I was thinking recently about the doctor who saved my life. When someone asked me whether it was a bit of an exaggeration to use that terminology, (I mean, did she really save your life?). I met her question with a resounding, “I wouldn’t exaggerate about this.”
Because the fact is,
Depression is my dragon.
Anxiety is my daily battle.
My slings and arrows
My sea of troubles
My heartache and the thousand natural shocks that Shakespeare let Hamlet describe so well.
And this doctor was the first who ever allowed me, no forced, me to acknowledge the fact that I was very sick. That we wouldn’t ask someone with MS, cancer, or severe brain trauma to ignore their symptoms -walk, talk, write normally, because everyone else can, and if they couldn’t, pronounce them weak – pronounce them somehow less.
I’ve lived my entire life with a constant example of high-functioning individuals. My siblings all graduated highschool at the age of 16. My brother could pick up an instrument and play it within minutes better than I could after months of practice. I played sports with people who could stay up all night then play a game of rugby as though the field was on fire, dancing around on lithe feet until no one would be able to tell that they had spent the last night writing papers, or partying, or settling relationship disputes. I dated people who excelled in school, work, and sport – flawless on paper. I surrounded myself with people who, on a daily basis, made me feel exceptionally inadequate. Let me be clear, it wasn’t their fault. The reason they made me feel this way is because I already felt inadequate. I just used them as examples, litmus tests, to show how incredibly short I fell on the scale of success.
I remember sitting in that doctor’s office, my legs and hands visibly shaking and trying to explain how difficult it had become to even step foot from the house. I told her how it sometimes felt like the ceiling had collapsed onto my chest and, that no matter how much I knew I should pull myself from bed, I couldn’t- I was stuck. I explained how it felt, every day, when I spent the entire morning and afternoon preparing myself to put a face on when my partner would return, simply so that I wouldn’t appear so fucking weak, so sad, so tired, so terrified, so damn miserable. Because, I felt constantly reminded by her that I had no reason to be any of these things. I told the doctor how no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from racing in my head and playing every scenario of every awful thing that could happen in a day. I told her how I would sit for hours in front of the computer, knowing I needed to send an email out to respond to a job offer, but somehow not being able to convince a single finger to move towards a key. I told her how sometimes I felt so exhausted that I would fall asleep wishing that I never had to open my eyes again.
After letting all of these feelings, finally, flow out of me, the doctor looked at me and something in me broke. The damn I had built to avoid any visible breakdowns suddenly crumpled and I sobbed. She waited a moment then softly asked three questions – “Did you move here alone?”
I nodded, then added, “But, I met my girlfriend here.”
“Do you have a support network other than your partner?”
I shook my head.
“Is your partner supportive?”
I started to shake my head, then stopped, “I don’t think she knows how bad it is. I don’t think she understands.”
All of this forced from my lips through the type of sobs that wrack through your body, the ugly, crocodile tears that puff up your eyes, and the thick trails of snot that mix with them and make you look like some sort of monstrous spout of miserableness.
There was silence for a minute in which I wondered what she could possibly be thinking about this broken, disgusting, weak excuse for a human that sat in front of her.
But, then she leaned forward and said,
“You are so strong.”
and I laughed.
Because, here I was, sobbing in a doctor’s office on my very first appointment, having no life plan, being faced with another move when I hadn’t even been able to adjust to the first, and losing the one person who I thought loved me. I mean, I had never felt so incredibly alone, so entirely not strong.
“No,” She said, “I mean it. You moved across the country alone with a crippling mental illness. You’ve been here the last seven months with next to no support network and you came here, to me, when you knew that you couldn’t do it by yourself anymore – when you shouldn’t have been doing it by yourself at all. I’m surprised, Raff. You’re strong. You had everything working against you – and you are still here.”
No one, and I mean no one, had ever called me that and had it mean so much.
I had spent the last months consistently hearing of what a baby I was.
How I was always whining, complaining, sensitive, weak.
Always sore, always tired, not quite a good time.
And yes, a lot of that was me internalizing innocent comments from people and replaying them in my head until they became a mantra that I lived by,
You are weak
You are useless
You are lazy
You are too emotional
You are broken
So, having this doctor stop this cycle of negative self-talk by telling me the one thing I needed to hear – yes, it saved my life.
When I think back on it, I don’t know if I would still be here, but for one doctor who sat me down and said:
“Stop it. You are strong. You have been trying to do this on your own, and you don’t need to. You are sick. Let me help.”
If I am honest, it has not been easy for me the last few weeks. I have felt the familiar tug of despair, and the heart pounding stranglehold of fear.
And there are days where I wake up sad and perform my daily mantra –
“You are so lucky.”
“You lead a charmed life.”
“You have so much to be thankful for.”
– While every word feels stale and hollow in my mouth.
I read, and re-read the list of happy memories that I make an effort to write specifically for these types of moments. I focus on remembering how it felt to not be worried, tired, and devastatingly sad, but all of this is just me treading water, trying desperately to keep my head high enough to breathe.
During the good times, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re through it, that you’ll never suffer the same drowning feeling ever again, but I’ve come accept that this view is very unlikely – depression is my unwelcome visitor, my taxes, my yearly flu – it’s coming back no matter what I think of it. But, because of one doctor, I know that I don’t have to try to do it alone. I know that properly medicating myself isn’t just the smart thing to do, it’s the necessary thing to do. I know that building up a support network of people who understand and are properly able to support me without a single -“Get over it, your life is great.” is not only beneficial, it is life changing.
I know that I am sick, but I also know that I am strong.
That I have the tools.
That no matter how scared I get.
How sad I become,
I will get through it.