It’s been months since I was at it writing for this blog. It’s been a tenuous time for me, with the end of my first semester of grad school and the holidays and all. I’ve always had trouble with the end of semester rush of papers, exams, and homework all to be completed quickly and successfully. The pressure is enough to make a normal person’s head spin, but for me it’s a nightmare come to life. I really struggled this time.
Sometimes you are met with an intellectual challenge that bars your progress. Micro-electro-mechanical systems was just such a course for me. Try as I might, I couldn’t make sense of the material. It was like Greek to me, and I don’t speak Greek or pretend to understand it. Physics came too many years ago for me to apply any of it here, and I was never good at electricity and magnetism. Well, if you could pack more things into one topic that were completely not germane to my work, I would congratulate you on achieving the impossible. There’s something about the courses here in my nanoscience program that completely stump me. And with all of this intellectual hardship, my stress level skyrockets and my mood plummets. We had been stepping down my medication gradually over the past few months, trying to get rid of some excess baggage that I didn’t need in my pillbox. When all this trouble started to rear its ugly head, my resolve to be strong and solid of mind wavered and I started heading down the narrow tunnel of depression. I’ve heard people say that depression “hurts”. It hurt, alright. I laid in bed just wasting the hours away, my mind lost on some other continent where I lay chained and shackled to a splintered plank, sharks snapping jagged teeth just out of reach of my body. The pain, the agony of the whole thing kept me in bed often till noon or later, when I would pry myself from the comfort of blankets and pillows and try to apply myself to the academic laundry list before me. I cried out in pain, alone in the house where no one would see or hear me, and tears flowed freely and regularly as I tried to tackle the homework I hadn’t yet finished, study the material I’d missed from classes I couldn’t bear to attend, and process the reality that I would soon be taking final exams in courses I was hopelessly behind in. I felt miserable and fell into an unwavering quagmire, tortured by the mounting burden of schoolwork. At the same time, even if my schoolwork wasn’t front and center in my mind, as I made small victories here and there in completing assignments or reviewing lectures, I still couldn’t turn my funk around.
I started to think of dying. Not killing myself at first, just of being killed. A drunk driver, a malfunctioning elevator, a murderous intruder; I welcomed their coming. One might even say that I prayed for them to come. Anything to eliminate my responsibility for my death. A blameless death. There would be some culprit who my family and friends could blame for my death and it would give them a target for their pain. They would have someone to blame other than themselves. But as the days wore on, I started to think that it would be best for me to just be done with it and end my life myself. This is the moment when you know you are close to hitting rock bottom. When the downward spiral may just be over and there would be no means of returning to the high ground. I didn’t plan for it. I just knew if there was some precipitating event, a drop to overflow the bucket, I would know what to do when the time came. In all the other times when I’ve become frustrated enough to end my life, it was an impulse. I just wouldn’t be able to manage the grief, and I would lay my hand down and fold. Obviously, I was never successful. I rarely regret the decision to terminate myself afterwards. I’m just as depressed as I was beforehand and don’t really care. I get out of the hospital after feigning a complete turn-around from sad to glad and I simmer quietly until the medication takes hold. It doesn’t usually take long and I tend to be a fairly patient person once I’ve got my head on a little straighter. Plus, the time in the hospital gives me perspective. Life doesn’t need to be overwhelming, and if it is, I have friends, family, and doctors to turn to for support. I always seem to forget this when I’m desperately down.
I called my psychiatrist. That was probably the most proactive move I have made in my own health in the entire course of my treatment. I was honest. I told him I was hopelessly depressed, sleeping more than twelve hours a day, and feeling like death would be a welcome respite from my pain. No, I didn’t have any plans of suicide specifically, just the thought that I’d gladly let death take me if given the opportunity. No, the anxiety medication you gave me last time isn’t doing the job. Yes, I realize that I will have to increase my anti-depressant dosage again. Drug samples in hand, I returned to the car and let out a good long sigh. Why does everything have to be so hard for me? Why can’t I tackle a challenge with strength and resolve and enjoy success without a month of torture beforehand? It’s one of those questions that will never be answered, I just need to accept the reality that it isn’t how it works for me. I will say that I will be less of a procrastinator this semester, make sure I’m studying all throughout rather than cramming at the end and that I will ask for help the minute I feel behind. But that isn’t me. That isn’t the majority of students I know. I just need to be able to handle the final hump with a little more patience and grace, that’s all. Ring in the new year with plans to be a better student and better scientist.
But today, a couple weeks past the semester’s end, I’m still down. I’m sedated by the medication beyond my control and against my will. I’ve had moments of productivity, where I cleaned the bulk of the main living spaces, the closets, and organized both the kitchen and china cabinets. But I still feel the pull against my heart leading me towards the gloom. I can’t seem to pull myself out of the hole quite yet. So back to the doctor’s office I go today, with much the same complaint I had last time, minus some of the anxiety. It will probably just be an attitude adjustment today, perhaps a tweak to the medication again but not likely. I’m already taking the maximum dosage. I will continue to cling to my family for reassurance and hope that the storm rolls over quickly and I can get back to my normal self. Whatever that means. The remarkable part of it all is that I’ve been depressed and struggling, but no psychosis to speak of at the moment. Normally I’d be tormented by voices at this point, the reason for hiding under the covers for most of the day in the past. But all there remains is a lingering paranoia. Is that car following me? Why is that person staring at me? Are they staring at me? The answer to these questions is always no, but I can’t help asking. I don’t drive erratically or walk into a large crowd to hide from my tail, but I think about it nonetheless. This is better than it usually is, and I’m glad of that fact at least. Unfortunately the holidays are over and the cheer they bring to my heart is gone, save for the beacon of joy, my Christmas tree, that still stands in the living room. If it were up to me, it would be up all year round. However, my husband would likely tire of it and force me to send it back to the garage where it lives out most of its days. At least right now, he is fine with it staying up for a bit longer.
I wish you all a very happy new year filled with health and prosperity. Filled with good spirits, productivity, and progress.
Thanks for listening.