“Ester asked why people are sad.Sometimes I get sad. I know we all do and that it's a perfectly "normal" emotion but I find myself feeling selfish (on top of sad)...as if I don't have the right to be depressed.
"That’s simple," says the old man. "They are the prisoners of their personal history. Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They never ask if that plan is theirs or if it was created by another person. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people's ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Zahir
Years ago (and who really knows when it all started) I suffered from pretty severe depression. Severe enough that over the years I went from a being hospitalized anorexic to an over-weight binge eater to a self-sabotaging, controlling bitch of a wife to a divorced, needy, recluse who couldn't leave the house for anything other than work since that actually gave me a reason to live. I took Paxil just to be able to muster the "I-give-just-enough-of-a-shit" to take a shower and feed myself at least once in a while.
During my stint in the psyche ward in Anchorage, Alaska (for anorexia) I went to therapy sessions daily. They ranged from one-on-ones to groups with a lot of role-playing, acting as the concern parents or as each other as outside observers. I was only 16 (I celebrated my 17th birthday in the hospital, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) so I was still looking for others to tell me how to feel and show me how to act. I wasn't ready to be a grown up and with high school graduation looming I knew I was at a crossroads...no longer the youngest child and certainly not ready to face real life. Still, I learned a lot.
After my discharge I went almost a decade without professional help although I struggled immensely as my weight fluctuated up and down the scale and my life remained out-of-control. I married a military man because it was the only life style I knew. Even though the chaos of moving every 2-3 years had previously worn me down my young self saw no way out of it at the time...I depended on the medical benefits. Instead of trying to find happiness I chose to try to control my husband. Things did not end well.
At some point I decided to search for more answers. I'm analytical...I need to see the map before I can commit to taking the first step. I found an Al-Anon program that met locally as I was sure that the root of all of my "issues" stemmed from my dad's alcoholism. I went 3 times a week to 3 different groups. None of it clicked and frankly, it left me more confused and depressed. I looked at the women in those groups, some of them now grandmothers and great-grandmothers who appeared to still be blaming their parent for their entire lives. I wanted to "get over it" not wallow in pity for the next 40 years. I wanted to heal and found quite the opposite happening in these meetings.
Shortly after my Al-Anon experience I really hit rock bottom (I know, you'd have thought that would have happened when I was in in-patient care barely clinging to life). I worked as many hours as possible, often for free, just so I wouldn't have to go home. I lived alone and was in the most destructive relationship I've witnessed. Had I been my own friend I would have slapped myself across the face and asked "what in the hell are you doing to yourself?? Get OUT!!". But I didn't like myself and felt that the pain of remaining in this relationship was my Karma...and it was quite possible I deserved worse.
I beat myself up real good in those few years. It got so I couldn't leave the house and dreaded the weekends when I knew my boyfriend would make promises to come see me but wouldn't...leaving me waiting from Friday after work until Monday morning...unable to sleep, constantly checking my phone or listening for a car door to slam. I missed so much life by just waiting.
I slept all the time until bruises started to form on my body. Then I got brave enough to see my doctor, sounding utterly pathetic as I explained that while I didn't want to die I also really didn't care if I lived. It was too much work and so exhausting to be. That's when I got the prescription for Paxil.
I hate taking medication and, as a control freak I really hated taking psychiatric drugs. I naively felt that "smart" people didn't need drugs...we can analyze things and figure it all out with common sense. But I lost complete control and was spiraling deeper into the abyss. The Paxil was able to slowly start applying the brakes.
In my new mellow state I turned to yoga and meditation and through much diligence was able to get weaned off of the Paxil (with my doctor's help). There were some rough spots and it would have been easy, if not medically sound, to start the pills again but I wanted a clear mind to face the demons head on...even though it was terrifying. The drugs had made me not care...but they didn't fix anything and I wanted to be fixed. If I stopped them cold turkey I would most definitely get sucked right back down that rabbit hole...it was the self-realization and personal accountability that was truly healing me.
I stopped blaming my dad's alcoholism for my issues...that was a far to easy of a crutch to use as I started to approach my 4th decade of life. I stopped blaming my mom for being co-dependent instead of standing her ground (something I was actually very wrong about and I hope to write about my mom's bravery in a future post). That was her battle and not something I was obligated to become just because she was. I learned to accept and embrace responsibility for myself and my actions. And I didn't just say those words...I mean I embraced it...100%. Yes my dad was an alcoholic but that does not define me!!
So many people have uttered those words..."I take responsibility" only to follow up with "but so-and-so needs to take responsibility too". No they don't. This is our own journey and while there may be people hanging out on the periphery they do not have control over your life, your emotions or your future...unless you let them have control. And then guess what...it's still your fault for handing over that control.
It's a hard thing to accept, I know. It means standing in front of a mirror and having a good long talk with yourself. It means facing every situation and making the best decision for you and accepting the consequences good or bad. It means looking at all of those things you'd like to blame your issues on and realizing that you and only you can allow them to continue to control your happiness.
Use those instances as a crutch and I promise you will never heal. We all have our own lives to live and we all make insanely ridiculous decisions on occasion. But we need to move forward or be stuck reliving those moments for the rest of our lives. My dad was an alcoholic. Some shitty things occurred in my life due to his alcoholism but I have released him from any responsibility for my actions or my current or future happiness. It's only fair. He obviously had his own battles to wage...
I still get sad...and sometimes it scares the shit out of me. I know from personal experience how precarious the edge can be. I have a wonderful life and have been born into pretty ideal conditions. I often feel guilty when I feel the sadness creeping in. Sometimes the guilt is worse than the sadness...as if I have no right to just be sad. Sometimes I try to fight the sad until it turns into an ugly form of displaced anger. But in the end what I really need is just to be sad. Maybe even cry. And no matter how beautiful my life or how perfect the day I must embrace this sadness and let it have it's moment...with no blame and no guilt.
*This is my personal story and is in no way intended to replace sound medical advise. Every one is different and it is ill-advised for anyone to stop taking prescribed medication without professional medical supervision as it could have adverse effects on one's mental state. Please seek proper medical advise from a professional for help if you think you suffer from depression.