Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Heart of Darkness

Me on Lewes Beach 2006. ipod in my ear 24/7 to drown out the noises in my head

 A few months ago, I suddenly stopped taking my medication. There is no rational reason; I make no excuses. I had been on Abilify and Wellbutrin since 2007. Those two meds had worked wonders controlling my bipolar disorder, and I’d been so stable for so long that I thought it would be OK to quit. I had been feeling flat and emotionless, and I wanted to feel strongly about things again. And after all, it had been seven years—wasn’t there a good chance I was “cured” now? 

During my brief, prescription-free hiatus, I cried, a LOT. I awoke feeling crushing despair, and nothing good that happened during the day alleviated that overpowering emotion. I didn’t experience any manic episodes (those had been my hallmark, pre-diagnosis), but I was plunged back into the depressive part of my illness. The deep, deep sadness never lifted until I got myself back to the psychiatrist and went back on the meds—and even then, it took a while to feel any improvement.

I’m back to “normal,” but I live with the knowledge that someday pharmaceuticals may stop working for me, even if I keep taking them faithfully. I am haunted by the memory of the feeling of complete joylessness, of hopelessness, and I cannot bear the thought of ever going back to that dark place. 

My mom also battled depression, many years ago. In those days, mental illness had even more of a stigma than it does today—Mom didn’t even tell her own mother. When Mom finally saw a doctor, she told him she had to stop herself from walking in front of a bus; it was that bad.

So when I heard about Robin Williams, I thought: how terribly hard it must have been to be loving and giving and funny and productive, all those years, all the while battling this monster called depression that I couldn’t handle myself.  He was living in the dark place, that place where it seems there is no way out. And I understood why he would be sad enough to finally take his life.  

Mom and I survived. We were the lucky ones. Robin Williams, and too many others, were not.  I look at my own kids and worry about their mental health. We talk very openly about our family history, and they know it’s absolutely OK to ask for help if and when they need it. 

Centuries ago, people like us were said to be possessed by demons.  In a way, they were absolutely right. With luck and the right treatment, the demons can be defeated. But sometimes, despite everything, the demons win.

Jesus heals woman possessed by demons
It is my prayer that our world will someday become a place where no one suffers alone, where everyone can get help.  And I believe, with all my heart, that in the end, there is a Heaven where the demons are banished for good, and where all the sufferers step out of the dark place at last, and into the light.

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