After Robin Williams death I read that maybe a quarter of the population suffers from mental illness like depression or bipolar. I hope not. I hope there are not that many hopeless people. If there were communities wouldn’t be able to function.
Depression is a catch all phrase like ADHD has become. There are so many kids diagnosed with ADHD haphazardly that the ones that truly experience it are overlooked.
So it is with depression. Everyone has been depressed. EVERYONE has had seasons of depression. They have been sad, lonely, overwhelmed, lethargic, hopeless. They may last a while and be difficult to overcome. But these are the people who do overcome. They are the ones that assure us that with enough prayer and Bible reading anyone can get out of a depression. They say we just need to trust God more. It is sin to worry.
These feelings that others experience as depression are only the tip of the iceberg for me. When you are low, so low, you can’t climb out yourself. Now, I know that many people do find rest without medication, but some minds are just to chemically imbalanced to fix itself, like a wound that’s infected. Before antibiotics infection was fatal. No one would argue that taking antibiotics for a deadly infection is wrong.
That is how my mind is. There is a recurring infection of the neurons in my brain. It requires antibiotics to keep it from festering. I imagine my little neurons (or whatever the term is for the stuff that takes sparks of sensation to the part of the brain that interprets that information; I’m going to call them neurons anyway) shooting over this grand canyon from sensation to interpretation. In my mind, these cute little neurons sometimes fail to make it across then canyon.
This brings the depression. The right chemicals and synapses are not operating correctly. So, I brought in the serotonin uptake inhibitors. It keeps these neurons from coming back onto this side of the canyon so they pile up and keep working until they eventually get there. Prayer can change physical ailments. God is capable of controlling every little atom of everything. But sometimes He lets the physical realm function according to it’s fallen ways. He walked with me. He spoke to me through music, friends, counselors, my husband. And it is only by believing in Him as the God of all gods that I have the desire to stand here today. He made me and sustains me. But He allowed me to walk through those dark days.
Then, years later after the previous medicine combinations that had worked before failed a new anti-depressant was introduced. It, for my mind, released tons and tons of these neurons. They were hitting my brain, interpreting everything so much faster, so much more chaotic, more uncontrollable, more scary. It was like a faucet had been turned on full blast. My thoughts spun like watching the tv as a man skips from channel to channel, but 100x worse and with reality and fiction and unreasonable fear being indistinguishable from each other.
My brain realized this wasn’t working right, so it decided on it’s own to turn off the water faucet. Completely off, not even a drop. And I felt nothing but pain and fear. Reality and fiction still blurred together but at a much slower rate that allowed me to experience the pain of it. I was stuck with the feelings that could not be interpreted right. Pain registered more than anything.
Bipolar was the word my doctors used. I was put on a mood stabilizer and have played with medicine combinations until I have for the time being (Lord willing, a long time or even forever) found a way to keep those little mischievous neurons on a steady drip from the fountain.
Ok, so that was my not at all medically accurate explanation of the inner workings of this infection. Now what does it look like in me?
thoughts race for hours, for days, so fast i feel like i’m running a marathon but it’s all in my mind. i want to scream for them to stop. i cant hear life going on around me because my head is so fully of all kinds of jumbled up thoughts. Imagine Dumbledore’s pensive melting in together and coming in an endless string of thoughts and memories. this is when i journal for hours. i write everything but i cant capture any of it fast enough. the pages end up being a mess of randomness.
I have stayed up late with these jet plane sounds in my head keeping me awake. It sometimes sounded like a freight train (you know, “he could sleep through a freight train coming through the room”, only I couldn’t sleep with this train.) Many nights during my worst times my husband would lay beside me, rock with me and sing to me songs about Jesus, lullabies as if i were a baby.
I have felt such pain, i cant describe it other than great pain, that I felt like I would burst. My body was fighting to keep it in check. there was this war between my very physical presence of feelings inside against the case of my body caging it inside. It is almost like when I am so incredibly nausious it hurts, but when i throw up, it’s a relief to my stomach. or if you have a splinter stuck in your hand and the relief it feels when it is removed. But in this case, I can’t throw up and i can’t pull the splinter out. I was very well aware that this was all awful and real symptoms that were hidden from others. They couldnt see what was hiding beneath my skin. So, a cut on the arm releases the pressure like a gauge, and it presents a wound people can see as a substitute for the pain they can’t. It’s not just cutting, but I remember hitting my hand over and over again on the corner of the bathroom sink cabinet so others could see the bruises and give condolences over them justifying the inner bruises.
Reality is screwed up. I have known things, really known things that were untrue. Once I knew i was going to die from a fever. I felt it, i knew it was true, and the last words i had said to my boyfriend (now husband) were hateful. I couldn’t get to him to apologize so a banged my head on a brick wall. Hard. My mom found me and was angry which fueled my self hatred more. It was a downward spiral. I hurt myself, I felt stupid so i hurt myself more, i was mad at myself, embarrassed and to shut those terrible feelings out i banged my head harder. Mama didnt understand yet, but my uncle recognized his own depression in me and took me out slowly and patiently to calm me down.
There were times I couldn’t drive. I saw the tractor trailers coming closer and driving on top of me. My mind’s eye really saw it. Even when someone else drove me somewhere i would have to close my eyes to pass. my adrenalin kicked in and my heart raced when i saw a plane coming so low it was going to crash on top of me. it passed. then the next plane that passed would do the same thing. there were times i cowered in the corner of the house with my hands over my ears so i couldnt hear the planes (this is a case in which living right beside the airport was unfortunate).
I picture things vividly. Reality is screwed up remember. Things that are not, seem to me to be true and things that are true do not feel real. I have seen car wrecks killing family members who were running a few minutes late. I waited for the police call. I could see the glass, the crumpled hood, the blood. Yeah, morbid. I hate it. I foresee my foot slipping off the brake at an intersection and I feel as if it will happen and i will have no control. i feel the crash, the thud, the spin of the car. I have felt i would fall down the stairs every time i used them. it would happen and i wouldnt be able to stop it. I have felt incredible panicked, paranoid fear that I’d leave my kid in the hot car, that one of them would run into a parking lot (and again i imagine the thump- yes it’s awful thoughts), that i would fall into a sink hole like one man did and i couldnt turn off the fear of how that would feel.
There were these realistic scenes and sensations i had yet reality- being a mom, touching a chair, drinking some milk, watching tv- all felt unreal, like it wasnt really there as if i could wave my hand and it would blow away like a mist.
I have had spinning thoughts where i couldnt think of anything but the aggitation and the feeling that something is wrong, very wrong, i ask people, i will people to help me but they don’t and somethings really wrong. one panic attack sent me to the er where they gave me a double does of ativan. and it didn’t sedate me, it woke me up from a scared panicked lethargic state. they also gave me a bill for $400 for giving me this ativan.
Another panic attack woke me up in the middle of the night. I still heard the low death drumbeats coming closer, coming out of my dream. I ran to the bathroom desperately turning the light on. I rocked back and forth on the side of the tub over and over again, chanting the only word i could form “abraham, abraham.” there was something i knew about abraham, i struggled to remember it. The real bible lesson i had prepared that night felt like a disappearing dream while the drumbeats resounded in my chest. “abraham, abraham and Isaac” there was a good comforting message i finally grasped about Abraham. Cant remember what it was now.
I literally forgot who i was, where i was, and why i was there in the dark winter walmart parking lot.
There were days my husband would come home to find me in a closet and i had no recollection of how I got there. Many times during all of my episodes I have felt such great hurt, self hatred, hopelessness, and the honest fear that the world would be better without me. I didnt want to be. I didnt want to kill myself. I just didnt want to exist anymore. It was too hard to live through it. I didnt want to be.
But I am.
I knew the bible verses. i knew i was to take captive my thoughts, and i was to trust God enough not to worry. And reading these verses and praying brought me up from the miry clay and set my feet upon the rock. But i couldnt do this until my neurons were doing something right enough. When the chemical imbalance was settled enough it was like i had put on glasses. I had a whole new perception and was able to see clear enough to read those verses that were just blurry letters before. and Because He lives, i can face tomorrow.