My atypical life*

I’ve done a pretty good job of hiding it from most everyone I know for much of the last fifteen years (god, has it really been that long?!), but I’ve always known it’s been a problem.  Something I’ve been too afraid to even admit to myself, let alone to someone who could help me.  I don’t know why I’ve been so embarrassed, so ashamed.  I’m definitely not the only one suffering.  In my line of work I should know that.  But recently, thanks to Joe and someone else who probably doesn’t even know they helped, I found the courage to seek help for my disease.

Like so, so many other people, I suffer from depression.  Depression can be triggered by many things including biological differences, inherited traits and early childhood trauma, but mine can be traced back to a single life event.

My parents’ divorce.

Not that the actual divorce itself had that big of an impact on me.  It really was for the best for the family.  Even at the age of 16 I could see that.  But that was the problem.  I was 16.  Such a critical age for a girl.  I was very impressionable.  Though by definition I was still a “good girl”, I hung around with the “bad boys”.  I started sneaking out at night.  I even skipped school once.  I had changed from the girl who would never do anything bad to a girl who just didn’t care anymore.

Sometime during the two years I still lived at home before college I had an emotional breakdown.  I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but I would guess 17.  It was the closest I ever came to asking for help.  I’m sure my mom remembers that night.  I still do.  I also remember refusing the help that was offered to me.

I left for college and with a change of scenery came a change in my mood.  I was able to act and feel like a “normal” person for the first time in a couple of years.  The student loans ran out after one year of school but I continued to live in Bloomington because I was happy there.  That would change, though.

When I was no longer going to school it became time to pay for those student loans.  I started having financial problems that would follow me for the next several years of my life.  These problems sent me back into depression.  I never had a breakdown like the one in high school, but there were times where I couldn’t see a way out of the trouble I had gotten myself into.  Every time it seemed like I had finally gotten caught up, something else would happen.  I would get sick during the time I didn’t have health insurance.  The head gasket on my car would go out.  There was always something.

On top of the things going wrong, I developed a spending problem.  I’ve read that this happens to people who get into situations similar to mine.  It’s a disease in its own right.  Walk into any store and they ask you, “Would you like to save 10% today by opening a card?”  Why yes, yes I would.

I couldn’t afford to live from day to day and these stores were giving me lines of credit.

I was buried under a mountain of debt with no foreseeable way out.  It was no wonder I was depressed.

That debt followed me when I moved to Indianapolis four months before my lease was up on my apartment in Bloomington.  The apartment where I couldn’t find someone to sublet.  The apartment I still paid rent on while I was paying rent on the apartment in Indy.  Needless to say, I accumulated more debt after that move.

Somehow, only four years after I moved to Indy, I managed to get rid of all of my debt and get my life straightened back out.  I started going back to school.  Things were starting to look up.  Then I had a couple of failed relationships that nearly ended me.  Not because I would have done anything drastic, but because I just didn’t have the energy to get out of bed afterward.  I don’t eat or sleep when I’m hurting that way.

All of this was kept from my friends and (most of) my family for years.  And it was relatively easy for me to do.  Because, just like in almost every other illness I’ve ever been diagnosed with, I can’t even do depression right.  I have atypical depression.

My friends and family rarely saw me depressed because with atypical depression when I receive good news for myself or for someone else it can lift my spirits for days, weeks, even months at a time.  Even if I’m still technically depressed, and feel depressed when I’m alone, or not thinking of the happy news I received, I can, and do, feel happy a lot of the time.

Some of the other symptoms of atypical depression aren’t so hot, though.  The increased appetite one isn’t so great (but lucky for me my medication suppresses my appetite, so that’s a wash).  The heavy, leaden feeling in the arms and legs is just weird.  I don’t get that feeling in my legs as much as I do in my arms.  Mostly my hands.  It mostly happens when I’m sitting and watching TV.  All of the sudden it feels like there is no way I can lift my hands.  Like someone has placed an anvil on top of them.  It doesn’t hurt, but there is no way I can lift them.  Obviously, the first thing I do is lift my hands and it is even easy to do, but it doesn’t feel like I can do it.  Like I said.  Strange.

By far my least favorite symptom of this disease is the sensitivity to and fear of rejection.  Until I was diagnosed, I had no idea that’s what it was.  I thought it was just me being an introvert that led to me not having many friends.  And maybe that is still what it is.  At least in part.  I do love being at home, reading a book, and having a little “me” time.  But being diagnosed and reading the symptoms made me realize that I am afraid.  I’m afraid to put myself out there because I don’t want to be hurt.  I don’t want someone to say no.  If I just stay home by myself and never even try, then no one will ever say no and I don’t have to worry about the hurt and the pain of rejection.  It’s safe and comfortable and sad and lonely all at the same time.

Why did I decide to put this confessional/life story out there?  Because one of the treatments for any kind of depression is the support of your friends and family.  I want your support.  But I can’t expect you to know how to support me if you don’t know where I’m coming from.  So I took a chance and bared my soul (facing one of my biggest fears in the process…rejection) and I’m asking for your help.  (And what better way to reach everyone at once than through the most public of venues, the Internet?)  Just be there for me.  Know that I’ve struggled with this decision.  Just making the appointment to see the doctor was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make.  Walking through that door was even harder.  It’s not easy for me to ask for help.  And I’m asking for it now.

*A not-so-subtle play on “My So-Called Life”, a show from the mid-1990s starring Claire Danes and Jared Leto that I remember to be mostly about a bunch of depressed high school students.  Fitting.

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the one where I realize it’s not my fault

I made a realization today regarding my struggle with my weight.

It isn’t my fault.

I know there are thousands, if not millions, of women out there who share my pain.  I look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the person staring back at me.  I am disgusted at the size of my jeans.  I am even more disgusted that the “fat” jeans I bought over Thanksgiving don’t even fit anymore.  I hate the way I feel about myself right now.

Joe tries to help, but sometimes I feel like he’s making it worse.  Like he’s enabling me.  When I say something to him about how fat I’m feeling, he just tells me I’m beautiful exactly the way I am.  He says he’ll always love me no matter what I look like.  When I hear him say these things I temporarily forget about the negative light in which I view myself.  If he thinks I’m beautiful no matter what, it must be true.

But then I have to get ready for work the next day.  When I open the closet and see the pile of scrubs I can no longer wear, I’m reminded that I am not the person I was even 5 months ago.  The person I am must have eaten the person I was for dessert one day.

Today I was at my mother’s place, picking up some mail and talking about food.  It seems my mom and I are always talking about food.  The conversation turned to my weight and I said I was feeling like “a big, fat fatty”.  My mom said, “I’m glad you mentioned it because I’ve noticed your ass is getting big.”

I played it off.  Pretended it didn’t hurt.  It did.  Oh, how it hurt.  I spent the entire drive home trying not to cry.

I told my mother that the weight gain was a relatively new development.  Not all of the weight gain –  I have years of sedentary living and poor eating to blame for a lot of it – but at least part of it started right around the time I started taking a new medication for my headaches.  Being a pharmacy tech, I looked up the side effects of the new medication as soon as I got to work the day after it was prescribed.  Of the dozens that were listed, the two that jumped out at me were “anorexia” and “weight gain”.  I hoped and prayed that I would be lucky enough to get the anorexia one.  I didn’t.  This medication that has stopped the headaches and improved my quality of life is hurting me in ways I never thought possible.

Now I am faced with the question of “What do I do?”  Do I take Joe up on his offer of working out together two to three days every week and see if that works for me?  Do I immediately call the prescribing physician to request a different medication?  What about the depression that has finally been corralled thanks to this same medication?  Do I just wing it to see if I can actually be happy while not taking meds?  Do I ask my doctor to put me on something that won’t make me gain weight, therefore making me more depressed, which leads to me coming home, eating an entire pint of Chubby Hubby ice cream (fitting, huh?), hating myself for eating said pint of ice cream, and having Joe find me at my desk, sobbing so hard there are no sounds and dribbling all over myself?  Does a med like that even exist?

Right now I’m hoping that these feelings are the result of a long, stressful day and being over tired.  It’s late.  All the crying I did earlier took a lot out of me.  I could wake up in the morning and forget any of this ever happened.

Until it’s time to go to work.