My family and I left on our much awaited summer vacation yesterday. We are together, we are healthy, we can afford a vacation in Greece and Italy and all is going well. What could be wrong in this picture?
There is nothing wrong, I just am also accompanied by my vacation demon. The one that covers me off and on in waves of sadness of roots unknowing, that bring awful images to my mind as we are driving through amazing Bulgarian sites: what if we have an accident, what if we get a call the we have to go back home, that someone died, what if I go crazy. As I write these my hands I shaking: I feel that I have conjured the demon and it will now for sure appear. Exposure. The only working medication.
This morning, as my family is still asleep, in Thessaloniki, on our way to beautiful Lefkada, I am awake. Of course. I always seem to be. Troubled by dreams of deep and muddied waters I swim in (again), of meeting my long gone brother and of living in my childhood home again, I woke up at 3 AM not knowing where I am or what I am doing here. My dreams are that all encompassing. The amazing psychiatrist who cares for me tells me it is a side effect of the meds that keep me balanced. Who knows, my dreams have always consumed me like a parallel lifetime I have been gifted with. Or cursed with. It depends.
Why am I sharing this on vacation? As I woke up this morning and started surfing a bit of Facebook, I stumbled upon this blog post raising hell around an article where an actress defines depression as a luxury- which you don’t have time for when you have kids and a job. The feelings I get when faced with this, range between intense rage and overwhelming defeat. It reminds me of one vacation where I thought I could tame the demon by reading and I had picked up a book on depression – the irony is not lost on me, no – and one example was that of a mom, so depressed that she was not able to care properly for her kids, barely making it to the refrigerator to give kids something to eat and hearing them as from behind a thick, thick filter, holding on with her very last semblance of strength daily, chasing away the thought that the gun she owned is always on her side of the filter.
The weeks before vacation, as I was putting a full stop to a long term career in the institution I have served well, including during moments when the demons of depression and anxiety raged in me to the extent that I was unable to make plans for the next hour, eat, sleep or smile, I had two encounters that convinced me once more that living with a mental illness is still like visiting here while living on a different planet the rest of the time.
I went to the pharmacy to get my meds. I fill up a prescription at a time, I have been for the past 14 years. It has been my grace and my burden, all in one. It is always tough for me to hand in the prescription of strong antidepressants to the pharmacist who will take a long look at me each time and say, “I must keep this prescription, you know that right?” – translation, “just to cover my ass if you decide to swallow all of them at once.” This time, my experience was surreal. The pharmacist gets the meds, looks at me and my partner at the counter (we were engaging in chitchat with her and laughing at a joke) and goes “who are these meds for?” “For me,” I say. The pharmacist goes “No! Come on! Really? But you look fine!” I smile a bitter smile and say “Yes, I know, because I take them.” She insists: “So what do you do if you don’t take them, do you go nuts?” … Yes, this was in a pharmacy. She was supposed to have some degree of knowledge. I said: “I do not get out of bed, I don’t eat, I don’t do anything …” hard to define … really. She goes “ Oh, come on, try and skip some pills every now and again, you’ll be fine. You look absolutely fine.”
In theory I could care less about what some lame ass lady impersonating herself as someone who knows and sells medicine has to say about the meds that have brought me back to myself and saved my life. In practice, I am so thankful that she caught me on a day when I was feeling ok. The incredible amount of convincing my partner and I had to do with myself to buy these pills in the first place and stick with them, could be unraveled in one such stupid fit, were I to meet an ignoramus like this on a day when when the demon ruled.
And no, she is not singular. Moving on to hiring myself for our own company, I had to undergo a “psychological evaluation”. The “psychologist” (quotation marks intended) looks at my diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder and then at me and starts: “what problem did you have madam, to suffer from this? I can see you have a career, you are ok, what is the problem. You need a hobby, that will fix it.” How and where do you even start? And this was someone a private clinic employed to say whether a person is mentally able to perform. Towards the end of the conversation, with me visibly at a loss as to how to respond to his idiotic questions, he decides to ice the cake: “I too have experienced states of agitation … at one time even a panic attack. If you can imagine.” No, I could not. Because nobody, having gone through such a horrible experience of a panic or anxiety attack, would be putting out such unimaginable moronic discourse.
I am very privileged to have found the right doctors, the right meds, the right partner to support me in this sometimes daily struggle. My smiles, successes, peace are hard won and I have the luxury to ignore the world when it puts labels on things it has no idea about. But my heart breaks each time I read about something like this because I know it makes at least one person struggling feel inadequate, less then and like they are not doing enough. Pushing them into even more despair