I’ve Never Heard You Laugh Before

I still don’t understand how I missed it.  It’s plain that everyone around me knew; it was obvious.  People kept asking me, and I kept shaking my head saying, “No.  No.  I would know.  I’ve been there before.  I know what it feels like, what it looks like.  I’m just tired, overworked.  I just need to stay positive.”

Then, on St. Patty’s Day, a friendly acquaintance of two years remarked, “Hey, I’ve never heard you laugh before,” and finally, the denial was washed away.

I’d forgotten that depression took many forms, that knowing it once, even presumably conquering and surviving it, even a library worth of material on the subject and a degree in psychology did not make me immune or an expert.  My first depression was a soggy, tear-soaked affair that started at the age of 4 and lasted until I was about 16, followed by recurrent aftershocks for the next few years and drenched, much of the time, by an obsession with suicide.  I’d mistakenly decided that depression, for me, meant having an inflated appetite, a love affair with self-harm, and a daily bawl-out.  Not once in those years did I lose interest in, or the ability to do, the things I cared about.

Today is different.  Today I can say I’ve barely cried in years, that the world is covered in a gray, numb pall, tinged with occasional irritation and outbursts of hostility.  The interests I once sought refuge in are all but forsaken.  I can’t remark on the last time I played an instrument, or wrote, painted, or drew regularly.  Video games have all but fallen by the wayside; the sewing projects in my closet have been neglected for nearly a decade.  I don’t know when I last went on a walk, took a hike, went sledding, ice-skating, or swimming, or felt joy over scenery or delight in a pet or other animal’s company.  It is obvious even to the occasional check-out clerk that I’ve become flaky and distracted, incapable of concentrating.  Food is an abhorrent entity; sleep is a blessing I cannot give myself permission to indulge in for long.  Yet I have never, in all the time of the great second depression, thought of harming or killing myself.

Worry not, dear readers, for there is a silver lining to this otherwise, um, depressing story.

I was laughing that day because I had allowed myself the relief of knowing that I am going to quit my job someday soon.  I am going to quit no matter how much I like my coworkers, or how much I love the adrenaline rush of a job well-accomplished under what feels near impossible circumstances, or even how much I feel I need that extra $2-$3 per hour.

It’s not worth it.  I made myself a promise many years ago when the clouds lifted at last that I would never put myself repeatedly in an otherwise avoidable situation that made it difficult to be happy.  Happiness was my first priority, and remains so to this day.  I will not let that change, and I won’t let even a sign of improvement in my workplace erode my resolve.  I will take my time to insure that I’ve found a new, stable place of employment that is right for me.  I will dig out, brush up on, and utilize every one of the techniques that helped me overcome my depression in the past.  I’ll find more if I have to, because I want, and believe I deserve, happiness.

So, stay with me, fellow bloggers, and be assured that I will soon be unveiling a better, happier me.  If you, too, are feeling a little down in the dumps (or stranded down a well somewhere), perhaps we can learn from each other.  I’m confident that together we can and will conquer our depression.

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I’d like to blame…

myself.  Gluten-intolerance.  Random bouts of illness.  The restaurant industry.  The chaotic nature of fate.

Does it matter?

I haven’t been keeping up with this blog like I said I would.  I haven’t been doing much writing, either.

When I started my novel for what felt like at least the hundredth time, I wrote the first four chapters in a month, one a week, a page or four a day.  I wrote the next two chapters the month after that, and chapter 7 was finally finished sometime that August.  I think.  I started the current rewrite in December 2009.  I “finished” chapter 12 last week.  Less than thrilled by my lackluster progress, I’m now back to trying to buy a ticket to forward my novel along by plane.  This covered wagon nonsense is getting stale.  So are the hard-tack biscuits.

If I could eat biscuits.  Sigh.  Well, that’s one explanation for why everything in my life seems to be on standby.  After the first 15 years of non-stop headaches and stomachaches, my body realized I still hadn’t gotten the message and decided that, hey, maybe organ failure would be a more pertinent clue.  I remained oblivious, so my body escalated its tactics.  By the time I finally got the idea that, hey, something was seriously wrong, I was doing my utmost to simply remain upright at work without passing out and tumbling into a fryer or landing on a flat top.  Mr. Wonderful was carrying me to bed, propping me up while I took showers, and putting up with the fact that I was too exhausted to brush my teeth despite my “delightful” descent into cigarette and coffee addiction, because hey, funny thing, smoking helps mitigate some of the symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance (even if your body is still destroying itself from the inside out).  Smoking was the only thing holding my wildly swinging mood in any sort of check, and coffee was the only way I could function at work.  I frequently couldn’t walk without limping because my joints kept swelling up.  It was a daily struggle to remember where I was and what I was doing, never even mind why I was there.  I couldn’t play video games, or look at a television, or even read a book, because I couldn’t concentrate and it was too exhausting to hold a book open or push the buttons on the controller.  Besides, bright light was excruciating, and staring at a neon screen even more so.  Mr. Wonderful kept having to grab my hands to keep me from itching all of my skin off.  I spent all of my days off staring at walls for hours until I heard my husband’s key turning in the lock and started wondering where the time had gone.  I couldn’t sleep despite the exhaustion, and when I woke up I felt worse than when I had gone to bed.  Eating was almost impossible.  I ate once every seventy-two hours, watching my body distort into an emaciated wreck and hating it, but food tasted terrible, and swallowing and chewing were only achieved by conscious effort.  Besides, I had to plan for an extra half hour after every meal just for the after effects.  I’d look in the mirror and see a pregnant skeleton, protruding belly and ribs.  I wondered if I was anorexic and didn’t know it.  How could my stomach be so out of proportion with the rest of me, especially when I hadn’t eaten anything?  Surely I had to be seeing things, but I always felt even worse after I ate.

My doctors were as clueless as I was.  Worse, they thought I was a hypochondriac, because they’d ran me through every battery of tests they could think of, and I’d come back with praise worthy blood pressure and blood tests that looked like they were taken from a medical text book for the ideal numbers.  They recommended that I get some more exercise.  I began to believe it was all in my head, too, or that I was simply weak, and my job was too demanding.  “My job is killing me,” became my favorite joke, and then I started repeating other little phrases: “I think I can,” to myself, “I’m fine,” to inquiring friends, coworkers, and neighbors, or to my husband when he found me passed out on the floor a few too many times.  There was “You’re just lazy” and “Just get up and do it”.  Honestly, though, I wanted to know why I couldn’t find a single speck of joy in anything I used to love or care about, and that was probably the worst thing of all.

If you think this sounds like an excuse, it’s because it is.  I’ve been gluten-free for about eleven months now, and every day seems like a miracle.  I’ve done more in these past eleven months than I did in the five years of my life previous to that point.  Everything except writing.  If you look at the dates above, you’ll see I wrote over half of what I’ve written of my novel so far while I was still ingesting gluten.  Part of that was because trying to work was so painfully aggravating to the condition that I was reaching for even highly improbably chances of escape.  Ah, motivation.  The other part was that writing was the only thing I had ever cared about that still gave me any sort of satisfaction, and I needed that “fix”.  Oh, yes, I did.  The point remains that, despite the fact that writing was a struggle, I still did it anyway.

The past few weeks I’ve had a cold.  So what?

The restaurant is still a grueling, exhausting environment, getting more precariously stressful, it seems, with each passing day.  Every Tuesday, I’m honored with the dubious task of making pizzas and breathing in the swirling flour clouds.  Every workday, one of my employees will inevitably ask me to taste some sauce or some other something whatsit that has been thickened with roux.  If I’m lucky I can usually find a way to bow out, but usually, foolishly, I accede, only to reap the consequences later.  My job, and my own stupidity, are quite literally killing me.

I got roped into this job because I listened to a story character, who insisted that I needed to learn to cook and exist in an industrial kitchen environment if I was going to write my novel with any degree of authenticity.  I can’t quit, because I thought it was a great idea to go to college at one point, and now I have a great deal of crippling student loan debt that I can’t pay if I accept a lower paying job (which is all that’s available at the moment), even if it’s for my own health.  I went to college because gluten intolerance was wreaking psychological havoc, and after I learned quite a few things about dealing with that havoc, I decided that I wanted to share the relief with other people if they were willing.  Besides, knowing basic human psychology has got to be great for writing convincing story characters, right?

It’s days like these when the threads twisting throughout my life, interconnected and overlapping as they may be, feel like a noose closing in around my neck.  Writing gives me a sense of euphoria, accomplishment, change.  It doesn’t matter if I am ever published or if my novel ever nets me so much as a dollar (although both would be nice, no denying); I simply like the work and the way I feel afterwards.  Ah, there’s my ticket.  Best prepare to board the plane.