Thursday, March 7, 2019

This Isn't Fine


In January, while combing through years of archives, I noticed that I had written more openly and frequently about my mental health in the earlier days of this blog than I have in more recent times.  This isn't to say that I have undergone a miraculous biochemical bootstrapping and have fought my way back from the emotional hinterlands.

Quite the contrary.

The past few years have been very difficult . . . even if my digital presence and day-to-day life seemed to paint a different picture.  Like the happy-go-lucky dog in the meme, sipping his cup of coffee while surrounded by flames, I subordinate or just plain ignore difficult emotional situations.  Until I can't.  Save the odd nihilistic social media post here or a claim to be "screaming on the inside" accompanied by a sfumato smile there, I find it difficult to communicate my feelings to others. It's all very Irish-American of me: cloak my feelings in dark humor or just angrily deny their existence.  Really, I can't fault anyone for failing to notice that I feel miserable fairly regularly-- I make a damn good joke about depression, after all.

But, here's the thing: I'm not okay.

Many behavioral health professionals demure when asked by their clients to "label"  them with a diagnosis.  While this has historically been true of my clinicians, I am generally categorized as having anxiety and depression.  Both are chronic health conditions that have run in my family for generations.  This genetic predisposition to mood disorders has been exacerbated by challenging circumstances.  I do not remember a time when "not okay" wasn't my default emotional setting.

Yet, despite my challenges, I am very lucky: I have almost always had empathetic clinicians who have listened to me and helped me manage my care, even when I haven't been in a state to do so myself; I have quality health insurance, and I take medication to (mostly) stabilize my condition.  I fully recognize that my neurodiversity is privileged, but that doesn't mean I am okay.

I'm functional. I'm not okay.

I'm only on speaking terms with one relative (my mom, who's great and whom I am very close to) and I don't have a wide social network beyond a few work friends and my partner (who is also great and my best friend, to boot).  But, the people I am closest too have their own burdens to bare and I am reticent to lean on them during my low points.  So, I keep most of what I am feeling to myself: I hibernate,  I zone out on my phone, I get hyper-focused on work,  I read (when I can focus),  and I generally I do what I can to distract myself from how miserable I feel.

The problem with the "distraction defense" is that, sooner or later, your sublimated emotions will reorganize and manifest themselves.  Each time they return, it harder and harder to recalibrate and maintain the appearance of normalcy.

Over the past three years, I have lost three beloved four-legged companions to sudden and aggressive diseases.  Despite vigilance, proactive measures, and seeking the best treatment available, I was powerless to stop the progression of their fatal illnesses.  That sense of powerlessness is hard to bear.

No matter what some [terrible people] might say, pets are treasured members of your family and I would have been equipped to lose human family members, who-- save for one-- I do not have a relationship with-- than to have lost my furry companions.  I could make peace with the loss of someone who never cared for me; but the loss of the unconditionally loving of fur-son, multiple times over, in a short period of time, is completely intolerable.

To complicate matters, these losses have occurred while other areas of my life have been in chaos.  For the past few years, I have struggled with chronic pain (the sources of which I am still working with doctors to pinpoint); have tried to mediate the needs of my close group of loved ones who have all been struggling in their own ways; have worked two jobs; and have taken classes on the side to keep myself "intellectually busy."  By the end of the day, I am so consumed by mediating other's feelings and needs, and distracting myself from my own, that I am completely empty.

So, where does this leave me now?

My birthday is next week.  I'm in my mid-thirties.  I really should have some aspect of life figured out, but I do not.  I make small plans for the future in the hope that I am able to stumble my way towards them, to add some dimension to what feels like an amorphous existence.

I'll try to get healthier.  I'll try to keep moving forward.  For now, I'll try.