My mind is an asshole.
I know this. I have known this since I tried to take my life at age 12. I have stepped up and actually dealt with this since I was 19. And yet, somehow it still manages to surprise me with this truth. Over and over again.
Last Saturday, I experienced one of the worst depressive crashes I have had in years. The degree of depression hearkened back to when I had no idea what was going on in my brain in my late teens or when I was learning how to deal with my bipolar in my early twenties or when I was in Iraq a decade ago.
Years ago, I seemed to figure out how to live with my bipolar, how to balance my life and my mind. It took several therapists, years of experimentation and failure. Finally, with a combination of behavior cognitive processing approaches, an amazing support system, a solid routine, and a high amount of exercise, I seemed to find a way to ride the waves, to level out the sea a bit. It has never been a cure, but it has been pretty effective adaptation.
So effective that I had largely forgot to depths my mind could drop to and what it was like to be raw and unfiltered.
Saturday reminded me. After a night writhing in hip pain on the couch, the depression overwhelmed me from below my exhaustion. It weighed down on me to a heavy and paralytic level I had not experienced in so long. I lay on the couch simply weeping for a couple hours. My husband attempted to counsel me, but I didn’t have words, and I did not want to make eye contact.
My husband has been with me through all stages of this journey. He met me when I was a teenager who was cutting and burning herself. We were friends and casual partners when I was lost and self-destructive. We began our actual relationship after I started dealing with what I am. He was who I came home to after Iraq. He has been with me for half of my life, which has included most of my struggles and traumas. He has seen me that low; he knows the patterns.
He dragged me off the couch, put me in my running clothes, and gently guided me out the front door. Even as I protested that I just didn’t want to through tears. He knew I needed to.
So I ran. Through the crippling pain in my hip and in my head. It took a full mile to be able to make full strides with my leg. It took a second mile to feel like I was actually running. But by the third and fourth miles, I was able to float, to lose myself in the run, to not be in me.
The run helped. It didn’t cure me of the depressive episode; it never does. But it did elevate me out of the dark waters so that I was no longer drowning. I was simply numb. I was still struggling to engage, make eye contact, form thoughts that could be turned into speech. I had zero appetite. Food tasted like sand, but I needed to eat in order to drink a Monster energy drink (my long-time bipolar hack).
The Monster helped. It usually does. It lifted me another level out of the darkness. I could finally interact with people again, which was helpful since I had a baby shower to attend. I was functional enough to help host the party and engage with people, all while being completely honest about how I was feeling and what was happening but without stealing the attention. Interaction with people helped too, helped pull me out of myself.
I made it through the cycle. My husband, running, Monster, and my dear friends substantially abbreviated the episode. But the crash revealed what I was really worried about with my upcoming surgery.
I wasn’t really concerned about the medical procedure or the pain. Sure, those are always worries when going under for surgery. However, the real fear, the true anxiety was the idea of losing my balance, not having access to my crutch. I would survive the surgery. I would get through the pain. My body would heal. The prospect of dealing with my bipolar, my mind unfiltered and unmitigated for six weeks is what truly worried me.
I know that 2-3 days without any exercise cause me to cycle. Nothing like the epic crash of Sunday but depression nonetheless. I know that pain and sickness cause me to cycle. This hip injury has been doing that to me for two and a half years. So the idea of being in pain and unable to reset my brain chemistry was somewhat terrifying.
In the end, I’m not scared of surgery or pain; I’m scared of myself. My crash on Saturday reminded me of what I still am and what I might be facing after surgery.
Logically, I know I’ll be fine. This too shall pass. All of that. However, fearing and avoiding facing the full monster inside me is no different that flinching away from a stove after having been burned before. It’s an instinctual avoidance of pain. Getting a taste of that darkness clarified my anxiety. Yet, as terrible as the sample was, it did pass, and that reminded me that even the lowest depression is only temporary.
I’m sure it will be less than I fear; it usually is. Fear is distortion. I know what I need to deal with on the other side of the anesthesia and am being proactive about redirecting my energy during my recovery.
(Note: I could not find the artists for the images in this post. If you are or know the artist, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)