Life’s timing, or rather as I believe, the Lord’s timing in life can be difficult to accept. Several weeks ago I wrote a post about “woobies” and how my two dogs, Chaos and Havoc, have been there for me through thick and thin (literally and figuratively.) My last post was dedicated to sharing more of my story about weathering the storms of depression. I promised that at some point you would understand how these two topics intersect. Well, here it is.
After attempting to suffocate myself I mentioned that I decided to get help. I make that sound so easy when, in truth, I had a lot of help getting there. Many friends stayed up late at night with me listening to my heart-break and pushing me to find hope again. My parents spent countless hours counseling with me and urging me to fight. Thankfully I was able to cling to these threads of hope so lovingly offered by my friends and family.
Those of you who have been to therapy understand that sometimes you need to shop around a bit before you find someone you work well with. I know that God was with me that morning I called to make an appointment because I don’t think I would have been able to shop around in that state of mind. I was blessed to find someone on the first try who worked hard to save my life.
It isn’t easy to tell anyone, let alone a perfect stranger, that you’ve been contemplating suicide. It is extremely difficult to be so vulnerable in front of someone you don’t know from Adam. Even more challenging, is fighting the urge to hold back when you know you need to lay it all out on the table and then ask for help. Nothing is more humbling than having to admit that you’ve lost control of your emotions and allowed them to dictate your behavior. On the other hand, it can also be incredibly freeing to finally admit that life has become unmanageable.
In some ways I can barely remember that first appointment with my therapist, and yet, in others, strange details are seared into my mind. She was wearing leopard print; I’m not fond of that. Her office was dimly lit, but inviting. There were things I wanted to say but couldn’t and others that kept spilling out like waves of the sea, unrelenting and swelling with emotions I’d been holding in for far too long. Words and phrases still stand out to me such as, “I’m going to call your doctor today and tell him you need to start medication.” Wait… are you sure? I’m not a fan… “bla bla bla, serotonin levels low due to pain, bla bla bla, no wonder you can’t regulate your mood, bla bla bla.” Then the words, “Major Depressive Disorder.”
She finally stopped talking and I let that sink in. I vaguely remembered hearing the term on television but never really stopped to think what it was or what was meant by it. Some of the things she said to me made a lot of sense in fact, many friends had theorized that my serotonin levels were depleted from being in constant physical pain. This time though, it did sink in.
Aha, I wasn’t fundamentally flawed. At least not in the way I had imagined. My constant state of depression was brought on by tragic life circumstances and constant physical pain. I felt that I was in a continual state of mourning, never able to take a breath free of grief. Add to that the idea that my little body had been working overtime for years trying to manage pain and it suddenly clicked.
This wasn’t anything I needed to feel guilty about. It didn’t make me weak or “less than.” It didn’t have any bearing on the person I was, deep down, in my core. There is no shame in feeling grief. There is nothing to be ashamed about when your body and/or mind don’t quite function as they should. And there is absolutely no shame in depression!
I know you are probably familiar with the saying that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I humbly beg to differ. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle with his help!! I have been repeatedly humbled by life’s circumstances in a most profound way and I can say that with the help of my God and my Savior, I can do hard things. I also believe that we need to be open to the idea that help comes in all forms ranging from a friend with a listening ear, a doctor who knows the right treatment, to the invention of a drug that helps regulate your mood.
So… off to the doctor I went that very afternoon. He re-emphasized what my therapist had said about serotonin levels. In a very kind, compassionate manner (I know, not my usual descriptive when it comes to doctors) he explained that he felt that my constant state of physical pain left me vulnerable to depression and with the constantly changing circumstances of my health and well-being he felt that it was no wonder my mood was always “circling the drain.” Both he and the therapist urged me to consider going straight to the hospital if I felt that things were spiraling out of control again.
Hmmm, I had never thought it an option to head to the hospital. This is how desperate I was though because, when he said that, my first thought was “aaahhh, a vacation!”
No, not a vacation; a last resort treatment plan.
The thing about these kinds of medications is that they take time to work and you can’t just take a large dose to begin with. You must taper on and off to the dose at which you feel is working best for you. It isn’t an exact science… who knew? Medicine, not an exact science? You could have fooled me. *wink, wink* Complicating matters further, anyone who has ever tried antidepressants knows that not everyone reacts the same way to every drug. For some Prozac may be the answer, others may respond better to something like Cymbalta and the only way to know if it will work is to try it. So this process requires patience and time. Neither of which is easy to manage when you’re in a suicidal state of mind.
Nonetheless, I left that day feeling, for the first time in years, that I was doing something to change my way of thinking. I had finally shed my inhibitions toward medication and let the thought that there was nothing to be ashamed of sink in. I mean really sink in. Even if I needed to work to find the drug that would benefit me the most, even if it took time to overcome some of the issues I was facing, at least I was facing things head on. And, if you read my blog regularly you know that is exactly how I like to be viewing life, head on.
But, timing is everything and sometimes we have to accept that God’s timing is better, even when we truly wonder why things happen the way they do.
Here is where I pick up the story of my “woobies.” If you recall, Chaos is my older pup, almost 14 years old now. I adopted him in the lonely months after my hysterectomy. Two years later I adopted little Havoc who added life and energy to our little family. Chaos is showing every bit of his 14 years. I feel like I’m just waiting for him to go. There have been a few close calls but it is almost as if he knows I need him and so he stays with me. Havoc, on the other hand, still acted like a pup and so when he got sick I was taken by surprise.
Havoc was a sensitive soul. He could always tell when I was upset and would stay by my side to comfort me. In those weeks of deep depression as I tried suffocating myself with my pillow he would crawl up to me from his usual sleeping spot at my feet and curl up right over my heart. Over the worst weeks I began to rely on him to be able to calm myself enough to sleep. Curled up against me as close as he could get over my aching heart he was literally anchoring me to life.
The illness started slowly at first in his lungs, as if he had kennel cough. He’d been vaccinated for it so I suspected it had more to do with a heart murmur we had found years earlier so I took him to the vet. I won’t bore you with all of the little details… let me see if I can sum this up. Over a two-week period I took him to the vet probably 5 or 6 times. X-rays were done, cortisone shots were given and still he wouldn’t eat and was constantly panting. I kept begging the vet to consider that his heart murmur had developed into congestive heart failure and each time I was rebuffed and told in no uncertain terms that this was a virus that he was working through.
Sound familiar yet? Sound anything like the doctor visits I usually complain about? You know; the ones where I’m desperately trying to get them to listen to my instincts and I’m continually dismissed? Well, yeah, you guessed it. Just as I’m usually right about my own health, I was also right about little Havoc but by the time I was ready to get a second opinion, the damage had already been done.
April 1st, April Fool’s Day…
3 am I’m sitting at the emergency vet where Havoc has just passed away from congestive heart failure.
A mere week into my own foray with my new medication.
Sad… Angry… Those words don’t even begin to describe the depths to which I felt myself sinking that morning.
I lay my head on his body while they performed CPR and his last breaths were taken in this life. One of my babies was dead. I know this is part of owning pets. I get it, I’m not naïve.
And it just hit so close to home when it came to my own health struggles and working with doctors. It also triggered feelings that I thought long since resolved over the death of my friend Julie just before my hysterectomy.
I sat for a long time holding my dead dog feeling absolutely desolate, devastated, and hopeless. “Dogs don’t live forever”, I kept reminding myself. But it was the timing that made this blow particularly difficult to absorb.
I talked… no, I sobbed on the phone with my dad telling him honestly that I didn’t think I could move forward through my grief. I just couldn’t understand why God would take Havoc home then, right then when my life felt like it was already in shambles.
And trust me when I tell you it was in shambles in ways in which I cannot even begin to illuminate on my blog.
I am an open book… except when I’m not. This is one of those times when things are better left unsaid at this point. I may choose to write more about them later and I may not. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that this was just too much.
Too, too much!
That morning driving home from the vet with Havoc’s collar clutched tightly in my fist I debated driving straight to the hospital. I really didn’t think I would live through the morning if I went home. I was already envisioning ways I could end my life after I dropped the kids off at school. I kept thinking how strange I felt, like I was having an out-of-body experience. Later I would come to realize that I was dissociating, a very dangerous place to be while depressed. I thought, “How strange that I can perform the mundane task of getting the kids to school but I can’t seem to face life after that point.”
I did go home and, after my kids were gone, I called the doctor who agreed that something further needed to be done. He increased my dose and added an anti-psychotic (helps with the dissociating piece.) Heaven bless that understanding man. I could hardly get the words out about my pup when he said very calmly, “You don’t need to explain a thing, losing a pet is exactly like losing a child.”
I’m doing much better now. I’m even to the point where we are discussing taking away the anti-psychotic meds. I think this is great progress. My physical pain is more under control and I no longer feel overwhelmed by life. There were some major changes that needed to occur in order for these improvements to come about. That’ll be the next part of my story.
Until then, I think I would like to leave you with this thought. In life we are asked to do hard things and depending on your beliefs you could attribute those trials to a variety of reasons. I choose to believe that God loves me as his daughter and, like any good parent; he does not take away our experiences just because they are hard. On the contrary, he allows us to go through them giving us the opportunity to reach our fullest potential. We may stumble along the way, we may face discouragement and frustration but through it all he loves us. He loves us enough to let us go… and let us grow!