Battling an invisible illness day in and day out can make work a struggle. Especially if you find some days it’s harder to be around people than others. Sometimes the type of interaction with these people matters most. Others it’s the degree to which I’m familiar that dictates what I can handle. The worst days are the days that don’t seem to have a pattern. The days where I can’t figure out the magic combination to make it through comfortably. Those are also the days I find hardest to explain to people who don’t fully understand what’s going on with me. That’s because on those days, like today, I can’t answer their questions. “What caused it?” “What if you did x, y, and z?” “Gee, I wonder why that trick didn’t work this time. Do you think it won’t work anymore?” Days like today, I hate to say it, but “I have no fcking idea…” is the best I can do in terms of an answer. And really, I don’t know. That doesn’t mean I’m not analyzing the situation, it doesn’t mean I’m not trying, it doesn’t mean I’m not absolutely fighting for every moment of peace.
I work as a computer installation technician in a local hospital system. Tkout works in the same department of the same system as well, though at another hospital. My days range. Some days I stay totally behind the curtain, a high-tech Wizard of Oz. Other days I’m working with staff, and some days I’m even in front of patients while setting up or supporting the equipment. It’s always a rewarding job, and I leave feeling accomplished. The amount of contact I have with people varies, which is also good.
Today has been one of the days where I feel adrift. But it didn’t start out this way. I woke up feeling rested and happy. I wasn’t anxious that I had somehow lost anyone in my circle to the symptoms of my depression. The weekend was exhausting, but fulfilling. I achieved things I didn’t think were possible, given how I struggled the past few days. The thought of going to work made me feel strong and competent. I was ready to meet the challenge with both feet on the floor.
I got to work early, settled in, and when I clocked in I immediately began working on a user’s problem that was a carryover from Friday. I had to head to the children’s dental clinic in a neighboring building. One of the dental patients was afraid, and kept crying and screaming. Generally speaking, I get anxious and sad when the patients are so scared. It’s impossible not to feel for them.
While I waited for the computer I was working on to re-image, I took a brief call from Dipper. All was well. The conversation went well. We talked and nothing was wrong. I mentioned that if he heard wailing in the background, it was the patient. I wasn’t sure if the sound would carry to the phone or not.
Shortly after that call, I think the mix of the amount of people in the clinic, the issue I was working on, and exhaustion from the previous weekend got to me. I started sliding. Worrying that I had annoyed Dipper by asking what time he was planning on sleeping (he works the night shift). I knew it wasn’t a valid worry since I KNEW everything was fine. I tried to stop the slide. I reached out to Dipper and Tkout, both of whom were more than willing to help me get vertical. It worked, for the most part.
Which leads me to the topic of this post. After an anxiety attack or a depressive swing, often there are Echoes. That’s my collective term for the shame and embarrassment that follows. I don’t struggle long term so much with the attacks or the swings as I do with the echoes. More than not, they hurt worse than the attack or swing. I had my attack around 11 am. In a minute it will be 1 pm. I’ve been dealing with the echoes for literally 2 hours. I’ve been biting back tears because there is no safe, quiet, and secluded place where I can go to fully break down and cry. I don’t want my coworkers to think I’m a flake, so I don’t want them to see it either.
I know in my mind that there shouldn’t be shame or embarrassment. But there is. The shame is that I fell apart on a good day, when I’ve been doing so well up until. When I got out of bed with no problems going to work. The embarrassment is part of what I call the domino slide. The domino slide is where I start thinking I’ve done something wrong, reach out to apologize, get reinforcement that everything is ok, and then start worrying that I’ve done something wrong by reaching out (even when I KNOW that it is what my circle wants me to do), and more worries pile on. They become stifling. Until I start to believe them just for the sheer fact that there’s so many. Hence the name domino slide.
Once the domino slide starts, my self-image plunges. I start to wonder how people can deal with my shit, when I can barely deal with it myself. My thoughts turn dark. I start imagining that my circle is getting tired of this, just as I am. I hear my husband and brother in my head, telling me that it’s alright. That they still love me and there’s nothing to be ashamed or sorry about. That everyone slides. That they’d rather me reach out over and over than suffer quietly. That they want the chance to reassure me. To make everything right.
Then I start thinking that I don’t deserve this love and devotion. That I haven’t done enough to balance out the shit they put up with when I flounder. Both of them have told me countless times that it’s not a matter of balancing out. The good always outweighs the bad. That I need to stop thinking about it like that. I believe them. I really do. I know I’m loved and needed. Not just by my humans, but by my fuzzies too. Even the snakes and bearded dragon.
But the anxiety and the depression lie. And because it’s my own mind, they know just what to tell me to make me feel worthless. To make me feel afraid. To make me want to keep asking if everything is alright, and then fearing that just by asking, I’ve shattered everything. They make me feel like everything is fragile. Even though I know it’s not.
I’m writing this post while biting back the tears. I know I’m loved. I know that there’s nothing to ask forgiveness for. I know that I don’t need to ask them to hang in there, because they will. I’m Wife. Seester. Aunt. Friend. Family. Confidante. Ride or Die. That doesn’t change, no matter how hard the anxiety and depression are whaling at me.
Tkout, Dipper, and Phoebe always tell me that they think I’m a superhero because I still fight. Even when I don’t feel like it. I still fight to go to work. To stay the whole shift. And even if I’m not feeling well, I still come and see Phoebe and Dipper. Still hang with Tkout. I try to make sure they don’t suffer when I’m struggling. And if they need me, I’ll come running. Even if it’s a day where I struggle to get out of bed.
I’ve had trouble reconciling the way they see me, because most of the time I certainly don’t see this myself. When I’m struggling, I tend to only see the bad. But I have always appreciated that they see me in this way. A little while ago, Dipper sent me a YouTube video about the newest Green Lanter, Jessica Cruz. In her, I’ve found my superhero. Take a look at this series of panels, where she fights anxiety. I almost fell over when I first read them. They’re so true to life in terms of showing the anxiety. But they also show her in the moment where she pushes through it. Not surprisingly, it’s because she knows people are counting on her. I almost cried when Dipper sent this to me. For the first time ever, I saw myself as Tkout, Dipper, and Phoebe have seen me the whole time. All those times I was too busy hitting myself over the head to see what they saw. The whole time they saw my will to persevere. The fact that just reaching out and asking for the love and reinforcement was an act of defiance against the mental illness.
For the first time in the last year, since all hell broke loose, I finally saw in myself what they’ve seen the whole time. I understand why they say the good outweighs the bad. Why they say they love me, no matter what. Why they’ve chosen me to be Wife. Seester. Aunt. Friend. Family. Confidante. Ride or Die. Why they have faith in me, and say that it’s never misplaced. Why they’re always willing to catch me when I fall. What they mean when they say they won’t leave me, because it’s not an option.
For the first time, I see myself as the fighter and superhero that they see. I may get knocked down. But it’s not for always. And every time I come back up, I’m stronger than I was before.