The Spinning of the Fan

A week ago today, I was in the hospital.

Not entirely because my body wasn’t working. But because my mind wasn’t.

Sleep had eluded me for two weeks, and the weeks before that had been pretty rocky. Night after night, I would take my sleeping meds and then stare for hours at the spinning of the ceiling fan. Spinning and spinning and spinning. Hours into the night, I would get up and read. Sometimes I would write. Sometimes I would fill my tub with water and soak until I wrinkled.

Around 3 or 3:30 or 4, I would crawl back into bed and try again. Just a few hours would pass before my pseudo-sleep was broken by the garbage man. Or a kiddo. Or simply the sun coming through my window.

I have walked this road long enough to know my non-negotiables. They are what I have learned give me the very best shot of a good day or a good week: I need to get dressed and leave my house every day; I need to connect with someone on a daily basis and see my counselor every week; I need to live in relationship and not isolate; and I need sleep. Lots of good sleep.

What happens when sleep is stolen? When meds and oils and sound machines and cold air and heavy blankets aren’t enough? What happens when I try everything and still watch the endless spinning of the fan?

I broke.

The words of my hope-speaking counselor rang in my head, “Keep yourself safe.” Of all the answers I was hoping to hear, this is the only one I felt I had any control over. Try as I might, I could not make my body sleep. I could not keep thoughts of harm out of my head. I could not make my brain keep track of details to maintain conversation.

But I knew I could keep myself safe.

For weeks I stared at the question. How would I know when I was so sick I needed treatment? I had seen my doctor. I had tried new meds. I was doing my list of good. But it was only getting worse.

Last Saturday, I knew. I knew I was unable to take one more night of eyes wide open on the spinning fan. As physical as depression has been this summer, the mental onslaught finally came. It was pure desperation.

I do not know what makes a brain twist relief into harm. To say my brain does not struggle with ideations of harm would not be true. It would merely be an escape from the absurdity of explaining madness to one who has not walked the same road.

Please do not think less of me. Or of any other person who lives with a brain that speaks lies. Applaud the bravery, instead, of damning those lies with help. Of knowing there are limits and not trying to pretend we can respect them by ourselves.

I texted a friend who has also stood on the edge. He spoke what I already knew but needed desperately to hear. Go.

I am filled with endless words of the two days I spent inside those walls. They will come.

Today, I speak of grace. Of truth. Sometimes asking for help is the very strongest, most courageous thing you can do. I had nothing left from which to fight and yet I slayed. I fought by surrender.

I kept myself safe. That was all I could give, and it was everything.

Every story has peril and victory, pain and joy. Mine is no different, and neither is yours. Help is God’s tangible grace to us. Ask for it. Receive it. Give thanks for its expression.

I am home now, and I am sleeping again. New meds were God’s provision, and there is no shame. I can think clearly again, and the battle in my brain has lifted. My tribe has loved me well and with action. I am so grateful.

Keep yourself safe friends. Listen to your limits and be kind to them. Tomorrow needs you.

The Return of the Black Dog

It’s been awhile. Maybe it’s because when I feel well, I think clearly enough to put thoughts into words that can be heard. When I’m not, I need the space and time of a blank page to piece together coherency.

These words are for me. But maybe for you too.

It has been almost two years since I last felt the suffocating weight of darkness. Two years since hope seemed an illusion. Two years since I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal. Bad days showed up, but they also quickly passed.

The bad days have begun to linger again this summer. They have strung together instead of being sprinkled across a calendar.

After eight years of living with this brute, I thought I had the words to talk about it. It’s amazing how sterile those words sound now. Their cleanness robs them of impact. They are neat. And easy. And anesthetized. Try as I might, those who hear don’t seem to understand the cruelty of this beast.

So this is my attempt to describe what depression feels like:

It is physical. So very physical. It builds in my body and holds me with all the force of Round Up, the ride from Joyland, where the walls spun and spun until the floor dropped out beneath. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift my head during that ride. The Black Dog feels an awful lot like being trapped on Round Up. Every movement feels like I’m carrying 1,000 pounds.

Fog thicker than the clouds fills my head. Visibility is short, and it takes all my energy. I can not take in a room. I have to work hard to focus my eyes on the person in front of me. Even harder to not only see the person but process what he or she is telling me. I have very limited minutes to do both.

The fog also robs me of my ability to think. I hear words, but it takes an eternity for the sound to take meaning. When meaning does come, pieces have a hard time sticking together to make a whole. Connections and completed thoughts stumble.

My eyes literally begin to ache, and the middle of my brain physically hurts. Not every time depression visits does my head hurt. But when it does, it is my brain is telling me it’s sick. This summer it has hurt.

In the morning, I wake with eyelids that do not want to open. The fuzzy mind and fog bare down thick and paralyzing. My bed is the cocoon that protects me from the harsh stimuli of reality. With the comforting weight of my blanket and a pillow over my head, it doesn’t matter that I can’t think or respond or want. Reality can come and go. It takes so. much. work. to leave that haven.

Facing the day is overwhelming. So many minutes. All I can think about is when I get to re-enter the safety of my bed.

It is hard to find the words, the analogy, that carries the weight of loss in losing one’s ability to process stimulus. Every word requires monumental effort to understand. Every sound rings like a boom that never stops. Touch that is not constant and firm chafes my nervous system like nails on chalkboard.

Depression has been very physical these past months.

This summer has brought battle to my mind too, but I have been spared the worst of the dark I once knew. I want to hope it is because I recognize the lies depression tells–they come without warning and assault my mind like shrapnel. They dig deep into wounds still visible and remind me of pain long passed. They make me believe the bleeding will never stop. That is danger for me. In God’s grace (because truly it is), the battles for my mind have been brief. Respite has come quickly. Hope in the form of truth has been spoken, by me and by others.

As I crawl into the safety of my bed, I read the same words every night. In this season, they cover me.

The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. . . I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:3-10

Please hear these words: depression is a beast. It is relentless. Most of the time, it is not about anything, but it requires everything. Don’t take for granted that for some it takes a lot of work to stay alive. To keep fighting. To not seek rest in any form it’s offered.

Tonight, I spread out my hands, and I wait for the rain to fall. I hide myself in the One who made me, and I wait like the watchman for the morning light to bring word of his unfailing love. I beg for his good spirit to lead me to level ground.