When You're Not Enough
Last year I learned how to take control of my life and how to take responsibility for how I feel, think, and act. I grew and changed and returned to a place where I felt like I did back when I was in high school, only without the self-righteousness and guilt. I began to adopt the thought that I was capable of conquering any obstacle, climbing any mountain, and achieving all my dreams. All I needed to do was work hard and do everything within my power to influence the outcome and, even though many things are outside my control, the world would eventually mold itself to my desired shape.
And then came the crash.
Not a physical crash--that came in 2014 when I was drunk and driving a motorbike in the dark over a poorly maintained back street in Laos--but a mental crash.
Over the last few weeks, I've begun experiencing symptoms of depression. Lethargy, loss of interest, hostility. I've even indulged in classic symptoms unique to me: trying to figure out a way to live somewhere else and in a different situation to escape what I perceive to be the cause of my feelings.
First, I looked at the possibility of moving to Rwanda--not a bad possibility--and then of returning to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing. As I was looking into these options I didn't feel depressed, I didn't feel like I was trying to escape something, but I was. I was trying to escape the situation that was causing me to feel bad.
And this week, finally, the last symptom showed up. An actual feeling of depression. The feeling that things were bad and getting worse. I struggled to do anything, even to move. Everything slowed down, my thoughts, my movements, everything. It wasn't so bad as to bring me to suicidal ideations, but if I continued to feel the same way for any length of time I've no doubt they would appear. It started in the morning and lasted through the day. It was my near-constant companion and led me to reflect on the last few weeks and to realize I had, in fact, been experiencing symptoms of depression for a lot longer than I had thought.
I remember when I was in the hospital for my psychosis. It was the first time I'd gotten medical attention specifically for my mental health and I was still hearing voices and very delusional. The psychiatrist and the doctor were trying to convince me to take medication. The psychiatrist essentially said, "There are some things you can't think your way out of." Sometimes, you need help to get through a situation, a mental illness, life.
It is part of recognizing what we can and can't control, of taking responsibility for our own happiness. Recognizing when we can't do something for ourselves and being willing to ask for help is an important part of being a complete human being. Sometimes, it's the only way to get through the night to see the sunrise at dawn.
When I recognized I was depressed this week, and that nothing I did outside of seeking help would likely change the situation, it was a blow to my ideas about myself. I had thought that by taking responsibility for myself and my actions I could control my life. Apparently, that wasn't the case. How had I allowed myself to get to this point? What had I done wrong to feel this way? Where had I failed in my thinking, my behavior, that I was now depressed? Was I so weak that I couldn't avoid depression, again?
But I also know that insisting on that kind of thinking would only make the situation worse. Not only would it lead me to avoid getting help, but it would create a situation where I might begin to feel guilt or anger directed at myself which would only pile on top of the negative emotions I was already feeling. It would create a cycle of self-recrimination and lead to increased depression, something I didn't want. What I needed to do was avoid the cognitive distortion inherent in such thinking, that I was blaming myself for something outside my control. I needed to realize that I had not done anything wrong nor was I weak. I was experiencing a mental illness that was attributable to causes outside my control. It was not my fault that I felt depressed. It would only be my fault if I sat around feeling bad about myself and didn't get help.
I made an appointment to see the psychiatrist. Wasted fifty bucks. Took my first dose of Fluoxetine two days ago. Thankfully, I'm one of the lucky ones who react quickly to the drug and within a few hours, I began to feel better. The psychiatrist here is worthless so I'll be titrating the drug myself. It may take a little bit to get the dosage right, but I'm already feeling much better. Not perfect, yet, but no longer feeling like there's little point in doing anything. I can think and act, even write a blog post. And I know I'll feel even better soon.
Even though I learned long ago that mental illness is not necessarily something I, or anyone, caused, I still struggle to recognize when I can no longer change myself. Not being able to conquer a mood or a thought doesn't mean I'm weak or a failure, it only means that I need help. For me, that help comes in the form of a little pill I take every day. I have to recognize that no matter how much improvement I make or how much responsibility I take, there are some things that I can't fix and some things that I can't change on my own.