The Quiet Room (First Published 12/12/2013)

So, where was I?  Back a couple of posts or so ago…?  Oh, that’s right!  I crashed and burned.  Yep.  First, a correction.  This occurred at the end of Block III in the teacher ed program, not Block II.  The next semester would have been the final Block then student teaching before hopefully passing the Praxis test and entering the classroom as a teacher.

College classroom

Now here I was, three weeks left to spare in Block III, and I was crashing.  I managed to complete the semester.  I had to!  I’d invested too much, and had watched the investment my family had also put into my education, to quit at that point.  And I believed I just needed a little break before hitting the books again in the fall.  I had a whole summer.

That’s not the way it went, though.  A month later I was sleeping almost non stop.  When I wasn’t sleeping I was crying.  Or that’s the way it seemed to me at the time.  Looking back I recall so very little.  Just that things were very dark.

John had been attending some of my counseling sessions with me in an effort to better understand my illness.  We made an emergency appointment with *Flo (can you see being in therapy with Flo as the therapist?  J ) and had to make a decision.  Was I able to cope?  Was I in danger of harming myself? Was I able to care for myself and/or my family? Was a more intense effort needed to become stable?

I know John wanted only what was best for me, as did Flo.  I’m also sure he must have been terrified at that point.  We decided that the best course of action would be for me to be briefly hospitalized in order to be stabilized, a decision I’d make again today if necessary.

Doctor and patient in hospitalI was fortunate in that my then-doctor was affiliated with an amazing hospital in St. Louis.  Fortunate because the psychiatric ward (now THAT’s a shocking term, isn’t it?) there was for those like me…not for those waiting to dry out between drunks or drug highs or those who were criminals.  Just for those of us whose neurotransmitters were taking a hiatus. And I hafta say, except for the whole crying and sleeping thing, and being horribly depressed, it wasn’t half bad.  Staff was amazing, I had no responsibilities except to get better, the food was great (Hey, that’s important!), and there were plenty of snacks on hand.  We were well cared for.  If called to give it a rating, I’d say five stars.

I have to add I was a little antisocial.  Okay, make that a LOT antisocial.  I didn’t want to attend group therapy, or activities, or anything else that involved other people.  I wanted to be left alone with my book and be allowed to read or sleep.  I was there because I was depressed, not to make friends over arts and crafts.

Then came the first night and the discovery that my roommate snored.  Like a truck.  I absolutely could not sleep through that.  I made my way to the nurses’ station and begged to be allowed to sleep in another room.  All the rooms were full, though.  I then begged to be allowed to sleep on the sofa in the common room, or even in a chair!  Against regulations.  The despair I felt made my earlier despair look like joy, and apparently it showed, ‘cause I was informed that there was the “quiet room” and it was unoccupied!

Girl says shhhhWhat??!!  A quiet room??  Why wasn’t I told about this room before?  Quiet!  That was exactly what I wanted! I almost-happily gathered up my blankets and pillow and tip-toed my way to the room. I wanted that room and didn’t want anyone else to claim it!  My precious!  It was adjacent to the nurses’ station with a window between them.  I noticed the mattress was on the ground but, hey, I didn’t care.  There was no one in the room but me!  Quiet time, here I come!

As I snuggled down, I noticed something on the floor at each corner of the bed.  They were kind of like bent over, u-shaped bolts but each side was bolted into the floor.

The bed wasn’t bolted down. It was just a mattress.  So what could it be?  Then it dawned on me and I actually laughed out loud.

The room could more appropriately be called a “time out” room and was usually for those who needed to be quieted, not for those needing quiet.  I’m still laughing about this, though my husband and doctor were not too thrilled with it (read: horrified) when they found out.  The u-shaped bolt thingies were in case a patient needed to be restrained.  Oh, my.  I’m so un-violent.  The irony is just too much.  But, hey, I’m just grateful the room was empty while I was there because it meant I got to sleep at night.

I was placed on lithium, which is generally a drug of choice for depression, assuming the patient doesn’t develop a toxicity.  I did, but not for several weeks.  It works quickly and had me pretty much stable by the time my three day stint was over. Actually, I felt pretty darn good at that point.

Blood work conducted at the hospital indicated my iron level was dangerously low and that my thyroid had taken early retirement.  Two more potential causes behind my exhaustion and contributing factors to the depression.

So, I did gain some answers.  But better yet?  I got to sleep in the quiet room!

The Darkness Comes (Originally published December 31, 2013)

getting darkThe darkness threatened to close around me.  I felt the tentacles stretching towards me, reaching, snaking their way through to my body and soul.  I could see them, slowly moving in, becoming stronger, increasingly darker as they approached.  The fogginess in my head deepened, making me feel ever more lethargic, fatigued…any effort to do anything was almost too much.  My spirit began to sink, interest in anything I enjoyed was slowly diminishing.  I wish I could say my feelings towards those I love was unaffected, but that would be a lie.  I knew that love was there, but it was becoming separated from me by the darkness.  That’s the way depression works.  It’s a wall between all that you love and enjoy and yourself.  In the end, when it’s at its worse, nothing exists but the darkness.

Sometimes that’s a relief.  Does that sound strange?  I know some of you understand.  Just to let the darkness have its way…to sink, curl up, sleep, and close out the world.  It hurts less. That twilight, in between state prevents enjoyment, but you’re still very much aware of all you cannot do, don’t want to do.  You don’t care about much, but somehow care that…you don’t care.  You’re supposed to care, and you know that. But the energy, the strength it takes to accomplish even the minutest task simply isn’t there.  And it’s frustrating, aggravating, demoralizing…here it is again.  At least with the full darkness everything is shut out.  That’s not to say full depression is a good thing.  It definitely isn’t.  I’ve spent more than my share of time curled up in a fetal position, blanket over my head, too tired to even cry, and just wanting it to stop.  In that in between, twilight state, though, is the belief that you should be able to carry on as if nothing was wrong.  As if you were walking in the light.  As if all was well in your world when there may only be enough energy present to take a shower, get dressed, and watch TV.  And sometimes there’s only energy to choose one from that list, like choosing dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

The tentacles have been stretching towards me since early October.  I woke up one morning and all my interests were simply no longer interesting.  I felt flat, emotionless, yet not depressed.  Slowly, little by little, I could feel the cold, misty-gray tentacles moving towards me, grasping me lightly, just enough to be aware.  The tentacles were getting stronger, darker, squeezing harder.  I managed to fake my way through Christmas and prepared a separate, second dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate with a son and daughter-in-law who had been out of town at Christmas.  I managed to get through, and was aware enough of having met the challenge to even give myself a little pat on the back.  “Good work. Success.”  The fact that I was in bed by 6:30 New Year’s Eve wasn’t important…I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

despair or hope signpostThen on New Year’s Day, somehow, for some reason I don’t want to even question, the tentacles’ strength lessened, they became a bit thinner, less dark.  I’m not yet back in the light, but I have managed to vacuum and mop my living room, dining room, and entryway, shop, run a couple of other errands, and still feel like writing this blog post.  That’s pretty good and I’ll take it as a sign that perhaps I’m moving towards the light instead of away from it. I feel I’m beginning to care again, and I take that as a good sign, too.  I had hoped I wasn’t experiencing a long, slow, spiraling decline into that dark place from which it is so very difficult to escape.

I feel blessed to be able to say I appear to be climbing out of that hole.

The Ugly Demon and the Crafting Sword

You know that I have bipolar disorder, right?  I mean, I admit it in virtually every post!  What you may not realize is that the bulk of my time is spent depressed rather than hypomanic.  At one time I would have said deeply depressed, but now…fortunately…it’s just depressed.  The difference, you ask?  Well, deeply depressed is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, some shame as a bit of seasoning, sadness, and a belief that it will never, ever end.  Depression is bad enough.  Deeply depressed is like drowning in air.  It’s staying in bed because there’s no energy to even get up.  With depression, the feeling is that there is a life preserver out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.  You might note that I didn’t say anything about being sad.  It’s my belief, not a fact, just my own belief, that clinical depression has little to do with sadness.  I’ll talk about that in another post.  I found my life preserver in the hands of a compassionate, skilled psychiatrist and an outstanding therapist.  Well, that and the right pharmacological cocktail.  But it took the pdoc (psychiatrist) understanding how neurotransmitters work to come up with my cocktail.

Depression world cloud

But wait!  There’s more!  I also craft!  Yes, even while depressed, I craft.  Crafting gets me into another world for a while.  When I get into the zone, the depression is pushed to the side.  I become happy, hopeful, excited even!  And I’m learning there’s a whole bunch of people who feel the same way.

You see, I belong to a Facebook group for craft hoarders.  Yep, you got that right.  Craft hoarders!  We can’t pass up craft supplies without buying something.  We sneak it in in the middle of the night, or mixed in with groceries or such.  We’re that bad!  Actually, we’re pretty good.  Pretty good at hiding our crafting obsessions from others!  HA!  We may have a designated crafting space, but that doesn’t stop the supplies from tumbling out all over the house.  As if a mere designated space could hold the bounty of our supplies!  But we use these supplies!  Or we will.  Someday.  Someday soon.  Glitter. Paper. Fabric. Deco mesh. Buttons. You name it, I and others have it.  And it will all be put to good use.  I will soon be getting a good sized she-shed with an attached shop.  No, not the shopping kind of shop.  But the kind where my youngest will no doubt work on cars, motorcycles, and such.  But it’ll make a good overrun area for supplies!

Artist painting.

I was surprised the other day when one of these dear people…a woman, as are most of the group’s members…mentioned being depressed.  I was relieved when she received so much support.  Sadly, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness.  However, I was astounded at the number of other members, literally dozens, who admitted to struggling with depression and anxiety.  This one thread was so full of positive energy as admissions were made to the difficulties of life with depression, and the benefit of creating in keeping the ugly demons at bay.  Also, the positive affirmations to one another to keep crafting.  I was actually in tears.

I am not my illness.You might have noticed one of the categories on my blog is “crafts”.  If it’s a blog for mental illness, why add crafts, you may wonder?  Because while I might have bipolar disorder with a heavy emphasis on the depression, that’s not who I am.  It doesn’t define me.  I’m multifaceted and one of my facets includes creating.  Actually, since reading some of the comments within that FB group, I’m pondering the possibility that a great deal of creating comes from those who suffer, in one way, shape, or form.  Could it be we’re given these talents to help us cope?  I do know I want to reach out to these women and see if any of them are willing to share how they create.  I’ve seen the work of some of the people in this group and it’s astounding!  I’d love to show it off on my blog.