I was numb. Asleep. But I didn’t even know it. It was a subtle growth of numbness. Like a limb left in one (albeit seemingly) comfortable position too long. I didn’t realize until movement came with the intense zinging of nerve sensation returning that I had been numb at all. A drifting off to sleep. The thick, deep sleep that when you wake, somewhat startled, you realize you were not even aware you had fallen asleep at all. I had to be. Because I needed a break from the pain. It was too much. It hurt too bad. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had resigned to the fact that I did not have what it takes to live life like everyone else did, nor did I want to. I was told to take the pills, because if I didn’t, I might try to kill myself again. This was probably true. The pills were the fix. I was “clinically depressed.” I knew I was depressed, or so I had the sense that this was true, but “clinically,” boy I didn’t know it was that bad. I still don’t even know what that means.
Initially I had a great resistance to taking pills. If I take a pill then that means “something is wrong with me” is true. And would I have to take them forever? But I had to agree to take them in order to get out of the institution. I had to sign a contract that I would take the meds and not take my life. Ok, I will take them. Can I go home now?
I met with a psychiatrist employed by the same institution I had been brought to. Are the meds working? I guess. Do you still want to end your life? I guess. Hmm… lets change the dosage. His clinical notations, I imagine, read something like, “Patient is not numb enough… life still hurts… recommend increasing the dose until she does not care at all.”
But he did tell me it was not my fault, that it was a “chemical imbalance.” I felt better when he told me this, that it was just my body not making enough serotonin. If it was a chemical imbalance, then it certainly wasn’t my flawed self’s fault. This news took a layer of pain away from me. “Not my fault” meant it wasn’t my responsibility. And, the only responsibility I then had was to take my pills to feel better. I’m sure I did have a lack of serotonin. And I wanted to feel better. So I took the pills. For 15 years.
I was in pain. Not so much a physical pain, but a constant mental and emotional anguish. An anxiety that hung on me like a needy child tugging at my sleeve, in constant desire of my attention. The deep depression welled up from my center, a dark cloud with a seemingly endless source. Hurting and confused about why the world was the way it was. What was the point of it all? Why am I here and constantly experiencing painful things and thoughts and feelings? Is this what life is about? Why was love conditional? Where is God? And I did not love myself. I didn’t even like myself. There was something inherently flawed with me, more than any other person, something was deeply wrong with me. I was not ok. I was not good. I was terrible. I was evil. I was not worthy of love. I was not enough. When I started the pills, I started to feel those things less. I started to feel everything less. And it was so good.
Thus continued my journey with numbing.
I had already dabbled in numbing, though I didn’t recognize it as such. As a teenager, I wanted new and exciting experiences, to see what I could feel. I found that with alcohol and drugs. Would I feel different or weird? I certainly would laugh a lot and have some fun. I wanted to push some boundaries and rebelling felt really good. Especially when I didn’t get caught. I was independent and free and no one could stop me. I was an individual.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I was trying to check out. What I sought out in order to feel new things was because I was discontent with what I was feeling. These behaviors ended up eventually being my escape, my numbing. My self-medication for “I don’t want to feel this way, so I am going to feel high.” Not so coincidentally, this was around the same time I tried to end my life…and now, for my final act, I will completely disappear. But disappearing didn’t work the way I’d planned. I suppose prescription anti-depressants, alcohol and drugs will have to do. Was the crowd fooled? I was.
The numbing was good, for a time. But then, it wasn’t enough. The feelings started seeping through the floorboards like water in a sinking ship. I had to have more numbing, more alcohol, more pleasure, more distractions. Ironically, the things I sought to find relief from pain were driving me deeper into it. It was a vicious cycle. My desire to die had never fully gone away, but now it was coming back stronger. I had already decided that killing myself was not an option, because it would hurt my family so badly. I had seen the way they reacted the first time I tried and realized it was too selfish. I would live, if only for them, so they wouldn’t have to feel that pain. I loved them that much.
With suicide off the table, I had to try something else. So I took my hopeless, good-for-nothing, worthless ass to a naturopath. I showed up not believing anything could be done, not even sure why I was there. I think I was curious if this hippie had other answers. Maybe some magic herb that would fix me or maybe numb me more. It feels untrue to say that I had hope when I felt so hopeless. I do remember feeling my level of flawed was worse than everyone else and likely for that reason I was screwed. But I must have had some hope to have shown up at his office.
Then I showed up again. And I kept showing up. I don’t even recall the first few years of going really. Probably because I was so numbed out. Over four years there was no magic herb. There was no sudden change. There was just a showing up, a way of fighting for myself, to have myself back. Taking away the layers of numbness was painful, an ugly reveal of the parts of myself I didn’t like. At times I wasn’t sure I wanted to fight for myself if I didn’t even like what I was fighting for. I worked slowly to chip away at the false belief systems I clung to so tightly. Peeling off the dead skin of where I was and what I believed was not only painful, it was terrifying. The pink, raw flesh of a new truth was unknown, uncomfortable, unsafe. It wasn’t what I was told to believe. It wasn’t what I was used to. And if this new truth was true, then it didn’t align with how I was living. I had to change. I had to be responsible for where I was and what I wanted my life to look like. Before I had been told it wasn’t my fault, but now I was required to take action. This did include work to improve a chemical imbalance, but by changing my belief system, I was able to get to the core of my depression and realize it was not me. I struggled with depression, but it wasn’t who I was. I was not this faulty, flawed person who was doomed to clinical depression forever because something was inherently wrong in me.
When I understood that I believed things that weren’t true, I was able to begin making changes. The things I had used to numb myself were no longer as necessary because the truth was not so ugly and did not need to be covered. I was able to wean off of my medications slowly. This waking up has been both a subtle shift and a smack in the face. A jolt to a harsh reality of feeling things fully. And oh God, it is hard. Sometimes I want to crawl back into the safe womb of numbness the anti-depressants provide.
But I know better now. I have woken up, and I can’t go back. It has been three years since I came off of the medication and still there are moments when I am walking the dog, folding laundry or some other thoughtless task, and I realize a subtle shift in the fabric of my consciousness—an awareness that is one step greater than before. I feel slightly off balance and surprised for a moment. It feels like waking up. It’s as if my brain has been asleep for so long and so deeply that it is just now safe for new, still slumbering parts to rise.
There is still pain and suffering. Anxiety is a regular visitor. I still ask why. Most times it hurts so bad I feel it in my body. The stress in my shoulders. The tension in my jaw. The sadness in my chest. The worry in my guts. It is more intense now.
But so is the joy, so is the reward. The sweetness in life. The feeling of accomplishment. The sense of purpose, even though I don’t always know why exactly. The love for myself is my greatest reward. I am aware now. I am awake now. And I keep awaking. And it feels so good.
Author: Rebecca deVries is a registered nurse and student at the Naturopathic Institute. She currently interns at Continuum Healing.
Photo source: Creative Commons