Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Art of Perseverance

I sneak a look at the doctor's pad while he is out of the room. "Depressive disorder," it reads, from five years ago, when Dave died. Below that, two other diagnoses - something about back pain & allergies, no big surprises there. And today, a new one has appeared: "Generalized Anxiety Disorder," this one says. It isn't a surprise, but it takes me by surprise all the same, seeing it attached to my name & highlighted in yellow.

I'd cried when I started talking to the doctor, the one I'd waited three years to come back to because no doctor in D.C. compared or made me feel comfortable enough. I answer "yes" to all of his questions: Do you get teary like this a lot? Well, yes, but doesn't everyone? Are you having trouble sleeping? Yes, but it's probably my own fault for not getting in bed sooner. Do you feel stressed out? Yes, all the time, & I don't even have a job! Are you afraid of making big decisions? Yes. Oh, God, yes. Do you lash out at people you love? That, too. And so on. I tell him about the dizzy spells & the crying jags & my sudden paralyzing fear of the future.

"It's chemical," he assures me, "And genetic." He asks about my father: "Did he struggle with depression or anxiety?" No. No, I don't think so, but what do I know? There are more questions: What about my grandparents? Aunts, uncles, cousins? I find myself wanting to defend my family, to say that it's not their fault that I'm this way. That they are normal & that it's only me who is not.

There are more questions. There are tests. There are kind words of encouragement & reassurance. And then he writes me a party pack of prescriptions: one for anxiety and depression & a temporary one to help me normalize my sleeping schedule. A face wash & a night cream to clear up the skin problems he says are likely an effect of an increase in anxiety. There's another, too, the crowning jewel: a small slip of paper with the name & phone number of a therapist, someone to help me "smooth things out." Drugs & hugs, a combination deal.

I should feel better. This is a relief, isn't it? There are names for these things, for these problems, & there are ways to overcome them. I've spent years arguing that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of, that they're chemical & genetic, your body's fault & not your brain's, just like any other disease, but amplified by your environment & the circumstances of your life. Yet here I am, newly diagnosed - newly re-diagnosed - asking for help because I can't get through it through sheer perseverance alone. Feeling defective & damaged & ultimately blaming myself instead of my body.

I don't feel depressed. I just feel scared. And even when I'm scared, I'm happy. This isn't like it was before, with all the dark & twisty parts. My life feels beautiful, even when it's a mess. I just feel scared - scared that I won't make the right decisions, scared that I'll squander what I've been given, scared that I'll fail at adulthood. I look at the diagnosis on the small slip of paper in my hands, & my heart sinks every time I read the words on it: "Anxiety/depression." Anxiety, maybe. But depression: I don't have that, not anymore. Do I?

On the way home, I stop by the cemetery to talk to him. I haven't been in months, not since early spring. I brush the snow off of his grave to find fresh flowers underneath, preserved in a sheet of ice.  Like always, I promise both of us that I will never be him. That I will try harder.  That I will always - yes, always - be OK.

I stop crying. I get back in my car. I call my new therapist & I fill my new prescriptions & I restart my life. Ready, set, keep going.

Tips for Surviving the So-Called Winter Wonderland

I made a list. I like to call it "Six Vital Things I'd Forgotten About Real Winters Because Three Years In D.C. Turned Me Into a Big Wuss," which I think is pretty self-explanatory. So let's forge ahead in no particular order, shall we?
  1. Winter is cold, snow or not.
    I used to have a strict policy of refusing to wear coats until snow fell. This? Was a stupid policy. Because sometimes it's actually too cold to snow, which means my limbs are exponentially more likely to freeze & fall off. See also: Wind.

  2. Snow is wet.
    Sure, it's also beautiful, all falling softly on cedars & such. I always remember that it's cold (see previous bullet point), but I somehow develop amnesia about the wetness. I forget that snow in the eye is like a miniature squirtgun to the eye. This also reinforces the importance of wearing hats. What, you thought I meant for warmth? I meant for the safe-keeping of my hair.

  3. Every trip is a road trip.
    Add 15 minutes of travel time to all car trips, even ones that are typically fewer than 15 minutes long. Because even if you're just heading out to buy tortilla chips & queso at midnight (not that I do that!), you're going to first need to scrape an ice rink's worth of build-up off the windshield.

  4. Child labor is A-OK.
    A piece of paper was slid into our front door handle yesterday, possibly delivered by an angel: "MIGHTY SHOVELERS!" it proclaimed. One hour & $25 later, four neighborhood kids were happily heaving the snow out of our driveway by the pileful while I lazed happily in front of AMC's showing of "Mrs. Doubtfire." I never even had to take off my slippers.

  5. No one knows how to drive.
    Do I pump the breaks or not pump the breaks? I can't remember. Either way, I'm probably ending up halfway into your front yard. No inflatable lawn ornament is safe! And on that note...

  6. I'm the Patrick Bateman of lawn ornaments.
    I'm not actually murdering them. But I'm thinking detailed, gory, maniacal thoughts about how & when I would murder them. And how I'd celebrate with a reservation at Dorsia.
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