I’ve had depression most of my life. I’m really, really lucky in that it’s a super high functioning depression; most of the time I can still convince myself to Get Shit Done. I know many, many people who aren’t that lucky. Most days, I can get out of bed even though I don’t want to and my brain asks what is the point, even, and my anxiety tells me a million lies a day that I can usually push aside and do things anyway. A lot of folks with depression are like this; we’re not all like the commercials show you.
Some days though.
Some days it really IS like that. The days you call in sick because you literally just….can’t. The days you cry, the whole day, for little or no reason at all. When you spoon food in your mouth and it sits there, unchewed, for like five minutes. The days when your cat looking up at you and meowing (as he has a million times) is suddenly the worst thing ever and you just shake in frustration because you don’t know what to do. About the meowing, about standing in your kitchen, about being alive at all. And then you go to bed and the next day it’s fine, and it’s like you were possessed. If you’re lucky and female, sometimes you realize that the depression is PMS in disguise and somehow just knowing that takes the sting out. It’s temporary. It’s going to be okay, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Which of course is the same thing you tell yourself the OTHER days, too, but with nothing concrete to point at, you never believe yourself.
Depression and terminal diseases are tricky. Because you have a PERFECTLY legitimate reason to be sad, but you know in those slumps that it’s not why you’re crying. When they talk about your meds, and ask how you’re doing, of COURSE you’re low; you have a terminal fucking disease. Separating the mind disease from the physical disease becomes a very demanding and complicated thing, and of course you won’t get it right all the time. You don’t want to bump up the meds and become a zombie if your uptick is just cause you’re quite reasonably sad; it’s only for the sadness you can’t help, the depression that is there for no other reason than your chemistry is off and your brain hates you. The I-have-hella-circumstances depression can be medicated too, but I don’t like the idea of taking something all the time for something that’s legitimately situational and not just chemical. I like having an as-needed med for those times.
Wednesday was one of those times.
I think it was triggered Tuesday night; I found my newt dead in his tank. Now, the newts were always just above furniture, the same as a fishtank; they hated to be looked at, much less TOUCHED. They were low maintenance, you top off the water when it evaporates and toss in a couple of frozen bloodworm cubes once in awhile. I wasn’t particularly emotionally attached to these animals. The cats found them enchanting, I called it Newt TV and it was Molly’s favorite show. I always felt a little guilty for not getting more enjoyment out of them, surely there was some kid out there who would love these neat little pets more than I, but they were perfectly happy being completely ignored. They looked like pissed-off old men, and I named them after the old heckling muppets, and we coexisted. I was upset when Molly somehow pulled the screen off the tank and she either killed one of them outright or put it on the floor and it dried up and died outside of its tank; it seemed like it was an easily preventable death and I should have noticed he was missing from his tank before he had a chance to mummify in my living room. The last newt, I’m pretty sure died of natural causes – there was water in his tank and he’d CERTAINLY gone longer without being fed before – but I failed to notice until he’d had time to partially decompose in there. It was a warm week, probably didn’t take long for that to happen but I was still horrified with myself. Not guilty, he didn’t die because of neglect, just…I should have noticed that a living thing in my care was no longer living before then. I felt shaky and weird, horrified at his little corpse that I just couldn’t bring myself to fish out of the tank just yet, and went to bed after taking an Ativan.
Wednesday was work from home day. My stomach felt…off..so I called off the housecleaner. And then at some point during the day, sadbrain kicked me in the head. Everything was wrong. Work was frustrating and seemed hopeless. I checked Facebook to distract myself, but that turned out to be the absolute WORST thing, because not only were several friends having terrible things happening to them, but the world was full of screenshots of a dead black man bleeding in the street next to his car. And then I lost my shit. And cried and cried. And then went to sleep for a bit, and woke up crying, and everything was the worst. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop crying. The slightest thing set it off, and when you have ALS and the slightest things are stupidly difficult already, the world just seemed …too much. I had social obligations that night, and begged off instead, because I didn’t know if I’d ever stop crying. And then I watched television to distract myself, and HOLY SHIT WAS THAT A DUMB THING I DID.
OK. So. Something about me and my broken brain. This sounds stupid, but, welcome to how my personality disorder works. Look up Avoidant Personality DIsorder, and read all about my dumb brain. I have a really hard time watching new shows, because they’re an emotional risk. I just don’t know how they’re going to make me feel, so I have to be REALLY REALLY brave to try something new. I usually have some kind of an “in” – it’s recommended to me by a friend who knows about my broken brain, it’s by a writer whose work I trust, it’s so dang silly it couldn’t possibly be harmful. Otherwise I stick to ‘safe’ shows, like nature specials (Sir David Attenborough is legit one of my favorite people on the planet), cooking shows, How It’s Made.
So I picked this show that had just been added to Netflix:
Dream Knight (드림 나이트)
Alternate titles: 玩偶骑士
Starring Song Ha Yoon and Im Jae Bum (JB)
Though she’s constantly bullied, orphaned high schooler Joo In Hyeong (Song Ha Yoon) refuses to let life get her down and fills her little home with positive vibes from her favorite boy band. But fandom hits the next level when she discovers the ability to call upon four mysterious hotties (played by GOT7), who turn her world topsy-turvy with magical and hilarious antics, including JYP artist cameos. No matter how tough life gets, she’ll get by with a little help from her friends, especially with dreamy knights!
HOW COULD THAT HAVE GONE WRONG. I mean, it even had wacky sound effects and live-action cartoon antics. Only…she lives in a trailer because her mom died suddenly. Ok, I’ve seen anime like that before, that doesn’t HAVE to be depressing; it can lead to wacky misunderstandings involving four boys unsupervised in a single woman’s home. Classic harem anime formula. Four gorgeous guys show up, but they’re really magical dolls born from her tears of despair, here to make everything better! And what she wants most in life right now is to win a dance competition so she can dance with her favorite idol! Only she can’t really dance because she’s clumsy! THIS IS A COOKIE CUTTER FORMULA. Throw in the “oh noes, when her wish comes true the magical dolls will disappear!’ trope that ALWAYS FINDS A SOLUTION (hint: she falls in love and true love’s kiss saves him!) for good measure. Why not. Oh hey, loophole that if they kill her, they can remain human! O NOES (whatever, they totally won’t betray her).
Only she lives in the trailer because her aunt fucked her out of her mom’s fortune. Only she’s clumsy because she actually has myasthenia gravis! What’s that? OH ONLY A MOTHERFUCKING PARALLEL DISEASE TO ALS THAT CAUSES MUSCLE WEAKNESS AND EVENTUALLY PARALYSIS. No big deal, not fatal, right? Nothing to be upset about as a viewer? Oh, what’s that? Her disease is progressing quickly and she’ll be paralyzed within a year? Is that her and her knight finally falling in love even though the other knights have decided to betray her after all and she doesn’t know about any of this, including the fact that they’re not human? Is that her praying to her dead mother to give her the strength to dance really well, this one last time, with the man she loves? And then afterwards, she is going to break up with him to spare him a lifetime of taking care of a cripple? Oh, is this her winning the competition, everything is happy, wait a minute ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME THEY ACTUALLY DO DISAPPEAR FOREVER AND THAT IS THE END OF YOUR SHOW YOU ASSHOLES.
After triggering a lot of ALS/terminal disease buttons, you’re not even going to give me a happy ending to your stupid boy band television live action cartoon?
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME.
….so yeah I cried until I nearly threw up, cried until I gave myself a migraine, called in sick the next day and cried that whole day too. Zootopia was released on Netflix, but I knew it was a not-even-bothering-to-veil-this analogy for race, and after sobbing in despair for a couple of hours about race relations ALREADY the previous day, I avoided that trigger. And just avoided the internet best as I could. And slept. And I don’t menstruate anymore so I couldn’t even lie to myself that it was temporary, and I thought about just not showing up to life ever again, and slept some more, and took more ativan in three days than I’ve taken in the last six months. And slept. And Friday came, and I was no longer crying, but so bone-tired that all I could do was sleep some more.
And the tricky part is looking back at that and trying to figure out what was Depression, and what was Disease. My feelings had a reason; their intensity did not, necessarily. Because I need to decipher what the situation really was, what were the triggers, in order that I might avoid them in the future and not lose three days of my life to crying and sleeping the next time. The dead man on my feed, that was obviously a real trigger, and there is most decidedly some very real buildup to that breaking point – you’ve read the news or failed to avoid it as much as I have. I had reason to cry over that. Maybe not so long. Friends’ issues that came up, I don’t know that there would have been tears to go with the empathy otherwise. Not sure. The frustration that my hands cramped up when I tried to eat something, real. Intensity, probably uncalled for. Etcetera. I have to unpack all of these things, examine them carefully, and put up traffic cones around the ones likely to make me slip again. There is certainly an element of the single straw that broke the camel’s back, here; a lot of kinda shitty things have been going on lately, a lot of micro-stresses, and the weight of the major ones combined, and the dam broke. I was way overdue for a cathartic cry. But not so hard, not so long.
ALS has added a layer of difficulty to this process. I can’t just shrug it off and say fuck it, I had a breakdown, maybe it’s time to try a new med. I’m paying much closer attention to all of this, for as much as I could easily play the “I’m Dying” card when I freak out and withdraw, I don’t WANT to unless it’s true. I don’t WANT to give myself permission to ignore causes and allow myself to drown in slumps like this without trying to figure out how to never do that again. My life is too short to allow whole days and weeks to be wasted if I can do something to avoid that. I quite literally…do not have time for this.
And if I’m being honest? Neither do you. Please look after your mental health, babies.