Monday, July 19, 2010

This is 40: Or How I Spent My (Incredibly Long) Summer Vacation

On July 31, 2009—29 days before my 40th birthday—I walked away from my job. Period. No new job lined up, no clear idea of what to do next and only the flimsiest of plans for supporting myself. Just a need to step off the ledge—not to go “splat,” but as a leap of faith. I could see it in my mind's eye—the wind in my hair, arms wide open. Freedom.

I had been depressed for 5 years. 5.

And I had had it.

“This is 40,” Bono would announce every morning in the months leading up to my birthday (I had chosen to wake up to the live version of the song “40” on my iPod).

Yes. This IS 40. And what was 40 going to be? What was the rest of my life going to be? A series of crippling bouts of the depression that had gutted my ability to write, left me unable to enjoy a good glass of wine or much of anything else and made me so apathetic that I settled for a view from 15 feet away instead of PUSHING MY WAY TO THE FRONT OF THE CATWALK AT THE U2 show?

Eff that.

40 would be remission. The rest of my life would, hopefully, be mostly whatever I wanted it to be. There would be ups and downs, and probably a few minor bouts of depression (it's a lifelong illness), but I refused to be paralyzed anymore. I wasn't going to stay in a job that was supposed to help me recover, but had ground me down instead. Screw the Puritan work ethic.

So I walked away. It was either that or lose my shit and be locked up for murder OR end up in the hospital. Even money on whether it would be the cardiac or the psych ward.

I gave myself the month of August “off”--a birthday present to myself and the first step in my recovery plan. I figured by September, I'd be posting to my new health blog and working towards some perfect new job opportunity. Which would come along in just a few months. And I'd be all better!

Ha! said my brain. I have my OWN time line. My body agreed.

It was kind of like being in psychological traction.

This is an analogy that has only recently occurred to me. My descriptive powers had left the building. So I had a hard time explaining to people why sending one email could wipe me out for the rest of the day. Or how I could really only leave the house to get the necessities: drugs (prescription!), books and food. It wasn't agoraphobia or laziness. I just had no energy. At all. Really. People were sympathetic and nobody close to me really pushed, but they were puzzled and concerned. And my brain was so scrambled that I once found myself trying to explain it to my dad this way:

“Imagine that you have a broken leg and a sprained wrist, with your arm in a sling on one side of your wait, wait, I mean that your arm is on the OPPOSITE side of your body, like your crutch arm right? So you can't really use a crutch because of the sling and stuff and I guess you could hop on your good leg, but then you couldn't balance....Anyway, it's technically possible to move, but not really?”

I think the best analogy might be the sense of profound fatigue that chemotherapy patients often describe. I wouldn't presume to know what it's like to go through chemo, but what I've heard about the energy drain resonates. Actually, the whole idea of depression as a cancer of the soul resonates. But that's a topic for another time...

However you describe it, it often took all my strength to get out for an integral part of my treatment: therapy and contact with friends.

The essential power of cupcakes, really bubbly bubble baths, re-watching all of the past seasons of “Lost,” and sitting out in the sun with Houdini (indeed any time with Houdini) also cannot be discounted.

All of it inextricably intertwined with time. Time to rest, to heal. A clock I could not set.

So here I am, almost one year later. This is the first time I have found it in me to sit down and really write. Recovery is ongoing. A return to the work world (temping) is imminent. But I think I may yet have a few more thoughts about the year that was “40.” A short series of posts, perhaps. So stay tuned.

40 has been nothing like what I pictured at 20, 30 or even 35. But I think it was exactly what I needed.

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