Humility

More than most things, depression is humbling.

I have in most aspects of my life been able to force my way through, muscle/brain/charm/flirt, etc. I am lucky. I am a pretty, caucasian, blond, and highly intelligent female. I found out when I was 17 that the IQ tests I took at age 9 designated me a genius – on a continuum I fall about halfway between 99-100. I didn’t actually know when I was placed in the gifted program at age 10 what it meant, other than that i got to skip social studies, which was great for me – give me mind puzzles over details on the voyageurs any day. I mostly use this as an example as why when I say that IQ is not a relevant indication of success, it’s not sour grapes – I am in the top 0.5 percentile according to highly biased tests best suited to middle class north americans. I just don’t think IQ is relevant because, frankly, it has a lot of research and anecdotal evidence suggesting it is not. However, it has been valuable to me in that I pick up new concepts quickly, I can respond and amalgamate new information efficiently, And I see links between details that are not immediately evident to others…. Basically I feel like I am extremely good at fooling people into thinking I know more than I do. Don’t get me wrong, in my chosen field of active rehabilitation, I am good – I have worked my butt of to know, research, back up, and reenforce what I do, and I am good at it. But much of the rest of my life I am simply faster on my feet than average, and therefor I feel like i’ve fooled people into thinking I am smarter/better than I am.

All that being said, where does the humble come in? Here’s where:

I can’t muscle/think/smartass my way through depression and mental illness. Long before I started this blog, I was in denial that I was experiencing depression. My sister in law told me, years ago, that what I was experiencing was depression – she was right – and I denied it outright. My own fear of the stigma and overall atmosphere surrounding mental health caused me to completely disregard my own. In my mind, the fact that I was not suicidal, and could get my butt out of bed in the morning, were indications that I was fine. I was not aware of the term “high functioning depression”. I thought that to be depressed I would have to be basically bedridden and lacking any kind of motivation.

So I convinced myself that the black hole of a mental state was just my being grumpy, it had nothing to do with the feelings of inadequacy, the fear, self loathing, insecurity, fatigue… It was just my having a shitty day. Nothing to worry about. Because I could get up, go to work, be a full time student and work 2-3 part time jobs and still be a supportive friend/wife/sibling/child… all of this could happen, right?

I promised myself time off when I finished my undergrad – I was just going to work the part time job as a research coordinator for a lab at the university – a role I had been doing while completing my undergrad degree and honours thesis (it’s published, woowoo). Then I got my first real job as a Kinesiologist, and the next five years are what she wrote – far be it for me to turn down a job in my chosen field and not choose to work my ass off. But I never took time off. By the time I walked across the stage I was already embarked on my new career – something that few of my peers had managed, but something that meant that long desired and planned for time off didn’t happen. Fast forward five interesting and professionally fulfilling years – I don’t regret that decision. But I was burnt out and a mess at the end of my undergrad, and I never actually took the pause that I promised myself.

Back to humble. Basically it is this: It doesn’t matter how smart, driven, determined, or full on stubborn I am. Depression has caught up with me and overrun my life in the last few years. And that is humbling; not because I thought I was better than anyone else, but because I had that stupid blind faith that I would somehow manage to be the exception: That Depression wouldn’t be able to take its tole, do it’s damage, because I would push through. So … humbled. Because this is my take away: You can run, but you can’t hide. You can busy the shit out of your brain, prioritize other things and people, and run at full steam for as long as you can… but you cannot ignore mental health. It isn’t simply gone. It refuses to be forgotten. Trust me on this, I tried. For years. For years before I knew what I was doing, and possibly with more fervour once I had more awareness. Therapy helped a lot, because it tends to. And I think it was a decent stopgap measure, but in my vanity, I still thought I could go it alone, and that was an epic fail.

When I finally hit the point earlier this year that I wanted to stop existing, I was clear that I needed help. All of the help. And I needed to let go of my own narcissistic vanity and be vulnerable. And I hated every second of that. I hate being vulnerable, I hate feeling weak, and I hate letting people in and needing support. But in wanting to not be me anymore, I realized I had to stop pretending that my depression wasn’t real.

I’m not going to for a second pretend I have any answers. I don’t. I don’t want to die. I want to see what life has to offer. I wish I had more humility, because even as I write this I still feel like I should know better. But that is the thing with being humbled – it happens in spite of yourself, not because of a decision, despite one… despite your sense of self, wants, needs… the id will out. And mine has wanted out with a vengeance, and scares the ever living shit out of me.

At least I don’t want to die.

Ugh. Humble is not my colour.

-Me

Advertisements

Pity

I hate being the object of pity. I’m not much happier with sympathy, I can sometimes handle empathy… But I hate pity.

I raced at Regionals this weekend, and although all of my four races felt good, and my team came together and performed well, I did not win any medals. Which was disappointing – every other person on my team won in one of their other races, I seemed to be the common denominator among losing boats. I thought I had made more improvements over the last year than I had, but apparently it’s going to take a lot more work to compete at an international level and win.

One of my coaches, who is an ex national team athlete (he was headed for the olympics until an injury forced early retirement), decided to race a single scull, and unsurprisingly he won. He felt like it was unfair, because despite having followed the letter of the law, it is somewhat unsportsmanlike for an athlete of his caliber to compete at a masters level. So this is where the pity comes in: At the end of the regatta, once the boats were packed back on the trailer and we were ready to make the 4+ hour drive back to the ferry, he called everyone together for a team meeting/end of regatta wind down chat. It started out nicely enough, he made some nice comments about learning a lot from adult athletes and how much he enjoyed coaching us…

Then he brought up a new thing. The “spirit” award. Citing the idea that this person had been positive and complained the least throughout the weekend, he called on me, and gave me his gold. And I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die. It I felt that I had earned that award, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so shitty, but I don’t think I did – There was another member of the team who had been far more helpful, positive, and proactive than I had been all weekend, which means they selected me because they felt bad for me. Because I alone had not medaled. I can handle my own disappointment, but knowing that I was the object of my coach’s pity just … It just sucks.

I held it together until I got into the car to drive home and then let the tears come. The ladies I was carpooling with were worried about me, and agreed that it was a poor choice and pretty transparently a consolation prize… and they were lovely. Half an hour into our drive home we were giggling about other things.

I have no desire to have anyone pity me. A large part of why I keep the details of my infertility largely private is because I have no interest in being the object of that attention. And I work my ass off at rowing, i’m just not performing at a high enough level to win yet. Having my coach think that that action was appropriate just… Makes me want to quit. Having it happen in front of all of my peers, and drawing attention to my failure, not to mention making me a lightning rod for their pity as well? FML.

I know that he thought he was doing something nice, and that makes the whole thing somehow worse. If he were just being an ass hole, I would write it off and dismiss it, but he genuinely thought that he was being kind. And there isn’t really a way to give it back without being an ass hole in return.

I’m aware that three days of racing in 35+ degree (celsius) weather, plus <5 hours a night of sleep for five days, plus 7+ hours of travel time on either end it making me more emotional than normal. I’m aware that once I am well rested and a few days have passed I will feel less miserable about this. But right now I don’t want to get back on the water, I don’t want to deal with anyone from that arena, I just want to hide, give up, oh, and starve myself to boot, because when I hate myself, I feel all the old body image issues resurfacing.

I have to go for a training shift at my new job today. I am overtired, have a slight heat exhaustion hangover, and my brain feels like fuzzy mush. Not ideal training circumstances, so here’s hoping I can get through it with some shred of dignity intact.

Fuck pity.

-Me

A Weird Conundrum

So, something I am noticing that I am struggling with: I am starting to get on with my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am getting over not being able to get pregnant – that remains a nice little black cloud in my psyche, but I am starting to see it more as a distant storm instead of an ever present shadow. As I am able to actually focus on the good things in my life, I have a weird sensation like i’m cheating on my unconceived, unborn child. Like somehow being able to build other positive things in my life is doing a disservice to the dream of having a biological child. I think it’s associated with the general grief experience, but it’s an interesting aspect. It’s like somehow if I can move on, if I can build a positive and fulfilling life without having imprinted my DNA on the next generation, I never really wanted it that badly.

I know that’s a load of crap. If I woke up tomorrow, or next week, or next year, and took a pregnancy test and it were positive, I…. I don’t have the words to express how happy I would be. I have dreams where it happens, and the disappointment I feel on waking and finding out it isn’t real is almost heartbreaking.

So as I actually feel like I am building a different life, and a good one… I find the feeling of being unfaithful to my original plan very interesting.

I think my Husband and I will take a very serious look at adoption sometime in the next three years. I think we will look at children who are in the foster system, not infants… and I think we will be parents. We will have a child, or children, and we will parent together. But in the meantime, I need to not feel guilty for trying to build a good life without my dream baby.

-Me

Apparently it’s time for a change?

Soooooooo, its been an eventful few weeks – on top of quitting my job last week, I got a call that my surgery date is much, much sooner than I expected. Initially they called me Monday to tell me that it would be June 27th. I rearranged my entire schedule around that with less than 6 hours notice, and tried to come to terms with the idea of being slightly incapacitated starting a new job.

Then on Tuesday I got a call from the bookings people that they had neglected to check the surgeons availability, and that the 27th wasn’t actually an option. So instead it’s been postponed to July 25th. Six weeks seems like a reasonable amount of time to prepare…

I will still need to take some time off quite early in my new job, but I will at least have a month to settle in.

In some ways having a breast reduction is another step in my acceptance of not being fertile. I had been waiting to see about the surgery until I had children, since breast feeding is apparently more difficult post surgery. Choosing to do so now is again admitting that it isn’t going to happen. I waffle back and forth between weird last minute hope and being accepting of the reality.

The limbo is waning. It won’t go away, it won’t be gone, and I will grieve on some level… but I am starting to concretely move on.

-Me

All of the things, and yet still the same.

You never know exactly when the next wave will hit. The moment that you are reminded, yet again, that you won’t ever hear a munchkin call out for Mum and be calling for you.

In other news, I quit my job on Friday. I’ve been frustrated by working for an internationally publicly traded company whose focus is the bottom line… For three and a half years. However much I love WHAT I do, the company for which I do it has been nothing short of disappointing. There is a significant amount of lip service paid to the value of teamwork, collaboration, supporting their employees, yadayadayada, but the reality differs. I have been repeatedly informed that I am not worth paying more than the minimum, and that I am replaceable. So it is slightly satisfying to see the look of panic on my managers face when he now has to try to replace me. I do have another job to go to. I’ll be working for the municipality where I live, and it will be much more community focused, which I think will be a good fit for me. What is terrifying is the fact that I will be taking a huge risk in terms of hours – this new job is based entirely on my ability to build and maintain a client base. And I think I can – I have done so before. But it is venturing out into unknown territory without a safety net, and I am unsettled.

I will also have significantly more free time than I am used to, and that is also unsettling. I am used to being so busy I don’t have time to think, and that is at least in part by design – if I’m busy, I can’t focus on the things that upset me, because there is no time. Now I will have time. my first impulse is to try to fill it – with anything: work, school, choir auditions, exercise, etc. I know I need time to slow down and regroup, and that it will be good, but my crocodile brain doesn’t want to give anything the opportunity to catch up.

Since quitting I have felt lighter than I have in a very long time. I know I made the right decision, I know that this will be the best in the long run, and the more time since I sent in my resignation the more sure I am that it was a good idea. I feel alive in a way I have not for a few years.

I need to believe in myself and my own professional abilities, I need to remember that I can, and have, in fact done this before. But the self doubt creeps in, and its insidious tendrils wrap around my heart and drag…

It will be ok. I will make this work. And worse case scenario, I can always find another job….

And in the meantime, I will continue to avoid thinking about that voice that will never call for me in the night.

-Me.

In Reference to Mental Health

I think, through my adolescence and 20s, I had seen my bouts of anxiety and depression as a passing phase. I saw the flux as the result of hormone shifts and the stressors of school, work, relationships, whatever. I remember vividly my sister in law, who also deals with depression, telling me that she thought I was depressed, and brushing it off. I was 24. I think I had bought into a significant portion of the societal bias against mental illness, a stigma that continues to cause me to be very careful of who I discuss my mental health with, and under what parameters.

I’m not proud of bowing to social norms. I don’t lie about my mental health, but I definitely hide it under a shroud of bravado and easy smiles. I will answer direct questions honestly, but I learned a long time ago that when you seem like your life is an open book, no one bothers to flip the page. I have spent years carefully constructing a facade, one that is just quirky and odd enough that most people assume that I can’t possibly be hiding anything, because wouldn’t the foul mouth, dirty sense of humour and tendency to do a happy dance randomly in public be the obvious things to hide? It’s not that those things are lies. They are just emphatically not the whole truth.

Interestingly, within the safety of that shroud I have learned to watch other people and their behaviours more carefully. Because I am painfully aware of my own disguise, I am more inclined to see through those that other people use. From a professional perspective, it’s extremely valuable: I am adept at seeing past the walls and learning about people – and I find their whole self interesting, which leads to better therapeutic relationships and I think ultimately better care.

As my 30s are well and truly underway, I am more aware of the reality that comes with dealing with depression, at least for me: It isn’t transient, or a passing phase. That doesn’t mean it won’t pass, and it doesn’t mean I can’t work on it, build up my coping skills, and improve my outlook. In fact, even as I sit and write, I’ve been pretty stable for the better part of a month despite significant upheaval in my professional life. I feel like a whole person most of the hours of the day. I recognize that I have a tendency to over-extend my resources, and I work to make sure that I allow for that, and the recovery time that needs to follow. So I work on balance, and self care, and try to practice what I preach.

But I am starting to realize that it is important for me to own my mental health. Because it is mine. It’s not going away, it will be ever changing, and sometimes hard… But sometimes it will be glorious, and I will get to experience true and utter joy – and that is worth everything, every single time. I have chosen thus far not to seek medication. The talk therapy has been effective, and all my understanding of the medications are that they dull your senses at both ends of the spectrum: no huge lows, but also no highs, and I live for those (none external chemically induced) highs.

I am blessed with a strong cohort of very good friends, who have been available to me in ways I could never have imagined, even when I didn’t know how to ask. I am lucky to have married a man who has weathered my storms with grace, and been willing to work on our relationship even when I was ready to give up. I have strong biological family bonds, and stronger logical family bonds, and I treasure them.

But on mental health: Its mine, good, bad, or otherwise. I am happy that this most recent depressive episode seems to be passing. With each successive experience I am more certain that there will, eventually, be a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

I will mourn my ability to conceive for the rest of my life. I am starting to accept that, and the daily hurt is slowly ebbing away. There are sharp pangs, and there is a very good chance that I will never attend another baby shower as long as I live. And I will let myself grieve that loss as often and as deeply as I need to, because that too is mine. Mine to decide how much it hurts, mine to determine what the appropriate response is, and mine to share only if and when I choose. I don’t know if I will ever parent in any conventional sense, or if any doctor will ever be able to tell me definitively why my body doesn’t seem capable of conception. And it’s not ok. But it is something I can acknowledge and build into my life foundation, not use to tear myself down.

Someday I want to share my story and struggle with mental health with the people I care about, and maybe beyond. Partially because I think there are too few stories about the people who don’t conceive (how many times has my saying I can’t get pregnant been met with “i’m sure you will!” or “I know a woman who said that and then…”), but mostly¬†because I would like to¬†face my fear of sharing these little secrets I’ve been so carefully hiding for so long. But for now, this is Me.

-Me.