Monday, March 03, 2008

"The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well."
Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Pardon my recent absence. February 2008 has been an adventure. I've been spelunking in my psyche, and if I had been able to make myself blog about it during the experience, I believe I would have started with something like, "Help! I've fallen down and I can't get up." Metaphorically speaking, that is.

The confluence of my ambitious agenda to reclaim my life on numerous fronts simultaneously combined with a biochemical tendency for depression and anxiety to raise a little too much emotional baggage for me to process all at once. Actively engaged in decluttering my life, eager to eliminate excesses both in my home and my body, thoughtfully untangling my relationships, and particularly trying to practise a new paradigm for a healthy and authentic relationship with my mother, all had me rather abruptly facing many of my personal demons at once. I was stirring up a lot of feelings, sadness for some lost dreams, old suffering and regrets that I need to own and grieve. At some point, I slipped a little too far and I became profoundly mired in my misery for most of the month of February.

With perhaps less than ideal coincidence, in the time leading up to this my doctor and I were discussing possibly changing my medication and I was being weaned off my current SNRI to facilitate the transition. I just happened to be on the lowest possible dose of antidepressant/anxiolitic medication at a time when I probably needed a wee bit more in the way of biochemical support to sustain the emotional clarity that would allow me to dig myself out of the emotional morass. All this left me in the centre of a perfect storm of depression, and it's taken me a while to regain my balance and then get my act together to fulfill all the obligations I dropped while I was down the rabbit-hole and then climbing back out.

It was a bit like an internal spring-cleaning: I was forced to look deep into the corners of my psyche, under the old appliances and furniture of my inner house, and finding lots of painful emotional residue, old lingering hurts that needed to finally come up and out. It doesn't require a degree in psych to see the connections between the hoarding of excess possessions and of excess body mass and the hoarding of emotional baggage, old habits and patterns of behaviour. Letting go is letting go, and once begun it's rather frightening, because there is an emotional investment associated with all the stuff we hold onto. It all once had and still has meaning and purpose, and though they may not serve us well any longer, they are familiar. The status quo is comforting, even when it doesn't work for us anymore.

When this happens, the only way through - is through.

I spent many days wallowing in the mire, with intermittent breakthroughs when I was actually able to let some of the pain out and cry. In between, I had occasional periods of energy and positive impulse to tackle a handful of small self-care activities: I cleaned my desk around the computer, repacked and stacked the collapsing yarn avalanche, cleaned out the science experiments in the back of my fridge, dug through my closets and my kitchen for more things to donate or discard,...

But often I felt paralyzed, waiting for the part of me that's still so scared of all the associated feelings to let some more of them come all the way up and out. All I wanted to do was sleep, read, and (sometimes) watch TV and I had very little appetite. It was very hard to function and to get anything done, especially if it had a deadline. It felt like I was stuck between gears.

I have to confess to one particular blunder of which I am not proud, though I believe I handled it fairly well once the initial damage was done.

I was supposed to have an important rehearsal one Sunday afternoon mid-month. However, I couldn't make myself even begin learning the music for those scenes until the day before, Saturday. I gave it a good effort, but eventually realized there was just no way I could prepare the material in time for the next day. After a few deep breaths I decided the best thing to do was admit the truth and face the immediate problem head on. So I called the director on Saturday night to let her know that due to my recent emotional distress I was not going to be ready, so at least we could discuss how to salvage the rehearsal, maybe rearrange the schedule to do other scenes which I could be ready to rehearse on that day.

I am lucky that I have worked with this director twice in the past, so she knows my work and that I am a competent and conscientious colleague. I am lucky that she is the sort of person to whom I could confess my blunder without losing all professional credibility. I am also certain that someone or something was looking out for me, because fortuitously she was in the process of deciding to cancel the next day’s rehearsal due to the forecast warnings of freezing rain and hazardous driving conditions. Hence, I had a reprieve. And procrastination to that extreme is not something I can allow myself to do again in a professional situation.

Depression and creative endeavours are antithetical, because the depressed state is really one of fear: fear to face the authentic feelings below the depressed surface, the depth of sadness and pain that is struggling to come out which was originally deemed too overwhelming to permit myself to feel. The true creative process by its nature opens cracks in that protective shield and subjects the artist to whatever is coming through. Usually, that is tolerable, if the intensity and/or quality of emotion is manageable, whether positive or negative. But when the damn bursts, like mine did in February, it is terrifying and depression is a handy way to avoid feeling too much all at once. It's a coping mechanism, if not a very good one.

While deep in the personal muck, I was not up for creating anything - musically or otherwise. I scarcely even knit anything, nothing more than a few rows of a plain sock in the whole month (it has since been frogged). That’s not good, because knitting is usually a great source of comfort, providing solace and meditative space when I need them. Furthermore, I was in the process of a couple of personal design projects and also committed to developing two new sock patterns for fundraising activities, one for a friend who will need extensive reconstructive surgery which is not covered by our provincial medical plan, and another to offer as incentive to my sponsors for the 2008 Weekend to End Breast Cancer.

I am so very grateful that even while I was going through the worst of this, I had wonderful support from my friends and my therapist. DH was and still is terrific - holding me whenever I need it, reassuring me that I am safe and valued and loved. Friends were open to listen and let me cry. When I am "in here" it helps to know that caring folks and friends are out there. And I'm relieved that I could open up to my director about how I'd been struggling lately without being judged, that I could be my authentic self in the moment and I didn't have to armour-up or choose to pretend that I was fine on the outside, while silently screaming in anguish on the inside.

Meanwhile, I'm working with my therapist on exercises to help me loosen and adjust the valve on all the residual sadness and pain that still needs to come out, but in a manageable way so I can get more done and get back into living a more balanced life. I am who I am and I firmly believe that no matter what has come before to get me here, I am exactly where I am supposed to be, poised on the brink of the rest of my life, and whatever I make of that is up to me.

P.S. I am delighted to report that I had a terrific rehearsal yesterday!

Also, my knit-mojo is back - just in time to squeeze in a last winter project or two before I start some cheery spring knitting.


affectioknitter said...

I'm so glad you're back!

Knittinreed said...

Welcome back. Hopefully March will be better and you will be too.

Toni said...

I am glad to see you back! I have a friend here who I think battles with depression, and it's hard to have any concept of what she's going through, so I found your post really helpful. I'll bet the rescheduled rehearsal was wonderful!!!

Lisa said...

As someone who suffers from depression - I feel you - am are so glad that youre on the mend. sending great gobs of happy thoughts your way!