I want to talk to y’all about depression, fucking depression.
My entire life, I’ve been a fundamentally happy person. I had two parents that loved me and cared for me and paid for college when the time came. I graduated and got myself a job. It was as close to “my field” as I could get, since I clearly wasn’t gonna write that Great American Novel by the age of 23 like I thought I was going to. I spent my twenties and thirties being a single chick in San Francisco. I had friends, good ones. Sure I dated a ton of assholes, but who hasn’t? Then I met a nice girl (trust me, that was a surprise for me as well, after a lifetime of cock), got married, bought a house, got a cat, settled down.
In short, life seemed to be progressing nicely, thank you very much. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I worried about money at times, I cried over exes like everyone else, I got bummed when bad things happened, I would go into funks for a couple weeks at a time. But for the most part, life thrummed along, and I thrummed along with it, my biggest care being finding a cab at 2AM when I stumbled out of the bar.
Then, in 2006, I developed a pain in my feet when I would lie down at night. I found it mildly annoying, but being in my thirties and in relatively good health, I figured it would just go away and I didn’t go to the doctor. Then it got worse. When I try and describe this pain, I usually say “imagine a frostbitten limb…” Not that I know what a frostbitten limb feels like, mind you, because I’m not one of those idiots who makes it her life dream to climb Everest like a turd. But it’s the closest thing I can think of–the sensation of having a beyond-frozen foot, then having someone ram into that foot, or even just graze against it lightly, sending horrible waves of pain throughout your body. It got to so every time I moved in bed at night, I would feel that sensation. And you can imagine my mental state, given the fact that sleep was becoming increasingly elusive.
So I went to my doctor, and she started sending me to specialists. By this time, the pain was no longer just at night. It was all day, and no shoe that I wore brought relief, no painkiller solved the problem. And so my wife and I dutifully went to specialist after specialist, until one day, as I watched the last doctor give up on me when I finished telling my story and foist me off to another specialist, I decided I just didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with this.
I just shut down. The medical community brought no relief, rather it was a place of sadness and frustration and loneliness. So I stopped going. I was 38 years old and no one could help me and I couldn’t walk anymore. I went fucking DARK, people. It was an awful time. I’d just gotten married–I should be out enjoying life with my new wife–but every moment of every day was spent thinking about my feet.
I used to hear people toss the word “chronic pain” around all the time and was never quite sure what they meant. It was too vague to be taken seriously. And now here I was, sitting here using every bit of emotional and physical energy I had on not being in pain. I closed in on myself.
My wife, god bless her cotton socks, was amazing during this time. Did she say “Wow, you’re not the fun, kickass, rebel chick I married. In fact, you’re kind of a drag. I’m out”? She did not. She stuck by me, went to every appointment with me, nurtured me, took care of me. But none of that mattered. I appreciated her efforts, but I was too far gone to let her into my head at this point.
Chronic pain. The thing you don’t hear about it is how incredibly isolating it can be. No one, literally, no one knows what you’re going through. And then somehow, you get embarrassed by it. You don’t want to tell your friends that you can’t go to the park with them because the six-block walk there might as well be the Appalachian Trail for how your feet will feel at the end of it.
I was in the fucking bell jar by this point, and I finally resigned myself to pain management. I gave up on the pipe dream of finding someone, in our managed health care shitastic system, that was competent enough to give me a diagnosis. I’d resisted pain management because it’s sort of a last hope: we’ll drug you enough so you can’t feel the pain anymore, but you’ll be drooling and doing the Thorazine Shuffle everywhere. That has never seemed like much of a life, but at this point, it seemed better than what I was experiencing. I lost my shit in the middle of the night when I realized I was lying awake wondering how I was going to walk the short distance from BART to the Oakland Coliseum and stand all night at the Prince concert. Rather than being excited that I was seeing Prince, I was worrying about the simple act of standing.
This had officially broken me. I no longer remotely resembled the happy-go-lucky, bon vivant I’d spent most of my carefree life being. I was surly, and I simply stopped communicating with everyone. I mean, all I had to say for myself was “MY FUCKING FEET ARE SCREAMING, AND I’D LIKE FOR SOMEONE TO TAKE ME OUT TO A BARN SOMEWHERE AND SHOOT ME TIL I’M DEAD PLEASE!” So I stopped talking. To everyone. And coming from the person who liked to share every emotion she was having as she was having it, trust me when I say this destroyed me in small ways every day.
I was horrible to my wife, my friends, people on the street, you name it. I was FURIOUS. I had fury radiating from every pore of my body. At the time I didn’t see it as being furious that this was happening to me; it was simply that I felt like complete mental and physical shit 24/7 so even the most basic of niceties eluded me. God forbid I ever get cancer. I swear I’ll be that person that says “Oh, you’re having a bad day because your kid spilled fingernail polish in your car then vomited through her nose? Yeah well, I HAVE CANCER!!!”
And in the midst of this physical pain, there was the mental anguish and confusion of the fact that I’d completely lost my moorings. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, so it’s like I lost the ability to cope with even the most basic situations. I would come unglued by the fact that we were cooking dinner and had run out of chicken stock or some such petty thing. I became a control freak over my wife (honestly, how she didn’t leave me in our second year of marriage is still a wonderment to me). I became a control freak about the house, suddenly needing everything to be PERFECT. I mean, it’s Psych 101: I could no longer control my health or the emotions surrounding it, so I needed to control everything else.
And so we went to see the pain guy. We sat in his office for and hour-and-half while he heard my entire (and at this point extremely long) story. And the first thing he said after I’d spewed it all out was “This must be so hard–on both of you,” and we both burst into tears. I mean, tears flew from our faceholes immediately. Finally, someone understood.
And he put me on anti-depressants. My shrink had suggested that a year before, and I’d resisted. I had nothing against anti-depressants. They were fine–for other people. But they weren’t for me. He insisted we try one specific anti-D, Cymbalta, because they often give it to diabetics to control nerve pain in their extremities. So his thinking was why not try it for my pain, and let’s try and clean up some of that anxiety and depression surrounding this while we were at it.
And god dammit if those little fuckers didn’t work. Mostly. The pain was, indeed, managed, and for that I was terribly grateful. But being in that mental space had taken its toll. I wasn’t the same person I’d been before. Something in my mental makeup had significantly changed, and it wasn’t popping back into place like a dislocated shoulder. And as the months went by, it was clear that I wasn’t going back to my old self.
And this has gotten long enough. I’ll end there for today.