In Remission

My alarm went off at its normal, weekday time and I didn’t curse in response. I got up, showered, made a quick breakfast, and got out the door.

My drive to work was irritating. There had been a wreck on the bridge and traffic was backed up for miles. I was definitely going to be late for work. Instead of fuming and bemoaning my fate, I turned up the audiobook I was listening to and was grateful to hear a few extra chapters before clocking in.

Teaching in a pandemic is exhausting and stressful on a good day. I have the good fortune to be teaching concurrently. Meaning that I get to teach in person students and virtual students at the same time. However, I carried on through the day with a smile on my lips and a pleasant word for everyone.

This was a Friday. The week had been particularly frustrating, between the state of the world and my own person affairs, things were generally shitty. Staff meetings, deadlines, and family emergencies decided to gang up on me and my spirit was weighed down. I wanted nothing more than to sleep for the rest of the month. I had a strong desire to desire to just disappear; to not exist for a while. Not necessarily to die, but I wanted to tap out of life. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, to look at me, to think about me. Nothing. I wanted to return to the sweet abyss of nothingness until the wave of stress subsided.  

At least, that is how I am normally. This time was different.

This time, pushing through wasn’t an ordeal. I managed things in a way that I didn’t want to disappear every other minute. At the same time, I was smiling. I made jokes. Life was hard, but I felt good. For the first time in years, I felt as if I was living and not just surviving. I had hope that I had my life sorted out and that things would be okay.

This worried me.

Seems weird to be worried when I felt so good. The paranoia that something terrible is just around the corner is a constant companion to me. Depression and anxiety have manifested in me in ways that work together and against each other simultaneously. I can decide that I’m not worth eating that day, but I better make sure that dinner is on the table because my family will starve if I don’t. I will hate every bump and curve of my body, but I must look cute to keep my husband happy; lest his wandering eye becomes attracted to some other woman.

Not that he would, but there’s that paranoia I was taking about.

This stretch of good feelings made me question my reality. I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was just going on and taking things as they came. I was snatching small snippets of joy out of the pitch blackness that was my reality. It was new and unsettling, but I wasn’t terribly concerned. Then, it hit me.

Is this what happiness feels like?

I had never had any experience with it. Happiness was always an elusive dream to me. It was something that happened to other, better adjusted people. People with more money or better relationships than me. Sad and miserable people didn’t deserve this mythical happiness, even in limited doses. I wasn’t good enough to be happy.

But I couldn’t keep the goofy smile off my face.

Had I made it? Had I finally reached the ground level of humanity after clawing my way out of the pit of depression? It was an unreal feeling. Was I not depressed anymore?  

I decided to talk about my revelations with my therapist. I told her how things had been going and asked if my depression was gone. She laughed a bit, took off her glasses and looked right at me.

“Stop taking your meds for a week or two and ask yourself that again. Let me know how that goes.”

I was shook. How dare she remind me that I was on new medication and that my newfound inner peace wasn’t the result of my hard work and determination. I mean, it was, but I had some help.

I’ve been taking some type of antidepressant medication for the better part of my adult life. From Lexapro to Wellbutrin, I’ve had my highs and lows. Things start off great and I make some progress, but the meds would stop working and I would fall down again. I started and stopped therapy over and over depending on where I was in the cycle. Psychiatrists’ offices were common and foreign at the same time, as I looked for someone to help me just long enough to feel better. As if I was hopping between drug dealers, looking for a better high than the last.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t find doctors and therapists that they mesh with, but the process can be draining and disheartening. You can judge yourself for falling off the horse over and over. The recovery and relapse cycle is a beast to overcome and it shouldn’t be tackled alone.

My current therapist suggested that I switch medications once the Wellbutrin wasn’t helping anymore. I dragged my feet about it because I didn’t want to acclimate to new side effects and general procrastination reasons. I had other things to do, like stare into space and cry on occasion. Fortunately, she was familiar with my brand of bullshit and kept pushing and I decided to try Paxil.

Game. Changer.

After she finished laughing at my indignation, my therapist told me that I felt like a human again because my depression and anxiety were under control. They weren’t gone and they probably never would be but the disorders were being properly managed by medication.

I was in remission.

Depression and anxiety aren’t going anywhere but I could live with it. Similar to other conditions, like HIV and Cancer, these silent killers can take someone out without them knowing that they were sick or the extent of their sickness.

I want to pull over here to say that people absolutely pass away because of depression and anxiety. The suicide rates globally are a testament to that. I’ve seen first-hand the extent to which Cancer and chemotherapy can ravage a person’s body. I’ve watched loved ones hurt and waste away while their immune systems waged war within them. I posit that depression and anxiety can have the same effect, just not as obvious. People suffer in silence every day. I’m not entertaining the argument that these conditions aren’t lethal in some cases.

Argue with your mama.

In my case, the wasting away took the form of self-loathing and self-harm. I didn’t do right by myself because I was convinced that I wasn’t worth the effort. Depression is quite an effective liar. It will have you believing that nobody loves you even thought the evidence to the contrary is right in front of you. I didn’t want to burden anyone with the trauma of loving me.

My medications take up the sword on my behalf. They fight the good fight when I can’t. As a result, I’ve rediscovered what makes me happy. I remembered that I like to leave the house from time to time. I remembered that I’m a capable and confident woman that is loved. I remembered to find something to smile about, no matter how small.

I’m not saying I won’t have flare-ups. Depression still lives here, and she bangs on the walls while I’m trying to sleep at times. I still feel like a turd for existing on occasion, but I’m managing. I take my pills and move along one day at a time. Recovery is a long road, but I don’t have to walk it alone.

The collision clears. Gridlock breaks up eventually and traffic flows again.