Happiness. Every day I have it drilled in my head…figuratively. And now sort of literally.
My 15th session of transcranial magnetic stimulation was yesterday. My 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th this week. Another 20 lay ahead. They still hurt a little, the magnets drilling and tapping so loudly I have to wear earplugs. My blinking tic beats out an involuntary pattern with the rhythm and my eyes water. Afterward my skull feels misshapen, my face stiff as I make strange faces on the long drive home. But each day I feel stronger and instead of feeling like my mental illness is being beaten into submission each session, it feels different. I feel the pulses shooting goodness into my head. It’s worth the pain, I think. The slow tapping on the right side of my brain where my anxiety lives. It whispers with each pulse: YOU. WILL. BE. STRONGER.
The furiously fast drilling on the left side of my brain where my depression lives: YouWillBeOkayYouWillBeOkayYouWillBeOkay *breathe* *remember to breathe*
I feel different.
On Sunday I think I looked almost like a normal person. I was still scared. With each step I knew I could fall back, that the exhaustion and fatigue and anxiety could hit me at any second. My daughter knew too…and she was amazed at each step I took. Yes, we can go get lunch. Yes, I’ll take you to get new shorts. Yes, we can go to the mall, the candy shop, the book store. Yes, we can swim and listen to show tunes and sing. Yes, we can play a game. Yes, I’ll read to you.
Yes…I’m enjoying this too.
It was the most I’ve done in a single day in…longer than I can remember. And instead of ending the day feeling rung-out and empty and raw I felt…normal? Is this what normal looks like? Because if it is I want this.
Normally I struggle with simple things. I make strange choices. The strength is takes to shower or the energy it takes to eat? You don’t get both so choose wisely. Every action takes such work…as if living with mental illness is like waking to a new different disability each day. Someone else could quickly do the simple tasks of the day but I am hobbled. It can take hours for me to do what could be done in a good day in minutes. But not today. Today I feel strong. I feel guilty for being able to leave the house without xanax to dull the world…for being able to accomplish the things that normal people do every day. And I feel angry that this comes so easily. I shouldn’t. I should feel lucky and blessed but then I remind myself that it’s not just happiness coming back….it’s all of the emotions. It feels like cheating, like I’m on some illegal drug or cheating somewhow…stealing these emotions I forgot were so strong. And maybe that’s for the best because it means that I appreciate how much mental illness takes from me when it is present and how much it’s worth fighting for relief. Even with it hiding I know it is a terrible monster I will always fear.
When this monster shows its face I fear the world, I fear myself. I loathe the terrible things that I see and I am too paralyzed to even discuss the news items that stick in my head. My dr tells me it’s not safe for me to dwell on these things and it’s true…my intrusive, compulsive thoughts makes me obsess about terrible things that happen in the world. She reminds me that it will suck away my life if I allow myself to be paralyzed with fear and dread. I am not built for rebellion. Not yet. She reminds me to look for the good in the world because it is real even if it doesn’t get the same press and this is a very good idea for people with broken brains, but mine keeps repeating “It’s not enough. We’re all going to die. The world is awful and I am a part of it.”
But now, today, it’s saying something different. It says that the world is a terrible place…sometimes. And filled with terrible people…who can change. But suddenly I’m reminded that there are more people who I know who care, who are empathetic, who fight for others in quiet and loud ways. I see that I am not alone. I see how terrible it would be to feel the terror of the world by myself…and how heartening it is that I can see so many people doing small and beautiful things to make the world better. I’m reminded (for the first time it feels like) of how alone I would feel if I was the only one who felt disconsolate or frustrated. I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be surrounded by people around the world who care about others. Who are here for each other. I think I knew all this before. But mental illness changes “knowing” and “believing” into two very different things and I can breathe for a moment and know that it will be okay.
It’s an epiphany that brings me such relief. It’s going to be okay. Not perfect, never perfect…but we will be okay even when we’re not okay. Even when we’re wanting to be better than we are. It’s okay to take a breath. To love and celebrate and smile and mourn and dance and cry and start all over again.
After a Sunday of driving and shopping and dealing with real live people in the loud world I come home and I am so surprised to find that I am not exhausted. My daughter tells my husband how much we did. “Mom did so great!” she says. As if I am the child. And it makes my heart swell and break at the same time. But I will take this. I don’t want to lose it. It feels so shaky. Like holding on to magic you know can’t be real.
My husband mentions traveling this summer…the beginning of the same argument we have had for years. I can’t travel. It’s too taxing. I would get sick. I would end up in the same wheelchair I’ve ended too many trips in. I would slow them down. They go off together on adventures and I am sad but relieved. I’ve missed many trips. I missed the first time my daughter saw Japan. I watched them on FaceTime from my self-imposed jail as they explore the world.
But I will not miss the first time she sees Europe. Because it will be the first time I see Europe too.
I think it surprised Victor, how quickly I said “Okay. You know what? I’ll go.” He and Hailey held their breath as if I’d take it back. I hold my breath too. I wait for my body to say, “No, this was a trick. It’s not real. You don’t deserve this.” But it’s not saying that. Not yet at least. It’s saying, “I want to go. I want to live. I’ve been waiting so long.” It says “Let’s see Scotland and London and Paris. Let’s walk on distant islands and walk through mountains and see the things that I can’t quite imagine really exist because I never thought it would have been possible to see them. But maybe, a little voice inside my head whispers, maybe it’s possible.
Maybe this is real. Maybe it’s not forever but it’s for today and if it’s real today then there’s a chance that any day in the future could be like this one…full of promise and energy and an ease I feel like I’ve stolen…one that I feel jealous of even as I experience it.
Next month I will have completed 35 days of TMS treatment for anxiety and depression. And to celebrate (knock on wood) I will see things I never thought possible. Some of them in distant lands, yes, but many of them the lovely, simple things that the rest of the world takes for granted. I will take my daughter. I will say to her, “Look. Here is the world. It’s been waiting for you.”
I will say it to myself too.
Please God let me still believe it.