Friday, April 6, 2012

Dealing with depression through the years

When I was a child, I was mostly happy.  I came from a stable, middle class family which included my parents, an older and younger brother, a dog and two parakeets.  Both my parents hailed from Bolivia, South America, but my brothers and I were born in Illinois, USA.  I had a good number of friends at school, with my best friend living across the street from our house for the last two years before the big move.

Moving to Bolivia at the age of 8 was an exciting experience, yet scary at the same time.  I met my grandparents, although my maternal grandmother had stayed with us when my younger brother was born, four years earlier.  I guess I did not remember her and the shock of how my grandparents behaved with their grandchildren was almost mind-blowing, compared to what my paternal grandma was like with us.  The funny thing is that both my grandmas are named Elsa, so we always differentiate them by calling them Abuelita (grandma in Spanish) Elsa de Bolivia or de Moline, depending on where that particular Abuelita lives.  And in my young mind, ALL grandmas were named Elsa!  That's just how it was.

I became close with a few of my cousins, particularly Petty (her nickname) and Patricia, as we were the same age.  It wasn't until the 4th grade, our second year in Cochabamba, that I began to make many friends and felt at home at school and knew life would be fine once again.  I stopped having dreams of the close friend I had left behind in the States and was moving on with my life.  I LOVED all the family we had, which I had never experienced while living in the USA, nor had I ever felt as accepted and taken care of everywhere we went.  The family I had (and still have) in Cochabamba was greatly nurturing and made every transition that much easier.
Ah, but life was not falling into place financially for my parents, no matter what they did.  Two years after moving to Bolivia, we came back to the States to start all over again.  This is when nothing went right for me.  Leaving Bolivia was difficult, although I had no idea how much it would impact me until school began a few weeks later when I entered the 5th grade.  My mom had stayed behind to finish selling off our belongings as we would need the money to purchase pretty much EVERYTHING to start a new life, so we stayed with my dad's older sister and her family in the meantime.  Talk about feeling out of place!  My aunt and uncle are kind, my two male cousins are nice and my Abuelita lived with them, but.. wow, this could never feel comfortable enough to even begin to resemble home to me, even if it was only for a short time.  I was miserable.  I'm aware that my dad, brothers and our dog were all miserable too, but I'm writing from my viewpoint, so please do not assume I am disregarding their feelings.

It wasn't until the 7th grade when I became friends with a girl who is my best friend to this day.  But how were we to know that at the time?  We were 11 years old and loved Rick Springfield!  Then she moved to Iceland the following year and I fell into a depression so deep that it resembled someone losing a loved one to a very sudden death.  And that's exactly what it felt like to me.  We were laughing one day and she was gone the next.  I never had a chance to say good-bye.  She was just gone.  From that day forward, including high school, I never became close to anyone.  I'm not sure if it was a conscious decision, but why would I want to go through that AGAIN?  I had a best friend, and then we moved.  I had many close friends, and then we moved.  I had the best friend EVER.. and then she was gone.  I was not about to go through that again.  And the depression was all-consuming.

In my life, Krissy's moving away was the trigger that set the depression off, even though I struggled with my temper and anger issues from a young age.  I do not "blame" her for it as it was not her decision to move and even if it had been her choice, it still would not have been her fault.  Things happen in life and we all react differently to the circumstances.  My mind could no longer handle one more loss so the way I dealt with it was by closing myself off from others, yet spewing much anger at my family any chance I got.  I was a complete mess but all my family saw was my anger and all people at school saw was that I was quiet and shy.  Shit, if only they knew what was really going on inside.

In my teens, I hated everything about myself.  From my weight, to my hair, to my name, to my large chest.. just everything.  My older brother didn't make matters better by realizing I was an easy target and constantly teasing me by saying I was fat, stupid and far too ugly to EVER interest a guy.  Worse still, my parents never saw this side of him.  All they saw was that he was an excellent student, did what they told him to do, "pretended" to be respectful.. the most damn perfect son in the world!  Basically, they were praising my tormentor while I was screaming inside to be seen.

I'm sure it's no shock when I admit that I was suicidal in my teen years and it continued into my 20's.  The biggest problem for me in my teens was that I knew I was depressed and sad that Krissy had moved away and was insecure about myself but were these the only reasons I was so broken up inside?  There had to be more and I had no idea what it was.  I honestly had no clue what it was that was killing me.  So when I was diagnosed with MS at the age of 21, I finally had a REASON to be depressed.  Yay!  Finally, I didn't need an excuse to be sad beyond belief.  Who wouldn't be sad to be diagnosed at such a young age?
Starring Rachel Griffiths as Hilary & Emily Watson as Jackie
When I was married the first time and had gotten out of the hospital from a terrible MS flare up (1998), a close friend of mine and I went to the movies to watch Hilary and Jackie, a film about cellist Jacqueline du Pré's life.  I had never heard of Jackie du Pré until reading about her in an MS magazine. I learned she had had multiple sclerosis and was eager to watch.  I felt the movie was very well made with a few exceptions.  Jackie has MS and from watching the film, it appears to progress from one day to the next.. and then she dies.  No dates or timeline are offered and leaves the viewer wondering how old she was at the time of diagnosis and how many years she lived with MS.  But this wasn't the biggest mystery to me.  It was Jackie's absolute lunatic behavior that confused me and I could not tie it into the story.  I felt it was just her personality, so it needed to be shown.  It wasn't until many years later, probably around 2007, when I finally figured it out.
the real Jacqueline du Pré
Jacqueline du Pré was not losing her mind because she was crazy.  Jacqueline du Pré had MS and this was why she behaved in a way that could only be defined as positively mad.  You see, it was when I came to terms that MS itself causes depression because of its location that I was able to accept that my first symptom was probably not optic neuritis, as I had been told, but it was depression.  It was the perfect explanation for the madness I had felt all my life but could now understand why it was there.  Ahh, I could finally breathe and stop blaming myself for being weak.. even though I knew mental illness was not my fault.  Yet now I felt somewhat vindicated in knowing my mental problems went far beyond the "normal" struggles of the mentally ill.  I have severe spikes in depression and anxiety when I have a flare up and it's not merely from being upset that I'm more disabled.  It's that my brain is no longer functioning as it should.

If a film were to be made of my life, it would be very much as Jackie du Pré's was, minus the cello.  She reached a point where she could no longer play her cello, no matter how desperately she wanted to create music.  A few years ago I realized I could no longer write poetry, no matter how desperately I tried to create works of art in words, as I once did.  That part of me died along the way and it was a huge loss to me.  I'm sure it would have been much harder had I been a famous writer, as she was a famous concert cellist, but it is still difficult to deal with, nonetheless.

I'm not sure what my point was when I began this post nor why it ended in writing about Jacqueline du Pré, but watching her life unfold before me impacted my life in many ways.  At first viewing, I was saddened but over the years and after watching it over and over again (and crying my eyes out every single time), it helped me understand my own illness.  There are many aspects of MS that are demeaning.  Many parts of it that should not be lived by anyone, yet we live it day in and day out.
Over the last few years, I've done a lot of growing up.  Until my late 30's, I barely liked myself, whereas now I can proudly say that I honestly love who I am.  I will probably always be overweight and that's fine.  It's not like I can exercise!  But I no longer place my self worth on my physical appearance, which has helped immensely.  Who I am does not lie in what I look like, but in who I am in my core.  I may have MS but my mind is always working and I do my best to listen to that little voice inside my head that (usually) leads in the right direction.  I still feel sad and depressed from time to time but I no longer allow it to define me.  I choose ME over any obstacle that comes my way, whether I'm being attacked on the inside or out.

I've decided to change the name of my blog from "MS, 3 cats and Atheism" to MS, 3 cats, depression and the joys of life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment