Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Monster Part 1

The first time it happened I was thirteen. The second time, I was twenty. But in between those times I always felt it lurking, just beneath the surface. That is why I don’t think that things happening are the cause of it, only the catalysts. It is my monster. My disease. My depression. And I still live with it everyday.

The time it happened as a twenty-year-old in a relatively new but serious relationship, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. A number of things pointed to the fact that I needed to see a doctor. I didn’t remember when it had started, but I had a constant knot in my stomach. Everything made me nervous. Every situation. I distinctly remember one day sitting at work feeling nervous about my job- but I was the only one scheduled to work in the lab that day. I had absolutely no rational reason to be nervous about being there. I would pick fights with Dean. I would cry, throw temper tantrums, spend days in bed with my door shut just sleeping. Hoping that when I woke up I would feel differently. Like a tummy ache or a fever I thought sleep could heal me. I still believe in the rejuvenating power of sleep but looking back on it I needed much more.

The catalyst that time was the death of Chelsea, my childhood cat. I took it really hard and Dean tried his best to console me. He was still two years away from fully understanding what special role animals can play in a person’s life. After a few days, everyone else thought I should be over it. Embarrassed that I wasn’t over it, I pretended to be. And while hiding my feelings, I spiraled into a depression so deep I was rendered almost completely dysfunctional. I couldn’t concentrate at work or school. My grades those semesters were a big part of why I ended up in Florida. They were one of the only schools to give me chance and I don’t think either my department or I have regretted it since. But like I said, I don’t think Chelsea’s death caused my depression. It just gave my monster a chance to get its foot back in the door.

All this happened while my romantic relationship with Dean was less than a year old. You see, we had been friends for almost two years when we started dating. He knew that the sobbing, snotting, screaming mess of a girl wasn’t the Natalie he knew. He stuck by me even though he was young and could have moved on and found someone easier to deal with. He had much more confidence in me than I had in myself. When the world seemed to be too much for me, he would whisk me out of it to a small town or a resort for a getaway weekend. Those are still some of my best memories.

Finally I got help, started taking medications and going to therapy again regularly. I learned to recognize my moods, their catalysts (and thus what to steer clear of), and how to deal with them. I learned to supplement my chemical treatment with changes in behavior. My doctor and I discovered through my long course of recovery that besides social factors, I was affected by my environment and suffered from substantial seasonal affected disorder as well. And so it seemed that Florida wanted more than to offer me a shot at grad school. It wanted to wrap me in its sunshine and take care of me.

In large part, Florida did take care of me. The department I joined was tiny but growing and happy to accept someone from a Big Ten school. Many of the people were friendlier than I could have imagined. And when our first winter rolled around, Dean and I were filled with the excitement and giddiness associated with something too good to be true. Only it wasn’t. The constant sunshine, the beaches, the gulf and the foliage did wonders for my mental health. We know it can’t be forever, Florida isn’t known for its opportunities in materials science. And we don’t want to raise kids quite so far away from their grandparents. It isn’t fair to anyone. But by the time we make our way to an (inevitably) cooler climate I will know much more about taking care of myself than the scared, tentative girl I was when we moved down here almost five years ago.

9 comments:

Scott said...

What a brave post this is, Natalie. And Deano--what a guy. It takes a lot to seek the kind of solution to your problems that you did. Everybody in America it seems has a stigma against any sort of mental disorder, as if the person were suddenly from another planet. It's a widespread misconception. These kinds of stories should make others feel safer if they need to take similar measures.

Good for you.

magnetbabe said...

Thanks, Scott. It did take a lot but I was ready for it. The misconceptions and the stigma is exactly what made me start (notice the part 1) writing about it. It's the only major thing my readers (other than close friends and family) don't know about me. The more I didn't write about it, the more it felt like a secret, which it isn't. So I decided it was time to lay it out on the table.

lefty_grrrl said...

You know, even if the SAD gets you, you can use light therapy.

I'm affected by the winter. I get lethargic. But I can't fully enjoy the summer sun because I'm so damn pale! Plus, I'm easily affected by the heat. Basically, I need to live in a vacuum.

Keep writing, you writerly writer, you. :)

GRAM said...

HOW MUCH YOU HAVE GROWN AND MATURED CONTINUES TO AMAZE ME.HAVING SPENT MOST OF MY CAREER IN MENTAL HEALTH I CAN APPRECIATE THE STRUGGLES YOU HAVE HAD AND THE WONDER OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. YOU HAVE A GREAT LIFE AHEAD OF YOU, WONDERFUL HUSBAND,SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND A GREAT CAREER. wE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU!

magnetbabe said...

lefty-
If you are affected by the winter you should try taking vitamin D supplements. I take 2 1000 i.u. tablets/day. It's not as good as the real thing, but it won't give you skin cancer.

gram-
Thanks, it means a lot to me. I'm lucky to have Deano and my family. I wouldn't be where I am without you!

Green said...

Good for you, for putting it out there. Depression sucks, but it is absolutly amazing how learning to cope can be almost better than meds (not that I would stop taking my meds:)

It will get better... it always does. This is what I try to tell myself.

Green said...

That comment from green, was me, because evidently I have mulitply personalities

e.b. said...

That is awesome that you can share your story. It is very brave. I am glad that (to a degree) Florida has helped you out as well.

I really think it is a great thing to put out there so that others know there is help available and that they are not alone.

magnetbabe said...

green-
Multiple personalities welcome anytime. Thanks for your support and setting the example. I don't know that I would have been able to share if someone else hadn't first. I'm kindof a lemming that way. ;)