Sunday, May 24, 2009


I struggle to get to church most Sundays. Though 11 a.m. isn't exactly early morning, it's not my best time of day. But it's more than that -- I expend so much energy towards squelching frightening feelings of depression that it's frightening to think about opening up to God. My reactions to the flowing of the spirit are unpredictable, and what I strive for when I'm depressed is a kind of manageable sameness.

This sameness hurts to maintain. I'm tense and tight and afraid of each next moment. I may push myself from one thing to another, but mostly I'm wondering when I get to stop. Stop as in go to bed and end my day, but also just STOP. I struggle to imagine how I might continue like I am for much longer. It's not a suicide wish, but more of a, I wouldn't mind if I could finally give up and not have to try so hard. I've been in this particular wave of depression/physical illness for over two months now. I'm running out of stamina.

In today's sermon, Pastor Gayle preached about the fire of Methodism, and asked, repeatedly and effectively, if the fire had gone out. I understood the fire as passionate engagement with faith and with the world. I kept picturing my fire as smothering under damp clothes, gasping for air. I believe I am in a time of brokenness, and that in all times of brokenness, there is a possibility of radical rebirth. That's what I want from this time, not some weak return to the status quo, which wasn't all that great to begin with. In my current state of being, I have had no choice but to become very clear that my survival depends on reaching out to others and being willing to ask for help. I've also experienced a renewed commitment to my creative goals, and a very clear knowing that I have no choice but to write -- or create -- from exactly where I am (considering emotional states as a place) in the present moment.

I've also received a renewed faith in the present moment, for two reasons. One, the present moment is all I can freaking manage. Thinking ahead to the next moment can be terrifying, and I inevitably predict failure. I've also begun to give myself a lot of credit for small things, like taking a shower, getting to a cafe to get some work done, calling a friend, or showing up to meet a friend for lunch. I tend to give myself credit for NOTHING, not even significantly larger accomplishments, so this marking of small things is good practice.

All that said, I've had several harrowing days in a row, where transitions from one thing to the next have involved periods of crying in my car, unsure of what to do next, and afraid of slipping and falling into despair. I went to a church event yesterday (Saturday) and as I left, people kept saying, "see you tomorrow" and I kept thinking, what is tomorrow? And of course, tomorrow was church. Right. I knew that.

So I really wanted to show up at church, and not just show up, but hang around afterwords and get and give a few hugs. This behavior is new, as I ususally slip in and out so as not to be noticed by the nice people who would actually show pleasure in my presence. And so I arrived twenty minutes late, just in time for the sermon, which I mentioned above. It was a communion Sunday, which always gets to me for some reason. And then our lay leader Sharon prayed for me as I kneeled at the altar.

There was something about the way she prayed -- fiercely, with our hands clenched together -- that built on the words of the sermon and allowed them to seep beneath my skin. I remember her asking that the fire of God might shine within me and without and that I might share my light with others. But it was the experience of the prayer, even more than the words.

I have been holding my breath for days. You know how people will tell you to take deep relaxing breaths and all that does is make you gasp a little bit harder? These soft, full breaths came of their own accord, and I received a glimpse of how I might feel if I stopped choking on the smoke of a smothered fire and instead, allowed in enough air for a sweet, small flame.

I'm not up to any ravaging, cleansing flames right now; even a flickering candle is enough.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

an excerpt

I'm writing from depression-space still...I have ok moments and terrifying moments; in this moment I'm ok.

I'm doing some writing -- certainly capturing the 100% gen-u-ine depression experience. Hard to tell what is valuable at this point, whether I'm asking a reader to spend too much time in my head.

Below is a small piece...where I just might find some meaning in what is happening to me...

*** move out of crisis mode, I have to tackle all fronts: new doctor, new meds. maybe a new diagnosis. But clearly, this depression is not just chemical; it’s structural. Structural in terms of needing structure in my life, but also structural in that depression is the frame much of my life hangs upon; it is a stable part of my identity, regardless of how much I hate is devastating effects. To recover from depression there is a certain amount of dismantling that I need to do – and it is in the deeply depressive state that I fall apart most completely. Ironically, this collapsed state offers hope that I might alter how I function in the world. I have something to learn from this place: fragile, permeable, and inescapably dependent on others. My myths of separateness and individuality fall away. I am staying with my parent’s for a few days, and the relief of not being alone is seismic. My mother and I go to Starbucks and we both work on our art – I write, she paints with her colored pencils. This is the creative support I need – two artists, generating focus and energy working together.

So how to do I use this time to move towards health and wholeness, when I’m clearly in survival mode? In between free-falls, I can watch out for what feeds me and what sends me hurtling into negative space. I am deeply frightened by how I am feeling; there is no possibility of ambivalence towards my current state of existence. If I don’t make plans to meet with someone each day, the results are terrifying. I have no other option than to break my day into the smallest possible increments. I wake up and get out of bed by bargaining with myself: take a shower. After your shower, you don’t have to do anything else unless you feel like you can. Take your meds. Brush your teeth. Put your clothes on. Asking any more of myself is asking too much.

I knew you were depressed, says my friend Chris, when you told me that your goal was to get up, take a shower, and get dressed before I came to pick you up for lunch. Usually that is not a goal so much as it is just what you do in the morning. This is true; but the minute nature of each step is also keeping me firmly grounded in the present moment, a discipline that most religious philosophies concur is an ideal state of being. It is when I imagine a future based on my current desperation, or look at the past through eyes glazed by depression, that my world becomes uncontrollable and I lose myself in despair.

Monday, May 04, 2009

depression just isn't all that exciting to write about...

It's not wanting to get out of bed...
but staying in bed with my mind racing over various very stressful things, both real and imagined.

It's about making plans and not being able to show up.

It's about thinking for hours about taking my dog for a walk.

It's about finding the prospect of feeding my dog (browning burgers on the stove) overwhelming.

It involves not being able to figure out what to wear from a closet full of clothes.

It is about resisting the couch.

It is about reading the paper so long that the text begins to spin in front of my eyes. Reading so long to avoid having to decide the next thing to do, and to avoid the guilt about not showing up.

I'm writing now to try and center myself, to ground myself in the real, because writing sometimes does that for me.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

today didn't suck...

as bad as yesterday...
and yesterday didn't suck as bad as the day before that.

In depression world, this is progress.

I get points for making it to church today. I get extra credit points for hanging about after church today long enough to get asked out to lunch -- and then I actually went. Normally I slip out the door FAST, and I almost always come in late. Some days I just can't handle people being nice to me, and at Calvary United Methodist Church, there are always people who want to give me a hug or smile and say hello (oh, jeeeez). It's  just too much to take. 

The extra credit points are for CONNECTING, which does help me get out of my head (which right now is not a very nice place to be). The depressive urge is to ISOLATE, which feels safer, but actually is not. And lunch was a lot of fun. Which was good, because I wake up with a lot of fear about what the day will be like. Ok, yah, I made it to church, but what will happen after that? When will the anxious ugly scary brain take over?

In her sermon, Pastor Laurie took us through the loving kindness prayer today -- one version is to pray for health, happiness, wholeness, and something else (I know there were four) first for yourself; then for a person you feel neutral towards, then for an enemy, and then for the whole world.

To be depressed is to be self-involved (in my opinion), but even so -- the worst enemy I could imagine was my own depressed brain. I'm so angry and scared by this depressed part of me that to pray for it felt dangerous. I'm not sure I would have tried it alone, but I was in community, so I gave it a go.

There wasn't any miraculous healing (now that would have been a good story) but prayer doesn't necessarily lead to obviously miraculous results. I'm still figuring out who is this "I" that tries to fight/work with/outwit my depression -- who fights and fails, or struggles and has moments of ok-ness. At lunch I may have even felt good for a bit, which is no small thing.

So after lunch, I walked my dog, and then went with my parents to see The Soloist -- the movie about the homeless schizophrenic brilliant musician befriended by a LA Times reporter. Great movie, if a little intense for me at this time. The connections between brilliance and mental illness are perhaps a bit overstated; where is the movie about the average musician with schizophrenia? You know he or she is out there.

While I might not use the word brilliance (though my mother certainly would) it is difficult to separate out what of my creativity, drive, passion is connected to bipolar illness. I've written and thought a lot about this idea lately -- bipolar disorder as a part of me, something that cannot be cut out without losing something else about me, something of value? 

Time to watch the hockey game. Go Hurricanes!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

depressed girl has her say

In this moment I am wearing the same shirt and t-shirt (1996 Atlanta Olympics) that I have worn since Thursday evening. It is Saturday at noon. Needless to say I have not showered. I didn’t really sleep on Thursday night, so that made Friday difficult. Finally could close my eyes yesterday around 5:30 p.m. Missed hockey play-off game and dinner with parents in spite of much phone encouragement from both.

I just hit save on this document. I am writing instead of crawling back into bed. So hello depression here we are again. You are depressed, says my mother, who should know because she came over on Tuesday and Thursday to get me moving. Your father thinks it’s acute she says. He wants to come over and help you with your yard. For some reason this idea makes me weep. He wants to help. Why can you let me help you and not him? It’s not that. It’s just that I don’t want to be helped. I want to be 38 years old and able to keep my own yard under control. 38 years old and able to keep my kitchen floor clean.

I have only just left the house long enough to put Kacey dog on the leash and take her out to pee. At 3:30 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning, I took her for a little walk. I was up. I can’t really be seen like this, in this t-shirt and shorts, so 3:30 a.m. is good. The pavement outside my house is brand new, black and shiny. I walk in my bare feet. I walk around long enough for Kacey to do her business; I feel a sense of accomplishment. I am also feeding her. This is good. All I ate yesterday was oatmeal. Could I finally be one of those depressed people who lose weight when they are depressed? That would be so great.

See, I can still make myself laugh. And then cry a little, too, but not huge desperate wailing sobs, so that’s good. I guess the good news is that I finally believe that I’m only going to write the book, this book, from exactly where I am in a particular moment: that bipolar girl depressed girl is going to be the one who writes it, not wellness girl, or miraculously healed girl or never depressed again girl or victorious girl or any version of totally together, keeping it together etc. etc. etc. No we are keeping it real here at Bipolar Girl central, and right now real kind of sucks.

My mom meant it matter-of-factly, you are depressed. She never every meant it as an accusation, just ok, you’re depressed so now let’s fix it. Then I started crying so she felt bad. I feel like this massive failure, falling back into depression. Here I am with the great therapist and the weekly support group and access to medicine (though maybe not exactly the right medicines) and my parents paying my $540 a month for health insurance while I try to be an artist and find a sustainable way to live my life in alignment with what I feed called to do in the world. I got an email this morning from a woman who read my blog and felt like it helped her. In spite how I feel right now, I do believe that there is something I have to offer the world from this shitty, shitty set of experiences. So as cheesy as it sounds, thanks Teresa, you’re why I’m writing right now instead of hiding under the covers of my fabulously comfortable bed. I have the softest sheets in the world, and what my friend E. and I call the single girl’s bed – four pillows and a body pillow.

What I struggle to write about is how depression, bipolar, the whole mental illness gig intersects with the rest of Dawn. So, my therapist said – and though I pay her, I believe she means this – that I posses “vitality, passion, and creativity.” Ok. I think so too. (Parenthetically, I just opened the shades to my office to let a little light in. I think this is a good sign.) So, how do I piece out the parts of me that are depressed? How do I differentiate my enthusiasms from mania? Is my depression chemical, a moral failing, or some combination of both? Is it a spiritual condition? Is it paradoxically because I’m moving closer to being in the world how I want to be, and so the old mechanisms are tearing back to visit, in a gasping stand against progress? And how the hell am I supposed to think about all of this, and what the hell am I supposed to do?

A trip to the psychiatrist, and a physical, says my mom. She knows it’s not that simple, but it’s a concrete place to start. I put in a call to a new psychiatrist, and I’m waiting to hear back. My mom and my therapist (the ace treatment team) think it’s a good idea to try someone new. I can talk to anybody, and I find it hard to communicate with my current doctor. It may be time to change my meds. I hate thinking about changing my meds. I’ve been on basically the same for almost five years and I’ve basically been ok. Basically.

I’m terrified at the prospect of making changes, because that’s what kind of started this wave of shittiness in the first place. We added Drug X to counter racing thoughts. Might be helping, can’t be hurting is what I said to my doctor. She yelped. Don’t let Drug X manufacturer hear you say that. Either stop taking it or try a higher dose. So I tried the higher dose, and the racing thoughts stopped. Mostly because I was asleep all the time. The drug knocked me out. And then I accidentally doubled my dose of Drug Y. Which went all toxic on my system. My body felt terrible. I couldn’t sleep. I slept too much. It was a relief to get back to just the generally crummy ache that I associate with being depressed.

I have a new question. What does depression really look like? Is it the numbness and tiredness a means of protection? A safeguard against the howling fear, the deadly sense of inadequacy, the hopelessness that threatens to take over unless I move very very quietly. Which is it? The numbness or the howling? Would it end quicker if I howled more?

My parents are coming over in an hour or so. I’m grateful and also kind of scared. Compassion is frightening, because if I let myself feel too deeply I might fall apart; encouragement brings up fear, because what if I can’t do something, anything; offers of help bring up self-contempt because I should be able to do it myself, to function as a normal. As yes. The hovering normal adult. The Dawn without bipolar. Without depression. She’s married to her college sweetheart and has two children. She’s not needy. She’s traveled to other countries and worked with NGOs on children’s literacy. She is not relying on her parents for money.

But what does she do? Is normal Dawn the vibrant girl that the college sweetheart fell in love with in the first place? Is she – me – creative, an artist, a writer? If so, what would I be writing about? I kinda hoped I’d be writing this book with a little more distance between me and the subject matter. Between me and my life.

Back into my life: I want my parents to stay away; I want them to be here. I want to be alone in my filth (it’s not really that bad); I want to try and shower and step out into the day. I am on this edge all of the time. Can you imagine how incredibly tiring it is, each micro movement being considered so closely? Each possibility weighted with – here, you’re fighting depression! Here, you’re giving in! Maybe tiredness emerges from depression as a protective mechanism. Asleep I don’t have to feel, consider, be. Depression as the anti-is-ness: is it a good idea to just be in the moment when in the moment I sometimes feel like I’m dying? Still, it’s better to be in the moment than to consider the next one, to get caught up in thinking this way of not-being is all there is and all there will be.

Yet even in my current state of broken-down-ed-ness, I can see slivers of hope. I close my eyes and I see a showing of hands waving across a wide sea. And I’m writing, so I must believe in something. And I'm sharing my writing, so I must believe in something more.