TW: Mental health issues
It reached a point where it probably wasn’t safe for me to be alone in my home with my often dangerous thoughts.
The symptoms were bad, I admit. I couldn’t get out of bed, my focus was terrible, people had to repeat things to me when I bothered to communicate with other humans at all.
Everything felt far away from me, like the world around me was in another dimension and I was just holed up in my own little bubble. All sounds would dim, and even my eyes would blur at the edges of my vision. I felt like a zombie; nothing at all felt real.
And then the waves of emptiness would come. I would lay in bed all day, not able to find a single reason to get up. I felt a deep ache in my chest, a suffocating sadness that enveloped my whole self.
When I spent so much time in my house, I had time to remember. There was plenty of time to think about things. Too much time to think about too many things. There have been dark times in my life I just wanted to forget, but an idle mind is easily filled with darkness.
At a certain point, `my whole life felt like it was teetering on the edge of an ice covered ledge. Any tiny thing could push me over, I knew. There wasn't enough tying me to the surface. There wasn't enough that I had to stay for.
It terrified me to no end, whether I would admit it or not. I was so scared that something would come and push me over the edge. I felt that probability looming over my head, and I had started to accept it.
That's when it starts to get really dangerous. When you accept that there's nothing more you can do.
And Mom saw this, and decided that it was enough.
It might be sad, for a grown woman to live with her mother, but she tells me that it was a good choice. Mom has always sugar coated things, though.
Sherry says it was the right decision, too, and she’s paid to tell me the right things. Sherry and I agree, though, that I shouldn’t stay there forever. Once I’m better, I can live at home again. At my home, not the home I grew up hating.
It wasn’t about the home, and it wasn’t about the people in it. I love my parents dearly, and I missed my father more than I would admit. It was the things that happened in that home, things that happened behind closed doors that I was scared to talk about.
One day, I was given a card.
I had a friend that I was close with. I still am, we talk every once in a while, but not as much anymore.
She gave me Sherry’s card and said that she had helped her in the past, and that she may be able to help me, too. This was right after I moved in with Mom, and I decided that I could afford a session or two. I cringed at the thought of going to therapy, but Mom insisted that she wouldn’t let me move out until I got some help.
So I scheduled an appointment, just to ease Mom’s worries. I told myself that I would just go a couple times. The session itself wouldn’t do any good anyways. What good ever came from telling people how I felt?
No good; that’s the answer.
But when I got to Sherry’s office, I found myself talking. I just kept going, and before I knew it I had told her almost everything. She sat there listening, and never made me feel stupid. She never told me that I was being dramatic.
Shaking, I told this woman everything. I had this physical reaction to the release of emotion and tension that had been building up inside me all my life. Dark, horrible, tar-like emotion seemed to seep out of my every pore, and it enveloped me.
Being covered in the darkness didn't seem like a good thing. I found myself wondering how this could ever help. Dredging up all of these unwanted emotions seemed to be doing more harm than help.
I cried so many times that day I feel embarrassed when I look back on it. I cried when I told her about those unspoken things that happened when I was young, and how I can’t look at men the same now. I cried when I told her about all my scars, ones running up and down my arms, usually concealed by sleeves. She wasn’t disgusted or even shocked when she saw them like others have been when I slipped and let my sleeves roll up.
And I cried the hardest when Sherry told me.
“Maxine, I think you have PTSD, and severe depression as another symptom of it,” Sherry informed me, her voice soft and strangely reassuring despite her terrifying words. “I also think that the trauma has caused you to detach from reality. You may have a condition called derealization disorder, which would cause all of the fogginess you described.”
To have names and explanations for all my symptoms was an experience I couldn’t even explain. I felt like all these things were real; like I wasn’t just making them up.
And that was the turning point in my life.
That’s when things started to get better.
“... Happy birthday to you,” I hear a dissonant chorus of voices sing. They laugh and cheer as I blow out the candles for my daughter on her birthday cake, and I beam up at my family.
I balance my now 1 year-old daughter on my hip as I stand up to hug my mother, who is standing next to me.
“Thank you,” I tell her. “I never could’ve put this together without you.”
Mom nods at me, tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m just so glad you exist. And little Raven, too.”
I feel tears of my own threaten to spill over my eyelids. “I just wish Matt were here, you know?”
“He’ll be back soon,” Mom assures me. “He’s doing a fantastic job out there serving our country, and I know he’s excited to visit you and Raven as soon as he’s able.”
I nod, and Mom hugs me one more time.
We open presents next. Raven seems excited, though I doubt she really knows what’s going on. We laugh at her little squeals as she gets to rip open each gift, tearing at the paper enthusiastically.
When everyone finally leaves, I take a moment to myself before beginning to clean up. I stare down at my little sleeping daughter, feeling the dark black tufts of hair that I named her for. She looks nothing like me or Matt, but I always suspect that her coloring comes from my dad. It makes me happy beyond words that Raven gets a little piece of her grandpa, even though she never gets to meet him.
I remember Mom’s words from earlier, I’m just so glad you exist.
Thinking of it now, I finally catch her hidden meaning. Just a couple years ago, I was teetering on the edge of that icy cliff. If she never made me move in with her or go to see Sherry, I don’t know if I would even be alive.
I always thought that I was fine. I was still on the edge; you don't need help until you're in that downwards spiral. But I was already in the downwards spiral, and everything around me was falling too fast for me to see.
The thought terrifies me. I hold my daughter close.
I didn’t think that I had any reason to live, back then. If only I could’ve seen just three years into the future, maybe I would’ve realized that there were so many things I had left to do. I’m just lucky that I realized it in time.
I met Matt shortly after that first session with Sherry. It all got better, in a matter of months. I wish I could tell everyone out there who thinks they have no life left to live. The saying that I always thought was cheesy rings truer than any other phrase.
It gets better.