Monday, August 3, 2009

Perception Check #1

Re-reading the piece "Low-Key Manic-Depressive" has pointed out one of the after-effects of illness: I don't trust my perception of myself.

It's very difficult to describe the experiences of 25 years in a few short paragraphs. It's even more difficult for me to evaluate whether I have over- or under-stated my illness. I try to tone down my writing because I want it to be believable; I re-read it and I think it sounds so controlled and disinterested that no one who read it would ever believe it was a real problem.

The evaluation process is made even more difficult because the "bad old days" are now twelve years in my past, and memories get fuzzy after a while.

I have a few things that help me to remember that yes, it was that bad.

I kept journals in the last years of my illness, as self-therapy more than anything else. Writing was a way to talk through whatever struggle I was facing (and I was always struggling; chronic depression is one long struggle.) I kept those journals, although I seldom look at them.

And: Twice in my life I've had my neck x-rayed. A normal neck is curved rather gracefully. I was surprised to see that mine is a straight line. I've never injured it. I think it's the result of 25 years of chronic depression - 25 years of keeping my eyes on the ground. My body has in some ways been shaped by mental illness.

Finally, in each of the last two years, in October, I have had the briefest of relapses - a couple of days, no longer. I think it might be triggered by the time change. Each time I have been pushed back into illness I have been filled with fear and anxiety and a desperate need to reach out to friends (a need I've been wise enough to indulge.)

What those two short episodes taught me is frightening enough to keep me taking my meds for the rest of my life. When I was sick, I kept going because I didn't know any other way to live. Now I know what it's like to be well. The contrast is stunning. I think that the way I lived for 25 years would kill me now, and kill me very quickly. I no longer have the tools necessary to survive depression.

I have "written through" my question: was it really as bad as I described? Yes, it was; I think it was really much worse.

That gives me yet another reason for this blog - to remind myself of all the tools I've developed, so that they are always available to me.

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