I felt defeated. Completely, totally and utterly defeated. I felt like I had lost a war that I hadn’t even realized I was fighting, but looking back, had been engaged in for a long time.
I’m not quite sure when it started. Actually, scrap that, I probably do know when it started, or at least when people seem to think it should have started. Over 3 1/2 years ago, I hurt my hand. It seemed not so bad at first, a broken or sprained thumb maybe, but something that would mend itself back together and let me get on with my life. But weeks turned into months, and 9 months after the initial injury, I had a diagnosis and major hand surgery. Ok, I thought, this is bad but now that it’s done I will get better and be able to get on with my life.
But once again, weeks turned into months turned into years. Physical therapy, hand therapy, a full-time rehabilitation program and what did I get? Another diagnosis. An incurable, little-known permanent diagnosis. But still I pushed on. This was not going to change my life anymore than it already had.
I was in control.
Then came the nerve blocks. Stellate ganglion blocks is what they call them. I, on the other hand, refer to them somewhat affectionately as my “neck needles” because let’s face it, that’s what they are. There have been 10 of those to date and I continue to have them every few months because as much as they suck, they help take the edge off for a few weeks. Earlier this year I had surgery #2 and have been dealing with that ever since.
Still though, I pushed on.
People kept saying to me how strong they thought I was, how they didn’t know how I did it, how inspirational I was. Even my doctor and counsellor told me how amazed they were at how I was coping. My counsellor assessed me for depression, once, twice, three times and I was ok. She commented on my inner strength and how awesome I was doing, considering everything.
I knew what I had to do. Positive thinking, exercise, have a routine, have hobbies that you enjoy, spend tine around others, have things to look forward to. I was ok. I was coping, things were managable, I had this.
I think I have always leaned towards anxiety. I am a worrier, I over think and over analyze and I lack self confidence. I had built this wall around myself, not realizing that it was really all a house of cards. I prided myself on this strength I thought I had, the one other people remarked and commented on. That was me. I was strong.
Until I wasn’t.
Slowly, without me even really realizing, the weight on my shoulders began to press down, harder and harder until one night I felt like I couldn’t breathe. These walls that I had built so carefully around myself, the ones that kept me from getting hurt, the ones that protected me from the feelings of disappointment, of anger, of sadness, those walls that held me up and made everyone see strength, they fell.
I felt like I had a bubble in my chest, one that made it so I couldn’t breathe. Looking back, I can see the signs starting. I kept starting posts but couldn’t finish them. I wasn’t sleeping much. I didn’t have much of an appetite. And then, one night, all at once, I fell apart.
I fell hard.
I felt like the air was so thin I couldn’t catch a breath. I cried. And cried. And cried. I was angry at myself for crying, which made me cry more. I was tired, this bone crushing feeling of exhaustion.
I was done.
I really, in that moment, felt like I’d had enough. I wondered how I could keep going the way I was going. I felt weak, and scared, and oh so alone.
I felt broken.
I felt like I was going crazy. Like I couldn’t control my head or my thoughts. These were the two things I did have control of, and now, I didn’t. My head was foggy, I couldn’t remember even the smallest things, I forgot words for things mid sentence.
Depression had caught up to me.
As it happened, I was already scheduled to see my doctor the next day and my husband told me that I needed to talk to her about it. I disagreed, thinking that I just needed a bit of time to get myself together. He told me that if I didn’t, he would.
I needed help.
As much as I had been managing it by myself before, the weeks, months and years of chronic pain and uncertainty, the trauma and loss, had finally taken their toll and caught up to me. That day, as my doctor asked how I was, I broke down and told her what had happened. I felt so, so weak and like I had failed not only myself, but everyone around me. I felt like a fraud, like I had somehow decieved everyone and anyone who had complimented me on my “put togetherness” or how strong I was and how much they admired that. Like I had let us all down. And that hurt.
My doctor listened and when I was done, gently asked me what I would say to a friend or family member who had just admitted what I had. Would I judge them as I was judging myself? Would I think them weak, or pathetic or damaged? Would I encourage them to get help or just let them suffer alone? Of course I wouldn’t! I would want them to be well.
Those words struck deep. I have tried to be an outspoken advocate for mental health and have always tried to be a strong but compassionate shoulder to lean on for others. I worked in a job in a mental health field for years. I know the signs and have risked friendships to make sure the people I love get the help they need. I’ve tried to be that friend who held your hand and encouraged you to ask for help, who wasn’t afraid to speak up and potentially offend when I knew there was something that needed to be said. I would never talk to someone else the way I talked to myself and she knew it.
She had my attention.
Gently, she told me that it was okay, that I had been so strong for so long, that I had done all the right things, that it wasn’t my fault. She said that sometimes, no matter what we do, regardless of the walls, the fighting, the battles, the self care or the determination, sometimes, we just need a bit more help.
I needed a bit more help.
Celexa, she said, would hopefully be that bit of extra help I needed. I will admit, and honestly, I hate to say this, but I was ashamed of myself. For so long I had prided myself on just being strong, just doing what I needed to do and now I couldn’t even hold it together in a doctor’s office. I felt so, so weak and it cut me to the core. Then I chided myself for feeling the way I felt and was ashamed at that. How could I let evetyone down like this? People counted on me to be stoic and strong and I just couldn’t anymore.
Things felt like they were spinning out of control.
Reluctantly I accepted the prescription and filled it. One of my closest friends reminded me that it was okay to get help and to look beyond myself to the big picture. But still, something ugly in my head told me I had lost. I was fighting myself and didn’t even realize it.
So I waved the white flag and took the pill. It’s been 2 weeks since I started and although I haven’t noticed anything aside from side effects yet, I’m hopeful that I will soon. I saw my counsellor last week and we worked on some strategies to help manage my anxiety.
My anxiety takes the form of panic, and a fear that something bad is going to happen to the people I care about. Someday I will be able to open up more about this stuff, but today is not that day. She taught me about thinking errors and how to correct them, stuff that I knew but hadn’t been able to apply to myself. She also recommend that I keep Ativan on hand for those moments of irrational panic. I plan to keep it in my purse but hope to not have to use it.
After the visit to the doctor, I really did feel a sense of defeat. I felt like I hadn’t tried enough, like if I had just tried harder somehow, I wouldn’t be feeling this way. I felt hopeless and I was angry with myself. It’s not my fault though, no more than getting shingles would be.
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and should be treated like any other ailment. It’s not anyone’s fault, and sometimes you need that extra bit of help to get through it.
I guess for me, I clung so tightly to the idea that everyone around me saw me as strong that I wasn’t willing to admit that I wasn’t.
But that’s okay.
So I want to talk about it. I want to share my experiences and let anyone else out there who felt the way I did that they are not alone.
I will say it again.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I have exactly nothing to be embarassed or ashamed about. I did nothing wrong. In fact, I did the right thing. I needed help and I got it. Sometimes the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing and as difficult as it was, I think that once things start looking a little brighter I will be glad.
I haven’t really told anyone, aside from my family and one friend, what has been going on because I just wasn’t ready. I guess this will be my way of doing it, in grand and public fashion. I also hope that my words will be of comfort to others feeling this way. I honestly was blindsided by a lot of the emotions I mentioned, but I realize now it was because of some weird, internal stigma I held about myself. I want us to stop holding ourselves to such ideals of strength and perfection and be able to talk freely about things to do with our mental health without embarassment or shame, without fear of judgement.
I have been afraid to publish these words because of their rawness and ugliness, but my husband pointed out to me that life isn’t always beautiful either and he’s right. It is messy and sad and tough and the more open we are about it, the less alone we feel.
So please forgive me if I have dropped a ball or ten lately. I am working on getting better and will not feel like I need to hide this part of me anymore. And if you are feeling this way, please, reach out. To me, to a friend or a doctor or someone. I will be here and we can support each other, okay?
Just don’t do it alone.