I shouldn’t watch Hoarders. It’s one of those reality shows that preys on people with issues, and I know that. But I also feel like I connect with them. I’ve watched enough episodes, I know that I’m not actually a hoarder, but I definitely share their mindset.
“I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…” “I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…” “I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…”
And there’s no answer. They don’t know when they’re going to use it, but someday…
I’m with them. I have too many things for a someday that hasn’t come, and so I’ve started clearing some stuff out. That’s a good thing, right?
Until I saw the episode with Elvis.
It wasn’t actually Elvis, of course. He’s in hiding.
No, it was an Elvis impersonator who had begun hoarding when his career took a bit of a dive. He’d lost his job as a PE teacher, and his impersonation days had gone from big shows that got media coverage to working bars and private events, earning just enough money to get by.
His family appeared in their little talking to the screen segment: they called him lazy. They said that he was a loser because he hadn’t gotten his Master’s degree on time, which is why he’d lost his teaching job. They said that all his problems were his all fault.
The show continued, and Elvis appeared.
He was freaking out. He paced back and forth in front of his non-working refrigerator. He literally wrung his hands. “I haven’t done anything this morning. I haven’t done enough. I haven’t accomplished anything. They’re going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I do more? They’re going to judge me. I just…I just can’t decide. What should I do? I can’t make any decisions.”
I freaked out.
I had been there. I got his feels like I was with him. I yelled at the TV – “Get him help! He needs help! It’s depression! Where the hell is the psychologist? Where the hell are his meds?”
He was obviously too far gone to get help on his own. He was paralyzed by his depression; he couldn’t clear his place; he couldn’t function.
I was shaking. I had to stop putting together the bookcase with my husband and get up and pace.
Elvis needed some serious outpatient care or some good inpatient care. He needed, and deserved, better than to be paraded on TV as a source or entertainment. He didn’t need his family to call him lazy, to trash-talk him, to put him down. He needed them to get him help, and maybe even get him committed, until he learned how to function again.
I stopped the episode, probably further in than I should have, and calmed myself down.
That night, I had a nightmare about being committed against my will and not being able to get out. I jumped through hoops to prove that I could leave, but each time, when I’d get close to leaving, I’d be mistaken for someone else or “they” would decide that I had problems I didn’t think I had, and I’d be signed back in.
Now, if I was the type to analyze my dreams (which I am), I’d say that was my acknowledgment that, no matter what, I’ll never be free from depression or anxiety. And while I might manage my symptoms through therapy and drugs, I’ll always have a little Elvis in me.
I had been on upped medications due to thoughts of suicide and high anxiety. It had been three days of taking the new dosages, and they tended to make me sleepy. (For example, when we went to my son’s Special Olympics bowling tournament, I actually went into the bowling alley’s bar, laid down on the couch, and took a twenty minute nap…the couch was surprisingly comfy.)
My husband was stuck in a meeting in the city.
We had made reservations for this awesome event called “Caring Santa” for my autistic son back on November 2. It was the only way to guarantee we could get in to see him.
And now it was December 6.
The “Caring Santa” was at a mall. A mall about an hour’s drive away. I hadn’t driven that far since I’d been on the higher level of meds in case I got tired.
There was no way I wasn’t going to try to take him.
My neighbor’s daughter (who can drive, even if she’s not wildly fond of highway driving) agreed to come with because, well, it was a mall! And she said she would help and even drive, if absolutely necessary.
So off we went.
We got to the mall a little early, and rather than let my son potentially melt down too much over the wait, and because he had totally fallen asleep in the backseat, I drove in circles around the mall for about 10 minutes, then decided it was close enough.
Plenty of spots in the parking lot since the mall wasn’t even open yet – that’s one of the perks of “Caring Santa.” It happens before the mall is open, and it’s by appointment only. You don’t have to wait in a line, and the mall is much quieter than it would be during normal hours. (If you have a child with special needs, I highly recommend you check and see if there is one in your area you can sign up for next year!)
I noted the “neighborhood” we parked in. The mall is so big that it has neighborhoods. You have to know where you went in to figure out where to go out. It’s massive. It’s huge. It’s awe-inspiring. And it’s very, very easy to get lost and die of dysentery.
The beginning of the trip went great. My son got to see Santa, even if he did freeze up like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’ and nod and agree that he wanted video games (which he never plays). But he loved seeing Santa. Then my neighbor’s daughter grabbed breakfast from the food court while I took my son on the merry go round.
So far, so good.
We went shopping. I bought a few small gifts for people, stocking-stuffer level items, and we looked at a lot of things we couldn’t afford but were pretty.
Then we decided to leave.
And that’s when we started on the Oregon Trail.
I swore we came in at neighborhood six. My teenage companion demanded that was wrong – we did *not* come in there. She didn’t remember it as being where we entered. And I began questioning myself. Maybe I was just so used to coming in through six that I was imaging it.
All I remembered was that we had come in, turned right, saw a huge sign pointing to Santa, and walked to Santa in a few minutes.
Now I couldn’t find that sign at all.
Had they taken it down? Moved it? Perhaps it had caught fire and burned to a crisp while we were in another part of the mall? (It could happen!)
We began walking. We passed neighborhood eight. Then one. Then two. Then three. All of it looked familiar because we had gone past it before when we walked the mall.
The teen insisted that we had come in near Hot Topic because that was the first store she’d gone into. I pointed out that was only because it had been one of the first stores to open, and she’d gone into it while we were waiting for Santa to be ready.
I kept thinking things were familiar, but then we’d get to the exit, and it would look wrong. We must have passed neighborhood six three times. Every time I thought we were finding our exit, we’d come up on Santa again. Since Santa was not at our entrance, we were wrong.
I began freaking out.
We were trapped in the mall.
We’d never get out.
We would die there.
Dysentery would set in.
We’d be found huddled in the food court, or maybe in one of those short little hallways that led to the entrances and exits used by mall workers.
We’d be desiccated corpses.
The mall would be the death of us.
But we pushed on, bravely, I thought.
Apparently, though, my cracks were showing.
My anxiety had gone sky-high, and I was literally freaking out, convinced that we would never find the right exit. We would never find the car. We’d have to go to the police. They would think I was hopped up on drugs, and next thing I’d know, I’d be under arrest for something, and my son and the teenager would be waiting on someone to pick them up while I got processed at some station where I had to pee in public and have someone do a cavity search on me.
I turned to the teen. She had been texting.
“Who are you talking to?”
“You’re scaring me.”
I was scaring her.
“I’m not scaring you,” I told her. “I’m just getting a little anxious is all.”
She raised an eyebrow at me and kept her hand in her phone.
“Look, I told you I was anxious, right? Well, I’m just a little more anxious now because I can’t find our way out, and we’re going to die in the mall.”
Okay, maybe I was scaring her.
“Why don’t we just try every exit?” she suggested.
Bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea. My son was not good with changes in schedule. If we started going out every door, he was going to be very unhappy when we didn’t go to the car and leave. He was tired from all the walking. I was tired from all the walking. And my hip – which flared up with what I’m hoping is not arthritis – hurt like crazy, adding to my anxiety.
But I didn’t know what else to do.
“Sure,” I said.
What else could go wrong?
We went out at neighborhood five. I pressed the panic button on the car, even though the exit didn’t look at all familiar.
“Let’s go back in,” I said.
The teenager’s shoulders’ slumped. “Oh, I thought this was it.”
My son had a minor meltdown. He thought we were leaving, but suddenly we were back in the mall.
“That’s it,” I said. “I swear it’s neighborhood six, so I don’t care what you think, we are bloody well going out at it.”
And we walked to neighborhood six.
I turned in a circle at neighborhood six. There it was, the sign for Santa.
We went down the little hallway, and – shazaam! – the car was out there waiting for us!
I wound up with a very tired son, a very sore hip, and a crying teenager who thought she had hindered more than helped.
On the plus side, we survived the Oregon Trail, and we had cute Santa pictures to show for our travels. On the negative side, I have learned that anxiety at a mall really, really sucks when you don’t know where you’re going.
Surprise, Dad! And step-mother! And whoever else is foolishly reading this blog.
I went out to lunch with my father, my step-mother, and a friend. My father noticed – possibly not for the first time – the semi-colon I have tattooed on my middle finger. (It seems appropriate to me to have it there). He asked me about it, and I told him the story of the semi-colon and why I have it: how I want to put a semi-colon there and keep going instead of putting a period there and stopping it.
He laughed at first. Told me that I had gotten it from my mother.
And I said, yes, I did. And I told him that I applied for disability because I haven’t been able to function.
And I explained to him what it’s been like.
My brain is broken. Seriously broken. I take medication. Not because I want to, but because I have to. Because without it, I can’t function. Even with my medication, I have problems functioning.
I spent over a week trying to convince myself that death is not actually better than life. I’m still not convinced, but I know that if my medication is working, I would probably feel that life is worth living, so I’m working on it.
I went to see my psych because I knew there was a problem – and because my husband convinced me that there was a problem – and he jumped up both my medications (depression and anxiety) as soon as I told him how I felt.
When I explained that I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t get any work done because the minute I saw I had work to do, it overwhelmed me, and then I’d want to just get back into bed, and then I’d notice that there was even more work to do, which then overwhelms me worse, and then I’d get depressed because I hadn’t done anything, which then made me want to go back to bed and not work…well, you get the idea. It’s a fun cycle that refuses to stop itself.
I’m in a jewelry making class. We had two projects to do. Neither of mine are finished.
I’m also in a marketing class. My projects have all been due for a while now. I still have one that I haven’t finished, and I don’t know that I will finish it.
I told all this to my psych, and he decided to increase my medications. So I went out to my car and cried because I was crazy.
Because I know I’m crazy. Because I know I’m anxious over everything and depressed about anything.
I had a half-hour panic attack because I had to take a new medication for some hip pain. It’s a simple anti-inflammatory. A NSAID. But after I took it, I freaked out and thought I was dying.
I ate a salad. Found something crunchy in it. Decided I had eaten glass and was going to die. So much fun.
I love Christmas. Normally. The minute it hits Thanksgiving, I’m all about decorating for outside. I’m all about not being able to wait to put up the tree. I love Christmas.
I still haven’t been able to do any of it. I just can’t get myself to care about it.
I’ve been on new doses of my meds yesterday and today. The increased dosage made me sleep. A lot. I slept until 10 a.m. Got up long enough to take more medication and eat breakfast, and then I went back to bed. Woke up at 2:30, took a shower, made sure my son got off the school bus and got some juice and a snack, ate my lunch and took my other medication, and wound up falling asleep again. I finally actually got up around 8 p.m. But I’m tired already.
I know my drugs will eventually work. They will kick in. I will not spend all my time thinking about ways in which death is better than life. I will not consider methods of suicides and rank them by their likelihood to success versus the amount of pain suffered. I will stop sleeping all the time. I will feel better. I will be able to do things. I will be excited about Christmas. I will decorate. I will bake cookies. I will read. I will write. I will see people. I will make jewelry. I will make blank books. I will be happy.
Until my drugs stop working again. And then this will all start over again. But I can hope it doesn’t, once I feel better.
Because sometimes I need to write a list like this.
It’s really easy for me to sit here and write about all the bad things I did today, how I made all sorts of mistakes, how I got so little done from my to do list…figuring out how I suck is easy. It’s beyond easy. It’s second nature to my brain, which loves to mess with me and try to lie to me.
But right now, I don’t want to think about all the bad stuff. I want to try to think about all the reasons I don’t suck. All the things I did right – or, at least, stuff I didn’t do wrong.
1. I didn’t hurt myself today.
2. I took my medicine.
3. I ate my vegetables.
4. I accomplished some of my to do list.
5. I snuggled with my 13 year old.
6. I took a hot bath.
7. I finished reading a book.
8. I gave gifts to people.
9. I went to class.
10. I brainstormed a new idea for a hollow-construction ring.
11. I opened the windows to let in the fresh air (and lifted the cat onto the windowsill many, many times).
12. I avoided spending money on Starbucks because we need to save money, not spend it.
13. I sent out an interview to write up.
14. I followed up on a meeting I’d forgotten about.
15. I began the process to do something awesome for the parent support group I help run.
16. I shared useful information with other parents.
17. I was there when a friend needed me.
18. I ate chocolate.
19. I stayed awake all day.
20. I wrote this blog.
This weekend, I went to an Abilities Fair in my son’s school district. It began at 9 a.m. Nine a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was going to man a table for the Parent Support Group until noon, and then I’d be on a panel about communicating positively with the school. Sounds good, right?
Except that I am not a morning person. Really, really not a morning person.
I got about half-way to the high school where it was being hosted before I realized the problem.
I was so tired and so not geared up for the morning that I forgot to stop and get coffee.
Even though I knew it meant that I’d be there on time instead of early, I turned around and went to Starbucks. Because, you know, coffee.
And it was as I was driving the drive of shame to Starbucks that I realized the similarities between my need for coffee and my need for medication when my depression hits.
Here’s the thing: when I get depressed, I don’t have the energy to get medication. I don’t have the urge to get medication. I don’t care enough to get medication. I just want to curl up in bed and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist, or sometimes worse, pretend it does exist but it’s all out to get me and show me how horrible I am in my own life and how much I fail at everything I try.
I’m lucky, though.
When I need medication, I have someone who will suggest I call in to my psychiatrist. And, if I don’t feel the ability or need to call in myself, he will then call in for me and leave a message. When the psych calls me back, I can generally pull myself together enough to state that I’m not able to get out of bed, and suddenly my meds are adjusted, and soon enough, I’m mostly moving again.
And I’m lucky, though, because the same person will get me coffee when I can’t function enough without coffee to get coffee.
But I still can’t help but think about the problem with needing coffee to get coffee and needing medication to get medication.
Today, the chance of rain was 30%. I hadn’t even heard that. I’ve had a headache (or headaches?) off and on for about a week now. I don’t know if it’s because of my cold, because of the weather moving in, because of the full moon, or because of stress. Or maybe a combination of all of the above.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t really enjoy it today when the rain started pounding down right after I got out of my jewelry-making class or when I had to run to a meeting at my son’s school. I didn’t mind the thunder and lightning so much – I actually kind of enjoy the storms – but the rain itself was kind of a bummer because it got me soaked.
Still, it could have been worse.
Then I checked my email.
Here’s the thing. I enrolled in a study – can’t share the details – but part of it involves using a website to check in and discuss my feelings as they relate to depression and anxiety.
It sent me an email, the “thought of the day,” that, I think, was meant to cheer me up or somehow encourage me.
“Natural sunlight brightens the mood in the truest sense of the word – try it out!”
I finally decided I was going to do it. I was going to reach out to one of those suicide helplines that have online chat rooms. (I am purposely not listing which one it was because, for all I know, I just got the one awful person there.)
I was fourth in line.
I waited and played around in FB.
My turn came up.
“Ana” was the person I got.
I told her I wasn’t sure how to start, and she asked if I was feeling suicidal.
We chatted for about 10 minutes.
I ended the chat by telling her I would call the hotline instead and logged out.
I did not call the hotline.
I felt like I had just gotten done talking to that old computer program/game that would parrot what you said back to you. I don’t remember what it was called, but according to Wikipedia, one version was called Eliza, and I found a free version of it online at http://www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/eliza.php3.
When I logged in to the chat, I had estimated my feelings as a 3 on a scale of 1 doing great and 5 doing horrible. Afterwards, they asked me to rate my feelings, and I went for a 4.
I honestly thought I could have gotten better advice from a fortune cookie. In fact, I have a number of fortunes taped to my computer screen, and some of them were way more motivation than what I got in my chat room.
In the box where they asked for feedback, I said that I felt like I had gotten platitudes from a computer. I could not tell that there was an actual living human being on the other end.
I’m really, really, really hoping that my experience was a one-off. I’m really, really hoping that other people who call go away feeling better instead of worse. And I’m really, really hoping that my week starts feeling better.