Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I'm Not Just Sad All The Time

When people find out I suffer from a mood cycling disorder, they're often surprised. Maybe not at the cycling part so much - I'm a very emotional and passionate person by nature, and people frequently experience my "ups and downs", but more so on the fact that I suffer from depression as part of this. I think people tend to think of me as just overall emotional, and that I'm often down based on a certain situation or circumstance, but I'll bounce back up quickly enough. This is image is aided by the fact that, unlike many mood cyclers, I have significantly more hypomanic episodes than depressive ones, and when depressed, I often feed into my introverted tendencies and make myself scarce.

By the nature of mood cycling, I'm not always exhibiting signs of depression - because I'm not always battling it at the moment. But even in depressive cycles, I'm not always exhibiting what those without mental health conditions would think of as depression. Depression is so many things, and I think the best way to explain it is to answer some of the most common questions I get about it.

So your depression comes and goes?
Well, yes and no. It comes and goes because I cycle. But even in a depressive cycle, it's sometimes more evident - to me and those around me - than others. Not all depressive cycles are alike.

So you're not just always sad? 
No, I'm always depressed when I'm in a depressive cycle, but I'm not always just sad.

What's the difference? 
Sometimes I actually feel sad, or I guess that's what you would call it. I cry a lot, I feel really, really, really down. It's an incredibly deep level of sad. But there are so many other feelings that accompany depression: hopelessness, worthlessness, lack of ability to focus or concentrate, mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, and the worst, nothingness.

Yes, the inability to actually feel anything. Like your emotions have been siphoned out of you,and you'll never feel anything ever again. You would even prefer to feel sad or hurt or angry or frustrated, anything, than nothingness. It feels subhuman.

So when you're sad, then you're just sad, right? 
Not really. It's like a sadness. But a sadness that doesn't need an additional cause. If you think about it in terms of other illnesses, it's easier to explain. When someone has asthma, it can be triggered by certain things (allergies, air quality, increased physical activity, etc), but sometimes the reason they have trouble breathing is simply because they have asthma. There's no other trigger. Depression is like that. Sometimes, a trigger can throw me into depression.  But often, I'm just depressed because I have depression as part of my cyclothymia.

So are you ever feeling normal? 
(After recovering from laughing at the thought that anyone could think I'd be normal even without illness). I hate the word normal. Nobody's normal. I sometimes don't feel ill. I sometimes am not depressed, or hypomanic, or anxious, or experiencing any other symptom or stages of my condition. But it's always there. Always. It's like walking around with someone holding a bucket of water over your head that could get dumped on you without much warning, at any time. So I do have times where I guess you'd say I feel "normal", but I always know a cycle is not too far off, and it's hard to feel "normal" with that knowledge, though I try the best I can. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the Twelve Year Anniversary Of My Former Marraige

This time of year is always a little funny for me. Had I stayed married, Sunday would have been my 12 year wedding anniversary. When I think of that the first thing I think of is.... well the first thing I think of is, "Twelve years? Crap I'm old".  But after that initial shock, that somehow gets me every year despite the fact that it's just one year more than it was 12 months ago, the first thing I think of is how much my life, and I, have changed since I walked down the aisle that day.

I rarely think about my marriage. I know that sounds strange to say. How can you rarely think about what you thought was going to be the rest of your life, and the person who you thought you'd spend it with? The truth is, though, I don't. I don't have unresolved issues. I don't wonder what if.  I hold no delusions that it could have happily gone any other way, nor any grudges. My ex-husband wasn't - and presumably still isn't, though I haven't spoken to him in years - a bad man. He just wasn't the man for me, and I wasn't the woman for him. We had some good times. We had rough times. But overwhelmingly, the cause of my divorce wasn't those rough times. It was the whole bunch of average in between. My life with my ex husband was, for the most part, OK.  Not as in "everything's OK", but as in "the most emotional word I can think of to describe our marriage is simply 'OK'".  He loved me, in his very non-outwardly emotional way.  I cared about him as a human being. I have to assume that at one point I truly loved him, but I have only vague memories of that. Or more precisely, I don't ever remember being deeply in love with him. I'd like to think that I was, but when I think back on those years I can't much recall it. I can't separate my feelings for him, all those years ago, from the excitement that a 24 year old has about getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, the possibilities of a full life ahead as a couple and so on.  In the end, we both deserved more. He deserved someone who deeply loved him, who would continue to deeply love him over the years, for exactly who he was. I deserved someone with the same passion for..... anything, really.... as I have for life and love. We both deserved for the rest of our lives to be more than OK. I hope that, in some weird way, I did him justice in wanting the divorce, in wanting us to both have more. I hope that I gave that to him. 

Serendipitously, Sunday was also the seven month "anniversary" of when my current partner and I started dating. I could have used the word "ironically", but I don't believe that is the case.  I truly believe it's serendipitous. July 10th has always been a weird day for me. That date, and my dog Cinn, who my ex husband and I had gotten as a puppy, the dog that had always been mine even when we were married, were the only links left to my married life. This past August, almost a year ago now, Cinny passed away (talk about rough dates, August 18 is going to REALLY suck). That left July 10th as the only remaining link. There was nothing else on that date. No birthdays, no holidays, not even other people's anniversaries. There were some events that were close to that day, but nothing specifically on it.  July 10th was always that: the day that used to be my anniversary.  But now, I have this anniversary with the love of my life, my best friend, my partner.  And surely, while years from now, I won't still be celebrating the "xyz year and 7 month mark" (the way people say "my kid is 26 months and you want to scream "they're two, dammit, just two!"), it now, in this moment, serves as a link to the present, and it reminds me how far I've come. It has taken the sole ownership of July 10th from "this used to be my wedding anniversary" and changed it to "look how far we've come since that first date."

Twelve years later, I've been through a lot, and I've learned a lot. About love, life, and mostly, myself. I've learned that at 24, I wasn't ready for marriage. I don't think I would have been ready for marriage to anybody then, but especially the one I was in. I hadn't experienced enough of life yet. I didn't understand it, or my place in it. I wasn't diagnosed with my condition yet. I couldn't understand what was going on inside of my own brain, let alone the rest of the world and my marriage. I've learned that at 24 (or 25, or 26, or 27), I wouldn't have been ready to be a mother. Equally, I've learned in the years since that I do absolutely want to be a mother, and that in fact, I'll make a good one someday. I've learned that you need balance in a relationship. A balance of emotion and logic. A balance of exciting and calm.  Whether you both have this balance, or you balance each other out in different scenarios, it's essential. I've learned that communication, patience, and love are the keys to a successful relationship. I've learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is to agree to disagree, as long as you do so from a place of love and respect for each other. I've learned that compromise is vital, but only when it doesn't cause you to compromise your morals, values, or self at the core. I've learned how my condition affects me, and those close to me. I've learned how to work with it, as best as I can, and how to to help others understand it as much as possible.  I've learned that life is short, and you'd best be thinking about that when you make your choices, because you never know when you'll not have a chance to make them again.

I have learned that I am now ready. I still struggle with my condition. I always will. Just as if I had asthma or diabetes or a heart condition. There are some days my struggle overtakes me, as it would with those. But I've learned to separate that struggle from the rest of my world and from who I am as a person. I've learned to be better at determining when it's my condition, and when it's my circumstances causing the struggle. I've learned often, the two compound each other. I've learned that having a condition such as mine doesn't mean you can't be a good partner, spouse, parent. I've learned that I may pass on my condition. I've learned that I'm prepared for that, finally, when for years I wasn't.   For years I wasn't fully prepared for all of it, and I never quite understood why. For years, I was my own worst critic. I'd defend others to the death (not literally, though I would have). And yet I wouldn't defend myself -  not to the person who was hardest on me, myself. When I finally spoke to myself the way I would speak to a loved one, it made a world of difference. I no longer told myself I wasn't capable, I wasn't able, I wasn't worth it, I would fail. And that single act has allowed me to be ready, finally at 36, for the life I though I was so ready for, but clearly wasn't, at 24, all those years ago.