March 19, 2017 by Leah
My mental health has been up and down for the last 20 years (I mean, whose hasn’t?). My last big crisis was in the mid-2000s, and a combination of a fantastic, nonjudgmental therapist trained in EMDR, switching to a more whole foods based diet, and starting or restarting fulfilling activities I enjoy that allowed me to make and meet attainable goals (grad school, playing the cello) catapulted me into a place (some might call it “adulthood”) where I finally had the skills and experience to recognize and manage the normal ups and downs of life.
Having babies has played a little fast and loose with my depressive tendencies, but I got through the first two instances of depression (weaning related and postpartum for babies #1 and #2, respectively) with the help of a good therapist my PCP found for me. Getting through the tumultuous arrival of #3 required chemical help (hi, Zoloft!) for the first time in years. It was anxiety more than the old familiar depression that convinced me that drugs were the correct answer, and once I started taking a low daily dose of antidepressants, I stopped crying and being actively scared that I was going to die every time I had a high blood pressure reading. (So, twice a day, for weeks and weeks.)
When I found out I had CKD, I cried all the way home and then upped my dosage of Zoloft. (Apparently my nephrologist prescribes a lot of Zoloft.) But because I was sick for months, expecting to heal, and then suddenly I was informed that things were NOT going to heal and I was actually going to get much sicker and be medically dependent for the rest of my life, I am playing a little catch up. It took a while for the diagnosis to sink in. I feel like I missed out on some of the basics of what this means (one of my questions for my second opinion appointment is, “What would you tell someone getting diagnosed with CKD for the first time?”). I went back to my therapist and tried really hard to use healthy coping skills like working out and going out of doors, but since exercise has started to leave me without enough energy to care for my kids for the rest of the day, I’ve stopped exercising. I’ve also started getting really depressed. I’m mindlessly shoving carbs into my mouth, having one more drink than I should in the evenings, and buying random stuff we don’t need at stores. I’m staying up too late because I don’t want to face tomorrow, or going to bed too early because I can’t take any more of today. None of these things make me feel any better.
Now that I’ve identified these behaviors, I can make them stop, but the problem there is that when you’re not frantically doing displacement activities, there is room for the bad feelings to be front and center in your head all the time. I feel like I’m moving around in a fog. I’m barely reading because I can’t concentrate. I have been fantasizing about death and divorce, when in fact I am desperate not to die anytime soon and I love and even like my husband. I remember that I am actually chronically ill, and that I can do great damage to my stupid, faulty body just by neglecting to take my meds for a while. I consider whether this would give me any satisfaction. (Unlikely.)
I want to be making the most of my time with my children, because who knows what will happen tomorrow, but when I am with them I feel like there’s a veil between us, and I just want time to myself to recharge, which makes me feel guilty. I feel like a complete fraud and shell of a person when I am out and about. The kids have been extra challenging lately (all three of them have been sleeping horribly for a couple of weeks – I think the baby is teething, the preschooler has pinkeye in his OTHER eye now, and they are all probably picking up on my general lack of success at being human).
Yesterday I started looking up spiritual retreats, figuring that it would make more sense to work on healing than to check into a local motel and watch trash TV in a fit of pique (for the record, I have never done this, but I did come really close, once). I would LOVE to go do the “Monk for a Month” program at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Idaho, but booking a 4-5 day retreat at their Inn, or at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon seems more doable. And I could be responsible and line up childcare and kiss my husband and kids goodbye before driving off in my tiny, spotless rental car.
I probably won’t really do this, but reading about monastic retreats and homemade jam seems like one of the healthier and more creative coping skills I have come up with in a while, so I’ll just go with that for the time being.