I haven't blogged in a while, and the last time I blogged, it was a post about preparing oneself, emotionally and physically, for winter. Winter, when it gets dark too early and the nights seem endless. Winter, when it's cold, and you can never get warm enough, right down to your heart and your toes. Winter, when you're supposed to feel jolly and warm and cozy and surrounded by loving family and friends, and instead you feel bleak and dreary and hopeless and alone.
As my online record shows, when I start talking about something, it's often because I'm working my way through it. If I'm talking about first drafts, I'm most likely slogging through one and in a rough patch. If I'm talking about events, I'm planning one. And if I'm telling you how to batten down the hatches, it's because I see the darkness on the horizon and am trying to remind myself how to fight it.
I had a hard Christmas, but not for the reasons you would expect. I have a loving spouse, healthy and happy children, a roof over my head, and a career I love. I also have a sick parent, a lame horse, an ongoing and invisible physical ailment, and a deadline that feels tight, even for me. Add all that up, and I spent most of Christmas crying. In my bed, hiding it by the tree as the kids opened gifts, into my scarf while walking my limping horse endlessly around a rainy field, all the while aware that there was nothing actually wrong, really, and it was all in my head, and I couldn't let anybody see it or I'd ruin their Christmas.
The good news is that I finished my first draft and got my physical stuff back on track, but I had to crawl through dark places to get there. Looking back, even a week ago, I flinch at the thoughts and feelings poking holes in me like worms in compost. I stopped taking care of myself, and I stopped feeling any joy, and every moment felt like I was a scientist watching my life through a microscope, calmly recording moments with no emotion. I'm through that now, and I want to share, for you and future me, how I found the light at the end of the tunnel.
First off, I talked to my husband. The most immediate problem (of my list of 18 problems that I presented to him amid an uglycry), was physical. I've had these weird bouts of raging indigestion since February, which led to two trips to the ER and having my gallbladder removed, and that indigestion was supposed to be fixed, but it came back. And it wasn't like, "Oh, I ate too much fried shrimp, and I need to burp." It was like, "I think I'm having a heart attack and I can't breathe and my stomach is a vat of raging acid and if I go to sleep, I'll die." So I'd stopped eating gluten, and that helped. And then I fell down an internet hole of things I should and shouldn't eat and which supplements to take and suddenly I quit eating because the pantry felt like a mine field. I would sit there, all day, just taking stock of how horrible I felt and not eating.
Guess what, kids? That ain't good.
So my husband, the brilliant psychologist, decided we would track my food. Everything I ate, for weeks. He needed data. He suggested I start on the basic allergy restriction diet, which is turkey and rice and pears. And that's it. I looked at the chart he made, and I thought about what it would be like to eat only three foods for a week, and it felt like my soul was squeezing itself into a tiny little box that wasn't worth inhabiting. I... uh, really like food. And if I couldn't eat, what was the point of living? And then he said something along the lines of, "So either you follow this diet and give me flawless data to analyze, or you just decide it's all bullshit and go back to eating like a normal person."
And I was like, "That's a choice?"
It was an epiphany moment, right there. The food wasn't causing the ailment; the anxiety was causing the ailment and making me crazy about food. I felt my soul unfurl again like a cat in a sunbeam, and food hasn't bothered me since.
They say stress can cause digestive problems, but until now, I didn't really grok it. I thought that physical things caused physical things, and that was that. I thought that if I could just find the pattern, I could solve the puzzle. But as soon as I had that breakthrough, I realized that I was doing it to myself. Sitting in front of the laptop for hours, freaking out over a deadline or scrolling through social media and seeing triumphs and awards and Best Books lists I couldn't reach--it was making me feel horrible, mind and body. So I quit. I got off Facebook and stopped looking at Twitter--except for people talking to me. I quit scrolling through everyone's smiling holiday pictures. I picked up a book and curled up in my bed and tried to think about something that wasn't me, and it actually fucking worked.
That was the biggest change, but I adopted new behaviors to help me relax. I take a daily epsom salt bath and read the kind of big, heavy book I normally shy away from. I meditate--using the Headspace app. I write down each day what I did that was good for me. I started writing a new short story. I spent New Years Day out of my comfort zone, hiking up a waterfall. And I started taking this supplement recommended by a friend that includes tons of Magnesium, the lack of which apparently causes basically every problem I've been having. I started using my SAD light again and have been making a point to get out of the house and talk to real human beings, even when it feels like a Herculean task.
You know-- taking all the advice I dole out and then neglect because I'd rather sit in bed in my pajamas and worry about nothing.
I want you to know that I'm not writing this because I want sympathy or feel sorry for myself. I'm writing it because I know I'm not alone. The holidays make tons of people feel shitty, and we're trained to keep it quiet, to smile and say we're fine. On Christmas Day, my friend hugged me and asked me how I was doing, and that's what I said-- fine. Five minutes later I was crying, but I couldn't let her see that. And I couldn't say it on Twitter, either. I mean, no one follows me to hear me say HAPPY HOLIDAYS, I CAN'T STOP CRYING, THERE IS NO HOPE, SORRY I SUCK.
The thing is, when you're headed down the spiral or floating back out of it, it all seems so elementary. Follow these easy steps, and you'll avoid SAD! Take care of yourself, and you won't get depressed! And that's bullshit. If there's a way to stop it, I haven't figured it out. I've tried two medications, and they both messed me up. One sent me to the ER. I still wait too long to take my Lorazepam, hoping I can talk myself out of the panic attack. Like I can just, you know, reverse my brain chemicals by sheer force of will.
I don't know how to fight it, but I know we're not alone. And I know that if I just keep going long enough, I'll come out of it. If you can just muddle through, you're going to have that sun-through-the-clouds moment when you remember how to smile. It doesn't always make sense-- I mean, one time, I saw a cardinal, and then it lifted. BECAUSE I SAW A BIRD. But it'll happen.
This weather is weird, and writing is hard, but winter is stupid, but I believe in you.
So what I'm saying is that if you see me spouting depression advice, it's not because I've conquered it. It's because I'm fighting it, hard, just like maybe you are. And if I disappear off social media, it got me--but only for a little while. And that's not weakness. That's not my fault. It's not your fault if it gets you. We prepare as well as we can, and we sit through the storm. There is no armor for this fight. But there's an entire army of us, and we'll keep going until we break through.
Here's to hoping spring comes early this year for us all.
Thanks for listening, take your meds, and get plenty of sleep. That helps, too.