This is one of my favorite pictures of me ever, which is saying a lot, as I do not like having my picture taken actually. I have always been the “funny girl”, never the “pretty girl”, so, I cringe when I see most photos of myself, but not this one. This one always makes me smile, and it is how I see myself. By the way, that is a cup of hot green tea, not alcohol, as some have speculated.
This was taken on a Sunday morning in June 2010 at a Panera in Dayton, Ohio by a dear college friend. We were in Dayton for our 20th reunion, and in three days, I slept a total of 9.5 hours in 3 days, laughed until I nearly cracked a rib, talked until I was hoarse, smiled until my face hurt, and felt overwhelmed by the love and joy of being with some of the most special people in my life. My friend was able to capture the pure happiness that I felt at that very moment. Little did he know, though, he also captured the beginning of my descent into darkness, yet once again.
I first was treated for depression during the summer after my first year of college, and this treatment included a stay at a psychiatric hospital. Far from being like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, it was a lot like a resort, but with locked doors and psychiatrists. I fished, honed my bingo skills, became skilled at making hook rugs, and made a wooden jewelry box that I use to this day. This was before managed care, so, it was a great time to get depressed. Amidst my crafting and game playing, I managed to deal with the pain that I masterfully hid in full view behind my big smile, and the darkness gave way to the light. Rest assured, I did not let my socializing take a total back seat to healing. Upon being discharged, I invited everyone on my floor who had a day pass to my parents’ home
for a cookout. That get together would have been ratings gold, if I had my own reality
The darkness always has been a part of who I am, but I usually manage it rather well. It does not affect me daily; it is more like a distant memory that comes up from time to time. It was within days that this picture was taken that the darkness slowly and persistently crept back in to take up residence in my head and in my heart and baby soul. It seems odd that such a happy moment gave way to such a painful period, but I think it triggered this most recent episode of depression, with a surprise dose of anxiety thrown in just to keep it interesting, because for a few days, I got to be myself and felt completely accepted and loved. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed that or how much pain I was in until I left that safe haven and returned to a place that suddenly did not feel like home any more. I was not sure what had changed, but something indeed had, and I felt the darkness return. I thought I could hide in my music, among my friends, in my thoughts, and along the trails I run on and make it go away. It didn’t leave, though; it remained and got worse.
If you have never felt yourself go mad, it is something that must be experienced to be understood and appreciated completely. When it begins, all appears well on the outside, but on the inside, it is a swirl of thoughts and emotions that slowly permeate everything you say and do. The descent accelerated in February 2011, until finally my world imploded on May 14, 2011, when I could not get out of bed and called my best friend at the time for help. That phone call set off a series of events that I could not predict and still cannot wrap my brain around over a year later.
The following day, I was admitted overnight to be evaluated at the same psychiatric hospital I had been in 22 years earlier. Because Louisville is the biggest small town ever, the two people working in admissions were two of my former graduate students, who, thankfully, were two of the better students I taught. To their credit, they made an awkward moment bearable, while I just made a joke out of it. Thanks to managed care, my stay was vastly different this time around. It truly was a scene out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” this time. The fishing pond and pool were long gone, as they, at some point, were deemed to be too risky for the patients, and art therapy now consisted of coloring pages done with generic, broken crayons. The interior was far more depressing than my mood, and I just wanted to go home, and it felt more like we were being warehoused than helped. I used my social work skills to help out some of my fellow floor mates to the point that they suspected I was a part of the tear-jerker television show, “Undercover Boss”, and I was there to get a patient’s perspective. The nurses even teased me that I had earned a free stay, thanks to my assistance with the others. I really was just part of the ragtag group of people thrown together to deal with our respective demons, and I was motivated to get better and didn’t mind helping others in the process. The biggest, and most unexpected, motivator for getting discharged turned out to be my roommate.
She was a rather imposing figure and quite agitated, and she was ranting on and on that the on-call psychiatrist had discontinued one of her medications, which she said would keep her up all night. That was my first concern, but it soon was replaced by an even greater one. Much like asking “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?” during the first few days of college, asking “What’s your diagnosis?” and “Who’s your psychiatrist?” are the greetings of choice upon admission to a psychiatric unit. So, my ears perked up when someone posed these questions to her, and they were on fire when she said, “I threatened to kill my mother, and I will when I get out of here.”. After letting this statement hang in the air uncomfortably, she retreated to our room, and I headed straight to the nurses’ station for my first and only dose of anti-anxiety medication. Several of the guys on our floor advised me to sleep in the bed closest to the door, which I did, and they applauded wildly when I emerged unscathed for breakfast.
After being evaluated by the psychiatrist, it was determined that I was not at risk to myself, as I never tried to harm myself, which is one of many rumors that plagued me. I admit to feeling like death would be a welcome relief from the pain, but I never had the guts or creativity to devise and execute a plan. It also was determined by the psychiatrist, and later confirmed by another psychiatrist, that I did not need to take an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication, which refutes the rumor that I refused to take medication. It was recommended that I be discharged to the partial hospitalization program, which my girls described as “the school mom goes to all day to learn how to be happy”, for two weeks, followed by weekly individual and group therapy for the next 4 months. I was willing to do anything to feel better, so, I threw myself into therapy until I began to bore myself with my tales of angst and was declared “well”. This debunks three more rumors. One, I did not leave the hospital against medical advice; I was not allowed to stay, because I was not suicidal and truthfully, I received far better care once I left the inpatient unit. My 24 hour stay is a blog in and of itself, so, stick around. Two, I did not refuse medication; I did not need it. I learned how to manage the depression and anxiety without medication, and all that matters is that I found a treatment regime that worked for me. What I needed was to talk about everything I had silenced and was afraid to share, which I did, but some people chose not to listen. Three, I never endangered my children-end of story.
Since this was my second foray into the world of depression, I decided that not even the addition of anxiety was enough to make it more complicated. My husband and I had experienced marital problems for the previous five years and made the decision in the fall of 2010 to divorce at the end of the 2010-2011 school year for our daughters’ sakes, which, unfortunately, coincided with my descent into darkness. We had kept our marital problems to ourselves, so, when we began to tell our family and friends, many were stunned, as we did, and still do, get along extremely well. We are the best of friends, but not the best of spouses, and we did what was best for our family. No other individual or issue was involved in the demise of our marriage. Period, so, put those rumors to rest. If a couple can get divorced better than we did, I want to see it. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis have nothing on us, well, except for fame and money.
So, when I look back on this past year, it feels very surreal. There are still days, I think, “What happened?”, and I mourn the loss of the people who ran out of my life when things fell apart and appreciate and love the friends who ran in to help when I needed to be loved and supported the most. I was told that it was “too hard to watch you go through everything” and that people wanted “happy Kristi” back. Well, it was harder to go through it than to watch it, and no-one wanted “happy Kristi” back more than I did, which is why I was willing to put in the time and energy to go through the pain it took to put my life back together. I never meant for my problems to hurt anyone, and I have apologized profusely to those I have unintentionally caused pain. My life is not perfect, and neither am I. I have far more good days than bad ones, and I am in a good place today overall. That’s the truth. For some people, the truth is not enough, though, so, they lie to themselves and/or others until the lie becomes “the truth”.
That’s another story. . .
Categories: That's Another Story