m becoming someone better, but my mind still wanders. I could be driving and I imagine drifting over into oncoming traffic, or slamming into the center divider on the freeway. How do I explain that, despite the medication, I picture myself dying almost every day? That I wake up with tears in my eyes from the constant dreams of death, that I still see things crawling around from the corner of my eye? I used to hope I would be cured after treatment. That I wouldn’t be depressed forever, just until I got treatment.
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The hardest part of having mental health challenges is accepting the fact that it is a permanent part of your life. You can manage it, you can treat it but, in my case, you can’t cure it. Accepting medication has been the hardest part of my recovery. There’s a dark part of my mind that seduces me into thinking that, since I am doing so well managing my depression, I can skip my pills for a day or two, or three. The even darker part of my mind wants to! I want to be normal. I want to be able to sit with my family or even Minor’s family during breakfast and not have to toss back a handful of pills. I want to go out and not worry about eating enough first thing in the morning so that the pills stay down. I want to be normal and it disgusts me that my entire day is dictated by these pills. The consequences of my actions always hit hard and every time I do this, I ask myself, “Why? Why do I keep doing this to myself knowing how much it will hurt?” The answer is always the same, “because, even if it was for a short while, I felt normal.”
I tend to mess around with my medication when I’m off work. Minor and I had run off to New Jersey last summer, I’m a born and bred LA Woman, but I do love the east coast. I never went away before we met but since then, we have wandered the states together and I love him for it. But last summer, I had an episode that scared me more than any of the dreams or thoughts ever had. I volunteered to drive us back from New York, it’s about a two-hour drive. As soon as Minor hit the seat, he knocked out. I had only been driving for maybe half an hour, the stretch of highway seemed endless. There were no buildings, no lights, and since it was so late, no other cars. The further I drove, the more I thought of crashing the car. How easily I could drive straight into the wall instead of following the curve. Minor slept on and on as something uglier crept into my mind. What if I crashed the car miles ago and I’m already dead? I pictured our car on the shoulder, hood crushed and smoking. I kept checking all the mirrors to see if there was a burning car behind us, I rolled down the windows to smell the air for acrid smoke and burning fuel. I started thinking maybe I died years ago and I just didn’t know it. I looked over at Minor, sound asleep and an even darker thought crept in-did he die too when I crashed the car?
Maybe I did die and I barely realized it, how long have I been driving? Years? I kept looking over at Minor, I want to shake him awake and ask if we’re dead, but what if he isn’t supposed to know? What if he’s meant to sleep forever and the reason why I’m awake is because I’m being punished for crashing the car? Does my family even know I’m dead? I am so near tears at this point. I can’t bring myself to wake him up, I want him to wake up on his own. If he is supposed to stay asleep, I don’t want to be the one to wake him.
Maybe I should try to get out of the car, if this is hell and I’m dead, I shouldn’t be able to get out of the car. It’s too dangerous, even if there aren’t any other cars on the road. I tell myself to hold my shit together and keep driving, eventually I’ll see other cars, and eventually I’ll be able to get out of this fucking car. If I can make it back to New Jersey and get out of the car; that means I’m not dead….no one’s dead.
When I tell my story, I try to make a joke out of it, my brother and sister have affectionately learned to kid along with me. Quietly and privately, though, I am so very disturbed how close I was to screaming and crying-to yanking Minor out of a dead sleep and begging him to assure me that we didn’t die-to standing on the side of the Parkway in the middle of the night to prove whether or not I was dead. It scares me that my mind would take me to such a dark place and I’m disgusted that I am still like this. That despite medication, I am still having these thoughts of death. And there’s a new insidious thought-am I going to completely lose my mind? I’ve dreamt of it, crying and dreading the inevitable. In these dreams, insanity is not a matter of if, but when. It scares me so much that insanity may be one possible future.
I write everything down, the dreams and the incidents, I’ve kept a record of my mental health. The entries most always have some type of plea in them. “Please don’t let me be losing my mind-please let the headaches stop-please,” and “I’m scared-I’m so scared I am going to lose my mind.” I know I need to be regulated and I know I have to work harder at keeping myself together. I was so disappointed and sad when my doctor said I would probably need medication for the rest of my life, that these are conditions that are managed rather than cured. I understood and I accepted it, but it really hurts to know I’ll never be cured. My mind reminds me why I need medication, sometimes it’s something small. Sometimes it is something horrible and huge, like the Parkway incident…
Two Victoria’s exist, there’s the pleading, sobbing, writhing creature that depression and anxiety creates and there’s the Victoria I have just begun in treatment. I know what it’s like to just survive. What I want now is to thrive. If there is anything I’m sure of, it’s my endurance. I lived untreated for so long, happiness seemed brief and intangible. The possibility I can actually live and be happy is absolutely intoxicating. I want so much of this life, I want every ounce, every minute of it. I want to be greedy with life.