This won’t be an easy post to write, but I feel that a) it’s important to share this information in case someone else reads it and is able to relate, and b) as reductive as it might sound, I feel like it’s essential to understanding me and my writing process.
In November 2015, I sat alone in the waiting room of the psychiatric nurse that had been recommended to me. My hands were shaking. Every time someone opened the door, I jumped, violently and visibly. I was on the verge of tears, but that was common for me then. Finally, she called me back to her office.
I wish I had a videotape of that session. The way I behaved was so normal to me then, but now, I can recognize so many symptoms that I either refused to or wasn’t able to see. I spoke slowly and with a flat affect, having a hard time focusing enough finding the right words. My memory was fuzzy. I fidgeted and picked at my skin. And for the first time ever, I said it out loud, with a creaky, tear-filled voice: “I think about killing myself. Almost every day. Especially when I’m driving and by myself for extended periods of time.”
I’ll never forget what she said to me. “This is not normal. You don’t have to live like this.”
It was the first time in my life I’d been desperate for someone to tell me something was wrong with me. Because here’s the thing: acknowledging that something is wrong means admitting that something needs to be fixed. And I needed to be fixed. Badly.
I used to cry every day on my 20-minute commute to work. At least three nights a week I cried myself to sleep. I fought with my husband all the time, convinced he didn’t love me, because how could anyone? I was a hopeless mess. At my very worst, I remember standing in the snack aisle of the grocery store for 30 minutes, unable to decide what I wanted because I was dissociating so severely. And yet, in spite of all those things, I was what they call “high functioning.” Apart from my husband, nobody knew I was depressed. I had a carefully constructed mask of lies and avoidance that kept almost everyone from catching on. I wanted to be normal. I didn’t want to be branded one of those “special snowflakes” that needed a label. I’d been holding onto my pride at great personal cost: I was miserable.
The nurse diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and recommended I go on medication. At that point, my depression was severely affecting my functioning, and I was having suicidal thoughts multiple times daily. She said I might need the extra help that medication gives in order to start getting better. I hesitated. I made an appointment with my general physician and spilled my guts again, about my symptoms, about my session with the nurse. He said the same thing. “Think of your brain as a train,” he said. “You’re carrying a lot of weight right now, and you’re trying to make it over the hill. The medication will give you the boost you need to make the summit.”
So, I did it. I started the meds.
As the professionals had predicted, the effect wasn’t immediately noticeable. And even when they did take effect, it wasn’t dramatic. I stopped crying in my car. I wasn’t thinking about suicide. Cooking dinner one night, I asked Marshall, “Has olive oil always smelled this good?” I couldn’t stop marveling at it. It was like my senses were awake and engaged again. The world hadn’t changed — I could just see it more clearly. And what I saw, I loved. When we were kids and got sick, my mom would say we “lost our sparkle.” She could always tell when we were feeling better because we “got our sparkle back.” Going on anti-depressants made me feel like I got my sparkle back for the first time in years.
Make no mistake: it hasn’t been a perfectly linear recovery. I still struggle and have bad days. I ended up having to adjust my medications recently to help with my depression-related memory issues and to help kick me out of the slump again. Apparently, my brain is “treatment-resistant” — it’s pretty stuck in its ways, and it really doesn’t like producing serotonin. To go back to the train metaphor, I needed a lot more than just a boost: something in my machinery was seriously failing. Which is where Bad Brain™ comes in.
I have learned, through my experiences, through cognitive-behavioral therapy, and through strengthened faith in the Lord, that my brain cannot be trusted. It’s a squirrelly little bastard. It eats my memories. It tempts me away from the things that I know to be true. You might be thinking, “Claire, this doesn’t make sense. You are your brain.” But what I’ve learned is that it’s easier to think of my brain as a separate entity, like a villain that I’m constantly fighting against. Bad Brain™ ties innocent girls to railroad tracks and twirls its evil mustache un-ironically. Bad Brain™ is probably voiced by Mark Hamill. Bad Brain™ is the infinitely meddling baddie in the comic book of my life. The good part about that is: that makes me the hero of the story.
Here’s the other important thing that I’ve learned: being the hero isn’t something I have to be ashamed of or hide. I didn’t leave the theater after watching Wonder Woman thinking, If Diana was really a hero, she wouldn’t have any conflicts in the first place. Diana Prince is amazing because she stood up to the challenge without hesitation. And that’s what I’m doing, day after day, clothed in the armor of God.
So that’s the story of Bad Brain™. Now, in future posts, when Bad Brain™ is being particularly meddlesome and comes up in a story, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ll be able to help me fight him off a little bit — I’ve heard these things are more easily handled with support.
On a final note, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of seeking help if you’re struggling. Whether it’s depression or pervasive anxiety or anything that’s getting in the way of your enjoyment of life, go talk to someone. Fight your personal Bad Brain™ and regain your position as the hero of your own story. I’ll be your cheerleader. All you have to do is ask.
Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.
II Corinthians 1:9