Friday, December 14, 2007

The powerful truth

If you haven't read Heather Armstrong's latest Dooce post, please read it now.

I joke all the time about my almost-nervous breakdown of 1999 to 2000, but it was no joke. I came completely undone, and if it weren't for my amazing therapist, I might have ended up on the hospital. In fact, looking back, I probably should have been in the hospital. I was in a constant state of panic. I felt like I couldn't breathe, basically all the time. I had developed an eating disorder. I was clinically depressed and suffering a spot of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It turned out that what was I needed was to learn how to live in the moment. I had never done that before.

Cynthia taught me a very simple meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh that basically saved my life. And she helped me work through all the bullshit from my past, which was anything but easy.

I didn't want to go to therapy. In my family when you have trouble, you talk to the minister. Nobody goes to therapy. There was some stigma there. Meanwhile, I had so much bullshit and I was desperately afraid. I knew I needed therapy, but it took me quite a bit of time to actually get there, and by the time I did, I was not well.

There have been occasional dark times since, but nothing so bad as then. God, it was terrible.

I still see Cynthia periodically - in fact, I just saw her today. Whenever I'm going through something that I'm having a hard time navigating myself, I make an appointment. I'm grateful to have awesome mental health coverage and that I can see her for a small copay. For a while, I paid out of pocket to see her, because, well, I really like being able to walk upright and have relationships with other people. These things are important to me.

Anyway, ready what Heather said. I agree with every single word of it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have health insurance at present, and I go back and forth about this issue. If I had kids to support I'd definitely go for it, but one of the major reasons I got a vasectomy was so I wouldn't ever pass my own mental illness problems onto someone else. And, if I was entirely incapacitated again, as I was last summer, I'd definitely go for it.

But I feel like the day-to-day battles are so much a part of me that I'd miss them if they were gone. They're part of what constitutes me, and have been for decades, their influence deeply interwoven with whatever "I" am. Changing that would be like uprooting a whole forest-- there'd be nothing left but scorched earth. And what's the alternative? Other people's lives by and large horrify me; if raising a family and climbing a career ladder and enjoying television* are the rewards that await in the land of correct brain chemistry, then fuck it, I'll stay badly adjusted.

There are useful distinctions to be drawn-- basic day-to-day functionality, ability to leave one's house-- but reading what Dooce wrote sounds too much like hearing how joyful someone is in Christ. "Happy" and "content" aren't the end-all be-all. "Thanks to medication, I can endure living in Salt Lake City!" Better you than me, sister. Making people who love you miserable is selfish, but I'll plant my flag in the vast middle ground.

While I hope I never, ever have to go through it again, my really extreme breakdown last summer also seemed to blow out the cobwebs in a funny way. My buddy who is trying to stop being a heroin addict speaks of his time in the deep throes of addiction similarly... if you're interested in what life is all about, it helps to lose your life for a little while; it gives you perspective.

The above blog comment was not made by a professional anything and does not constitute medical advice!

*pardon the snotty generality. The truth is, there are enough TV shows I enjoy that I have to not own a TV, lest I waste all my free time in front of it

December 15, 2007 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Myszkowski said...

I hear what you're saying, Damien, and I'm not necessarily advocating for drugs. I'm, personally, not on drugs, but there are a number of people I love who are on drugs and need them to stay upright. What I needed was to learn how to cope with my life, and that's what Cynthia was able to teach me. I'm glad that it didn't require drugs. But if it had, I would have taken them because living the way I did before I learned how to cope was terrible.

My problem wasn't brain chemistry; it was a bullshit past full of a wide variety of abuses that I couldn't deal with. Thankfully, a nice professional lady with a bunch of letters after her name helped me tackle them, one by one, so I could resume a normal life.

One of the reasons I shied away from therapy is that I was afraid it would change me and I wouldn't be as funny, etc. That was bunk. And one of the self-help books I read had a list in it of things people say to themselves to talk themselves out of getting help. One of them is that people worry about changing and not being themselves anymore.

Just so you know, your concern is not unique.

Growing up as I had, and living through what I've lived through, I've often thought that I was put here for some higher purpose, like I had some calling that was going to change somebody's life or change the world or something. Then I read a self-help book that said that people who have traumatic childhoods often grow up believing that they have a higher calling, that they're going to change someone's life or change the world or something.


You're entitled to you feelings about mental health, but, well, being out of the dark isn't really going to hurt you so much, and being out of the dark doesn't dull the pain of being alive; it just makes it easier to stay alive.

By the way, speaking as your personal friend and a person that loves you like family, can I just say that there's not a drug in the world that could suppress your charm and verve? That's a fact.

December 15, 2007 at 2:03 PM  

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