I don’t know what changed in me, but it’s something big
CW/TW: mentions of suicidal ideation
My depression has a set pattern:
I’m well. Something trips up. I start to fall, fall, fall. I crash hard. I pull myself together. I get up. I get stronger, better, happier. I’m well again.
I’ve done this a hundred times in my 25 years. I’m an expert.
But when I did this last fall, something was profoundly different in the recovery process, and I have no idea what it was.
I’ve tried writing out this story at least two dozen different ways. Maybe I’m not ready to explore this topic, the memories of the last 9-10 months, but the blog manager in my head is very insistent on sharing something before Mental Health Month ends. So here we go. I need to give it a try.
Last fall was one of the hardest crashes I’ve ever had.
When I was at rock bottom, I was in a very primitive, protective mode to care for my mood, my feelings, my soul.
Spending time with friends on weekends took all of my energy. Going to doctors’ appointments was exhausting. I slept up to 14 hours a day.
I had a knot of anxiety in my chest more often than not. One of the only things that soothed me was watching the television show ER. It aired in a three hour block every weekday on Pop TV and it was the one thing I looked forward to every day.
I remember crying in my therapist’s office once because I felt like I needed more than those three hours—I asked her to give me permission to ask my parents to buy season passes on Amazon. (It wasn’t available on Hulu at the time and I was too scared to ask my parents for a season pass without my therapist’s support.) She told me I would be just fine without it, so long as I kept my mind active.
She made me come up with lists of other things to keep me distracted from the horrific thoughts occupying my head at the time. The thoughts ranged from general hopelessness to vivid suicidal ideations to long lists of reasons why I was unlovable and everywhere in between. Even though when I’m healthy I have the skills to combat each and every one of those thoughts, I could barely function at the time. I couldn’t go through those exhaustive processes to defeat the thinking. Our strategy at the time was to divert and distract.
There were a few events in the fall that required me to save up all of my energy and put on a happy face. And some of those times, I was genuinely happy. But the crash afterwards was hard. Occasionally, going back to feeling horrible hurt even worse than if I had never had the good time at all.
I don’t know when it was, I can’t pin point when it happened, but in the climb out of this depression, I felt more stable than ever before in my life. It was like I had again seen the depths of what my depression was capable of, and now that I was watching myself climb out of it, I was seeing my own strength, and really recognizing it for what it was for the first time in my life.
I don’t know what day I started getting better. I don’t know when I first called myself “stable.”
But one day in November, I decided to stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home from therapy and TMS. I liked the feeling of being out of the house. I liked the freedom. I started going to Target on the way home from appointments for the same reason, and strolling around for up to an hour, just to stay out of the house.
One day, I responded to every single one of the e-mails and text messages I got. One day, I went to an event with my parents and talked to people I didn’t know.
And one day, I didn’t need to watch my three hour block of ER.
To outsiders, these were small, tiny steps. But to my parents and care team, they were huge.
I kept taking the small steps consistently.
Weeks later, Christmas rolled around, and I was out at midnight, grocery shopping for Christmas Eve, last minute shopping for my family, wrapping presents, enjoying the feeling of being busy. I didn’t cry on a holiday—maybe my biggest achievement yet. (I always cry on holidays. I’m the designated Christmas ruiner in the family.)
In January, my TMS psychiatrist told me we would try going without TMS for a while. To see how I’d do.
I started making new, bigger steps.
I started going back to church, because I wanted to explore that area of my life again and I enjoyed the social component.
We started talking about some scary topics in therapy—but I could handle them this time rather than crumbling under the pressure.
I started very casually looking for jobs.
And in March, I got one.
GUYS. Today was *amazing.*
I hope your day was wonderful, and/or that tomorrow will be even better.
& thanks to my support sys for being the best in the biz.
— shannon linford (@shannern) March 16, 2018
I Tweeted this the day I got my job.
The entire time while I was making these steps, I would look back at how far I’d come, and the word that came to mind time was stable.
I wasn’t always happy. Suicidal ideations still came and went and I’d have to work through them. Therapy was hard. Really hard. But I was a different person than I was last fall. Much more like the person I wanted to become.
Again, I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what meds change it was. I don’t know what TMS protocol it was. I don’t know what conversation it was in therapy, what day it was, what thing it was my therapist told me that brought me this stability.
I do remember when the suicidal ideations stopped for a long period of time. I listened to a song from the Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 called Dust and Ashes in February, and it’s like it literally kicked the ideations out of my head for months. When I told my psychiatrist that a song from a musical based on Tolstoy’s War & Peace helped me defeat suicidal thoughts, he congratulated me on being the first person that Tolstoy’s writing had ever helped with depression.
But beyond that singular moment, this recovery process has been the culmination of months and months (well, years) of progress. And honestly, that moment when the suicidal ideations went away was probably the result of months of work, too.
Because now, I stand strong. It takes so much more to shake me. I tackle the big and scary in therapy. I can take on more without wearing myself too thin.
I can find ways to express my pain, my grief, in healthier ways. Crying as a release feels good, and doesn’t snowball into a panic attack anymore. Writing comes easier—even if I don’t like the end results, I am able to find the words to begin with. I like time spend alone driving, so I can sing as loud as I possibly can to my favorite playlists.
I finally feel like a 25-year-old, living a 25-year-old’s life—going out to dinner with friends, buying the things I want with my own money, talking and griping about work but still enjoying my job, having my own car… I feel fully alive.
Last fall, I thought that I was out of options. I was afraid that the meds, the TMS, the therapy, weren’t going to work anymore. Those were the lies my brain were feeding me. I was prepared to throw in the towel, whatever that meant.
I’m so glad I didn’t.
Life still needs a lot of work, but it’s doable. I can breathe now.
And now when I watch ER, it’s because I love the show, not because I need it to survive.