Monday, July 4, 2011
Depression and Self Repression... (my love-hate relationship with the wonder drugs of today)
First of all – I hate the phrase wonder drug – knowing what I know now, it bothers me on such a deep level that advertisements on TV and Radio for the latest sure fire cure leaves me with a nauseous feeling in my stomach that sometimes takes hours to go away.
Of course it would be completely unfair of me to whine about the overuse and misuse of drugs if I could not offer up a story to explain my distaste for chemical cures so yet again I will reach back a bit in time and pull a few interesting experiences from my ‘been there, done that’ repertoire. I can only ask that you bear with me a little, these memories are old news to me, though for some of you they may come as a shock, please know that they cause me no pain as I have with time come to a more clear understanding of why. In short, don’t you dare feel sorry for me for having gone through what I have gone through – I certainly do not feel sorry for myself and my closest friends will tell you there is a certain level of appreciation and gratitude for these experiences as they have allowed me a very up close and personal look into the lives of those who have suffered loss.
I’m an orphan, but not in the sense that most people would use the word. I did grow up with parents, although one of them was not my blood father. Nonetheless he was my best friend and if a lady has to lose her real father at the young age of 3 there is no better man that I can think of to step up to the challenge of raising a child that is not his own. When I say I am an orphan it is because in my 35 yrs of living I have managed to outlive every single one of my close relatives and given that I got lucky enough to have two dads that means 6 grandparents, 3 parents, and one God-Mother. I could also count the aunts, uncles, cousins and such but we would be here all day; the point of all of this is not to brag about how many funerals I have been to but rather to share a very odd fact with all of you before moving on. From the year of my birth, until this year at least once a year I have had the challenging task of coming to terms with the death of either a family member or a friend. Some years have been worse than others, some have been better but always it is that I lose at least one... So how do you cope? For years I had no idea, for years I had no idea how to deal with this being my reality, for years I struggled to maintain some kind of perspective on this strange life I was living and for years I inevitably ended up going through some kind of crisis that required at least from the Doctor’s perspective some kind of medication based intervention.
So I am thinking to run through a few of the highlights and you will see a common vein of untruth until we get to the end and the birth of my first novel. At 16 I was in a car accident with my God-mother who was also very close to what I would have at the time called a best friend. She was driving a little too fast in snow, lost control and I never got to speak to her again. Shortly after her funeral the doctor discovered I had developed some ulcers which he related to stress; his solution was a combination of a change of diet and anti-depressants; there began my first real experience with masking the problem. Thankfully there were other contributing factors to my emotional state of being and as a result of those I left home, got my own place and could no longer afford the meds. In a very short time my life was back on track, I had an awesome roommate, a great boyfriend, I was holding down two jobs and was finishing school; all of which I was doing medication free and loving it. Looking back now I find it funny that at the time I never realized the connection.
Fast forward to my married life and the misery that was mine as I opted to shove my dreams aside to be a writer so I could work full time, pay the bills and thereby allow my husband at the time to pursue his goal to work in radio. That was a six year run of being medicated on and off at the advice of my doctor who thought that my unhappiness was due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. He did try at one point to go down the bi-polar road but the medication he gave me had near disastrous results as I no longer wished to do anything including feeding my own child. He had come to this glorious conclusion due to my radical swings in mood and my inability to accept that the world was a black and white scenario; even then I saw something more but had no idea how to reach out to it or who to ask for help to find it. Eventually he came back around to simple depression being the cause and I bought the notion of course because the meds made it all that much easier to deal with all the other stuff that life was throwing at me so I dutifully took my pills and kept trying to be the good wife. Eventually of course that failed as it was against my spirits wishes to live that way and in time I could no longer contain my distaste for our materialistic shallow life. I stopped the meds, and by the end of the year was working my way to a divorce, separation papers in hand, and happy to have survived the emotional turmoil.
Fast forward again to the following year and in quick succession my father in law passed away, the divorce was final, my parents became ill, I lost my job because I went to care for them, in time they passed away and I found myself once again back at the doctors who again suggested I take more pills. Nobody bothered to come forward with any kind of alternate solution, and given that my parents had passed away a day apart, both from natural causes, in two different cities, in two different hospitals I can only assume that people pretty much figured I had every right to be devastated. At the time I was trying my best to cope, being a mom I felt it was my responsibility to hold it together, so I did what I had to do to get my head on straight. A few weeks of emotional dumbing down and I was ready to go back to living a sudo-normal life so I tried to go back to school for auto-mechanics but was pulled close to graduation due to a fractured spine. It had taken the doctor 6 months (all of which I was in school working on cars) to diagnose the spine because initially he thought my back pain was caused by depression and had put me on more meds, he figured maybe I had tried to go back to school too soon and was not yet able to cope. I tried to tell him I was in pain and he kept telling me it was connected to my emotional state. When he did finally do the x-ray he was a bit worried at the lumps they found on my spine which turned out to be two herniated discs that had developed as a direct result of me not resting my injured spine. On a good note, it was a compression fracture and the break at least had healed just fine so I had one thing to be grateful for; my back was no longer broken but after a few more months of pain from the herniated discs, my sprit was. I gave in, gave up and took every single little magic pill he could get for me and after about 6 months of living like that I lost all sense of reason. Life as they say was a never-ending blur of pain and repressed sorrow. Now for the good part... some really bad stuff happened (we are talking life altering, devastating to family and friends kind of bad), and in order to keep my daughter I was forced to re-evaluate my position and my sense of self worth. I learned that the only person who could heal me was me and I began rebuilding my life. In time I got off the meds, moved to a new city and went back to work full time. I got my strength back; I kept my daughter and began to rebuild some relationships I had nearly destroyed. Life it seemed was looking up and I was happy for the time being to roll with life’s little punches thinking I had already overcome all the big ones.
Fast track again and this time I lose my final and most important family member, my much loved, cherished, admired bringer of wisdom; my grandmother. Only this time, this time, I did something entirely different. This time I allowed myself to be hurt, I allowed myself time to heal and I allowed myself to explore that pain through my long ago pushed aside desire to write. The doctor tried yet again to put me back on meds when my body started to ache but thanks to my new exploration of self, I recognized something deeper to the pain, something more profound in connection with my physical ailments. This time I took control of my emotional state and this time I honoured my feelings and felt no shame in my sorrow. I never took the pills, what I did instead is still a mystery for those who knew me then, for what I did was to release all of who I was trying to be for the good of others and step into who I was. I left the country for a few weeks and embarked on an adventure into self the likes of which I have never known. The journey has been documented in part in the novels I have written, in part in my blogs and in part in the novels yet to come. As for me, I took the plunge and let go of where I was, pushed aside all the normal cures for what ailed me and found something new to hold onto. I found me, and through the finding of me I discovered that my me has great worth and value and when I live in my truth I don’t have to work at loving life and the people I share it with, it just comes; naturally, easily and with great intensity.
Now I am not saying that all those out there afflicted with emotional instability or depression are victims of societal or environmental repression of self but I do argue that it needs to be looked at from a new angle. From my own experience, each and every time I ‘broke down’ which meant drastic moods swings, loss of appetite, loss of sleep and all over body aches and pains, it was a direct result of me doing everything I could to keep others around me happy. I was desperate to please the people I shared my life with and when it came to expectations for my ability to cope with sorrow and loss I did everything in my power to not let anybody see how much I was suffering. My goal was to be strong; for them, for me and in retrospect for my own protection. I figured if I could keep the family happy they would leave me alone. Even my parents funeral was arranged to cater to the needs of others, although my brothers and I could have done quite nicely which a much more discreet farewell we opted for the big fanfare joint funeral complete with matching outfits. Why? Because it helped
others to cope with a very strange situation and for me at the time it was all about the others.
So what changed my mind? Two things; as we had plenty of warning that my treasured grandmother was on her way home I had the opportunity to spend much time with her to bask in her glow a few more times before she left and it is her wisdom that sent me diving into self and discovering a whole new way of looking at the world. The first thing she told me was that she knew that her family would interfere and make all kinds of suggestions as to what to do with my life after she was gone. She also knew that in their opinion they knew exactly what was best for me; she however told me very directly that it was me and only me who knew what was best for me. “Listen to your heart and follow that”, she warned, “if they push too far, you have my permission to tell them all to go to hell, they don’t know you or understand you and they never will, not as I know you. Do what you need to do to be happy and love doing it, the rest will all fall into place”.
Then the final words that altered my path for ever, spoken to me a couple days before she died and the very last thing she ever said to me. “I’m proud of you”...
I mulled that one little line over for months, because at the time there was absolutely nothing in my mind that I had accomplished that she ought to be proud of. After much thought and consideration I finally came to the conclusion that it was not what I had done with my life that she was proud of but rather of who I was in my heart; she knew it better than anybody and if she in her final days, being the incredible loving women that she was could see something in that heart of value then so could I. I set out to prove her right but in keeping with her wishes I did it my way.
Along the way a lot of people dropped off my radar because they just did not understand, some wandered back my way in time and we remain friend even now when my work takes me into realms of understanding that they simply wish not to go. Others stayed right beside me, never asking or implying that I ought to do things any other way and new friends came to share my world and explore with me the potentials of it. It was through the compassion and understanding of these people that I survived a very harsh look in the mirror and a traumatic alteration in my perception of self.
Today I still live a sudo-normal life, only this time it is on my terms; I am medication free, I have a family of my own and a home to take care of, we share our home with a couple pets and I do normal things like cleaning, cooking and taking the kids to school. But I also write, oh boy do I write, and do talk shows on the internet and council people going through loss and trauma and I do my very best to not interfere with their own perceptions of how the world should work. I advocate honesty with self and with everybody you meet but first and foremost with self. If you cannot be honest about who you are then you will never really get to explore the vast potential of you.
I don’t play by the rules that society sets out for me, it’s just not my kind of game and I refuse to break myself to live up to the expectations of others. I am stronger and more alive than ever before and if I had to do it all again I promise you I would so that I could be here today to tell you one very important fact. That although not all manic episodes can be considered to be an awakening, I for one would hesitate to medicate anybody who is seeking help to live a ‘normal’ life in line with what society perceives as being acceptable. Sometimes all these people need is a way to openly express their angst, to explore new ways to develop the part of themselves that is buried deep inside and bursting to get out. The longer you keep a wild animal caged the sooner it loses the will to live.
I realize now that I could have stayed in the big house, with the two cars and been the dutiful wife who cooked, cleaned and told her husband everyday how grateful she was to be cared for; I could have, but I would not have survived because long before I learned how to live I first had to learn what it meant to die.
Niki Norlock, author of Truth - My synchromystic Journey