The Difference a Year Makes…
Birthdays have always been a difficult time for me. I’ve never really got into the whole let’s-celebrate-being-alive-type-of-thing for starters. Then having a birthday near Christmas always heightened my rejection buttons- people are busy at that time of year and other things(usually family) are more important than celebrating with me. (Yes, I agree, this all sounds very self-pitying!… Keep reading, I get a grip very soon!) a number of trusted friends always make an effort for me (thank you) but on the whole it is a thing to be survived rather than enjoyed.
Last year (2011) was my 40th and this particular birthday remains my most significant to date. Some special friends organised a lovely meal for me and a group of my nearest and dearest. Everyone was more generous than ever and everyone went out of their way to make me feel special. And I felt like death. You see 19th December 2011, was one of the lowest points of my life. I sat on a chair listening to all my friends saying lovely things about me and inside I was pleading with God to release me from the torture of being alive. Every kind word, slipped off my skin. Every beautiful gift felt like a waste of money on my friends part. I was finding it hard to breathe under the weight of pain in my chest, darkness in my head and exhaustion in every muscle of my body.
However, I was aware of a still small voice that kept repeating to me the famous cliche- life begins at 40. I didn’t want it to begin- I wanted it to end- but that phrase did keep popping into my head.
The next day I went into hibernation. I had fulfilled all my duties… Work, church, social. I could stay in bed and only get out when not getting out would cause me more trouble than staying in bed. I gave up. I gave in. I caved in. And to be honest, it was all I could do. 20th December 2011- I put life on hold. It was already putting me on hold, so I decided to collude with the depression- my fight was all fought out. So much for life beginning… I was decomposing in front of my very eyes and death by decomposition is a painful one.
So unlike other cliches, I didn’t have an epiphany moment, a bright light telling me to get out of bed… No angel appeared to me in the middle of the night… It got darker, more frightening, more exhausting and more debilitating. I ended up in hospital.
Hospital is awful. Degrading. Humiliating. Embarrassing. Disempowering. But also strangely enough I was glad to be there. I was grateful that my doctor could see how desperate i was and helped get me a bed. The safety. The food. My friends visiting me. The permission not to work. Time out. Don’t misunderstand me- hospital is not restful! It’s not particularly caring either, but in many ways it was the rock bottom and I would rather be at rock bottom in hospital than at home alone. On the surface hospital wasn’t hugely successful either. I had a hard time on some of the drugs, didn’t feel understood by my new (thankfully temporary) doctor and was discharged with “clinical need unmet” on my discharge form.
However, I did leave hospital with a new potential treatment funded privately by unbelievably generous friends. I was discharged on a Wednesday, saw my new therapist on Friday and the long hard claw up began. Again no ‘magic’ cure, just a promise to my therapist that I would not hurt myself (excruciatingly difficult) and some new things to learn. DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) is hard work- sheer unadulterated gritty painful hard work and I LOVE IT! I’ve had years of therapy and prayer, and this was something different- it was practical, methodical, real life and I was in control. I could put the work in and live… Or I could continue just ‘surviving’ at best. But you see I can’t tolerate the pain of ‘just surviving’. Jesus tells me, that He has come, so that I might have life, and life in abundance. I’ve always wanted that abundant life. Depression not only steals my ability to manage, but it also steals the dream of the abundant life and I find the disappointment of that stolen dream more difficult than not managing everyday life.
So the last 7 months have been about me reclaiming my dream. And it has come in the most wonderful, delightful and unexpected ways. Things I never thought possible have started to click. It started with breathing. Yes- breathing. I had to monitor my breathing rate- I realised that I had been literally physically holding my breath- not breathing. As I began to breathe, I experienced peace.
Breathing moved on to reading. Reading moved on to drawing. I published a poetry book, I started blogging. Then I started de-cluttering my house and cleaning! I never knew the joy a clear surface could bring! I then began to get out old journals and vision boards out and began to reconnect with my desires. Relationships that were toxic to me, dissolved-(including giving up my dog for re-homing, though I still cry over that loss) I began to bake… I began to prepare meals for myself, I have started exercising. I’ve started saying ‘no’. I’ve started knitting again. I’ve started living. All those things I’ve mentioned- the mundane every day things that many might take for granted- mean the world to me. I never thought I could clean, cook and shop without it being a trauma… I feel like the mystery of living has started to be revealed to me. And I love it!
So, now, I fast forward to this birthday just gone. I hosted a party!!!!! I hosted my own birthday party. I invited people into my home- my first EVER party in my home! I even baked 2 lemon drizzle cakes. If someone had said to me at my 40th birthday party that a year later I would have published a book, knitted scarves that people want to buy, been exercising, hosted a birthday party, be planning to make jam and plant vegetables, have a sense of hope for the future- not dreading waking up each day, hanging a home made door wreath on my front door I would have laughed in your face (possibly slapped it, if I could summon the energy!) what a difference a year makes.
Out of respect for those reading who may also suffer from depression- I would do you a disservice, if I left you with the impression that DBT has ‘cured’ me. It hasn’t… I still have days when I slope into bed at the first sociably acceptable opportunity. I still have to gird my loins when I contemplate having a shower. On the day I go to work, everything descends into chaos! I find getting out of the house for a particular time challenging… And some days I’m not entirely sure how i am going to get through it. But that is just the way it is at the moment. I’m getting better. In the past when I had a bad day I would dissolve into fearful panic that everything was ‘coming back’ I was terrified that I had relapsed. Now, when I have a bad day, I don’t like it- I struggle with fear, but I am beginning to believe that just because today is bad, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be.
Also, in the past, I was looking to be ‘healed’. I longed for the day when I could say I am cured of depression. Now, I view my life as one that I need to manage the depression. That may sound fatalistic but for me it is utterly freeing. I am now no longer disappointed when I don’t feel better… I use the tools that I’m learning to live life regardless of how I’m feeling. It is hard, but if I can do it, anyone can.
I am a humbled and grateful woman. Every friend who has stuck by me. Every meal cooked, every load of washing cleaned. Every lift given. Every text and email sent. Every prayer prayed. Every admin admined. Every visit given. Every phone call. Every flower bought. Every kind word. Every invitation to come and visit you. Every challenge. Every difficult decision we’ve had to make. Every practical, emotional and spiritual gift. Sometimes I feel very inadequate in expressing my love to you all… I am sorry. I also realise that I am not seeing some of you as often as I used to… It is not because I feel any less for any of you. I just hope that none of you ever feel taken for granted… I cannot apologise enough if I have ever given that impression.
I am grateful that God hasn’t left me or abandoned me, even though I sometimes think that I have left Him. Some days I picture Him like the father with the prodigal son, looking out for me with arms wide open- i am excited because i know that my relationship with Him will resume on different terms- one of love not fear… I’m just not there yet.
I am especially grateful to those who are funding my DBT- you know who you are… (I don’t think i do?) You have really helped me not just stay alive but to begin living. That is the most precious gift i think anyone can give. I think I really can say, that for me, life began at 40. To you all, have a loved and safe 2013.