I had a 3AM epiphany after watching one of many, many, many nature shows. I’ve been on a Carl Sagan and Brian Cox kick lately, having completely exhausted all things Sir Attenborough. My mind latched on to the idea and wrestled with it rather than letting me sleep: people are like volcanoes.
No wait, stick with me.
Our outer shell is a hard rocky thing, but internal emotions are a seething, writhing mass of potentially deadly stuff. Some people bottle that up and become a tall cold stately thing, very impressive to look at but not all that interesting. Some people let emotions seep out all over the place until they are thin, flat, and stretched out to a similar on interestingness. Most of us though, keep it bottled in until it can’t be bottled anymore, and there’s an explosion. Sometimes there are signs for months or even years before the event that an impending irruption is eminent; irritability, depression, reclusiveness the equivalents of smoke and the occasional ash plume. Sometimes the eruption is sudden and violent, and nothing around it is ever the same. And once the eruption is over, we may become a stark hellscape of stripped trees, chartered earth, and acrid air. Or, we may become an amazingly fertile landscape of lush vegetation, the ash of emotional eruption fertilizing our lives afterwards. We can either be scarred by the experience, or renewed by it. And we can, if we are lucky, even use that emotional lava to build something new.
I suppose I saw it coming for weeks, this latest eruption. I had a serious bout with Sadbrain, to the point last Wednesday while having dinner with J, he repeatedly asked me if I was okay, because I clearly wasn’t. I didn’t know what to tell him. Of course I wasn’t. I’m never going to be “okay”, not ever again, but I can be okay with what’s happening. Occasionally. Right now, in this moment. Naturally sometimes are going to be rougher than ours, of course they are, but Sadbrain is another beast entirely. It’s born of, but not entirely created by, current events of course, but there is an insidious undercurrent of malignant chemistry in the mix to make things even worse.
He and I had had a chat about suicidal ideation lately, I don’t even remember how it came about. I told him I’ve never been properly suicidal, never really wanted to commit suicide, to which he immediately scoffed. I corrected myself that of course I’ve thought about suicide, everyone does, even if only in a sort of philosophical way. But I’ve never actually thought about killing myself. “I don’t want to kill myself,” I told him, “but …sometimes I just don’t want to be alive anymore.” Being alive is hard, and often it would be so much easier to just …not. I don’t have the impetus or the energy to actually end my life, and I would never want to, but I can’t help sometimes to just… not want to exist.
And, this is the space I was in. Everything seemed unnecessarily difficult. My job had thrown a bit of a curveball at me, physically of course things are continuing to decline, there was drama with my cat, bad things happening to the people I love, horrors occurring daily in the world which I keep failing to protect myself from hearing about, and my continued search for a living situation is so desperately difficult it deserves its own post. Which, I may or may not get up the emotional fortitude to create some day. And so, two days ago, I completely erupted.
I was working from home that day. I had a role-playing game session that night planned with my friends, and was kind of freaking out about just not wanting to deal with the outside world. Not that I didn’t want to see my friends, and it’s not that I didn’t want to play, but that the concept of existing I any capacity in the outside world seemed untenable. Jay gave me an opportunity to decline to go, but of course my social anxiety and sad brain told me that if I couldn’t even manage to go out and have fun, then I was truly worthless. I was determined to make myself go out, even if I didn’t feel like it. I was watching Cosmos with Carl Sagan while I worked that day and I listened to Sagan talk about our thousands of nuclear bombs and how one of them is the equivalent destructive force of the entirety of the destructive force of all the bombs used in WW2. And then he wistfully pondered how we could wipe out the entire world population in the space of “a lazy afternoon” instead of one small corner of the world over 6 years and I just …totally lost my shit and started bawling.
The next 30 to 40 minutes were spent sobbing like a heartbroken thing, wailing into my hands, hyperventilating, or staring at a space on the wall with tears spilling down my cheeks. I can’t even articulate why I was crying, or what I thought it would help to rub the scratchy hand towel into my face until it hurt instead of blowing my nose, or why it just seems natural to rock my body back and forth or hold my fists in front of me and just shake, but that’s what I did. For almost an hour. There was no one sore spot, no one trigger, just that everything was terrible and I was broken and I wanted more than anything to just… Not have to exist.
Needless to say, I did not go to game that night.
Instead I took more than my usual dose of Ativan, put on a nature show that had not a shred of social commentary in it, cuddled the hell out of my cats, and eventually tried to sleep. Eventually I succeeded. I guess that’s one blissful thing about mental and emotional breakdowns, they leave you so completely exhausted that it’s easier to get to sleep.
I feel that this particular eruption is not quite over, there’s still a little hiccups that keep happening. I came across an image today, posted below, and I kind of lost it again. Just for a minute. Molly woke me up at 5 AM this morning to be petted, and I’m probably projecting but she seemed frustrated that I can’t quite had her properly anymore. And this is the first post I’ve ever cried while dictating. Sad brain has a lot to do with this, but of course there are legitimate underlying reasons for all of my distress definite geological pressures to go with the mystical phases of the moon and planets aligning just right. I wish I knew what drugs to take, how many virgins to sacrifice, to prevent these eruptions from happening again, but I know they’re going to. For as long as I am physically able to draw breath, and think, and feel. All I can really do is monitor the seismic activity of my emotional state and declare a state of emergency when I feel interruption is pending. And do my best to mitigate the damage when these eruptions are sudden severe, and catastrophic.
And try my damnedest to make sure this results in a verdant forest instead of a hellscape.
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.
It occurs to me, and was suggested by my shrink as well, that I’m in a slump because I’m grieving. Mourning the loss of my ability, grieving the life I don’t get to have. It’s not so much a depression as it is going through one of the stages of loss.
Today I came across this link:
And it’s all truth, all of it. And I’ve heard a lot of these, and God help me I’ve said some of them. I’ve filed it away in my ALS bookmark folder, but it occurs to me that I should probably have a link page on this blog, for articles that have explained things better than I could.
Anyway, there’s that.
I’m doing that thing I do, which is to just not say anything if I’m having a bad time, but the point of this space is to document all of it. All of the awesome, all of the real life boring stuff, all of the hard parts, all of the ugly bits. And while I hate burdening people with my woes, it feels disingenuous to not talk about them. Here, of all places. Where I’ve purposely carved a space.
So here goes.
I had a bad weekend. It kicked off Friday, when about an hour before I was supposed to leave, I was asked to provide information in the aid of making people unhappy, basically a sort of “we have to take some toys away from our kids, which ones?” and I know that it’s just going to make things harder and everyone’s already stressed out. There is literally nothing I can do about this, and while realistically I know it’s not up to me to be the Morale Champ of our group, most of the time I feel like it is. So when things are stressful and I can’t fix it, I get unhappy. I have a very limited power, and I use that power beyond what I probably should to keep things together, but it’s worth it to me if I can help my coworkers feel less shitty about their jobs, because I like them.
I’ve been watching my job take things away and make things worse, and it’s the nature of business, I totally get that, but it is supremely frustrating to see things happen and know that it didn’t used to be like this. And so I fell in to a sort of employment despair, because I can’t see things getting any better at all. And in that dark space, I reverted back to the thought that I STILL don’t know the origin of, “one more year. You just have to put up with this for one more year.” And my brain seized on that and began planning my exit and I completely freaked out, both because massive life change and holy shit could I afford this, but also a sort of egotistical WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE GUYS GOING TO DO WITHOUT ME. If I leave, the smallest, stupidest things will cease to be, things that don’t mean much but make their lives easier. Like a goddamned supply cabinet. We’re supposed to fill out a form on a web tool when we need office supplies, but I deemed that Way Too Fucking Stupid and spent a couple hundred bucks outfitting us with a goddamned supply cabinet so that you can get a fucking PEN when you need one instead of filling out a form and waiting for an intern to bring you one. If I leave, no one is going to maintain that cabinet.
It’s all stupid shit, but it was my first moment of “holy shit my absence is going to cause problems for someone when this disease takes over”. There’s an intellectual exercise in “what would happen if I leave” that I think everyone indulges in, and to a revengey sort of degree when it’s to do with stressful relationships or jobs and we imagine how screwed they’d be if we just walked out; but this was a for-real, scary, “I am going to be gone and my void is going to cause someone genuine discomfort.” And it hit me kind of hard. And my brain, of course, spun in to the nightmare world of trying to plan financial escapes and mentally going over all of the homework I still have to do and…..
My brain still in this space, I went to game night with some coworkers, and that was awesome! Except when filling out a character sheet, and my hands just..wouldn’t work. I have very good penmanship when I take the care to do so. I have been complimented on my ability to write legibly on white boards. I’ve noticed some decline there, but that night I could barely read my own writing. And it sat in my gut and festered, and when I got home that night, I probably should have allowed myself to cry it out, but I tried to medicate it away instead. And that led to a whole weekend of moping and sadness instead of one night of crying jag catharsis.
I laid in bed and my cats sat on me and it was hard to move them off of me, and that made me sad.
I thought about the special pen and ink I got in New Orleans to write my goodbye letters and now I’ve waited too long to do that, and that made me sad.
I looked around my kitchen and the drawers of baking things and knew I’d never bake to the level of professionalism I wanted, and that made me sad.
I read Facebook and found out that my friend with cancer is taking a downturn, and I was sad.
I watched a new series that people were excited about and I just couldn’t get into it, and that made me sad.
Fun plans were canceled for Sunday morning and I just didn’t have the energy to do something else instead, and that made me sad.
A friend with MS reached out to be in a bad space, and I provided what comfort I could, and her pain and anger made me sad.
My cat barfed in the hallway, and I just…couldn’t get up to deal with it that moment, and that inertia made me sad.
It’s lifting now, it’s still there around the edges, but it will fade, it always does. But I need to be honest with myself when I get sad, and I need to give myself permission to mourn, and I should probably find a space to talk about this with someone who gets it but isn’t my therapist, but all of the ALS forums are just so AWFUL, one part “MY LIFE IS THE TERRIBLEST AND YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND AND HERE IS MY LITANY OF WOES” competition and one part “We sadly announce that our member Whassisface died this morning.” Neither is helpful. Cause sometimes it ISN’T terriblest, and I’m going to die, but not today. And sometimes you just need to say “This sucks” and have someone say, “Yeah I know” who really DOES. And then lie and say it’s going to be okay, even though it isn’t.
I’m learning a lot of things. I’m learning to let myself be helped. I am training myself out of assuming that when I accept that help, it is a burden to someone else. I’m learning to let myself be weak. I’m learning to give myself permission to breathe in the in-between times without becoming a lazy depressed lump. And I’m learning to let myself grieve for myself. They’re all hard lessons, things I’ve trained myself out of over a lifetime of only ever being able to count on myself. It’s hard to be vulnerable. And it’s hard to put these things here, it’s so much easier when it’s energetic anger or joy.
But for now, I’m a bit depressed. It’s okay. It’s understandable. And allowed. But it’s hard to be. I want to be my usual bouncy optimistic self, and she’s still around here somewhere, but she’s taking her sweet time coming back around.
So, sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been quiet and I shouldn’t be.
I think of you a lot, though. And I miss you.