Yesterday I went to Powell’s Books to see the incomparable Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) perform a reading from her latest book, “Furiously Happy.” If you don’t have this book, go buy it. Now. Srsly. Here’s a link.
It’s not hyperbole to say that Jenny Lawson saved my life. No, she never performed CPR on me, or donated a kidney or anything like that. But she certainly played a large part in helping to keep me here, alive, and for that I am truly, truly grateful.
Jenny has been pretty open on her blog and in her two books about her own struggles with mental illness. In doing so, she is helping to decrease some of the stigma that those of us living with it have suffered. It’s tough to have a sickness that effects your everyday life that you’re afraid to tell anyone about, even your friends, because you know that they might treat you differently. To be afraid that the information might impact your job, or your relationships even more than the illness itself does. In reality, the words don’t change anything–I’m the same person I was before I told you what medications I’m taking, or why I take them. It’s just your perception of me that changes. But that change in perception…whew, it can be a real killer.
I had my first big depressive episode in 2012. I had been treated for depression for years. I took antidepressant medication and I felt pretty good. Then, my medication stopped working. I tried waiting it out. Months passed. I was withdrawn, irritable, completely miserable. My family asked how they could help, but I was too far gone to reach out. I went through the motions of being alive, while feeling no pleasure in anything. Then, with some relief, I stopped feeling anything at all. I wasn’t sad anymore. Instead, I felt dead inside. Nothing mattered. Nothing made me want to get out of bed, to put on clothes, to make any effort to be loving or kind to myself or anyone else. I was evaporating. And slowly, quietly, I started to think, if I was so useless, so dead inside, why was I sticking around? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go away? I was a walking corpse.
At first, the thoughts of suicide were rare. Then they were more frequent, taking up more and more of my mental real estate. Soon it was almost an obsession, plotting how I would kill myself. I made plans, scrapped them, came up with new ones. I found comfort in them, reassurance that I was doing the right thing. Because, my friends, depression is a big damn liar.
The only thing that stopped me was a homeless guy.
I decided I would drive into one of those concrete pilings under an overpass. It would look like I fell asleep on the way home from work, and nobody would have to know, right? Except….the week I decided to do it, a guy set up camp right where I was gonna crash my car. Pulled his shopping cart under the overpass and set up his tarp right under the piling I had been looking at for months. Now, there was no way I would hurt anyone else in this process. That wasn’t an option. I waited a week for him to move–but he didn’t. So, I went to the hospital instead.
After I was placed in an intensive hospital program, I called my very best friend and told her what was going on. And she cried with me, and immediately sent me a link to The Bloggess.
In that moment, in reading Jenny’s words and the comments of her readers, I understood there were so many people like me. I was not alone. I was a member of a club that none of us asked to join, but here we are.
I started to understand that what makes me who I am is tied up in the way my brain works–if I didn’t have all these weird connections that operate in a way that’s different from other people, I would be someone else. It’s OK to be broken…the broken parts are still beautiful. I want to engage, love, laugh, enjoy my kids. I want to embrace the world all the time, and live adventurously, and I do, when I can. But I know, too, that it’s OK to not be constantly achieving. It’s OK to not always be at full capacity. Some days, the thought of living one more day is un-fucking-bearable. On those days, my only job is to manage. My only job is to keep breathing in and out. To stay here. And I have learned how to stop beating myself up for those days. They aren’t my fault. They aren’t a punishment. They’re my membership dues for this shitty club I belong to.
So I fight back with shenanigans, pull myself together when I can, and forgive myself when I can’t. I try not to inflict my nastiness on others. And I take comfort in knowing that brighter times are coming. I pick up my stick and I beat back the monster from the door, with all the strength I can muster, even if it looks like I’m just lying on the couch watching Netflix.
So hearing Jenny Lawson speak last evening was a pretty big deal. She truly did save my life. Every time you see me lying on that couch, watching Netflix, with my invisible stick, you might catch me whispering something or see my lips moving. It’s my mantra for hard times and dark days. I keep repeating it, as I perform my only job, breathing in and breathing out, and focus on staying alive. Jenny gave it to me. Depression lies, depression lies, depression lies…..