The past couple of days were rough ones. Kate and I were getting along wonderfully again, then POW, we stumbled over some truly picayune stuff and suddenly were back in the stress zone.
Neither of us acted as well as we might have, both of us being human, but I have to lay claim to the lion’s share of the blame. I overreacted to some things, then my mind wouldn’t let me release it even as I kept trying to. Kate was visiting her family, and wanting to go be with them, and we were arguing via text. I kept saying stuff like “It’s okay, go, I want you to enjoy the time with your family,” and I was sincere…but there was a rhetorical snapping turtle in my head that would only let me sit calmly a minute or two before throwing some new antagonistic comment out and insisting I send it her way. And I would try to maintain self control and not send it, but would lose the fight. Then after some more shared friction, I’d be back to saying I didn’t want to keep her from her family.
And, I wound up damn near destroying our relationship, which we’d managed to rebuild from our earlier problems. By the time I went on “hiatus,” I felt I’d lost all hope, and was so devastated I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything positive or productive for a long time…if ever again.
If you’ve been following my blog, you already know about my battles with major depression, and how after Kate and I originally broke up I finally threw my hands up in the air and dove into ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, often known by its more barbaric earlier name, electroshock therapy. Shock treatment. Flyin’ over ye olde cuckoo’s nest. Letting doctors knock me out and send bursts of electricity into my brain.
I did this something like ten times. The worst part of it was getting stuck with IVs three days a week. Not big on needles. But the experience, all in all, proved positive (which was, naturally, the goal). I hadn’t noticed any negative side effects, no memory loss, no nausea, no migraines, no disorientation. On the positive side, I was feeling more able to face the future, I was sleeping straight through the night every night (insomnia is a major issue in many depressions, and I’d had huge sleep problems for a long time), and my mind seemed clearer.
While started in the first place as an act of desperation and surrender, the ECT absolutely was the thing to do. It brought me back up to a place I could more easily function, and gave me hope I could bring things together in the future. Having Kate come back into my life as well added happiness to functionality, and with her encouragement (she’s an incredible muse) I started writing again, five hundred words a day. As a writer, i.e. someone trying to make my living by writing, that’s pretty important.
Much of my depression seemed diminished. The thing is, a lack of depression is not, itself, happiness. Or motivation. And when Kate and I apparently lost each other again, my joy evaporated, my motivation fled, and my hopes smashed me in the face. I crashed into deep despair. But a good bit of my functionality remained.
If you read a lot about depression, you learn that the people most at risk for suicide are not the people so depressed they can barely move. It takes motivation and commitment and energy to wax yourself. The risk tends to rise when those people start improving, start feeling better and finding they can actually take action.
I felt this truth a couple of days this week.
Now, suicidal ideation isn’t anything new for me. In fact, I’m pretty certain I’d have acted on it years ago except for one thing: my son. I know from experience how devastating it can be to lose a parent as a child, and I know losing a parent to suicide can only be far worse. The question has to linger forever, wasn’t their love for the child itself reason to live?
My love for my son is indeed.
But that doesn’t mean the thoughts stay away. And in my abyss the past few days, I allowed myself to entertain those thoughts more, really, than I ever had. I even did some research on methods. Thanks to the ECT I was at that point of capability; thanks to my troubles with Kate, I had motivation. Fortunately, my son trumps all that, but were it not for him, who knows…?
I was certainly fucking miserable, genuinely suicidal or not. I posted this status on my Facebook wall:
I guess the fact that I can hurt this much is sort of backhanded validation that things still matter to me. But I kinda wish I could just hit a fast-forward button because absolutely nothing seems worth doing and every fucking minute lasts days.
I was not a happy camper. And I posted that exactly because I was filled with razor-clawed despair, and I was sitting alone. It was partly outreach to the world, letting people know I needed help, but also an act of strength, because I find strength in honestly sharing myself with the world (that’s why you’ll find a good bit of self revelation on this blog). And it was kind of an emotional venting, which I really friggin’ needed right then.
The morning and afternoon were endless. I didn’t feel like doing a damn thing. Even watching a TV show was agonizing, so writing or reading or going for a walk was definitely out of the question. I honestly wished I could be dead for the interminable hours when my kid wasn’t around, then resurrect when he was.
Then Kate called. We talked. We argued. We got on each other’s nerves. But, because we genuinely care about and like each other, we hung up ready again to face the future and see what it might bring for us.
I posted this:
A bit of balance, reconciliation, and simpatico re-acquired. Now I really need to get my head out of my ass.
Hiatus is over. I need to become Tim again rather than this unshaven hobo who has taken over my apartment.
I have a lot of work to do. I may need some help.
As I type this, that was almost exactly twenty-four hours ago. (And in another post, I’ll write more about what’s happened in that time).
Shortly afterward, my son got home from school. He knew Kate and I had suffered an emotional debacle over the weekend, and that it was weighing heavy on my heart, so he asked how things were going. I told him Kate had called and we’d regained our good will, and I was feeling a lot better.
But I also said I was concerned that I’d overreacted the way I had over the weekend, that my emotions had gotten the better of me so much. And in fact, when I had been talking to Kate just that afternoon, my feelings were so strong at times my throat tightened up and I could barely speak. I speculated that maybe it was some heretofore unsuspected side effect of the ECT, that maybe it had effected my brain chemistry and now my emotions were turned up to 11.
I said hopefully it was only temporary, that my emotional circuits would settle down soon. And my son, who is often amazingly wise, asked why.
He said, isn’t it a good thing that you’re feeling things so strongly? And I realized he was exactly right.
It was like the ECT had blown the dust off my circuits. I’ve always felt things strongly, always prided myself on my wild, carnal, alive sense of self. But over the years, living in a marriage that wasn’t making me happy, struggling with my terrible depression, I had in ways retreated from life and been numbed. And I think my son was right: my brain was now working more like it used to, more like it’s supposed to. And I’d forgotten what that was like.
It was as if thick callouses had covered my feelings and the ECT burned them away. And like the skin exposed when such callouses are stripped, my emotions were raw and hyper-sensitive. Tender. Alert.
So what I needed wasn’t a return to the numbness I’d grown used to. What I needed was to get used to being passionate again, to allow myself to feel fully, to be alive, but not be overwhelmed by those primal currents. It was fine to feel things so electrically, I just needed to relearn the control I need to enjoy my inner beast and not be dragged around by him.
My smart son. I learn a lot from him.