Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Seriousness Descends On FyF

I've started this post several times in the last few months. As much as I began this blog to be a therapeutic journal, it's much more public than your usual pen-and-paper variety. Was this even the right medium for anything other than the informative and the entertaining? I want a place to vent my frustration, clear my head, but I don't want to be too open and honest with The Internet. I think the only people who read this are friends (and perhaps friends of friends) but it's still unnerving. So I keep it light, talk about my hobbies, travels, and daily life while sanitizing all of these things from the Deeply Personal.

I have friends who have wonderful blogs about political and social issues. I don't always know what to think of those controversies, so it might seem that I've spent a lot of time writing meaningless things to shy away from them. But I don't pretend to have their breadth of experience or knowledge, and what I write here is self-consciously parochial. Maybe you'll find it clich├ęd. I know my betters have described this state with eloquence and sensitivity, but this isn't their space, and my therapy needs to work for ME.

So much for disclaimers. Most of you know that I've been struggling with a kind of depression for a year or two. (I say "a kind" because I'm a hopeless qualifier and I have never felt that it's quite as deep others' emotional issues.) I hope this is not news to those of you who know me well. I think I've told everyone, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you talk about on the sidewalk at Homecoming, especially for me. I don't bring it up casually, knowing the tears that will inevitably follow and ruin any hope of a light-hearted talk with you. Plus they always spoil my make-up. Not chic.

I'm writing this now because yesterday was a down day. I can go a while before hitting one, but as I found out a month ago, even when the trajectory is upward, a down day can hit me so hard I'll be reeling for days afterward. I always thought their ferocity would be dampened by all the good moments in between, but I guess the mind doesn't work like that, and last night was flat-out scary.

Background: I grew up in a wonderful family. Dad and Mom loved my two brothers and I. They encouraged my spirit, my brain, my development. My mother taught at my private school and drove 45 minutes each way for a couple of years because it was best for us. My father worked incredibly hard to keep the family running. They told me they loved me so often, I doubt it was only once a day. I was my own person, and I developed as such under their care. Then came the hothouse of middle and high school. Middle school was lonely for a plump thinking girl, but high school yielded some incredible friendships which last to this day. It also gave me a chance to discover that I wasn't a social dud; I just hadn't found my niche before. With that sort of nutrition, I became a confident person. College began as an extension of that life, but after a year or so, I had a boyfriend and good classes, but not many friends for a Friday night. So began the doubt, the frustration, and eventually, the raw pain of loneliness and depression.

Later college and this past year have negated some of my former impressions of myself. I've learned that when I'm out of the hothouse I'm passive-aggressive, reserved, and self-conscious, none of which I ever attributed to myself before. I know we all have our faults, but being wrong and being someone different than I thought I was . . . Well, it was devastating. I thought I was a good friend, outgoing, and confident. Would my friends see the changes wrought in this new environment and wish they had the Hothouse Erica? The question made my anxious, so I buried it all beneath movie nights with my boyfriend, study, visits home, and trying to be normal. But often the ways of dealing with the pain were relational and relationships were a sore spot then. I wasn't close by non-college friends (hello boonies of PA!) and college friends weren't well-versed on my background. Could I ever get them to understand the Me-That-Was and Unhappy Me on my way to the Real Me, especially since most of them hated high school and were finally thriving in their collegiate niches? Also, for the first time in my life I knew of things that I didn't want to share with friends right away, and for a girl who had been taught that friendship was openness and unconditional love, the first prospect loomed frighteningly, making the second unattainable.

Life continued, as it's prone to do. I got engaged to my marvelous husband and started looking at the Great Beyond, College Edition. I struggled a lot that senior year, so when a friend who had lived through depression suggested I visit the college psychologist, I did. Unfortunately, it was only weeks away from graduation, and at a high point when I was receiving academic and emotional support I hadn't before. I went twice and, though I got a few key insights from him, I needed that psychologist more a few months later when my marriage was beginning to force my growth and sapping what little strength I had in reserve, as it inevitably does in the first few months (or so I hear).

Which brings us to the present day. As I said earlier, I experience fairly long stretches when my hope is strong. Sure we haven't knit in to "our" church yet nor do I have friends close enough to spend time with me regularly, but at least I feel those goals will be met in the near future. Someday I will understand myself well enough to be comfortable again - to talk without self-conscious pangs and fear, always fear. Still, last night a vice closed on my chest and I couldn't stop the sobbing anguish I felt. K stuck with me, wrapping his arms around me as I wept, but to some extent, there's not much he can do. I know if he weren't here the problem would be ten-fold, but then again, sometimes it is our relationship that makes me drop into the bottomless well. It's complicated; so very complicated that I lose my way.

Perhaps that's where I feel most betrayed. Most of my life, I have listened to the advice of my elders and mature peers and to the voice of reason they inform, and thinking my way out of the well has worked. Now every time I reach for a hand hold, my thoughts pull me downward. I've prayed, I've distracted myself, I've talked with friends, family, and people I respect. I feel myself slowly rising, slowly gaining some measure of control and progress. And then it's last night all over again.

I'm going to try a counseling opportunity that K found. I need wisdom more than commiseration. Don't get me wrong, the encouragement of my friends is why I'm still having more up days than down, but it doesn't really point the way out. What you, friends, can offer me is what you have all known to give: prayer, words of hope, advice when you've got it, a listening ear when you don't.

Even when I wake up with puffy eyes, a reminder of the havoc of darkness, I know that God is with me. I have come back from the brink when I thought He meant me harm. Wasn't it Him who gave me that riotous growth in high school? I listen to Rachmaninoff's "Blagoslovi, Dushe Moya, Gospoda" and I bless His name with those voices and look to the hope of morning. And I have to remember that suffering bears good fruit - humility, perseverence, trust (paradoxic, isn't it?), and ultimately, deeper faith. I just have to find those highlights to get me through.

"For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert places like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it; Thanksgiving and the voice of melody." (Isaiah 51:3)


lvs said...

I know those bad days can really blow, but I'm glad you're still able to recognize the good ones. Although no one can truly understand your particular situation, I can at least I say I hear you on longing for your old friends. I guess it's something we all have to face.

E.A.P said...

Thanks, L. It's good to hear from one of the friends for whom I long. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

I feel ya. Unfortunately, really I do. Lost your blog, but now I've found it again. In response to this post, all I can say is somehow I know it will get better. God will find you, or you will find you, or something in between. I would give the advice to give it time and know that change is change and it is good. However, I have more commiseration to offer you than hope, because right now, man do I feel ya. If you do find the elusive "way out", please point me in the right direction. Until then, ring me up and we can commiserate together, or distract ourselves by discussing completely frivolous things which never cease to be entertaining. Or whatever man, just call me. Miss you!

PS. Am I Cairo? Or was that you? Or were you Nairobe? or was that Jen? Miss Piggy or Gonzo? Cherry or Nectarine? The color pink anyone? Whatever... you know who I am, just friggin call me.