Coloring on the Blank Pages of Life

When I was little I liked coloring books. Know why? Because the “art” was already laid out for you. All I had to do was pick up my crayon and color inside the lines and I had an instant masterpiece. There wasn’t any creativity or real talent involved, just fill in the blanks. Even better was color by number because those told you what colors went in what areas so it was guaranteed to come out looking just perfect. No surprise that I am still a “rule follower” personality type, huh?

I’ve come to realize that for the first time in my whole damn life I’m coloring on a blank page. And it scares the shit out of me.
Life is suppose to follow the plan:
*graduate high school…check
*go to college…check
*graduate said college…check
*get married…check
*get a Master’s Degree…check
*get a good job..check
*buy a house and get a dog…check
*have a baby and live happily ever after…oops.
The plan derailed. No mention of my big fat divorce in that plan.

My coloring book life had a misprint, but I feel like I picked the pages up and stuck them back together as best as I could at that point. I started a new book and a new outlook. This book looked a little more like connect the dots then color by number, but I was learning to be ok with that. I’ve never been one to accept change easily (and that my friends is the understatement of the year) but I had a rough idea of where I was going and I just had to work a little harder to make the picture appear.

Now that there are no more dots to connect and no more pictures to color I’m left with blank pages in my coloring book. For the first time in all of my 30 years I have no clue where I am going or what I am doing. I have a degree and a job. I have the most supportive parents on the planet. But otherwise it’s page after page after page of blank paper. I have no guidelines on where to go. A lot of people would find this really exciting, a “choose your own adventure” situation, to continue this terrible metaphor. Me? I’m scared out of my mind. I feel lost without a plan. I will let go of the anger and bitterness and resentment of not being able to connect all of those dots when I thought I was remaking my coloring book. It gets a little easier as the days pass. But the emotion looming is just the simple fear of the unknown on all those blank pages. I’m not one to travel without a map, and life is a pretty big adventure to tackle without an itinerary.

Getting By

Put on your happy face
Fake it til you make it
Grin and bear it

None of these stupid slogans work. The concept of “presenteeism” isn’t new in the literature regarding people with mental illness in the workplace. It’s the idea that millions of people with depression or bipolar disorder or any number of other mental illnesses get up everyday and tell themselves one those same stupid slogans, go to work and/or about their reglar lives like nothing is wrong. However, behind closed doors they are likely a wreck. This is a concept I know all too well. And it sucks. Why do it? Why pretend like everything is ok when in reality you feel like garbage? The answer to this is as varied as the people of who do it. Depression isn’t going to pay my bills, and a minimum level of pleasantness is required to keep my job, so 5 days a week I attempt to master that first stupid slogan. Depression isn’t going to walk my dog or clean up if he makes a mess in the house, so everyday I do that third stupid slogan.

I doubt anyone would argue that there is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness. I would venture to guess that many people who are just getting by are doing so because they don’t want anyone else to know the truth. Or, others have known the truth before and haven’t handled it well. It’s really hard to have your symptoms dismissed or laughed at by people you thought you could trust.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “it will be ok, cheer up” I would be f’n rich. Give me a damn break. Recovering from and dealing with depression isn’t about cheering up. Everyone gets sad sometimes. Many people will experience a depressive episode at some point during their lifetime. But for people who have an ongoing or recurring battle with this disease, telling them to cheer up is downright insulting. I a comparison once that said that sadness is to depression what a head cold is to cancer. It’s not easy to get over, can require multiple avenues of treatment, and can be fatal for some.

I had forgotten how much energy it takes to take a shower. I woke up around 9 this morning thinking I needed to get up so I don’t waste my day. Suddenly it was 4 in the afternoon and I hadn’t done anything. I can sit here and think of 20 things that I should do or might like to do, but can’t begin to make myself do them. I’ve watched more TV in the last 2 weeks than I have in the last 3 months because it doesn’t require thought or action. I can’t focus long enough to read.

I know that most people will say that I’m taking this way too seriously and I need to just get up and move on. Please don’t trivialize me that way. I can’t begin to explain why this is so hard. This was not a teenage love affair gone bad. Yes, I over-invested in this emotionally. I think anyone would have been pretty invested to someone they were talking about marrying within the next few years. And he was the one gung-ho about getting married BTW. My only picture for how my future looked just moved into the past tense. I knew where I was going and why I was doing everything I was doing. I was doing it to move forward to make a new life with the man that I loved so we could make a family. Now nothing. Now I have zero idea of what I doing anything for. Why bother? Get up, go to work at a job that’s just ok, to come home and exercise (the one thing I enjoy I guess but takes an act of Congress to convince me to go every night), and go to bed. I feel like my whole life went from above average to “meets minimum standards.”

You have so much to be happy about.
You should be thankful for all you have.
People are a lot worse off than you are.

I will not disagree in the least with these statements, but these are all arguments used by people who have never been depressed and don’t have the first clue what it’s like. I do have quite a lot to be thankful for and happy about. I am grateful for that. I am especially thankful for my dog and cat right now who have been the best companions anyone could ask for. And yes, there are people so, so, so much worse off than me, who have much better reasons to be depressed. I know people in the last year who have been through real tragedy, and I am so sorry for them. How I feel doesn’t for one iota diminish the pain or suffering of any other person who is also hurting, no matter the reason. And we are all hurting over something. Each person’s pain is real to that person, no one is able to judge or condemn someone for feelings for any reason, including because someone else is hurting worse.

I know this has been a rather rambling post. I know that it is not along the lines this blog was started over. For these things I apologize. I do not apologize for having the f’n courage to say that I have dealt with depression for most of my life, and it does suck. Sometimes it sucks worse than others and right now is a way suckier time. If you are also having a sucky time, please get help.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Helpline 1 800 950 NAMI (6264) can help you find someone locally.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 800 273 TALK (8255)