It’s been almost a year and a half since my last post – way too long.
When I left off in August 2015, things were Not Good ™. I languished in a cramped suburban apartment across the lane from a pile driving construction zone basically cut off from an accessible train and a close living hub when I could not overcome driving anxiety or afford an expensive $20 plus cab ride one way. Friends did what they could. The long battle with Winston, the black dog of depression left me in financial shambles. I had to weather a waiting game while my credit healed. Meanwhile I entered like an emotional Big Sleep where everything felt temporary and unimportant. Since I would restart my life when I finally found a place to land, why bother with anything while in a holding pattern? Needless to say, motivation and I were estranged. Everything took a nosedive except for knitting, a hobby I took up as a mental distraction and life line. Except for last year’s aborted attempts, I did not write. There was no there there.
I drifted along this way for 18 months.
Then four month ago, the credit gods smiled and I found a condo downtown in a leafy little village, two blocks from the train and no more than four blocks from shops, doctors, the movie theater and anything else I regularly need. The grocery is only a six block drive down side streets. As I cheered over this, a spectacular streak of bad luck brought me up short with a day in the hospital (mine), eye surgery (mine), another hospital stay (Patty the Pomeranian), another dental surgery (mine), and yet more future bills, courtesy of Patty. Really wish I knew which Fates I offended; I could knit them a conciliatory sweater for Christmas.
Anyway now it’s time to slip back into the stream of things, rejoin life and start writing again.
So, as chef Justin Wilson used to say in his best corny Cajun accent: How y’all are?
The good news is I’m blazing my way back, although your mileage may vary on how good that is. Like any egotistical writer, I’ll assume you’ve been whispering in corners brows furrowed, worrying and wondering what happened to my blatherings, snark, and deathless prose possibly about Richard Armitage. Don’t worry, I’ve stashed months and months of thoughts on all three.
The bad news my depression went all wibbly wobbly. No, Winston the black dog of gloom didn’t return. Instead my hormones have been thrown into chaos by that horrid phase of womanhood, MENOPAUSE. I could rant for days on the subject, but let’s just say that the turmoil negated the efficacy of the anti-depressives and stopped me in my tracks. Not only did the blogging stop, everything else did as well. Now that things seem to be settling and the meds work agreeing to agree, another window of opportunity presents itself to start pushing the proverbial ball back uphill.
The crazy is that today seems like a new year to me when I rise yet again, dust myself off and make resolutions: start blogging again, fire up Scrivener and write again, and think of life in terms of a story to tell. Surprisingly, I miss writing – not that I’m a great storyteller – but the mechanics of thinking about things and translating the story from my mind to the medium. I suspect the habit of regularly blogging ignited something internally. Dr. G. also believes that blogging is beneficial to psychological processing. So you see, it’s what the doctor orders.
I’m not sure whether to blog every day, but I’ll share thoughts about the latest doings of Mr. A. or maybe let The Man tell you. Any ideas are welcome.
I can’t post until I explain what’s happened with me, and that’s been difficult. So, I’ll just spit it out: my depression finally forced me to retire last Tuesday, ignominiously ending an almost 25 year career in government. A few colleagues acknowledged my departure by treating me to lunch. Dejected and conflicted, I left carrying a box and bag of all my things. This occurred at least nine years too early. It was definitely not what I had ever envisioned, so somehow, I had failed.
That is what a younger remnant of myself wailed -the 30-something lawyer focused on attaining the badges of my profession: law firm partnership, high salary, husband, McMansion, two kids, and a dog. As time passed and old classmates burned out in their jobs, divorced, and seem to go batshit crazy, I learned to redefine success for myself. But my younger self wailed, and I let her – overnight. After thrashing it out with Dr. G., I realized what really happened.
Let me start again. Here is my story.
Shortly after Christmas, Mother Nature (read: menopause) kicked in. If you’ve been following my depression saga for past two years, things didn’t just worsen, they went straight to hell. Friends reported I sounded like a 45 rpm record played at 33 1/3. I couldn’t work. I called Mayo Clinic which took me almost immediately in February. Armed with more hormone patches and pills, my condition improved, but functioning did not. I wasn’t sad but supremely apathetic and detached from the world. I had shut down, withdrawn, and built walls around myself, as if I were in survivor mode under siege. Dr. G. was baffled. I was baffled – in a uninterested way. Even my dwindling bank balance didn’t faze me. Dimly, I knew the point of hospitalization loomed close. Then, a series of events happened.
I published a post -the usual pot stirrer variety – hoping to stimulate my mind. Long story short, a reaction provoked a fit of rage in me so OTP and uncharacteristic that I realized that counseling and medication would not fix the problem. The rage created a two day window of clarity. I felt glad for the clarity but disturbed why only rage could pierce the fog. Clearly, the bizarre apathy signaled something different. My family intervened, spoke of moving me and getting nursing care. Oh shit.
Many readers don’t know that at work, while management paid lip service to being hospitable towards my illness, their actions declared the opposite. Even with union intervention, they created a miserable, soul-sucking environment. Meanwhile headquarters “encouraged” old (read: 50+) and sick (read: me) out the door. In recent years, management mentality has morphed to the soulless corporate variety. The old guard, like me, do not enjoy the buffer or support from the caprices of bureaucratic decision-making. So it was a race between recovering from an indefinite illness and being either fired or forced onto disability (a financially poor option).
During the window of clarity, I returned to the office for a day. Just as my mind flatly refused to work, a colleague (and surprising champion) dropped information on my desk. The gist was that I could feasibly retire early. I checked with Human Resources. It was true. But I needed money before interim payments began; I was flat broke. While dumping months of mail out of my box, I discovered income sources I’d either forgotten or didn’t realize. A few calls and the checks were in the mail. (No, really. I got one already).
So, six weeks after the fit of rage, I retired. A few friends I liked treated me to a farewell luncheon. One later came to my office and thanked me for 25 years of public service on behalf of the agency and the public, which management didn’t do. He told me my work had been appreciated. He thought this was the best thing for me, now I could get well. He understood I was sad but reassured me I’d feel better the next day. Then he carried my stuff to the taxi and waved.
So that’s what really happened. He and Dr. G. were right. The next morning, I awoke and felt – fine. A dear buddy drove over to get me on a proper eating and sleep regimen. I talked, ate, laughed and went to the movies (twice). I’m preparing to sell the condo for something less expensive. The loss of toxic stress has increased the groggy side effect of my med, so Dr. G. REDUCED the dosage. How about that? I looked at the blue sky and budding greenery and sensed – joy? The last time I felt this good was June 2011 during the London trip.
I spent 28 years in a profession I didn’t particularly like, and 25 years in a job which grew increasing toxic. Yes, I still have a depressive disorder, but the endless drip of professional poison was psychologically killing me. I lasted long enough in a high paying job to retire early on a nice pension. While I can’t live in the style to which I was accustomed, it’s a damn sight better than other situations. I served the public for almost 25 years and am proud of my work. I’m young enough to start a part-time second career in a more nurturing field. I’ve gone from no options seven weeks ago to having too many. As Dr. G. said, it’s like the universe conspired to move me out of the old bad and into the new.
I’ve been doing a mental dance since the beginning of the year: two steps forward, one step back, then zombie creep forward. My last burst of energy in late February turned out to be a bit premature. Mental and physical exhaustion struck within hours, laying me low for a few more weeks. It’s not the return of Winston, the black dog of depression, but Aunt Flo and her little hellish puppy Minnie O. Pause, have been really working my last nerve. Anguished calls to Dr. F. at Mayo Clinic yielded entreaties to be patient for at least two months do the drugs could build my system. Protracted whining to Dr. G. yielded dismayed looks and yet another ingredient in my expanding chemical cocktail. As you might suspect, patience is not my forte.
This led to the most extreme sulk since RA failed to provide a full frontal in Between the Sheets. Well, maybe not that bad. The apathy proved so severe that I couldn’t be arsed to do anything or care about it. Dr. G. queried whether fear, resentment, anger, or depleted fortitude fueled this fugue and what could be done about it. Long story short, a fit of rage over a situation jolted me out of the fugue while the meds finally started kicking back in. On one hand this is great; on the other, I wonder about rage as a primary motivator. Anger is not my forte either. My upbringing did not encourage it, and forced me to push it down. So going from apathetic to livid in minutes is equally disturbing and scary. They say depression is repressed rage. Clearly, that swamp needs more draining. And so it goes.
Meanwhile, I’ll creep back with more writing here. Small steps. Still small steps.
My eyes open slowly. Three faces hover fuzzily over me. Eventually, the faces of my id, superego, and ego (Jada, Jodi, and Quiet One) sharpen into view.
Jodi grins and chirps. “Hey, she’s coming around!”
Jodi nods warily.
Quiet One sighs in apparent relief.
I blink. Something about the light… it’s much brighter. Things feel lighter again.
My Pomeranian Patty’s face suddenly fills my field of vision. She’s wearing a little white nurse’s smock and matching cap. I notice that the trio is also wearing smocks of various colors with Jodi’s being the loudest. Neon rainbow. Naturally.
Patty barks sharply to get my attention again and eyes me critically. Little paws clack away on her iDog beside me. She speaks into the microphone, listening obviously to responses. She rapid fires a series of questions at me.
I blink. “Yes, I feel much better … no, I feel neutral … you were born in 2005 and came to live with me Thanksgiving weekend, 2008. Homicidal urges? Gosh… no, no homicidal urges.”
I sit up and glance around apprehensively for blood on the walls. Nope.
Jodi gives a thumbs up sign. “We had to check. Remember the flight to Mayo Clinic with the coughing, puking, whining tot behind you, and obsessive Chatty Cathy next to you? And you finally arrived starving at the hotel at 1:00AM? You showed such restraint. We were so proud of you!”
Jada sighs again happily.
Quiet One snickers.
I remember. “That’s because I couldn’t think how to fashion my plastic cup into a deadly weapon.”
Patty continues chattering into the mic. I arch a brow at the trio.
Jada explains. “Patty is skyping with Dr. F. on your progress.”
I lie back against the pillows. My anti-depressive medication had seemingly stopped working six weeks ago. After a alarming downward spiral since New Year’s Eve, I sought tertiary care at Mayo Clinic with Dr. F. Acting on a hunch from Dr. G., Dr. F. sprang into action. Within hours, she ascertained that my medication had been effected by severe hormonal changes caused by perimenopause. She zipped the prescriptions to my local pharmacy, saying that if this wasn’t the answer, I had to return in two months.
I blink again. By George, I think she got it in one. I felt absolutely fine. Wow.
I smile at Patty, who smiles back and ends the call. So, Dr. F. understands Canine too? Brilliant.
I throw back the covers and leap out of bed, grinning at the quartet. “Right! So, where were we?”
They look at each other.
Jada’s smile turns lopsided. “Erm, about the tree and stuff …”
I notice finally the sound of music from the living room. Is that Christmas music on a loop?
I’m enjoying one those rare evenings when nothing urgently presses at the moment. The Christmas tree is up and decorated, but needs some TLC from the local hardware store. One holiday party is over. I need to shake people down for their gift lists but that’s another day. And there’s nothing to report from The Great Hobbit Tour blitz, thank goodness. Now that I can hear myself think, a few thoughts have jumped out at me.
It’s been great without Winston, my black dog of depression. He’s been MIA since May and counting. Last year at this, I could barely get through the holidays. Grudgingly, I threw up the tree, decorated slap-dash, and dragged myself to two parties I found a mental ordeal. This year, the tree got the full treatment as I sang carols before rushing off to a holiday party. My weekends are quickly filling up this month. Old friends are reconnecting.
As soon as Winston fled, I met with external Real Life problems that I can’t do anything about right now, but they kept me on edge and wobbly. The only thing I can do, instead of waiting for the problems to resolve, is to put them in a box, push them to the back of my mind and get on with it. So, I’ve reemerged once again, flying to NYC for the day, blogging the Hobbit tour, chattering on Twitter (sorry Facebook), and reconnecting with people in real life and online. Yeah, I’m tubthumping – I get knocked down, but I get up again. I’m still gathering my mental resources. It’s slow going, but considering how far I’ve come, I can’t complain. Baby steps, baby steps.
It feels good to feel good.
As an older fan, I still have some reflections on the NYC trip. I also haven’t forgotten about RA’s report card; I’ve decided to expand the critique to include the entire tour. Then I will answer this question: Has RA overtaken my crush on David Tennant? Wouldn’t you like to know? Hmmm?
Give RA that warm and fuzzy feeling. Congratulate him and show your appreciation by gift bombing his Justgiving page! Show him and the world you care.
I lie on my bed replaying the same game of Spider Solitaire on the iPhone. Their voices rise and fall in the next room. My personality, id Jada, superego Jodi, and ego Quiet One have been warring since it arrived. I’m resolutely indifferent. Let them sort it.
Patty lies with head on paws beside me, just within reach. She watches me intently, but I ignore her.
My fingers tap the screen, undoing moves. I’m determined not to break my winning streak; a superstitious dread of the probable deadlock has taken hold. I’ve never been superstitious. Is this a new thing?
I sense another presence beside us but still don’t look up. Jodi’s voice rises again as she angrily berates Jada, her voice cracking with emotion. Jada murmurs calming words. Happy go lucky Jodi? This doesn’t bode well. The silence stretches as the visitor waits patiently for my acknowledgment. I sigh, knowing I can’t win.
I glance finally at Quiet One. She sits regarding me, her face unreadable. Her kimono has changed from a colorful motif to a disturbing plain gray. Suddenly, I feel inexplicably small. Not able to hold her gaze, I stare at the small screen in confusion.
Quiet One arm reaches across me; clearly she’s petting Patty.
She says simply, “she’s afraid of losing her freedom.”
My eyes closed as if to blot out everything. Jada has been upset since I refused to read the postcard they received. I resent her histrionics. I’m afraid too; I dont want any message from him either. I imagine Winston returning, running as fast as his doggy legs will carry him. Sending a postcard to make sure I wouldn’t miss his arrival, the little bastard.
Quiet One pauses and says with a hint of finality in her voice, “we can’t do this without you.”
I sigh, resigned. Indeed, they can’t. Progress will stall until I accept my fears. What if Winston comes back?
Party sits up. She has the postcard in her mouth. Finally, I reach for it.
It starts, “hi” in dark crayon. This isn’t Winston.
“I’m struck by the crude, barely formed letters and imagine her tongue stuck out in concentration, little fingers gripping the crayon as she struggled with her first letter.
“whar r yu? I ned to see yu. Im skard! plees kom. luv judy.”
It isn’t Winston causing havoc but Little Judi, the small me, the ever present remnant from my past. Driven by memories and fears she is too young to understand, she reacts viscerally to events happening to my adult self. The latest salvo has rocked her apparently. I’d forgotten her. Again.
Jada and Jodi join Quiet One at my bedside. They will me to be strong and pull myself together. Closing my eyes again, I inhale deeply.
Patty licks my hand and I stroke her soft fur. Time to carry on.
[Many of you have been following my struggle with depression humorously referred to as Winston. If you’re interested in reading those posts, they start here. In addition to medication, resolving the depression requires overhaul and reintegration of pieces of one’s self. It’s a very serious and trying business. I wrote the following many months ago but never published it.]
I’m sorry little Judi.
Tonight I sat in therapy feeling misery and sadness, and things came back to you again. She told me to picture my earliest sadness, and again you appeared in the old living room, ready to go, dressed in a bright blue jumper, white peter pan blouse, white tights, wine Buster Brown shoes. Nobody’s around. It’s just you standing there, small, lost, inconsequential. You’re looking down a long empty hallway. I can’t remember why.
I’ve seen you before many times over the years. They told me to talk to you; I talked to you. They said to hug you and tell you everything would be alright. I hugged you and said everything would be alright. But you always looked the same, so I had to do it again. Each time, you always looked the same. Damnable inarticulate child, you wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, where it hurt, so we could put a bandage there and I could finally get on with my life. So I had to keep reassuring you. But when you would look up with those sad eyes, I knew you didn’t believe me.
Tonight she said to send you colors of emotions to see how you would react. I imagined. You stood there holding big balls of orange and green light in each small hand, looking even more sad and lost. You were me, but separate from me, something outside of myself that I left in the past. I needed to move on the best way I could, so I left you behind.
I told her I wanted to reclaim the creative parts of myself I’d lost, find my true self in the pieces that broke off. I imagined going back and collecting the bits of myself like seashells and dropping them into a bucket. Then we would put the pieces together in some meaningful way and I would Find Myself. But I could never collect you because you weren’t small enough. Then I would be angry and frustrated that such a small child could be so larger than life, an immovable object. Then I would cry for myself, always my adult self.
Tonight I looked at you and realized I’d treated you the same way others had. I said what they told me to say and hugged like they told me do, all the while hoping for some change for me in the present because I couldn’t connect with you in the past. You were a stranger who resembled pictures of my younger self, a small, lost, inconsequential child. I couldn’t remember and didn’t care what you thought and felt; I just wanted you to respond to my hollow words and distant hugs. No wonder you didn’t believe me.
But you kept standing there, quietly waiting, hoping I would notice you, just you did with everybody else. Tonight, as you held those spheres of color, looking so sad and lost, I cried, but not for myself as I’ve always done. I finally cried for you. I felt so sorry for you. For the first time, my adult self in the present felt a connection to you in the past. You weren’t a strange child; you were my child.
So when she said to conjure up a life where you wouldn’t feel so sad and lonely, I imagined a place where you could play with other children and took you to the playground myself. I coaxed you to the monkey bars and watched you mingle tentatively. I heard children’s laughter. I’m not sure if it was yours yet. Among all the pants and tops, you looked out of place in the blue jumper and white tights that you refused to change. But it’s early yet. Small steps. I took a mental picture and framed it, to remind us things will be different.
I’m so sorry little Judi. Things will be better. I see you now.
The jubilant giddiness has been wearing off. My mind is still clear and free of Winston’s weight, pulling me down, always threatening to drag me under. This reprieve feels more permanent; the mental shift feels solidified, more tangible, as if a door has been literally thrown open in my mind, minus the fear of it slamming shut again.
The world is my oyster, as they say. Now I can get on with life.
Well, not exactly. I’m left with all the behaviors and defense mechanisms created to cope with Winston that protected my psyche against him, while enabling him to maintain paradoxically the reassuring presence I knew; the old friend I loved to hate. His bed is here; all his toys are still here, as it were. I still seen the after-image of his presence. I want to scoop up all his things and toss them out the door behind him, but something stops me. What feels the void Winston leaves behind? If I clean house of all traces of Winston, and stop the escapist napping, chronic procrastination, self-imposed isolation, and learned mindlessness, does a skill set I never had morph into its place?
What to do, I asked Dr. G. She replied that I have to take it slow and allow myself the time needed to transition to the New Judiang.
It sounds similar to being like recovering addicts. Only they have half-way houses and programs to ease them back into mainstream life. There are websites and videos galore dispensing information concerning Life After. But what do you do after depression? I googled and discovered precious few. On one depression forum, a poster asked that very question. One respondent asked the OP if s/he was mocking the forum because she didn’t understand the question. She couldn’t fathom the idea of Life After. I came away with the sense that depression forums primarily exist for the sufferers only. If you made it through to the other side, then don’t rub it in here. Not very helpful. While forums dedicated to survivors might be more empowering, a tiny lazy part of myself knew there was no quick start blueprint to follow.
So this is where I am. I’m in the process of reexamining everything about me and life, feeling my way, taking it one day at a time. I’m doing a total overhaul of my mental house. Things are in flux.
This has been a long-winded way of saying, Dear Reader, there will be blog changes too. I recently complained to a friend, “I didn’t know what to blog about”. That’s not an accurate statement. What I really meant was, “I don’t know what my blog is about anymore.” In my last post, I mentioned returning to regular programming, before realizing the programming has changed. To what, I don’t know. It’s questions, questions, questions. What is my place in RA fandom? Is there more for me to say? Will readers be interested if things change too much? Has the blog served its purpose?
So, this is where I am – in transition. Please excuse the dust.
If you’ve been following my blog for the past year and a half, you’re aware that this blog has been interrupted by periods of silence. That is because behind the scenes I’ve been engaged in colossal, knock down, drag out fights with Winston, my black dog of depression. I’ve won skirmishes but each time, Winston kept returning to mess over everything. He would morph from a little pug to a hulking monster and I needed all my mental resources for the next round. Aside from a short reprieve last summer (remember London?) with a new medication (Cymbalta), we have been battling since February 2011. Things really started going downhill last Fall but I was determined to blog through it.
By Spring, there was no improvement in sight. The medication did not combat the most severe breakthrough symptoms, loss of concentration and extreme lethargy. I’d ceased to function in any meaningful way. I was absent from my job intermittently for about five months. They could not carry me indefinitely, and so they started making noises about either easing me onto to disability or out the door. As a single woman two-thirds to retirement, neither of these was an option for me. In addition, my brother uncharacteristically showered me with calls. My sister-in-law did the same. My close friends descended on me, cooking and cleaning. Friends emailed, texted, and called in support. I learned my family was discussing how to take care of me.
The point made it through my foggy brain that things were dire. Winston was eating me alive.
Panicked, I told Dr. G. that we needed skip from Plan C over some of the less appealing options (meds with horrible side effects) and go straight to Plan G, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It works similar to the ECT treatment of old except without the shock or side effects. However, it would take time to get insurance approval. Dr. G. wondered if I had treatment-resistant depression because all of the new SSRI medications all had the same limited affect on me. These meds all increased serotonin and/or norepinephrine in the brain, two chemicals of the three chemicals responsible for mood. But what if she treated the brain fog with a psycho-stimulant that increased the third chemical, dopamine? So, she prescribed a small dose Ritalin. Yes, Ritalin, a popular drug given to kids with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I don’t have ADHD, I said, but hey, I was desperate.
Long story short, it felt like the difference between night and day, in a matter of hours. The breakthrough symptoms disappeared. Winston disappeared. I could focus, think, and function. I returned to work and have been fine for a month and counting. I feel even keel and a little better than neutral. In other words, I feel “normal.” How can this be? According to Google, Ritalin/Adderall/ dopamine derivatives given to people with ADHD, help them focus and slow down. Without ADHD, it increases focus and stimulates. So, psycho-stimulants in small doses like Ritalin and Adderall are emerging to augment anti-depressants. Could it be that after 20 years of experimenting with medication that we’ve finally discovered that my brain needs serotonin AND dopamine? I’m better due to an offhand throwaway idea? It’s almost too good to be true.
I haven’t seen Winston in a month. This isn’t a cure; the symptoms slowly return if I’m not diligent with medication because Ritalin doesn’t have a long half-life. I must accept that I’m like a diabetic with insulin, but that’s okay. I’m back to the way I was last summer. People have again remarked about the change in my personality. It’s all good.
Right now, I’m marshaling my mental resources and slowly reconnecting with life. Depression is truly a bitch. It steals your life, but I’m determined to get mine back. This post has been a bit long-winded but I’ve revealed all this in the hope that my story may help somebody out there. Don’t give up. The solution is out there.
I don’t know if I’ve won the war with Winston, but like another famous Winston, I shall never surrender.
Again, there’s nothing surreal here except my state of mind. I’ve been mulling the past few hours how my friends never fail to amaze me.
My family was too dysfunctional to be examples of healthy relationships. They were too consumed by their own issues to consider any effects on me. I grew up with a sense that love was conditional; if I put a foot wrong, it would be withheld. Dissenting opinion wasn’t acceptable. I felt mostly inconsequential, when I wasn’t literally and figuratively preventing them from going off the deep end. When I left that environment, I didn’t leave these examples behind, so I attracted more of the same people because that’s all I knew. You can imagine how those relationships turned out. You can also imagine it all left me chronically depressed.
Naturally I assumed there it was all my fault to be treated to poorly. I recall sobbing to my first therapist for the umpteenth time, “what’s wrong with me?” Finally her professional mask dropped and she leaned forward, clearly angry. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You need better friends!” Of course, needing to pay out $75 a hour then for therapy didn’t convince me that I was poster girl for mental health. It took a long a time to separate me as a person from the disorder. Then I worried how people accept me and my depression. How do keep friends with this?
Some of the therapy must have sunk in because I did find a different kind of friend. My worries are not an issue for two best friends I’ve known since 1996. Over the years, they’ve seen me sad, reclusive, grumpy, and simply not functioning. They’ve listened to my silences. For the last eight months, they’ve been quietly supportive through this latest struggle. They descended on my place this past weekend from out of state. For my birthday they expensively stocked my refrigerator with home cooked meals, sorted through my piles of clutter, ran errands, got me out of the house, talked to me, and listened. I see evidence of what real love and caring means every time I open the fridge, eat the candy, walk down the neat hall, look into the clean closet, open my checkbook, and I’m in awe. Once I asked why they bothered all these years. “We like the not-depressed Judi much, it’s worth it, ” they said. I was so stunned, I didn’t know what to say. They chattered about what we will do during the summer when I’m hopefully okay, as if I were back after a hiatus.
I just finished a call with another friend. He and his wife called to take my pulse, as it were. He’d already phoned earlier in the week to wish me a happy birthday, but wanted to double check I would be able to attend Easter dinner with them. He’d bought my favorite wine; they wanted me to come. He chatted as if there has been only short pause in socializing, instead of months. I didn’t have to search for my place in their lives again; our friendship was still there, waiting for me to return.
I’m amazed by online friends who have sent me supportive private emails and humored me on blog, in chat, on Twitter and Facebook, gently nudging, letting know they care. I laughed when Sally Field gushed “you like me, you really like me!” but I understand the shock and surprise at feeling validated.
After all these years, I still haven’t gotten used to this yet. Part of me is still that child fearing rejection while wanted to be accepted. Maybe it’s good I’m amazed by my friends every single time. Then I won’t fail to be appreciative or take any of them for granted.
The following songs have been floating through my head. I think they say it all.
I’ve talked many times before about wanting to rediscover my creativity. That necessarily implies I need to go back and find where I left it. For me, that seems to back in my childhood, back to the younger Judi. One of my biggest laments, as a person with depression, is the tendency to forget. A dark cloud descends, blanketing the mind and dulling the senses. I can literally forget what I thought or wanted yesterday because all that exists today is the dark cloud. Using my metaphor,Winston, all I can sense is him, nipping at my heels or sitting on my chest. When the cloud lifts, a little bit remains, casting a hazy veil over whatever happened before. The past becomes indistinct, unfocused.
This haziness causes time to become vaguely disjointed, not consciously, but subsconsciously. That doesn’t mean I have memory gaps. When goaded, I can generally describe what I did yesterday or last week, but I have difficulty tracking the flow of subconsious thoughts: what are my goals, how do I feel about X, what do I like to do, what do I want for myself, what drives me – all of these questions with answers that lie right below conscious thought and propel our actions. I imagine, Dear Reader, when you are questioned, you pause to collect your thoughts and call to the surface conclusions you decided yesterday, or last week, or last year. For me, it’s as if I’m hearing the questions for the first time, every time. Whenever, I’m asked one of these questions, I feel like a deer caught in the headlights, my mind frozen into a perfect blank and I reflexively think: “I don’t know.” Of course my mind goes into overdrive, reminding me I *do* know, like I knew and should have known when asked before and the time before that. My mind leaps into the breach to stitch my thoughts back together into something plausible. Then the moment passes and I’m left with that sinking feeling of having forgotten myself. Again.
So each time I must ask myself the same questions so I can hopefully remember the same answers. Some sessions are not as clear as others and all the navel gazing and introspection doesn’t help. Then I take medication to keep Winston at bay and another drug induced wall rises. I emailed a friend complaining of my woes and an inability to penetrate my blogger’s block. She suggested, “write about what drives you.” Over thousands of virtual miles, that question nailed me. “I don’t know.” I’d forgotten. I have exchanged the dark cloud for a wall of placid blankness. It’s simply a different haziness.
But lately, just before I drift off to sleep at night, memories come, unbidden. My mind plays it’s own home movies. Here you are holding your squeaky giraffe as you grin up at your brother, waiting for him to take your picture. He’s in his ROTC uniform. You are four years old. See, you do remember being small. Here you are watching as you your family stands around a figure lying peaceful on the sofa. You are two. See, you do remember your grandmother. Images move across the placid blankness of my mind like movie shorts from an old projector. I’m older, then younger, then older. Some memories are sad, some are happy.
At first I resented this insistence in dredging up old memories, but now I suspect there is a purpose. This is me, remembering, piecing half-forgotten memories back together, looking for myself. I hope one day to actually find the younger Judi, the creative one, the authentic me and hold onto her tight. She can help me remember myself. Then I will be able to answer those questions.
Dear Reader, you’re probably wondering what has happened to my usual posts, so I’m giving an update.
My black dog Winston has been been a little monster, clinging harder than velcro. Trying to get the obedience regimen in place combined with the sometimes forced cheerfulness of the holiday season has him more hyper than Patty and that’s saying something. Add to that the strain of daily blogging and I’ve needed a mental vacation. Typically, I would have taken a hiatus as in the past. However that strategy led to extended periods of not writing that was hard to break. I grew tired of leaving, then making comebacks. After awhile, that gets old. Hence, I decided to do a string of Interlude posts to keep going this month. It’s serving as a mental break without totally stopping.
Rest assured you won’t be forced to look at picture after picture of Richard Armitage the entire month. I have a holiday treat in store extending for eight consecutive days during Christmas week. During that time, my blog will be password protected, like it was for a certain excerpt. Interesting, eh? I’ll leave you to mull over that. Be sure to keep watching this space.
In the meantime, back to the RA Bag of Goodies for something sweet and calming. How about RA reading you a bedtime story? Jump into your jammies, grab you teddy, and have a listen.
Richard Armitage reading a story for Cbeebies, courtesy RichardArmitageNet.com
When Winston, my black dog of depression, leaps out of the bag, morphs and starts misbehaving, I’ve noticed my pomeranian Patty has been suddenly like velcro at my side. Usually she’d be off loving Dolly (which looks indistinguishable from biting, mauling and beating up her stuffed meerkat) or sleeping under the futon. But when Winston threatens to comes out, Patty has been right there.
I first noticed this when walking her. I’d bring her back in and usually she would trot back through the myriad of doors we have to pass in my building. But on bad days, she would try to get me to go back outside until I’ve dragged her through too many doors. She would persist at the front door, act odd and then give up. At first I assumed she wasn’t finished with her business but each time that has not been the case. She stayed close by, keeping an eye on me although I feel fine. Then later, Winston would come out and run amok.
Courtesty Black Pug Art, Deviant Art
It turns out this type of behavior is not unusual. Sensitive canines such as seizure alert dogs are being used to assist epileptics. They also may be able to detect other disorders including diabetes and cancer. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why animals are able to detect the onset of a seizure or a hypoglycemic attack in a human. They theorize dogs are able to smell chemical changes or are more connected to us. Their reactions can be false positives; dogs may react whether it’s an actual episode or not not. However scientists point out the important thing is the owner’s response to the dog’s signals. A diabetic should immediately test her blood sugar; an epileptic should find a safe place to avoid injury. Googling this subject, I’ve learned dogs are also being used as psychiatric service animals to detect disorders like depression.
I’m learning to anticipate the slumps, either alerting myself to log the episode, checking medication or rearranging activities. This has been immeasurable in assisting the doctor in treating my condition. Although Patty has not been trained for any type of detection, perhaps being such a sensitive dog, she has trained herself to anticipate my moods. It appears as if Patty and Winston are squaring off nose to nose like competitors. This possibility grows stronger every day.
So Dear Reader was left huddled and shivering with me in an airport and then –… And then –?
Er… hasn’t this been the greatest cliffhanger ever? It’s like the break between episodes 7 and 8 of Doctor Who. No?
Godzilla would be impressed.
What if I said the dog ate my homework? Yes, it’s the old tired joke, but for the first time in my life, it’s true.
Winston ate the next installment. The pug leaped out of my bag and morphed into an ebony version of the Big Red Dog but not a bit as cute. He went on a rampage, much like those little monsters on It’s Me or the Dog except far nastier. He didn’t like his happy pills any more, so he got more different happy pills and then more pills to make him happier about those, but only just. To my chagrin, he thinks he’s still a lapdog, so he’s been spending most of his time flattening me and whining in distress, only since he’s a dog, he can’t be useful and TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.
Currently, Winston in calmer times.
So this is where we stand. Dr. G. and Winston are at an impasse. Dr. G. suspecting an underlying physiological problem sent me to my ole Dr. V-A who after prodding and blood tapping pronounced my hormones whacked and why was I still having menses? Why in the hell was he asking me? He deduced there wasn’t much he could do but throw more happy pills at Winston; he didn’t deal with black dogs. So Dr. G. is casting around for A Specialist in the elusive field of whacked hormones. I’ve had dealings before with this specialist species. This should get interesting.
In the meantime, I’ve reverted to being really blonde on good days and vacuous and addle-brained on bad ones. Because I can’t focus consistently to get any appreciable work done, I’m starting the paperwork to take paid leave from my job. I did this 10 years ago during a string of bizarre physical problems (my first dealing with Specialists); that lasted almost three months. I really hope to have some meaningful control over this situation by the holidays.
So that’s my update and explanation about the unintentional cliffhanger. I’ve been out of the loop with ArmitageWorld and the latest goings-on like RA’s birthday. I’ve been trying to keep a toe in by visiting the chat room and being utterly silly with some lovely and supportive members. Thanks to all who have asked after me, I appreciate it. I’ll try to post when I can.
I’ve touched some heavy topics like depression, racism and the impact of Richard Armitage’s facial hair. It’s time to move on a lighter topic: London!
I left off blogging about the suspenseful 4th week on medication. Ordinarily this would have been only me and my shrink heaving a sigh of relief as Winston morphed into a pug and hid in my bag. But I also had a long standing problem demanding resolution. In January, I purchased tickets to see two performances of Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant (my Other Squee) and Catherine Tate in London for the third week of June. In March, my computer fell ill with a virus, causing me to lose about everything including my ticket reservation code and dates. I tentatively planned to leave Saturday, June 18th and spend a week there. But as Winston dragged me down, it became unlikely I had the mental wherewithal to do anything, much less vacation alone in a foreign country even though I’d been there many times. I renewed my passport and had it expensively expedited. I moped and procrastinated and despairingly checked the expensive air fares. My friends asked how I would cope if something bad happened? (My backpack with passport was stolen on an earlier trip.) I suspected not well. Still it galled that I would miss seeing DT and the city I loved.
The 4th week when my medication kicked in was the same week I’d planned to leave. As I sat talking to my shrink on June 16th, an inner voice I’d not heard in a while spoke up. Not sure whether Freud would have called this my id, ego or super ego, but I call her Jada. Jada suggested that since I was so much better the trip could still be salvaged; I could get there in time to see the second show (I was convinced the tickets were for the following Tuesday and Thursday. Remember that, dear reader.) Dr. G. thought this an excellent idea. I thought my chances of finding a relatively decent air fare on short notice was as good as getting the stars’ autographs – meaning nil. (Remember that one too.) That night I found the cheapest fare yet and a Bed & Breakfast to boot. So I booked everything. This was Thursday, June 16th. I was to leave Tuesday night, June 21st. This was my shortest turnaround for a trip ever. I’d never been on a trip alone so that was a bit scary. But I would see DT onstage again and London after all.
I was a happy camper through better chemistry, so I was chuffed.
Two days ago I announced the return of the new and improved blog. Actually it’s the new and improved me. Although I’ve been graciously maintained as a blogger in blogrolls here in ArmitageWorld, many of you probably have noticed long gaps between periods of writing.
In a post over two months ago, I blogged about my problem with my other dog I’ve since called Winston. He’s named after Winston Churchill and is the metaphorical black dog of depression. I mentioned he was quite the shapeshifter, changing from a big Great Dane to a small Chihuahua and back at any time. I had hoped Winston would stay teacup sized but that wasn’t the case.
It turned out to be the lull before the storm. As shown by posts shortly after the beginning of June, I was incapable of writing anything substantive and before long, incapable of writing. My memory and concentration left me. I grasped for words, couldn’t retain thoughts, and failed to correct mistakes because I was unaware of having made them. My paralysis extended to work where extended decompensation was not an option. I’m my sole breadwinner with no back-up support so I didn’t have the luxury of sliding into the stereotypical Victorian “nervous breakdown.” Winston had grown to the size of a Mastiff and was crushing me. Clearly it was time for action and fast.
Fortunately my job in the federal government made getting help as easy as picking up the phone and going. There’s nothing inconsequential about depression. It’s a bitch. There’s nothing easy about clawing of it either. Clinically depressed people cannot “snap out of it.” Counseling will not immediately make us better and medication is not a cure. It’s amazing to me that so many people don’t understand this, even while experts state depression is the most prevalent mental disorder in here in America. Having dealt with this most of my life, I knew things would get worse before they could get better; that’s the way it works. And it seems every transition into new stages in life creates new kinks, requiring me again to address and cope with depression in new ways.
So Winston and I went to the doctor. Returning to counseling and medication has been no picnic while learning to deal with Winston instead of resenting the hell out of him. Medication doesn’t mean taking a pill and everything is alright; it takes 4-6 weeks to determine it’s effectiveness and that isn’t guaranteed. Different dosages must be considered. Then there’s the side effects. Some people have known; others don’t have it so good. For me it was awful and might have put me off it except the physical illness distracted from the mental distress. So I persevered as my body struggled to adjust.
Then sometime in the 4th week, I noticed something different. On previous medication, I functioned but still had breakthrough symptoms. This is why you see commercials for drugs such as Abilify, a secondary medication for people taking anti-depressants who are still depressed. Yes, I felt better but there was something more. I felt not only an absence of misery, but an absence of depression. Except for a very short period caused by another physical issue, I’ve been depression free for over a month. This is a completely new experience for me. Winston, now a cute black pug, stays out of my way. Memory and concentration have greatly improved, although they might never return to previous levels. But I can work and write again and solve problems like fixing this blog’s technical problems. I’m not cured and never will be; this is a lifelong disorder. Counseling will help me realize my potential as I move into later middle age. I’m hopeful.
Interestingly, people have told me they’ve observed a slight shift in my personality. I seem brighter and more engaged. I’ve noticed a friendlier attitude in others which probably reflects my own. When I returned to work after a long absence, no less than three people waylaid me on the way to my office, not to talk work, but just to chat. My close friends have reacted favorably too. After accepting me and Winston for over 15 years, they seemed happy about the new change. When I asked them how they put up with me they said when I was Better Judi, it made the wait worthwhile. Aww, I love you gals; you know who you are.
In case you wondered how the improved me would react in a crisis, let me assure that very thing happened during that 4th week on medication. The drama involved thrills and spills, as it were, across international borders. I kid you not. But that’s another post.
After a prolonged battle with WordPress.org first over open comments and then email notification, I can again interact with you properly, dear reader. Yes, you can now enjoy the instant gratification of agreeing with my extraordinarily erudite and insightful posts as soon as they are published. No more wondering what I’ve gone and done today, the answer will be in your mailbox. Isn’t that marvelous?
So feel free to register/subscribe in the side bar to the right today if you haven’t already. I need to see if that is still working too. There will be a flurry of new posts coming. For once, I have the problem of too much to talk about instead of not enough. My muse is baaaack.
Next up: THORIN! Oh yes. (As if I’m not in enough trouble already.)
Winston Churchill frequently referred to struggling with his “black dog,” his metaphor for depression, in his case as bipolar disorder. He had a remarkable and accomplished life like other depressives such as Abraham Lincoln and Tolstoy. There are many people walking around with mood disorders and don’t even realize it. I believe everybody knows somebody who’s consistently talked about “feeling blue,” “down,” or “blah.” Old timers said they were “feeling poorly,” “took to their bed,” or “went away for a rest.” Still there’s a stigma attached to publicly acknowledging the condition. Fortunately people like Churchill did mention it because he was prescient enough realize that at times it’s better to recognize the elephant in the room before people drew worse conclusions. So he referred to his black dog.
Like Churchill, I should acknowledge on this blog that I’ve had my own black dog since childhood. I picture him as a black bull dog in honor of Churchill; he’s unnamed because he’s not welcome. He can stay away for long periods then sudden spring out of nowhere nipping at my heels, or sitting on my chest licking my face. He seems as small as a chihuahua when he plays nice or big as that proverbial elephant when he’s a bastard. He exudes a clinging miasma that saps my energy and causes as clinicians state, “deficiencies of concentration, persistence and pace.” He’s not menacing; he’s simply annoying.
Several months ago, I spotted him bouncing outside the fence, as it were, until he grew big enough to jump it and give chase. Last month, he tackled me and attached himself like Velcro. During these times, all of my energy is focused on keeping the paychecks coming. Everything else falls by the wayside. I hoped blogging would help keep focus but dragging the black dog around required too much energy, hence the withdrawal from blog-verse. Finally he’s shrunk to teacup size, small enough to punt out the door. Hopefully he’ll stay preoccupied elsewhere while I pick up where things dropped and clear up an accumulating To Do List. It’s daunting and frustrating, but something I accept and work through.
I realize I missed an important email (damn, sorry!) and many posts. Although I’ve not been commenting on blogs and emails as I would have liked, I have been reading and thinking about them all. Please don’t think you’re being ignored.
Hope to get back to regular scheduled programming shortly, and to show my good faith, here’s a shiney:
My IT buddy left after massaging HP back to good health since its trauma at the hands of Geek Squad. Long story short, after having HP for almost six weeks, they only thing they successfully accomplished was wiping the HD and installing Windows 7, oh, and a new video card. They did not correctly identify the problem (the possible virus I mentioned six weeks ago); misdiagnosed alleged problems with the old video card, fans and power supply (nothing wrong with any of them); and my favorite – botched backing up my stuff. In what must be the Epic Fail of Back-ups, I had a restored hard drive full of empty directories and folders. Yup, they neglected to COPY THE DATA. Thankfully none was critical but several gigabytes of data are a lot of files to lose and reconstruct. The moral to this story is: avoid the Geek Squad at Best Buy!
Because of my frustration over the WordPress Service limitations, she also migrated this blog to my own server. So bye WordPress Service, hello WordPress at Judiang. If you hadn’t noticed, you were redirected to a new URL at www.jagrant.com/watcher. You will probably need to bookmark, RSS, or subscribe again to the new URL. Everything here is a la carte as far as personalizing is concerned, so I’ve been adding plug-ins to at least be on par with WordPress Service before I can dabble with the fancy gizmos.
Sadly the move wasn’t damage-free. While posts arrived basically intact along with comments and links there have been some big problems, the move has stripped paragraph breaks, borked image placement and broken embedded videos. I’ve been painstakingly parsing and fixing code, although I fear some aesthetics simply can’t be mended.
So, watch out for the boxes scattered around and don’t look at the wallpaper. Be sure to bookmark my new URL, RSS, or subscribe in the right panel. I’ll get things in some semblance of order while I finish birthday feting.
But I’ve got posters. Here’s one:
Richard Armitage in 2004 photo shoot
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