The Nervous Breakdown, Part V: The End

Edouard Hamman - Disillusion - WGA11202.jpg
Get this girl some friends and some meds — stat. (Disillusion by Edouard Hamman, ca. 1851.)

 

 

I’m here tonight to share the final stage of the nervous breakdown I experienced early this year. The month-long illness was diagnosed by two medical doctors as a textbook “major depressive episode” and this major depressive episode was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, not the least because it adversely affected other people, too. But, as I can (and should) only speak for myself, I can only share my side of the story. That’s what this is.

This entry is so awfully long but I had to go the distance. We have to reach the bluer skies. I’m ready for those, aren’t you? Yeah.

So tonight, let’s close down the how and the why of the breakdown as best we can on a blog on a Sunday night. It’s as good a place and time as any: Who can totally explain why a black hole opens up in the psyche? How can we say for sure when these mental wounds begin and how long they’ll suppurate before they burst and run and require serious medical attention? It’ll take me a long time to understand all of this, but these installments of the PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post are an attempt. The 300+ pages of diary entries I’ve written in the past four months are attempt. Talking to my shrink is an attempt. Talking to my friends is an attempt.

That’s where I want to start tonight — I want to start with my friends.

In the depression, the days were short and dark. Nights were endless. Hope and vitality trickled out of me by the minute and it was so frightening to feel this and to see it, I was finally scared into asking for help. That’s how hard it is for me to ask for help: I have to be disintegrating before I’ll ask. (Yes, I have learned this is not okay and has to change.) Once I realized I was in fact disintegrating, I texted friends or called friends to come over. I wasn’t going to hurt myself, but I was afraid to be alone. In the deepest valleys of the depression, being alone was the most terrifying thing imaginable because to be alone was to disintegrate for sure; having another human in the room meant I might not go away completely, or as fast. When I asked my friends to come over, even though I was crying over the phone, I tried to make light of things, offering to get pizza and wine or suggesting we go see a movie. Here are a few of the things my friends said to me:

“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“Absolutely.”
“Laura and I are comin’ over, Mar!”
“I love you.”
“Want to join me and Julia at the Field Museum?”
“I’ll head over right after work! I love you! Luke is coming over right now!!”

There was pizza and wine a couple times, but the moment any of these angels arrived in my living room, it was obvious these would not be social calls. The situation was not normal. My friends could see right away this wasn’t hanging out with Mary; this was sitting shiva.

Because no one had ever seen me like this. I had never seen me like this. My friends are otherworldly creatures made of dopeness and love, so when they observed me, they were kind and brilliant in their approach to care for me. These women and men did everything right. They brought me flowers, sewed with me, sent me jokes, talked to me on the phone, watched my favorite movie (Tootsie, duh), brought over — for example — a bag of white cheddar Pirate’s Booty and a six-pack, read to me, stroked my hair as I lay my head on their respective laps. They were brilliant, full of compassion and love for me; they were creative in their tending to me and relentless in their desire to help. But it was very hard to know what to do. Would I know what to do if a close friend literally could not stop crying for weeks? Two of my friends spent the night, sleepover style, during the final, awful week. They were with me when the worst of the panic attacks (I lost count how many), sank its needle teeth into my head and began to eat and pin-pricked every nerve in my body until I shorted out. That afternoon … that afternoon was terrifying for all three of us.

I felt guilty for those panic attacks, for shorting out. I felt guilty I could not entertain my friends, or be there for them. Their lives didn’t stop because mine was falling apart. But at that time there was nothing I could give them. I could only cling to them and beg them to stay just a little longer, which they always did, and without reservation. This neediness added to my sorrow, too, because depression is a sonofabitch. Nothing is safe. It eats everything it can, including good intentions and one’s ability to communicate love.

Remember how I told you there were five things that took me down? I was so busy getting on with the bitter end, I forgot to finish that list. Let’s do that now.

The other two blows to my life were money related.

My business is PaperGirl, LLC. In order to keep my expenses and tax stuff at least a little organized, I have a credit card for PaperGirl, LLC. I have a high credit limit on this card. I pay it off faithfully every month. (I think I’ve missed one payment in four years.) It’s got kind of a high balance right now — but not more than four digits — and it’s this is because I’m waiting on several reimbursement checks. I hate having a big balance on the thing, so I pay it off in big chunks if I can.

This credit card is my only credit card. It has my name on it and my business name on it. Outside of that, I have two debit cards. I have one store credit card. That’s it. Pretty tight, right? Pretty buttoned up?

Fun fact: If you have a credit card for your business, it does not count toward your personal credit score. Did you know that?

I didn’t know that. But I learned it when I applied for a mortgage to get a loan to buy a condo that would let me have my dog. The credit people were like, “Uh … so, you don’t have credit.” And I was like, “Uh … yeah, I do.” When I looked at my credit score, though, my credit card was not factored in. Because it’s a business card, it doesn’t count toward my credit. Even though my name is on the card. Even though my business is me and I am my business.

Without a personal credit card, one that just says “Mary K Fons” on it, not “Mary K Fons PaperGirl LLC, guess who got denied for a mortgage? Upon getting this news, I knew I was trapped for probably an entire year. A whole year more before I could have a puppy, a whole year more in the same space, in the building that broke my heart. It would be a year because I’d have to get a dumb (and “high-risk”??) credit card and “build up good credit for a year” like I’m a freakin’ 20-year-old undergraduate. I felt sick. I felt like a fool. I felt like total and complete idiot. And I wasn’t goin’ nowhere.

Dog. Breakup. Doctor. Money. Mom.

Details about that last thing, that fifth thing, that Mom thing, are absolutely nothing I’ll be going into. All I can tell you is that Mom and I had a fight. We never fight. Ever. We have never, ever had a fight. And then we did. And that was the last thing that happened that sent me down.

For two weeks — whether or not my friends were with me — I could not stop crying. I’m telling you: I was physically unable to stop crying. The tears would recede for a little while but then I’d shake my head and put my hand to my forehead and cry, and cry, and cry. Sometimes I could talk. A lot of times I couldn’t. There were periods during the breakdown when I just stared into space with tears rolling down my cheeks. One of the scariest things is that after a while, none of the circumstances that had brought me so low were front of mind. After awhile, I wasn’t crying about Philip Larkin, or the doctor, or the money. I was crying because … oh, my god. Oh, god, it was all just so sad. All of it.

The bottomless sadness of being alive. The death that waits for each of us. The despair in despair itself wasted me. Joy was something that existed on a distant planet. Sadness made me sad. Being sad about the sadness made me sad. And so I went down, and down, and down, and then, when I did not think I could go down more, I would remember that I was trapped, because of the money thing, and I would go further down. Or I would think of the fight and I would go further down. And I would think, “If Philip was here and I could pet him, I would be okay.”

The sadness monster was eating me alive. I have never felt anything more painful than that.

Next week: How I’m doing now — so good!! — and what medication I’m taking.

Love,
Mary

The Nervous Breakdown, Pt. II: Philip

Not Philip, but what a good boy. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

 

It’s time for The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post. Tonight, the continuation of the grim story I began last week. Descend into torment with me, won’t you?

But first: It was staggering to see the amount of love shown to me and the identification so many readers had with the first installment of the story. Many PaperGirl readers have experienced a major depressive episode, themselves. Many more have loved ones or friends who have. Nearly everyone is acquainted with depression somehow. How, exactly, can there still be a stigma around getting therapy or getting on (the right) meds to treat mental illness? Help me understand.

There were five events that combined to cause my nervous breakdown. The only way to illustrate the full misery is to illustrate the full misery piece by piece. When you’re having a nervous breakdown, time makes no sense — but let’s go chronologically, anyway.

It started with Philip.

If you don’t know about a little dog named Philip Larkin, click the “Philip Larkin” category tab over on the right hand side and you’ll see all the posts I’ve written about him. The story of Philip is long and it is about to get longer.

About nine months ago, a PaperGirl reader put me in contact with a Maltipoo breeder in Arkansas. This breeder was kind, certified, transparent, and above all, ethical. Filling out my Puppy Application took at least an hour to complete. I detailed the dog of my dreams, signed an agreement to be a good dog owner, and sent all that off with a not-insignificant deposit check. I was approved and put on the waiting list. The breeder said that two of her mama dogs whelp particularly small dogs, so this meant Philip’s mom would be either Ginger or Elsa.

“I think Ginger will probably have puppies toward the end of summer,” the breeder said. “You’ll be the first to know!”

But neither dog gave birth; the summer was too hot, the breeder said. No problem, I told her: I can wait. I had waited this long, hadn’t I? Besides, so much had been put in motion. Finding the breeder, getting on the waitlist, sending the deposit … Philip Larkin was getting more real every day. Soon, I wouldn’t feel so alone all the time. Soon, he would wriggle and roll and pounce on me and lick my nose with his tiny pink tongue … I’m comin’, Philip, I thought. We got this.

In November, the breeder emailed me that Ginger had given birth. There were five puppies in the litter: four girls … and one boy. This was it. That was Philip. I got the email while on a Quiltfolk trip and when I read about Ginger and the puppies to the girls in the car, we all screamed and freaked out and I flapped my hands and cried. Everyone hugged. Philip wasn’t just my dog at that point; we all wanted him.

When the breeder asked me if I’d like to see pictures of Philip as he grew, I told her that I would like that very much. It would be around eight weeks before he could come home, and this was the perfect amount of time to get things in order. I immediately began all the legwork for my petition. It hadn’t made sense to do all the stuff it before that, since a) I didn’t know if there would be a dog with this breeder; b) what if the dog wasn’t the right one, etc.; and c) I had looked at Illinois law and knew all the pieces I needed to proceed to get my companion pet in a no-dog building. I was ready for this paperwork.

The breeder sent pictures of Philip at about six weeks. He was exquisite. Downy and sweet. His dark eyes had that new puppy, sleepy, bleary look; he still had so much growing to do! His belly was pink and I liked to think I saw a lil’ milk gut.

Toward the end of November, I handed my building manager my 26-page petition, asking for permission to obtain Philip. This petition did not have to be 26 pages but like I was going to screw this up? Hell no. That slipcovered binder had a table of contents, a cover letter, letters from my doctors, a packet of resources (e.g., vets in the area, boarding outfits, etc.), information about the breed, information from the breeder, and all the blog posts I had written about my future pet, printed off. I wanted to make sure that my condo board understood this was not an impulse thing, that getting my small, hypo-allergenic dog was something I had been longing for and planning for for at least two years. I was following the rules. I was doing the work. I was going above and beyond.

On Black Friday, I bought a dog bed. On Cyber Monday, I bought a treat jar. At night, I actually fell asleep thinking of my dog. I had been feeling so poorly over the past couple months with bathroom stuff and it was a happy place I went to in my head.

On December 6th, I got a certified, one-page letter from my building’s attorneys retained by my building that under no circumstances would I be allowed to obtain a dog for the purposes of emotional support. Unless I had a service animal license, the answer was no. Adding to the shock, the lawyer wrote that the blog posts I included in my packet showed that I had tried to get my blog readers to give me tips on how to game the system. I am still not sure what blog posts she was reading, but I guess lawyers are real busy and stuff. She just got mixed up.

My heart got shot.

That’s how it felt. Someone pulled out heavy gun, placed the barrel flush to my breast, and shot me through my heart. For a few moments, I sat there at my table. I guess it was like in the movies when a gangster is playing cards or something, and he gets shot, right there at the table, and he’s still for a moment before he topples over. I looked down at the letter in my hands. I read it again. Then I put the letter on the table. And I began to cry.

That’s how the breakdown began. It began when my dog died.

Next week: The Breakup.

The Nervous Breakdown, Pt. I

It felt a bit like this, in a sense, but with monsters. “Solitude” stereoscope by John B. Heywood, ca. 1856. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This year of 2019 is pretty young, yet, but she’s old for her age.

Of the 11 or so weeks the year’s been alive, there were three or four in which I was fully out of commission. I’ve hinted around in the past few posts that something bad happened. I wrote about “the worst day of my life” a couple weeks back. Several times in several places I’ve mentioned pain in passing only to say “I’ll tell you later”, skipping stones on the surface of a deep, dark lake.

You could tell. You could tell because you know me, because you’re smart, and because I am a terrible liar. So it’s time to stop dodging; I’m not fooling you and besides, there’s only one thing I want to tell you. What I want to tell you is that I had a nervous breakdown. I’m way, way better now. But I caught a case, boy.

These days, we’re to call it a “major depressive episode” and there’s no doubt it was that. But when I put a name to the ungodly thing, I prefer to use the old-fashioned term “nervous breakdown”. When a gal is twisted up in agony of the emotional kind, lost to an extended panic, unreachable even to her most faithful friends, there’s something distantly (very distantly) comforting in claiming what’s happening is a nervous breakdown. It could even be glamorous, she tries to tell herself, all smelling salts and fainting couches, powders and slaps across the face. All this thinking really does, though, is suggest that because those thoughts exist, you must not be the only person in history who has gone through it. You have sisters in the emotional failure business, in other words. Congratulations.

Part of my hesitation in telling you until now is that it’s such a long, long story. Be patient with me as I roll it out. I may not go in order, and that bothers me but there’s nothing to be done, as one of the effects of a nervous breakdown — whether encroaching, actively having its way with you, or leaving its slime trail — is a lack of focus. I have found it extraordinary difficult to focus these months and getting things straight has taken herculean efforts. Losing focus is just one of the symptoms I’ve had; no two nervous breakdowns are the same. We’re all built differently, so when our buildings collapse, they can fall any which way: One person can get off the couch but her focus is dynamited while another stays mentally present but her body might as well be dissolving in lye.

Where was I?

The first phase of the breakdown hit in early December, but as I’ve looked at everything, it’s clear(ish) to me that I was headed straight for it, or it was headed for me, all year. Or maybe it’s been five years coming, or ten. Maybe it’s in my blood. (My father could tell you that it is.) In the next post, I’ll tell you how it all went down. It’s too much for me at the moment and I’m thinking of you, too.

Tonight, I’ll close with this:

We all get sad. Some of us get very sad and stay that way. You may be low because you’re dealing with brutal life stuff. Perhaps you are generally blue. Perhaps you are sad because it’s winter and the sky is flinty and the wind has teeth. You may be someone who lives with mild depression; you may take medication for it. However or whatever depressed state you may be in, it sucks. It really, really sucks to live in a long, grey cloud. You might wonder, on bad days, “Maybe I’m having a nervous breakdown”. I’ve wondered this in the past, on bad days.

It turns out, the difference between the grey cloud and a nervous breakdown is the difference between a sneeze and metastasized lung cancer. You do not need to ever wonder if you’re having a nervous breakdown. If you are having one, you will know. You will feel as though you are being eaten alive by a sadness monster, and the color will drain out of the world — except the grey, though it crusts over into something darker. The upside, however, to being eaten alive by a sadness monster is that at least it’s a monster. Depression is an all-over ache; a nervous breakdown is getting punched in the face.

Did any of that make sense?

Some might think writing publicly about a mental disorder shows I have neither shame nor sense. You’re right, but for the wrong reason. Sharing this is not scary for me. I don’t feel nervous, or worried — or brave, for that matter. This is my life and you are my peeps. Of course I’m going to tell you about the time I had a nervous breakdown.

Peep. Peep. Peep.