Stress: the Little Mind Killer

I haven’t written about my depression for a while, mostly because for a while I was feeling pretty good and felt like I was finally getting a hold on this slippery thing called life. I won’t say I was wrong about that. I now have a job, a dog, and I don’t spend my days staring at walls like I used to.

But life has a way of sending us down roads we never knew existed. Things transpire in life and relationships that we never could have predicted, setting us up for decisions we never thought we would have to make. I’m being vague here because there are some things that are very real and large in my life that I am not quite ready to address publicly. Hell, I don’t even want to address them in my own mind.

I recently made a trip to see my doctor. I’ve been forgetting things lately, but it is less like memory loss and more like aphasia, where you search for a word but can’t find it. I can’t remember the names of everyday objects, and am forced to describe what it is I am trying to say. “You know, that thing you use for eating…it is metal, and has pointy things on the end, you stab with it…” “A fork?” “Yes, that’s it! Can you grab me a fork please?” No, that isn’t an example. That happened. I also forget things that I know I know, facts and details I would never forget. I don’t have a brain tumor or dementia and I’m not on medication that could do this.

Stress is making me lose my mind.

Stress is a constant companion to depression. When I was in my darkest places, stress was pulling the trigger on the gun labeled depression. I didn’t stare at walls and fail to engage with the world through fear or doubt or lack of imagination. It was the stress that each situation presented that kept me powerless and weak. A trip to the grocery store to purchase food became all about how I would walk, how I would pass people in the aisles, what I would say to the cashier. The stress of how to handle each situation mounted until the easiest way to remain calm was to remain at home. I’ve made a career out of avoiding stress.

Now that I have a handle on my past, and have dealt with some of the overwhelming sources of stress in my life, I can now go to the grocery store with little problem (most days). But what they don’t tell you is that knocking down the giants that surround you only allows you to face the demons you couldn’t see.

So, back to the vague things and the stress that is making me lose my mind. After talking with me for a bit, and a consultation, my doctor told me that I am stressed. Stress (barring the appearance of physical symptoms) is what is making me unable to think, to remember, or to recall that a fork is a fork.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. My stress caused me to regress backwards into black depression, with the accompanying rage and malice. The one clear, rational thought I had was to put my new puppy in her crate so that, if the worst should happen, she wouldn’t be in danger. I would never, in a million years, willingly or consciously hurt an innocent animal, but depression has a way of making a million years a nanosecond under the right conditions. (No, I didn’t hurt her, but she was very sad at being crated for most of the morning while I inexplicably, to her, was only a few feet away, seemingly asleep.) I called into my therapist and left a message for her to contact me. I was barely able to focus the words over the phone, but I knew I needed something extra to get me through the morning. By noon she called back and we talked through what was eating at my brain. “Phil,” she said, “this is normal. I would have worried if you didn’t have some sort of freakout episode.” She proceeded to calmly guide me into a few healthy behaviors and coping strategies. We will have a real meeting soon. After that, I felt a bit better, and I played with my dog for almost an hour (understandably, she had quite a bit of pent up energy).

I still have no idea what to do about what is facing me, what is clawing at my mind. I’ve moved beyond shopping for cookies and milk to larger life issues that were unavailable for processing when I was trapped in dark depression. Now, I have no choice. They stand before me and I have no recourse but to face them, somehow. I cannot go back. Retreat ends in darkness and death, non-metaphorically speaking. But the stress of how to handle what I must handle is luring me back into depression. Things I once enjoyed, I stare at listlessly. I barely eat. I take my dog for short walks. I can’t sleep (which is why, as I type this, it is nearly 0400).

For most people, stress is what makes a hard day hard, a challenging week challenging, or a situation unpleasant. For those of us among the depressed, stress is the little thing obliterating our mind.

Right now, I don’t know what to do except to return to bed and try to sleep. Short term, I need to work as hard as I can for solutions and a way to move beyond stress, because no one can live under this much stress and tell the tale for very long.

That I am able to articulate all this is a measure of how far I’ve come. I hope through this you understand a little bit what dealing with depression is all about. It isn’t the momentary blues most people talk about: it is a constant life battle.