As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing really well these past few months. I’ve had the most emotionally vibrant period I think that I’ve ever had in my life. However, the other day, I got an abrupt reality check.
I’d had a fantastic weekend before I experienced what I’ve come to refer to as “The Thought”. Valentine’s Day was probably the best I’d ever had. My partner and I had an amazing time going out to dinner and a show, and the next day I spent some time away from home with her and her family. Life was good. Great, actually.
Then, early on Tuesday morning, I was driving home when a thought crossed my mind. “I want to swerve this car into a rock and crash. I want it all to end.” This thought seemed to come from nowhere. The weekend had been truly excellent. Then, I want to kill myself. What gives?
While the thought itself came out of the blue, it was not without warning signs. I mentioned once that trying to keep my dysthymia at bay is a little like playing Whack-A-Mole. Treating myself is like smacking a bunch of moles with mallets to keep them in their tunnels. Those moles are my dysthymia, and I keep smacking them down to keep the disease under control. Each of the moles comes out of a specific tunnel, representing the things I need to avoid to keep dysthymia at bay. Poor nutrition. Lack of exercise. Not enough “me” time. Whatever the hell’s going on chemically in my brain that requires a mallet laced with bupropion. Obviously the chemical issue has been a huge problem for me in the past, but my drugs, together with my other measures, seem pretty good at keeping that tunnel mole-free.
My ongoing nemesis throughout my life, and the tunnel from which I have the hardest time preventing moles from pouring forth, has been insomnia. I’ve never slept well in my adult life. Ever. Usually this manifested as difficulty falling asleep and inability to stay asleep once I finally did. When I did sleep through the entire night, it was not a restful sleep. I’d awaken feeling like I’d hardly slept at all.
So lately, moles have been streaming from the insomnia tunnel, although perhaps I didn’t recognize them for what they were. My sleep had been very poor the week and and half preceding the Thought. Those nights, I was getting maybe four hours of uninterrupted sleep, and then my body would wake up. The best I’d get after awaking would be intermittent snoozing. I often simply gave up at about five in the morning and got up to start my day. The night before The Thought, I was up at 3.00a in a state of panic over my lack of sleep, wondering how I was going to make it through my very busy upcoming three months. In other words, I was exhausted. Still kind of am, actually, though I’ve been catching up. I haven’t yet ascertained the reason for my lack of sleep, although I hope that my upcoming doctor appointment can help me figure it out.
Despite the lack of sleep, I still had energy. Large amounts of it, at least to me. Even with sleep deprivation, being on bupropion and treating myself correctly has given me far more energy than I had when my dysthymia acts up. So I hadn’t noticed the lack of sleep affecting me overly much.
Obviously it did, though. I wasn’t prepared for this fleeting suicidal thought; it hit me like a semi. If I’m feeling generally down, I can steel myself for the inevitable deluge of morbidity. But I wasn’t prepared this time. That short moment scared the shit out of me. I didn’t see the warning signs. Aside from my early morning fretting, I still don’t know what the warning signs were, if there were any to see at all. And that scares the shit out of me even more.
Perhaps, by allowing it to scare me as it has, I give The Thought too much power, though. Lately I’ve been listening to National Public Radio‘s fantastic new podcast Invisibilia, about the crazy parts of our brains that govern so much of what we do and who we are. In their inaugural episode, hosts Lulu Miller and Alex Spiegel use the dark thoughts that sometimes pop into our heads as a way to explore the history of psychotherapy.
The main frame of the show is a man who keeps having thoughts of wanting to violently kill his wife. That thought is used to explain how different therapy approaches try to handle the issue. Do you logically challenge the thought? Confront it directly? Push it aside as a random firing of synapses? The way the show explained these different approaches fascinated me. I’d used each of those strategies before to deal with my own dark thoughts. I’d challenge them. I’d confront them. I’d push them aside. But just like those moles, they kept popping back up.
There are good reasons why these strategies don’t always work for me. First off, depression isn’t logical. Challenging the thoughts certainly is useful, but I’m not really in a logical state of mind when having them. The asshole is too loud, too imposing. Confronting my suicidal thoughts also is of limited use in the moment. Death isn’t something I’m fearing, it’s something I’m welcoming. What use is confronting it?
My chosen method is usually pushing aside the thoughts. Ignore them. Bury them. Distract my mind so much that it doesn’t have the opportunity to wallow in darkness. That’s where working has helped. Work has helped keep me from following through on suicide in a few ways, one of which is that it distracts me. Rather than focusing on the train wreck of my life and the morass of my mind, I focused on work. There, I had some control. There, unlike my life, I could improve things. There, I could make others happy, even if I couldn’t do so for myself. Work was my escape from The Nothing.
My reaction to The Thought was similar, although I was far more cognizant of what I was doing. The Thought was fleeting, but my fear of and focus on it was not going away. Was all that work I’ve been doing over the past several months for naught? Before I went into work, I stopped by my partner’s house. She was a rock, someone dear on whom I could focus, to remind me of the happiness of which I was capable of feeling. But we both had to go into work, so I once again forced my mind into work. I had a particularly interesting challenge on which to focus at work, a complex, fascinating one involving our Code of Conduct and a future ordinance and public forums. I threw myself into it with gusto. And it worked. The Thought fell by the wayside.
After work, I was still rattled by this minor relapse. It wasn’t something that would have phased me much before, as it was fairly common. Despite my newfound happiness and positivity, I thought I was still abundantly aware that I have an illness that likely will never go away. The Thought showed me that I must not have really believed it. Now I do. I have The Thought to thank for that. I still don’t know where The Thought came from. Perhaps it was just my dysthymia saying, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here. I can still fuck with you.” And yeah, now I know it’s going to continue fucking with me. But I’ll be ready for the little bastard next time.