Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

I’m almost 46 and at this age, pretty much we accept that we are all on a pill, shot, cream or suppository for something or other. Being in healthcare myself, I am a huge fan of modern medicine and I think if your life can be improved by an intervention, do it. Don’t be too proud or think of it as a crutch. I think God gave us smart people and good ideas so we could invent things to make life as good as possible, what my former worship arts director calls “better living through pharmaceuticals”. What’s important is to know the source of the need for the intervention, rather than just blindly reaching for the “cure”.

“People say to the mentally ill, ‘You know, so many people think the world of you.’ But when they don’t like themselves they don’t notice anything. They don’t care about what people think of them. When you hate yourself, whatever people say it doesn’t make sense. ‘Why do they like me? Why do they care about me?’ Because you don’t care about yourself at all.”
– Richey Edwards

What Was the Matter With Me?

Shortly after the birth of my first child I went into treatment for post-partum depression. It wasn’t the lay-around-in-bed-and-cry type of clinical depression, it was the non-functional, can’t-think-straight type of clinical depression. Also lovingly known as CRS (Can’t Remember Shit). No one was alarmed and I didn’t even know that’s what it was. A few months and some medication adjustments later, I could think clearly, perform well at my job again and keep myself organized without carrying a notepad around. I carried on fine for a couple of years. After about a year as a full-time parent (“at home mom”), I started to notice that I was having outbursts of anger and crying for no apparent reason. I would have periods of very intense feelings of sadness that would come and go, intermingled with short periods of high energy. When I bothered to tell my doctor about my bouts of sadness, I skipped over the parts about the occasional screaming fits and staying up all night completing a scrapbook, because I found them embarrassing. We adjusted the depression meds here and there and I soldiered on.

After my second daughter was born, you could say all hell broke loose. When she was about 6 months old I began to cycle between extreme depression and energetic elation every 24 to 48 hours. It was sheer misery and I had no control over it. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began a more intensive medication regimen which was tweaked over time, peaking at 5 medications and eventually going down to a 2-pill cocktail.

Being at the mercy of an abuser creates feelings of desperation, of worthlessness and shame, of just being… crazy. You feel absolutely looney tunes because of the bizarre nature of the abuse dynamic. You create within you little compartments in which you keep your different personalities. Not schizophrenic, mind you, just a separation of what your reality is from what you want to allow people to see. Your life is surreal, as if seeing it through a fog. Remember that the abused partner operates constantly from a place of shame and secrecy, fueled by self-loathing. It truly and tangibly changes your body chemicals and functioning. From the time of my diagnosis on, even now, C.C. uses the convenient label of “crazy” to describe me in an effort to justify his behavior. But reality and time have shown differently.

About a year after my divorce was final I found that I was having trouble staying awake during the day. I don’t mean the universal “2:30 feeling”, I mean sleeping for 8 or 9 hours a night, up for 2, sleep for 2, up for 3, sleep for 1, then awake from just before the children got home until bedtime. Over and over and over. I never felt rested at all. I took my sweet time about bringing this up to my doctor because I dreaded having to adjust my meds again. When I finally told her, we reduced one med and increased another just as we had successfully done in the past. Nothing changed and I was absolutely sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. It was especially horrid since by then I had been in graduate school for a few months and was having to fight to stay awake to do my class work. Then the scientist in me kicked in and it occurred to me that maybe I was overmedicated and I didn’t even need the drugs anymore!
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The Constant State of Mental Upheaval

Most of us have had at least one experience of situational depression in our lives. That kind of depression typically follows a death or other major loss. Far more than just being “down” or having “the blues” it can be debilitating. Perhaps you can muster enough energy to do things you absolutely, positively must do, like show up for work, but anything further is expecting a miracle. Do you know the feeling? Maybe you have lost someone very close to you and experienced the kind of situational depression that has the more palatable name of “mourning”. Now imagine having that feeling over and over and over due to the situation you are living in. The repetitive nature of having your emotions tortured and toyed with for sport in private, while being expected to put on a happy face in public, will cause you to live in a constant state of mental upheaval and confusion.

I have since learned that I didn’t have bipolar disorder, because bipolar disorder is incurable. The good news is that I have not been on psychiatric medication since October 2011 and not only do I function great, I realize… it wasn’t organically me, it was my situation. That’s what happens when you spend your days in an emotional foxhole, trying to anticipate another person’s moods and make sense of crazy, all the while putting on a front so others won’t know. If that doesn’t mess you up, nothing will.

If I ever need the meds again, I will happily skip back to the doctor and get them. Obviously, though, the environment is what caused my brain chemicals to go wacky because now I feel things the way you’re supposed to, in all their painful and gleeful glory. That’s a fabulously fair trade-off if you ask me.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.

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