The problem with depression is that it's temporary. Actually that's not a problem.... that is a very good thing. But waking from it's deep dark grasp of sleep is no picnic.
This has happened more than once. I realize one day that I am actually looking forward to something. The dread of every coming day has lifted and I am actually glad there is another day just over the horizon. It might just be an approaching holiday (MY crazy ass holiday is coming soon people! Suit up!!), the birthday of my children, an event/milestone, or even plans for coffee with a friend. When the depression is heaviest I forget about having friends. And certainly don't make coffee dates.
But then another odd thing happens. I begin to fear death. Not like "I don't wanna die in a fiery car crash", more like... "oh no... it's going to get me". Or, "that bitch Karma is going to catch up with me now that I have desired death so intensely for so long... I deserve to die". Sometimes even, "oh no, oh no -this pain in my head/stomach/knee is really cancer; and one of the bad ones. I have WISHED myself some cancer!"
Sometimes it is a crippling fear; terror really forcing me to beg the universe, "no, not now."
I recall one instance of this "switch" many years ago, my oldest was an infant. I had been in a deep pit and began to climb out and will myself to live awake and whole for the sake of my new baby. I rocked her as she slept and cried until her blanket was soaked, "what have I done?" I was certain she would grow up motherless because I had, for months, been too selfish to want to live.
I finally want to live. Fear of death overwhelms me.
Best I can tell this only happens when the depression first lifts. That's how it works for me anyway. There are several analogies and the water one is easiest to explain.
For me, depressive episodes are much like being held under water. I struggle against it at first, I become exhausted, then I just let the darkness overtake me. After days or weeks... sometimes months, I rise to the surface. At times, someone has pulled me out by the scruff of my neck.
Others I just pop up like a cork; bloated and stiff and still very much dead- but out of the depths.
Eventually I begin to breathe again.
Either I spring to life -so damn excited to be Here Now that I can't wait to get back to the business of living- or I choke and vomit and spit and wonder if it's really over. Life might come back so slowly I don't even notice I'm not underwater anymore until one day it just hits me. "I'm breathing again".
This is when it happens.
It's when I realize that I'm breathing that the fear usually takes over. It seems like once the feelings start trickling in -they all come at once. Like a dam.
The dam in our town opened up recently. It didn't break, they opened it to control flooding. It was a spectacle. Everyone went out to see water gushing where it usually only trickled to turn the power turbines. It was safe and controlled, but a bit unnerving to see so much water moving so fast and in such massive quantity.
That's how it is for me when the feels return.
It's not dangerous or out of control (clinically, it isn't mania or a personality break) but it is often totally overwhelming.
That is the thing about feelings. They can be overwhelming, especially if you've had them shut down for a while. When "alive" and "joy" and "happy" come rushing in- then "terror", "worry", and "doubt" come along too. The dam is open. It doesn't burst- it isn't destructive when the depression lifts. In fact it's the only real way to be whole, useful, and productive. The dam wasn't built just to keep the water back, it is there to control the flow. To harness it for energy.
This can feel frightening and overwhelming.
Feelings lie like a sonofabitch. That's why we need to make sure somebody is watching the dam. The water doesn't control it- it controls the water. The dam doesn't open and close it's own gates- the Corps of Engineers does that. They are trained professionals.
This won't be popular, but it's truth.
When we have Mental Illness, we need help. We need people who will tell us we are headed for trouble (family, friends, or even people who are close to us whom we can trust- like a counselor). We also need Professionals who can get us out of trouble (again, may be a counselor, definitely a doctor- preferably a Psychiatrist and not a GP/Family Medicine/or for god sakes OB-Gyn. They deal with the OTHER end of us and are NOT qualified or appropriate to deal with our head! You really can't have a full mental health convo EVEN IF IT'S "just" POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION while you are sitting on deli paper like a corned beef on rye!)
I believe everyone would benefit from some time with a counselor (a GOOD one) and everyone with a history of mental illness can benefit from a good psychiatrist. By good I mean the kind who will tell you the truth. "You need to come see me every week for the rest of your life/take this mouthful of pills until all symptoms subside" are good signs that you have found the wrong kind of professional.
A doctor should tell you to follow up on a regular basis if he or she does prescribe meds. They should give any drug more than a month to work. And they should listen to you. Expect results.
You wouldn't go to an Internist, take expensive meds that cause side effects, and be satisfied to still have high blood pressure. Don't go to a Psychiatrist expecting to take meds that make you barely better than when you started! They won't remove all of the causes of depression/anxiety/agoraphobia/ADD/ADHD if you have underlying issues that need to be dealt with (see next paragraph). They won't turn you into Dream House Barbie without a care in the world either. But a good Psychiatrist will help you live at your full potential using meds that have the least bothersome side effects. Perhaps the most maddening thing to me is the people I've dealt with over the years and their unwillingness to allow the doctor to do the doctoring and just be a good patient. Tell the truth, take your meds as prescribed, speak up, and keep your appointments.
(I break at least one of these rules on at least a monthly basis. I am the worst kind of patient. Not only do I know what needs to be done, I understand why. Yet I still resist. Maddening, I am. Whole cast of Alice in Wonderland MADDENING, I say.)
A counselor, also, should listen. The best will speak truth to you after they have heard you and your story. Most probably, they will hurt your feelings a time or two. (Think: Personal Trainer. S/he isn't there to tell you "keep eating those donuts and sitting on the couch". You know how to stay miserable. Good Counselors also don't just tell you what to do: 100 pushups, 100 situps, and eat right. If it were that easy you wouldn't need him/her.)
Good counsel is listening to your specific story then applying specific therapeutic intervention. (Behavior modification, Cognitive Behavioral, Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). It will take "longer than you want it to, but not as long as you fear it will". I know, that's a shit answer- but it's true. It will not take a lifetime (unless your therapist sucks at it) and it won't be a quick fix. It will be a LOT of work, exhausting, exhilarating, enlightening, encouraging, and life-giving. (and, possibly, expensive- though not necessarily). It will probably be something you continue to work at for the rest of your life. And if you really do it right, probably something you want to share with others. (Hence, this blog- and many others like it.)
The energy needed for therapy is difficult to find during the throes of it. Having the right meds on board will help with that part. Having a good supporting cast around you will help too.
Just don't trust your feelings... they will tell you that you're going to die. "Therapy and meds will just make it worse", will ring in your ears. "It's just not worth it" is the worst lie of all.
It feels like it will kill you. But you can't trust the feels. Just ask anyone with depression.