Wading out

Like so many other things, mental health sneaks up on you.

In June, you can’t breathe. You wonder if this torment that calls itself life is ever going to end.

In July, through sheer effort and lots of time to yourself, you can begin to exist within yourself again.

In August, hope is on the horizon, although the pain is still very much present.

In September, the tears are starting to melt down the pain.

In October, you face the facts.

In November, you decide to care for yourself.

And December? In December, your energy comes back.

As my faculties return, I marvel: is this the level of mental energy humans have at their disposal when they’re not overwhelmed and obsessed and running two parallel processes on the single processor that’s in our heads? How can I describe this transition from the absolute brain dullness–too long my companion–to the lucid state of my mind now? It feels like wading out of the sea. First, the water is up to your neck, and it’s such an effort to take a single step. You think you’ll never make it. Then the water is up to your chest, and you have to keep your arms raised to reduce resistance, and it’s slow going, and you’re panting, but your determination carries you on. By the time you’re knee-deep, it’s child’s play. It can’t get easier, can it?

But then you hit the shore and you run like the wind. This is easy!

Was life ever so easy?

In the past weeks, I’ve even started entertaining thoughts of going back to work. I have no clue what kind of job I can do or will be able to get, and it’s not going to happen soon anyway since my family needs me to care for them right now. But, oh–my–God, is this possible? The mere thought of it doesn’t exhaust or terrify me anymore. I occasionally clean the house. I keep my family fed and clothed in clean clothes. I kind of sleep. I sleep. I can cope with everyday things.

And why did all this happen? Because I gave myself license to feel.

Feelings tucked inside eat you up from the inside. I say, let them out. Okay, maybe you don’t want to write a 65-thousand-word memoir about them and share them with everyone in the English-speaking world–I am, after all, an extreme case, the eternal over-sharer. But don’t let feelings fester. They can become malignant.

Oh, man, it’s so good to be able to run on dry ground.

5. Victory coffee

<< 4. The storm and the calm after / 6. To take, or not to take (the drugs) >>

On Sunday morning, I made coffee.

It’s not a big deal, you’d think. But the process of actually making it and deciding what to have for breakfast at the same time (always, always the breakfast issue) was just a little too much for my fragile state. Before actually making the coffee, I sat at the dining room table (we have an open plan kitchen) and pondered the coffee-making process for about two hours.

When my friend Elise and I met, I’d invite her and her kids over for playdates. Our children got along wonderfully, and the two of us would sit in the kitchen while I cooked one or two main courses, at the same time baking dessert and cleaning the kitchen. For years, I was unstoppable. Tired, yes, but unstoppable. Cooking and baking are two of my passions, and I’d cook at least two meals a day, plus something sweet on most days.

Two years ago, I was already stretched thin, but I carried my tiredness around like a badge of honor. Yes, I had a family and a job (in research—part time, still mentally demanding) but I wouldn’t just sit and let my body get flabbier. It was bad enough as it was. So, I dieted and started ballet, which helped bring my body to a halfway acceptable state (body image issues feature prominently in my life story, but let me go on with the more serious subject). Ballet did wonders for my mental health, too. But then I remembered I’d always been a language nerd, and I hadn’t even attempted to learn a new language in years. That wouldn’t do! When Arabic was offered in our local Volkshochschule, I enrolled.

So, are you keeping score? Arabic, ballet, diet, a mentally demanding work in research, while keeping track of the kids’ activities and tasks for school and kindergarten, shouldering the mental load of the household, including managing everyone’s schedule, and handling the emotional load of Urban’s dysfunctional family, while cooking and baking on a daily basis. And then I took up writing.

Yup. Those were the days.

So, where was I? Ah, Sunday morning, I made coffee. I was chatting online with Stevie, asking him what to eat (I did mention the overwhelming difficulty of breakfast, didn’t I?). He said, “eat the first thing you see.” I saw apples, tomatoes, and cake, so I supposed cake would be the sensible breakfast option.

And I made coffee.

Two hours into my day, that was my victory. By afternoon, I was exhausted, and had to ask my friend—who had kindly visited to see how I am—to leave, because a face-to-face conversation was just too taxing.

Strangely, writing is the only thing I can easily do.