Since I was about fourteen, or fifteen, or whatever age these things typically manifest, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, or manic depression, or whatever you want to name it (I’m often fond of saying I’m just a bit crazy — just enough to make me fun, at least most of the time). I’ve been on and off medication, in and out of therapy, and generally tried to face the root of my manic depression head on in some productive way. And, as I referenced in the last post, sometimes that process is not a happy one, or an easy one. Sometimes it’s downright awful; and now it’s one I’ve had to repeat in the last few months, which is especially frustrating because I thought I had moved past so much of what I had once struggled with.
One of the things that happens at the hospital where I do my treatment is that, when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, they set you up with a psychiatrist immediately. Unless you stridently refuse, they put you on medication. About a week ago that medication finally kicked in for me, and this corresponded with when I stopped taking steroids to counteract the immediate effects of my chemo. And suddenly, with the clarity that accompanied those two changes, my actions over the last six weeks don’t make much sense. They frighten me, and they worry me that I’ve taken a step back into a space I thought I had left long ago.
Over the years, I’ve gotten tremendously good at masking a lot of the not too pleasant effects that dealing with manic depression causes. I’ve always been open about talking about these problems in the abstract, but I’ve kept most of the actual problem silent and away from the public eye. I feel that often I’m tremendously good at putting on a strong and tough front (hence why my blog is so reasonable and measured and calm), but then equally bad at maintaing that strength privately (hence why I have bad moments when I’m with those I trust the most, often at random and without warning).
And those who know me best have also seen me at my worst — and that worst is pretty awful. It’s angry and panicky and sad and anxious. I yell and scream and cry. Often, the particular issue my outbursts orbit is something that takes multiple and repetitive breakdowns to address (I may be a *tad* obsessive). And, the worst part: often those emotions are misdirected to whomever stands in my way and their own emotions are marginalized in the process. It’s trying process and often I wonder why anyone puts up with me at all. It makes me feel terrible and responsible for not only my own sadness, which I feel I should be able to control, but also for the sadness it causes others. I know it hurts — I hurt — other people. And that sucks.
I know I’m hard on those around me, and I know cancer has made that worse. Those close to me have borne the brunt of my anger and stood on the receiving end of that abuse. I want to alleviate some of that stress, if not all of it, but I’m not sure how. I want to be better to those closest to me so that I direct less of my frustration and pain and sadness and anger toward them because they don’t deserve it. But I’m not sure how to walk the line between masking my emotions and dwelling on them. And I know, in the face of this diagnosis, I need to figure that out or risk alienating those I need around me the most.
The multiple layers at work here are frightening and hard to navigate. Because when it comes to honestly working through anxiety and depression, there’s no right or wrong answer, and that’s frightening and can make the work seem even more difficult. But I’m trying to take responsibility for these traits and tease them apart so that I can better address these obstacles one by one. I anticipate this will be a difficult process, but processes I can manage.
I mean, hey, I’m a doctoral student in the humanities. Aren’t processes all we talk about anyway?