July 25, 2009

Cockadoodle Bleak

" 'Cockadoodles?' " 11-year-old Katie said incredulously. "Why do you call them that?"
"Because it's silly," I replied. "And even grown-ups need some silliness."

I was referring, of course, to our six half-grown chickens. I had been calling them "The Girls" but when Samantha turned into Samuel and started crowing, I had to find something else. "Cockadoodles" just jumped into my mind. Plus, the evolution of Sam's crow is just too silly to believe. It started out as a sort of scream; a cross between a screech and a squeaky door hinge with a bit of throat-clearing thrown in. Now it has progressed to a hoarse "Rrr-RRR" or the "cock-a" part of "cock-a-doodle-doo". Even the next door neighbor, near whose bedroom window our chicken coop is, thinks it's hilarious. She has promised me that if Sam's crowing ever bothers her she will let me know. Sam's attempts also provoke the neighbor's rooster into answering, and I swear I can hear that bird laughing at Sam. He throws a hiccup into the middle of his normal crow.

It's my first attempt at keeping chickens, and I want to enjoy the hilarity of Sam's progress. But I've sunk into what my doctor calls a "depressive episode." It's the bottoming-out part of being on the bipolar roller coaster. When I'm on the downside I live in a peculiar state: part paralyzing anxiety, part utter boredom and part complete hopelessness. It's disorienting and frustrating as hell. Intellectually I know that this bizarre state is transient. These episodes pass, just as my manic episodes do. But in the midst of one it's impossible to believe that in my heart.

The depression leaches all of the color out of my world. Literally: when I see pictures in my mind during this kind of episode they're in black and white, like old movies. And I see the things around me as just objects, unable to see the beauty in the details. My miniature horse becomes just a small animal, his delightful personality masked by the filter of my depression. My husband's smile is like a snapshot of a stranger; it evokes no gladness in my heart. All I see when I look at the baby squash in the garden is all the work ahead of me - canning, freezing, etc.

A lot of people think of depression as "the blues", but it goes much deeper than that. I don't feel sadness - I feel hardly anything at all except fleeting remorse that I can't function, can't meet the responsibilities I impose on myself and those I owe my loved ones. I seem to be capable of only two emotions: terror (due to the anxiety disorder I have in addition to bipolar) and hopelessness. Other than those I'm completely numb. I simply don't care about anything, even though I want to.

It's a horrible state of mind, one I simply can't cope with. The only way I have of living through it is to engage in escapist behavior. I read a lot, I become obsessive about learning about something new, I play PC games for hours on end. I have to distract my mind, keep myself from brooding, and physical activity just doesn't do it. Whatever I do to escape must involve my mind, and all of my mind at that.

I also eat a lot of chocolate, craving the endorphins it provides. No wonder I'm almost 100 pounds overweight.

I used to self-medicate with marijuana and booze, but the medications I'm on make the booze deadly and I don't have a source for pot right now. I find it very interesting that marijuana helps so much. I can function much better when I'm depressed if I get high. I think because being stoned creates a pleasant state of mind. It sort of overrides the numbness, replacing it with fascination, curiosity and the ability to find humor in the absurd. It brings back parts of me that I like. There's actually some research confirming the benefits of marijuana for bipolar sufferers, but I need to go find that study again before I can quote it.

I've learned in therapy to try to identify the triggers for my mood swings. Two big ones hit me in the last couple of weeks: serious money worries, and grief. Our only credit card got canceled (for bogus reasons, fuck you Chase bank) and I lost one of my cats. She just vanished, seemingly into thin air. The grief was almost unbearable; maybe the depression has its upside since the anguish I was feeling is now gone.

I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to find the right words to describe my state of being when I'm depressed. And when I'm manic. I'm not sure I'll ever find the accuracy I seek, but maybe each description will be a puzzle piece and at the end of my life those pieces will form that picture they say is worth a thousand words.

In the meantime, writing about the downside helps. Not so much now as later, when I'm trying to understand whatever it is I did (or didn't do) when I was depressed. It helps me identify triggers for the mood swings so I can hopefully avoid them or at least be forewarned that the depression/mania is likely. And if I do finally succeed at suicide when I'm depressed, maybe the words I leave behind will help the people I leave behind.

For now, though, I'm not suicidal. Just trying to live through this miserable state of mind, one minute at a time. Thanks for listening.

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