Category Archives: more than meets the eye

In and out and back again.

Last week I got hit with a major bout of depression.  I did all the things I’m supposed to do.  Nothing helped.  Usually when this happens I wait it out.  I’m stronger than my mental illness even though it feels like an inescapable monster when it’s here.  Then Sunday I took a darker turn.  And Monday I was worse.  There are a few things that come when my depression gets really bad.  Exhaustion, almost flu-like.  My peripheral vision goes away.  My body goes numb and my face feels heavy and weighted down.  When it’s really bad I stare out at a fixed point and can’t move my eyes from that spot, like I’m paralyzed for several seconds at a time.  In some ways it’s a relief to have physical signs of what’s happening…to remind myself that it’s real and not just in my mind…but it’s also terrifying to have your brain take over your body when your brain is the most dangerous place to be.

I called my doctor.  I got an appointment for next week to see the doctor who did my Transcranial Magnetic Therapy so we can see if booster sessions might help shake me out of this.

And then…almost as suddenly as it appeared…it vanished.

This happens sometimes.  Usually it’s a slow process of several days recovery but this time it just went away.  I was left feeling exactly how you feel after you stop throwing up from food poisoning…shaky, vulnerable, empty, exhausted, terrified that it’s not over, but so incredibly grateful that my body belonged to me again.

I want to cancel my appointment with my doctor.  I want to pretend this week didn’t happen.  But it did and it may be a fluke or it may be a sign that I need more help.  I will continue to work the program.  I will continue to fight battles in my head.

I always feel bad writing about mental health stuff because I know I’m tired of feeling it so I’m sure you are tired of hearing about it but it’s a relief to be able to lay it all out here and to read back and see how far I’ve come…to see that I may struggle with these seemingly invisible enemies but that I have a perfect record (so far) of beating them.  And you do too if you are reading this.  I’m proud of you.  I hope you are proud of yourself.

Have the talk.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s the importance of having the talk with your kid.  Not the sex talk, although that one is important too.

The talk that says things will be hard but that you will be there with them no matter what.  The talk that says here is what to do when you feel desperate, or suicidal, or confused or hurt or alone or broken.  Here is what you do when you are afraid.

Having a talk with your kids about sex doesn’t make them have sex.  Having a talk about llamas doesn’t make them llamas.  Having a talk with your kids about suicide won’t make them suicidal.  Having a talk with your kids about mental illness doesn’t give them mental illness.  It does, however, give them tools to help recognize things that might otherwise confuse or terrify them.  It may help them to recognize things in themselves or in their friends.  And that can save a life.

They may not understand your talk.  They may think it’s pointless or even silly.  They may not even remember all of the details if they never deal with these sorts of struggles.  But they will remember that you are there to listen and that you are there to help and that there is nothing that they can’t get through.  That a lot of the problems that seem  massive when you’re a kid or teenager will be forgotten at 21.  That it’s okay to fail.  That it’s okay to vent and cry.  That it’s okay to ask for help…even more importantly…that it’s their duty to ask for help.

This isn’t easy.  It’s not easy for parents.  It’s not easy for kids.  But it’s needed.  So to make it a little easier I’m going to share a few things that I’m learning as a parent.  I also asked for an expert opinion on talking with teens and that expert is my teen who gave me great feedback on things that helped her during any struggles she’s had in life.

What is something that you wish you’d told your kids when they were younger…the thing that maybe you learned the hard way or that made a big difference?  

me: I wish I’d asked ‘How are you really?’ and repeated it a few times to get past the basic ‘Great’ and into the real details of what’s going on in her head.  I wish I’d explained that just because someone’s struggle doesn’t look like mine it doesn’t mean that their struggle isn’t just as real and just as hard.

What’s the thing you wish that you were asked?

Hailey: I wanted someone to ask “What do you need?”  Not just “Are you okay?” or “How was your day?” but “What do you actually need from me that I’m not doing?”

What do you want to hear?

Hailey:  Not “You’re fine.  Don’t worry.”   Because when you don’t feel fine and everyone keeps saying that you are you feel even worse.  I wish someone would have told me that it was okay to not be fine sometimes.  I want to hear that there are ways to fix it.

What advice would you give parents about talking to their kids?

Hailey:  Maybe ask the school counselor how your kid is.  They see them at school and might know a lot more about what’s going on that they aren’t sharing.  Make sure your kids aren’t just talking to you about their problems because it’s really helpful to vent to people who aren’t your parents.

What would you tell kids who are struggling right now?

Hailey: Talk to someone.  Find someone to listen.  You can even practice on your stuffed animals if you have to until you find the right words.

me:  Don’t give up.

******

Your turn.  Talk to your kids.  Ask them what they need to hear.  Share what you’ve learned here if you think it could help someone else.  Parenting is terrifying and we are constantly fucking up.  What is perfect for one kid is not for another.  We bumble through and try to make the right decisions and fail and succeed and hide and celebrate and do wonderful and terrible things…just like the kids we are raising.  But we don’t have to do it alone.

You are not alone.

*****

PS. This is a very serious post and I don’t like serious so I’m leaving you with this:

via GIPHY

If you’re reading this, you win.

Hi.

If you are reading this, you win.

If you are reading this it means you’re here.  It means that you’ve made it through the bullshit that life has thrown at you.  It means you’re still surviving.  It means that you are stronger than every bad thing that has ever tried to take you down.

It means that you are brave.  And strong.  Stronger than you think.

It means that you are broken.  Because you can’t get through it all without being touched by challenges you’ve fought through, and are still fighting through.  But broken is okay.  As Leonard Cohen said, the cracks, after all, are how the light gets in.

If you are reading this it means that you have touched people.  That you have helped others in so many ways.  In reading this you remind me that my words are important…that my struggle is worth it.  You make differences every day without even knowing it.

If you are reading this you probably feel guilty.  You have screwed up.  You regret.  That’s okay.  That’s how you grow.  That’s how you learn.  If you have regrets it means that you care, and that same empathy and introspection are what make you compassionate and kind.

If you are reading this I love you.  Even if I haven’t met you yet.  Even if we never meet.  There aren’t enough of us out there in the world…the misfits and the weirdos.  Stick around. Be my friend.  And I will be yours.  Forever, if you are reading this.

I’m back?

Okay.

So.

Wow.

Turns out it’s really hard to write about emotional things and even harder when they involve someone you love whose privacy you want to protect.

If you read my last blog post you know that the last few weeks have been really awful for our family.  You also know that I can’t share details because it’s hard when things live forever on the internet and unfortunately there are still stigmas that linger today.

One day I will write about it though because it’s important.  And because I have been flooded with emails and DM’s from people who could read between the lines and have been through the exact same thing.  And they think they’re alone because they don’t share the details because they also want to respect privacy.  And that’s wonderful.

And terrible.

It’s wonderful to respect the people we love and protect them from the world.  It’s terrible that so many people are struggling.  It’s wonderful to know that we are not alone…that it’s something SO, SO many families deal with.  It’s terrible to know that so many of us battle this in the terrifying quiet of our houses.

One day, perhaps a few years from now, I’ll write about this.  Maybe with the help of the person I love.  I suspect this will be a very long story one day, and one that may help others.  I hope by the time I write it I will have more answers than questions and less fear and doubt in myself.  I hope that last week is the worst week of my life…that it gets better from here.  I hope…no…I know that every day is a step forward and a new opportunity.

Here’s what I’ve learned that I can share with you:

  1.  Depression in me doesn’t always look the same as depression in you.  Seemingly happy, outgoing, successful people can have it.  And it can be really confusing and painful to them because it presents in such strange ways that they don’t realize that they’re dealing with it until they are in a dangerous state of mind.  Depression in kids can look different than depression in adults.  Depression in extroverts can look different than depression in introverts.
  2. Everything you’re dealing with that you think is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone?  It’s happened to people you know and love.  It’s happening now.  You are not alone.
  3. There are amazing tools available that can make an incredible difference.  Medication, therapy, etc.  There are brilliant people who will rescue you who want to help.  You may not know them yet.  You will meet them.  They will save you.  And you will save someone else.
  4. People are fighting much harder battles than we know.  Be kinder than you have to be.
  5. There are bad resources.  There are bad hospitals or doctors or therapist or tools.  There are good resources that are bad for your particular needs.  You will go through these as you look for help.  It’s okay to say, “This isn’t right.  I deserve better.”  You do.
  6. Communication is important.  Love is necessary.  Compassion and laughter are key.  Cheesecake is great.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Doctor Who reruns are medicinal.
  7. It is a gift to take care of someone you love.  It is exhausting and terrifying and guilt-inducing and it is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.  Reach out to the people who love you when you need help.  I promise you they want to help.  And if they don’t understand, call the suicide hotline.  They can help.  They’ve helped me.
  8. It’s okay if you make a mistake.  We’re born to make mistakes.  Keep trying.  It’s going to be okay.
  9. You’ll get through this.
  10. You are not alone.

Today is the first day in a long time that feels normal.  I think (I hope, I hope) that we’re on a good path.  My family is safe and this morning we ate breakfast together and laughed.  We have each other and I’m so grateful for it.  I’m grateful for you too.  For listening…for understanding…for being there.

I’m crossing my fingers that the next blog posts will be back to the silly and irreverent ridiculousness.  I’m ready to get back to normal…or as close to normal as I’ve ever been.  I think we’re on the right path.

Thank you.  I love you.

I don’t have a good graphic to add here so here’s a video of Hunter S. Thomcat doing a hurtfully accurate impression of me:

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Catspreading.

A post shared by Jenny Lawson (@thebloggess) on

I’m struggling.

So many of you have reached out because you’ve noticed I’ve gone missing for a week on social media and that’s never happened before. I’m so sorry I worried you.

This week has been the hardest of my entire life.

I’ve struggled with what to say because I don’t know what to say.  I am an open book and I write everything, but this isn’t just my story and I want to respect that.  I’m afraid of doing harm by sharing it.  I’m afraid of doing harm by not sharing it.  I don’t know the answer yet.

Here’s what I do know.  Today I feel terrified but so much less helpless than I did at the beginning of the week.  There are good people who are doing important work to help.  I have more knowledge and insight than I had before.  I have guilt and fear.  I have hope.

Perhaps one day soon I’ll be able to share all of this with you.  Or maybe not.  But either way, please know that I welcome your prayers or white light or thoughts of love for my family.

There is one thing that you can do for me.

Reach out to those you love and tell them how important they are to you.  Tell them that if things seem bleak and hopeless that you are there to tell them how necessary they are.  Reach out to the shiny, happy ones too…and the strong ones…because so often they are the best at hiding the pain they feel until it is too late.  Hold your family tight.  Ask your children how they are.  Then ask them again how they really are.  Listen to the things said and to the things unsaid.

If you are struggling and think that your life is not important, please trust me when I say that you are so wrong.  You are so important and there are people waiting to meet you and find the magic in you.  Please reach out to get help.  Do not trust your lying brain.  And know that the darkness you feel can be conquered….sometimes over and over again…and that you are special and unique and your brokenness can lead to a kind of empathy that will save the world.  Don’t deprive us of that.  We need your magic.  We need you.

I love you.

My amazing daughter. Alternate title: I don’t think you’ll have a problem with this at all but if you do you can fuck all the way off.

A few years ago when Hailey was 12 she announced that she had something to tell me over breakfast.

“I’m gay.”

I responded with “Okay.  But could you hand me the syrup?”

I suspect she was disappointed in my reaction because it was scary for her to say out loud but it didn’t really affect me for two reasons.  One: At that time it seemed like lots of very young kids were coming out and I was a little concerned that for some of them it was an identity they were just trying on.  It worried me for kids who really are LGBTQ if a ton of young people came out and then later decided they were straight and that being LGBTQ was just a fad.  And two:  Because I’m not an asshole.  I support all people.  I’m openly bi myself.   I told Hailey that it wasn’t an issue but that maybe until she was older she should embrace the “no labels” concept.  Ironically, the “no labels” idea requires you to label yourself as not having a label but it felt right at the time and I was very proud of the way that Victor and I handled this, which was by not handling it at all because it wasn’t a big deal.

Except?  It is a big deal.  Maybe not to me or you, but to her.  And by not taking it seriously and discussing it I think she thought that we didn’t care, or that we didn’t think it was important.  It’s easy for me to say that the world is so much more open and caring than every before but that ignores the fact that everything a teenage girl goes through is viewed through the lens of low self-esteem and fear and shame and hormones and that is all magnified if there’s also an otherness that you are carrying around with you…a fear that comes every time she explains who she is.  Everything in junior high sucks but there’s an added layer of hell that comes with knowing you’re not like everyone else.

Hailey is very lucky.  We support her fully.  She’s out at school and has friends who support her.  Her family loves her.  There are communities she can join and there are far more out kids in her school than there ever were when I was growing up.  Today there are parades and twitter trends and celebrations.  It’s different and better and I’m so thankful to the people who’ve come before her who have made this path so much easier for her.

I’ve never been to a Pride parade. I’m not a parade girl.  I’m not a people girl.  But last year I told Hailey we should all go.  Victor and I were ready.  She was not.  She was out to her friends but not loudly out, and she worried about what would happen if kids from her school saw her there.  I explained that tons of straight people and queer allies go to those parades.  I reminded her that I was bi.  I told her it might be good for her to see difference celebrated.  She thought about it for a while but decided she wasn’t ready for that yet.

And I understand it.

The concept of Pride is a weird one for me too…the idea of celebrating something that is as simple as who you love.  It’s weird that it’s still something that has to be fought for, that we’re still in a place where it’s considered brave to be exactly who you are.    But at the same time, there is so much shame and prejudice around sexuality that it’s necessary to loudly support all people in order to combat the hate that still exists out there.

So we let Hailey take the reins on how she wants to tell her own story.  Over the past few years she’s become more confident in who she is and the fear is still there, but it is not as great as her need to be loved and accepted for who she is.  Today she told me that she would be okay with me telling this part of her story.  In fact, she said, it would make her happy.

And that makes me happy.  You’re only as happy as your saddest child, after all.

Having a teenager is hard.  You fuck up all the time.  I think maybe I shouldn’t have acted like it was no big deal when she told me.   Maybe I should have recognized that even though it wasn’t a big deal to me it was a big deal to her.  I don’t know.  I only know that I’m trying my best and that I will do anything to create a safe passage for her.  As safe as can be.

Hailey is now 14.  She is openly a lesbian.  After two years I can tell you it isn’t a fad.  It’s part of who she is.  It’s one of many amazing parts that make up the brilliant woman she is becoming.  She is a singer, and actress, an honor roll student.  She works lights for the theater.  She has a temper.  She can whistle.  She is too young to date but one day she’ll make a great girlfriend to a lucky girl.  She stands up for others.  She can’t keep her room clean.  She memorizes dramatic monologues for fun.  She wears braces for bad ankles and is taking Opera lessons and loves her pets and can’t write in cursive and wants to be a neurosurgeon and adores American Horror Story (although I fast-forward through all the bad parts) and is so much more multifaceted than anyone sees.  The same as all kids her age, I suppose.

She’s my daughter and I am so very proud of her.  I hope you are too.

Is this how it’s supposed to be?

 

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.

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.

22 years ago today…

It’s like trepanation but not at all.

So.  Yesterday I started rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) and if you’re confused then you missed my post explaining it and you need to go back and read it.  I am currently in a depression so my head isn’t working perfectly but if I don’t write it down I’ll forget so let’s do this.

The most expensive hat I’ve never owned.

First off, it feels like a woodpecker is drilling holes into your head while you have an ice cream headache and also you’re paying for it to happen to you.  And your head is in a vice and have you have tape on your face and protective earplugs on and your eyes are blinking involuntarily in a small convulsion and it looks like you’re winking at the doctor, nurse, and the medical students watching you, and then you have to tell them that you are not trying to seduce them but you say it way too loud because you have earplugs in and that’s awesome.

Secondly, I started this post wrong but my head hurts so I’m going backward.  The doctor told me that before we start he needs to find out “where my thumb lives” and I was like, “Are you sure you’re a real doctor because my thumb lives on my hand and it’s really obvious” but turns out they have to find it from my brain, which seems like a really long trip, but whatever.

The doctor told me that in order to find the parts of the brain where they need to hit me with magnets they need to find the homunculus first and then work backward and I thought it was a trick because I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons and I am perfectly aware that a homunculus is a flying telepathic monster made of blood magic:

But the doctor was like, “Jesus, no, that’s horrifying.  It’s this:”

Worst sex toy ever.

And that’s way more horrifying than the telepathic winged blood monster but apparently there are different parts of your body that are affected when you get magnet-punched in the brain-pan and to make sure they’re in the right spot they make you hold your thumb up like a hitchhiker and they keep magnet-punching your noggin until your thumb falls.  I called it a reverse-Fonzie but the med students didn’t laugh because I guess they’re too cool for Fonzie.

Hey, remember when I said I started this woodpecker head stuff yesterday?  Yeah, no.  I got depressed and couldn’t concentrate enough to finish this post for a week so now it’s much later.  But in a way it was good because that depression was enough to make me realize how terrible depression is even when it super sucks to have to leave the house and get hit in the head with an invisible chisel and it made me keep going even when I didn’t want to.

Anyway, here are the things that I found out about TMS:

  1. My brain is not at all symmetrical which I thought was weird but then the doctor was like, “Well, your face isn’t symmetrical so why would your brain be symmetrical?” and that makes sense but it’s also a little insulting because basically I think he just said that I’m even ugly on the inside.
  2. It super hurt the first day but everyone assured me that I’d quickly get used to being pummeled in the skull and they were totally right and also this feels like a pretty good metaphor for 2018 in general.
  3. If it hurts a lot they might be on a nerve and if you tell them they can move it a little and then it only hurts a little.  SCIENCE!
  4. They literally put my head in a vice to do this but if you have a good imagination it almost looks like a fancy fascinator for a futuristic royal space wedding and I think if I keep doing it long enough I’ll develop a magneto-like super power, which would be nice to help find my keys or change the channel without a remote.
  5. Every day they do 20 minutes with one pulse per second on my right side, and then on the left side of my brain they do 20 minutes with LOTS of pulses for 5 seconds followed by 10 second breaks.
  6. I couldn’t write while being whacked in the head so instead I listened to TED talks and took up embroidery.  Finished:

Classy AND positive.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s working or not but today I feel better than I felt the day before I started and that feels like a good sign.

One week down.  Five more to go.

I don’t even know how to spell the thing that I’m going to do to myself but I still feel good about it so don’t freak me out, okay?

So if you read here you already know that I deal with a host of mental issues and you can probably tell that it’s gotten a bit worse lately and that sucks.  I go to sleep not knowing if I’ll wake up depressed or “normal” and when I do feel normal I’m so damn jealous of the rest of the world…people who can be around others without feeling exhausted or who can concentrate enough to finish basic projects or don’t spend thousands of dollars a year on medication that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.  People who don’t deal with intrusive thoughts and anxiety and who don’t struggle in vain to stop their minds at night and restart them again in the morning.

In the last year I’ve done all the things.  I did extensive blood work and took 32 pills a day to fix all the vitamin deficiencies and anemias and treatable disorders.  I ate low carb and cut out gluten.  I went 9 months without alcohol.  I lost 50 pounds and started walking and swimming and I tried to write goals and make myself do normal things and honestly I do feel healthier than I felt a year ago.  But I still feel fairly worthless at least 25% of the time.  And if this is as good as it gets I’ll still consider myself lucky and I’ll just wait for the darkness and dread to pass on those bad weeks, but it’s really…not comfortable.  That’s an extreme understatement but you get what I mean.

A few years ago my shrink told me that I’d be a good candidate for TMS and it sounded really scary so I ignored it like any sane person would because transcranial magnetic stimulation seems like diet electro-shock therapy.  But turns out that I was totally wrong.  I’m going to try to explain it and I’m super going to fuck it up so maybe look it up yourself but here’s the way I understand it:

So part of your brain sort of stops working properly when you’re depressed.  And a different part of your brain goes nuts and works crazy overtime when you have anxiety.  And your anxiety part of your brain can hijack the rest of your brain that already isn’t working and that’s how you get…me.

TMS sends electromagnetic impulses through your skull into small parts of your brain and it stimulates the part that isn’t working, like physical therapy for your brain tissue.  There’s also a way to use it on the over-active part that can slow it down to normal.  Supposedly it feels like a woodpecker tapping at your brain for 30-40 minutes a day for 6-8 weeks which sounds not fun but more than half of people with treatment-resistant depression (like me) see improvement, and around 30% go into full remission.  I can’t even imagine what full remission would feel like but I suppose if I’m willing to have an invisible bird drill into my brain for months it’s a pretty good indication that I need help.  I’ve spent the last month researching it and doing consults and last week after a million pages of paperwork and an interview a local psychiatric unit accepted me as a patient.  I start treatment this month.

I’ve talked to others who’ve done it and some said it was a miracle and some said it didn’t work at all so I don’t know if this will be an enormous waste of time and money but I’m willing to do what it takes to try.  And I feel lucky to live in a world where we are slowly – too, too slowly – figuring out how to treat these terrible things.  I had a great grandmother I never met who had such terrible rheumatoid arthritis she was in a wheelchair at my age.  Currently (knock on wood) my injections have me in remission from what was debilitating RA.  I’m lucky.

This is my other great grandmother.

Lillie

It seems like her terrible secret is that she has a horse head for an arm but that’s just a trick of the light.  Her real secret was mental illness, and she spent the last part of her life in a mental institution where she died from a “heart attack related to psychosis and chronic brain syndrome” which is probably 50’s shorthand for “electroshock therapy” because that was one of the only treatments available for her.  Again, I am lucky.

I keep Lillie’s picture on my desk top.  It reminds me that it’s not my fault that my brain is sometimes broken.  It reminds me that you can be broken and still love.  It reminds me that some of us get better and some of us don’t…but we all leave a trace behind.  Maybe it’s light and kindness and gentle touches.  Maybe it’s dark and bitter and angry.  For most of us, it’s both.  But I’m fighting for more of the former…any crazy way I can.

I’ll keep you posted.

PS.  Several people I know have had good results on electroconvulsive therapy now so no judgement if that worked for you.  It’s a very different animal than it was in the 50’s.  Anything that works is magic.  🙂