After the Hurricane: Rebuilding

November 20, 2009 at 5:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Perhaps the hardest thing about the end of a depressive episode is waking up and seeing what’s become of your life. I spent the last several months building a comfortable little place for myself in my new house, and now, after two and a half weeks, I’m standing in the middle of a wind-torn mess. There are ants in the cat food. My carefully tended garden has shriveled away. There’s wet laundry in the washing machine and I have no idea how many days it’s been there. The cats have thrown up here and there. Stacks of unopened mail jostle with dirty dishes on my desk.

All of that is nothing, though, compared to the damage I’ve done through neglect of relationships. One example: it’s been four weeks since I attended the class at my church that I started with such enthusiasm two months ago. I can’t go back, and I have no idea how to explain myself to the nice facilitators. I feel like it’s not enough to say, “I got depressed. I couldn’t leave my house except to go to work. I’m sorry.” First, it seems like they won’t understand that I truly couldn’t leave the house. I whipped myself mercilessly, and that got me to work most of the time. I really couldn’t do more.

And, too, I hate telling people that I’m bipolar, especially people I don’t know well. At work, during my educational talk, I do it as a political act — it’s hard, but my purpose is clear, and people see me performing at my best when I say it. At times like this, it feels both too personal to admit and like a lame excuse. It feels like exposing an intimate and deeply defective part of myself to public view. Bad enough that people can often guess that there’s something wrong. I can talk all day long about mad pride, but the fact is that I’m ashamed of what this disease makes me do, and it takes more strength than I have most days to try to explain why I can’t just go places and do things like normal people do.

It also feels like once I start talking I won’t be able to stop. I don’t want to go on and on about my problems; I just want to explain why I haven’t fulfilled a commitment. I want them to understand that I really am ill and not just making excuses; at the same time, I cringe at the idea of people knowing exactly how sick I am.

The net result is, I usually don’t explain myself. I just continue to avoid the people and situations that I neglected during my depression, and my social options narrow just a little bit further. It will be hard to go back to my church at all, especially since this is the second time that I’ve gotten involved in several activities and then disappeared abruptly. Essentially, I have to choose between exposing myself and running the risk of being judged and misunderstood, or simply disappearing. It’s a lot easier to disappear.

In these moments I often wish that I had the hubris of hypomania, and that I could whiz around repairing and untangling strained relationships with a touch. As it is, I’m feeling fairly fragile, and thinking about everything I’ve neglected is nearly enough to send me back to bed.

More later. This has been a tough post to write.

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